Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Updates and Downdates

Gee, it has been a while since I've posted anything. I've been suffering from a lack of time, energy, and motivation. I'll go ahead and stick something in now in hopes that I'll be able to write something more interesting later.
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I've never been one to put biblical admonitions on this site. After all, its main purpose is to illustrate my life here in Japan, so I've always tried to keep it as politically and spiritually neutral as possible (while putting my rants on other sites). However, recent events have kept me thinking about one particular Bible teaching, specifically the one about "turning the other cheek". I seriously have to wonder about what it really means.

Regardless of your own religious background, I'm sure you're familiar with the teaching. Jesus said that, if someone slaps your right cheek, you should respond by offering him your left cheek to slap, as well. You know what that means, don't you? The generally accepted interpretation is that, even if he falls victim to aggression, a true Christian should offer submission rather than resistance. In short, it is a lesson in humility.

Or is it? Let's just think about this now. I once read a very interesting article about that particular teaching (sorry...no link at present, but maybe I'll look for one later). It made perfect sense, and it really got my mind going. Jesus said if someone slaps your right cheek you should offer your left one. Now tell me; assuming your aggressor is both right-handed and facing you, how does he slap your RIGHT cheek?

Answer: he backhands you. In the Roman Empire, backhanding someone was an act of degradation. It was what parents did to children, teachers did to students, masters did to slaves, soldiers did to prisoners, Roman citizens did to non-citizens. It was the same as saying, "You insignificant scum! " On the other hand, a slap on the left cheek, i.e. a full, open slap, would have been seen as an act of violent provocation directed at an equal. Such an act would actually reflect badly on the slapper, for it would show him to be ill-mannered and boorish. In other words, in Rome, if someone slapped your right cheek he would be someone of superior class humiliating you, but if he slapped your left cheek he would be an asshole. In that respect, the teaching could very well be interpreted as: "If someone tries to push you around, stand your ground."

So...is Jesus really urging humility, or is he telling Christians not to be intimidated in the face of bullying or harassment?

Like I said, I've been thinking a lot about this for a number of reasons. There have been plenty of situations lately when I've had to debate whether "turning the other cheek" means just to smile and pretend to enjoy the mud or to turn around and smear it on certain rather deserving people, such as:
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Speaking of the executive committee, last Saturday was the dreaded PTA General Assembly (fanfare played by banging head on keyboard). I was put in charge of getting the microphones and sound system set up but told I didn't have to do anything (i.e. the chairman did it himself rather than allow me to execute my responsibility). As it turned out, the whole mike thing wound up being a nasty mess of miscommunication, conflicting schedules, changing priorities, and general lack of thought. I wasn't about to let it go (since I'd probably wind up being the scapegoat), so I jumped in and personally helped the chief of the broadcast media club fix everything. Problem solved.

Part of General Assembly Day (BANG BANG BANG) was the District PTA meetings, something they started last year. This year I was put in charge of the district in which I live. I carefully reconfirmed everything I needed to do and consulted with everyone that was involved. Just before the actual meeting, I quickly called the teachers in my staff together for a quick briefing. I explained what to do, following the recommendations set forth by the committee chairman and last year's chief. As it turned out, one of my vice-chiefs didn't attend my briefing, and when the meeting actually started he immediately took over, issuing orders that at times directly contradicted my instructions. Half the staff followed what I said, the other half followed what the vice-chief said, and we were left with a horrible mess. Add to that the fact that a couple of the teachers in my staff never even tried to listen to my instructions, went off on their own tangents, failed to do their jobs, did things that actually interfered with the whole project, whined about it when I told them it was unacceptable, and drove me to make them go back and do their jobs over again properly...until the vice-chief countermanded me on account of "lack of time"...and you had some pretty bad comedy. I made a pretty big stink about it at the next executive committee meeting before anyone had a chance to blame me for the mess. (At least the vice-chief of my district apologized. Damned straight!)
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On a brighter note (D. I've always liked D), my in-laws and I have compromised and are cooperating on the garden thing. My father-in-law is still not being entirely rational (no surprises there), but my mother-in-law has been really good about it so far and has also been moderating. The fact is that they apparently thought they were helping me by taking over the project (since I was clearly too busy with my job). It's just the sad fact of my FIL's meddlesome, self-important, "save the people from themselves" attitude that led him to change my plans and redo things in his own "more enlightened" way. At the same time, though I was a little upset at first when MIL went ahead and set a whole row of planters along the inside edge of my decorative path, which I'd intended to line with stones or bricks to make a flowerbed on the other side, I realized that it was actually a good idea. MIL offered to move the planters as soon as FIL finished his work, but we both decided it's best just to leave them there...killing three birds with one stone. Definitely a productive compromise.

Actually, the patio and decorative path that I made are still there and in more or less good condition. The only problem is the drainpipe, which FIL has plugged up for good on account of the brick-and-rock "table" and new flowerbed that he has set up directly in front of it. Water does drain off the patio normally, but it still tends to pool up a bit in that corner. The pipe solved that problem, but now that it's full of mud it has created a new problem, i.e. muddy backflow. (I may try running a longer pipe under the "table" and along the new flowerbed to the back corner, but I'll worry about that later.) The lilies that they went ahead and planted in the flowerbed I made have already sprouted and are coming along nicely. Meanwhile, FIL actually followed my lead and used the same design I did for my flowerbed on the new one he made (respect for my work? Wow!).

As it turns out, I unwittingly got a bit of revenge. Most of the garden spaces in the backyard are horribly overgrown. It's a total mess. The main reason is that, unlike the grandparents that lived there before, my in-laws believe in "natural gardening", i.e. most of the plants are there because the seeds arrived naturally. Such an approach means there is a wide variety of flowers there without much work, but it also means it's often hard to distinguish the weeds from the desirable plants. That can present a problem.

