Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Oldcastle's Journal, Jan. 28th

Oldcastle's Journal

Jan. 28th.
Most of the usual crowd over at the Kiwi's. Near 11, we call it a night. The city is quiet, uneventful. A little colder coming back. I usually try to avoid taking the train, but tonight no choice. Strangers forced close to each other. I feel their eyes on me. I glance back at one. The passenger shifts in the seat uneasily. Someone coughs up a fit. The devil's weed. I sit with LJ and discuss the nature of damnation. We agree to disagree.

11:27PM. Come across someone's keys on the street. Someone probably dropped them in their alcoholic stupor. LJ mentions something about the moral imperative. I agree and head to the nearest police box. No one there. Typical. Across the street some girls standing around next to the menus. After some time, one of the older ones crosses over, cautiously. It makes me think of a wounded stray looking for some food.

Her voice is weak and cracked, but there's something else behind her tone, almost maternal. I decline her solicitation, citing my creed. Brief but cordial religious discussion ensues. Language skills rusty. I fumble for the words. In the end, she asks my business and I explain about the keys and she - Aiko, I learn - compliments me on my Good Samaritan deed. Hurm. We decide it best to leave them on the desk in the police box. I bid her a goodnight and take my leave. She won't be returning home until late. It doesn't occur to me until later to offer her my spare hand-warmer.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cross and Shield

This evening I was handing out flyers in the park in Sannomiya and came across three 20-something guys talking amongst themselves. I offered a flyer, briefly mentioning about the program and free English, etc., but one of them coldly moves his hand in a slow and deliberate dismissive motion, pushing my arm back. I told them there was no reason to be rude about it, that a simple “No, thank you” would suffice, and then left.

It’s not unusual to get remarkably curt and insolent responses, but I did wonder as I walked away what I should do if they came at me. I’m not much of a fighter – little skill and less training. Should I just dodge back and away (I’m good at that), or see what I could do with a few preemptive blows to the soft spots to take the fight out of them? Pretty sure that would have landed me in the clink by the Japanese police.

Here’s what a bantam Steve “Lionheart” Rogers did when faced with a never-do-well. Words like intrepid, dauntless, stout-hearted, and resolute also come to mind.  Now that's showing what us little guys can do!

And speaking of the little guy.

But then, I can also imagine what the late David Wilkerson would have done, and witnessed the fire from heaven fall and bring them to their knees in awe of God.

In case any of you are unfamiliar with Wilkerson, here’s the movie The Cross and the Switchblade, which covers his love-wins-out-style clash with New York gangsters.

In 1958, he felt called to go to New York to preach to a gang, facing death head on, along with starting a street ministry for drug addicts. Later he founded Times Square Church among the strip clubs and crackhouses, similar to Jackie Pullinger’s work with St. Stephen’s Society reaching out to Triads and opium dens in the Walled City of Kowloon of Hong Kong.

I'm really excited as I see some ideas and people and plans coming together to impact the streets of Osaka. What do you think of their lives? Do you know any other people doing similar work?

The Endgame

Talk about standing up against the System and leaving a legacy. So many good quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe this one will suffice for now:

“Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?
But conscious asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.”

Do you have a favorite quote by MLK? What do you think is his greatest legacy?

MLK's "I Have a Dream" Speech
I always think of MLK's namesake, Martin Luther, especially in his trying, yet courageous defense at the Diet of Worms in 1521, where he concluded:

"Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either
in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. *Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen."

He was soon after declared an outlaw and could have been killed on sight were it not for Frederick of Saxony's daring plan to stage a kidnapping en route and secret him away in Wartburg Castle.

*Attributed/apocryphal.

While we're on the subject, it might be noted that MLK's theological views in seminary papers were patently heretical. Still, his stance on racial justice and peace was heroic. He stood up to the terrorists, men with badges and Bibles, shook his fist in their faces, prayed for them, and took a bullet for it.

