Tag Archives: common grace

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.

IMG_0661_2

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.

10968438_1582921691953465_3348205559069624412_n

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 . . .)

IMG_0663 IMG_0664 IMG_0665

Fighting crows with cheddar (or how common grace helps me deal with culture stress).

This has been a week of the unexpected. Unexpected trials and unexpected joys.

None of them particularly huge, but that’s kinda the point of this post. Sometimes it’s the little things that make living overseas stressful, and sometimes it’s the little things that take that stress away.

OK, here’s what happened…

 

On Monday my friend Tre took me along to the nearby Costco store to stock up some essentials. We eat some freebies, buy super-sized goods and head to the car park. As we’re putting our shopping into the car I turn around to see a crow taking a big beakfull out of my minced pork multi-pack.

That’s right, a crow had swooped into the two of us, hopped into the trolley, and was eating my freshly purchased raw meat.

Then it flew off like an utter punk coward. I mean, if you’re going to steal a man’s meat, at least have the stones to fight him for it.

 

I have ranted about the crows in Japan a bit before. But it’s worth re-mentioning that they are quite simply living embodiments of everything wrong in this world . . . with wings.

Honestly, they drive me insane. They’re everywhere, squawking away, and they swoop down on you from behind and try to peck you in the back of the head.

A Japanese crow

Look at it, hiding there in the shadows . . .

In a way, Japanese crows represent the culture stress I experience in Japan.

I saw ‘stress’ rather than ‘shock’ because I think there’s an important difference there. Some aspects of living in Japan really are shocking when you first arrive. And they take a little while to get used to. But other tough aspects of living in Japan never go away. And I don’t think I’ll ever get fully used to them. It’s not that they’re surprising, or odd, it’s that they’re really annoying.

For instance, leading up to the crow incident, I had two days in a row where I was asked the same question by a Japanese person. It’s a question I am often asked when people hear that I’m from the UK.

“Is it true that British food is horrible?”

Because you know that’s an acceptable thing to say to a person you’ve just met.

My point is that by Monday afternoon my culture stress meter was on the rise.

 

But by the grace of God I was able to overcome that stress.

And by ‘grace of God’ I mean ‘mature cheddar cheese.’

Because Costco had cheese. Mature cheddar cheese.

A beautiful block of mature cheddar cheese

Yes, it was twice as much as it’d cost in the UK. No, I don’t regret buying it at all.

Because cheese is amazing. And mature cheddar is the undisputed champion of cheese. If I were to have to compare cheddar cheese to a Street Fighter 2 character (and I kinda have to in order to satisfy a promise I made), it would be Ryu. Sure occasionally you’ll play around with Blanka/Brie and there’s also that one weird friend who claims to genuine prefer Zangief/Red Leicester . . . but deep down we all know that Ryu/Cheddar is the only sensible choice. No pretense. No fanciness. Just straight-up-dragon-punch-you-in-the-mouth brilliance. (See Priss, told you I could do it).

Anywho, I’m aware that the cross-section of people who love both British cheese and 90s beat em ups is probably quite small, so I’ll get back to the whole culture stress point.

 

Here’s the thing. I believe that everything good in this world comes from God. He gives all of it to us. And we’re meant to enjoy it. It’s meant to de-stress us.

Laughing with friends until your sides hurt . . . kicking your way through piles of autumn leaves . . . getting giddy with excitement over the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron . . . melting cheddar cheese over a bagel . . . all of these are good gifts from a good God. And all of them have helped me to deal with the stress of trying to live for Jesus in Japan.

Yes, I absolutely believe in the power and importance of prayer. I believe in the need to be reminded of the simple amazing truths that make up the good news of Jesus Christ. And I believe that the main battles I face are battles of my own heart. That’s a large part of writing this blog: to encourage folk like you to encourage folk like me.

Yup, words have the power to strengthen souls.

And so does cheese.

No seriously. Because cheese is a physical reminder of the fact that God cares for me and that He provides good gifts. And when I’m stressed that’s the truth I most need to remember. When it feels like the world is against me mature cheddar says, “God is for you.” It reminds me not to focus on all the negative stuff, but to enjoy the good stuff. To give thanks. Be grateful. Smile.

 

So there you have it. When crows attack, I fight back with cheese!

 

****

OK I’m feeling a bit vulnerable having exposed all my crazy, so it’s sharing time.

What are the little things that help you to battle stress? What is your equivalent of mature cheddar? (And don’t say Red Leicester!)