Like you, I too have been following what is unfolding in Japan with great concern. Like you, I’ve been reading the newspaper, watching the evening news, following internet news services and even viewing some of the videos popping up on YouTube that show raw footage of the ravishing devastation occurring in this island nation in the Pacific Rim.
These are just a few of the words that come to mind when you see what has taken place in Japan this past week.
I have a very pragmatic imagination. I often find myself trying to think through the harsh realities of actually being in a very difficult situation such as this. The other night I was watching a popular movie series about soldiers in World War II. I was captivated with very practical questions ranging from what it feels like to parachute into a war zone at night while bullets are flying all around you to what do you do when you have to use the restroom while hunkered down in a foxhole in fear for your life.
I think about things like this a lot because of the way my mind works.
So, I am trying to imagine what it would be like if I and my family were living in Japan right now. The truth of the matter is that hundreds of thousands of families just like yours and mine are living in Japan right now.
Husbands and wives who are fathers and mothers to sons and daughters. Families just like ours with brothers and sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, brothers-in law and sisters-in-laws, best friends and next door neighbors who have also been engulfed in this tragic calamity.
Families like ours who have some money in both our checking and savings account, but just enough for maybe a few weeks of financial commitments. This is why we go to work each day; to ensure that we have enough money to stay a few weeks ahead of obligations like a mortgage, utilities, insurances, gasoline and groceries.
Families just like ours who have clothes and shoes in closets throughout the house, family photo albums on bookshelves, and the few belongings that facilitate the daily routines of our lives from ovens to televisions, from computers to cars.
Or should I say, “families like ours who HAD clothes and shoes, photo albums and ovens, computers and cars.”
You see, unlike our family right now, families in Japan don’t have many if any of these things anymore. It all lies under a mangled heap of everybody else’s belongings that came to rest on top of it when the earth shuddered beneath their neighborhood. Or worse still, it lies scattered all over miles and miles of the debris field resulting from the torrent of water the tsunami sent through their city on its way from the ocean before giving it one last giant stir on its return back to the sea.
You don’t have a job to go to right now because your company is no longer where it use to be. You don’t have a house to regroup in because it is no longer standing. You don’t have a car to go to the grocery store because it floated away upside down right before you very eyes…along with the grocery store that use to be on the left hand side of the street around the corner from where you have lived for the past fifteen years.
The bank is gone too. So are the utilities. So is the clean water and the pantry of food you had just filled with groceries. Who are you going to call for help? There’s no phone service either.
It’s all gone.
All of it.
Meanwhile, you are anxious to hear news about your aging parents, your brothers and sisters and their children, your friends and neighbors. You hope to spot them among the hundreds of others in the exact same situation as you climb among the mangled mess of what use to be your city in search of something you might recognize as your own.
Amidst the chaos, you still have to provide your family food and water, a place to use the restroom, clothes to protect you from the cold front moving in, shoes to replace the ones that were washed away and a safe place to sleep each night.
You…and thousands of other people just like you vying for scarce supplies of food, water, clothes, shoes, and beds.
And it’s going to be like this for a very long time.
Are my parents okay?
Did my sister’s family survive?
Where can I find clean water?
How will I pay my mortgage next month?
Will my job still be there?
Will my insurance cover this?
Is what I am hearing true?
Where can I use the restroom?
How do I get in touch with my relatives?
Where can I get the medicine my daughter needs?
Where can I replace my glasses I lost trying to escape?
Are any relief supplies coming?
What is the government doing to help us?
Where can I take my son to have his injured leg looked at?
Is it safe to walk near these downed power lines?
Do I have any records of what was in my bank accounts?
How will I ever replace the photo albums?
How long will we have to live in this gymnasium with all these other people?
What if my parents are dead?
What if they’re still alive but buried under the debris?
Should I go and try to help or should I stay here with my family?
What if all the dead bodies and tainted water contaminate everything?
Where can I take my children to get warm?
Should I eat all they are offering or save some of it for later?
What if my insurance agent and his company are gone forever?
What if another earthquake happens and another tsunami strikes?
Am I doing the right things to protect my family?
Are my children being contaminated by radiation fallout without my even knowing it?
Can it get any worse? I mean, really!
Other than another earthquake producing another tsunami, I am not really sure a group of people could be inflicted with more trauma than what the people of Japan are enduring right now.
The below freezing temperatures only exasperate an already overwhelming situation. I don’t know about you, but I can get really grumpy when I am cold and under a lot of stress to accomplish difficult tasks. (And yet the news out of Japan is that the culture and spirit of gaman – to endure or tolerate – prevails in consistent portrayals of cooperation, patience, courtesy, resourcefulness and hope.)
What has unfolded in Japan over the past week is the kind of stuff Hollywood serves up in its apocalyptic fantasies depicting our worst nightmares. Cataclysmic catastrophes of global proportions portrayed in the comfort of movie theaters is about as close as any of us ever get to this kind of human trauma.
But it’s only a movie. High definition and surround sound can’t even come close to putting us right smack dab into the reality that families like ours are enduring in Japan right now.
And it just breaks my heart. I have laid in bed each night since the news broke feeling anguish over what many Japanese people are enduring while I lay snuggled up in my bed safe at home. My job awaits me the next day along with plenty to eat and drink, clean clothes in my closet, shoes from which to choose, enough money for our current obligations and even plenty of places to use the restroom if the need arises.
I will leave my house tomorrow morning and go about my day without the slightest concern of radiation contamination. It won’t even be a passing thought as I move throughout the routines of my day. I can give my parents a call to check on them, get gasoline in my car on my way to a lunch appointment where I will have plenty to eat, and get online to check my bank balance. I will not be the least bit inconvenienced by anything even approaching catastrophe.
The great risk I run these days is to whine or complain about the minor inconveniences that will otherwise disturb the carefully ordered comfort that I have neatly arranged in the safe little suburban bubble where I live.
God have mercy on me if I so much as seek a “Bless you” if I should sneeze.
I know that many people would expect that a blog by the pastor on this kind of human calamity should offer up some kind of theological perspective. I should provide numerous passages of Scripture in support of why these things happen and how God is at work to bring about His glory through the difficult events occurring in Japan. Some would even insist that I demonstrate how these and other events unfolding around our world are signs of the times and clear evidence that the return of our Savior and Lord is approaching quickly.
(This is often the best way for most Christians to sidestep any personal responsibility to the calamity of others. If we can just wax theological about it, we turn it into a lesson rather than a call to action. “Christians” have been using this strategy for years to reassure themselves they are good Christ-followers. A study of the Bible often becomes the substitute for obedience to it.)
Well, I hate to disappoint but I am not going to do any of that.
I am going to end with something else. I am going to conclude this blog with a challenge to every person who calls himself a Christian.
I am asking every serious follower of Jesus Christ to completely forsake any whining or complaining about a single thing in our lives until life in Japan returns to normal.
Not a single thing.
I don’t care what it might be. If it fails to rise above the stature of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster combined into a single catastrophe, then it’s not even close to being worthy of us whining a single second about it.
I mean, really! Name one thing in our little suburban bubble that even comes close to what folks are enduring right now in Japan.
To do so otherwise, would be nothing short of infantile and asinine.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
A WORD TO THE WISE:
If some pompous televangelist or arrogant pastor so much as even hints that the events in Japan are the judgment of God for their sin, I am going to hunt him down and wring his neck. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Fred Phelps, consider yourselves warned.