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Art Life Faith Podcast
6 minutes | a day ago
16. Tree of Hope
This week I want to share a very special story with you about the most famous tree in all of Japan. It was the only vertical thing left standing in the city of Rikuzentakata after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. As the 10th anniversary of this day quickly approaches, and we prepare an arts conference to remember that day, we’ll be talking about this tree, because there’s a violin that was made from it. This “tsunami violin” will be showcased in a concert at our conference, one of the official 1,000 concerts planned with this violin. And we’ll be playing a piece called “Kibou” (or “Hope”) that was commissioned in memory of the tsunami. Here is the story of my first encounter with the tree, as told in my book Aroma of Beauty. I looked up at the enormity of it. The tree was almost 100 feet tall. It grew here in the city of Rikuzentakata as part of a forest of 70,000 pine trees for hundreds of years. The trees protected the people from storms and strong coastal winds and were once chosen as one of the 100 most beautiful landscapes in Japan. But now they were all gone, all except for this one surviving tree. “The tsunami sure ruined this land . . . and my shoes as well,” Luka added, looking down. She was one of the musicians who came with me on this trip. To get to the tree, we had to slog through mud along the river for about an hour from the nearest working road. The landscape was nothing but mud as far as we could see. Every tree and road was gone. Every wooden building was washed away. Every concrete structure was destroyed. The tsunami demolished everything in its path. I looked up at the tree again. In the entire grove of 70,000 trees, and every park and every neighborhood, only one tree was left standing, the Kiseki No Ipponmatsu, the “miracle” pine tree. Despite the incredible force of that wave, this tree somehow still stood! I saw the tree again a few years later while passing through from one concert to another. Another group of musicians and I were traveling the newly constructed highway along the coast. Even though it was night, we could see the tree from the farthest outskirts of the city, its presence impossible to miss, lit up by spotlights as an unmistakable beacon of hope. We stopped the car at the beautiful park that now surrounded the tree. There were flowers, benches, signs, and a wide clean concrete path. The original tree died due to salt left in the soil from the tsunami, but an almost exact replica stands in its place. It glowed as a magnificent symbol of resilience, courage, and hope against the darkness of the night sky. Standing there by the river and ocean, I began to think about the most famous of all trees, the tree that stands by the river in the city of heaven. I wonder what that tree is like. Is it taller than this pine? Can it be seen even from the farthest outskirts of the city? Does it glow eternally in the light given by God? All we know is what the Bible tells us. On each side of the river stood the tree of life . . . and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. . . . There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. (Revelation 22:2–3, 5) I also thought about the cross. Roman soldiers regularly used pine trees for crucifixions, so the cross of Jesus was most likely made of pine. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24) Both trees are for our healing. The tree of life wipes away the curse of death. The tree of the cross, planted on that ugly skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem, protects us from the storms of this world. That tree also rises out of the muck and mud of our sin as a beacon of light and hope. The tree of hope reminds us that God is always near, even in the midst of our devastation. It will always stand towering over a broken and desolate world, as the source of all healing and life.
6 minutes | 8 days ago
15. The Cookout
On March 1, we’ll be coming out with my next book Aroma of Beauty, telling stories of how the arts brought hope and healing after the 2011 earthquake and disaster here in Japan. We’re pretty excited about this project because the beauty we found in those dark times can encourage us at all times, and nothing seems more appropriate during this time of unrest and during the spread of the coronavirus. The title of this book, Aroma of Beauty, is taken from the story that I’m just about to share with you. It’s a kind of beauty that is temporary and fleeting, but, man, is it powerful. In fact, this kind of weak beauty, this fragile beauty, is exactly what we needed in that time and place. The food just after the tsunami was terrible. Every meal was treated like an emergency situation. Refugees and relief workers alike, we all lived off of emergency rations, canned and instant foods. This kind of food may keep the body going for a day, but it sure lacks the vitamins, nutrients, and life-giving beauty that we so desperately needed. When we heard from survivors the kind of stomach problems they were now dealing with, our local Tokyo community was galvanized into action and began to plan our first takidashi cookout. Grocers donated rice, meat, and vegetables. Restaurants loaned equipment. My dentist even donated toothbrushes and toothpaste. A dozen people who had never been to the disaster area agreed to go as cooks and volunteers. My wife Abi led a caravan of trucks and vans to the city of Ishinomaki. They came to a halt in a gravel lot cleared of debris, the tell-tale sign that people were taking shelter on the upper floors of nearby homes, stores, and