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Art Life Faith Podcast
8 minutes | Jun 11, 2021
35. I’m So Hungry!
This is the Art, Life, Faith Podcast, and I’m your host Roger Lowther. Today, I’d like to share a passage with you from Ecclesiastes 11:1–2: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” These past few weeks we’ve been talking about the 3/11 disaster here in Japan. Boy is this verse appropriate for that time. You never know what disaster is going to happen on the earth. More recently, though, the corona virus is another disaster that has struck. Usually, most of my creative energy goes into making music, but this year I haven’t been able to do that. People haven’t been allowed to gather, and the pipe organ just doesn’t work very well over Zoom. So I had to turn my creative energies elsewhere, and so I’ve turned them to writing and to this podcast. The reason is in verse 1: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” What the writer is telling us is that you don’t know how God is going to use your efforts. So put your bread, the things that you make, in many places and God will bless that. In my case, before the pandemic, the main ways that we were sharing these stories is our artist gatherings, community groups, testimonies, conferences, etc., basically all in Japanese. But now, there was an opportunity to cast our bread upon the waters by adding books and this podcast to be able to tell more people what God is doing here. And so I hope it’s been an encouragement to you. Since we’re talking about bread, I’m excited to announce that my next book, written during the pandemic, will be released this fall. It’s called A Taste of Grace and explores the diverse, creative, and beautiful foods of Japan that reveal Christ and his loving work in this world. My hope is that through this book more and more people will see the gospel through the food that they eat every day. God’s grace is everywhere, and I want to find more ways to show people that in any media I can. Today’s podcast is an excerpt from that book, a short story from my time on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s especially timely because my son Aidan, my son Eastin, and my brother-in-law and I will be hiking a bit of the Appalachian Trail this summer to celebrate my son Aidan’s graduation from high school and transition to college. *** “I’m sooo hungry!” I said, “I want to eat something!” “No,” my wife said. “We have to keep going. If we eat now, there won’t be enough for later.” We were in one of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet, a remote part of the High Sierras in California, and all I could think about was food. This was hunger like I’d never known it before. We still had over 100 miles to the next road, and another 20 miles beyond that until we’d have access to any food at all. A few steps later, I asked, “What do you want to eat when we get there?” “Stop talking about food!” she pleaded. “You’re not making this any easier.” I ignored her. “Me? I’m going to have . . . pizza. A huge sausage pizza. Three huge sausage pizzas!” We had already hiked 18 miles that day and had at least another 10 miles before we could stop. Twenty-eight miles, challenging anywhere but especially difficult here. Mountain passes were so high we felt the effects of altitude sickness, and we needed to keep ice axes at the ready to prevent from sliding over cliffs of ice and snow. Later in the day, our feet postholed through with every single step, making the going way too slow. Down in the valleys, the rivers raged with snowmelt and every single one needed to be forded. And it was the danger, more than the cold, that made our bodies shake so violently. Mosquitos swarmed and distracted us with their constant buzzing. This was our life day after day—climbing passes, plummeting into valleys, and fording rivers. This was the Pacific Crest Trail, a route that runs from Mexico to Canada over the mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington. Of our planned six-month journey, we’d already covered two. And we didn’t carry an abundance of food, because it was too heavy. The weight of it dug into our shoulders and backs, but there was never a moment I did not feel the presence of food, or maybe I should say, the lack there of. Never before have I so keenly felt my dependence on it. The hunger made us feel alone and isolated, like nobody cared. I thought of the Israelites in the wilderness. Our trip was only 6 months. Theirs was 40 years! In the beginning, they cried out for food and God responded. He gave them mana, and he gave them something more. He gave them a promise. He gave them the Bread of the Presence (Exodus 25:30). Every Sabbath, Israelites placed this Bread of the Presence in the tabernacle by the golden lampstand, representing the light of God’s presence. It was also near the Ark of the Covenant, another sign of God’s presence, which carried some mana. As the Israelites walked through the wilderness wrestling with anxiety and hunger, they realized their dependence on God but also the presence of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide for us and to be with us. Jesus is the Bread of Life, eaten to be in communion with God. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56) We abide in Jesus. Jesus abides in us. Through eating, we experience the presence of God, a presence more certain than the food we carried in our backpacks. He is never far from us. His presence is always with us. Hiking, I discovered anew the presence of God and my heart was full. But my stomach was still empty . . .
