Spiritual Harassment

Have you ever gone through a rough patch of life, or just been caught in a rut that you can’t seem to get out of, or even just ever been in a daze where the mundane is taking over; and just when you’re starting to question who you are, what you’re doing or why you should even try anymore…someone encourages you, and your disposition changes? What happens inwardly whenever hearing or reading someone’s encouragement to you is nearly indescribable and something you tend to remember for a long time. What’s more, is that if you’re a Christian, you are told in Hebrews 3:13a to ‘Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today’. Imagine what would happen if every one of us chose consciously to pray for and encourage 3 or 4 people a day. In a day and age where it appears that most times the most flak or hostility you receive is from other Christians who are more concerned with maintaining their own status quo than uplifting those around them, it seems that exhorting others in the Faith towards greatness has taken a back seat to what I like to call ‘spiritual harassment’.

Don’t misunderstand me, I know that ‘iron sharpens iron’ and that sometimes, our brothers and sisters (myself included) need some tough love from someone they respect and love when lines have been crossed; but I, for one, would be much more likely to listen to someone who has spent time encouraging me throughout my walk, than someone who only chimes in to bring railing indictments. Know that when it’s time to bring someone’s issues to light, it’s also a prime time to let that person know the things they are doing right and use the conversation as an opportunity to love that person and encourage them.

I know for a fact that the times in my life when I needed uplifting, whether it was: after losing my first love and experiencing my first real heartbreak, or being jobless and nearly broke after moving to Nashville, or being a valet for far longer than I expected, or really just any big decision I’ve faced in my life where it seemed like all would be lost if just one more bad thing happened…it was the uplifting words of friends and family that brought me through that time. Words of Truth and Love. Words that reminded me who I was, and even more importantly who Christ IS and what He has done, and will continue to do for me. I am absolutely certain, that one of God’s biggest blessings to me has been to surround me with family and friends who care enough to encourage me when I need it most. My question to you, and to myself is: ‘Who have you encouraged lately?’

I honestly believe that the face of Christianity could have a huge facelift if different denominations or groups of believers spent time encouraging and lifting each other up, rather than building up ammunition in a ‘spiritual cold-war’. It amazes me that some people will learn more scripture to defend a point of theirs, than scripture that can be used to encourage and uplift a fellow brother or sister in the Faith, inside or outside their current denomination.

Time for action!!! Encourage 3 or 4 people today. Encouragement becomes easier with practice from my experience. Yes, it’s always easier to say something in jest to someone than to be genuine and cordial, so just bite your tongue and do it. You’ll be surprised by people’s reaction, and in most cases encouragement is reciprocal, so you’ll get back more than you gave in the first place. Finally, the best derivative from encouragement is that it forces you to look for and to find the best in people, and to focus on that; rather than to learn to pick people apart. That brings us closer to one of the greatest commandments: Love people the way you love yourself. The Bible is replete with verses about looking at yourself inwardly rather than judging and condemning others. Let’s be the ones to start an encouragement revolution 🙂

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Ascending Mt. Fuji-san

If you had told me a year ago that this summer I would be climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji…I would look at you like you had two heads. It wasn’t on any sort of list that I had of something awesome that I wanted to do, until I found out I got the yearlong job over here, of course. Only a fraction of a percent of people on earth ever climbs Mt. Fuji, and the summit is only open for about 2 months out of the year, so there is a small window to climb it. On top of that, the most intense thing to do is to climb through the night and reach the summit before sunrise and watch the sunrise from the top. There is always a good chance that there will be too much cloud cover, or that the weather won’t cooperate, so it makes the climb to the very top somewhat of a gamble. I was extremely hopeful though because I had learned a few weeks before, that the annual Perseids Meteor shower was going to be at its peak during the night of our ascent. Meteor shower at the summit of Mt. Fuji before a beautiful sunrise…trifecta!!

I had cleared the dates of this excursion with my superiors and had pre-recorded my morning show and evening show to make up for the time I would be gone. I was taking off Friday and would be gone through Thursday…almost an entire week. We would be climbing Fuji-san that Friday night and Saturday morning and then be heading to Kobe and Osaka, where I would have an all-day music festival on Sunday and Universal Studios Japan on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday would be for exploring Kobe and Osaka and going to Carp vs. Tigers baseball games. I knew in my mind I was over-extending, but the thrill of it all had me drunk with anticipation.

