December 30, 2006

Email Amnesty for the New Year

Yesterday morning I had several dozen emails in my "Read Me" folder. These are messages that weren't urgent or even very important, but that I wanted to take a look at when I had the chance. Some of them had been in there for several months. You know the type--newsletters, mailing list messages that might contain something interesting, "FW: FW: RE: funny story"--that kind of stuff. After a quick glance to make sure there wasn't anything I'd miss, I trashed them all. It feels great. I'll do the same thing with the "Read Me" stack of papers on my desk at home when I get back from vacation. What is a new year for if not a time for fresh starts?

A more drastic measure that you may need to consider if you're reeaally behind is to declare email bankruptcy like this guy did:
Lawrence Lessig hit upon a novel tactic after spending 80 hours trying to clear out his backlogged inbox: surrender. "Bankruptcy is now my only option," he wrote in a mass message to his correspondence creditors. Here's how Lessig erased his debts and turned over a new leaf.

1) Collect the email addresses of everyone you haven't replied to. Paste them into the BCC field of a new message you'll send to yourself.

2) Write a polite note explaining your predicament. Apologize profusely - Lessig managed five mea culpas in as many paragraphs - and promise to keep up with your email in the future. Try to sound credible.

3) Ask for a resend of anything particularly pressing, and offer to give such messages special attention.

How about you? Any fresh starts in the new year? Feel free to share in the comments.

December 26, 2006

Japan's Word of the Year: 命 (life)

Every year in Japan a word (more specifically a kanji or Chinese character) is selected to sum up the year. This year, the word is 命 which means life, in the spiritual, not the biological sense. The reasons listed were several.
  • A male heir to the imperial throne was born. Things were gettin so desperate that there was talk of changing the law to allow an empress.
  • Suicides by victims of bullying were evidently even higher than usual among children this year.
  • Drunk driving took more lives than ever this year.
  • Life became more precious and tenuous after North Korea tested an atomic bomb.
A word to sum up the year for me personally is 変 (change). My job changed, my children both started school, my wife began working outside the home, and we found out that we have another baby on the way.

How about you? What's your word for 2006? Let me know in the comments.

Word of the year and 20 runners-up.

December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

From Max Lucado's book, God Came Near:

Mary's Prayer

God. O infant-God. heaven's fairest child. Conceived by the union of divine grace with our disgrace. Sleep Well.

Sleep well. Bask in the coolness of this night bright wih diamonds. Sleep well, for the heat of anger simmers nearby. Enjoy the silence of the crib, for the noise of confusion rumbles in your future. Savor the sweet safety of my arms, for a day is soon coming when I cannot protect you.

Rest well, tiny hands. For though you belong to a king, you will touch no satin, own no gold. You will grasp no pen, guide no brush. No, your tiny hands are reserved for works more precious:
-to touch a leper's open wound,
-to wipe away a widow's weary tear,
-to claw the ground of Gethsemane.
Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white--clutched tonight in an infant's fist. They aren't destined to hold a scepter nor wave from a palace balcony. They are reserved instead for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross.

Sleep deeply tiny eyes. Sleep while you can. For soon the blurriness will clear and you will see the mess we have made of your world.
-You will see our nakedness for we cannot hide.
-You will see our selfishness for we cannot give.
-You will see our pain for we cannot heal.
O eyes that will see hell's darkest pit and witness her ugly prince . . . sleep, please sleep; sleep while you can.

Lay still, tiny mouth. lay still mouth from which eternity will speak.
Tiny tongue that will soon summon the dead,
-that will define grace,
-that will silence our foolishness.
Rosebud lips--upon which ride a starborn kiss of forgiveness to those who believe you, and of death to those who deny you--lay still.

And tiny feet cupped in the palm of my hand, rest. For many difficult steps lie ahead for you.
-Do you taste the dust of the trails you will travel?
-Do you feel the cold sea water upon which you will walk?
-Do you wrench at the invasion of the nail you will bear?
-Do you fear the steep descent down the spiral staircase into Satan's dominion?
-Rest tiny feet. Rest today so that tomorrow you might walk with power. rest. For millions will follow in your steps.

