Here is an interesting text message from a friend who has been contemplating what type of review she should write in light of what she found in the final pages of my book “The Six-Foot Bonsai: A Soul Lost in the Land of the Rising Sun.” (Link) While the story details my life in the Japanese culture, it is ultimately a story of self-discovery, and in the end, during the very last half the final chapter as I am unable to manage the gravity of everything that occurred on my own, I turn to God. This ending apparently did not sit well with my friend who had along the way become increasingly critical of Christianity. (For reference, “Right” in the text below is referring to the Japanese man I met at 16 and ultimately married at 18 years old.)
“(Dear Stacy) I’m honestly really struggling some with the addition of God and the Bible. I think that I may partially understand where u r coming from…if you’d had a strong foundation of a belief in God u would have been less likely to chase after Japan & trying to become Japanese. When it comes to Right – certainly the Japanese allowance of lolikon (*a person with a lolita complex; an attraction to young girls) and historical aspects of incest contributed…
Right not being Christian or the lack of a Christian faith in predominantly Buddhist (and Shintoist) Japan being implied as another primary cause of the incest – or the wrong way is troubling. That is a very fundamentalist, typically evangelical Christian view. I was raised Catholic from infancy but also predominantly influenced by my Protestant grandmother on my morals, ethics, relationship with God and acceptance of religions (with a basis that there wasn’t one right way and certainly not a belief that non-Christian religions are wrong – even in Catholicism – only a few priests took that hardline). I studied with a nun in Kalamazoo for a few years as part of a group of Catechism teachers (Sunday School teachers in the Protestant church’s) from St. Joseph and she was exceptionally well studied – introducing us to a Rabi for translation of some Old Testament scripture and Theologians from Loyola Press (a Catholic publisher in Chicago) to name a few – that were able to elaborate on the differences between allegorical examples in the Bible (Noah’s Ark for example) and what many fundamentalist religions claim to be fact.
But I do think that you will lose some readers or the opportunity to publish on a larger scale with quoting scripture and taking the hard line that there is only one way – unless you intend to pursue Christian bookstores and church groups as your primary audience. I wish that I could have given my input on this before.
One more at last – your story is yours alone. A unique memoir of cultural immersion with much to offer other women.
I tell u what I did above because I think that the view that there is only one right (Right) way is dangerous. I found myself so frustrated with u – as the author- ending the book with there being only one “right” way with God after telling your story of immersing yourself in what you saw as the only “right” way for u as a very young woman and life with an abusive husband – “Right” as a man (and representing the Japanese culture).
I hope u can see the irony of going from one right to another right. And I worry that u have been persuaded to believe that all non-Christians are going to hell or purgatory. Or as Catholics were taught when my mom was young – that babies not baptized could not enter Heaven. Some of this doctrine is no longer taught in the U.S. but may still be official church writing.
There are many Christians who sexually molest and abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere – a belief in God as the only way has not stopped these people. U know what has happened in the Catholic Church not only in the US but in Europe with pedophile priests. Many, many cases in Protestant churches of course too. Lois, for example experienced a terrible situation with her brother-in-law, a Christian (even a part-time pastor) as a young girl.”
(My reply…slightly edited for clarity)
“(Dear Friend,) That’s a lot in a text! Let me try to respond. Yes, I believe Christ is my savior. And the right way, as far as I am concerned, is to love others– all of them regardless of culture, beliefs etc. Right was a very selfish, spoiled person. I can say, he never loved anyone else; not even his grandmother. My belief in Jesus Christ is very simple. I know that I am not perfectly loving in what I do. Sometimes I too am selfish, judgmental, harsh etc., as we all can be. Given that I have limited abilities, knowledge, and am generally weak in many areas, I need a savior to pick up what I can’t seem to overcome as a human. It is just as simple as this. What you believe or don’t believe in terms of eternity and God is not for me to judge.
But at the same time, there is a truth out there and it is our job to find it. Otherwise, we are subscribing to the idea that everything is more or less random and we are just making our way haphazardly though what amounts to a rather meaningless existence where nothing much matters. I would venture to say, that for yourself and many others, “love” and “do no harm” are ultimate truths to which you subscribe. You might add that “forgiveness” is very important. These truths, were not Right’s truths, and quite frankly, the Japanese culture is not very forgiving and tends to shame and punish which is often harmful. There is quite a bit of rigidity and harshness still today. My hope is that the dichotomy of the culture will soften and that the judgemental good/bad, right and wrong will as well; and that the ultimate truths of love and forgiveness begin to reign. My opting for a savior…going an extra step to secure my own salvation is a decision with which I am comfortable. It is just that simple. Everyone in the world struggles to live a life of perfect love. Many try, but in the dark places of our minds we imagine someone else’s truth and brand them. Because at a minimum I admit to doing this (and a lot of other things!) I prefer to pray and seek forgiveness etc. It is my choice.