buildings. Fish and seaweed decayed in the sun. Piles of garbage lined roadsides with nowhere to go. Porta-potties and toilets overflowed. The stench was overwhelming, and every time we opened the doors of our trucks, we were overcome by the potency of it. This must be what hell is like, Abi thought as she began to unload, trying to ignore the stench and not stare at the surrounding devastation. Noisy generators powered the rice cookers. Industrial-sized propane burners roared underneath the large pots of water. The volunteers cut meat and vegetables on plastic portable tables. Pork, carrots, daikon radishes, shiitake mushrooms, and konnyaku gelatin strips—all the ingredients needed to make tonjiru soup. As the food went into the pots, something beautiful began to happen. An aroma began to waft through the air, a pleasing smell unknown since before the earthquake. People began to line up from surrounding buildings—ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred people—and volunteers began to get worried. “What do we do? We still need more time!” “It’s okay,” Abi said. “There hasn’t been a smell like this here for a very long time. Let’s enjoy it.” Abi asked the musician who came with the group if he wouldn’t mind playing a little bit. “I know it’s not an ideal spot,” she said, staring at the blocks of concrete and thick gooey mud. “And your audience isn’t exactly nicely grouped together.” The line of people went as far as she could see. The musician pulled out his shakuhachi bamboo flute and began to play, slowly picking his way around the puddles and the mud as he walked down the line of people. The melodies of the flute and the aroma of the soup filled the air, wiping away the stench like tears, comforting with a tales from a world without destruction. The food was more than mere sustenance. The music was more than mere entertainment, a way to pass the time while waiting in line. It was life-giving. An electrifying sense of hope, almost tangible, wafted through the air. It was the aroma of beauty. “An electrifying sense of hope, almost tangible, wafted through the air. It was the aroma of beauty.” Aroma may be temporary and only last a moment, but the more time we spent in the disaster area, the more urgently we felt its need. The aroma of beauty became a seawall against the black waves of despair that threatened us every day after that tsunami. It brought an unexpected joy with the promise that a better tomorrow would come.
9 minutes | 16 days ago
14. Called By A New Name
When I was a child, I was really into astronomy. My father took me to visit observatories every chance we got. I remember attending some big events in Boston that were public lectures and then going home to document the findings myself with my own telescope. I journaled and drew the movement of sunspots across the sun, and the moons around Jupiter. I read every issue of the magazine Astronomy and had all the constellations and major stars of the sky memorized. I even led viewing nights for elementary school kids giving a short talk on what we were about to see, finding it, and then showing it to them through a telescope. If God took all the trouble to make all these beautiful things, I figured, the least I could do was to get to know them a little bit. I really thought I was going to work for NASA, but music carried me in a different direction. On December 21 there was a really important event in the sky—you may have seen it—the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Just after sunset, many lined up along the river that runs through the center of Tokyo, pointing their cameras and telescopes skyward to catch a glimpse of it. I was one of them! The sixteenth century astronomer Kepler believed this same conjunction was the original “Christmas star” that brought the wise men to seek Jesus. Every year, we sing about the stars in Christmas. One of my favorites are these lines from the hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem. Above thy deep and dreamless sleepThe silent stars go byYet in thy dark streets shinethThe everlasting LightThe hopes and fears of all the yearsAre met in thee tonight. Phillips Brooks, a Boston native like myself, wrote these words in the reverse order of what most people expect. Usually, “when you wish upon a star,” people think your dreams come true. But here, Brooks points us elsewhere and makes the stars witnesses to this event. The stars are full of stories: animals and gods, love and war, heroes and villains. From ages past, men and women have looked up at the stars of the sky and whispered their hopes and fears. Some make a wish when they see a shooting star. Others check the positions of the planets and stars to make important decisions. While I’ve never had much interest in either of these, I do love the stories behind the constellations. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been reading about them. When I came to Japan, I learned about the Tanabata Star Festival through my son’s kindergarten, a story of love found, love lost, and love regained once again. Hikoboshi the Cowherd and Orihime the Weaver Girl fall deeply in love. Orihime’s father, the king of heaven, does not approve and banishes them to opposite sides of the Amanogawa (the “Heavenly River” or better known to English speakers as the Milky Way). However, every year on July 7, the seventh day of the seventh month, he relents and a huge flock of birds form a bridge to allow these two star-crossed lovers to reunite for a single day. In the abundance of their joy, they grant the wishes of mortal men and women on earth. The Tanabata Festival was particularly lively in Ishinomaki in the summer of 2011. So many people now lived in temporary home complexes, and so many buildings still stood broken and unusable. Yukiko looked at the colorful strips of paper tied to bamboo grass. On each, a short prayer was written. I want to be a soccer star. I pray I can find a job. May there be peace on earth. Yukiko tried to think of a wish. But what did she really want, she wondered. The tsunami had taken everything from her. Her mother and sister were now dead. Her husband left her. Her father, coping with his own sense of loss, no longer spoke to her. She was alone. Everything she took for granted before was now gone: family, friends, home, job, town. She felt there was nothing to live for. Yukiko tried to pray, not even knowing who she was praying to. “Please, if you can hear me,” she whispered, “give me something to live for.” Sometimes, God does amazing things, surprising things, to show his great love for us. The God who created all the stars of heaven heard Yukiko’s prayer and answered. That evening at the festival, Yukiko met some Christian women, and in the months that followed, they became good friends. She began eating with them, and even began attending a Bible study with them. Little by little, she grew to know and love the God of the Bible. And little by little, she learned how to pray to him. In God the Father, Yukiko found a father who welcomed her into his house and wanted her around. In God the Son, she found a husband who would never forsake or leave her, a friend who would always be by her side. In God the Holy Spirit, she found rest. Because her friends met her at a festival, they began to call her “Matsuri” Yukiko, or the “Festival Girl.” She became a joy to everyone around her, a living testimony of how God saves from despair and loss. Two years later, on a rainy Sunday morning in July, Matsuri Yukiko walked into the waters of the sea, those same terrifying waters that took away her family and friends. She was baptized in that same ocean that was a source of so much pain and loss. On that day, the water represented an ocean of God’s love, far more expansive than she could ever fathom. Through baptism, she was transformed into a new creation, known by a new name. Yukiko’s story makes me think of the words from Isaiah. You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah [which means “my delight is in her”], and your land Beulah [which means “married”]; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:2–5) When we look up to the starry night skies and see the dazzling works of God’s hands, we can remember that the same God made us, loves us, and rejoices over us. We can know that one day we will be reunited with our greatest Lover, the one who will wipe away all our tears and fulfill the deepest longings and prayers of our hearts.
11 minutes | 21 days ago
13. A Party One Evening
Happy New Year everyone! We did it! We made it through 2020. It’s been quite a year! Over the winter break, my family and I went into the mountains of Japan near Nagano City, which many of you know was the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. They’ve been getting a lot of snow there this year. Last week, there were a few days in a row when I think we got about two feet a day. That’s a lot of snow! The snow built up almost all the way to the roof of our front door, and my kids had a good time digging a tunnel from our door so that we could get out. I’m also quite proud of the igloo that I dug out of the snow. I worked on it a little bit each day, and by the time we left it could fit about five people. It even had a side room and little cubby holes where my kids and I stored some tools and other knick-knacks. There was even a small pile of snowballs ready to keep away any invaders. I particularly loved how the sun shined through the walls and ceiling almost like stained glass. Anyway, we’re back in Tokyo now and ready to get to work. Over the next few months, I plan to share some stories from that time immediately following 2011 earthquake and tsunami here in Japan. The 10th anniversary is coming up in March, and now is as good a time as any to try to verbalize some of these stories. I usually do a fair bit of travel in January and February to share at churches in missions conferences, but I can’t do that this year! So I’m thankful for this podcast which at least gives me a way to share some of these stories remotely. I would like to tell you about a party we had one evening. The parking lot of the old Buddhist temple was packed full of trucks and vans. It sat on a hilltop, on the outskirts of the city of Higashi Matsushima, the only structure still standing that was big enough to hold a large group of people. One of the relief workers we met that day invited us to come here for a party. We entered the side door and walked through the darkness of a narrow hallway. I glanced inside one of the fusuma sliding doors as I walked past. Shuttered windows which kept out the cold also prevented any light from entering. But by the dull red glow of electric heaters and the glimmer of flashlights, I could tell that people covered the floor, reading or talking quietly with one another. As we continued down the hallway, we entered a large room full of laughing and talking. The noise was a bit of a shock. It was the first time I saw a room of people actually enjoying themselves in the disaster area. I pushed some backpacks aside and sat against the wall so I could slowly take in the atmosphere of the room. Everyone sat on the floor, gathered around little tables about a foot off the ground full of food and cans of Japanese beer. They wore work clothes with different emblems, identifying the relief organizations