Shame, Guilt, and the Church: Part 1 – An Introduction

[This is part one of a series that I am doing about the place of shame and guilt in our lives. This is an introduction. I will eventually get to talking about the place of shame and guilt in the church as well. ]

I have a notebook in which I reflect on things about culture, society, and worldviews. It is a compilation of personal thoughts and reflections, as well as notes from various lectures and dialogues I have been a part of. I do this because I am preparing to move to Japan within the next few years. I plan to serve in some kind of helping and advocacy role, whether it be counseling, pastoring, or more of a social work type of role. I’m not going as a white westerner come to fix all of Japan’s problems, but I want to learn how to be a bridge — a culture broker, so to speak. There are aspects of Japanese culture that are absolutely incredible. There are many things that Westerners can learn from their culture. But as in any culture there are also blind spots which inhibit growth and health within their society. And let me reiterate, the same is true for the American culture, as well as any other culture.

Oftentimes we hear cultures dichotomized into “Western” and “Eastern” cultures. And as frequently described, Western cultures come with values of individuality and democracy. With Eastern cultures come the values of honor and shame, and the importance of family. And then once we have neatly categorized these two, we can better compare and contrast.

Living in a modern and post-modern (and post-post modern?) society we like to reflect about ourselves. And when we do, we like to think we have things figured out. Something like a culture or society can be summarized neatly and understood once we have analyzed and precisely labeled things. But I would argue that every culture and society throughout the world is too complex to think we can have it all figured out. It might be nice to think we can. It makes it easier to sound smart and write doctoral dissertations at least.

Reflection is good, don’t get me wrong. (Isn’t that why blogs exist?) But I just don’t like it when we act like we have entire cultures or societies figured out. I dislike thinking that we can pinpoint why people act the way they do. Human beings are incredibly complicated. Put a whole bunch of us together and we become even more complicated. Let’s not be so arrogant as to say or think that we can understand ourselves and why we do what we do. We can postulate as to why things are the way they are, but let’s just try to be honest about what we can really know and what we can hope to understand.

Anyway, as I started off saying, I keep a notebook with various thoughts and notes about culture, society, and worldviews. I like to write down thoughts and questions that help me prepare for the cultural and worldview differences that I’ll experience when I get to Japan. And oftentimes these reflections help me understand that even though value systems might differ in many ways, generally speaking, there is much overlap.

Japanese culture, as well as many Eastern or Asian cultures, is often described as being an “Honor/Shame” culture. American culture is rarely, if ever, described in that way. I would argue that even though white Americans don’t necessarily have the same values, traditions, or expectations surrounding family and their community, it’s not like honor and shame don’t play a significant part into how and why we do what we do.

I think by labeling other cultures as being “honor/shame” oriented we for some reason conclude that we do not operate in the same way. But I think we do also operate in similar ways, but we just don’t talk about it in the same way, or recognize that we do.

I believe we Americans (and when I say we, I am speaking as a white, middle-class American) have a hard time explaining what shame and guilt are. We don’t really understand the differences between what shame and guilt are. This could also be in part because the topic of morality and ethics is so complex. I think when we try and define or describe what shame is, we are often thinking of guilt, and maybe vice-versa.

But just because we can’t define shame and its nuanced differences from guilt doesn’t mean that is we don’t feel shame as Westerners. We do. But we often ignore and overlook the importance of understanding what shame is, and how it impacts us as individuals, as groups of people (such as families or churches), and as a society at large.

So I have taken some notes over time, helping me understand what shame is and how it impacts us. I want to share some of these things, showing how shame differs from guilt, and how Americans, and especially the white American Church, have really dropped the ball on this.

Hello, Goodbye. Goodbye, Hello.

For whatever reason I have consistently been able to say goodbye well. This doesn’t make goodbyes easy to do or say for me, but I have been blessed in being able to end relationships and chapters in my life with healthy closure.