And little heart . . . holy heart . . . pumping the blood of life through the universe: How many times will we break you?
-You'll be torn by the thorns of our accusations.
-You'll be ravaged by the cancer of our sin.
-You'll be crushed under the weight of your own sorrow.
-And you'll be pierced by the spear of our rejection.
Yet in that piercing, in that ultimate ripping of muscle and membrane, in that final rush of blood and water, you will find rest. Your hands will be freed, your eyes will see justice, your lips will smile, and your feet will carry you home.
And there you'll rest again--this time in the embrace of your Father.

Merry Christmas!
And thank you Jesus.

December 21, 2006

On Rules

"Rules were invented by elders, so they could go to bed early!" - Gene Edwards from A Tale of Three Kings.

At our preschool, we have three basic rules:
  • Be safe.
  • Be kind.
  • Have fun.
Of course these lead to many other sub-rules, like "Walk when you are carrying scissors," but if any rule I make doesn't fit under the one of the big three, then I need to ask myself if I'm not being a lazy teacher, leaving control of the children to an ever-growing list of rules rather than personal mentoring and the impartation of wisdom.

December 20, 2006

Jim Bakker Legacy

Jim Bakker, the disgraced TV evangelist has a bit of a comeback going on. He's married again, back on TV, and publishing books. I remember listening to and enjoying his and Tammy's record (the one in the picture) when I was young. If you want to hear some songs from the record, click here. Warning: I enjoyed them as a little kid. Listening to them now is a totally different experience.
Warning 2: The blog entry I linked to above has some profanity in the comments.

I remember hearing about Bakker's "fall" when I was a teenager and not really caring because, hey, teenagers don't have very high expectations for public role models. He went to jail. I vaguely remember hearing about him getting out and writing a book called I Was Wrong.

Then I saw something the other day on CNN about his son, Jay Bakker. Jay's a "punk preacher" in Atlanta. His relationship with his father is strained and he's dealing with his mother's terminal cancer. His church meets in a bar, but the funny thing is that he seems to have his head screwed on fairly straight. Check out the article about him and his commentary entitled "What the Hell Happened to Christianity?" It's good to see something good come out of the mess.

December 18, 2006


Tomomi and I led the children's ministry at our church for seven years. Yesterday was our last Sunday as leaders. Of course it was a time for reflection and, true to his character, God has been faithful. We began with three children; two were our pastors' kids and one was a missionary's kid. Now, including the satellite church at Narimasu, there are anywhere from thirty to fifty kids each week. We've had tough times--tears, fights, tumbles down stairs, a hole punched in a wall, and worst of all, the untimely death of a little one due to a heart defect. But we've also had wonderful times--lots of smiles, games, parties, songs, discussions, field trips, commitments to Jesus, and baptisms.

With us teaching Monday through Friday and sometimes Saturday at the preschool, doing the same thing on Sunday was getting to be too much. The classes at our main church in Ochanomizu as well as our satellite church in Narimasu are in loving, capable hands and we have confidence that the children's ministry will continue to grow and get better and better.

I know I'll forget some names, but I want to thank all the teachers and volunteers with whom we've been privileged to work over the years.
  • Toru
  • Maki
  • Andy
  • Yuka
  • Talo
  • Nori
  • Hershel
  • Kaoru
  • Diana
  • Rose
  • Emiko
  • Snow
  • Terence
  • Kenji
  • Kenji
  • Fukubi
  • Yuka
  • Sayuri
  • Yoshiko
  • Sam
  • Sumire
  • Momo
  • Keiko
  • Aiko
  • Keiko
  • Chan
  • Akane
  • Vicky
  • Yoshiko
  • Yukka
  • Lila
  • Flora
  • Midori
  • Carina
  • Wallance
  • Akki
  • Nacchan
  • Hiroko
  • Noriko
  • Jen
  • Jade
  • Keiichi
  • Jiyun
  • Isaku
  • Shintaro
  • Yuriko
  • Yuuki
  • Machiko
  • Setsuko
  • Ellen
  • Fuyuji
  • Masami
  • EJ
  • Ed
  • Naomi
  • Mariko
  • Seiko
  • Asuka
  • Tomoko
  • Mika
  • Sonoyo
That list turned out a lot longer than I thought it would be. Some have helped just once or twice, some for years, but I appreciate every person on the list. Because our children and so many of our friends are still involved, we will of course remain close to Sunday School. I'm not good at expressing sentiment like this, so I'll just post a picture of Tomomi with the flowers she got from some of the parents and staff.