they belonged to. A man came over to me and offered some food and a can of beer. He also told me he heard I was a musician and asked, “Would you be willing to play something tonight?” Before I had a chance to answer, a man in the front began to speak through a microphone. “Good evening everybody,” he said. “I’m so glad we can gather tonight.” He went on to introduce someone from that area, who had been singing in shelters along the coast. As he spoke, a man, who appeared to be blind, was carefully led through the crowd to the front of the room. “I will let his singing say the rest,” the announcer finished. The blind man stood alone without accompaniment and released a voice full of vibrato. The singing was beautiful but a style completely unknown to me. I figured it must be a traditional folk style and was grateful for the chance to hear it. After a few songs, the blind man finished, and two young men stood up to sing. One of them played the guitar. Then it was my turn. There wasn’t enough room to set up my portable organ which sat outside in the truck, so they provided me with a keyboard instead. “We can’t seem to find the keyboard stand,” they apologized, but two men volunteered to hold the keyboard while I played. My memory shot back to a similar situation I had the year before in Memphis, Tennessee, when I arrived at a woman’s prison to give a concert but my keyboard was confiscated at security. “Can’t let in anything that can be used as a weapon,” the guard explained. I wasn’t sure what his words meant. My keyboard . . . a weapon? I was led down narrow hallways in the prison and through high security doors, until we arrived at a large room packed with prisoners. “Wait here,” the guard said and left. Everyone stared at me until the guard returned with a plastic bag. I opened it to find a small electric keyboard and nothing else. “Um, are there any other parts?” I asked. Where was the keyboard stand, or the music stand, or the sustain pedal? “That’s all we got,” the guard said. I placed the keyboard on a table and plugged it into the wall but nothing happened. “Try another outlet,” the guard suggested. I quickly tried two more without any success, keenly aware that everyone in the room was still staring at me. The guard told me the voltage was reduced in some places to prevent “accidents.” “Turn that fan this way!” a voice yelled, breaking the silence. There was no air-conditioning, and that room was pretty hot. One solitary fan blew across the room. “No, turn it this way!” a second voice yelled from the other side of the room. Suddenly, a large woman under the fan stood up. “I’m not going to effing touch it!” she swore in a strong Southern accent. “You think I’m your effing mother?” I was sure a fight was going to break out right there in front of me. “Ah, thank you for your patience,” I practically shouted into the chaos with all the confidence I could muster, but nobody heard me. Not knowing what else to do, I dove right into my arrangement of Cherry Blossoms, a Japanese folk song. I didn’t know if it was a good choice or not, but being a quiet piece, I hoped it would calm everyone down, similar to how I whisper to my children when I’m trying to quiet the room. My gamble paid off and pretty soon there was not a single sound but the spinning of that one fan. A woman, the one under the fan who had a gift profanity, raised her hand. Oh no, I thought. What’s she going to say? “Yes?” I said, timidly pointing in her direction. “Could you play that again?” she said. “That was beautiful.” With this memory firmly in mind, I decided to try the same piece. First, though, I wanted to have a little fun. A man stood on either side of me, holding the ends of the keyboard. The tables in that room were too low to use as a keyboard stand! I played a fast descending chromatic scale with my right hand, then stopped and shook my head. No, I motioned with a frown. Too high! The two men lowered the keyboard. This time I started at the bottom of the keyboard and using both hands played a C scale quickly up the keyboard. But again I shook my head. No, I motioned with a smirk. Too low! A few people laughed. The two men moved the keyboard again, this time to somewhere in between. I played a short cadence of chords and motioned with a large nod and hands outstretched. Yes, perfect! More people laughed. I looked to the man on the left and gave a quizzical expression. All ready? He nodded. I looked to the man on the right and repeated. He nodded as well. We were ready to go. I began to play but with way too much flourish and the keyboard immediately sank. Gomenasai, I mouthed, “Sorry!” and quickly lightened my touch. I’ve had a lot of strange experiences while performing, but this was definitely a first for me! After improvising for a minute or so, I launched into the piece. Every eye was on me. Not a voice was heard. The music carried us to a place where dirt and fear and broken buildings were a distant memory. When the song came to an end, the room roared with applause and I took a bow. Each of the men holding the keyboard also tried to bow, but that didn’t work out very well. It’s pretty hard to bow while holding a keyboard. We were all happy and laughing and content. I’d forgotten such moments could exist and wished that evening could go on forever. https://youtu.be/-aS7Q271J1w
5 minutes | a month ago