When you grow up in a community where the population is basically 98% white, you really miss out on some of the enhancing elements of other ethnicities and cultures. So when I came in contact with anyone that was different than me, I was instantly intrigued. Perhaps no more so than on the first day of seventh grade when a puffy-haired, quiet Japanese boy walked in late to my first class, Percussion. I don’t believe we had assigned seats at the time, but we were all sitting in two rows of plastic band chairs. There was an empty seat beside me. When he walked in I could tell he was a bit overwhelmed, eyes scattering to and fro. I wanted him to sit next to me. I motioned for him to come sit in the empty chair next to me. His eyes caught mine, noticed the empty chair, and he started over my way.

This Japanese boy would soon become my window into another culture. The Japanese culture. As I helped him with his basic English, he taught me some Japanese words. As it turned out, we also had Home Economics together. We made cookies and even Hungarian Bubble Loafs together. We became friends, and as it turned out he would influence me in some pretty dramatic ways.

In the middle of my freshman year of high school, my Japanese friend told me that he had to go back to Japan. His dad’s company wanted him to go back, and so they had to leave before the school year ended. I was pretty sad about this. He really had become a friend of mine. We had been in marching band and other percussion groups together. I had even started taking Japanese at my high school, as well as some of my other friends who had gotten to know him.

The time eventually came for him to get ready to go back to Japan. A group of friends of mine threw a small party for him. But before he left, I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated him as a friend. I wrote a long letter (like 5-7 pages) reflecting on our friendship and how he had impacted my life. It was my way of accepting that we had to say goodbye. It was my way of honoring my dear friend. Hopefully it meant as much to him as it did to me.

That was really my first goodbye of any real sense. I do remember moving from Omaha, Nebraska to Indianapolis when I was five. We left our families behind and moved into a new chapter of life. But I was five. And all I remember was being excited about moving into a new house and making new friends.

My closest friends from high school I still have not had to say goodbye to. Although we took different college and career paths we have nearly all moved up into the same area together, able to see each other on a fairly regular basis. Of course Facebook has made things easy for keeping up with many people, feeling like you never really have to say goodbye. It’s more of a “see you later.”

The week before I graduated from college I wrote individual letters to every professor I had recounting the classes they taught, and what I took away from their classes. I went around to all their offices and individually thanked them for their impact in my life.

By the end of my senior year in college I had made some close friends. And all of us were going in completely different parts of the world. One moved to central Florida, one to LA, one to France, one to Texas. But we were able to spend the last semester having fun with one another, meeting nearly every friday to hang out and play games.

School is always hard because if you make friends that are older than you, you will have to say goodbye to them sooner than those of your own year. If you make friends that are younger than you, you will have to say goodbye to them before they graduate. So making friends knowing that you will have to say goodbye before you want to can hinder the relationship. But if you know that you only have eight months together, you can either make the decision to take advantage of the precious time that you have, or to stay disengaged. I always try and choose taking advantage of the time I have. It could potentially set me up for be very sad when we have to say goodbye, but I probably would be even more disappointed knowing that I never really took the effort to be a close friend with people because I knew we’d have to say goodbye.

I just graduated from graduate school. I have invested a lot of time and energy into this school and student body. My situation is a bit muddled because I just graduated with my Master of Divinity, but am also continuing with an MA in Counseling. So I am saying goodbye in one sense, but hello in another. I was wondering how I was going to put good closure on this degree because I’ll still be around for another one. I wanted to end well, to close this period of my life cleanly. I didn’t really know how it was going to work. But then, within a few weeks of graduation I was asked to give a testimony of my time here at TEDS in chapel and then I was asked to give the student response of thanks at graduation. And before I knew it I was once again able to give a proclamation of my reflections and thanks to the professors, friends, and mentors that have influenced me so deeply while attending school here. I was able to say goodbye, and to say it well.

In a sense, meeting my Japanese friend was a hello, but it was also the beginning of learning how to say goodbye. In no small part because of this friend, my wife and I and another friend from middle school (who was also in our Home Economics class) will be traveling to Japan to serve as missionaries. I have been there three times, and even got engaged to my wife over there. I didn’t know it at the time, but meeting that friend of mine in seventh grade was really the beginning of saying goodbye to the life I know here in the United States. Hopefully when the time comes, I’ll get to say goodbye well to America and all my friends that I’ll be leaving behind.

