Thursday, July 10, 2014

“Jiko Manzoku”

The World Cup matches currently being held in Brazil started on June 12 and the final match between Argentina and Germany will be in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
Perhaps, like me, you don’t know or care a lot about soccer. And many of you may be more interested in the upcoming games of the XXXI Olympiad, the Olympics that will also be held in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2016.
Ninety years ago, back in the summer of 1924, the Olympic Games were held in Paris. Many of you probably have seen “Chariots of Fire,” the British historical drama film about the ’24 Olympics.
That movie, which won the Academy Award for the best picture of 1981, is partly about Eric Liddell, the “Flying Scotsman.”
Liddell was born in China in 1902, the son of Scottish missionary parents. Eric became an outstanding athlete at Edinburgh University, excelling at rugby as well as track.
His best event was the 100-meter dash, and he was selected to run that event for the 1924 British Olympic team. He was greatly disappointed, though, when he heard that the qualifying heat for the 100 meters was going to be held on Sunday.
As a devout Christian, he believed that to engage in an athletic event on Sunday was to violate the Commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. He refused to compromise.
So rather than competing on Sunday, later that week, on July 11, he ran the 400-meter race—and surprisingly won the gold medal, breaking the world record.
The following year, in 1925, Liddell became a missionary to China. He was ordained as a Christian minister on his first furlough in 1932.
Then in 1943 he was forced into a Japanese internment camp in China, dying there in February 1945 of an inoperable brain tumor and malnutrition.
Liddell was certainly a man of great talent, winsome personality, and deep Christian faith. But to be honest, I have mixed feelings about his refusal to compete in an Olympic event because it was on Sunday.
On the one hand, I generally admire people who stand up for, and act on, their Christian convictions. But it depends on what those convictions are and whether standing up for them enhances or detracts from one’s Christian witness.
In Japan I often heard the term “jiko manzoku,” translated into English as “self-satisfaction.” “Jiko manzoku” is often used in criticism of people who do things that don’t particularly help anyone or anything but just makes them feel good about themselves.
Back in the 1980s, I heard a preacher tell how when traveling on Sunday night, if necessary, he would wait at a service station until after midnight to buy gas because he didn’t think it was right to make purchases on Sunday.
He now laughs at his previously held belief and accompanying actions.
I’m sure he felt very “righteous” about living by his convictions then—but no doubt it was mostly a matter of “jiko manzoku.” It didn’t particularly help anyone else.
Jesus wasn’t big on keeping the Sabbath when it came to matters that were about “jiko manzoku.” But he was big on loving others and helping to meet their needs: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, lifting up the fallen, and forgiving sinners.
Liddell also served others as a missionary. His life and work in China is far more praiseworthy than what he did, and didn’t do, in Paris in July 1924.


  1. The story of Eric Liddle is very inspirational. A commitment to God, and to what God has made him for. Through the years of my life, I have found that I need a day of rest, even if it does not follow the exact prescription of the Mosaic law. I have also found that I need to have life disciplines to follow, even when I don't feel like it. One of the most important was to "make-up" when I could not attend church on Sunday due to a work conflict. Typically there was a postal carrier and me making up at a local Anglican parish on Tuesday mornings - we were a third of those in attendance, but always welcome. (Another topic, but the protestant denominations need to catch onto this practice as there are many who must work on weekends - including Saturday evenings.)

    I am encourage by the life of Eric Liddle. Convictions are a good thing. We should know why we believe what we believe, and act on them (and be willing to change if God leads us that way - I have certainly been changing in my sojourn as I have observed the wishy washy changes in the evangelical churches as they try to mirror the "relavant" culture.)

    1. In conjunction with preparing this blog article, I read "Eric Liddell: Gold Medal Missionary" (2000) by Ellen Caughey. She certainly presented Liddell as a fine man and genuine Christian. It was a good read, and it increased my appreciation for Liddell.

      I also affirm the importance of having a day of rest--and a time of worship weekly. Part of my problem with the way Liddell did it, though, is that his refusal seemed somewhat legalistic and his refusal garnered him a lot of attention. (Granted, he didn't do it for the attention, but still . . . .) That attention was mostly positive from other Christians ("Oh, what a fine Christian he is!), but I am not so sure it was all that positive for those who were not Christians. That is the reason I linked what he did to "jiko manzoku."

      So, as I wrote, I have mixed feelings about what he did in July 1924.

