More Death

I don’t know what is happening, but more people connected to my family have died. Curiously, they are from mine and my brother’s little league days. The first one was a mom of a boy on my brother’s team. She had gotten cancer toward the end of his last season years ago. I guess she finally succumbed to it.

The other deaths are even more tragic, though. A guy who was on my baseball team (pitcher) and his cousin died when his friend crashed his truck the night before last up on Foothill. Then today I just heard word that his brother shot himself. The brother was on my brother’s team. This is insane.

My mom has been taking this pretty hard. My brother is getting sick. I’m kind of thankful that I didn’t really know these people, because I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

If you pray, please pray for all the families involved, and for my family too.

Thanks

Since it’s Thanksgiving in the US today, I just thought I would express thanks for certain things in my life. For me, personally, there is so much to be thankful for. One thing that blows me away and humbles me and makes me aware of a picture of existence larger than my own is the fact that out of the millions and millions of people here on earth, I was born into a civilization that is the most privileged and technologically advanced and also respects a large degree of personal expression. I know that the US in particular, but most of “the West” in general, has made major mistakes that have severely impacted the rest of the world, but I think I stand alongside with most britons (in a recent survey) and believe that, for the most part, America is a force for good in this world. I am thankful for the country I live in.

One thing I have become increasingly aware of and thankful for this year has been the communities God has given me. My family is so loving and so generous; I am so thankful for them, I don’t even know how to fully express it in words. My spiritual family also, particularly my closer-knit community of friends from church, is a community for which no amount of words could do justice. You guys, if any of you read this, I just want you to know that each of you are a blessing to me and my heart is overwhelmed when I think of you and your individual significances to me in my life. I hope I never lose sight of how important you and the larger church community are for me, for everyone. If I ever stop seeing that as important for me in my life, please remind me that it is truly, eternally, important.

I also want to express gratitude for the situation in which I find God has placed me. This is significant for me, because I am now realizing that I rarely, if ever, stop and just thank God for the way my life has gone so far. God’s providential love for me is so evident when I look back upon my life. I usually miss that in the midst of everything, stressing out, too busy, too tired, whatever. My job, in particular, is something I need to be grateful for. There is so much drama and daily routine stress that I simply forget how privileged I am to be able to serve kids at a very formative stage and to help them become people with whom God is pleased. That is such an awesome gift.

I also want to express profound thanks for my diaspora of friends I have made over the years. I love you all so much and it hurts to not be able to see you every day or even every month, as was the case at some point or other in my life. Thank you for what you have taught me and the friendship you have given me. You make up a significant part of who I am today and who I will become.

For all these things and others I am thankful to God. If you can look back at all the good things in your life, you can see, maybe not on a rational or cognitive level, but on a spiritual or heart level, that God truly is good and does indeed lavish us with gifts too many to count. Hallelujah!

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,

to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

and your faithfulness by night,

to the music of the lute and the harp,

to the melody of the lyre.

For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

How great are your works, O LORD!

Your thoughts are very deep!

The dullard cannot know,

the stupid cannot understand this:

though the wicked sprout like grass

and all evildoers flourish,

they are doomed to destruction forever,

but you, O LORD, are on high forever.

For your enemies, O LORD,

for your enemies shall perish;

all evildoers shall be scattered.

But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;

you have poured over me fresh oil.

My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;

my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They are planted in the house of the LORD;

they flourish in the courts of our God.

In old age they still produce fruit;

they are always green and full of sap,

showing that the LORD is upright;

he is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in him.

-Psalm 92

Fighting Our Fathers

ea2.jpgJust a quick note on an interesting article I saw at Gamespot. I consider this to be more a sociological than a technological or game-related occurrence. EA has released and is marketing (to my surprise, frankly) the game Medal of Honor: Rising Sun to Japanese gamers. If you check it out, you’ll find the game is a recreation of America’s WW2 military pursuits in the Pacific against the Japanese.

Interestingly, the game is apparently not doing too bad, considering that if you were a Japanese kid playing this game, you’d be pretending to be an American mowing down people who would have been the grandfathers of your society.

The Gamespot article ends with an interesting quote from a Japanese (I think) gamer: “…this is a game in which you play as a foreign soldier and try to kill troops from your own country. I bet that you couldn’t even sell a game like this overseas. I have a feeling that Japanese are the only people who would brush this off because ‘it’s only a game.’ I don’t know if that’s good or bad…”

Another way to think about this weird situation is to wonder, would a game by a Japanese company about World War 2 played from the Japanese perspective and against Americans do well in America? I doubt it would even be released here…

For an ironic sight, you can check out the official Medal of Honor: Rising Sun page in Japanese.

Update

In my last entry I touched on the idea that we affect each other very much, and I picked up this concept in a Bible class I teach. As I said previously, the blast radius of a suicide is wide, deep, and scarring. And the questions and the paradox of being alone in the midst of a crowd are neither explained nor resolved. It seems so unfair.

Wes’s dad, a Chemistry professor at the college, spoke in chapel at Westmont on Friday, and he briefly expressed many of the questions and thoughts I have been having. If you’re interested, the talk, entitled “Remembering Wes Nishimura,” is posted on the Chaplain’s web page here in MP3 format.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor the bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.

-Ecclesiastes 9.11,12

UPDATE 11.27.03: Wes’s obituary is available online here

The Compassion of God

I am in a state of shock and sadness at news I heard late last night. A friend of my brother’s at Westmont named Wes killed himself yesterday, and I’m not quite sure why. Suicide is so serious and so sad for me. It’s just hard to even react beyond a welling up of tears. Death can feel so final in some ways and suicide is so… I don’t know. It’s like a social bomb that goes off. The blast radius is enormous. My brother has been crying since he heard the news yesterday, apparently along with his other friends who knew him.