It’s just past the winter solstice. As I’m looking outside, it’s dark and cold. It’s dark when I get up, and it’s dark when I go to bed. It makes me think about how precious Christmas illumination is at this time of the year. In the dark, we need the light. In the dark, we need beauty. And I’ve never known such complete darkness as I did in those days following the 2011 tsunami here in Japan. There was one evening that particularly stands out to me. In the storm, the tires of the van sank in the mud newly washed up from the ocean floor, made worse by growing puddles of rainwater. Lightning lit up the wall of debris that lined the streets and closed in on us like some dark tunnel. Every streetlamp had been knocked flat by the wave. We felt like every good and beautiful thing in this world had been wiped out, like we were lone survivors at the outer reach of some alien planet and the darkness would soon consume us as well. I squinted as I tried to peer through the wipers and streams of rain of the van’s front window. The only landmark for my final turn was a torn up pedestrian overpass that somehow still hung over the road. We would be giving a concert in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Watanoha, one of fourteen planned up and down the tsunami-stricken coast on this trip. I was leading a group of musicians, students and alumni from The Juilliard School. Finally, I found my turn and crossed the parking lot straight to the front door. “We’re here!” I called out, and everyone hopped over the puddles to get inside. The shelter was completely dark. There was no electricity. There was no heat. People huddled under blankets, trying to fight back fears of the storm. Flashlights dotted the room from people reading books or talking quietly. We were guided through the gymnasium and straight to the piano, one of the few left in the region, fumbling zippers on our jackets to pull them tighter. Pianists cut fingertips off their mittens so they could play without taking them off. The wind continued to increase in intensity, violently rattling the windows and the roof. Anxieties rose, and because of the darkness and size of the room, I couldn’t see anyone. I knew people were there. I could smell them in a pleasant way, like the intimacy of a living room in an old Japanese home. One of the pianists began to play in the dark, and then an oboist. A violinist joined in. A man climbed up to the second floor catwalk and shined a big flashlight straight down like a spotlight. Then other flashlights began to point in our direction as well. The light was beautiful, like dozens of fireflies flying around the room. The light, rather than the musicians, were the performers, dancing on the walls and ceilings, making our hearts dance with wonder and delight. They magically transported us out of that alien planet of darkness and back to our home…the way it should be. Here we were in the middle of a storm not far from the coast or the destructive power of the waves…in the cold, in the dark. But in that moment, light won over fear of storm and night. Music won over the violence of the wind. The anxiety and stress that filled the room only moments before faded into some distant memory. And because of the beauty, we felt, no…we knew that everything was going to be okay. In that moment, light won over fear of storm and night. Music won over the violence of the wind.
16 minutes | 2 months ago
09. Pippy the Piano and the Very Big Wave
During a season of Christmas concerts a number of years ago, I was traveling near the city of Kamaishi, Japan where the 2011 tsunami hit. Of 16,000 people killed by the tsunami, over 1,000 were killed in this town, and it’s not a very big place. Everyone there knows someone who died. New Life Kamaishi Church was completely flooded by the wave, but miraculously the building was left standing, partly protected by a steep cliff that rises behind the church. After the tsunami, wherever you went, you could see mud stains on the walls of the buildings showing how high the water rose that day. When the people decided to rebuild their church, they did something unexpected. They deliberately put a scar into their beautiful new wall. Pastor Yanagiya explained, “The scars of the people will last a lifetime, so true healing is only possible when we remember that the scars of Christ still remain in his resurrected body.” In other words, they built this scar into their building to remember the risen Christ, to remember that God does not throw out this world ravaged in the mud and muck of our sin but he redeems it. And the beautiful scars of Christ forever remind us of this redemption. But there’s more to the story! When the people returned to their church, they found their piano upside down under a huge pile of mud and debris. And in case you were wondering, pianos and water do not get along very well. When a piano gets wet, you have to throw it out. It’s trash. It’s useless. There’s nothing you can do with it. But because of the gospel, because they believe that God is rebuilding this world rather than throwing it out, they decided to fix their piano…which is completely ridiculous! I mean, do you know how much time and money it takes to fix a piano that’s damaged that badly? It would be SO MUCH easier to just buy a new one. But instead, by fixing it, these people spread a message of hope to the people in their town. There was a lot of damage on that piano. The body was gouged. The keys were so swollen they wouldn’t move. Screws were rusted to hinges. Mold covered the dampers and felt. They paid a team of piano technicians for over a year to work on that piano disassembling, cleaning, and repairing every single piece. The most striking part of the project was the brand new music stand designed and filled with symbols of hope. Noah’s doves hold freshly plucked olive twigs. A rainbow flows from one side of the music stand to the other like five lines of a music staff. Scallop shells, fishing nets, and the city flower represent the