The Bullying Experiment and the Bystander Effect


I used to be bullied and one or twice I was beat up as a kid. From a young age, I was also a follower of Christ. So I should have known better, but later on in middle school I was drawn along with a group to verbally harass/bully someone else until we were all confronted about it with a parent-teacher conference. I’m glad I was confronted by the school and my mother (my dad was not around since they were divorced) and finally could severe ties with that group of “friends.”

Bullying (いじめ) is a headline issue in Japan, often with horrifyingly sadistic stories and many times leading to suicide. I’ve sat in on classes and talked to teachers and students in Japan about how they would approach discipline problems, such as bullying. In the end, they have no solutions and it never crosses their mind to think of some sort of punishment/discipline for the offender. For one thing, confrontation is often taboo and difficult to address in Japanese culture, where the emphasis is on keeping up appearances and not rocking the boat.

What has been your experience with bullying and/or confrontation? After watching this video, tell us what action would you take in a similar situation?


The Bullying Experiment

What did you think about the bullying experiment video as it focused on the reluctance of people to intervene?

One time in the town of Nishinomiya, I crashed my bike and fell on the sidewalk with a cut on my knee. I was shocked when the people walking by passed on without looking in my direction or asking if I was okay.

In Confucian values, the relationship between father and child or boss and worker are clear-cut, but there is no corresponding obligation between strangers. But of course the problem is not limited only to Eastern countries.

When we look at the bystander effect, it has a great deal to do with questions of identity. When self-identity gets blurred unto anonymity, being influenced or coerced into blending in with the crowd, people stop thinking for themselves and become indifferent, apathetic. People are dehumanized into blindly following authority, customs, and social norms. In the case of being a witness to bullying or a crime, the fear of physical danger or especially of other people’s opinion about us is determinative. Being overly status-conscious and worried about ostracism can be paralyzing. We should remember that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Being secure in your identity – even apart from your circles of friendship – means having an inner strength to go against the flow of popular opinion. My identity is in Christ and how I think and act flows from that. As Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” As part of His body, the family of God, that is, the church universal, my fellowship circle is that much stronger.

What are your circles? How do they influence you? How secure are you in your self-identity? If you saw someone being harassed on a train, what would you do? Have you ever thought of that scenario before?

The Bystander Effect

Situational Awareness and Digging Deeper for the Roots of Evil

The great statesman Edmund Burke famously said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Time to get indignant about the injustice and sin around us.  Luke, Daniel, and the rest can't do it alone.  It's a team effort.  What forms of oppression do you see around you?

How can we start to get our mind around some of these daunting issues?
  This AOM article Developing the Heroic Imagination sums it up nicely.  Of course, "Heroes for Hire" has something of a mercenary sound to it, but the idea is simply a call to action, to seek ways to address the systemic social evils around us.  There's no money in talking someone down from the ledge.  We're pro bono, but proactive too.  Do some research on your city - what kind of crimes and cruelty are perpetuated in the shadows?
We're about addressing the roots of injustice in society, not getting distracted by just treating the symptoms. Whether talking about teenage prostitution or juvenile delinquency, behind all the statistics the elephant in the room is the issue of fatherlessness.  We take the fight there, and we'll see lives changed.  Examine yourself, think of people you know around you that are being affected by it, and consider programs out there like Donald Miller's work - The Mentoring Project

Word on the Street

I know SHJN and Heroes for Hire, Inc. are two separate entities, with SHJN intending to originally be a rally point for Japanese ministry, relaying cultural events and esl/hospitality resources around Houston.  Since my return to Japan I've made more of a shift to articles and stories unpacking gospel insights for the cultural and religious philosophies here. 

Now, as my ragamuffin mission becomes more focused, I figure it best not to deprive SHJN of my attention and the exciting stuff that's developing.  I want you all to be able to come along for the ride.  As much as I can, I would like to fold in some of the posts I do on the HFH Facebook page here so that they might have a more coherent and lasting footprint and reach more people.  So as not to overwhelm with too many short posts, I'll combine a few.

There for you have it.

To properly introduce HFH then:

The Mission
To rescue and redeem the broken.