38 minutes | Jun 4, 2021
34. Hope Will Not End In Despair
https://youtu.be/4rw_dLttQDw Today I’d like to introduce you to Daisuke Yokoyama, an amazing Christian singer songwriter here in Japan. I had the privilege of meeting him in the relief movement shortly after that terrible earthquake of 2011. We’re listening to his song “希望は絶望に終わらない” (“Hope Will Not End In Despair”), part of his response to the terrible darkness of that time. I remember one concert we played together in a high school gymnasium, not far from the broken nuclear power plants in Fukushima. When he finished singing, he walked around the room to talk with people. They were stuck in their designated areas surrounded with cardboard walls. He met with them, gave them one of his CDs, and, if appropriate, prayed for them as well. Daisuke is a master at making people feel loved. People called him DK, because they felt so close to him. Later, we played together in an outdoor festival much further north in the city of Ishinomaki. I played my digital pipe organ along with a number of musicians I brought from Tokyo, but the “star” of that day was Daisuke. I’ve watched his career grow these past ten years and was so honored to have him close out our Aroma of Beauty Conference this past March. Since most of you couldn’t be there, I asked Daisuke if he wouldn’t be willing to share his story on this podcast. [Interview with Daisuke Yokoyama] Daisuke Yokoyama’s WebsiteDaisuke Yokoyama’s album which contains “Hope Will Not End In Despair” https://youtu.be/HG8OkrgksxI Listen to more of Daisuke and Kazuko at the Aroma of Beauty Conference
8 minutes | May 28, 2021
33. Global Mission Chapel
Over the past couple of podcasts, I’ve been sharing stories from our March Aroma of Beauty Conference. Today, I would like to share about the master of ceremonies for the conference, Akira Mori, pastor of Global Mission Chapel. He started the conference by saying, “As a man of Tohoku, I thank all of you!” Tohoku is the northeast region of Japan, and Iwaki where he pastors is the southern-most tip of Tohoku. He thanked all the volunteers in the audience, and those watching online, for their help over the years. And then he shared his story. https://youtu.be/NP7rns4–jQ June 2010, less than a month before the earthquake, the building next to their church caught fire, burned down, and took their church along with it. This was of course hard on everyone, but Mori-sensei saw it as an opportunity. He found a big old pachinko parlor for sale. Pachinko is like gambling with slot machines. This pachinko parlor was available at a fraction of the cost of rebuilding their building, and it was much bigger. However, there were a number of people in the church who thought they should just rebuild as before, on the same plot of land and with the same size building. Mori-sensei felt so strongly that God was calling them to move to this new location that he pushed for that, but it caused some division in the church. Seven members left over this. So here they were in this position of weakness. They had an unfinished building. Their numbers were small. They were still rebuilding trust in their congregation, and they were still getting to know their neighbors. And then the earthquake struck in March 2011, and their world literally fell apart. Now, most cities along the coast lost 7–8% of their population from the tsunami, but it was even worse in Iwaki. Along their 70 km of coastline, they lost a staggering 15% of their population to the wave. It breaks your heart to hear these numbers. They felt abandoned and forgotten by everybody, especially the news media who were focused on areas further north. But then, volunteers began to pour in. Day after day more people arrived bringing food, water, and supplies … and music! Mori-sensei shared about a 15-person team that came from a church in Taiwan. The pastor had formerly been a singer, so he sang and played the guitar in evacuation shelters. He sang a traditional ballad, a form called the enka, at many shelters along the coast. And he sang a song that particularly got people engaged called Springtime in the North. First he sang it in Chinese, his native language, and then in Japanese. I had not heard of this song so I looked up the lyrics online. The words speak of longing for a hometown in the north, where the seasons are felt so strongly through the flowers, rivers, and snow. It mourns the separation from loved ones—family and friends—which took on a whole new level of meaning after the earthquake. Mori-sensei realized the power of song to heal the hearts of people. That the arts are not just a hobby, but especially in disaster and destruction, music and art can bring comfort, encouragement, and courage. Everyone in the evacuation centers started to sing along with this pastor. And then, Mori-sensei himself memorized the lyrics to this song so that he could sing along as well and be encouraged by them. “The arts are not just a hobby, but especially in disaster and destruction, music and art can bring comfort, encouragement, and courage.” When I first visited Iwaki to give concerts in shelters, the fear of radiation from the nuclear power plants was really strong. One of the places I played was a high school gymnasium less than 25 miles from the broken nuclear power plants. The whole time I was wondering, “Is it even safe to be here?” When they served us a soup lunch, I found out they were using tap water for the broth because that was all that they had. I have to admit that I was more than a little afraid to eat it. They lived there. They had no choice. And there was no way I could possibly refuse. Every evening, we gathered back at the church building for prayer, to share stories from that day, and to sing worship songs together. I was SO tired at the end of each day, from longs days of driving, giving 2–3 concerts a day, and talking to people all day long. I’m an introvert, so that really takes a lot out of me. Then there was the added stress of being in the midst of all that destruction and the fear of the radiation. But we sang together long into the night. It’s really hard to describe what it felt like at that time. It felt like we were in the only lit room in a raging storm of darkness. It felt like we were on a rowboat in a terrible ocean of devastation, brokenness, and pain. We were in a place where joy was still possible, and yet the whole time we remembered the radiation shooting through our bodies. It just made the community all that more stronger. At night, every inch of floor space was completely covered with people sleeping. Trying to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night was very difficult. One night, I was put at the base of a huge bookcase, and I had to mentally prepare myself to move quickly if an aftershock struck because I would be seriously injured by the falling books and bookcase. From March to December, Global Mission Chapel received a total of 15,000 volunteers from 40 different countries. Their church building continued to be a base of operations for relief activities throughout that area for a long time to come. Relationships with their neighbors grew strong and deep. God had been so clearly preparing this church for this time. They never would have had the ability to accept so many volunteers or help so many people if their church building had not burned down and if they had not found that old pachinko parlor. It’s quite a story! Anyway, it was wonderful to have Mori-sensei there to lead us through the conference, a man who knew so intimately the devastation and pain of the earthquake, but also the power of God to bring hope and healing through the arts.
