Category Archives: love Japan

Do I love Japan? Lust exploits, love protects.

So these last few weeks I’ve been thinking through the differences between lust and love and asking myself the tough question ‘Do I love Japan or is it just lust.’

Today I continue those thoughts with what I think is probably the biggest difference between the two:

Lust exploits. Love protects.

Or to quote Benjamin Nolot,

“Lust sees vulnerability as an opportunity to exploit, but love sees it as a chance to protect.”

When you think about it, this distinction is pretty much the basis for all (OK, a lot of) our books and movies. Villain sees a vulnerability that he can exploit for his advantage even if it involves taking the lives of others. Hero sees that vulnerability as an opportunity to defend those people even though it might mean laying down their life/lives.

Now I’ve only lived in Japan for about two years, but I’ve seen enough to know there are many vulnerable people here. Many ways to exploit them, but also many ways to protect them.

Now I know I said this wasn’t a post about sexual lust, but the exploitation of vulnerable women is something that has really been burning into my heart of late and Japan feels like it is full of vulnerable women being exploited when they should be being protected.

And the thing with all these points is that it is easy (or at least easier) to simply stop at the not-lusting stage. That’s what the pharisees did and Jesus hated them for it.

What I mean is it’s tempting to think that the best thing to do with all the sex on sale in Japan is to turn a blind eye. Don’t look. Protect your purity. Guard your heart.

Now I totally get the importance of guarding your heart. The Bible is clear on that:

“More than anything else guard your heart. For from it flow the well-springs of life.”

I have ignored the seriousness of that command too many times, and paid the price. Purity of heart is like low body fat: difficult to achieve, easy to lose. And it doesn’t get easier with age. The fight is, as they say, real.

But there are also plentiful commands in the Bible about protecting others, especially those who are vulnerable and those who are being exploited. I am meant to fight for both the purity of my heart and the protection of those who are hurting.

If merely avoiding sinning yourself was the highest morality possible then Jesus Christ would not have become known as ‘friend of sinners.’ But he did, and for a good reason: he was.

Jesus was willing to stand between an angry mob and a woman caught in the act of adultery. His love demanded that he did, because whilst those holding the stones were motivated by lust, seeking to exploit her vulnerability, Jesus was motivated by love, and love protects.

So I don’t think it’s enough for me, as a man, to simply avoid the parts of Japan where I know temptations to exploit women lie. Love demands that I protect those women, not just turn a blind eye.

What that looks like, I don’t know yet. Maybe something like this move by Simon Guillebaud.

Whatever the case, it is clear to me that this question, ‘Do I love Japan or is it just lust?’ isn’t just about how I feel. The answer will be determined by how I live.

Maybe the question I’ve been asking is a bit off. Maybe I shouldn’t ask, ‘Do I love Japan?’ but, ‘Will I love Japan?’

Lessons in loving Japan from a week of painting walls (and ceilings, and doors, and stairs).

a pot of paint and a cup of tea

Last week I was in Aomori. It’s a fairly remote place on the northern part of Honshu and apparently the snowiest area on planet earth, which I can easily believe.

I was there to help a friend get his new home ready for his wife and five children to move into. For me that meant painting. Pretty much six solid days of it. And in the midst of that I learnt a few lessons about what it will look like for me to love Japan.

It was very much a labour of love. For a few reasons:

  1. I was painting everything white, and whilst I admit it makes the place brighter, I’m not a huge fan.
  2. There was an awful lot to be painted.
  3. It all needed three coats of paint.
  4. The stairs.

Oh, those stairs! It was whilst painting those stairs that I almost cracked. I mean, look at them!

A big wooden staircase

That twirly bannister . . . those battered steps . . . so . . . many . . . panels. And my friend wanted it all painted white. Essentially I was going to be painting a bunch of incredibly awkward surfaces, with a colour I wouldn’t have chosen (three times over!), for someone else to enjoy.

I’ll be honest, when I finished the first coat and stood back to look at my work, I almost cried.

Staircase half-painted and looking super ugly

A whole world of ugly, right? I really wanted to give up. Or at least work out a way to cut some corners. Was it really worth the effort it took to get into all the twists and edges and cracks? After I had finished the second coat, it looked a bit better from a distance. Maybe that was enough.

But then my friend related his daughter’s reaction from being shown the staircase over Skype,

“Oh, Daddy! It looks like a palace!”

That put pay to my tiredness. Sure, my friend had mentioned several times how much he liked the house, how much brighter it looked, yadayada. But knowing that his daughter was delighted with how it was looking: that got me working with joy.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered one of my favourite stories from the Bible: the story of when Jacob met Rachael. It’s a classic boy-meets-girl, boys-falls-in-love-with-girl, boy-promises-to-work-as-a-shepherd-for-seven-years-in-return-for-girl’s-hand-in-marriage kinda story. And then we get this beautiful verse,

‘So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.’

