Thursday, November 28, 2013

November Newsletter

Keith and Celia Olson
Newsletter #24
November 28, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been a very busy fall around here, full of concerts and rehearsals and meetings and events and other such things. Thankfully we’ve had a bit of a breather before the Christmas rush sets in.

Keith preached his first Old Testament sermon in Japanese from Isaiah 6, the first sermon of a series from Isaiah, and performed Britten’s War Requiem with the Sapporo Symphony Chorus. Keith wrote his reflections on performing the War Requiem as a Christian and shared them with several members of the choir.

Celia played 3 concerts in 3 different cities (Tokyo, Abashiri, and Sapporo) with 3 different collaborators playing 3 different instruments (piano, harpsichord, organ--come to think of it, Celia also played 3 different instruments: cello, baroque cello, viola da gamba); wrote a magazine article about hospitality, a testimony intended for the youth group, and another testimony especially for concerts; held her first cooking class; and translated her lasagne recipe into Japanese.

First concert in Tokyo!
With Shino in Daisetsuzan National Park on the way to our concert in Abashiri
Abashiri Concert
Making lasagne noodles at Chuo Church cooking class
Together we attended a conference for pastors and missionaries; harvested, ate, and preserved lots of food from our garden; continued our work at church, especially with the youth group; and continued our study of tea ceremony. In the middle of all that, we found time to enjoy the fall colors while hiking and biking; we continue to be thankful to live in such a beautiful place as Hokkaido!

Also this fall, we had our church bazaar. We made lots of snacks to sell.
The kids at church practice a song for the Children's Blessing Ceremony

Tea Reflections

Celia and I have been attending 茶 道 (sado--tea ceremony) lessons together with Noriko, a friend from church, three times a month for the last six months at the home of Fujiyama Sensei. The lesson starts with a proper greeting with Fujiyama Sensei: sitting 正座 (seiza--traditional Japanese style in which you kneel, sitting on your feet), you place your 扇子 (sensu--miniature folding fan) in front of you with the end that opens pointing left, then place your hands palms down on the ground just before your knees, and bow saying よろしくおねがいします (yoroshiku onegaishimasu--not really translatable but means something between “Let’s begin” and “I am relying on you do do your best”) to be said in sync with Fujiyama Sensei. From there, she will usually perform the ceremony for us, and then we each prepare a cup for each other. Everything from which foot is used to enter the room, to where to place the tea utensils, how to hold them, and what to say when is scripted for the tea master and guest alike. If it sounds very meticulous to you, then you are right, it is. One thing, however, that came as a surprise to me, is that although there are so many rules, the atmosphere is quite peaceful and relaxing. I can see how once these rules are internalized, following the set pattern brings a sense of comfort and stability. Small variations such as the flower arrangement or choice of tea bowl become highlights of conversation, but it is not uncommon for most of the tea ceremony to be spent in reflective silence. The sound of the simmering kettle and the pouring of water to clean the utensils all add to the atmosphere. As our Sensei says, “音もごちそうです (oto mo gochiso desu—The sound is also to be enjoyed).”

Keith enjoys a bowl of tea.
Celia prepares tea while Fujiyama-sensei looks on.
If the tea ceremony has been teaching me anything about Japanese culture in general, it is that the more comfortable you become in the set pattern, then the more you view change as uncomfortable and disharmonious. Whatever you think as “right” becomes following the pattern, and whatever you think as “wrong” becomes anything that deviates from the pattern. Before you make the tea, for instance, you clean the 茶杓 (chashaku—tea scoop) by wiping it three times. If you were to ask me why three times, then I would explain that two times would not feel like enough and four is too many (five is right out). When I expect three and then see three, I’m happy that the harmony is kept. This feeling of developing a harmonious spirit and maintaining that harmony is highly valued in Japanese society, including religious traditions.

Christianity is seen as a western religion that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable; the challenge when presenting the gospel is that it is seen to be disharmonious. Christians can no longer take part in visits to shrines, and respecting and remembering one’s ancestors is done in a different way. This causes disharmony in the family and the community. When presenting the gospel, however, instead of focusing on what is disharmonious, the challenge is to emphasize that it brings harmony between sinful people and the everlasting God. When addressing the biblical themes of shalom, the Kingdom of God, or everlasting life, any meaningful discussion must include the concept of 和 (wa--harmony).

Thanks to tea ceremony lessons, I’m beginning to understand how to communicate the gospel in Japanese in a way that connects to Japanese hearts, and also to understand more deeply the meaning of a relationship with God that contains 和.

Prayer Points

  • November and December are outreach season for churches in Japan, since many are interested in Christmas. Please pray that many will believe this year.
  • Praise God that at Celia’s fall concerts, 2 people said that they want to believe. Please pray for the churches as they follow up with these people.
  • Please pray for the many Christmas events we will be involved with at our church: Dec. 15: Keith preaches from Isaiah 9, children’s Christmas party in afternoon, youth group Christmas party in the evening. Dec. 22: baptisms, Christmas lunch, and concert (Celia and Shino and possibly others). Dec. 24: Christmas Eve service.
  • We praise God that two middle school boys, Ke and Ko will be baptized on Dec. 22. Please pray for their faith to continue to grow. Please also pray for their friends, M and T, who believe, but face opposition from their families.
  • Keith is singing Beethoven’s 9th with the Sapporo Symphony Chorus on Dec. 14. Please pray for him to develop friendships with choir members.
  • In addition to Christmas events, please pray for our time with friends, both those from church and those outside of church. Please pray for opportunities to talk about our faith and for mutual encouragement as we celebrate Jesus’ birth.
  • Please pray for our ongoing language development and training. Sometimes we find that as foreigners, we naturally do things that do not fit in a Japanese church setting; these lessons can be painful to learn.

Language Corner

Once in September while we were eating a delicious barbeque supper with a friend from Keith’s choir, I (Celia) was explaining about my hometown: yes, most people in Seattle can use chopsticks, and yes, it is possible to buy Japanese ingredients at the grocery store. As to why this is, what I meant to say was “シアトルには二世日本人が沢山います” (Shiatoru ni wa nisei nihonjin ga takusan imasu: There are lots of Japanese-Americans--lit. second-generation Japanese--in Seattle), but what I actually said was “シアトルには偽日本人が沢山います” (Shiatoru ni wa nise nihonjin ga takusan imasu: There are lots of fake Japanese people in Seattle”). Oops. There’s only a tiny difference, but it had our guest chuckling. Thankfully he was kind enough to explain my mistake to me.

We’re thankful for each of you. Please pray for us in the busy season ahead. We pray that each of you will have an Advent and Christmas season that is enjoyable and meaningful.

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia

I'm back inside for the winter... but hey, at least there's no slugs inside the house.

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