Interesting Statistics About Japan

Interesting Statistics About Japan

This is by far not an exhaustive listing of statistics about Japan and the Japanese people. These are stats I find interesting. Most information taken from and CIA World Factbook.


Japan is ranked #10 in population with 126,475,664. (China is #1 with 1,336,718,015)

Japan has a negative growth rate. It is growing at a rate of  -.077% (2012 est.) – ranked #175. (U.S., 0.96%; East Timor, 5.36% – #1)

Japan is ranked #27 (second to last among reporting countries) with 4.6 teen births per 1,000 women. (U.S. is #1 with 52.1)

65% of Japanese live in an urban setting. (U.S. is 80%)

Japan has an average household population of 2.8 people per home – ranked #2. (U.S., 2.6; Ireland – #1 with 3.1)

Japanese couples with children make up 35% of the population – ranked 18%. (U.S. is 25% – #22)

Japan has the world’s largest city (Tokyo) with a population of 35,196,900. (Mexico City is 2nd with 19,411,410)

Projected population growth of Japan by 2050 is predicted to be -20.95% – ranked #135. (Chad +282.1%; U.S. +45.31%)

65% of the elderly live with their children in Japan – ranked #1 (U.S is 15% – ranked #6)

6% of the elderly live in institutions in Japan – (U.S. is also 6%)


Japan is ranked #1 in not being proud of their nationality at 36%. (That’s 17 times more than the U.S. which is 2%)

Japan is ranked #15 in being proud of their nationality at 27%. (U.S. is ranked #1 at 77%. That’s 185% more than Japan.)

Japan’s feelings toward their “undesirable” neighbors:

  • Drug addicts – 91% (Ranked 1st among countries reporting. U.S. #2 at 80%)
  • Political extremists – 82% (Ranked 1st among countries reporting. U.S. #12 at 36%)
  • People with AIDS – 77% (Ranked 2nd – Two times more than the U.S. which is #6 at 26%)
  • Homosexuals – 69% (Ranked 1st among countries reporting. U.S. #4 at 34%)
  • Emotionally unstable people – 62% (Ranked 1st among countries reporting. U.S. #2 at 47%)
  • Heavy Drinkers – 58% (Ranked 5th among countries reporting. U.S. #1 at 61%)
  • Criminal record holder – 50% (Ranked 50% among countries reporting. U.S. #1 at 54)
  • Immigrants – 17% (Ranked 3rd – 70% more than the U.S. which is #9 at 10%)
  • Different race – 11% (Ranked #4 among countries reporting. U.S. #7 at 8%)

40% of Japanese people believe that people can be trusted – ranked #9. (U.S. 44% – #8; Noway 65% – #1)

23% of Japanese people said that they would be willing to fight for their country – last of countries reporting. (U.S. 78% – #5)

Food Stats:

Japan is ranked #25 for alcohol consumption at 7.3 litres per capita. (U.S. is ranked #20 at 8.3 litres per capita.)

Japan is ranked #15 for coffee consumption at 1.4 kgs per person per year. (U.S. is ranked #12 at 3 kgs. 114% more than Japan.)

Japan has 3,598 McDonald’s restaurants. That is #2 in the world. (U.S. is of course #1 at 12,804. Three times more than Japan!)

Japan has 103 Subway restaurants. That’s #9 in the world. (U.S. has 19,467 as of 2006! 188 times more than Japan!)

Japan is ranked #4 of tea consumption. (UK is #1).


Japan is ranked #12 at 1,582 in 2009. (France was #1 at 10,277).

Japan is ranked #28 with 47 murders by firearms in one year. (South Africa is #1 with 31,918. U.S. is #4 3,969.)

Japan reports 39% of crimes to police. (Lowest among reporting countries. New Zealand is #1 with 60%. U.S. is 52%)

Japan is ranked #22 among manslaughters within a year with 193. (Mexico is #1 with 15,996.)


Suicide rate among Japanese is 20.3 per 100,000 people (both men and women) – ranked #2 (Hungary is 22.6 per 100,000).

