Tag Archives: are you called?

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?’

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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 Feel ‘Called’ to Japan? I Don’t Know But I Do Feel Comfortable

A pair of slippers at the entrance to a Japanese house

Nothing quite says, “welcome home” like a pair of well worn slippers.

So I’m back in Japan. The team and I arrived Tuesday evening so we’ve been here about 48 hours now. Jet-lag has (I hope) more or less done it’s worse and we’re orientated and ready to go.

(Quick recap: I’m leading a group of 4 folk from the UK to help run gospel music summer camps for a couple of churches here in Tokyo.)

It feels weird being back in Japan. Mainly because it doesn’t feel weird.

Before you start thinking this is a sign that jet-lag really hasn’t worn off yet, let me explain.

I feel at home here. It just feels… normal, like it makes sense for me to be here. More than I thought it would. Much more.

You see I’ve become quite comfortable living in England. And over the last 3 years I’ve come to quite enjoy London. It’s a great city. And I have great friends there. In short, I love loving in the UK. I had thought that this would make leaving to come out to Japan really hard. That Japan would feel a bit weird. But it doesn’t feel weird. Not at all.

Sure my Japanese language skills are still lacking, so there’s some signs and stuff that I don’t fully understand. But even when Japanese doesn’t make sense to me, being in Japan does. All the normal Japanese stuff – vending machines, traffic cops, checkout niceties, eating with chopsticks, bathroom slippers – it just seems, well, normal.

A box of Japanese bran flakes

Not all Japanese food is totally crazy, some of it really is quite normal.

Now I’m sure that when I come out here long-term (at the end of this year if all goes to plan) it’ll be tough. Saying goodbye to folk for 3 weeks isn’t quite the same as leaving for 4 years.

But all the same, I’m sure that when I come out here to live it won’t feel like I’m leaving home. It’ll feel like I’m coming home. (I know that’s cheesy. I’ve got over it: I’m sure you will too.)

Anywho, I’m telling you this because it helps answer a question that I sometimes get asked,

“Do you feel called to Japan?”

I never knew how to answer this question. Mainly because I didn’t know what it felt like to be ‘called’ somewhere. To be honest, I think often the person asking the question doesn’t know either. In fact other people ask,

“How do you know you’re called to Japan?”

Maybe I’ll attempt a fuller answer at some point (I’m learning never to promise to blog about a topic unless you pretty much have the post already written!) but for now I can say this,

I feel more at home in Japan than I can give reason for.

So now I feel fairly confident that yes, I have been ‘called’ to Japan. The thing is that I wouldn’t have got to this point unless I’d come out here when I wasn’t very sure.

But maybe that’s how it works. Maybe you don’t need an overwhelming fascination with anime and an unstoppable urge for sushi to be ‘called’ to Japan.

Maybe you don’t need to wait until you feel ‘called’ to a certain place until you go there. Maybe you won’t know if you should go until you actually do.

What about you? Is there somewhere you definitely feel ‘called’ to? Or is there somewhere that you should maybe just go and check out, and see if it feels comfortable?