To stand against all manner of injustice - such as human trafficking, bullying, suicide, infanticide, fatherlessness.
To proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. It is a divine mandate, requiring a special anointing to empower us.
At the end of the day, superheroes are good at locking away the bad guy and returning things back to status quo. But the truth is, the status quo is embedded with institutionalized and interpersonal evil and oppression. The gospel calls us to nothing less than redeeming the hearts of people

Monday, January 13, 2014

Post-Holiday Hiatus... and Heroes for Hire, Inc.

I like adventures and mysteries and the kind of uphill challenges that require creativity, stubbornness, and a heavy leaning on the Lord for His guidance and strength.

Here in Japan the number of people who have experienced the new life of Christ and now follow the way of the Messiah is less than 1% out of almost 128 million.  The mission is dire.  I hesitate to think about what will happen to those lost to eternal condemnation.

Seeking to share the message of the truth and life in Jesus is certainly a task for a lifetime, and one that I am committed to.  Additionally, there are the crises of suicide (30,000 a year), hikikomori shut-ins (300,000 or so), the sin of fatherlessness, the cult of the company, the feminization of men, student/teacher bullying, hypersexualization, child pornography, human trafficking and the sex trade, etc.  Yeah, we have our work cut out for us. 

I've touched on some of these subjects in the past on this blog.  Down on the street level, most of the people I talk with either participate in or are affected by these sorts of issues - they are collectively the Everyman, so to speak.  I've watched insolent kids run rampant, slamming doors, attacking their parents with impunity.  I've gotten to sit in with future teachers to discuss child-rearing, classroom management, bullying, and related subjects.  Most, if not all of them, were punched by their dad.  Where I've been living for the past year is around the corner from one of the red-light districts near Umeda, Osaka.  Everyday I walk past the neon signs, past the wigs and wallets, and it's got me thinking and praying about what I can do.  It's not for no reason that Providence has me living in this neighborhood.

Sadly, Japanese are notoriously indifferent to social activism or simply airing one's own unadulterated opinion.  There are various historical influences for that, but much of it is due to fear and indifference.  I often write about some of these issues and the occasional hero in the news that is making headway, like the guy I happened to meet near Umeda Station who does kikiya "listening spots" as a preventative against depression and suicide, and now has spawned a movement across Japan.

Recently, I was getting ready for a friend's superhero costume-themed birthday party and for a few weeks I was looking for boots and gloves to go with my outfit (another mini-mission!).  About that time, I was watching some Avengers and Spider-Man episodes featuring Luke Cage and Iron Fist from the more common man's superhero team Heroes for Hire.  (I'm a sucker just for the bright, primary color scheme alone - add in some cosplay and a little tongue-in-cheek acting and I'm your man.  Most Japanese "superheroes" though have an alien insectoid-plastic theme and they don't talk.)

Somewhere in the mesh of this I thought about the interplay of everyday heroism and decided to make a sister page on FB: Heroes for Hire, Inc.  A place to gather my thoughts and provide ideas and resources for others to get involved where they are.  I'll still post longer articles in SHJN, but I'll use FB for expanding the audience and the one-two jabs of the fists of justice.  Who knows?  Maybe we'll see a new team emerge!

So what do you say, citizen?  I could use a few strong hands like yours to fight the good fight.  Will do you take up the call, ready yourself, and suit up? 

"Lo, There Shall Come a Champion!"

Monday, November 4, 2013

International Night Cultural Quiz

We had an international party of sorts the other week at church and I drew up a trivia quiz representing some of the nationalities.  Several folks whined complained it was too hard. (None of the Japanese knew about Osaka as the capital... multiple times?)  たぶん温度差がある。 Well, perhaps it probably doesn't hurt that I was a lit/history major.  Anyway, try it out and see how you do. 

I don't know how to use fancy fonts and watermark graphics on blogspot, so I'll post screen shots.







































So, how did you do?  Three of the eight tables got 24 of them right.  I guess if you can beat 24, you earn a prize.

I'll put the answer key below in the comments.