Singing a new Song

There are times when singing a new song involves singing an old song. One of the things I like to do with the music in worship is to re-arrange hymns. It helps that people already know the melodies.

When confronted with new melodies and lyrics sometimes people find themselves so overwhelmed with not knowing either that they manage not let the words sink in as they are too concerned with trying to make sure they are keeping up with the strange new hymn they find themselves singing.

Also there are times when the new arrangement allows people to rediscover the lyrics that they have sung before but got lost in the familiarity of the way they have always sung it.

Perhaps sometime I will put together a better video production so that people can get a better feel of this. But for now I have decided to put on YouTube a two minute clip of a Charles Wesley hymn.

this is the day

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Thanks for the Prayers

A few weeks ago I asked for prayers about the earthquake damaged retaining wall behind our house which is being re-constructed. We have actually had several sizeable quakes since I made that request including two of the biggest shakes since the big one in March. So far we have made it through safely. Earthquakes have not been are only concern heavy rains have also been a danger during this project. Right now as I write a typhoon is skirting along the coastline of Japan threatening to dump significant amounts of rain on Tokyo.

The good news is that the work has progressed to the point that as of yesterday, heavy rains no longer present the danger that they did before and it should be able to withstand whatever amount of wind and rain this typhoon can dish out.

I am very thankful that the construction workers have been doing their best to make a speedy and safe repair of this wall. And I am equally grateful for all who have prayed for us. I do ask for your continued prayers for those who continue to be effected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

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Hitting the Wall

Work on the Wall Begins.

During the Earthquake our property actually had some pretty significant damage. There is a retaining wall behind our house which is keeping a Buddhist Temple from crashing in on us. Some large chunks of the wall fell down during the quake, huge cracks developed throughout and the entire structure began leaning precariously in the direction of our house. We’ve been holding our breath that it would not crumble in any of the aftershocks. And so far we have been kept safe.

Yesterday a work crew came to replace the damaged wall. That was very welcome news for us. However, now that they have begun the process we are actually now in more danger. Before putting a new wall, the old wall has to come down. Significant tremors or rain during the next few weeks have the potential of making a huge mess.

I think there is a sermon illustration in that opening oneself up to disaster in order to remove what is decaying and rebuild what will last. But I think for the time being I will just ask for prayers for safety till we get through this.

There are costs involved as well. The whole project will probably run somewhere in the tens of thousands of dollars. And I suppose there might be a sermon illustration in that part of the story as well…

Thanks as always for you all your prayers.

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Yes! There is a Fourth of July in Japan!

For all my friends and family who were wondering – there is indeed a fourth of July in Japan. But like the third and the fifth of July it’s just another day on the calendar.

Last week I was at an ecumenical missionary gathering and during the conversation I heard several people refer to the Great East Japan Earthquake as 311. Because I haven’t been with a whole lot of foreigners since the Quake/Tsunami of March 11th, I have no idea what terms people have attached to the naming of this disaster. But when I heard this expression being used over and over again, it just sounded wrong to my ears.

No doubt, the September 11th terror attacks of 2001 which are commonly referred to as 911 have something to do with this use of 311. Obviously both events were horrendous tragedies of massive scale and certainly there are comparisons which can be made between. However, to me it seems that linking the two does a disservice to both and lives that impacted.

Maybe it’s just me who thinks this way. Just the same, I don’t think you are going to be hearing me using the term 311 any time soon.

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Rain Rain go away… NO please STAY!

June is the rainy season here in Japan. Often it extends into mid-July as well. This year we have already had a few Typhoons bring us hard pouring rain. But the rainy season usually is four to six weeks of overcast skies and a drizzling rain that sometimes stops for a while and sometimes gets a little a stronger.

Last week I taught the children at Yashio Preschool how to sing the song “Rain, Rain go Away” in English. I often teach kids this song during spring because the words and melody are pretty simple and the meaning is pretty easy to grasp. However, this year I wonder whether or not it was the right song to sing.

This weather is depressing to say the least. However, this year we hoping that it lasts as long as possible. The reason for this is that when the weather pattern finally breaks summer begins and all that rain which the ground soaked up transfers into unbearable humidity which lasts through the middle of September during which time it life without air-conditioning can be next to impossible.

The government, the power companies and businesses have been doing all it can to prepare for the massive demand on power which is right around the corner. Residents as well have been busy preparing their homes for the inevitable. The rainy season gave us a small window of time during which the absence of the electricity generated by the downed nuclear power plants in Fukushima had less of impact. However, in a matter of days that will soon change.