Now as for the book. The sub-title is “A Soul Lost in the Land of the Land of the Rising Sun” and in the preface I forewarned the reader that the book would grapple with truths. Then again, in the first chapter there was mention that “I had always sought a deeper meaning to life” (as ultimately we all are programmed to do…it just might be with the accident being so vivid in my mind, that I struggled with these questions from a very young age) which to indicates the book is going to take readers on a journey of self discovery. By the second chapter one can see that I was without a good foundation and quite undeveloped in my character when I decided to live in Japan, a culture which, as I have pointed out above, prefers shame over guilt and often prefers harm (abuse and violence) over nurture. (This, by the way, is more of a Japanese way than something condoned by Buddhist or Shinto practices and I don’ believe Right’s behavior had anything to do with the religions loosely practiced in his country…).
As the book progresses, readers will find that I too subscribed to these notions that I had to pay for my mistakes, pay by owning the shame that was placed upon me and accepted other cultural norms I should not have as a grown woman. Later when faced the prevalence of materials and tendencies that I very well knew were harmful to young girls and women, I ended up turning a blind eye. It is these atrocities against the ultimate truths to which you and I both subscribe (love, do unto others (don’t harm), and forgiveness etc.)) that cause me not to hate Japan– but to have grave concerns that I ultimately voice in my writings in hopes that there will be change…improvements such as recognizing that there are silent victims who need a voice and access to better services.
I was and am perfectly aware, that by mentioning Jesus Christ and Christianity in the last half of the last chapter, that some readers might be “put off.” I am ok with that. It is, as I mentioned above, my choice to take that leap of faith and go one more step to say that I need help navigating this world, guidance to love well, and that in my failures to do so that I have, in my eyes, forgiveness for not only what the world sees, but for my thoughts unsaid. In my guilt-riddled, sleepless existence such that it was, it was exactly my remedy. Again, simple as that.
Your characterzation of Christians, as some kind of righteous group that is judging and hypocritical is troubling to me. As a friend I ask that you not just lump me into that characterization. Of course we all judge whether we intend to or not, and if someone catches me judging and then I do wrong…well then I fall into the hypocrite space. It is just a human thing. I don’t know anything about “evangelicals,” who they are and what they stand for (I think I need to look it up as you keep using the term as you have been using often in quite a derogatory sounding way…). As far as I know I am just a person who took an extra step for my own salvation. Where I go and others go after death is not my call. I just looked at the evidence and made my wager.
Fundamentally, I believe you and I have many of the same core values and know what behaviors work. The difference it seems, is that I have chosen to go one step further. Do I believe in The Bible? Yes I do. But don’t let the details of that bother you. I am a strong believer that people often miss the forest for the trees.
As you think about your review, as a friend, I would like you consider what I have shared above. Consider your biases as you read the last half of the last chapter where only one pice of scripture was quoted, at the very last, not even within the text of the book. Then, look back once more and think about the chapter previous…the one where I had tried to put the pieces together of all I had seen and experienced…when I was researching and finding more issues with the idol culture, lolikon and such. I was seeing so much defense of perverse feelings toward children as “art,” “culture” etc. I personally could no longer dismiss it, and for me, as a philosopher-type, needed a framework by which to say, “culture and preferences aside it is wrong.” That framework, the truth of the matter, is in the values we share…and again, I went a step further because for me, I needed to. Because, as we well know, everyone does not share the same values of love and forgiveness.
I have two missions in writing this book. One, I want to break the silence in Japan when it comes to molestation which I am thoroughly convinced is happening at a far greater rate than reported– and happening most of the time in homes. Two, I want people to discern ultimately, what works and doesn’t work well, and not simply accept this or that fad, custom, behavior etc., as “ok” because on the surface it appears harmless and an individual’s choice (think child erotica art and abortions for example). Love (do no harm love) and forgiveness always rule. It is for these two purposes that I write and decided to publish. I believe in them. By my testimony, if someone were to realize that they too cannot go it alone and need a savior…well then I believe it will be a positive thing for them.”
Since replying to my friend’s text I’ve had time to think about how I might explain the book’s ending to readers in general. Here is the post that followed: Culture vs. God: The Ultimate Message of Bonsai
I appreciate all sorts of reviews and feedback. It gives me a chance to think through and affirm. I hope for more challenges in the future! Bonsai