The East Japan Disaster: Three Years On (this is not the post I intended to write)

It was three years ago today that I heard those heart-stopping words,

“Have you seen the news about Japan?”

I hadn’t. And when I checked I almost wished I had remained in that ignorance.

The following weeks were a painful blur for me: Staring at my computer screen in disbelief; telling people with increasing numbness that yes, I had friends in the tsunami-hit area, but no, I hadn’t been able to make contact with them all yet; crying with relief as I slowly did hear from those I knew in Japan; wrestling through confusion and anger at the mixed reports on Japanese and Western TV stations; wishing I could do something, anything, to help.

And then visiting Japan and going back to staring in broken disbelief.

tsunami hit area

So many memories etched forever onto my heart. . . .

Among them are the government broadcasts that were run the whole time I was in Japan. All day, every day.

They were very basic. Japanese celebrities giving short speeches. In different ways they extolled the virtues of the Japanese nation and gave assurance that Japan would overcome this disaster.

But the tagline was always the same,

“I believe in the power of Japan.”

I was talking about this with a friend the other day. He made the astute comment that countries where there is a strong patriotic spirit have a tendency to downplay national problems or cultural weaknesses. The stuff they can’t clean up, they cover up.

I thought about this––whether it was true for Japan. I’m sad to say I think it is.

From the refusal to acknowledge responsibility for historical moral failings like the “Nanking incident,” to the denial that anyone in Japan has a problem with alcohol or gambling.

And then yesterday I read this article about the ongoing “clean-up” of the tsunami-hit areas.

The problem it seems is that many people in Japan––those not directly affected by the disaster––would be content with a cover up, rather than a clean up. People feel that their emotional needs are being overlooked in favor of the financial opportunities for the construction industry and the political gains to be had.

I had intended, therefore, to write a post about the failure of the Japanese government to provide the necessary care for the ongoing victims of the tsunami. Maybe if I added my voice to the shouts of protest it would work towards making a difference.

But like so many of my plans, Jesus came along and screwed that idea right up.

See, this month I am reading through Luke’s account of Jesus’ life. And two days ago I reached the point where he rebukes the religious leaders of his day for their hypocrisy,

 “You clean the outside of the cup and bowl, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”

It was a reminder that the tendency to cover up rather than clean up is not an especially Japanese trait––It’s a human one.

For me, at least, I have to confess this is the case. I wish I could point the blame at the Japanese government. Or anyone, for that matter.

It seems to me that’s the natural reaction to any such disaster. We want to find those who are responsible and criticize them for their failures. It’s understandable. But it’s also hypocritical.

Because the truth is that I don’t like to own up to my past failings, and I don’t like to acknowledge my ongoing faults. I re-name my sins. Call them “quirks” or rely on the fact that “I’m not as bad as them.”

So rather than bemoaning how the Japanese government lied about the extent of the nuclear disaster, or criticizing the Japanese culture for being overly patriotic, I’m going to use this anniversary of the tsunami as an opportunity to recognize my own tendency to cover up, rather than clean up––that is, my own need for a saviour to clean me up.

Because when it comes down to it, I’m just a guy who has been called to follow Jesus. And I want to go to Japan to call others to do likewise. He is the one who cleans up lives. Not me. I’m in no place to criticize people for failed clean-up efforts. My own efforts at cleaning up my life have tended to just create more mess.

Now of course there is a place to call for proper care for those who need it. Injustice and suffering should not be overlooked. When I get to Japan I will seek to help with the recovery of the tsunami as much as I can. And if I can think of a way to call the Japanese government into line on this I’ll do it.

But not as someone who has it all together. No, I will go to Japan as one who has been, and is being, cleaned up by the undeserved kindness of God in Jesus Christ.

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