There has been much progress since the earthquake/tsunami rocked Japan in March. But the road to recovery still is long.

I cannot believe I am asking this – but I really do pray that the drizzle of the rainy season lingers long into the month of July this year.

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Thoughts about the return to normal life

Last week Wednesday was the two month anniversary of the Earthquake. Here in Tokyo the aftershocks are now felt with far less frequency – in fact, I cannot remember that last time I felt the ground beneath my feet move, the gasoline stands now flow with gasoline and the shelves in the grocery stores are filled with food and drink. The one difference is that the power grid is still seriously challenged and will remain so for the foreseeable future – this means lights in stores, escalators, neon signs, and a number of vending machines remain turned off to conserve power. When air conditioning season begins in the coming weeks, the rolling black outs which probably once again return. Things almost seem normal.

Further north in the north in the areas more affected by the quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters continue their slow progress. It will be quite some time before they return to anything resembling normal.

Last week Thursday, on the day after the anniversary, in the wee hours of the morning Miyu Uehara, a twenty-four year television celebrity, whose family in Kyushu lives just about as far away as anyone in Japan can be from the disaster area, was overwhelmed with grief which most likely had nothing to do with the earthquake or tsunami. Many people have speculated as to exactly what is it was that was troubling her but the truth is that we never know for sure because at 2 a.m. she hung herself in her apartment.

The stories of the quake and tsunami which had filled the morning news and talk shows on the previous day were replaced by the tragedy of Miss Uehara’s suicide. As I saw her photographs and footage being broadcast over and over again I was at first reminded of how it seemed that Charlie Sheen was doing his best to take the focus off the earthquake and tsunami when it happened in March. No matter where you are in the world it seems that entertainers seem to entertain us most with the gossip and speculation about their private lives.

However, as they began to show pictures of her grieving family, I was filled with shame. I was so wrong to see her death as trivial entertainment news which was taking the spotlight from where the focus should be in this time of recovery. Although it was the story of individual’s suicide it is connected to the tens of thousands of others in Japan who take their own lives this year. Although for the past two months we have all be overwhelmed with this quake and tsunami which have taken over twenty thousand lives, the reality is that at the end of the year more people will have died by suicide in Japan than by that horrific natural disaster.

All this time I have been wondering when life would return to normal after the tragedy and forgot just how tragic normal life is here in Japan.

Please continue to pray for Japan.

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The fragrance of progress

Ishinomaki six weeks after the quake

This past week I returned to Sendai to help Food for the Hungry in its relief effort in the Tohoku region of Japan. Some things had changed. Unlike for weeks ago there were no more lines at the gasoline stations and the grocery stores in seemed to be fairly well stocked in Sendai. However, there still are many who are unable to easily access food and provisions. It was amazing to see just how quickly we are able to give away all of the vegetables we had after stopping in Ishinomaki. Despite all the progress that has been made, driving down the roads and helping out in different places I was amazed at just how much still needs to be done. Without actually seeing it, I think it is difficult to fully grasp just how massive in scope this disaster is.

Perhaps the biggest noticeable difference from my time there in March is the stench in the air. So much has been cleaned up and yet so much remains. The warmer weather only adds to the odor of the decay. Prayers are really needed for both those who live there and for those who are working in the relief effort so that they do become discouraged in the weeks and months ahead.

On Friday we helped a man clean out his first story apartment which despite being over a mile inland from the ocean was completely submerged in water with the tsunami came. Like most of the residents in the city run complex in which lived he is elderly. Most of the units had been cleaned out by volunteers from the city two weeks earlier. He had refused their help because he was afraid that they would capriciously discard all of his prized possessions. Rather than try to earn his trust the city volunteers just left the man with his waterlogged apartment. Fortunately, a neighborhood pastor heard about this man’s situation and spent time assuring this man that he would send a group of volunteers who carefully clean the apartment together with him and that none of his treasures would be tossed into the trash heap.

Around noon as I was cleaning up for lunch one of the neighbors came to speak with me. He told me how everybody had been so worried about how the apartment would ever get cleaned out and that he was very impressed at how this group of Christians showed love and care to man that they did not know.

I was so glad that this particular job had been organized by a neighborhood congregation and that I could do my small part to help that congregation do its ministry to its community. There are many churches in Tohoku which were severely damaged. They need our prayers and support so that they can respond to the needs of their neighbors as well.

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