city of Kamaishi. And in the very center at the bottom, there is also an anchor in the shape of a cross. This anchor is literally the foundation for everything else in the picture, the ultimate source of hope and rebuilding. On the cross, the wave of God’s judgment crashed down on Jesus, hurling him into the depths, into the very heart of the sea of our sin. However, he rose again, and now the cross represents eternal hope and new life. This “resurrected” piano in New Life Kamaishi Church now reflects God’s promise for creation. The church hosts a “piano of hope” concert series, and musicians come from all over Japan to play it. The piano does not just bring hope to the people of that church but to the whole region, and many who come to these concerts hear about the Christian promise of redemption for the first time. Personally, I think it’s an unbelievably moving story, so when I first visited this church I wanted to tell others about it. The next morning, while having breakfast with the musicians on our tour, I told them, “You know, I really want to make a children’s book about this story!” I’d never written a children’s book before, so all I could do was let the idea mull around in my head for a while until Sarah Dusek came to work with us as an intern. She already had experience illustrating a book, so it was a perfect match between her gifts and the ministry needs at that time. The launch date of Pippy the Piano and the Very Big Wave is December 1st, so I invited Sarah to join this podcast to celebrate the launch! [Interview with Sarah Dusek] Pippy the Piano and the Very Big Wave is available for sale on December 1st in eBook, paperback, and hardcover on Amazon and wherever else you get your books online. The church gave us permission to make this book, because they really want people to hear their story. They fixed that piano not just for their own sake, but to bring hope to everyone who hears it. May this story encourage you as well, as it has already encouraged so many here in Japan. Purchase on Amazon
13 minutes | 2 months ago
08. Art and Mission
I’m going to take a little break from the stories I usually tell you in these episodes to give you a glimpse into an event I participated in this week put on by GCAMM (Global Consultation on Arts and Music in Missions). If you are interested in the intersection of faith and art and foreign missions, then you definitely need to know about this group. Their gatherings have the largest number of missionary artists in one place that I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. This has meant a lot to me in particular, because when I became a missionary artist, I had never met one before. I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t even know that it was possible! You can imagine how much encouragement this is to me, to suddenly find out there’s a large group of people out there doing the same thing. I’m not the only one! So GCAMM is full of missionary artists who are called ethnodoxologists. These are people who encourage indigenous ways of worshiping the God of the Bible. This includes music, of course, but also visual arts, dance, drama, food, film, and really any other art form you can think of. In fact, many of the stories you hear me talk about in this podcast have only been possible through the encouragement I received from this group of people. Believe me, I certainly didn’t learn any of this at conservatory! So it’s been kind of a steep learning curve for me, but I couldn’t have done it without my GCAMM community. When I first learned about this group, the first event I attended was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There were probably about 300 missionary artists and 300-400 Thai artists. Over the course of a number of days, many people shared how they work in the arts in their local contexts. There were plenary speakers from Egypt, India, and all over the world. There was also a group that led worship through many different languages and traditional instruments. There was a beautiful traditional Thai dance performance in cooperation with a local school, and particularly fun for me, there was a Thai family of classical musicians who run a concert hall in Bangkok. I got to know them a little bit, and they invited me to stay with them on my next trip to Thailand to give a concert in their hall. About two years later, I was in Bangkok for another conference, and I brought my digital organ as checked bags, which was quite an adventure all in itself! It was a really neat event, a fund-raising concert for a local charity, and they packed out the hall. I got to meet a lot of cool people, including a visual artist who came to Tokyo to speak in our next conference. So, it was all about relationship building. Another event I got to attend was in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s funny, my image of Kenya is that it’s a hot place, but it was REALLY cold. We met up in the mountains, surrounded by tea plantations. There was a tea factory nearby that had an amazing smell. I wanted to build a house right there downwind where I could smell it all the time. Anyway, I got to meet many Kenyan visual artists and leaders and heard how God is building his church through the arts in Kenya, in the cities but also in many rural areas with no electricity or running water. I came away with many ideas on how to use the arts for church planting and evangelism. So, the event this week was a webinar, a way to connect people during COVID-19, and I had the privilege of translating for Toshiyuki Machida. Mr. Machida’s story is really interesting I think, because it gives a picture of why missions through the arts is so