diocesan news blues

Each week, the fax machine spits out another one-page bulletin called the "Diocesan News."

Copies of the weekly diocesan bulletin used to be mailed out. It was a few pages long, with articles from various contributors around the diocese. But since the Diocese is scraping the bottom of the cash barrel these days, this exciting new low-cost format was adopted. Each church can make its own copies (or even just post one copy in the parish hall, to save on toner cost.)

The one-page bulletin has information on the goings on around the diocese. There are concerts, gatherings to raise awareness about various social issues, study groups about various social issues, peace rallies, committee meetings, and the names of people who died this week.

It's kind of depressing.

I guess what bothers me most about the Diocesan News is what's NOT on it: i.e. means of grace.

Free music concerts are a good thing, sure. And, to be fair, in the midst of all the peace and social justice gatherings that the same fifty people all go to, and the committee meetings that I am extremely grateful not to be part of, there is the occasional offering of a retreat day or prayer gathering. That's a step in the right direction.

But, if I'm an ordinary baptised believer, or mostly a believer, sort of, at least on my good days, what help is there for me to, you know, actually grow in my faith? Not to grow in my awareness of all the ways the world is screwed up by the Evil Establishment (you know, Them). Not to grow in my hopelessness that an already tiny and struggling diocese is shrinking as funerals surpass baptisms week after week after week.

To grow in my faith. To learn how to follow Jesus better than I am now.

Is there any place I can go to encounter the Word of God, living and active? Is there anything that will lead me to an encounter with God? Is there any remedy available for my sin-sick soul? Is there any guide who can help me try to stay faithful in the confusing muddle of work and school and daily life in a pagan world?

In other words, what's out there that will tear down and rebuild my heart? Where can I find training in how to live as a saint?

Because just a handful of saints, just a few hearts that have been deeply grasped by grace and set afire with divine love, will do more to bring justice and healing to Japan than twenty thousand discussion groups.

The problem is not a lack of awareness. The problem is a lack of conversion.

don't hold back

Even more apt, 70 years on...
"Our American culture, as it exists, is actually the quintessence of all that is decadent in the culture of the Western Christian world. It would seem to be erected on the triple denial that has corrupted Western culture at its roots: the denial of metaphysical reality, of the primacy of the spiritual over the material, [and] of the social over the individual . . . Its most striking characteristic is its profound materialism . . . It has given citizens everything to live for and nothing to die for.  And its achievement may be summed up thus:  It has gained a continent and lost its own soul."
"Hence in view of the fact that American culture is built on the negation of all that Christianity stands for, it would seem that our first step toward the construction of a Christian culture should be the destruction of the existing one. In the presence of a Frankenstein, one does not reach for baptismal water, but for a bludgeon."
               --John Courtney Murray, S.J., 
                  "The Construction of a Christian Culture," 1940


sermon preview: Christ into the fray

"Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'" (Mark 1:10-11)
The wall dividing the heavens from the earth rips open and the power that created the universe comes cascading down upon a beloved Son. This is no mere tender scene between a father and child; this is a mighty King sending His best Champion into battle. The mission given to Jesus is this: Clear the world of the powers of darkness that enslave and deform humanity. His weapon? Not a sword, but perfect obedience, driven by his passionate love for the Father.





夕の礼拝 2012年2月19日


♪ シェマ、イスラエル、アドナイ エロヘイヌ、アドナイ エハッド ♪

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heart of worship

In my heart of hearts, I am a vaulted-ceiling-high, and deeply unfulfilled, Anglo-Catholic.

If I could construct life exactly as I pleased like some kind of online virtual world, my Sunday worship experience would be drenched in billowing clouds of top-grade incense smoke, mellifluous Sanctus bells rung vigorously at all the right moments, Palestrina chanted by a boys choir, and two guys flanking me at all times to hold up the sleeves of my chausable, like an ecclesiastical security detail. I would own a biretta, whose headband would be worn from overuse.