7 minutes | May 21, 2021
32. Kintsugi Academy
Last week, I shared with you the story of the tsunami violin, “The 1,000 Bonds of Hope” project. Nakazawa-san made a violin out of debris left by the tsunami and a sound post out of a small fragment from the Miracle Pine Tree, a symbol of hope throughout Japan. His work was not just creation but re-creation. He was literally redeeming brokenness in this world to make something life-giving. This violin is traveling the country of Japan through 1,000 performers to bring people together after the darkness of the earthquake in 2011, and now especially through the COVID-19 crisis in the midst of our isolation and division. https://youtu.be/pUoOc59ETOA Today I’d like to share Kunio Nakamura-san’s message about Kintsugi Academy and the role kintsugi can play in our lives. This traditional Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold is packed with meaning. Here Nakamura-san is answering the question, “Why bother fixing broken pottery? Why not just buy something new?” [Nakamura-san speaking in the conference] The art of kintsugi is not just about fixing. Some people spend $50 to fix a $5 mug. Why would they do that? Well, he told us, it’s because the value changes over time. If you use a mug for 10 years, it becomes more valuable to you. It’s no longer worth just $5 but something more. Nakamura-san learned kintsugi as a technique, but soon realized it’s so much deeper than that. He shared how he regularly goes to Tohoku, to areas most affected by the earthquake that struck in 2011, and that even now people bring him objects to fix that were broken at that time. They didn’t throw these things out but stored them somewhere, in a closet or in the back of some drawer, until 10 years later they finally came to this point. Kintsugi has traditionally been about bringing broken vessels to professionals to fix, but he finds meaning in each person doing the repairs themselves. He’s experienced first-hand the self-healing that can come through such a process. And so rather than a craftsman, he sees himself more as an evangelist for kintsugi, for the good that it can do. And he wants to bring this wherever it’s needed in the world, especially areas of conflict. Teaming up with modern artist Makoto Fujimura, he’d like to see kintsugi go to the Gaza Strip, the U.S.–Mexican border, places of racial tension, or schools where violence has occurred. The corona epidemic put a stop to all travel for now, but next year he hopes to be holding workshops with people in all these areas. More than repairs, he teaches how to repair, and more fundamentally, that repair is possible. He’s especially interested in the technique yobitsugi. Yobitsugi is about bringing different parts together. From several pieces of debris, you can make one beautiful bowl. Or symbolically, by taking broken pieces from countries in conflict with one another, you can use them to make one vessel. Adding gold to that, an image of hope and light around the world throughout history, makes the message all that more powerful. Before our “Aroma of Beauty” conference, Nakamura-san led a workshop with about twenty of us. It was amazing! He began by going around the room and asking everyone’s story behind their broken vessels, and why they were fixing them. One couple was to be married the following weekend, and so this mug was a symbol of their union together. A man shared about his son whose marriage had fallen apart. Another man shared about a severe depression he had the previous year and needed to know that beautiful things could come out of his brokenness. It did not feel like we were in a pottery fixing class but like some therapy session. I worked on a twice-broken plate our church, Grace City Church Tokyo, uses for communion. The first time it broke a couple of years ago, I repaired it with gold in a kintsugi workshop. The second time it broke, when my son knocked it down from a drying rack in our kitchen, the previously repaired crack was safe and untouched. It never occurred to me that the crack not only made the plate more valuable and beautiful, but stronger as well! The cracks, the most beautiful part of the plate, were now also the strongest parts! There’s so much deep wisdom in that! When I repaired it this time, I used silver so I could capture the timeline of the two breakings, and I also used the art of yobitsugi, including a small piece of sheet music from a broken porcelain figure. Nakamura-san walked around the room talking to each person and hearing more of their story. And he kept saying over and over again, “Slowly! Go more slowly!” It was not about fixing an object, he reminded us. Rather, it was about giving yourself time to internalize what you were doing. God remakes this world to not only be more beautiful than it was before but stronger through it. He reconnects our isolated parts across all perceived barriers, gives wisdom and strength from trauma, and shows a new creation full of beauty and hope as we journey through and beyond this pandemic. And the art of kintsugi is helping point the way. Watch other videos from our “Aroma of Beauty” Conference
11 minutes | May 14, 2021
31. Tsunami Violin
This week I’ve been working on putting subtitles to the various talks from our “Aroma of Beauty” conference we held here in Tokyo in March. There were so amazing stories shared. Although it was all in Japanese, with subtitles soon you’ll be able to watch and hear them as well. But I want to take this time to share one of them with you now in this podcast. It’s really exciting to me how God shows himself through the art and culture of the world. And through the story of the tsunami violin, I was once again reminded of that. I’ve briefly mentioned the tsunami violin in a number of podcasts in the past, but this time I want to go deeper and pass on to you some of the things that Muneyuki Nakazawa shared in the conference. This tsunami violin was made from debris in the disaster area. When Nakazawa-san first visited the disaster area and saw the wood everywhere—every wooden structure destroyed, every tree knocked down—and walked through it with his wife, she said, “You know, this isn’t just debris. This wood is fragments of people’s lives. They represent hopes and dreams. Can’t you make a violin from that?” Well, of course, Nakazawa-san loved the idea and set out to do exactly that. He calls himself the “violin doctor.” His role is to fix and heal broken sick violins, but he also makes new violins. And he was given a small piece of wood from the Kiseki no Ippon Matsu, the Miracle Pine Tree, the only tree left standing in a beautiful grove of 70,000 trees. Every one of them was knocked down but one by the tsunami that hit the city of Rikuzentakata. This tree was a special image of hope. People thought, “That tree’s still standing, I can too.” Even when it eventually did die from salt left in the soil left by the wave, it continued to be a symbol of hope. I tell a lot more about this story in my book Aroma of Beauty. So Nakazawa-san was given a small piece of wood from this tree after it died and wanted to do something special with it. The sound post, the konchu (魂柱) in Japanese, literally means “spirit pillar.” I think that’s a pretty cool name! Sound post? Boring. Spirit Pillar? It’s like out of a fantasy novel! Here is Nakazawa-san talking about it in the conference. [clip] You can watch the rest of that clip with English subtitles in the video below. Here Nakazawa-san is talking about how without the sound post, without this small piece of wood, the violin is dead. But with it, the violin comes to life. It sings like it was meant to. It really is the soul of the violin, the pillar, the foundation. https://youtu.be/a6_iydKb_iA Listening to Nakazawa-san talk I could not help but think of the Spirit of God and of Christ. There are just so many levels of meaning here! I thought of the scripture verse from Romans 8:11. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” The Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies. Just as the konchu, the “spirit pillar,” gives life to the violin, made from dead wood, useless debris laying in the mud, the Spirit of God gives life to us. This Spirit comes to us because of Christ who was hung on the tree, the cross, the most famous of all trees, enduring the full onslaught of the tsunami of destruction that hits this world because of our sin. The Spirit is our life and foundation. We can freely sing with life in ways not imagined possible because of his work in us. So this violin of hope, this tsunami violin, is now traveling the country of Japan spreading this story and this hope to person after person. It’s called “The Bond of 1,000 Tones” Project. There have been over 1,600 performances so far. In the performance in our conference, our teammate Christina Davison became the 749th violinist to play the violin in a performance. She then went on to perform it at the annual festival in the art village of Seto, as I mentioned in a previous podcast. Nakazawa-san is trying to reach the goal of having 1,000 violinists, amateur or professional, perform in formal and informal concerts. He pointed out in the conference that the number 1,000 is full of meaning in Japanese culture, representing wishes and prayers. Perhaps the most famous is the senbazuru or 1,000 paper cranes, and this holds the meaning that your wishes will be granted by the gods when 1,000 paper cranes are made. It means longevity and life. I saw these multi-colored strings of paper cranes at memorial sites throughout the areas devastated by the tsunami. Senbazuru in Minami Sanriku, Japan In history, the most famous example of the senbazuru was made by Sadako-san. She was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and was exposed to radiation. Later she died of leukemia. I remember when I visited St. Paul’s Chapel shortly after 9/11, the chapel near the World Trade Center, and it was full of strings of 1,000 paper cranes sent by school children in Japan. Senbazuru at St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City There’s also the senninbari or 1,000 person stiches, where one thousand people stitch into a belt or piece of cloth with prayers of protection. After the tsunami, I remember reading about the “3.11 portrait project” by photographer Nobuyuki Kobayashi. His goal was to take 1,000 portraits of people in the disaster area. At that time, all the pictures people owned were washed away in the tsunami. I often found them outside in the mud. Kobayashi-san wanted to help people build new memories by taking new portraits of people and giving them to them. Sometimes he would have schoolchildren write notes of encouragement on the back first. There was also the “1,000 Portraits of Hope” Project by artist Naoto Nakagawa. He held an exhibit just a few blocks from where I live here in Tokyo. He went from shelter to shelter hand drawing various people. Nakagawa-san lives and works in New York City, so I heard more about this exhibit as it travelled around Manhattan from my friends who live there, especially when it was exhibited at St. John the Divine, which is near Columbia University where I went to school, and got into a lot of newspapers. He too was trying to reach 1,000 portraits. So the violin doctor Nakazawa-san shared stories of his hopes for “The Bond of 1,000 Tones” Project. And he also shared something that Empress Michiko told him when he told her he wanted to reach 1,000 performers to spread this hope around the country of Japan, and she said, “People forget so easily so go slowly, very slowly. If you send out this music, these tones, to even just one person, then they’ll remember.” It’s so cool that this artist got the endorsement of the Imperial Household to pursue this project. I’m just so excited how God is bringing hope to the people of Japan. After such a terrible disaster, it was hard to find the light, but the lessons we learned then are just as applicable now, for all of us around the world during the spread of COVID-19. We’re enveloped in darkness. People are lonely and isolated. We have to hide our faces from one another with masks. We’re afraid to even get near each other. Entering someone’s home or a church is a place of fear and danger, and it’s impossible to see what will happen next. “The Bond of 1,000 Tones” shows us is that we’re not alone. We’re surrounded by community. The tsunami violin, born out of disaster, provides just one more way to bring us together, and is just one more example of how the arts builds community and can build the church. Pointers to Christ are everywhere in the world around us. We just need more and more Christians to talk about them, to praise the good and beautiful things we see in the world and show how it makes us think of Christ. And who knows? God may be calling even you to bring these conversations to a foreign land. Watch other videos from our “Aroma of Beauty” Conference
7 minutes | May 4, 2021
Everyone in Japan knows the word setomono (セトモノ), because you find it on quite a few boxes you get in the mail. It means “fragile,” but it also literally means “product of Seto.” Seto is an art village known in Japan for its ceramics with over a 1,500 year history, longer if you count the indigenous people who lived there before that time. And today that pottery tradition is alive and well. Last week, I went to Seto to assist my teammate Peter Bakelaar, who runs an art gallery there called Gallery NANI. Seto was having their large annual festival. Streets were blocked off to traffic and filled with tent after tent of artists selling their pottery. The items I saw were amazing! Some pieces were so intricately painted that I was afraid to touch them. Others were made to look like they were made of solid metal. The most impressive were those that worked designs into the pieces not with paint but with different kinds of clay rather than paint. It reminded me of the wood working tradition of mixing together different kinds of wood, some light, some dark, to make toys, furniture, or pictures. Except that, it looked much harder to do that in clay! My wife Abi and teammate, Christina, traveled to Seto to give concerts all day during this festival. They performed in Peter’s gallery using the “tsunami violin.” The exhibit “Scars: The Path Toward Healing,” which we talked about in a previous podcast, remembers hope and healing through the arts in the 10 years since the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, 2011. During this festival in Seto, Peter made the main attraction in his gallery the large “kintsugi” piece in the middle of the room. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of pottery repair, but this time Peter made it out of wood. It’s hard for me to describe, but the gaping wound in the wood gradually healed with each successive layer of gold painted wood. He invited people to participate in the piece, even during the concerts, by pushing nails into the wood. Each one represented a person who died in the tsunami, 19,000 in all. It was a beautiful display of the healing that can come from wounds and scars. While in Seto, I had a chance to visit one of the clay mines in the area. At the top of the hill, the clay layer was down about 30 feet from the surface and made of the highest quality of clay I have ever seen. It was exactly like what you would buy in an art store. I grabbed a handful from the ground, made a little figurine, and placed it on a rock to dry in the sun. That clay was really heavy. 1,500 years ago people found this layer of clay as it came out near the river that now runs through the center of the town. And over the centuries, they dug further back into the hillside following the layer. Pottery is a huge part of Japanese culture, so different from the wood and stone culture of New England where I grew up. Tea kettles, cups, bowls, plates, and dolls. Even tiles for the roofs of Japanese homes. Many of the walls in Seto are even made of pottery. It’s fascinating to me how periods of Japanese history are defined by different types of pottery. The Jomon Period (10,500–300 BC) was known for making pottery by coiling ropes of clay and firing them in open fires. The Yayoi Period (300 BC–300 AD) was known for simpler pottery with no patterns. It was named for a region of Tokyo where this kind of pottery was first found. The Kofun Period (300-538 AD) is known for its roofed kilns, tunnels that went up the sides of hills. Because these kilns were enclosed, they were able to reach much higher temperatures. Also, the pottery was made using a potter’s wheel for more uniformity. Growing up in Western culture, I was taught to think of history in terms of the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. Of course, Japan also went through these periods, but instead of stone and metal, the early history of civilization in Japan is defined by its pottery! In Genesis 2, the Bible talks about the gold and onyx buried in the ground and the bdellium found in the plants. From the very beginning, before the fall, God provided resources not only for men and women to eat but to make things beautiful. In Seto, the ground we walked on was begging to be used to make things. It was so easy to see and appreciate this gift to us, to delight in making in this world and see God’s call to do it for the sake of his glory. The clay-rich ground of Seto is just one more example of how God loves us and provides for us.
