May 28, 2024

In this episode, Kurt speaks with Ken Shigematsu on spiritual disciplines for soul renewal.

Listen to “Episode 108: Soul Renewal” on Spreaker.

Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be back in the saddle here after a week off. Last week’s episode was on the teleological argument or the argument from design. Filling in for me was my friend and a frequent contributor to the podcast, David Montoya. He interviewed Allen Hainline and they talked about the design argument and some of the details and maybe for some of you, that was a little bit over your head, but that’s okay. It’s good to be challenged and stretched in our thinking and so that makes today’s episode all the much more better for ways we can have soul renewal in our lives and so whether it’s from last week’s episode or just life’s circumstances, I hope that you’ll stick with us through this episode today as we talk about very practical ways that we can be refreshed in our lives. I know it’s something for me that I’ve certainly been needing. I’ve just been running myself into the ground with various projects and such so I’m looking forward to learning from our guests today. Before we jump into that though, we have a couple of announcements. First, I want to talk about the Defenders Conference coming up September 28-29 in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, the Western suburbs of Chicago here and it’s going to be a stellar event. We’ve got four different perspectives on the supposed genocide commands in the Old Testament where YHWH instructs the Israelites to kill the women and even the children. How are we as Christians to understand and interpret YHWH’s instructions or really the biblical passages there? It’s complicated if we believe that God is all-loving, why would He do that? We’ve got four different perspectives that will be conversing, presenting their views, and I’m sure that panel’s discussion going to be heated, a heated good cordial discussion, of course. We’ve got all of them Drs. Paul Copan, John Walton, Kenton Sparks, and Clay Jones. Very much looking forward to interviewing each and every one of them. At the end of their presentations I’ll be asking them questions. We would love for you to join us. This is the type of event people are going to be coming in from across the nation. I just heard someone from Oklahoma is actually going to bringing he and his wife to attend to the event. It’s really going to be a lot of fun. Of course, there are breakout sessions so you can come and learn about different apologetic events. Ted Wright, our friend, he’s going to be coming to speak. It’s just going to be a great weekend here in Chicago and hope you can join us. 

Secondly, we are grateful for the patrons, the folks that chip in just a few bucks a month that we have and I want to put out a request there for further funds because we’re trying to get Veracity Hill on the radio. We would love to move our podcast into homes through the radio. We’re looking at a radio station here in Chicago to make that happen. We would love to get your monthly recurring support. If it’s just a few of you that are chipping in, we can get there. I hope that you’ll consider supporting this program and so that way we can continue to grow our impact and our influence with those that are on a regular basis coming to learn more about different issues from the Christian worldview. 

Alright, on today’s program we’re talking about Soul Renewal or as our author’s put it, A Survival Guide for the Soul. Ken Shigematsu is the senior pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. That’s Canada for those whose geography is not all that well and he’s got one of the largest and most diverse city-center churches there in Canada. Ken. Thank you so much for coming on our program today.

Ken: Thanks, Kurt. It’s a real pleasure to be with you and your friends.

Kurt: Thank you. The Survival Guide for the Soul. Before we jump into the details and what you’ve written about, tell me, usually when someone’s got a desire or calling to write a book, they see sort of a need for it. For you, what did you think your need was for making this contribution for the Christian community?

Ken: Yeah. Thanks, Kurt, for asking. It really arises out of my own life. I’m originally from Japan and when I was in my 20’s I was what they call the 7-11 man. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that term. It didn’t mean I was always going to 7-11 to buy Slurpees. It meant that my workday went from 7 in the morning to past 11 at night and so life was pretty crazy. When I eventually became a pastor here in Vancouver, I thought my life would finally settle down, but I came through a church that had cycled through twenty pastors in twenty years. The church had gone from over 1,000 to 100-something, and one of my first days here, the secretary walks into my office and says, “Ken, if the ship sinks now”, meaning the church, “Everyone will blame you because you were the last captain of the ship.” Even as a pastor, I felt a lot of pressure to succeed and produce and I think a lot of our listeners and friends may say, “I understand intellectually that God loves me”, but many of us continue to base our self-worth on our success or our intellect. Can we understand the teleological argument or even pronounce it or our well-being on how others view us and so I wrote Survival Guide for the Soul as a kind of personal letter to myself and to others who want to experience in fresh ways a sense that we’re loved by God independent of what we do or how we perform. 