There would be a great big, lovely statue of the Blessed Virgin in a small side chapel in the sanctuary, with rows and rows of votive candles that were always almost all lit.

There would be stained glass...well, pretty much like the stained glass we have now in the hospital chapel.

And everybody attending worship would make the sign of the cross and bow. A lot.

For more reasons than I can possibly enumerate, I am very glad that I cannot construct my life exactly as I please, or even to any noticeable degree as I please. L'enfer, c'est nous meme.

Like everything else in the universe, worship isn't about me, or even about me and God. It's about the incarnation of Christ in a local community of believers, with a unique history and culture and character.

So, because of the particular community I'm part of, I have to forgo the smells and bells. In return, I get wonderful, gritty reality, a family worshippping together in its own way and in the process being slowly transformed into the likeness of Christ.

I wouldn't have it any other way. Doesn't mean I don't long for all that stuff, though.

But, as spiky as I might be by temperment, I have also come to believe that the worship that we find described in the Psalms finds its truest expression in gatherings like this one:

Anyone who has really spent time chewing on words like Alleluia and Hosanna and Amen, which pretty much demand to be shouted, should be able to see the connection.

I mean, do you think that, if they had the technology, the Levites would NOT have jacked their harps into amps? Do you think they would not turn cartwheels if somebody set up a drum kit in the tabernacle? Do you think they didn't have their hands in the air when, for example, they sang this:
   Praise the LORD! Hallelu Yah!
     Praise God in his sanctuary!
     Praise him in his mighty heavens!
  Praise him for his acts of power!
     Praise him for his surpassing greatness!
  Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet!
     Praise him with the harp and lyre!
  Praise him with timbrel and dancing!
     Praise him with the strings and pipe!
  Praise him with the clash of cymbals!
     Praise him with resounding cymbals!
  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Hallelu Yah!
    (Psalm 150)

Praise the LORD with the electric guitar and keyboard and drums and sound system.

It is not really my cup of tea. It is so unseemly, and so biblical.



It's been three years since my friend Chi-chan died, at age seven, after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant. "Chan" in Japanese is the diminutive form of "san," kind of like Lil' in English. Used for children, especially girls. The poem refers to a hidden skylight in the hospital's small chapel called Teusler Hall. The skylight can only be accessed by ducking under a low-hanging wall. It is too narrow for someone with broad shoulders to stand up inside.

Careful when you make that face, I say
It might freeze up like that
That’s okay, you say
I’ll just pour hot water on it

You, the bed, the world entire
Mother moon encircling
Love's gravity stirring the soul's deeps
Never alone, you were
Never left to your own devices

A father's marrow
Red sun hovers low on the horizon
Love pouring down into your bones
Terrible gift you gave to him
A father's burden
   and greatest honor
     Truly this is bone of my bone,
     Flesh of my flesh

Tongue-tied love's calligraphy
smoothly penned in blood
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Vaulting autumn sky
Mother daughter tears streaming
Querying God’s grace
Everyone else got to go home
Why me? Was I bad? Did I sin?
Child theodicy like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus
No, no little one, no and a thousand times no
  Neither hath she sinned, nor her parents:
  but that the works of God should be made manifest in her.

He is always with you, Come what may, never apart
Your tears rend His heart
That all you got up your sleeve, Chaplain?
This the full extent of learned divinity?
All for this?
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words fail, falter, fall out of joint and so
I show you the secret place in Dr. Teusler's Hall
the only way in is to be small
the kingdom belongs to such as these
tunnel dug straight up into the sky
discovery's smile
tongue tip darting out as ever
small enough to stand tall
here alone, beloved child, autumn cascading quick-silver
over your bald crown
heaven's delight a mantle on your slight, titanic shoulders
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The blanket on your death bed
Pooh gazing fondly at a flower
  "Thank you for blossoming for me."
       Oh, my kingdom for a cup of hot water…

eating is believing (John 6:41-51)

At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
  ”Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.  No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.  I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
"This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

Bread. Flesh. Given. Of course the Eucharist springs to mind. But I think there's something more than just a reference to the sacrament going on here.

