The Bonsai story begins with a quote from anthropologist Ruth Benedict who studied the Japanese culture during and post WWII. In Patterns of Culture published in 1934 she wrote:
“The life history of the individual is first and foremost an accommodation to the patterns and standards handed down in his community.”
And Bonsai closes with this scripture given to us by the Apostle Paul by way of his letter to the church in Rome:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)
Why would I end the book this way? Having lived so “globally” for so long? Why would I take, what many might see, as a “narrow-minded approach to “good” when the culture of Japan in many ways had been so rigid, and “Right man” (my Japanese ex) even more so?
As a teenager, I felt like I had no structure, or frame of reference growing up in blue-collar, rural Michigan. Following a 4-H exchange trip, I found myself longing for the patterns I recognized in Japan– all of the structure the Japanese people follow in their daily lives. It is a framework that effectively conveys community values. It was this structure that Right Man both used and ignored; he used it to his advantage and ignored it when he found it an obstacle to his plans.
The rigidity of the Japanese culture which requires a level of escapism for many young people to endure, is a fascinating dichotomy to observe. It is what makes Japan a special place to visit; a place many, like myself, cannot, in many ways, resist. These “patterns of the community” which were handed down to Right Man, replaced the patterns handed down to me…which as teen I did not recognize.
With two sets of “patterns” impressed upon me, it eventually became hard to know instinctively, what was the best way to think about or do anything. I had two sets of values, two frameworks of reference. One quite loose and open; another more defined but yet open in almost disturbing ways.
When, many years after my bonsai life was over, I inadvertently stumbled upon Christianity and eventually came to believe, one could argue that I had once more replaced old patterns and values with yet another– effectively replacing one “Right” (man) with another by believing Jesus Christ.
But no…and here’s why. If this world (or any other) is our only frame of reference, and we are continually taking in all kinds of information with our senses– daily adding to our knowledge of the things around us, then I would argue how…at any given moment, can we claim to know what is truly right or wrong by our exposure? If we agree that we can’t, does that in turn make every way OK?
For me, this is the linchpin of an argument for God, and I, having examined the evidence and feeling moved by what Christians would say is the Holy Spirit, have made my choice in who that God is and the nature of Him. And as I look over my previous choices and matters before me today, I can consider what might be pleasing or unpleasing to the creator– which may or may not be different from that which is pleasing or unpleasing to the fellow who sits randomly next to me. I can decided these things by a framework that is above me; and feel quite comfortable as a follower, that what I am doing most of the time will be out of love, without judgement (…although this is weak point of mine!) and with forgiveness.
At the tail end of Bonsai, on the page before the scripture, it is written, “There is only one truth, and God tasks each of us with the responsibility to identify it…” The key part being “each of us” as in, I personally am not going to identify it for you; and I must, as part of my truth, refrain from judgement (…as in condemnation.) What you identify as truth is a personal choice, …perhaps the most important choice for the existing individual. And one more thing…the right way will not restrain you, but free your limbs and allow you to grow (a bonsai-ism).
It is my sincere hope that readers of The Six-Foot Bonsai will understand, that for me, a final leap, a two-feet together standing long jump, was necessary, and will find it, as I do, the right move for an individual who does not want to be confined to the patterns of this world.
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