For some reason Andrew, Brendan and I had the bright idea of trying to stay up really late on Thursday so that we could sleep on the train and bus on Friday before our climb. I didn’t get to sleep until around 5:30am. 8:00am came very quick and we were off on a bullet train towards Shizuoka. Of course, sleep eluded me the entire day, and I may have gotten 45 minutes of rough sleep in there somewhere on a train. We arrived in Shizuoka and grabbed a bite to eat and stopped at a Starbucks where we met some girls who had climbed Fuji yesterday. They showed us pictures and a video of the sunrise that immediately got my blood pumping. I had received my second wind and was ready to take on this mountain. Brendan had reminded us that even though it’s in the middle of summer it was going to be around 40 degrees up around the top during the night/early morning, especially with the wind gusting. We packed heavy, and when I saw the pictures that the girls showed us…I’m glad we did. It looked intensely cold.

Crater right behind me. 10 mins after sunrise

We arrived to ‘base camp’ by bus (Stage 5 of 10) where we got to see the sun setting around the side of the mountain and almost instantaneously the temperature dropped quite a bit. It was Obon weekend so it’s one of the busiest times of the two months that the mountain is open to climb Fuji-san because it’s the weekend everyone has off. There were hundreds and hundreds of people at this first stop. We put on our layers and grabbed dinner and watched as some people started to climb and others went into a large shared room to sleep until the morning and then climb. Most of the people who grab shelter for the night have children or aren’t dressed for the cold temperatures. We started climbing a little before 8:00pm and our headlamps joined a mass amount of other headlamps in a long, seemingly endless line of lights headed up the mountain. All of a sudden the childhood song ‘The Ants Go Marching One by One’ jumped into my head. Brendan got a great shot using the aperture setting on his camera, showing the climbers going up.

Thousands of climbers ascending in the full moon's light.

From stage 5 to stage 6 wasn’t really that difficult, and we were actually sweating while climbing until about stage 7. At that point, the lower level of oxygen was more apparent and we also starting putting on layers. The climbing became much more difficult around stage 8, and I noticed several people using oxygen at this point. At stage 8 and 9 we saw people huddled in corners or under rock crevices with blankets covering them. They were planning on waiting there until almost sunrise and then climbing up right before to avoid the wind at the top…not a bad plan, but we wanted to explore the ring around the crater and get a great spot to see the sunrise. Also, I should note that there were people we saw wearing shorts and sandals. Some did less research than others apparently. At stage 9.5 we all had to take a break. We could even see the top, but resting took precedence when fatigue and shortness of breath set in. We lay there under a crystal clear sky lit by an almost full moon and watched as star after star fell from the meteor shower. Seeing a meteor shower at the top of mount Fuji made me wish there was a special someone of the female persuasion cuddled next to me rather than a dude, but body warmth is body warmth…survival is survival. After a 20-30 minute break, we continued up the last little bit, which actually took 30-40 minutes because it was so steep. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. When I reached the top I went straight to the shrine in front of me and sat down and attempted to catch my breath. There was a post office to my right where you can actually send mail from, so I sent my parents a card in the mail since it is the only address I have memorized. When Brendan and Andrew arrived a couple of minutes later they dropped some postcards and we started walking around the crater for a while before finding a spot that would be great to take a picture of the sunrise. We hunkered down at about 3:50am and the sky was already starting to get lighter, but sunrise wasn’t until 4:51am. The wind was atrocious and cut through all my layers, but I just kept telling myself that when the sun came up it would be okay. Brendan was taking loads of pictures, since he has the nice camera, and Andrew and I lay by each other with our backs to a rock face, breaking some of the wind shear. We spotted a few more meteors here, streaking elegantly across the early morning sky. Believe it or not, there was cell reception all the way up and at the top so we both called a couple of people and then started snapping pictures with the cameras on our phones as the sky turned into a masterpiece painted by the great artist…God, Himself.

I'll never forget this.

Warrior 1

To be completely honest, I don’t remember the last time I’ve watched the sunrise. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times it’s happened; I’ve never been much of an early riser. I will say this…no words can describe how amazing it was to see the sun rise from the very top of the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. Being above the cumulus clouds caused us to see the rays of the sun creating different hues and tones off the clouds below, as well as off the stratus clouds above; and I was acutely aware of how blessed I was to see this phenomenal display of light piercing over the horizon. All of a sudden, all the pain, all the fatigue, all the work it took to get there didn’t matter as we watched the most majestic and mystic sunrise I have ever seen. The warmth of the new sun gave me a dose of energy that nothing else could’ve provided. Sharing the moment with thousands of people was also very humbling, as everyone had been on the same journey to get to this point and for a few moments in time we were family with strangers. We walked around on the crater and went the very highest point, which you had to wait in line for. It was right by an old weather station that was built at the summit. We got some great shots there and really everywhere up on the top of Fuji-san. The volcano hasn’t erupted since 1707 but is considered an active stratovolcano. When looking down from the cone into the crater, there’s no glowing orange magma or even cool steam vapors shooting up, but knowing that there was the largest recorded earthquake just a few months ago that might’ve mixed some things up down low, made me wonder when, or if, this baby would blow again! Maybe I’ve watched Joe vs. the Volcano too many times!