December 16, 2006

Baby Names

The Baby Name Network introduces itself this way:
Are you an expectant parent? Just thinking about having a baby? A proud grandparent? Or just wondering what the origin of your name is? We offer an ever-growing database of baby names along with their meanings, origins, famous namesakes, and a gauge of how popular each name is. Baby names of all kinds: popular, unusual, ethnic, religious, unique, and many more. We make it easy for you to browse, search, and surf from baby name to baby name - until you find that perfect name for your new baby.
You can look for names several ways including by origin. For example, here is the list of Japanese baby names. Be warned that the list is sadly incomplete and the translations are laughably inaccurate. The site seems not to have been updated recently; the front page features the "Most Popular Baby Names of 2003." But all in all, it's not a bad place to start.

Why, you ask, am I suddenly interested in baby names? I'll give you three guesses. :)

Baby Name Network (via

December 12, 2006

Excellent Book on Christian Fellowship

I mentioned Jerry Bridges's book, The Crisis of Caring, before but after finally finishing it this afternoon I wanted to review it and give it high recommendations. I usually shy away from books with sensational words like "crisis" in their titles because they tend to be melodramatic and fluffy but this one is nothing of the sort. (The book was originally published as True Fellowship, a much better title in my opinion.) If you feel like there must be more to Christian fellowship than coffee and doughnuts, you will enjoy this book. I think the best way I can introduce it is to list the chapter titles and add a favorite quote or two from each chapter.

1. What is Fellowship?
These various uses of koinonia convey two related meanings: (1) to share together in the sense of joint participation or partnership, and (2) to share with in the sense of giving what we have to others.
2. Union with God
Through faith in Christ we are members of His Body. The term "His Body" does not signify mere ownership, as we might say in the expression "his house" or "his car." Rather, it signifies union or an actual attachment, as in the expression "his hand" or "his heart."
3. Communion with God
(Quoting Dallas Willard) "Does our mind spontaneously return to God when not intensely occupied, as the needle of the compass turns to the North Pole when removed from nearer magnetic sources?"

Our emphasis today is on doing things for God, or believing the right doctrines about God. But few believers take time to commune with God simply for the sake of enjoying Him and adoring Him.
4. Fellowship Is a Community
We are in fellowship with all other believers, whether or not we like it or even recognize the fact.

Why does the whole body hurt when only one part is injured? It is because all the parts of the body make up one indivisible whole. And when one part hurts, no matter what the reason, the restorative powers of the entire body are brought to bear on that hurting member. Rather than attacking the suffering part or ignoring the problem, the rest of the body demonstrates concern for the part that hurts. This is the way the Body of Christ should function.
5. Spiritual Fellowship
One of the most important things we can share with one another is the spiritual truth that God has been teaching us, which might be of great help to other believers.

There is an old adage that says, "Words disentangle themselves when passing over lips or through the pencil tips." As we share our thought with others, we learn because we are forced to organize and develop our ideas.
6. Partnership in the Gospel
Christ commands us to go into all the world, and the only way most of us can do that is by participating in the ministries of those who physically go.