8 minutes | Apr 27, 2021
29. Cow Pie Water
Exactly 19 years ago, my wife and I started our hike on the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), 2,659 miles from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. It took almost six months! My oldest son is about to go to college, and so he, his brother, and I will be hiking part of the Appalachian Trail this summer for a few weeks to celebrate as our family begins a furlough in the U.S. Planning for that trip brought back many memories from the PCT. The strongest is the time we became so dehydrated that we were sick for weeks afterward. I tell this story in my book Cow Pie Water, which you can find on Amazon. In fact, the whole book is named after this story. The rest of the book is a compilation of all our trail journals from that trip. https://www.amazon.com/Cow-Pie-Water-Pacific-Mexico/dp/B08NWJPNBY/ All forty were completely empty. I lifted each plastic gallon jug just to be sure. Hikers in the previous town promised a huge cache of water here. Whatever drops had been left quickly evaporated as the sun mercilessly beat down. The hot dry wind blew in my face, bushes and cacti too short to provide any useful kind of shade at all. Abi and I were in the Mojave Desert, infamous for its killer heat and lack of water. Trail angels routinely leave an abundance of water for thirsty hikers. We didn’t carry enough water, because we simply couldn’t. It was too heavy to carry so much so far. Trying not to get discouraged, we kept hiking hoping there would be another water cache not too far down the trail. After about an hour, we spotted it. But as we got closer, we could see some bottles laying on their side and others moving in the wind. These too were empty. To keep the containers from blowing away, a rope snaked through every handle and around a bush. We picked up our pace, becoming concerned. Pretty soon, we passed another empty water cache, and then another! And then we stopped. We were still weak from serious dehydration just a few days before, when we found a dead horse in the middle of a small murky pond, the only water source in a whole day of hiking. Then too we were forced to move on empty-handed. I put my backpack down and checked the data book. The next water source was another unbelievable 37 miles away! In this over 100 degree heat, we were never going to make it. My face and body crusted with salt from sweat that never had a chance to run down my skin. The ground was nothing but sand, cacti, and bushes. Nothing can live without water. There were no buildings or paved roads as far as the eye could see in all directions. “Well, this isn’t good,” I said, trying to make Abi laugh with the magnitude of the understatement. But she did not laugh. I pulled out my map and found what was labeled an “unreliable water source” about a 30-minute hike off the trail. I hated to add the extra hour and fatigue of hiking there and back, but what choice did I have? I left my backpack with Abi in the inadequate shade of a two-foot-high cactus and went in search of it, filter and water bottles in hand. Why are we so needy for water? You would think humans could last longer without it. Just a few hours in the sun, and we can barely function at all. A few more, and we’re as good as dead. Nothing is more essential to life than water. All the stories of thirst in the Bible suddenly became very real to me. The Israelites were thirsty crossing the desert. The deer in the Psalms panted for streams of water. Jesus said, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7) to the woman at the Samaritan well, and “I thirst” (John 19:28) on the cross. After about 30 minutes of walking, I heard the faint mooing of cattle, and my hopes began to rise. Where there are cows, there is water! But as soon as I saw them, my heart sank. The cows stood right in the middle of the only sign of water, nothing more than a muddy patch of ground. And the area was full of cow pies. Why did the cows have to choose this spot, the only water supply for miles around, to make their toilet? Cautiously, I inched forward, not wanting to spook the cows or ruin my sneakers in the filth. I stuck my hand into the muck and scooped out a little hole. It felt exactly like you would imagine it, sticking my hand into a stopped-up toilet. I inserted the intake tube of the filter into the muck and pumped, clogging it almost instantaneously, and it took all my strength just to keep going. I looked suspiciously at the water accumulating in the bottle. Nothing was floating in it, but it had a very distinct yellow tint. Hesitantly, I took a small sip. It was warm and tasted . . . I’m not sure how to describe it . . . strange. Metallic. On the trail, I often filtered and drank from muddy puddles, but this was different. There was definitely more than spring water in that gulp! But I drank some more. I kept pumping and pumping with all of my energy, doing my best to get a full liter before taking it back to Abi. In a far away land in my distant memory, I always had running water at the turn of a faucet. It was hard now to imagine that such a place ever existed. Out here, we drink cow pie water. Abi’s eyes got big when I described the source of the water. She opened the lid and sniffed the warm yellow liquid. “You really drank this?” she asked. “It won’t kill you,” I said. “Probably.” “It smells,” she said, then drank. “Ugh, it’s like drinking directly from the backside of a cow.” She downed half the liter and passed it back to me. We were thankful to have anything at all. Looking at the map again, we saw that if we hiked all night we could reach a fresh spring by the next morning. Finishing it off, we began to walk again, dehydrated and weak, desperately in search of water.
