Friday, November 30, 2007

Cleansing the Shinto Shrine

I was very impressed with the wonderful spirit I found at the Japanese Shinto Shrine located far up on the hillside of Carolinas Heights. The location and design of the shrine truly enhanced the experience. Unfortunately, during a recent storm, a large tree fell across the steps leading to the shrine, completely blocking access to the upper shrine (at least without some effort climbing around the tree). I had determined to return at some time to remove the tree and clean up the site.

A good friend, Ben Manglona--who is also our landlord--loaned me a tree saw so that I could attempt to clear the tree from the steps. He said it was a Japanese saw, and instructed me on its proper use:

It seems that American saws cut both ways--both pushing and pulling.
Japanese saws cut only one way--pulling.

So I was to take care to push lightly with the saw, and cut while pulling back. This seemed like a good way to protect the saw blade: by pulling while cutting, there is no risk of bending the saw blade.

I found it somehow appropriate to use a Japanese saw while working at the Japanese shrine. I wanted to make sure that I showed respect for the shrine, for the Japanese people who built the shrine, for those who might travel to worship there, and, of course, the ancestors this shrine was built to honor.

It might seem strange for someone like me--one who is a very strong Christian and a Mormon--to have 'spiritual' feelings about a Japanese shrine. It stems from the teachings of my Mormon faith. We believe in honoring and respecting the beliefs of all people. We believe that God is just and rewards all men and women based upon their actions in this life: if they are good, they will be blessed, if they are bad, they will have negative consequences in this life and lose rewards in the life after this. We do NOT believe that we will be the only ones that will receive a reward or find ourselves living with God in heaven! The idea that there is some 'exclusive club', or group of God's children, who have the opportunity to return to God and live is preposterous. God loves all His children equally, and will equally bless any of His children on earth who live good lives.

Now, don't get me wrong...I believe that we have a true Prophet leading our church who receives direct inspiration and direction from God; and because of that inspiration and direction--from the time of Joseph Smith until now--the Mormon church has received a great deal of additional knowledge concerning the doctrine and ordinances of Jesus Christ than any other religion on earth. But that increased knowledge does not diminish or take away the knowledge and truth that other religions already have! It simply enhances and increases that knowledge. We believe that latter-day revelation does not prevent or exclude people in other religions from leading good lives and receiving blessings, or even getting to heaven--it simply gives us additional information and tools to help us in this life to prepare to meet God and to prepare for the life after this.

Perhaps our greatest admonition as members of the Mormon faith is to find ways to bless others--in any way we can. If we can help people in a temporal way, we do so. If we can help people in a spiritual way, we do so.

On the temporal side, the Mormon church is known throughout the world for its wide ranging charitable work. For example, Terri's parents, the Hopkins, spent four years on humanitarian missions in Hong Kong and Mongolia. Their main job was to distribute goods and services, provided by the Mormon church, to people in need. They would receive semi-trailers of goods (clothes, blankets, medical equipment, wheel chairs,etc.), and then be responsible to distribute these items to Mongolian schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc.

For those interested in the Hopkins' work in Mongolia, they have written a book that is available at, called: "Mongolia:the circle in the clouds"

On the spiritual side, everyone knows about the Mormon missionaries! Young men between the ages of 19 and 25 are sent around the world for two years to teach people about the doctrines of the church. They pay their own way, and spend a large part of their time doing service and teaching.

So, long story short, I felt motivated to pay my respects to the Japanese people and the island of Tinian. The wonderful spirit I felt while visiting the Shinto shrine was worth the effort! Hopefully my actions of simply removing a fallen tree and cleaning the steps of the shrine will bless those who visit the shrine. Besides, I personally need all the blessings I can get! I can only hope that the ancestors of those who died on this island will look favorably upon myself and my family while we make Tinian our home.


Alexander said...

Hi guys,

I just read this post and the most recent two, what strange coincidences we seem to share. I am currently in Japan on a spiritual pilgrimage/retreat and my wife is still in the States. Its the longest we have been apart as well, and our anniversary is just a few days earlier than yours (though we have only been married 2 years) Today, before I even found your blog, I was sweeping some neglected temple steps, just wanting to do something nice, just as you did. I read about your views as a Mormon about other faiths, what a great post! I never realized that your faith allowed for other faiths to be right too, but without compromising your own. I am a Unitarian, and sometimes I long for the tolerance and yet firm structure your faith allows. So thank you for sharing that post, it really made my day.

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