Just the day before, the crowds didn’t "get it" when Jesus fed the five thousand from some kid’s lunchbox. Whoa! Awesome trick! Who is this guy? Maybe there’s more where that came from!

Jesus tries to explain, but he can’t get through to them. All you want is more bread. More bread? You should want so much more! I'm here to give you the kind of bread that will nourish eternal life inside you. All you've got to do is believe in me, Jesus says.

First we want more proof, they say. Loaves and fishes are nice, but how about calling down some manna? That’s something they say the Messiah will be able to do. Then comes the show-stopper: “I am the bread of life…I have come down from heaven.”

"At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’" From heaven? Yeah, right. We know where you live.

I recall reading somewhere that manna was often a symbol for the Torah. At Mount Sinai, the Torah, too, came down from heaven. So the Israelites liked to speak of Torah as manna, the wisdom and the word coming down like angelic bread from heaven, the candid disclosure of God’s holy and gracious heart.

To hear and believe Torah, to be nourished and filled by God’s Word, to let it guide all your steps, was to come to know God in the most intimate way. It was to learn how to live and flourish in His presence. It was joy and delight.

It was REAL LIFE, clear-headed and astonishing.

Not so long ago, Jesus scolded his disciples when they tried to press some pita sandwiches on him: “My food is to obey the will of the one who sent me, and to finish the work he gave me to do” (4:34).

These are words spoken by a man who KNEW intimate communion with the Father, and the deep joy and liberty of conforming his own will to that best and most beautiful Will.

Now, here is Jesus, claiming that HE HIMSELF is God’s Torah, God’s Word which “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). Everything Jesus shows us comes straight from the heart of the Father.

And the disclosed Word is this: I love you. I love you. I love you so much I will lay down my life for you. I call you “friends.”

Hear and believe this Word, Jesus says, trust with your life the One who sent it, and it’s yours, always. This Word will be very near you, in your mouth and in your heart.

Let me nourish you with this Word, Jesus says, let me refresh and sustain you with my own life. Walk with me. Let my will become your will. Share in my joy, my delight. Live life to the full. Live forever....


神の「よろしい」(マルコ1: 40-45)

2012年2月12日・10時30分 聖餐式


  → 僕は怖いかどうか、ぜひ子どもたちに聞いてみてください!(笑)

1. 自分の子どもが周りの人に迷惑をかけること
2. 子どもが同じ失敗を繰り返すこと


でも、この同じ人が今度おじいちゃんになったら、いきなり穏やかになりました。とても優しいやつになっています。孫たちにメロメロ。「ジュース、もう一杯ほしい?いいよ。」「あれ?壊したかい?No problem!」とか。なんてこと!?!!ありえない!




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sermon preview: the "I am willing" of God

"If you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus was filled with compassion. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Mark 1:40-41)

The idea of "bad karma" is completely antithetical to scriptural revelation. It implicitly denies the mercy and loving-kindness of God. God is not some tyrant, watching over our shoulders to punish us as soon as we mess up. To be sure, turning our backs on the will of God carries grievous consequences. But the mercy of God is far bigger than that. God is always willing to forgive us, and heal us, and stand us back on our feet. This is precisely what Jesus Christ, who is "the face of God," shows us.





a find

I love opening up old, dusty books that I've never heard of before and discovering unexpected treasures inside.

Probably operating under some kind of low-level panic control impulse, I am cleaning out the chaplain's office at the hospital. At least four generations of chaplains have left their books behind here. Most of it is sheer crap. Fatherhood of God, Brotherhood of Man kind of Protestant rationalism (=embarassed, petulant Deism) at its most boring. Plus, heaps and heaps of pastoral counselling pablum, for chaplains who are wanna be pipe-smoking psychotherapists.

It's all so drearily respectable. So Seventies, like, let's hug and do bong hits, man. So begging to be dismissed and forgotten forever.

