As missionaries in Japan, our first home their was in an apartment in Nagoya as junior companions. At the time, we were two fired up young missionaries who thought that our senior companions were pretty lazy and uninspiring. We probably spent more time proselyting together than we did with our senior companions. I think they probably got a bit tired of all our fired up zeal and figured that one of the best cures for this was to inflict us upon each other. At any rate, we had a lot of time to hear one another's stories and to strengthen our friendship.
One morning in June, we decided to go on a run together. It was a humid summer morning. We took off running through these dirt trails through the trees and forest that was next to our apartment. Somehow, we ended up at this big park. While sitting at a park bench there, Paul pulled out his Japanese-English pocket dictionary and asked me to do the same.
He said, "Okay, here's what were going to do. Let's close our eyes and open our dictionaries to a random page. Then, point to a spot on the page. Whatever word is closest to the spot we point will be our Japanese names for each other."
I was game for Paul's suggestion and went along with his idea. I can't remember who went first, but I think it may have been me. I closed my eyes, opened my dictionary, and pointed. Under my left index finger was the word GURERU. Its meaning was "to stray from the right path." Paul went next. Under his finger was the word FUTEKI "daring, fearless, intrepid, bold, tough."
And so those are the Japanese names we still often call each other. I find my own name of Gureru has almost been prophetic of how my own life has unfolded. When I first picked this name--or was it that it picked me--I was a bit disappointed and wanted to have another go at it. However, Paul and I had made a deal. Back then and up to only a few years ago, I thought, "Well, I sure hope that I never stray from the 'right' path, AND aren't I fortunate that I know what 'the' right path is and can help others to find it."
You see I use to believe that there was only "one" right and "most correct" path. When I was in the LTM learning Japanese and preparing for my mission to Japan, I remember once that our teacher said that there was a common saying in Japan that we might hear when introducing Mormonism to the Japanese. The saying was: "All paths lead to the top of Mount Fuji." If confronted by this saying, we were told to reply, "That may be true for Mount Fuji, but what we are offering you is the pathway to heaven." Oh, don't we display such arrogancy and blindness when we think we "know" what's best for others.
I recently wrote a story I entitled "The Parable of the Potluck." Here it is:
THE PARABLE OF THE POTLUCK
(Keith L. Jensen, July 2008)
When I was a kid growing up in Sun River Valley, one of my most pleasant memories is of potluck dinners at the Sun River Valley LDS Church. On a summer evening on the 4th or 24th of July, we would all gather at the Sun River Valley LDS Church. Depending on the weather, tables would either be set up in the cultural hall or outside on the grass. Everyone would bring their favorite dishes to share.
Some were made from family recipes handed down for generations, and others were made from recipes newly discovered. My mom would make her rice pudding that her mother had taught her to make. Bernice Christensen would bring a green jello with pineapple and cottage cheese salad. Aunt Donna would bring her homemade chili, and Aunt Wanda would bring her homemade rolls.
And so it went on and on, everyone would bring the food item that they felt best about and would like to share. With joy, I’d get in line and wait my turn to select the foods of my choice. With plate in hand, I’d begin to make my food selections. My selections would be based on a number of factors. I’d listen to recommendations made by others.
“Oh, you just have to try Sister Feeler’s fried chicken. It’s to die for!”
“Son, you better not have any of Bishop Christensen’s baked beans. Those are only meant for the men here.”
Other selections were based upon memories of dishes from previous years. Sister Vergie Nielsen’s crumb crust deep dish apple pie was always a dish that would get my attention. And then, there were always the selections based upon the sights and smells of the day.
“MmmMmmMmm! What’s that that smells so good? I just have to have some of those scalloped potatoes.”
“That has to be one of the prettiest tossed salads I’ve ever seen. I think I’ll just try a bit of that.”
And so it went. Each person got to select the foods they’d like to eat. There was no one making an announcement that because of their position or calling that they knew what the best or “most right” foods that everyone ought to eat. In fact, the whole joy of the “potluck experience” was that I got to eat just what I wanted and in the portions I liked.
At a potluck dinner the very idea of someone getting up and saying—
“Through much prayer and fasting the brethren have received a revelation on what the proper and healthy potluck diet is. Each of you has been given a list of ‘appropriate foods.’ Please make your selections only from this list. And remember, ‘even though there is meat on this table, as God’s chosen people, you are to partake of none of this’”
—would seem ridiculous and absurd, and I hope few of us would put up with it. If we did, the whole experience of the potluck dinner would have lost much of its appeal as a fun and festive gathering.
And yet this is the very trap that we fall into when it comes to many aspects of our lives such as parenting, religion, and spiritual matters. We have bought into the delusion that someone has a special dispensation from God and that they know what’s best for us. We have lost touch with our own bodies and the messages that they first quietly speak to us and then more loudly and loudly they shout when we are no longer listening. Constantly, God is speaking to each of us, but we have fallen into a sleep of not hearing and not seeing. We have fallen into the trap of believing that there are others who can hear for us and see for us. It all reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew.
“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:13-16)