Saturday, November 29, 2008

Knockin' at the door

Before I came to Japan, I hoped that I would be able to learn what it means to be Christian apart from helping in church ministries.

A year and four months into my time here, and, well, I've got to admit I really haven't a clue.

My thoughts are really disjointed right now, but I thought I should at least share some of the things God's been doing to remind me that he is in my life, even if I'm not making much of an effort to spend time with him.

For a while (maybe three days?) I managed to get my act together to do some of the Disciple readings. It just so happened that where I left off was apt for my current situation: chapter 17, "A Time of Transition." For the chapter, I read Esther, and what really struck me was Esther's reaction when she found out that Mordecai was wearing sackcloth and ashes at the king's gate: she wanted him to put on clean clothes. It struck me as odd because throughout Biblical history, the donning of sackcloth and ashes has meant great suffering/mourning, or grief/repentance. But Esther didn't get it right away. She only asked Mordecai what was wrong after he refused the clothes. I wondered, too, if maybe she sent the clothes to Mordecai out of embarrassment over his actions.

We always have this vision of Biblical heroes as just that--God's chosen: larger than life and "holier-than-us"--but reading that, I wondered just how "set apart" Esther was at the time? I mean, she wasn't like Daniel, sticking to Jewish customs in opposition to the king's orders. I mean, she was the queen for how long without anyone realizing that she was Jewish? I've always thought that I needed to be "out there" with my faith, that it should somehow be more obvious to people who see me.

Maybe it's just that I was looking for justification for myself, but reading Esther made me think that maybe "being a Christian" doesn't always have to be something that is super obvious to others--like a giant cross tattoed on my foreheard--and that maybe it's ok to be subtly different. Of course I also thought that despite all the years of "blending in" and possibly losing track of some of her Jewish traditions/beliefs, Esther was nonetheless willing to answer to God's call when it came. And I don't know if, in the state I'm in now, I'd be able to hear a message from God, much less act on it.

When we were waiting to try our kimonos on before the big November dance performance, my dance partner (and dance teacher's niece), Maki, suddenly asked me if I was a Christian. I naturally answered yes, and she asked a bit about going to church and some Christian beliefs (like thoughts on Halloween). As usual, I was caught unawares and probably didn't give very good answers. She was particularly interested in church because many Japanese will say that they're Buddhist or Shinto without feeling the need to go to temples/shrines or to follow any religious practices at all (or if they do, it's more for tradition than any sort of religious piety). The entire time I was talking with her, I was thinking: "Heck, how can I talk about the importance of going to church to Christians when I haven't gone since April?"

And really, that's the bottom line, isn't it? I clearly don't believe in the importance of church enough to go out and find a church to attend regularly or to persevere in attending a church with an environment that makes me uncomfortable.

Then last week I was teaching a Christmas lesson with the ninensei at Sanbongi Elementary School. I gave a talk about some of the differences between Christmas in Japan and in Canada (fried chicken VS turkey, a couple holiday VS a family holiday, etc.) and one of the students asked (in Japanese, of course): "Why is Christmas so important to Canadians?" So there I was trying to explain in broken Japanese with some basic English (it was an English class, after all) that it's important because it's the birthday of Jesus Christ, God's son (and how that translates into a family holiday, well...).

Most recently (this past Tuesday, in fact), my dance teacher asked me if I'm Christian and if I knew the Nakanowatari's from church. Apparently she was speaking to one of them and it came out in the course of the conversation that I went to their church for a while. ^^;; I still feel a little guilty for the way I just stopped going to church and didn't get in contact with them after I moved from the old house, but not enough to do anything about it.

*sigh* Putting all these things down in writing forces me to face the fact that I'm really lazy, and a coward to boot. I know that I should be responding to these "signs" somehow, but instead I choose to absorb myself in my work and to prioritize anything and everything above spending time in real conversation with God to avoid the risk hearing something from him that I don't want to listen to/act upon.

And though I've never had doubts about my beliefs, good old James 2:17 has been haunting me recently (when I give myself time to think, that is): " by itself, if it is not accompanined by action, is dead."