Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Participation, Attendance, Service (and coffee)

Today’s coffee… was at school. 3 cups was probably too much. But considering the number of mistakes in my translation-work pre-coffee…

Speaking of coffee, it’s been hard to get to a café to write lately, since I’ve been in Japanese class every morning (and there’s a coffee pot always on, hence today’s 3 cups). By the time I get home, I’m too tired for the next several hours to do anything other than sit on the couch and stare out the window. Thankfully, Keith has finished peeling the annoying lace-patterned film off the living room window, so now I look out on a garden full of wildflowers, bamboo grass, boulders, and trees. (I think it was worth renting this house just for the garden…) So by the time I recover enough to go out to a café, it’s too late to drink coffee (and I already had 3 cups… I do want to get some sleep tonight…)

But I have been writing--a lot. Sometimes in my journal, sometimes poems which ostensibly are part of “Japanese study.” I included several poems in a short devotional talk I’m giving at our friend’s graduation from language school tomorrow. The biggest project I’ve been working on (also as part of my Japanese study) is translating my CD liner notes into Japanese. (Japanese version coming soon!!)

Translation work sucks--even though I’m just translating stuff I’ve written myself. I think it’s especially hard for those of us who are decently good at writing. Whereas I’m fairly eloquent when writing in English, in Japanese, I am not. This is frustrating. I know exactly what I want to say, and what nuance I want it to carry, and yet… Japanese is a completely different language, and some things just don’t translate. I found the same to be true when translating Japanese folk song lyrics into English for the CD liner notes.

Today I was working on the story which accompanies Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. (It’s a version of the main article in our February newsletter.) As I was expanding the explanation of what I had hoped to accomplish with my Regent arts thesis project and coming up with a translation for the title, I ran into a slight difficulty. The title is Praise the LORD with Stringed Instruments: Instrumental Music as Participation and Contemplation. After some discussion with my teacher, I translated the subtitle “器楽による礼拝への参加と黙想” which specifies that participation and contemplation happen in the context of worship. But this translation might not stick.

To give you some background, my arts thesis project was my response to a push in North American worship-leading circles for congregational participation. This has always been a big thing for us Protestants--we are the “priesthood of all believers,” so inviting everyone’s participation in corporate worship is hugely important. However, I found the definition of participation in most books I read to be troubling: most focused on doing and completely ignored being. Singing, moving, reading, speaking, and praying (out loud) were okay, but listening (sermon excepted), art which doesn’t communicate propositional truth, silent prayer and just being together in God’s presence with one's church family didn’t rate very high. Furthermore, spoken word took precedence over everything else, leaving little to no space for reflection. Therefore I explored nonverbal means of participation, especially through instrumental music, in my project. Vastly oversimplified, but that’s the basic idea.

The reason the translation of my title (and a lot of other parts of my arts thesis, if I ever get around to translating it) might not work is because, as my teacher explained, in Japanese we do not use the word participation (参加 sanka) to refer to what we do in worship. We use the word which means attendance (出席 shusseki). You don’t participate in worship, you attend worship. The most important thing is that you show up, even if you sleep straight through the service. (There was an interesting article on this phenomenon throughout Japanese society on BBC news recently. Not that I really have any right to complain about this. I was always the worst offender for sleeping in class through undergrad and two master’s degrees.)

And participation? That’s called service (奉仕 houshi), which means more like cleaning the church once a month or teaching Sunday school or taking your turn leading the service or doing your part for the church bazaar. Some kids in our youth group confessed that they didn’t want to get baptized because then they would be expected to do “houshi.”

It seems like a first step for arts ministry in Japan might be to redefine, together with my friends at church, what participation in worship looks like...

Edit: I just want to add that regardless of what it's called, many (most?) Japanese Christians do "participate" in worship. I was moved by the hearty singing at church last week. :) I'm looking forward to many conversations with friends as I seek to understand what worship means to each one.

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