Sunday, October 4, 2009

I'm home.

You missed a bit in between the end of June and my leaving. I wasn't even done teaching classes yet on that last post. I was going to write a bit the beginning of August, but then I got busy. Then I took a trip to Osaka. Then I went to the hospital.

I made it onto my flight - diarrhea and all. (I didn't think I'd be using that word in my last post.)

Well, I'm home. I've thought about Japan a little bit since being back. But mostly life has come at me day after day. I thought there'd be a break or something. I guess I was picturing it like pulling into a station, and sitting there for a moment on that little piece of diverted track while the Ltd. Express flew by, keeping on its schedule. Then in time we'd slowly pull away again, picking up speed.

I'm living with my dad's parents now, and even in their retired lives they've got things written on their calendars every day. And when you think about it, there's always meals to be eaten, laundry to be washed, bills to be's funny how much of your time is swallowed by the necessities. You're busy all day and then you get to the end and realize you didn't accomplish anything. It'd all been spent just keeping up with time, as it plodded forward, and now into the night...


Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I'm going to miss this place immensely when I'm gone. I could make a list of the things I'm going to miss, but I don't know how I'm going to miss it. Two years in any place is long enough to become attached, even if the time wasn't all good.


Friday, June 5, 2009


A friend posted this as his facebook message:


saw a centipede crawl under the tatami. AARGH!

Luther responded:

stomp on the tatami really hard.

There used to be a giant cockroach running across the floor in my closet - he apparently didn't get the memo about 'not being in my apartment an living at the same time' and so I immediately grabbed my laundry basket and smashed him, but I only took off part of his shell because he started flipping around and so I bashed him again, lifted up the basket and half of him was smushed and the other half was normal and then all of a sudden the normal half started running really fast and so I bashed him again, left the basket on him and then hit the bottom of the basket with my guitar stand a bunch of times. If that didn't kill him, then I'm hoping starvation will because I left the basket there and this happened last Friday.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

a character study

He was the type of man who, when women met him, made them seriously reconsider their current choice of partner.



This is how I feel life will go: I'll be brushing my teeth one morning, look in the mirror, blink, and be my dad.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

I feel compelled to write something here at least, even if I can't get my head wholly around this experience.

I met a guy in my town a number of weeks ago named Chandana who is from Sri Lanka. I had seen him once before, and kind of did the double take as a biked by, so the second time I saw him I had to stop. I asked him if he spoke English, and he said no, only a tiny bit, so I struggled on in Japanese. At that time he had invited me to come to some kind of international discussion group (so I thought) and so I said of course, and we exchanged phone numbers. Well, last week didn't work out, so this week I had made a plan to meet him after going to JOY Fellowship church in Yokodai. Eri, my Japanese friend, asked if she could come too, and I said sure, and so she drove us. It was raining hard and traffic was really bad so we were a good 30 minutes late (I felt really bad) and upon arrival at the station (where we were meeting) we discovered what the plan was. Chandana was there with a Kiwi named Kevin, and his Japanese wife Misa who was waiting in the car. They were all set to head off to a Buddhist Temple. It turned out there was a problem, because the temple, while being perfectly open to "gaijin" (foreigners) onlookers and observers, did not allow Japanese people who were not members. (Or maybe they did - I didn't exactly understand the exchange, but at the very least they had to pay an expensive entrance fee, like around $25). So, we dropped Eri off at a mall and proceeded on to the Temple.

I'm used to seeing temples from the outside, the kind that are old and where priests live and do who knows what else. However, at this temple, it was very, very different. This temple is for the religion "Shinnyo-en" which is a type of Buddhism that has quite a number of followers in Japan (probably around 500 or more temples nation wide) and temples in California and a few European and Asian nations. It was founded by a lady who was born in 1912. I wasn't allowed to take any of the literature home with me, but I looked up some stuff on Wikipedia to refresh my memory. This particular sect was founded by a man and his wife, Shinjo Ito and Tomoji Ito.

The temple itself was very much like any large, modern American church. It was a new building with a couple of large parking garages as people came from as far as a 3 hour drive to attend Sunday services. The entrance way had a window to sign in guests, and the foyer was filled with shoe and coat lockers where you could leave your stuff. (Hmm...funny thing - I guess I was walking around the whole time in my socks, but I didn't realize that fact until just now because that's so normal here in Japan.) There was an information desk where I picked up a visitor's nametag, and in the basement was an eating area with several vending machines and a kitchen. We proceeded to a classroom of sorts that had chairs arranged in a way that gave some space for kneeling on the floor to chant and bow, which we all did once most people arrived. (I didn't do the bowing and chanting stuff - someone gave me a book with the English translations, so I kind of just read to see what they were doing.) They were saying a lot of mystical sounding things, and calling on the spirits of this and that, and the one-syllable golden wheel to give them insight, and some other things that weren't translated but involved lots of bowing.

I apologize if I don't give all of today's events in order because a lot happened, and I never got a succinct description of the religion, but rather pieced together a few parts based on all of my observations. On the way over in the car, Kevin was telling me about the "Mediums" (Priests who do "sesshin" which literally translated means "touch the heart") and how they stand infront of you and observe the spirits that are behind you and tell you about your life and your struggles and what you need to do to get back onto the right path. Kevin said told me that in the past he has seen spirits and totally understands that there is a spiritual realm, actually a spiritual reality and that everything physical is basically an illusion of the spiritual truth, and in Shinnyo-en he found the religion that agrees with what he has experienced. I told him I agreed - there definitely is a very active spiritual realm, and literally, the forces of good and evil are battling in a dimension that most of us don't see but are surrounded by constantly. Kevin also said he was a Christian, which was a common iteration from several of the other people I met in the Temple.