Seven years of hard labour, waiting all the time for the girl he loved. Not even Westley could boast that.

So as I was giving that staircase its third coat of white, I reflected on this story and how it links to the question I’ve been thinking about recently: Do I love Japan or is it just lust?

One of the points, you might remember, was that ‘Lust demands instant gratification but love waits.’

I totally agree with that, but I think we need to make sure we don’t misunderstand what ‘waits’ means here. It’s not a sitting-around-doing-nothing sort of waiting. And it’s not a go-and-do-your-own-thing sort of waiting. It’s a serve-and-actively-seek-the-good-of-the-other-person-whilst-you-wait kind of waiting. It’s the kind of waiting that Jacob did for Rachael for seven years. It’s the kind of waiting that God did for Israel for many more years. It’s the kind of waiting that a man is meant to do for his wife, or the girl he’s pursuing. And it’s the kind of waiting that I should do for Japan.

So the question is: am I willing to wait? And am I willing to labour whilst I wait? Am I willing to paint over the same spot again and again in a colour that I wouldn’t choose so that someone’s daughter will get giddy with excitement at the idea of moving into a palace?

Am I willing to love Japan when that love requires a labour of love?

You know, I think I am. Because I think it will be worth it. That’s why love labors, because the wait is worth it.

Beautiful white staircase

Do I Love Japan? Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.

In my last post I opened the question of whether I love Japan or just lust after it. And I was surprised by the response. Not that my post went viral (or anything remotely close), but I had a fair few people message me to say that it struck a chord with them. So I’ve decided that I will unpack those points on the love/lust difference, trying to think about them in a wider sense.

So here we go,

Love for Japan

Courtesy of ku.sagi on Flickr. Original.

Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.

Why? Because our calling is love.

We are designed to be in community. We were made to cultivate and care: for each other, for this planet, for culture. We are wired so that we get most fulfillment when we give, not when we get. And the world is wired so that it flourishes most when we live from love, not lust.

Now, look there are lots of things that I really enjoy in Japan. If you’ve been around here for any length of time you’ll be able to join me in reciting the list: onsens, soup curry, snowboarding, canned coffee . . . it goes on.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying those things. In fact I think I’m meant to. But love insists that such things are to be enjoyed in a way that befits a love for God and for people. Love recognizes that good things are to be enjoyed in such a way that others enjoy them too.

Lust differs from that because lust is about me. Lust doesn’t share. Lust is selfish, greedy, and uncaring. That’s why sexual lust is so devastating. It turns people into objects–literally–and then simply uses them. Lust takes something good and twists it to meet our self-centered desires.

Love serves others, but lust serves ourselves. And the results are really ugly.

But our lusts can be insidious. We can lust in a way that looks quite respectable, even admirable, to those on the outside. Lust truly does subvert, to the point that we might not even notice it ourselves.

A lust for fame or success can be just as subversive to our calling of love.

To quote from that apparently-soon-to-be-revisited classic Zoolander,

“Do you understand that the world does not revolve around you and your do whatever it takes, ruin as many people’s lives, so long as you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied along the way, just so long so you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied and dying along the way?”

OK, once you’ve stopped quoting the rest of Zoolander let’s continue. (I should also point out using that quote doesn’t mean I agree with the definition of love from that film.)

But in all seriousness, that kind of “I’ll make it whatever it takes” attitude can very easily lead to a lustful attitude where people who get in the way of our ‘success’ become obstacles to be avoided, pushed aside, or manipulated to meet our end. In other words, they become objects to used rather than people to be loved.

And the thing is that our original intention may have been noble. We might have drawn up our agenda with people in mind. But as D.A. Carson puts it,

“People don’t set the agenda. People are the agenda!”

Lust, in whatever form it takes, distracts us from both our specific callings, whatever they might be, as well as our general calling to love God and love our neighbour. You can’t build both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self. Trust me, I’ve tried. Like, really, really tried. It doesn’t work.

Thoughts, questions, stories?

Do I love Japan, or is it just lust?

Chase After Love

I mentioned in my last post the question of whether I genuinely love Japan or whether I simply lust after Japan. I get that’s a slightly strange statement so let me explain what I mean.

This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since a conversation I had with a Scottish friend last Summer. He’s lived in Japan for about nine years, so he’s seen a fair bit of life here.

