Kiyomizu Temple is my favorite temple in Japan. It sits on the edge of a cliff beautifully overlooking the city of Kyoto. It received its name “Pure Water Temple” from the water that pours out of the side of the mountain so clean that it does not need to be purified to drink. Every December, the head Buddhist priest of this temple draws the Japanese kanji character that best illustrates the sentiments of the past year. Last month, it was 災 (sai), a character that reflects both natural and man-made disasters. The year 2018 was full of disaster and brokenness in Japan.
In high school, my Latin teacher taught the following illustration about language, which I have never forgotten. “Eskimos have many words for snow: one for light snow, one for wet snow, one for powdered snow, and so on. In English, we only have the word ‘snow.’” People attach importance to things and their differences by giving them words.
Many point to the difficulty of understanding the gospel in Japanese to an absence of words to describe it. There is no word for one God, the creator of everything. There is no word for sin. There is no word for forgiveness, and so on. Many of the Christian concepts use a Japanese alphabet reserved solely for foreign things. However, it is interesting to note that there are MANY Japanese words for brokenness. I am currently reading a book on kintsugi, the Japanese art of pottery repair, which lists ten types of brokenness that can be found in a bowl. The best English word to translate each case is, simply, “broken.” The kintsugi artisan trains the eye to not just distinguish between various kinds of brokenness but also how to bring beauty out of them.
In a sermon message last month at the Redeemer City to City church plant in Tokyo, Grace City Church Tokyo, nihonga artist Makoto Fujimura spoke about God as the master ‘kintsugi’ artist who searches with a trained eye for the brokenness in our lives to consider how beauty can be brought out of it. In Japanese culture, God communicates the gospel in the language of brokenness. Fujimura talked about how there are many kinds of brokenness in our lives but many more ways that God can bring beauty out of it. The Lord God called to Adam and Eve in the garden, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9), two people trying to hide their brokenness and shame. God went directly to their brokenness to begin his work there. God crafts our stories in such a way that we will be more beautiful because of our broken pieces.
In the middle of the worship service, the lights and all the electricity in the building went out. The emergency loud speaker came on afterward to apologize with announcements (multiple times!) that were unnecessarily loud. We heard a baby screaming in the back and noise coming from the children’s program in the room next door. Fujimura referred to all of this with a smile on his face. “God uses the unexpected for His glory. God came unexpectedly to earth as a little baby in search of broken people in a broken world.”
Do you see the hope this gospel gives in the new year? God brings “newness” to our new year not through forgetting, a common party in December called bonenkai (literally “forgetting the year gathering”), but through transforming the old year into something new and beautiful. The new year will build upon the good and the 災 (sai) of all that has come before. We have hope because God will continue “making all things new” in 2019.
"Behold, I am doing a new thing;
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"