Years ago when we lived in Gunma Hydi and I became friends with a Buddhist priest by the name of Asakawa. He is unique even among his peers and we found him to be unusually friendly and helpful. He is a musician in his own rite, specializing in a highly stylized genre of singing/chanting Buddhist sutras. He visited our church several times, even participating in worship… and he also was very interested in the gospel choir that practiced at our church.
When he got married in 2000 (at something like 50 years of age!) I was given the honor of speaking at the ceremony and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share a tidbit of Biblical wisdom regarding marriage from Genesis 2:25.
Since then Priest Asakawa and his wife have organized and hosted a monthly open forum on the topic of life and death. I was invited as a guest speaker back in 2003 and today I was once again given the opportunity to be the featured speaker.
Having lost both my parents during the past 2 years has given me much to think about and even led to some surprising discoveries. At today’s forum I talked about Christian perspectives on death and dying, American perspectives on death and dying, and then reflected on my own experience with the death of my parents. The forum was attended by about 50 people, fewer than 10 of whom were Christians. And yet I was given complete freedom to share whatever I wanted. During the Q&A time it seemed that there were more questions about Christianity and the church than anything else.
Too often we fall into the trap of thinking it’s hard to talk freely with others about our faith. And we end up guilt tripping ourselves for been such “poor witnesses”. My hunch is that the perceived difficulty stems from our notion that we somehow have to create opportunities where people will eagerly want to hear what we have to say. In reality that’s a pretty manipulative perspective to begin with. But what encouraged me about today was the vivid reminder that in the context of friendship, mutual respect and mutual willingness to listen, incredibly opportunities really do present themselves in ways that frequently surprise me.
Take for example, the Japanese man in his sixties (traditionally considered one of the hardest groups to reach with the Gospel) who says to me; “I’ve never been very religious, but the older I get the more I think about it. I’ve studied a bit about Buddhism and a bit about Christianity… but some how it’s not quite clicking. So please tell me, what is the best way to really get into the heart of Christianity?”
How would you respond???