Shinnyo-en is a religion that is accepting of all religions - its purpose is harmony and to free all people through helping them to realize that Buddha lives inside of each of us and that we simply must work to push out the bad things that are dragging us down and causing us to go off the straight path, and uncloud the purity that we each have. (Or something like that.) There was one lady there who spoke (a whole story in itself) about how happy she is to have found Shinnyo-en and how she wished she had found it earlier, and how she wants everyone to know the freedom of Shinnyo-en (at which point I found it very curious that a religion that is trying to convert people would turn away non-members or at least charge them exorbitant prices). It was a little hard to understand everything because a translator was explaining to me what she was saying by throwing in her own (the translator's) opinions and explanation. It was furtherly weird because the lady kept talking about "gaijin" and how it was amazing that the "heathens" were starting to catch on to this amazing religion. There was not a small amount of ethnocentrism in her talk, which was a bit offputting at first until I started thinking, "How often do we Christians in the US talk in our churches about reaching "Africa" and having a heart for "Africa" (can you get any more ambiguous verging on the condescending than that???) and thinking about how great it is that people outside the US believe in Jesus, and how "God works in mysterious ways" in the point that people worship God in languages other than English, completely missing fact that as 21st-century Americans we are in the far-reaches of the definition of the word "Gentiles."

So anyway, it came to me acutely in this discussion, the perplexing question of just how Shinnyo-en Buddhists are able to accept all religions when they have mutually exclusive tenets. I asked this question, cutting right to the point, by saying, "How do you accept Christianity which says that there is one God and that Jesus is his son and the only way to be saved is by Jesus alone, and other religions that say there are many Gods and that Jesus was just a man. How do you reconcile those mutually exclusive beliefs?" The answer I got was that, there is one-truth and anywhere in any religion, a mutually exclusive statement or belief or tenet is simply a human invention. When I mentioned that the Bible and the Quran present mutually exclusive worldviews, I was told that the Bible is not Christianity and the Quran is not Islam.

That really confused me, because we have no other way of defining them. Once your tenets begin to deviate from the Bible, you are no longer talking about Christianity; you are now creating a new religion. It's like the Mitch Hedberg joke about the number of bedrooms in a house. "...And this is 4th bedroom. It just happens to have a refridgerator, a microwave, a sink, a guy eating cereal...oh, and there's no bed." When Christ is no longer the sole Savior and Lord, it's no longer Christianity.

I found myself sitting there really wondering how to reach these people. I realized that 99% of my experiences with sharing the gospel are with people who are either atheists, agnostics or have had some dabblings in Christianity. I really don't know where to begin talking with people who have very strong professed beliefs in a well established religion, especially a religion I know literally nothing about. (I mean, c'mon - I was wikipedia-ing it 30 minutes ago...) At least the people there are seeking truth, and I do know that some of them are hitting on part of the truth of the universe, but it's just that - they're only seeing a part. They're experiencing spirits, but what spirits is the freaked me out a bit to be quite honest. I was praying, a bit scared, and was reminded by God that yes, He is everywhere, that he's promised to be with me to the end of the age, that I, Luther Flagstad have been crucified and it's no longer I that lives but Christ in me, so Christ was there, and my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so he was there with me too.

There's quite assuredly more to tell about this whole experience and hopefully I can reconnect with people again. Chandana is not a Buddhist either, and I don't think he's anything, he's just interested in making connections of the heart with people all over the world. He was orphaned at a very early age by the (now ending) Tamil/Sri Lankan government war, and his life has been greatly shaped by the atrocities that war produce. He was explaining to everyone (I heard it through a tanslator) how he met me, and how he was attracted to my shining smile, and he knew that he had to introduce me to the people at the temple. He very much is interested in coming to my church and learning about Christianity and meeting the people there and sharing hearts together. I'm curious to see how that goes and am excited to welcome him.



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

There is one theme in literature though that I do not buy into. It's the idea of having one-shot at things, that your chance at life arrives one time, that once serendipity has passed you by it's too late, and all these especially pertaining to love. That true love only comes to you once in life. I find none of this true and none of it difficult. Here's what I wrote a few days ago on a notepad while riding the train:

"Falling in love is not difficult. It is not hard to find someone to love. There is no difficulty is finding a pretty face, an infectious smile, a consuming laugh - I fall in love daily. What is difficult, what is so hard, what bears the high calling and demands one to be a man, is choosing one, and loving her above all others for the rest of your life."

This, my friends, is much, much harder than finding "true love." True love finds you, as if it were an accident, or an inevitability. Now I'm not here to say that there should be no feelings of love in the choosing. What I'm saying is, they will be there. The hard part comes in staying true through all the low-tides, through the ebbing of love, through the elusiveness of the feelings. The man who makes a choice is truly to be held in awe. Love should not sit atop our pedestal; rather, a husband should place his bride there, and cherish her in every way, even unto death, as Christ died for the church.

It is "choosing in love" that I find so compelling. I discovered this this past week while studying the first chapter of Ephesians. Paul writes, "[God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." (1:4-6) How amazing is it that we have a God who has chosen us? Jesus says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you..." (John 15:16) I don't have to pick the winning team, a lofty idea, or an admirable goal. God loved me and chose me, he made that decision - a decision that even took him to the grave. I can live in full assurance that I am cherished regardless of what I do, and wherever my feelings might take me. How awesome is that? It is this that allows me to love another, and especially my bride, as our relationship will be a reflection of the gospel - of the choosing in love.