58. A Taste of Grace through Ohanami

May 25, 2024 - Roger W. Lowther

Well, it's here! The day has finally come. The launch of my next book “A Taste of Grace” is right around the corner, coming this Monday, May 27, on Memorial Day Weekend. I'm so excited to finally be able to share this book with all of you.

Now, this book has really been a long time in coming. I began writing it in 2020 during the lockdown as part of a series of finding beauty in brokenness, along with my other books “The Broken Leaf” and “Aroma of Beauty.” During that year and the years since, we all desperately needed to hear the message of how we could find hope in our suffering.

“A Taste of Grace” continues this series by looking specifically at the beauty and brokenness we find in Japanese food. Most of the stories come from our early years in Japan as missionaries, when we were encountering many Japanese foods for the first time. And some of these stories I hope you're going to find pretty humorous. And others, I hope you'll find thought-provoking, food for thought per se. Now, it's taken me a couple of years to get this book out to you because it has gone through so many different versions during that time. But I'm pretty happy with the finished product, so I guess it was worth the wait. And I hope that many will find it as an encouragement for many years to come.

There's really two reasons that I wrote this book. One is so people could feel the presence of God, not just on Sundays, not just when they pray, but every day and every meal. Food gives us energy to keep us going, and it's a wonderful way to connect with people around the table. Eating is certainly at the core of almost every single event that we do here in Tokyo. But food is so much more than that, so much more. It's no coincidence that the Bible starts with food in the Garden of Eden and ends with food at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Food is one of the primary ways that God continually shares his love and care for us. That's one reason why the sin of taking the fruit from the forbidden tree was so destructive. And that's also one reason why the imagery of heaven is so often described as gathering around a table, and especially as the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

You see, food is not just food. It's not mere stuff. But through food, God is communicating his love to us. And this book explores how he does that and what that looks like. So, I want people to feel the love of God, to feel his care for us. But also, I wrote this book specifically for Japanese people. There's an incredibly strong image here in Japan that Christianity is a Western religion. In fact, that image is so strong that for different Christian events and holidays, churches often feel like they need to celebrate with Western foods. In one of the conversations sparked by this book, I was talking with a Japanese woman, and she's like, “After Christmas worship, we wanted to go out and eat as a group. One woman stopped and wanted to eat sushi. Another said, ‘No, you can't eat sushi on Christmas. This is a Christian holiday. We need to eat Christian food.’ And so they went back and forth, ‘Wait, sushi isn't Christian?’ and ‘Wait, what food is Christian?’ ‘Well, bread is. We have to go to a bakery.’

Just to emphasize this point, one of the biggest bread companies here in Japan is called Yamazaki Bread Company, started by Japanese Christians after World War II. They always have an ad on the back of our quarterly missionary magazine, a full-page ad that shows a picture of a Western-looking white girl eating their bread. So the image is very strong. Bread is Christian. Rice is not. But what I'm hoping that people will see is that it's not only bread that's from God, but rice is God as well. God is intimately sharing his love and care for people through the foods that we eat every day here in Japan. In fact, God is intimately working through all the cultures of the world, to share his love through all the foods of the world. And so I believe, too, that even if you as a reader are not interested in Japanese food or culture at all, that you'll be able to taste the gospel in new ways through this book.

And so, this book is launching this coming Monday, Memorial Day. And if you're at all considering buying this book, can I ask a special favor? If we can get enough people to buy the book on the day of the launch, it'll move into a bestseller status, especially on Amazon, not that I'm pushing Amazon. Wherever you buy your books is great. But if we can get the book into the bestseller status, then it becomes more visible to everyone. And once it's more visible to everyone, then even people who aren't searching for that particular book, people who've never heard of me, people who aren't listening to this podcast. It allows that message to reach a much broader audience of people.

And so I encourage you to at least consider buying the book on launch day, if you're willing, and then after that, to leave a review, because that, too, is huge in helping people find the book and learn what it's all about. And so that's what it's all about, to get the message far and wide to larger groups of people than I could possibly meet with in person. In the past, I've seen my book spark so many amazing conversations and build new relationships. And I'm hoping for that with this book as well. It'll be out in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

In this episode, I'd love to give you just a little taste from the audiobook edition. This is going to be about utage or the Japanese form of feasting. We just celebrated the cherry blossom viewing season here in Japan, and so I use this imagery to help us see the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in new ways, to help us see this amazing future that God has in store for us. Please have a listen.

Outside my apartment building, we sit on mats by a river that flows through the center of Tokyo. A gentle wind rustles the pinkish white petals of the cherry trees, which float down around us like snow. Laughter fills the neighborhood with the joyful sounds of hanami cherry blossom viewing.

A dizzying array of foods spreads out before me as each person arrives: karaage fried chicken, deep-fried potato korokke, sushi, onigiri, tsukemono pickled vegetables, fruit, various kinds of sake. One friend brings something a little more elaborate—a portable gas stove on top of a cart bearing a large pot of oden soup. My wife brings asparagus wrapped in bacon and homemade chocolate pudding.

The Japanese word utage means “feast” or “banquet.” More than physical nourishment, the word conveys connection and community, happiness and blessing through celebration with food.

The Japanese word for “taste” (“ajiwau”) includes broader and deeper connotations of experience than the English equivalent. Japanese expressions such as “taste the beautiful colors” or “taste the music” or, on the darker side, “taste suffering” sound strange in English.

At heart, homo sapiens exist not just as “knowing people” but as “tasting people.” The Latin word sapiens for “knowing” can also mean “tasting.” By tasting, we learn not just about the world, but about each other as well. For example, those first moments after birth build a crucial bond between mother and child through breastfeeding, and we can not leave out the importance of a kiss. Mealtimes together as families, friends, or coworkers create essential opportunities for connecting and sharing stories.

When we eat together and provide food for one another, we fill our table with compassion, kindness, connection, acceptance, and love. We build relationships with each other and with God, and we experience a foretaste of the abundant and eternal nourishment of God in heaven.

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9)

All our best banquets give but a small taste of the wedding supper of the Lamb that awaits us. Will this glorious celebratory banquet occur in some large banquet hall made of stone? Or perhaps in the cozy setting of an upper room? Personally, I imagine it might take place outside, on mats laid out by the river that flows through the middle of the city as the wind of the Holy Spirit gently rustles the blossoms of the tree of life. Petals float down around us like snow. A dizzying array of the best foods, from every tribe and nation, spreads out before us as each person arrives. Laughter and joy overflow.

The aromas of this incredible banquet already begin to waft through the air of our waiting world. Can you sense them?

You can read the show notes for this episode at my website, www.rogerwlowther.com. Thank you so much for listening. As we say in Japan, ”Ja, mata ne! See you next time.”


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