Kurt: You’ve already gotten into some of the things I want to touch on. You talked about this desire, the pressure to succeed. This is part of what you’ve called the two Adams. We’ve got two Adams in every soul. In Saint Paul’s theology in the Bible, he contrasts the way of Adam with the way of Christ and theologians throughout the centuries have referred to Christ as the second Adam or the last Adam. In your book, you take that archetype and you apply it into the battle between our flesh and spirit. Could you help us, and you do so in a very helpful way, so could you tell us more about what you mean, how there are two Adams in every soul?

Ken: Sure. I’m actually drawing that metaphor from Genesis as opposed to the writings of Paul though I’m a huge admirer obviously of Paul and I’m also getting the insight from a rabbi named Joseph Soloveitchik. He made the observation that if we look at the Bible and Genesis 1, we see a certain persona of Adam. This Adam is ambitious. He’s called to fill the Earth and subdue it. I call this ambitious Adam “Striving Adam”, but when we turn the page to Genesis 2 we seem to see a different side of Adam. This Adam is lonely until Eve appears, yearns for connection with God, is called into a garden to humbly serve it, and I call this other Adam, “Soulful Adam.” Within each of us, Kurt. Within you, you’ve got this Ambitious Kurt that wants to get things done. That’s a very good thing done, but you also have a Soulful Kurt that wants to connect with the most important people in your life, with God, and because this spotlight is so much especially in a place like Chicago or the United States, is so much on the Striving Adam or the Striving Kurt or the Striving Karen, I’ve written a book that helps us cultivate the Soulful Kurt or the Soulful Karen, so that we honor our relationship with God and cultivate the most important relationships with people in our lives.

Kurt: It seems that not a lot of people have trouble learning more how to be that Striving Adam. There are ample books on how to be more efficient with your time and how to do all these sorts of things, but there aren’t as many books there on, as you’ve called, the Soulful Adam, the one where we need to really look at who we are and how to remain healthy, spiritually, and so for that, you go into various spiritual practices and so on today’s program, when we sort of announced what today’s episode would be on, I said these are very practical things, practical steps we can do, for our soul, and so most of our shows Ken, are on these intellectual issues and every now and then we’ll have a very applicable, a show where we can apply a lot of what we’re learning. This is one of those shows, one of episodes. You have numerous suggestions on ways in which we can refresh our soul and live a healthy lifestyle in our relationship with God, so tell us about some of these spiritual practices that you have in mind.

Ken: For one, Kurt, I’m a very easily distracted person, so at any given time I can feel like there are 1,023 chimpanzees jumping around in my head. Even as I started this conversation with you, I thought it was audio and then you said it’s actually video and I thought, “Am I too casually dressed? Should I comb my hair?” Even stuff like that can get me thrown off a little bit, and so given how easily distracted how I am I find it really helpful at some point in the morning to simply take some time of sit and breathe deeply in and our of my nose. Breathe in. Breathe out. But then I start to think, how much time has gone by anyway? I’ll reach out for my phone, not to check my text messages, but to open up a free app called centering prayer and I’ll set a timer to maybe 20 minutes. I’m not thinking about the time. I’ll continue to breathe deeply. Kurt, I’m not sure if you can hear that…

Kurt: We heard it. Yeah.