7 minutes | Apr 20, 2021
28. Ryokan Taigu
I’d like to introduce you to a little poem. It’s kanshi, which literally means “Chinese poem.” Although, actually it’s not Chinese at all. It’s a Japanese poem, which uses only Chinese characters, in this case five per line. It’s almost like a puzzle, where Japanese take Chinese letters and work within quite a few rules to say something as beautifully as possible. This poem is by Ryokan Taigu, who lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and is one of the most popular figures in Japanese history, known for his poetry, calligraphy, and a very unique way of looking at the world. But more than that, he’s really known for the way he cared for the small and the weak. “Taigu” is a name he gave himself, and anyone who can read Japanese will immediately recognize the meaning. It means “big fool” or “great fool,” so Ryokan called himself “The Great Fool.” In this short poem about food, Ryokan asks a very basic, and seemingly very foolish, question. And that is “Why do people eat?” I translated this poem with the help of my Japanese teacher, and so I would like to read it to you now. Here is the poem: 誰家不喫飯 Everybody eats為何不自知 but does anybody know why?伊余出此語 I ask and寺人皆相嗤 everybody mocks me.爾与嗤我語 Instead of mocking me不如退思之 think about it!思之若不休 And then think about it some more.必有可嗤時 There will be a time for laughing. 誰家不喫飯 Everybody eats為何不自知 but does anybody know why?伊余出此語 I ask and寺人皆相嗤 everybody mocks me.爾与嗤我語 But, hey, in mocking my words不如無自欺 you fool yourself.若得無自欺 I’m telling you,始知我語奇 try to see the wisdom of these words. 誰家不喫飯 Everybody eats為何不自知 but does anybody know why?伊余出此語 I ask and寺人皆相嗤 everybody mocks me.寺人嗤尚可 Actually, I don’t mind if you laugh.我亦欲嗤之 I want to laugh too.嗤々倘不休 Laughing, laughing, with everyone laughing直到弥勒時 the time of Miroku will come. Okay, so I’ve taken a little liberty with the tone of the English, but I’ve haven’t changed the meaning. Personally, I think Ryokan would have really liked my English translation. I want to especially talk about this last line, because those of you do not know Japan are probably not familiar with this figure Miroku. Here are the last two lines again: 嗤々倘不休 Laughing, laughing, with everyone laughing直到弥勒時 the time of Miroku will come. Miroku is a bodhisattva, which is believed to be an enlightened being that has chosen not to pursue nirvana, in order to rescue people from cycles of rebirth. He is seen as beings of compassion. Whereas Buddha has renounced all ties with this world, Bodhisattva is still connected to this earth in order to save us. I’m not a scholar of Buddhism, so I shouldn’t say more than that, but what I find particularly interesting about this poem is how asking a question about food led Ryokan to this being, who will come at the end of the world to save us. Why does food, or more specifically, the need to eat, lead Ryokan to this figure? Isn’t that interesting? Ryokan suggests that there is something to this question. That food is not just about food. It’s not something we just eat in order to give us enough energy to get through the day. That there is more to it. As a Christian, I can’t help but think about Christ. Christ tells us that food is never just about food. That there is something fundamental about our dependence on food that points to God. That the infinitely diverse and creative and beautiful foods of all the nations of the world throughout time actually reveal something about Christ and how he works in this world. That God is speaking to us through all of creation, including our food. That it’s not merely stuff. Christ even says that he is the “bread of life” and that “whoever comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35). I find it fascinating that a poet in 18th century Japan, one hundred years after the last Christian was killed or kicked out of Japan, who had never met a Christian, had never seen a Bible, probably had never even heard the name of Jesus, wrote about how food leads us to a savior who will come and save us all. Isn’t this a great case for foreign missions? How can someone know the gospel unless someone tells them? How can someone know that Jesus claims to be the bread of life unless they hear it from the Bible? There are so many pointers to Jesus and his gospel in Japanese art and culture, Japanese food and Japanese poetry, because God put them there. The next step is for some Christian, missionary or Japanese Christian, to come along and talk with them about it. And isn’t this the secret of contextualization, to show how God has already been working in Japan since before the first missionary set foot here and letting the Holy Spirit do the rest. Christianity is not a foreign religion. Christ is not a foreign figure. He has been in Japan all along. May more and more people come to know him.
8 minutes | Apr 13, 2021
27. The Hotel
In the city of Minami Sanriku, on the northeastern coast of Japan, the Kanyo Hotel sits on a high cliff overlooking the ocean. This is a really nice hotel, which usually costs well over $300 a night to stay there. The food is amazing, and there is a really cool cave-like hot spring built into the side of the cliff, so you relax outside in hot spring waters while feeling cool sea wind blow in your face, and watch the sunset over the ocean. However, I didn’t get to experience any of these things. This is because I visited the hotel one month after the March 11, 2011 earthquake. The parking lot was full of military and relief trucks. The large lobby was like a dark cave that constantly echoed the voices of people talking on cellphones. Whiteboards and tables with lists and maps plastered every surface. Noisy generators lit lanterns. And on top of that, there was no electricity and no running water. The night I spent at that hotel was one of the most unpleasant of my life. The toilet in my room was full of human refuse, where it had been for weeks. Someone tried to use duct tape to seal it shut, but the smell leaked through anyway, and it was unbearable. I stayed there with two other guys, in this really tiny room built for one. There were no sheets or any way to keep the room clean. The following nights we decided to sleep outside in a tent just for the sake of the fresh air. Because the Kanyo Hotel is high on that cliff, it was one of the only buildings left standing after the tsunami. It was also by far the largest, so it immediately became the headquarters for relief efforts throughout that region. 95% of that city was destroyed by the tsunami, which was 68-feet high in that region. Most buildings in Minami Sanriku are at sea level, but the schools, to protect the children, are on high ground. This meant that when that wave came, quite a few children were orphaned. The Japanese news showed survivors spelling out S.O.S. with debris in school yards and on rooftops. Miki Endo, a 25-year-old employee of the city’s Crisis Management Department, was hailed as a hero on the news for broadcasting live over the loudspeakers pleading with people to reach high ground, right up until the moment she drowned. Of the 130 people working in her building, only 10 survived, including the mayor, by clinging to the very top of the rooftop antenna. I saw this building. All that was left was a steel structure and a memorial for those who were lost. I came to this hotel to give a concert. They asked me to set up my portable pipe organ in the lobby, which I connected to a generator we brought and placed outside to keep the noise away. Couches and chairs lined up to face the organ. I’ll post pictures of this in the show notes for this episode. You know, looking back at this concert, I’m a little embarrassed. You see, I made a huge mistake. I completely misread the audience, starting with a long, meditative, and actually rather heavy piece by Duruflé. By the end of it, almost everyone was asleep. It was 7:30 at night, and the audience was made up completely of relief workers. They had had a VERY long day and were incredibly exhausted and stressed. They needed something light and happy. Not the organ music I had planned. I had to do something quickly to change up the program, so I went up the Japanese singer Nozomi who came with our team from Tokyo. She too was almost asleep, as we also had already had a really long day of travel and delivering supplies. “Would you like to sing the next piece,” I asked. “I can accompany you on the lobby piano.” She agreed and started to sing. Her unaccompanied voice