important. The event is an interview where he speaks in Japanese and I translate into English. Because we were looking at some powerpoint slides of art he made, I’m only going to give you a brief excerpt of his talk. Mr. Machida was an art major in college when he became a Christian through an American missionary. He had never met another artist who was a Christian, so he had NO IDEA what it meant to be a Christian and an artist. How do you life your faith as a Christian and work as an artist? He had no idea what that looked like. But actually, the problem was even deeper than that. He had never met another Japanese who was a Christian. In fact, he thought he was the first one in the history of the world, the first Japanese to ever become a Christian, because he had never met one before. That’s how few Christians there really are here in Japan. Mr. Machida has a real missional heart, so when he graduated from art school he went to seminary and decided he wanted to become an evangelist to Japan through the arts. Everything he studied in seminary he studied through the lens of an artist. And when he graduated, he started an organization called Bible & Art Ministries. Once a month, he holds “Drawing the Word” workshops. I have been to a number of these. He will read a passage of Scripture, and the people around the table, mostly non-Christians, will draw what it makes them think of. It’s amazing how people open up their hearts through these events. It’s not direct, not talking about their own thoughts and feelings, but rather talking about the picture they drew. Mr. Machida will ask, “Why did you put that red stroke there?” and then they will go on to explain what they were thinking. It’s genius. It’s such an unthreatening way to get people to talk about and discuss scripture, something very difficult to do in Japanese culture. Mr. Machida gives talks and tours all over Japan for Christians and non-Christians alike, and the biggest event of the year is an art exhibit involving about 50 artists. Through these events, he builds community between artists, but also gives Christian artists an opportunity to express their faith. They can invite their non-Christian community saying, “Hey, I have this event coming up. I’d love for you to come.” It’s a chance for non-Christians to meet a whole community of Christians, often for the very first time, and it’s the arts that draws them. A lot of the artists I have met have been through this network. Mr. Machida has been a huge encouragement to me. [Excerpt from Mr. Machida’s talk] At another webinar this week, I was asked, “What is the biggest challenge for Japanese becoming Christians?” I have to say that the biggest challenge is that most Japanese have never met a Christian. Why would you become a Christian if you’ve never met one? And the beauty of the arts creates those opportunities. It’s able to bring people together, where non-Christians can experience Christian community for the first time. The second biggest challenge is the feeling that Christianity is the destroyer of Japanese culture. So many Japanese feel like they have to become Western in order to become Christian, but that’s obviously simply not the case. The arts help people see, touch, hear, taste, and smell what the gospel looks like in a Japanese context. This is really the heart of what we are doing here in Japan, the Japanese talks that I give, the writing that I do, it’s all because I want to help people see that the gospel is there in the very heart of Japanese art and culture. The more people we have like Mr. Machida spreading that message, the faster and deeper the church is going to grow. “Jesus Wept” by Toshiyuki Machida
8 minutes | 3 months ago
07. Sea Glass
My friends Matt Burns and Paul Nethercott made a beautiful little film called “Finding Beauty in the Rubble,” telling the story of a woman who made art in the midst of the terrible devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I put a link to the film in the show notes so you can see it too. I’m especially grateful to Nancy Nethercott for her friendship and for answering all my questions as I kept pestering her to learn more about this story! When the tsunami siren sounded, Hiroko tied her dog, Kai, to a tree and headed for the shelter. “I’ll be right back,” she said. Kai waved his tail in reply. Hiroko didn’t think there was any danger. Why would she? Her town was protected by 13-foot sea walls. And sirens often went off after earthquakes. Forty-five minutes later, she watched in horror as the tsunami surged over those walls and tore through her town. Shockwaves rattled the windows from an explosion at the nearby oil refinery. The electricity went out, and the tap water stopped running. Just as the sun was about to set, the wind picked up and snow began to fall. As she shivered under a blanket of darkness, barely able to breathe thinking about her dog, all night long she listened to the howling of the wind. The next day, as soon as there was enough light, she practically ran back to her house, tripping over debris and getting stuck in the mud along the way. Even from a distance, she could tell her home was completely gone. But as she came closer, she found that Kai still tied to that tree…and alive! He was shivering and soaked to the neck, but he was alive! Can you imagine what he had gone through? “Oh Kai, I’m so sorry!” she cried, as she hugged and kissed him. From that time on, they were especially inseparable. Every morning, they went for walks together on the beach as they sheltered in the gymnasium of the local high school. One of those mornings, she noticed something sparkling in the sand and stooped to pick it up. It was