January 30, 2018

I heard once that the reason time seems to slow down as we get older is because we stop having new experiences. As we get older our lives fall into routine, so this theory says. So, how do we combat time seemingly going by quickly? Have new experiences! Learn a new skill, travel, learn another language.

I am here to tell you this theory is utter nonsense. I’m not sure entirely what happened to this week. I feel like I blinked and it was over.

As far as developments here go, Sandy is going to be heading back to America soon for a month. Please continue to pray for her, as last week her mother passed away as well. So, while she is in America, she will have a memorial service for her mother and for Brent.

I have several things planned for the Fureai House in February, so please pray that they go well. I hope they will be a good way to reach out to the community.

This week, I had a very interesting conversation with my friend about the state of Japanese religion. Japan is fascinating on so many levels. One of the things I find interesting is seeing what people think about Japan and the different ideas they have. Especially people who have never been here. I often here outlandish claims about Japanese religion. The internet loves to tout Japan as an atheistic country, however I don’t quite believe that’s the case.

In his book “Silence” Shusaku Endo describes Japan as a swamp. Referencing the parable of the sower, one of the characters in the book says that Japan is like a swamp where the seeds of Christianity cannot take root. If anything does manage to grow, it is warped,  looks nothing like it’s supposed to. Endo was Catholic, and “Silence” is a novel about Portuguese monks coming to Japan, while at the same time it was a way for Endo to work through what it meant to be Japanese and believe in Jesus.

So, I was discussing the parable of the sower with a friend, and going over the different types of soil. He said he believes all of Japan is rocky soil. That got us started talking about Japan and religion. If you ask most people in Japan, they’ll tell you they’re Buddhist or Shinto. What that means depends on the person.

My friend said this though, that most people do not understand what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. They don’t know the meaning behind their rituals. When people pray at shrines, it’s essentially people doing something to try and get good luck. Or maybe, if something really bad is happening, people will go pray at shrines. I’ve heard things similar to this many times before.

Another one of my friends here in Japan was discussing religion with me. He said that because Japan is a small country with few resources it needs religion to help it stay together. Religion is something Japanese people can unify around.

These ideas baffled me for some time, especially as someone who is fascinated by Japanese religion. When I first came to Japan in 2015, I was disappointed at how little interest there was in religion. In 2015, I had just finished a class on Japanese religion and was so excited to apply the knowledge that I had. I had studied many different Buddhist teachers and why they thought the way they did. I couldn’t wait to start having conversations with people. Much to my surprise, very few people knew about the teachings of these Buddhist teachers.

Because of these conversations, I’ve been considering this lately. As I have, I’ve come to realize perhaps it isn’t all that peculiar. Perhaps, my situation could be likened to a Japanese college student studying American religion, going to McDonald’s, and asking random people about transubstantiation and predestination, or maybe finding someone who’s a baptist and asking him about his thoughts on Balthasar Hubmaier.

Ever since I was a little boy my dad told me that people are the same no matter where you go. Sometimes, I forget that, and it takes me some time to remember it. I think many Americans might find themselves in the same boat as the Japanese when it comes to religion.

“Why do you go to church?”

“Because my parents did.”

“Why do you believe in God?”

“Because the Bible says so!”

“Why do you believe the Bible?”

“Because that’s what I was taught!”

“How often do you actually read the Bible outside of church?”

“Well…”

These aren’t satisfactory answers.

So, I want to encourage you today by asking some questions.

First, does it seem ridiculous to you that someone would continue doing religious rituals without really knowing why? If so, then ask yourself this next question. What are the reasons behind your religious practices? Why do you go to church? Why do you take the Lord’s Supper? Why were you baptized? Why are you a Christian? Why do you believe in God?  Why do you believe the Bible?

All too often I hear people talk about faith like it’s something fragile, something to be protected. Paul tells Christians to take up the shield of faith. I remember sitting around one night in a small group discussing that verse. All too often I think we look at faith as something we need to guard and therefore we should NEVER QUESTION ANYTHING about it. We absolutely should. That’s how we grow. If something is truth, it doesn’t matter how many questions you ask of it, it’s still going to be true.

So, consider yourself, and ask yourself these questions. Come up with satisfactory answers. Don’t just do something for no reason.

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