To Connect with Gold
Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo, Japan.
We have all been living under the cloud of the COVID crisis now for a year. Japan has weathered the crisis rather well, but in recent months there has been a rise in cases nationwide, causing the government to call for an Emergency Declaration for major metropolitan areas for two months starting January 7th. I have been working from home this past year and have been limited in making visits with our partners in mission. Staying put has its virtues, though. It has allowed me to be more introspective. Recently I have been thinking a lot about the traditional Japanese art form called “kintsugi,” used to fix broken pottery by using a special tree sap lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, and platinum. Once completed, the seams of gold glint reveal a beautiful and one-of-a-kind appearance to a repaired ceramic piece. The beauty of this art form is that it celebrates the unique history of each piece by emphasizing the breaks and fractures instead of hiding or camouflaging them. In fact, Kintsugi often makes the piece look more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it and giving it a second life. Kintsugi means to connect with gold. For me, it symbolizes the way God works in our deeply fractured world.
God brings us together to witness in new and meaningful ways. One such endeavor that involves Japanese Christians is a lawsuit launched last March called “Interfaith Class Action Against Nuclear Fuel Cycle.” Hundreds of Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian clergy and lay leaders have come together around a common religious vision of protecting life. The nuclear fuel cycle refers to the Rokkasho Processing Plant built under the premise that depleted uranium can be reprocessed to generate a consistent source of energy. Many citizen groups have filed for injunctions on nuclear facilities such as the Rokkasho Plant, but this is the first time for religious organizations to file a lawsuit in Japan.
Without going into the details of the lawsuit, I want to point out the interesting ethical argument being made by the plaintiffs. They argue that the nuclear processing plant (and the nuclear industry as a whole) represents a violation of “space and time.” First, the industry violates “space” in the sense that those living in rural areas (spaces) are placed at risk for the sake of energy consumption in urban areas. Second, the industry violates “time” in the sense that we produce waste that we are unable to manage in our own lifetime, thus pushing it off on future generations. For the plaintiffs, who come from various religious backgrounds, respect for life, both present and future, becomes a basic premise. The significance of this lawsuit is that it does not focus on the specific technical or local details, which are, of course, very important, but reminds us of the big picture. It is about stopping an industry and changing the social structure such that one group of people is not made to suffer on account of more powerful groups. Consideration for future generations will be on the table for the first time to protect the well-being of future generations and the psychological peace and well-being of the present generation. There is also the ethical question of our human responsibility toward all of creation.
This year marks a milestone in the struggle to build a nuclear-free world. In January, we celebrated the ratification and enforcement of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. More than fifty nations have made it illegal to make and possess nuclear arms. In March, we mark the tenth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by remembering all of the lives and livelihoods that were lost, as well as the ongoing health risks pushed on a certain segment of the Japanese population. We need to ask ourselves what we have learned from the past and what future we intend to build together? Poet laureate Amanda Gorman said that “poetry stands as a great reminder of the past that we stand on and the future that we stand for.” I believe that these words capture the way God calls us to ministry in a broken world. May the work of the church and our mission partners “serve as a reminder of the past that we stand on and the future that we stand for.”
Jeffrey Mensendiek serves with J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo, Japan. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.