Suicide rate among Japanese females is 13.7 for every 100,000 people – ranked #1. (U.S. 4.5 per 100,000 – ranked #17)

Suicide rate among Japanese males is 35.8 for every 100,000 people – ranked #2 (U.S. is 17.7 per 100,000 – ranked #17)

Suicide rate among young Japanese males is 10.1 for every 100,000 people – ranked #31. (U.S. is 21.9 per 100,000 – ranked #15)

Suicide rate among young Japanese females is 4.4 for every 100,000 people – ranked #22. (U.S. is 3.8 per 100,000 – ranked #25; Mauritius is 17.7 per 100,000 – #1)

  • Age 15-24 = 8.6 per 100,000 (Ranked #13. New Zealand is #1 with 26.7 per 100,000)
  • Age 25-34 = 14.1 per 100,000 (Ranked #11. Finland is #1 with 33 per 100,000)
  • Age 35-44 = 16.2 per 100,000 (Ranked #9. Finland is #1 with 44 per 100,000)
  • Age 45-54 = 23.7 per 100,000 (Ranked #8. Finland is #1 with 43.4 per 100,000)
  • Age 55-64 = 26.7 per 100,000 (Ranked #7. Finland is #1 with 43.8 per 100,000)
  • Age 65-74 = 23.7 per 100,000 (Ranked #8. Denmark is #1 with 43.9 per 100,000)
  • Age 75+ = 42.3 per 100,000 (Ranked #6. Austria is #1 with 57.1 per 100,000)


The average Japanese man’s first marriage happens at the age of 30 years – ranked #12. (Sweden #1 – 32.9 years – U.S. – 26 years)

The average Japanese woman’s first marriage happens at the age of 27.3 years – ranked #15. (Sweden #1 – 30.4 years; U.S. – 25 years)

Japan has a marriage rate of 5.8 marriages per 1,000 people per year – ranked #19. (U.S. is #1 at 9.8 per 1,000)

Japan has 31.9 divorces for every 100 marriages – ranked #14. (Belgium is #1 with 59.8 divorces per 100 marriages)

Population Distribution:

  • 0-14 years = 14.3% – Ranked #224  (Uganda #1 – 40.1%)
  • 15-64 years = 66.2% – Ranked #90 (Northern Mariana Islands #1 – 78.5%)
  • 65+ = 21.6% – Ranked #2 (Monaco #1 – 22.8%)


21% of Japanese women believe women should have equal rights as men. (Netherlands is #1 at 80%)

82% of Japanese women believe that they are happier now than their Grandmothers were in their time – ranked #1. (U.S. is 28%)

98% of Japanese women believe they are better off than their Grandmothers were in their time – ranked #1. (U.S. – 93%, ranked #4)

59% of Japanese women use contraception – ranked #63. (U.S. – 76% – ranked 18%; Ukraine – 89% – ranked #1)


Japan is ranked #135 among countries with percentage of immigrants with a percentage of 1.05%. (U.S. is #40 with 12.81%)

Japan is ranked #20 with the total number of immigrants with 2,048,000. (U.S. has 38,355,000)

Japan is #80 among countries with immigrants and has 2,020 immigrants. (Iran is #1 with 1,931,300)


GDP for Japan is $4,218,000,000,000 – ranked #4. (U.S. – #2 at $13.06 trillion)

Gross National Income for Japan is $4,520,000,000,000 – ranked #2. (U.S. – #1 – $9.78 trillion)

Import of goods and services as a percentage of GDP – Japan is ranked #155 of 156 at 8%. (Singapore #1 – 161%)

Japan has committed $499,000,000 to their emergency Tsunami fund (from their $601 million committed)

The “Big Mac” index; The cost of the Big Mac in Japan ranks #37 amongst countries, with a cost of $2.19. (U.S. – #8 at $3.15; Iceland #1 at $6.67)

11.8% of the Japanese live at least 50% below the poverty line – ranked #11. (U.S. – #3 at 17%)

Spending per person in Japan is $2,243 – ranked #9. (U.S. is ranked #1 at $4271)

0.8% of Japan’s GDP is given to the military – ranked #137. (U.S. is 4.06% – ranked 26; Oman is #1 at 11.4%)

Japan is ranked #5 for the most expensive gasoline per gallon. (U.S. is ranked #102)


