Friday, October 30, 2015

"Jesus Medicine"

For years I have had a small jar of Mentholatum beside my bed each night. Previously, I used Vicks VapoRub to ease nasal congestion and to help relieve more serious problems such as a sore throat or a nagging cough.
After hearing about Mentholatum in Japan, though, I began to use it rather than Vicks and have continued to do so.
“Mentholatum Ointment” was first marketed in 1894 by A. A. Hyde and the manufacturing company he founded five years earlier in Wichita, Kansas. (A book titled Amazing Mentholatum by Alex Taylor, the great-grandson of Hyde, was published in 2006.)
A young American man who was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, introduced Mentholatum to Japan. His name was William Merrell Vories, and he was born 135 years ago, on October 28, 1880.
As a young man, William sailed for Japan as a lay missionary. That was in 1905, the year the Russo-Japanese War ended, as I wrote about recently.
Probably his hearing talk about that war is reflected in “Let There Be Light,” a hymn that he wrote in 1908. The last stanza of that hymn is a prayer:
Let woe and waste of warfare cease, / That useful labor yet may build / Its homes with love and laughter filled / God give thy wayward children peace.
(I was surprised, and happy, when Vories’s hymn was sung in a worship service this month at the Shalom Mennonite Fellowship here in Tucson, Ariz., where June and I are spending a couple of months.)
Vories first got a job teaching English in a prefectural school (in Shiga Prefecture in central Japan). The new American teacher became very popular with his students.
Soon after arriving in Omihachiman (in Shiga), he met a Japanese Christian and together they started Bible classes after school, meeting at the house provided for Vories. There were from 40 to 100 students who attended each class.
But at that time there was strong prejudice against Christians in this region of Japan. Consequently, in 1907 the school refused to renew Vories’s teaching contract because of the success of his Bible classes.
“I was shocked as if my head was knocked by an iron bar,” Vories wrote after losing his teaching job.
But the next year, in 1908, he established an architectural office, Vories & Co. which over the next 35 years designed around 1600 buildings including churches, schools, hotels and private houses.
(The first permanent building on the campus of Seinan Gakuin (pictured), where I taught from 1968 to 2004, was designed by the Vories Company.)
In 1919 Vories married Hitotsuyanagi Mariko (family name first as is customary in Japan). Many years later, early in 1941, he became a naturalized Japanese citizen, taking the name Hitotsuyanagi Mereru.
Perhaps needing more money to support his new wife as well as his missionary activity, in 1920 Vories acquired the rights to sell Mentholatum products in Japan. A special label was placed on every jar of the ointment inviting users to participate in a Bible correspondence course.
So it was that many Japanese began to call Mentholatum the “Jesus medicine.”
Mentholatum was widely sold in Japan up to the time of Vories’s death in 1964 at the age of 83—and since. In 1988 Rohto, the giant Japanese pharmaceutical company based in Osaka, acquired the management rights to the Mentholatum Company.
While the appeal for enrolling in Bible classes was dropped from Mentholatum jars long ago, there are still many who remember the story of when the ointment was popularly known as ‘Jesus medicine” in Japan.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Commemorating Thurgood Marshall

Not many baby boys are named Thoroughgood, but that is the name William and Norma Marshall gave their son after his birth in 1908. As a second-grader, though, Thoroughgood decided he wanted a shorter, quicker-to-spell name, so he changed it to Thurgood.

The boy’s grandfather was a slave who had only one name, Marshall. When he was freed during the Civil War, he chose Thoroughgood as his first name—so now we know where Thurgood got his too-long name.

Thurgood Marshall, went on to become one of the most respected names in the United States. And his name lives on as the airport on the Maryland side of Washington, D.C., is officially the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. 
Marshall has also been in the public media this past month. Wil Haygood’s 400-page book Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America was published the middle of last month—and many substantial reviews have appeared in newspapers and magazines.

(Haygood is also the author of the book that became the basis of “The Butler,” a popular 2013 movie.)

Marshall came to be known as Mr. Civil Rights. As the NAACP’s top attorney from 1938 to 1961, much of his career was dedicated to the long, difficult struggle for the civil rights of African-Americans.

During those years he argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court, winning 29 of them—the most famous being in 1954. Marshall’s biggest challenge was seeking to overturn “Plessy v. Ferguson,” the 1896 decision ruling that state laws may enforce separation of races as long as all citizens receive equal treatment.

Earlier this year, June and I enjoyed watching the 1991 television movie “Separate but Equal.” Starring Sidney Poitier as Marshall, that fine film primarily depicts “Briggs v. Elliott,” the 1951 case that Marshall initially lost.

Later that case was merged with “Brown v. Board of Education” and two other cases which Marshall successfully argued before the Supreme Court in 1954. That landmark decision outlawed legal segregation in this country.

The new interpretation of the law triggered strong negative response, of course, especially by the Ku Klux Klan. Referring to the Klan in a February 1956 speech, Marshall declared, “We’ve got the law, religion and God on our side, and the devil is on the other side” (cited in Carl Rowen, Dream Makers, Dream Breakers, p. 281).

In August 1965 Marshall was appointed as the first African-American to be United States Solicitor General, the fourth-highest ranking official in the U.S. Department of Justice. Then after being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Johnson—and after a difficult period obtaining congressional confirmation—48 years ago this month, in October 1967, Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

He served admirably in that position for almost 24 years. Current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who at the beginning of her career clerked for Marshall, has called him “the greatest lawyer of the 20th century.”