We weren't alone.

Post office and summit gift shop.

Crater.

Waiting in line for the top of the top.

We made it!

Top of Japan!!!

When you’re climbing up, the only thing on your mind is the summit. You don’t think about having to climb down the next day. The climb down only took about 3 and a half hours, and might’ve been faster had there not been so many people climbing up at the same time. There were several ‘traffic jams’ and some near falls by us and we navigated our way down the steep volcanic terrain. We got some awesome shots of us being above the clouds, and tried our best to encourage people as they climbed up, telling them how it’s worth it to keep going. When we got to the bottom, we took a bus to a Japanese onsen, and soaked in the steaming water for about an hour. I had pain in muscles I didn’t know I had, so an onsen was a good call. None of the three of us had packed towels, so we had to dry off with hand towels…awkward and hilarious.

Just hanging above the clouds. nbd

Head in the clouds. Warrior 1

At this point I was really starting to feel the lack of sleep, and I could feel a crankier version of myself starting to emerge as hunger mixed with fatigue and exhaustion. I started to wonder if I could handle the music fest I was going to be at all day the next day. We stayed the first two nights in a hotel that a friend of ours who plays for the Hanshin Tigers, Matt Murton, paid for us to stay at. We were all amazed at his hospitality and truly grateful to stay in a place so nice in Kobe Bay. All day Sunday was filled with Summer Sonic 2011, where I stood out in the sun all day and moved with thousands upon thousands of people as they moved from stage to stage to see their favorite musicians. The obvious Japanese favorite was Avril Lavigne, but my favorite show of the day was MuteMath. I met a Japanese co-worker who made the trip up to see the show, but the rest of the time I was flying solo. I met Andrew, Brendan, and Yoko later that night and we ate with our friend Tommy and his co-worker. The next day was Universal Studios Japan (USJ) and if it’s at all possible, my legs and feet hurt even worse on this day. We made a snap decision to buy express passes to jump to the front of any lines (up to 6 times), and it was the.best.decision.EVER. The longest we waiting in a line with the pass was maybe 10-15 minutes, while most people were waiting for almost an hour or more for rides. I’ll never go to an amusement park again without getting an express pass. The next two days were filled with sight-seeing in Kobe harbor and Osaka, and I absolutely fell in love with the area. It was good to have friends in the area to show us around to the good spots and host us. I hope to visit again soon.

Summer Sonic 2011 #Viva Brother

Summer Sonic 2011 #MuteMath

Brendan, Yoko, and Me at USJ

Osaka

Osaka

Chillin in Chinatown - Kobe, Japan

Kobe Harbor viewing tower

I still can’t believe I got a chance to climb Fuji-san. I’m very thankful to God for the opportunity, and also for the outcome. The whole time I was climbing, I was doing my usual paralleling of what I’m doing at the time, and my own spiritual path. I could write a massive amount comparing everything I encountered on the journey with situations I, and most other people, encounter on their own passage in life. Things like: dressing appropriately for the climb, planning, training, encouraging others etc.; but I’ve written a little about that before. I will say this though…God has an amazing plan for your life and for mine. He has a meteor shower mixed with a Mt. Fuji summit sunrise (so to speak) that He wants you and I to experience. But to get there, we have to climb. We have to climb through the night, and through the cold. When it’s hard to breathe, and when fatigue sets in, we push on towards the goal. The sun will rise one day, and the warmth of the sun will cut through the chill that we once knew all too well. The best thing is, we don’t climb alone. God Himself is with us throughout the journey, encouraging us and reminding us of why we’re climbing.

Don't climb alone...


Nuclear Anniversary

Sixty-six years ago on August 6th, 1945, an American bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the first ever nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. They haven’t forgotten about it.

Between 100,000 and 166,000 people were killed on the day of, or shortly after the bombing, either from the flash and flame of the bomb itself or by radiation caused illnesses and other complications that lingered around after the bombing. Between 60,000 and 80,000 died in Nagasaki a few days later.