(Quoting S. D. Gordon) The greatest thing each one of us can do is to pray. If we can go personally to some distant land, still we have gone to only one place. Prayer puts us into direct dynamic touch with a world. A man may go aside today, and shut the door, and as really spend a half-hour of his life in India for God as though he were there in person. Surely you and I must get more half-hours for this secret service.
7. The Fellowship of Spiritual Gifts
Many people these days are wondering what their gift is, but they are not finding the answer becasue they are asking the wrong question. We should be seeking primarily to find out our function in the Body: the particular task assigned to us by God. We may be sure that God has equipped us, both in natural ability and in spiritual gifts, for the function He has called us to perform.

It's been said that ninety percent of finding God's will lies in our willingness to do it.
8. Sharing Your Possessions
An analysis of the various ways koinonia [fellowship] is described in the New Testament reveals that its most common usage is to indicate the sharing of possessions with those in need.

Sharing materially with those in need is an experiential outworking of the objective nature of fellowship. It is important to remember that all experiential fellowship is based on an objective relationship. We are in fellowship with other members of the Body; therefore, we should work this out in our daily lives.
9. Supporting Your Local Ministry
(Quoting a deacon who was trying to determine a fair and adequate salary for their pastor) "Our pastor is or most valuable asset. He is worth far more than this church building."
10. The Fellowship of Suffering
The universal testimony of those who have suffered for the sake of Christ and his Church is that they have experienced a deep fellowship, an intimate communion with Him in the midst of their sufferings.

Many observers believe that the reason we in the West do not suffer more persecution is because we have accommodated ourselves too much to the world around us.
11. The Fellowship of Serving
One of the chief characteristics of a servant is that he serves downward, that is, to those who by the world's standards are beneath him in position or station in life.

As someone once observed, the true test of whether we are a servant is that we don't mind being treated like one.
12. Social Fellowship
Jesus always seemed to use social occasions to evangelize, to heal, or to teach principles of the Christian life. He did these things in such a way that they never seemed artificial or out of place.
I found it hard to find short passages from this book to quote. Because Bridges builds his theses point by point, most brief passages don't work out of context. The book seems to be out of print currently but it is available used online. But shoot, if you don't live to far from me, I'll lend it to you!

[Edit: It is in print and available at]

December 11, 2006

Harvard Med, here she comes!

R (age 4) bumped her head on the edge of a door this evening. Turning to my wife she said, "That didn't hurt, Mom, because I have a cranium."

Guess what the science theme was at preschool last week!

December 10, 2006

Get Out!

As a preschool teacher and parent, I struggle with balancing "study time" and "play time." Of course everyone knows that a big way children learn is through play, and I've long believed that a prepared environment, equipped with appropriate tools, toys and other materials, is as important as my lessons. But recently I've been going even farther and seeing that free outdoor play is an beneficial complement to what goes on in the classroom.

Free Outdoor Play Educates

Two weeks ago we did a unit on wells and underground water. Since then, the children have been "digging wells" in the park almost every day. They haven't struck water yet, but they have learned several other things.
  • Roots are everywhere and extend far out from trees.
  • The deeper you dig from the surface, the rockier and more densely packed the dirt gets.
  • There are several trade-offs in choosing tools for digging: thick, heavy sticks are more durable but harder to manage than thin light ones; sharp sticks can poke deep but not very wide; the best digging sticks take time to find and prepare but it can be time well spent.
Kids obviously cannot express what they've learned in terms of geology or physics, but that is what they are learning. If we didn't spend time outdoors they would have no idea how hard it really is to dig a well, and they wouldn't have learned other things about tools and what's underground.

"Nature Deficit Disorder"

Children these days spend much less time outdoors than even a generation ago. Free time is more likely spent playing a video game than climbing a tree. Richard Louv, a child advocacy expert has written a book called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder which calls attention to the fact that our plugged-in life has disconnected us from the natural world and leads to real problems like ADD, childhood depression, and obesity. He advocates hiking, swimming, birdwatching, camping and plain-old disorganized, creative outdoor play. (I haven't read the book yet, but plan too soon!)