Overall life expectancy is 82.08 years in Japan – ranked #1. (Men = 78.69 – ranked #4; Iceland at 79.2 is ranked #1)

Number of legal abortions in one year – Japan is ranked #4 with 343,024. (U.S. – #2 with 1,210,880; Russia – #1 with 2,766,360)

30.6% of the Japanese are daily smokers – ranked #8. (The U.S. has 17.5% daily smokers – #29; Austria – 36.3% – #1)

3.2% of the Japanese are clinically obese – ranked 29th. (U.S. has 30.6% of the population that are obese – ranked #1)

There are 8.8 automobile deaths for every 100,000 people – #12. (U.S. has 15.5 per 100,000 – ranked #1)

Japan has 2 doctors for every 1000 people – ranked #64. (U.S. has 2.3 per 1000 – ranked #52. San Marino has 47.35 per 1000 – ranked #1)

Japan has 7.8 nurses for every 1000 people – ranked #15 (U.S. has 8.1 per 1000 – ranked #14; Finland has 14.7 – #14.7)


19% of Japan has access to broadband internet – ranked #12. (Denmark has 29.3% access – ranked #1)

On a scale from 1-10 (ten being best) asking about how satisfied they are in life, the Japanese have an average of 6.2 – ranked #34. (U.S. is 7.4 – ranked #11)

There are approximately 95 million cell phone subscribers in Japan – ranked #4. (China has approx. 395 million subscribers)


3% of Japanese attend church (religious service at least once a week) (U.S. attendance is 44%; Nigeria is 89%)

  • Christians: (Broadly defined) 2%
  • Catholic: 509,000
  • Protestant: 509,668
  • Eastern orthodox: 30,000
  • Mormon: 123,000
  • Buddhists: 71.4%
  • Shinto: 83.9%
  • Other: 7.8%
  • Jehovah Witness’s: 218,262

How to pray for Japan

How to pray for Japan

This is from Don Wright of “Reaching Japanese for Christ”

There is an old adage that goes like this, “Well, I guess all that we can do is pray…” I approach prayer quite a bit dif­fer­ently and per­haps so should you. Prayer always comes first – before we can even attempt to do our “lit­tle bit” we should make sure that we have called in the “big guns”. I orig­i­nally wrote this prayer list for the earth­quake in Haiti. If it is help­ful in orga­niz­ing your thoughts feel free to join in and pray with me.

  1. Pray for those in need of res­cue that it will come swiftly.
    There are many who are in need of mir­a­cles. That teams would arrive an hour sooner, that dogs would catch a faint scent amidst the stench of death, that the right piece of con­crete would be moved. For all the train­ing and effort that the coura­geous res­cue teams put in, at this point they need mir­a­cles more than any­thing else.
  2. Pray for the res­cuers – safety, rest, encour­age­ment, in the midst of hor­ror and unre­lent­ing pain.
    The job that the res­cue teams face is com­pletely over­whelm­ing and they will fail many more times than they will suc­ceed. Res­cue teams suf­fer great per­sonal trauma and often become sui­ci­dal months after an event. Pray for these coura­geous men and women now and after they return.
  3. Pray for fam­i­lies that have wit­nessed the unthink­able, are wor­ried about loved ones, and fear­ful for their own safety.
    For every per­son who is miss­ing, dead or severely injured in the quake, there are ten more who care about them and find them­selves unable to do any­thing about it. Pray that emo­tional needs would receive atten­tion amidst all of the phys­i­cal needs.
  4. Pray for chil­dren who need com­fort and safety, hugs and reas­sur­ance – even if they are phys­i­cally “fine.”
    Chil­dren are the most vul­ner­a­ble amidst the after­math of a dis­as­ter. Every child whose world has been dis­rupted, seen the death of another per­son or lost friends or fam­ily is in need of emo­tional care, even if they have not suf­fered phys­i­cal harm themselves.
  5. Pray for gov­ern­ments and author­i­ties that all red tape would dis­ap­pear and cor­rup­tion would cease.
    Inter­na­tional relief efforts are often ham­pered by red tape and gov­ern­ments can find get­ting relief to local areas dif­fi­cult because of cor­rup­tion. Pray for aid to go unhin­dered to the peo­ple that need it most.
  6. Pray for relief agen­cies to have wis­dom and com­pas­sion to make a last­ing dif­fer­ence.
    The earth­quake is a great oppor­tu­nity to make for­ward progress. But long last­ing change will come through coura­geous and wise deci­sions that deal with the source of problems.
  7. Pray for those around you that they would respond not just with what they can do, but also with their heart.
    The temp­ta­tion that we all have is to give a small dona­tion and call it the best that we can do. We all have many rea­sons why we can­not give more. Pray that hearts would be moved and that peo­ple would be truly gen­er­ous. For those of us using social media like Face­book or Twit­ter, this means that we should get involved, make con­nec­tions and let it be personal.
  8. Pray for your­self that you would have a heart of com­pas­sion – start now and it will grow. A true heart of com­pas­sion is not just ready to give when the need arises. A true heart of com­pas­sion seeks out ways to help even when no one else notices that there is suf­fer­ing. A true heart of com­pas­sion will allow itself to continue car­ing long after the world has lost interest.
      Once you fin­ish pray­ing, ask your­self two ques­tions.


