bones of contention

In Japan, you must never, ever, I mean ever, pass a piece of food directly from your chopsticks to someone else's chopsticks. To do so is about on par with throwing up into your rice bowl. Maybe worse.

And this is so very awful because when a person dies in Japan and is cremated, the relatives pair up and use special, long chopsticks to transfer bone pieces into the urn. This process is called "hashi watashi," which means "chopstick passing".

So to do a chopstick handoff at the dinner table is basically to fling open the doors of the underworld and invite every sort of nameless ghoulish horror to invade your household.

Try it sometime when dining with Japanese people, and see the reaction you get!
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I've been to the crematorium so often lately that even the guys who work there are looking at me askance. Like, you know, maybe I'm doing something to speed along people's passage to the Great Beyond or something.

But several times recently they've also asked me how they should handle the urn packing process. They want to know if it's okay to do "hashi watashi" in pairs, or should they have each person do it on his own.

At first I was confused about why they were asking. But then I learned that in some "Christian" cremations they don't do "hashi watashi" in pairs.

Now, I have given thought to the theological question of cremation versus interment of the body. But since cremation is mandatory under Japanese law, I figure Ezekiel gives sufficient reason not to worry that dry bones are going to present some sort of major obstacle to God's resurrection plans.

But why on earth would some Christian clergymen object to people pairing up to move bone fragments?

It turns out that "hashi watashi" can also mean "bridge crossing" ("chopsticks" and "bridge" are both "hashi," albeit with different kanji).

So, the idea is that the mourners are helping their loved one to cross over the river which, in Buddhist mythology, separates this world from the next (a lot like Acheron in Greek mythology).

There's also the sense that if the dead person's spirit wants to come back and visit great unpleasantness on you, it's better to team up. Going 50-50 on the haunting, as it were.

So I guess that some Christian ministers don't want to lend credence to quasi-Buddhist mythology. (It kind of reminds me of Blake's "priests in black gowns walking their rounds".)

But it seems to me that, first, on the scale ranging from "explicitly religious expression" to "vaguely understood cultural practice," "hashi watashi" is pretty far over on the cultural side.

Second, at this moment of final farewell, I can see some small value in coming together to transfer a part of the person who has died into the urn that will house their remains. A grief shared, as it were.

Or, if not much value, at least not much harm in this practice.

So I've been giving the green light to the "hashi watashi".

But thanks for asking, guys, I guess.

And, honest, I had nothing to do with the recent spate of deaths...








there's a reason why you're here (1 John 4:7-21)

Talk at Evening Prayer
St. Luke's College of Nursing Orientation
New Hall, Seisenryo, Kiyosato, Yamanashi

As a hospital chaplain, I spend lots of time talking with patients. Well, listening, mostly.

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals usually deal with the questions "what" and "how". They try to diagnose "what is the problem with this patient"? And they consider "how can we provide her with the best care"?

But a lot of what a chaplain does is deal with the question, "Why?" Why did I get sick? Why did this happen to me now? Or, more basically, Why was I born? Why am I living?

So tonight, I want to think briefly about this question: Why are you here? Why have you come to study at St. Luke's College of Nursing?

Well, almost all of you would probably answer "to become a nurse." Still, why did you decide you wanted to be a nurse?

In the group work, you have talked about the occasion for your entering St. Luke's College of Nursing. But I want to make a bold statement. You may not believe me, and that's okay. But I think the idea of becoming a nurse, of coming to study at this school, did not actually originate with you.

I'll probably get in trouble for saying this, but the meaning of life is not something we create, but rather something we discover. The meaning of life is given to us. Likewise, I belive the occasion for your entering this school was also given to you.

No one bestows life upon himself. No one in this room sat around trying to decide when, in what country, to what family they would be born. Life is given to us from outside ourselves.

And along with life, I believe, we are each given a destiny, a mission. It comes from outside ourselves. To each of us is given a call to which we must respond if we are to be truly happy.

This kind of talk is pretty much rank heresy in the modern world. We moderns tend to want to believe everything is relative. I have "my" truth, you have "your" truth, and both are equally valid. I can make it up as I go along.

And we believe we can invent and reinvent ourselves, that it's up to us to determine the path of our lives. We each get to decide what the meaning of life is.

We may wish this all were true, but things simply don't work like that. No matter how much he may wish to be, a man cannot become his own Creator.

Certainly, we can change and grow, and we should try to change and grow. The goal of all study is to change the student. Any study that doesn't change you is meaningless and a waste of time.

But changing and growing, too, is part of the destiny we have been given. It is part of the call to which we are expected to respond.

The path of life is not something we make up. It is something we discover and accept.

Moreover, this is something to be very thankful for. Because to discover and accept the path we are to walk in life is to discover real freedom. To respond to the call placed upon our lives is to discover deep joy. And that is because the One who calls us is Love. "God is love," it says in the Letter of St. John " (4:16).

The Letter also says: "We love, because God first loved us" (4:19).

And that is the real reason each one of you is here. It's the same reason for us all: Our destiny is to respond in love to God's love.

Of course, how you respond, what shape that response takes, will differ from person to person. There are many ways of responding. That, too, is God's desire.

You each have different gifts, backgrounds, passions, different encounters. Your own unique experiences have shaped you and prepared you for this moment.

And what you experience here and whom you encounter at St. Luke's will further shape you and determine how exactly you respond to your call. Your time here will help you explore the contours of the destiny you have been given.

But at heart, all our destinies are the same: Together, and individually, our lives are meant to be a response to the love of God who made us. We are all called into the service of Love.

You are here for a reason. Knowingly or not, you have already begun to respond to the call. My fervent prayer is that you'll be able to taste the joy of knowing that God who is Love has chosen you and called you to share in His work of healing the world.


夕の礼拝 聖路加看護大学オリエンテーションセミナー





だから、今夜は、皆さんと簡単に一つの質問について考えたい。それは、Why are you here?何であなたがここにいるのか。何で聖路加看護大学で勉強をしに来たのか。



























2012年4月8日復活日 下町ニュース 聖職者リレーエッセイ







a totally unexpected morning

"Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." (Mark 16:8)

The resurrection of Christ, before it is a source of joy, is a source of astonishment and terror. We may not think of it simply as a story of a man brought back from the dead. Nor is it that a great tragedy has somehow been erased, and things reset to "the way they were." No. The resurrection of Christ is a new act of creation. It bristles with the mighty power of God who made heaven and earth. It is the firstfruits of a completely new kind of life, a manifestation not of "the way things were" but of "the way things will be". It is our clearest glimpse into that new world of freedom and peace that is waiting to be born when the curtain falls on the heart-rending drama of our present world.