Marshall retired from the Supreme Court on October 1, 1991, and died less than 16 months later at the age of 84.
2003 Commemorative Stamp
There was considerable pressure for the first President Bush to appoint another American-American as Marshall’s successor—and he did. After acrimonious confirmation hearings, Clarence Thomas was confirmed by a 52–48 vote on October 15, 1991.

It soon became clear, though, that Justice Thomas, one of the most conservative members of the SCOTUS, is no Marshall. For many, he has been and continues to be a great disappointment.

But Thurgood Marshall, while maybe not thoroughly good, was a great man, lawyer, and Supreme Court Justice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Is Becoming Inclusive Even Remotely Possible?

After posting my previous blog article, I expected to hear from one or more people saying that the idea of doing away with us/them divisions was fuzzy idealism and not at all possible.

Alas, no one made such comments, so I have to do it myself! How can we possibly become completely inclusive in October, the peak of the baseball season? Right now it is us (Go Royals!) against them (the Blue Jays, which is not even a U.S. team, for Pete’s sake).

Competitive sports is based on a strong us/them dichotomy. True, there is a type of volleyball in which rotation occurs from one side to the other. While that can still be fun to play, I’m afraid it is never going to be included in the Olympic Games.

Several days ago I saw the following image on Facebook:

This is a nice thought—but, no, I can’t really imagine it. There is so little love and respect for so many people even in our own neighborhoods and cities I, can’t imagine most of us are going to be able in any meaningful way to love and respect the more than 7,000,000,000 people in the world.

Here in Tucson where June and I are visiting for several weeks, there are “We Stand with Rosa” signs in many yards I have driven past, including in the yard next to my daughter’s place (pictured).

Rosa Robles is a 41 year old Mexican woman who was originally detained in 2010 after a routine traffic stop revealed she was in the country illegally. In August 2014 she moved into a Presbyterian church here in Tucson for sanctuary after receiving an order of deportation.

Rosa said she came to the U.S. in 1999 to give her kids a better life. They were born in Mexico, but qualify for relief by the President’s executive action. She admits that she did break the law by entering the country illegallybut thinks those with families and clean records should be spared deportation.

Those who are standing with Rosa in Tucson are loving and respecting her and her family. But Rosa is just one out of millions of “illegals” in this country—and many voices cry out for “them” to be deported—and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is trying to do its job by deporting Rosa.

There is widespread clamor for securing the borders—not just against terrorists and criminals, but against all who seek to come into this country without going through the lengthy, and expensive, legal immigration process.

In a world where there is only “us” and no “thems,” there would be no borders, national or otherwise. But, sadly, that is not possible in today’s world. Most of the people in this country would fight rather than have completely open borders.

But what if we all loved and respected each another, if we loved others as we love ourselves, if we practiced the Golden Rule?

In his Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) Freud wrote that the commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself is impossible to fulfill.” He is probably correct.

Writing five years later in Interpretation of Christian Ethics, Reinhold Niebuhr cites Freud’s words in “The Relevance of an Impossible Ethical Ideal,” the fourth chapter. Then he goes on to insist that “the law of love is an impossible possibility.”

Yes, becoming completely inclusive is, no doubt, not even remotely possible. But becoming more and more inclusive is a real possibility—and a constant challenge for all who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Becoming Inclusive

Edwin Markham was from Oregon and for eight years was the Poet Laureate of that state. Although he published several books of poems, Markham (1852-1940) is now best known for “Outwitted,” a poem with only four lines:

I don’t know when I first heard, and liked, that epigram by Markham, but I’m sure it was more than 50 years ago. It is a good one, and I have seen it posted on Facebook and elsewhere two or three times just this month.
We all grow up with a sense of exclusion: there is us (people in my family, my neighborhood, my school, my church, my nation, etc.) and them (people whom we consider different from us, competitors, and others we often consider threatening).
It is important, though, for us to go beyond the usual us/them divisions—such as white/black, rich/poor, man/woman, old/young, straights/LGBTs, Americans/foreigners (or Nihonjin/gaijin), citizens/illegals, and so on.
Recently I happened to see these striking words: “There are no others, there is only us.” (There’s a remarkable video by that name at This is the kind of inclusion I am writing about.
(I am not dealing here with the theological/missiological position called inclusivism; I wrote a little about that idea and its rivals in a blog article back in 2010—and may want to address that subject again sometime.)
The inclusive attitude I am writing about is one of loving acceptance of people, of having arms open to welcome and to embrace anyone or everyone, of drawing a circle (as Markham would say) that takes “others” in.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Matthew 11:18, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (CEB).
And one of my favorite mental images of Jesus as the Christ is him standing with outstretched arms, welcoming everyone. That idea is portrayed in the following painting (which I still like in spite of the stylized white robe):

Several years ago, one of the members of Fukuoka International Church, of which I was co-pastor, had many struggles with his faith. He feared that being a follower of Jesus Christ was limiting, necessitating a view of the world he thought was too narrow.
More than once I tried to assure my young friend that a proper understanding of Christ is actually a broadening experience. Following Christ means accepting all people and affirming all truth.
In my book The Limits of Liberalism I wrote briefly about the “Cosmic Christ.” While there are some problems in the way that idea has been used, the assertion that Christ, the Savior, was uniquely present in Jesus of Nazareth but not limited to a first century Galilean man is quite significant.
Without question, Christianity has often held to an exclusivism that has been divisive and restrictive. But a deeper understanding moves one from exclusion to inclusion and from restriction to expansion.
Maturing in faith impels a person to move from the us/them mentality of childhood to including “others” as a part of an inclusive circle of “we.”