A lot of bytes have been posted online about the need for children to spend more unstructured time outdoors. Please check out:
  • this article for a link between exercise in children and prevention of heart trouble,
  • this article about the therapeutic effect of outdoor play on children with ADHD,
  • this cover story from Time Magazine about the risks of being too wired for our own good,
  • this site about the developmental benefits of play on children,
  • this article extolling the virtues of school recess and outdoor play (pdf),
  • and not one, but two, excellent blogs from the National Wildlife Federation dealing with the "Green Hour" (an hour a day for children to play outside).
Now, I need to go to bed so I can get up early and go for a walk outside before work!

December 7, 2006

Let Them Eat Candy

My preschool is participating in Greatest Gift Ministries' gift box program this season. Donors choose the sex and age of the child they want to give to, and then pack a shoe box (or other similar sized box) with toys, school supplies and hygeine items. These boxes are then given to poor children in countries like Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Myanmar.

Today at preschool we watched a video about the project and our students were impressed that they would be able to give to children their own age who wouldn't ordinarily get much, if anything, for Christmas. After school, my wife read through the brochure about what kinds of things are and aren't allowed in the box. Hard candy is okay but no other food (because it could go bad or spill). After hearing that, my four-year-old daughter said, "The poor children living far away don't have any food. They just have to eat hard candy all the time. So we have to send them lots and lots of hard candy." We have a little more explaining to do.

(This is surreal: As I write this, I'm watching the news and farmers are plowing cabbage into the ground because there was a bumper crop and they don't want prices to fall.)

Anyway, if you're in Japan and want to participate in the gift box program, see their web site at

December 4, 2006

New Site for Families in Japan is a new site that says this about itself:
Are you raising a family in Japan? Do you have trouble getting simple things done? Piqniq is a Social Network Service tailored specifically toward English-speaking families living in Japan. Our concept is "Families helping Families" and we invite anyone that wants to meet other families, help other families, or discuss family-related issues pertinent to life in Japan to come and join the Piqniq!
I just discovered the site today. It looks like it's 6 or 7 weeks old. About 500 people have signed up by the looks of the user list, but it's hard to say how many are active (I'm signed up as "jeremy"). The home page automatically lists the most recent entries that members have written in their piqniq blogs. It also has tabs that link to "My Account," "Members," "Japan Directory" (a user submitted list of annotated links), "Forum" (not very active yet), and a "Feedback" form. The layout of the site is decent, but with the ability for users to add content that automatically shows up on the front page, the webmasters will have to be very vigilant in dealing with spam. A site like this is as good as the contributions of its members so we'll have to see how it turns out. The niche it seeks to fill is an important one. I wish all the best!

Edit 12/5: If you want to check out the site without signing up first, add /node to the end of the url. That's

December 2, 2006

Tasks for Google Calendar: A Stopgap Has Arrived

I'm a sucker for anything that promises to get me more organized and increase my productivity. Like many, I drooled over the announcements that Google would be coming out with a calendar. It arrived several months ago but with a gaping hole: no task lists. What's an organizer without a way to list tasks? Every time I log in and see the New Features link at the top of the page, I click it right away, just knowing it will be the task list. So far, I've been disappointed. Better integration with gmail was nice but who needs to see a little icon with the weather or be notified when there's a new google doodle? And now we can search public calendars and add events. Who cares? Just let me list up my to-dos!

It's to the rescue! RTM is a darn good task managing site that I tried out several months ago but abandoned because they lacked calendering. But now they just implemented a way for users to get their task lists onto Google calendars. If you already have a google calendar, just sign up at, click the google calendar link, allow google calendar to subscribe to the RTM feed and you're good to go. There will be a little check mark at the top of each day on your Google calendar. When you click on that check mark, you'll see your tasks for the day. You can mark them as completed, postpone them, edit them, delete them, and add new tasks right from your google calendar. Not quite as good as an integrated Google solution, but not so bad either.

Now I'm drooling over the impending release of scrybe. If it lives up to the hype it'll be awesome!