I am gleeful at the prospect of exorcising the office of it all.

But here and there, among the tomes of twaddle, I find a book that seems of at least passing interest.

So, today, my eye was caught by a little book called "The Gospel of Victory." Ooh. What have we here?

If this were published in 2012, it would go straight into the round file. But this one was published in 1955, before the prosperity gospel and Word of Faith quasi-magical mumbo jumbo urging us all to live our best lives now by naming it and claiming it. What would a "Gospel of Victory" mean to people in the 1950s?

The subtitle reads: "A Study in the Relevance of the Epistle to the Galatians for the Christian Mission Today." Well, despite the fact that "today" is a half century ago and the fact that the subtitle contains the red-flag word "relevance," I decided to take a look. After all, at least the focus is on Scripture. One book of Scripture even, not a scatter shot of proof texts.

I was also intrigued by that little "the." "For the Christian Mission," implying, I think quite radically, that there is ONE mission entrusted to the Church by its one Lord Jesus Christ. I'd bet 1,000 yen that any publisher today would change that either to "for Christian Mission" or, more probably, "for Christian Missions." Because, you know, "mission" is something that various church groups just sit around and think up on their own for more or less imperialistic reasons.

The author is M.A.C. (Max) Warren, whom I don't know from Adam. On the inside flap, I read that Dr. Warren is (was) General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society. So I do the calculation. 1950s. Hmmm. At the time, people in charge of British missionary societies were probably still believing Christians, maybe even true evangelicals.

The publisher is SCM Press. I have a vaguely positive impression of that publishing house, not sure why. Unlike HarperSanFrancisco or Church House or Seabury.

So I open up the slim book to chapter 1, "Paul and Abraham." And there, on the first page, behold! Rhetorical and theological delight! Here's the opening salvo:
PAUL was a slave of Jesus Christ, 'bought with a price': and as such was a man under a divine constraint, filled with an overwhelming sense of obligation--'woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel."...We may seek to study [Paul] as a disciple, as a pioneer missionary, as a statesman; but our study will be in vain unless we recognize that the three men are one man, always to be seen in the context of devotion and obedience to a Redeemer who was no remote object of worship but his accompanying Lord.
The first paragraph has me ready to raise a celebratory fist in the air. "Accompanying Lord." Wow. That will bear chewing on for a while. Max goes on:
Paul's "theology was a theology of experience, if ever there was one. It was hammered out in via and not in a study. It was never reduced to a system, indeed it could not be, for it was wholly involved with a Person. For Paul theology was the exploration of a friendship, and like that friendship the theology was something which grew."
To be sure, these are somewhat risky words, because a liberal "Christian" could use these or similar words before launching into an attempt to deconstruct Paul into smithereens. But after that "accompanying Lord" phrase, I'm willing to give Max the benefit of the doubt. For now.

Max concludes:
"The last word on Paul's theology written at the end of his life was the simple testimony of a man to his friend: 'I long to know Christ...I do not consider myself to have "arrived", spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me.' (Phil 3:8, 12 Phillips translation)"
"A man to his friend." Paul to Jesus. Already I have much to think about. Jesus Christ as Lord and proper object of devotion and obedience but also "accompanying Lord," implying the necessity of a journey and Christ's abiding presence with me on that journey. And then the idea of Paul, the ex-Pharisee lone wolf, driven and sustained his whole amazing life by a deep friendship with Christ.

And that's just page one!

I'm definitely reading on.


sermon preview: Jesus gives evil a beat down

"And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them." (Mark 1:31)

Last week, in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus confronted and drove out the evil spirit that was harassing a man (Mark 1:21-26). Compared with that, the "miracle" He now performs, healing the fever of Peter's mother-in-law, somehow seems a bit trifling. But God doesn't only deal with the massive evils in the world. God hates evil, it's true, but at the same time He loves us passionately. So, He is concerned about whatever troubles us and prevents us from living abundantly. Jesus came not only to drive out evil, but also to bring in joy.