      • How can I become per­son­ally involved with help­ing the peo­ple?


      • How can I finan­cially sup­port some­one who is per­son­ally involved?

It is impor­tant in the early stages of a dis­as­ter to fill up the cof­fers of those orga­ni­za­tions that do res­cue and relief work. They will use that money to stay ready for the next dis­as­ter that comes. But in the age of Twit­ter and Face­book, find some­one who is giv­ing their time, energy and life to help those who are suf­fer­ing and give gen­er­ously or become that per­son and give your heart to those who need it most.


The Mission Field: Need v. Call

Last night I ate dinner with a man and his wife from my local church who were  missionaries in Nigeria for over twenty years. They now serve with Overseas Council overseeing seminaries and Bible colleges. Throughout our discussion of our lives we discussed missions in general. As I listened to him discuss his involvement in missions across the world, I thought about the great differences in the spectrum of the various mission fields. The mission field is so needy. The laborers are in such need all around the world. But every area is unique from one another. He discussed how the needs in Nigeria were to keep up with the fast growth of Christianity. He discussed that there really are not enough trained leaders to give the Nigerians more depth to their faith. Many Nigerians are swept away with other false doctrines because of their shallow faith. As I sat and listened to him describe this my heart went out to this country. Oh how I wish I could help prevent wolves from stealing away God’s sheep. Oh how I want to get involved. What a need there is in Nigeria.

But then I remember the country of Japan. A country which lives without ever thinking of Jehovah God. A country hard to the working of God. It’s at the complete opposite side of the spectrum. While Nigeria has in essence too many believers to disciple, Japan many times lacks enough believers to even have church services. Where is the greater need? What about places like the jungles of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea? There are people groups begging for missionaries. Places like Japan ignore Christianity. A missionary can go years without one convert. Is it a waste then for me to go to Japan when there are people groups and tribes and nations who would long for me to come to them? It would seem this way from a simple pragmatic standpoint, but we’re forgetting a major element of missions: God’s call.

There is a difference between need and call. In our eyes it would seem that the places begging for missionaries should be the first place I would go. And a part of me wants to help them out as much as possible. There is something bigger than need, and that is God’s will. God does indeed will that all men come unto the knowledge of the truth. And the truth has been placed in our hands to give to the world. If there are people who are desiring to have a missionary, then someone needs to obey God’s call to go there. But I know that I have been called to Japan. Therefore there is no better place for me to go than to Japan. For there is no safer, nor better place to be than in the middle of God’s will.

From a human standpoint it would seemingly make sense for me to go where I am seemingly needed the greatest. But God knows and sees the whole picture. Japan needs someone who is called to them. That is where I fit in. Who greater needs God than a country that does not even think about Him? Someone needs to tell them about Jesus Christ. God loves all people equally. If people are not hearing about the Gospel, it is not God’s fault. It is our own. Indeed it is true, we have no right to hear the Gospel twice while their remains those who have not heard it once.