It’s not surprising that Hiroshima has become ground zero for the debate to completely rid this Earth of nuclear weapons. Their campaign lists a plan to systematically and gradually disarm nuclear weapons in each country depending on the percentage of nuclear weapons that country has. Needless to say, their plan has been met with opposition by many countries. I’m not going to speak on that debate, because I don’t have the security clearance to know about why nuclear weapons might be needed, or not, as deterrents, and I don’t believe there will be complete peace in this world until Christ returns to be honest. I know this though, to look at the fact that over a hundred thousand civilians died in a flippant manner, and not take into consideration the magnitude of what happened, and how it has affected the people here, is a horrible thing to do. I remember how scary it was to watch the twin towers fall and see people jumping out of windows, and watch helplessly as people died…I can only imagine around 100,000 people dying in a matter of seconds…in a flash actually. It’s just different to see things in real life…outside of school textbooks or Internet Wikipedia pages.

We got up around 6:30 am Saturday morning (not early enough) and headed towards Peace Park. A bunch of reporters were supposed to be at our dorm at 8:15 because the dorm we stay in was just built, and has a dove with a few infinity symbols and names painted onto the side of the building that, when the light hits the flagpole at 8:15 am, connects with the fig branch in the dove’s mouth. Brendan woke up and got a picture of it the next day. Anyway, we parked our bikes several blocks away from Peace Park and joined the masses headed towards the memorial site. I saw more foreigners than I’ve seen this whole time here in Japan, and I found that many people planned their holidays to be able to witness the ceremony. There were scores of people passing out literature (some anti-American), and also packets for their clubs or organizations. It was overcast but scorching hot, and even more humid. We packed in like sardines to witness the 1-hour ceremony. I made the mistake of not eating breakfast and the even bigger mistake of not bringing a water bottle. There were several readings and groups of people walking up to the memorial and bowing. There was 1 minute of ‘silence’ during 8:15 (when the bomb dropped) where a huge bell was rung. It was so loud and the air was so thick it seemed to linger much longer, rather than ring and then dissipate quickly. I wondered if a bell was rung to drown out the groups of people chanting and protesting a couple blocks away, or if they always ring it. It was eerie to think that where I was standing at one time in history…was hell on earth. For a minute, it didn’t matter how hot it was, a chill went up my spine.

The ceremony continued with some speeches by the Prime Minister of Japan and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (pic of him below). Somewhere in the midst of the speeches, I made the mistake of locking my knees. I got that weird feeling that something was wrong. I started yawning, and my hearing started to fade. Then my vision started to go, and I knew I had a few precious seconds to find somewhere to sit or pass out trying. I bumped through a few people and there was a bench that I barely made it to…I may or may not have accidentally sat on an old lady’s lap for a brief moment. Once I sat down (not on the lady) for 20-30 seconds I felt completely fine, and I was immediately reminded of high school band competitions where they would always yell at us: “Don’t lock your knees when you’re out there!” Lesson learned and crises averted. I wasn’t the only one on struggle street…there were several people who gave up on standing. I got back up and watched the rest of the ceremony constantly moving my legs. Doves were released at one point and a song was song by a children’s choir to wrap things up. It was very memorable to say the least.

Later that night was something that I was really excited for. It was where thousands of people commemorate their lost loved ones by putting colored paper lanterns into the river that runs by the A-Dome and out into the sea. For as many people as there were there, it was only a fraction of the noise. It was a somber and peaceful mood. We got some great pictures and messed around with the aperture settings on Yoko’s camera to get a great shot of the A-Dome  in the background with the lanterns moving through the water. We met an Australian named Scott who hung out with us the rest of the night. He was on holiday in Japan and spending his last couple days in the area before going back to Melbourne; and also got to later meet up the new American playing for the Carp, Brian Barden, from California. The next afternoon, Sunday, I went to Peace Park by myself to get some post-ceremony pictures and to ride around and think. The museum was open and the park was packed with people who were taking in the sites and soaking up the history.

Cool 🙂

Lately, I’ve been like a kid before Christmas morning. My upcoming trip to Mt. Fuji, Summer Sonic 2011 (music festival) and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka this next weekend has given me a much-needed shot of life and something in the near future to look forward to. I found out that there will be a meteor shower (Perseids Meteor Shower) that will be in its peak the night we are climbing the volcano. Also, my buddies Jacob and Nick are going to be visiting me in mid December for a few days, and then we will be spending an adventurous week together in New Zealand before I come home for Christmas and New Years. I’ve looked up pictures of where we’ll be going, and I had to stop because I was getting too pumped! I’m making a promise right now that there will be spectacular pictures to be shared!