When I got a bit of free time one day I decided to leave off my own garden work for a while (since FIL was still in the thick of it) and do some weeding and trimming all around. In the process I noticed one type of plant that had sprouted in more than one location all over the back yard. They were big plants, kind of ugly, and they looked totally out of place. Only one of them was even in a flowerbed, and it didn't look like it belonged there. One was right under the clotheslines, and another was right in the middle of the main path, i.e. in the way. I'd never noticed them before, but they were huge. I was surprised the in-laws had let them grow like that, but they'd let other weeds go nuts and get in the way before, so I chalked it up to similar apathy on their part. I immediately went to work yanking up all of them, doing my best to make sure I got the entire roots out as well.

Guess what? They were wild hydrangeas. They'd taken root naturally, but MIL had been taking care of them. She says that, if I hadn't chopped them up, they would have produced gorgeous, BLUE flowers that would have been visible from the big, new bay window in our living room. Oops.

Oh, well. They would most DEFINITELY have been in the way if I'd left them. I only wish I could replant them somewhere else. Maybe I can put something else there...

Okay, 'nuff said for now. Hopefully I'll have something brighter to talk about soon.

11 Comments:

  • I'm ambidextrous, so I would merely backhand you a second time.

    We also have a wild section in our yard where the weeds, grass, and ornamentals intertwine, but I would risk death by touching anything in there, so I keep my distance.

    Regarding the social climbing co-worker, I think you get more mileage by being conscientious and helpful in the long run. Eventually people will notice that she isn't doing anything unless it helps her and it will finally catch up to her.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:42 AM  

  • That was the original version of the "rope-a-dope" strategy used by Muhammad Ali in the rumble in the jungle with George Foreman.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:17 AM  

  • That is a rather unnusual post, but I like it. Don't be so timid about posting about religious views, its part of your life like everything else.

    My solution to weeds is a rototiller.

    You certainly have stepped up your level of resonsibility as a teacher, perhaps too much so. No wonder you are so tired.

    Try shoving these matters back on where they belong, and when they don't get done, be sure to remind people whose job it was in the first place.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 8:16 AM  

  • You know what? You really have open my eyes! I should be awared that everything can not be taken literally especially those "old books."

    I knew that if 10 people are reading a verse from the bible, the interpretation from each of them will be different, even those 10 people are preachers from the same church/institution.

    Could you explain in a simple way or maybe give an example about " If someone tries to push you around, stand your ground."

    Now, I'm really wondering what actually Jesus was trying to teach us about his lesson about this.

    Any change for you to get your own space to plant what you like in 'your' garden?

    By Blogger Selba, at 11:59 AM  

  • So matched title {updates and downdates}, but I hope you won’t have a upside-down live.

    Sometimes life can't be controled by us, as long as you did your best that'll be fine.

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 6:24 PM  

  • Hmmm Moody, family & professional life can be a conundrum sometimes....

    Not sure what to offer as advice, but you are over 21, and have to live/work with all the folks you mention, so I guess you will make the best decision in the end!

    When will we get pics of this "natural" garden you speak of? We have an "experimental weed & crabgrass" garden ourselves....

    By Blogger ladybug, at 11:23 PM  

  • Snabudon
    Aw, you just had to go and mess everything up! YOU SHA'AP!!!!!

    Actually, regarding the up-and-coming co-worker, the biggest problem is that she's holding all the cards. Few people would fault her for dumping off her work, because she's in a position to label it "team responsibility" rather than "personal", and that makes it justified.

    Pandabonium
    Probably better not to bring physical violence into the discussion. I don't want to start dreaming about it.

    Pa've
    The problem is that, as you know, my religious views are anything but orthodox! I'm liable to wind up alienating everyone!

    Hopefully I won't have to do any shoving, but I will dare people to slap my other cheek if I have to!

    Selba
    I think your own experience might be a good example, depending on how it turns out. K and L are trying to humiliate you and smear your reputation. You're not just taking it. You're trying to defend your position to your superiors in an honest and reasonable manner, which could very well turn the tables and humiliate K and L. That would be following Jesus' advice, turning the situation around so that the aggressor winds up being the fool.

    L.C_D.
    Yes, life does feel like a trampoline at times. Actually, I'm getting along with the people just fine at the moment, and the garden situation is definitely better now.

    Ladybug
    You're right, I do have to live/work with these people, and I am doing my best to do just that. I don't intend to make a stink unless I'm shoved into a corner. Then I will stand my ground.

    I'll take pics when the lilies MIL planted in my flowerbed and/or the gladiolas she planted in the row of planter boxes bloom. They're really coming up fast!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:43 AM  

  • very interesting post and one that has made me think a lot. i find myself wondering what Jesus meant now. and i do wonder, like you, if he meant to not allow ppl to bully you. i had never thought about it like this before.

    this Ms. Y sounds like she could become a headache on every front. good luck w/ her and hope she calms down some... but in my experience, women who get a little bit of power tend to become total bitches... don't know why that is.. but it seems to be true every time i see someone in a high powered position that is a woman.

    sounds like MIL lets flowers come up any ole place... and i'm like you in that i'm not sure i'd want that. too bad there weren't more coming up in the flower beds. i'm sure they would have been quite lovely.. but whose to say you won't get more of them. they could have seeded and you'll see them next year.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 3:47 AM  

  • Orthodox? You mean, like mine???

    By Blogger Pa've, at 7:17 AM  

  • It's amazing how biblical interpretation changes when the cultural and historical context is reattached to it.

    I hope your work situation improves soon. You seem to handle it so well though.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:28 AM  

  • Several times I’ve tired to post on this, but I felt it better not to comment on the bible...

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 1:15 AM  

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