echoed through that lobby. Little by little, people stopped talking on cell phones. The relief workers sitting near us began to wake up. I quietly joined on piano, not wanting to disturb the scene, and within a few minutes Nozomi had everyone laughing and clapping. I spent the rest of that concert accompanying her on the piano, completely forgetting about the organ. The atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was so relaxed and happy. It was amazing how quickly Nozomi was able to change the mood of that room. After the concert, people came up to us. They thanked me for bringing Nozomi, which by the way, her name means hope, so maybe it had a double meaning. The other team members said it was the best concert yet. So much for all that effort bringing the organ from Tokyo! Although, it wasn’t a complete waste. I did get a lot of time interacting with people afterwards showing them how the organ worked. It’s funny how in situations like this, you come with a plan, but you have to be ready to change that plan immediately. You really never know what’s best until the moment, and what we needed in that moment was the crystal-clear voice of a soprano. The next day, our team delivered milk and supplies to families throughout the mountain region. Milk was really hard to get at that time since the Fukushima nuclear power plants decimated the milk industry in Fukushima, and all regular supply lines were cut off. People in that region had absolutely no access to groceries or supplies of any kind. Only people in shelters were being taken care of. Gas stations were closed to everyone except relief vehicles with permits. As we delivered the supplies, Nozomi sang for people at each stop. Of course, it would take way too much time to set up the organ, although I did think about setting it up in the back of that 2-ton truck and just sliding the door open at each stop. Nozomi just sang by herself. And the people loved it. And I’m glad I was able to be a part of it. Once again, music showed itself to be useful, one of those “necessary” things we needed after the disaster. The aroma of beauty wiped away the stench of that hotel toilet. It helped us relax and drew us together. It gave us strength and encouragement to go on with the next day and the next, and do what needed to be done, and not be overwhelmed by so much suffering and loss. 3.11 is not the first disaster people have faced in Japan, and it certainly won’t be the last. As we continue to face the darkness and challenges of the corona virus and the next disaster, whatever that may be, may this aroma of beauty continue to find its way to many.
8 minutes | Apr 6, 2021
26. The Water Child
A couple of weeks ago, Sawako-san, a woman in our church here in Tokyo, produced a musical comedy called Breast Wars. It’s a story about a woman in her 40s in her struggle with breast cancer. In one scene, she sits in the waiting room of the doctor’s office singing, with the clock ticking down, “Should I? Can I? Is there no other way?” while the nurses, while also singing, try to pull her into the other room to be operated on. The other patients join in as well, singing their differing opinions about whether they should go or not. There’s nothing humorous about breast cancer, but this scene is certainly humorous. Sawako-san did a wonderful job of bringing life to a very difficult situation. In our art, life, faith discussion the other day, she shared her personal experiences with breast cancer and her inner struggles she had through it. She told us that she made the musical because she wanted to encourage others going through very difficult times, to tell them they are NOT ALONE, that there is hope and community and life even in very difficult situations. She told us how what really surprised her about the production is how it brought people together. Christians from many different churches and non-Christians as well, they all came together and enjoyed working together. She told us there was something life-giving, not just in the performance, but in the planning, rehearsals, and production as well. Listening to Sawako-san talk and share her story, I thought about how this is exactly what I also have experienced. The reason I started Community Arts Tokyo was to build that kind of community, where people love one another, make something together, and bring hope and healing in really dark times. I thought through the stories I’ve been sharing in this podcast over the weeks. I thought of Hiroko-san who took broken pieces of sea glass and made beautiful objects with them, and gave them as gifts to people, bringing beauty out of a time of devastation after the tsunami. I thought of Nozomi Project, that group of ladies who make beautiful jewelry out of broken shards of dishes and cups. I thought of the church in Kamaishi that didn’t throw out their piano, but rather rebuilt it, knowing full well how much time and money it was going to cost. There is story after story of people bringing hope and healing into their broken worlds through the arts. There is a man name Nakazawa Sensei, who we showcased in our conference on March 13. He went up to the city of Rikuzentakata on the northeast coast of Japan after the tsunami to help with relief efforts. He saw all the wood and the debris covered in mud. He realized the trees were all that was left of the beautiful and famous forest that once sheltered and protected the people of the city from strong coastal winds. He realized the lumber was all that was left of the homes where people lived. It was not trash. Rather, it was memories. Because he is a violin maker, or a “violin doctor” as he calls himself, he decided to make the TSUNAMI VIOLIN, which is now traveling the country of Japan for concerts by 1,000 musicians. Nakazawa Sensei announced in our conference that we were the 749th concert! That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? The violin was played by our teammate Christina Davison, who will also be taking the violin to Seto, Japan next to play in a big traditional festival and share the story of the violin with the people there. Again, this is just one more example of how the arts can bring healing in really difficult times, bringing people together as they share a common story. https://youtu.be/_f0x3jLwing I’d like to share the story of my friend Ellen McGinty and her book The Water Child, which came out on March 2nd and is available on Amazon. She will be the guest speaker at our next Art, Life, Faith gathering here in Tokyo this month. I love this book! It’s so well written. It’s the story of a Japanese teenager who has always been irresistibly drawn to the ocean. Her mother was a pearl diver, and there is nothing she’d rather do than become one herself. At the climax of the book, the main character travels back to her hometown just before the monstrous 3.11 tsunami hits, and it takes every ounce of her strength to survive in this world where the ocean she loves is now bent on destroying her and everything and everyone she loves. Ellen McGinty lives in Japan, and her husband’s parents were leaders in the relief movement. As Ellen heard story after story of heartbreak, she wanted to remember and tell these stories to others. She wanted to honor their lives, so she wrote a novel, her very first one. It’s a work of fiction—every character is made up—but quite a few of the characters are based on real people and quite a few of the events are based on real events. There’s one scene that is especially moving when, Ellen told me this is based on a true story, the driver of a yaki imo truck, a truck that sells hot fresh baked potatoes, decides to stay behind when his truck gets stuck in traffic on a bridge over a river, and he uses his loudspeaker to tell everyone to run, that the tsunami is coming. He continues to do this until both he and his truck are overcome by the wave. This beautiful novel, The Water Child, is yet one more example of how tremendous pain and suffering can give birth to life and beauty. For reasons I am just beginning to understand, pain and suffering in this world are catalysts for creation, especially for creating beautiful things. In the mud, in the devastation, in the dark, we crave something with beauty and hope and light. And we will do anything we can to hold on to it. This is the unmistakable power of art. This is the tool in the Creator’s hands, which he has lovingly put into our hands. May we always have the strength and wisdom and love to use it.
