I hesitated to share this story because I don’t want to come across as culturally insensitive or religiously intolerant. So first let me say that I do respect people of other religions (here in Japan it’s Buddhism and Shinto), whether I agree with them (or even understand them), or not. I would never purposely do anything to offend someone. I would never enter a typical Japanese person’s home as a guest and start criticizing them for having a family shrine or Buddhist altar in their house. If I visit a public temple or shrine I try to be quiet and respectful and to not disturb people.
On the other hand, I will celebrate for and with someone who leaves all that behind and embraces Jesus Christ.
And now that I’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way…
Last night I had the rare privilege of helping the assistant pastor destroy a couple of Buddhist shrines. And it felt really, really, really good.
An elderly lady from the church had them from before she became a Christian. Actually, she came to Christ several years ago but her husband, who died back in November, became a Christian more recently, about a year before passing away. She couldn’t bring herself to destroy them, either for fear (in Japan, religion seems to be more about fear and superstition than anything) or because of the family connection, or both. So she brought them to the church for us to take care of, and for some reason the pastors thought it would be a good experience for me.
What they didn’t know is how much I enjoy breaking stuff.
Unfortunately we live in the city so burning them was out of the question for safety reasons. Plus the neighbors might complain. But we did have some good hammers. And boy, we wrecked those shrines and everything in them — real good. I mean, Buddha’s head just went flying. There was broken wood, nails (I almost impaled myself at least once) torn paper, dust, incense and other wreckage everywhere. It took about a half hour to dismantle everything, and another 10 minutes or so to clean up after ourselves.
Seriously, though, it really was a good experience. I’d never seen such literal, tangible idolatry before I came to Japan. Being a part of someone’s deliverance from that felt good (even though I had nothing to do with these people coming to Christ, just laying the physical symbols of that past to rest). It was like something out of the Old Testament during one Israel’s times of turning back to God. It was a symbolic breaking away from the past. It was an outward, visible sign of a changed life. It meant freedom from the past, from superstition, from false gods, from evil spirits.
For Japanese people, making that kind of break is difficult. Not just the getting rid of physical symbols of the past, but actually breaking away from generations of family and community and society tradition in a homogenous, conformist, group-oriented society.
What I saw last night, for me, symbolized what I’d like to see more of. Changed lives. That’s why I’m here.