      (Please see my response to the next comment also.)

  2. Thinking Friend (and boyhood friend) John Tim Carr in California wrote,

    "I too admire his personal conviction, but some believe the Sabbath is on Saturday and not Sunday.

    "I think he would have been a much better witness if he would have dedicated his race on Sunday to God and not confuse some people with Sunday being his Sabbath.

    "I like Jesus, try to love, witness and support people 24/7/365!"

    1. Thanks, John Tim, for your comments.

      As you point out, what Liddell did was based on the Old Testament commandment to "Remember the Sabbath . . . ." But Sunday is not the Sabbath of the Old Testament.

      I like your closing sentence. The commandment was to remember the Sabbath "to keep it holy." For those of us confess Jesus as Lord, though, perhaps it is better to consider all days as holy.

      I think it would make a tremendous difference for Christianity if we Christians considered all our time, not just 1/7 of it, as belonging to God--and also all our money, not just 1/10, as belonging to God.

  3. I just now received this comment from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson:

    "A good point, Leroy. Medieval contemplatives had similar perceptions when they distinguished between true and false humility. False humility caters to our egos. True humility is unselfconscious."

  4. As Christians, we have made popular the question, WWJD? Sometimes, however, we might want to consider WWPD? Most scholars agree Paul's writings are the oldest existing Christian writings, and in his most famous writing, the Epistle to the Romans, Paul tackles the question of Sabbath-keeping. Paul begins chapter 14 with "Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables." Then in verse 5ff he zeroes in on our topic, "Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God." (NRSV)

    When Eric Liddell refused to run on Sunday, he did exactly the right thing, for Eric Liddell. When those whom Paul calls "strong in faith" ignore normal Sabbath rules while in service to God, they also do exactly the right thing. Undermining centuries of subsequent battles over church authority, Paul laid down his marker of true freedom in faith, "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds."

    Paul goes on to urge the strong in faith to avoid being stumbling blocks to the weak in faith, as long as others are not being hurt. He himself would yield, but when other church leaders came after the Gentile converts, demanding obedience to Jewish purity rules, then he became a lion, defending the new sheep. I am not sure this balancing act works perfectly, because sometimes not confronting the weak now leaves the weak likely to persecute others later. On the other hand, it leaves open the door to gently leading the weak to greater strength of faith when they are ready to receive it. Ongoing Christian issues such as abortion and gay rights come to mind. What would Paul do if he saw Christians screaming at a pregnant woman trying to enter an abortion clinic, or Christians screaming at a funeral "God hates fags?" What does it mean to be "strong in faith" in the 21st century?

  5. Leroy, your essay makes a most important point. I'm pleased to learn of "jiko manzoku." You suggest it's translated "self-satisfaction," but it makes me think of self-indulgence, which is what a lot of religious practice is. I'm reminded of a seminary professor of mine who would say of Christianity: "The Church has been masturbating for so long, it's forgotten how to make love to the world."

    1. Wow, who was that seminary professor? That certainly is an attention-getting statement!

      I don't think "jiko manzoku" implies self indulgence, but it certainly can lead to that extreme.

  6. Thinking Friend Patrick Crews, who now lives in Arizona but whom I knew when we both lived in Fukuoka City, Japan, sent the following comments:

    "Just a few years before we met in Fukuoka, I was teaching English at a Seventh-day Adventist college in Seoul. (Now Sahm Yook University). Most of your readers will know that SDA's believe in the authority of the Ten Commandments including the Sabbath as the seventh day of the week, Saturday. Liddell is greatly admired by SDA's, though he got the day wrong.

    "Anyway, South Korean college age young men were required to attend military training. The Theology students at Sahm Yook were very concerned about this because it would entail breaking the Sabbath. So they tried to take a stand. The school administration wasn't supportive of this. Koreans generally don't get as worked up over it as American SDAs do.

    "I was in religious transition at the time. (Come to think of it, I'm always in religious transition.). I no longer found anything in the NT that carried one of the seals of the Old Covenant over into the new. (The other seal being circumcision, though SDA's don't teach that as enjoined on Christians. That I was circumcised at birth by an SDA doctor had no significance.)

    "But rather than try to tell these guys it was an unnecessary battle, I admired their faith and participated in their all night prayer vigil. Things went well for them. The army accommodated their religious stand. Even in the days of Chun Doo Hwan, religious freedom was respected in South Korea."