33 minutes | Mar 30, 2021
25. Finding Hope in Hard Things
During the month of March on this podcast, we’ve been telling story after story from March 11 and the terrible earthquake that struck Japan 10 years ago. The trauma that people experienced will impact them their whole lives. So many were lost, and there is nothing we can do to bring them back. Some things in this world can never be fixed. So, what do we do with that? Do we just despair? If we don’t make a conscious effort to do otherwise, this trauma will not only ruin our lives but the lives of everyone around us as well, and I've seen that time and time again here in Japan. ...
13 minutes | Mar 23, 2021
24. The Cathedral
Japan is no stranger to devastated cities. As I traveled giving concerts through city after city ravaged by the 2011 tsunami in Japan, my thoughts eventually turned to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No other city in the history of the world quite compares with their destruction. ...
32 minutes | Mar 16, 2021
23. Our 3/11 Story
For the past couple of months, I’ve been sharing stories of my experiences after the 2011 earthquake in Japan. For this episode, I want to go back to the very beginning. I want to start with Day 1, the day the day the earthquake hit and how we got involved in the relief movement. I hope you’ll find it useful as we all think about how God may use us, all of us, especially as artists, in the tragedies and traumas of the lives of everyone around us. ...
29 minutes | Mar 8, 2021
22. Scars: The Path Toward Healing
This week, I had the honor of talking with Peter Bakelaar, founder of Gallery NANI (Nagoya Arts Network International), about his exhibit at the Aichi Arts & Cultural Center in downtown Nagoya, "Scars: The Path Toward Healing" running from March 2-14. ...
8 minutes | Mar 2, 2021
21. Be Still and Know
What’s that noise? Where am I? Heavy creaking in the ceiling above my head jolted my sleep-numbed mind into consciousness, as my eyes flew open to darkness. Nigero! Okiizo! “Everybody out! This is a big one!” someone behind me yelled. That was all it took. I blindly fumbled for my flashlight, always kept near my head for emergencies like this, and then grabbed my jacket. The floor moved chaotically, making it hard to keep my balance. But somehow I reached the door frame, grabbed it, and pushed my way outside. ...
8 minutes | Feb 23, 2021
20. Fragments of Hope
After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, Christians started art organizations to provide jobs and build community, and, just as important, to bring beauty back into a shattered world. They made jewelry, decorations, bags, and clothes. In the city of Ishinomaki, a small group of women made jewelry out of broken shards of dishes and teacups found in the rubble. They called themselves Nozomi Project, or literally, Project of Hope. The people at Nozomi pick up the pieces of their lives by making beautiful art, one necklace, earring, and bracelet at a time. ...
4 minutes | Feb 16, 2021
19. The Bike
On March 11, 2011, the world changed. Like the old photographs I occasionally found scattered amongst the debris, all the color was gone. Gray mud from the ocean floor coated everything, and gray dust constantly blew through the air turning our white masks black. Even the sun remained hidden behind the dull clouds, refusing to penetrate our colorless purgatory. ...
6 minutes | Feb 9, 2021
18. Go Away!
“Go away! Leave us alone!" the voice thundered. "Too . . . many . . . volunteers!” We had just entered the high school gymnasium of a temporary shelter in the city of Iwaki. I turned to see a young man sitting on a cardboard box. He appeared to be slightly handicapped, with one leg shorter than the other. But it was his face, full of rage, that I noticed most. Time after time, strangers barged into this man’s “room.” In that brightly lit flourescence, he had no privacy, and he was obviously sick of it. Startled by the greeting, but not sure what to do, I followed the volunteers walking in front of me and placed the box I was holding with the others. The volunteer team proceeded to lay out big blue tarps, line up chairs, and set up buckets of freshly drawn hot spring water, still warm to the touch. ...
7 minutes | Feb 2, 2021
17. Whispering to the Wind
As I walked through a garden on a hill overlooking the town of Otsuchi, Japan, birds flew overhead and the wind blew in gently from the sea. Leaves rustled on the trees, and the sweet aroma of flowers wafted through the air. I looked down to see goldfish swimming in a pond, and at the top of the hill I found a white glass-paneled phone booth. ...
6 minutes | Jan 26, 2021
16. Tree of Hope
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. ...
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