Book Review: Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey.  

finding GodAn excerpt from p. 208 in the paperback version:

“…I came up with a new definition of faith: paranoia in reverse. A truly paranoid person organizes his or her life around a common perspective of fear.  Whatever happens feeds that fear. Try to comfort a paranoiac, ‘I’m here to help you, not hurt you,’ and you will merely increase the fear. (Of course he’d say that – he’s part of the conspiracy).

Faith works in the reverse.  A faithful person organizes his or her life around a common perspective of trust, not fear.  Bedrock faith convinces me that despite the apparent chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how cast off I may feel, I matter, truly matter, to a God of love; that no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end.  Faith sees even the darkest deed of all history, the death of God’s Son, as a necessary prelude to the brightest. Faith allows me to live under the reign of God even on a planet ruled by a sinister force known as ‘the god of this world.'”

It’s Advent 2015. The Christmas season is in front of us – a lot of terror, racially incited acts, hateful political discourse behind us for the moment. (And that moment may only be a few short minutes or even seconds, depending on where one lives). I have friends in the front lines of fighting cancer, others healing from miscarriage, still others hating their jobs or not making enough money and praying for a solution.  How to find hope this season? Perhaps it’s in the endless searching and striving for hope and peace that we lose sight of it. Maybe it’s right in front of us, but we don’t have eyes to see or enough time to stand still to embrace it.

In 1999, I spent my first Christmas in Japan as a young, single 21-year-old who had just taken on her first life-changing journey by moving across the world to a country in Asia where she knew not the language nor the culture. I remember sensing the emptiness of a hollow Christmas in a country that didn’t really celebrate it.  When I saw a nativity scene, I got tears in my eyes because it was such a rare and welcome sight.

Now, 16 years later, I don’t sense that same hollowness.  Christmas has picked up tread here – Sophia’s school has a Christmas tree, so does her music school, many of the shops at the big and small malls, Christmas music can be heard in the streets and at many common establishments. The true meaning is still fogged over, but isn’t it everywhere? Isn’t it difficult in any culture to see the simplicity of the manger, the birth of a king unlike any we’ve ever seen modeled, the hope of the world in such an unlikely form amidst the hustle and bustle and commerciality of “Consumer Christmas”?

I’m grateful for my first Christmas in Japan. The people of Isesaki Covenant Church and the Johnson family provided much love and warmth and a whole lot of delicious food for me that year. I also can’t help but be extremely grateful for the man by my side and the daughter in our home 16 years later as I experience another “first Christmas in Japan”.  They add a sense of stability and rhythm that I didn’t know as a single woman. It might be their presence or just the fact that I’m older and (hopefully!) wiser that I see Japan with new eyes this year. The people we’ve been so richly blessed to meet fill the once-hollow season of Japanese Noel with love, joy, laughter, warmth, hospitality, kindness and peace.  The hole in my heart is not due to the lack felt in Japan – it’s only because so many others we love are far away, celebrating on a different continent in a different time zone at a different table with a very different spread.

Yancey captures the polarization of fear and faith. I’ve noticed that with age, I have many more fears. But I also have a side of me that answers my fearful thoughts with increasing depth and maturity. It seems as if, at any moment, I just need to choose which part of me to listen to. My choice is faith this Christmas. Faith in the One who brought us to Japan, hope in the One who lives among the Japanese culture and people and all the combinations of culture and language we get to be around, trust that despite the ugliness of this world, a good and gracious Father is making all things new…  on earth and in heaven.


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