We were hanging out in Starbucks (don’t judge me, it’s a convenient meeting spot) and on the table near us was another Westerner, chatting with a Japanese girl. My friend overheard him whilst he was waiting in line and afterwards told me that the guy had been boasting about how much he made teaching, and how he had lots of money for ‘play.’ The guy’s tone made it clear that he was talking more ‘playboy’ than ‘playmobile.’

Anywho, afterwards we were talking about that whole subject. Not so much the sex-industry in Japan, but more the fact that some people come to Japan with the sole purpose of getting what they can and then leaving when they’ve had their fill. In other words, they come to Japan driven by lust, not love.

And that made me remember this post my friend wrote, based on teaching by Benjamin Nolot (one of the folk who head up Exodus Cry) on the difference between love and lust.

You should definitely read the whole post, but here’s the main points:

  • Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.
  • Lust exploits. Love protects.
  • Lust consumes. Love pursues.
  • Lust seeks instant gratification. Love waits.

When it comes to human relationships these differences are devastating. And I think the principles apply more broadly as well.  I can be tempted to view Japan with lust, rather than love. I can be tempted to join the ranks of those who come to get their fill of Japan, when I’m meant to be here to pour myself out for Japan.

And so these last few months I’ve been wondering about my motives for being in here. Do I love Japan, or is it just lust?

Because I have to be honest here: I’m no better than that guy in Starbucks. As they say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” And that’s a grace that I need to have continually pouring into my life. And a grace that I need to be continually working out in my life.

And so I think this is an important question to ask. And not just for me, but for all of us, wherever we are. Are our actions, our words, our plans driven by love for the people around us, or are we motivated by a desire to get what we can?

So in my next few posts I will go through those points, thinking through how loving Japan looks different to lusting after Japan, and hopefully also helping you think through how you can better love those around you.

How snowboarding, soup curry, dog sledging, and onsens help me love the Japanese more

These last few weeks have been pretty packed. Mostly with fun stuff. I’ve relaxed in onsens, added a few more notches on my snowboard, eaten a whole lot of outrageously tasty food, and tried my hand at dog sledging.

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I spent a lot of the time with two of my friends, Richard and Peta. If you want to here more about the adventures I got up to and see some photos, you should check out this blog post: http://beautifulsilliness.com/2015/02/14/hunger-is-the-greatest-source/

And if you want to watch a video of us dancing like idiots:

So yeah, I have had a whole lot of fun recently. Now maybe I’m just trying to justify my regular onsen trips here, but I’ve been reflected a bit lately and think that all this fun really does have a purpose:

Snowboarding, soup curry, and onsens help me to love the Japanese people.

I don’t simply mean that all the fun stuff in Japan makes me love Japan. In fact I think that all the awesome stuff here could simply make you lust after Japan rather than love it (but more of that in my next post).

No, I mean that onsens and soup curry help me to love the people of Japan. They help to make me desire to do good here, to be generous, to share the good news, and to do it out of joy not duty.

They do so by becoming reminders for me–tangible, tasty, enjoyable reminders–of God’s love for me.

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I recently learned a great new Japanese phrase: 太っ腹 (futo’para). It literally means ‘fat bellied’ but it actually means ‘very generous’ or ‘big hearted.’ I use it now to refer to God’s grace, God’s ‘fat bellied’ grace.

All the stuff I’ve been j in the past few week, and all the fun and food that I will continue to enjoy whilst I’m here in Sapporo, they are all means of me enjoying God’s grace. Because I don’t deserve onsens, I deserve hell. The fact that I can enjoy chilling in a hot spring whilst soaking up the views of Hokkaido winter is an overflow of the amazing grace of God. It’s a concrete example of His undeserved and steadfast kindness. Because God gave His own son for me, to set me free from the weight of my sin, I can enjoy creation and culture, natural hot springs and unnaturally hot curry , without guilt, fear, or shame.

Richard Foster in ‘Celebration of Discipline’ notes that we often claim we’d love others better if only we had enough faith when the reality is,

‘Frequently our lack is not faith but compassion.’

I can only speak for myself, but those words wring devastatingly true for me. I need to be more compassionate. But I can’t create compassion just out of a sense of feeling guilty for lacking in compassion. It is only when I feel the weight of God’s compassion for me that my heart is changed.

‘We love because he first loved us.’

So as I allow God to care for me, it creates in me the kind of heart that wants to share that care with others.

As I warm my body in onsens I allow God’s love to warm – to melt – my heart to love others with that same love.

As I feed on God’s grace I become, in a small measure, like Him. I become ‘fat bellied.’ Filled up on God’s love for me so that I am then able to joyfully share that love with the people of Japan.

(And just in case you were wondering how well I did at dog sledging . . .)

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