Monday, January 12, 2009

I used to work for the ELCA

The first time I was taken up to a Shinto shrine, led up through the tori gate, I felt apprehensive. This was a place full of spirits, and the lady with me believed that praying here would change things, I guessed.

Bell rung, coin tossed into an aged slatted wooden box, clap the hands, now pray …

So I sit through prayers to the one Creator God, hearing echoes from my childhood, familiar but still remaining in the awe of reverent outsider. Yesterday, I heard that the opposite of faith is not doubt but cynicism, the bitterness of being cut off from God — in denial of God, I suppose.

Somehow, doubt is faith turned inward I was told along with 20 septaugenarians, who had just eaten homemade chicken noodle soup in the basement of a 5-year-old church set in a neighborhood where houses stand at $250,000 and were built in response to desegregation.

I prayed to their God too, and perhaps felt sincere. Outsiderness is difficult to describe, but there are countless daily examples of how Japan is like this Christian land where I work, for entering those doors every day is stepping into a culture apart from most of America — or at least visible America.

It's not altogether distasteful, but it requires a frame of mind that admits voluntary submission, motivated by love received, to the God. And such things can be faked easily enough, if one has had the dual practice of having taken school in an all-Catholic environment for 13 years and having lived alone for 11 months in Asia, forced by politeness to follow, follow, follow and nod, agree, smile often and eat everything.

Rarely confronted directly with anything I could openly reject …

— circa 1999

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