sea glass. She put some of it in her pocket and carried it back to the cardboard square she called home back at the shelter. With every walk, that collection grew. In the months ahead, many volunteers came from all over Japan. In fact, from all over the world. Hiroko said, “The warmheartedness of the people really impacted me. Complete strangers came to help us. Seeing that really touched me.” To show her gratitude, Hiroko made small necklaces from her sea glass collection and gave them as gifts. Over time, she started making larger objects—window decorations, candle holders, even lampshades. She especially liked how the light turned blue, red, and green as it shined through the sea glass. “I no longer felt like a person who couldn’t do anything,” she said. “Here was something I could do. Here was a meaningful way I could respond.” I bought one of Hiroko’s necklaces. In fact, I’m wearing it right now. I wish I could show it to you. It’s interesting to me how its much heavier than you would expect. The piece of glass is a frosty white, and smooth from the friction of the sand and the waves. This one is naturally shaped like an arrowhead, which is why I got it, and is held in place with some very thin silver wires. Wearing this necklace, I’ve been thinking about sea glass and how it is made. You know, the beauty of sea glass actually forms through being broken. First, quartz sand has to be melted to form the glass and shaped into a drinking glass, bottle, or window. But then, that glass object is broken into lots of sharp jagged pieces. Finally, the sand and the waves make it smooth and pleasant to touch. If we push this image even further, we can think about how light that shines through the sea glass is broken. Hiroko’s window decorations and lampshades actually fill the world with color by breaking the light. They fill the darkness of the room not just with light but with beauty, with broken beauty. “The beauty of the sea glass actually forms through being broken.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) I wonder what kind of light this is. Do you think it’s white light? Or do you think it’s more like the colorful light that shines through the broken pieces of sea glass? There are so many images in the Bible of the glory of the Lord being associated with rainbow light, with colorful light. The light of God’s presence shines in our darkness. It shines in our devastation. God comes near and fills our world with beauty and with color when we need it most. One day, all the sharp and jagged edges of this world will be polished and made smooth and pleasant to the touch. Little by little, God redeems this broken world, transforming it into the beautiful ongoing work of his creation, or should I say re-creation, giving just a little picture of what we have to look forward to in the coming of the new heavens and the new earth.
10 minutes | 3 months ago
06. Taking A Pounding
There is so much brokenness in this world! Just by me speaking to you right now, it’s very likely that some of you are suffering, or someone you know is suffering. Especially now, during COVID-19. Life is hard, and we would be fools to think otherwise. It’s a terrible part of this world, and you know, frankly, it makes me a little bit angry. We want to protect the ones we love from suffering, but we can’t. So, where’s there hope in that? How can we keep on going? How do we overcome this? ...
9 minutes | 4 months ago
05. The Golden Cracks
One of the joys of living overseas is being able to see the world differently, sometimes in ways I would never expect. One day when I was in Kyoto, in the Kyoto National Museum, I stumbled upon some clay bowls. Everything about the exhibit screamed, “These things are important!” They were individually encased behind panes of glass. They sat beautifully displayed on felt-covered small boxes. They each had their own special lighting, but the odd thing to me was that they were broken. ...
7 minutes | 5 months ago
04. Simmering in the Gospel
One of the joys of living overseas is being able to experience different parts of the world. There are times when I think, “Wow, that’s exotic.” Sometimes it’s a smell in the air. Sometimes it’s a sound that I hear. Sometimes it’s the feel of the atmosphere. When we first moved to Tokyo, I had such an experience. ...
11 minutes | 5 months ago
03. The Hospital
A concert in a hospital near the broken nuclear power plants of Fukushima shortly after the 2011 earthquake in Japan brought us together. In that terrible time, music brought healing and helped us to mourn and cry for what was lost.
10 minutes | 6 months ago
02. The Scarf
My friend, Shannon Johnston, started The Scarf back in 2011 as a direct response to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster here in Japan. It was a way for people to knit their hopes, thoughts, and prayers together for the people of Japan. Scarves are something you wear around your neck like a hug. The Scarf was a way people could give hugs without actually being physically present in Japan. ...
9 minutes | 6 months ago
01. Love Your Neighbor
Mayu is a visual artist in Tokyo. With the spread of COVID-19, like everyone else, she was stuck at home, with no way to share her art and no way to make a living. What bothered her most, though, was that people were hurting all around her. She wanted to do something, but didn't know what she could do. One day, her mother said, “Mayu, I think you should make masks.” ... Website: https://loveneighbor.thebase.in/aboutInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/lyn_givingteamDonations: https://paypal.me/mayulyn?locale.x=ja_JP
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