How does a person get to such a point, a point of utter despair and a feeling that there is no one there for them? You can just tell by observing the aftermath of what happened that this young man had a hell of a lot of people who cared about him. I think I only met him once or twice, but had heard about him a lot. In fact my brother and I have been planning on getting a group of artists and writers together and making comic books, just for fun. We had talked about getting him to join us. He was a painter. There are a couple of works of his on the Westmont Phoenix page for visual art.

It’s hard not to have your theology affected, just a little, by events like this. How does God react to a suicide? Suicide is often characterized as an ultimately selfish act, but I don’t know if that’s the case. I think most people who commit suicide have been aflicted heavily by circumstances or conditions that not everyone has to deal with. I wonder if God thinks about that. It hurts so much to think about this kid and the fact that he felt so alone and so despairing that death looked good.

Does God feel our pain, too? I think so. I think Jesus showed to us what has always been true: he looks on us, the multitudes, and the very deepest part of his being is moved. If I, a selfish, rotten human being can cry for a guy I hardly even knew, how much more could a death this tragic and premature affect the compassionate God?

If we do have a God who has such compassion for us, then we are faced with a challenge: it is imperative that we be mindful of others, as much as our intuition allows. We all have hidden pain and struggles. Sometimes it is overwhelming. We need to be there for each other and remind each other that there is always someone there; that death might end all the bad things in life, but it also ends all the good. Are we Christians a force for good in people’s lives? Do we help make up that part of people’s lives that makes it worth living? Do we share people’s pain, as well as their joy?

nishimura112703.jpgIf suicide is something that crosses your mind, even momentarily, I want you to know that there is someone there to help you bear what seems to be unbearable at times. I know it’s almost cliché to say that God is there for us, all the time, but it is true. However, sometimes we cloud out his spiritual influences. Sometimes God needs to come to us in other people. Sometimes God is there for us in the form of the friend who is willing to cry with you, or in the teacher or counselor who lends a sympathetic ear. Life is hard, but God is good, because he gave us each other and he gave us a Comfortor. Let’s be aware of that.

Meditation and Scripture

I’ve been wondering, for quite some time, where (and in what ways) the reading of Scripture is to fit in to Christian life. For a while now, the idea of a “devotion time” has been the normal way for one to appropriate Scripture, at least in Protestant (primarily Evangelical, I would suppose) circles.

But what of the Community? What happened to communal reading of Scripture in the Church? Did it go out the door once everyone was literate and didn’t have to have someone read to them? Even churches that actually have extended communal readings do not seem to get it right. Is it powerful and sharp? Rarely, I would guess. But I wouldn’t know; my church does not have such things as communal readings, which I find sad.

I’ve been returning, in many facets of my faith, to the ancient Christian communities. There are so many ways in which we as a Church seem to be returning to something that might look like the ancient Church. But there are also many in which we do not appear to be like them. My question of Scripture comes across the question, how much are we alike?

When the epistles would be written to a church in the first century, they probably would have been read to the receiving community. This is probably due to a low literacy rate, as well as the economics of letter writing. In Western Europe and North America, we don’t have those problems for the most part, so maybe that lack of problems contributed to drifting away from something, though required for practical reasons, that served a purpose a little less mundane.

What if that act — excitedly reading and excitedly listening — did something to that community, something profound and binding? Could that kind of reading have done something like that? What if our primary method of studying and learning Scripture was communal? How would that change our individual spiritual identities? I would guess it would make us a little less individual. And I don’t know if that would be a bad thing…

Now if we assume that we are getting our main portion of Scripture corporately, where does that leave us individually?

Happy are those

who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path that sinners tread,

or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law they meditate day and night.

-Psalm 1.1,2

What does it mean to meditate on God’s torah? Many people I have encountered have interpreted the preceding passage as saying that all good followers of God (if not “Christians”!) should have a daily personal Bible study. That’s all well and good, but I wonder if it is not something more spiritual, something more personal. I wonder if meditation on the instruction of God, the very words of the Divine, should not be more something that transforms us and enlightens us, not necessarily on a rational level (as seems to be stressed under the current rubric of “Bible study”), but more on a spirit level.

How often do Evangelical Protestants practice a “spiritual” reading of the Bible? It seems to me that the current view of things is one in which the Spirit and the Bible are divorced in some way. You gotta slog through some dry reading of the Bible all week and hope for some spiritual experience Sunday morning during worship. Why isn’t reading the Bible more spiritually energizing? Why is it such a chore for so many people I know? Why do we have to wait for a great time of worship to feel the Spirit move?

How about Bible reading as liturgy? What would that look like?

I know that there are a lot of churches that do incorporate Scripture reading into their liturgy, and I envy them for that, but many people are not engaged by most of those churches and the way they worship for that and many other reasons. So my question still applies.

What if, rather than simply “studying” the Bible (treating it more like an artifact of history than a living source of spiritual energy), we began to approach it spiritually? Approaching the Bible as a spiritual exercise.

I really like things like books of hours. They just seem so right. I like Phylis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, because it seems to have so much of what a Christian needs. It includes Scripture passages, common prayers, historical information on those who have come before us, and more. I am trying more and more to use that as an instrument of attaining an “in-tuneness.” But I am still without a reading community and that is something that needs to change.

What happened? I still don’t know. Maybe our numbers-focused mentality in the Western Church is not even suitable to accommodate corporate reading anymore. So I think the solution to this need lies in smaller groups. At least until churches realize that a church of two hundred is too darn big! But that issue is for another post…