Ken: A bell. A chime just went off and this app calls me to pray as though I was in a monastery and a bell were summoning me to pray. Just continue to breathe deeply, in and out of my nose, and then I start to think about all the things I ought to be doing on my to-do list. I may reach for my Bible and turn to a passage or maybe just draw on a passage that I’m familiar with like Psalm 46 and every time my mind is distracted, I’ll repeat the passage or the phrase, “Be still and know that God is God.” Distracted. Again. Breathe deeply. Repeat the phrase, “Be still and know that God is God.” Kurt. I live near the water like you. It sounds like you’re nearer, like Michigan there in the Chicago area. I live near the Pacific ocean here in Vancouver and I love to be on the water kayaking or sailing. I don’t own a sailboat, but I have friends who do. I’ve been out on the water when I’ve seen salmon jumping out of the ocean at a 45-degree angle. I’ve seen pods of dolphins on rare occasions, even whales, and sometimes when I’m simply sitting, I feel like I am being upheld by this mysterious beauty that upholds the whole world, but at other times when I’m on the water, I’ll see an empty garbage battle, maybe an empty coke bottle, maybe some debris, maybe a thing of oil, and sometime when I’m meditating, anxiety will rise up in my spirit, maybe some resentment or anger, maybe some feeling of envy, and I just lift those up to the Lord and I feel cleansed and purged of them. When I’ve done my meditation, it’s usually not very dramatic while I’m meditating, but I just feel a little bit more relaxed, a bit more focused, and throughout the day a bit more aware of Jesus. Some people think that meditation is very self-indulgent, navel-gazing, but the neuroscience shows that if a person meditates for as little as twenty minutes a day for six weeks and then a disabled person walks into the room, the person who’s been meditating will be 100 times more likely to respond to that person. Kurt, you were recently in a conversation with someone who’s this expert debater and you had mentioned isn’t it a temptation for you to hate the person or just get into a fight with that person. If you meditate, I know a lot of my sisters, want to defend the faith, you’re going to become more empathetic and more compassionate and your mind is going to work better because this neuroscience shows that like physical exercise, meditation actually helps to improve your mind, your recall, and so forth.

Kurt: That’s a great point and I know some Christians are, they’re wary of meditation, but Ken, I don’t know if you know this, but I actually, my PhD research is studying the theology of some monks so, of course, some of my research has been to learn about what it meant to be a monk, what did monks do, what was their garb? These details are written down. What was their lifestyle like? You talk about that bell. Some people might be put off by that, but no, this is something that Christians have done, some Christians have done, for centuries, and it’s a great reminder for us to pause, make sure everything, freeze everything in our minds, things can wait, and just be still, so it’s very good and it’s something I need to do in my life more so, my wife will tell you. That’s great and something people should not be wary of doing, meditation. Of course, we do other spiritual practices. Another one that you mentioned was the Sabbath. Resting on the Sabbath. Tell us more about that and how that’s a spiritual practice.

Ken: One of the things that the Sabbath does is it simply reminds us that our value as I mentioned earlier doesn’t come from what we produce or how we perform, but from the simple fact that we are cherished as daughters and sons of a perfect Father who adores us. We’ve got a young son who just turned ten. Joey’s not very productive. He likes to play with his legos, doesn’t like to clean up, he doesn’t earn any money, doesn’t add anything to our household economy, but we love Joey, not because he’s productive, not because he earns money or doesn’t earn money, but simply because he’s alive and breathing, because he’s our son, and when we stop doing our productive work in terms of the stuff related to our job on the Sabbath, unplug from work-related emails and text messages, we’re reminded that we have value not because of our output, but from the sheer fact that we are cherished by a father who absolutely is stunned by the fact that we are his children. 

Kurt: The Sabbath rest provides us ourselves an opportunity to reflect on those truths and to have them marinate in our soul. I like that cooking concept of marinating. For someone who thinks more analytically, truths need to be applied and one way to apply them is to let them just sift into your soul and then you can begin to really work it out, act it out, that’s when someone’s really understood and acts upon those truths. I might be bouncing around a little bit here from some of the things you’ve talked about. I want to go back maybe a little bit to meditation, because I love some of these sort of subtitles for your chapters that you have. Meditation: The Listening to the Music of Heaven. If it’s on that beach, and you’re just listening to the sound of what’s going on, there’s something very soothing to that, so just a couple of weeks ago my family was at Niagara Falls traveling, and my wife was ready to go. She knows who I am. I like to, when we’re ready to go, I say, “Give me one more minute.” I stand there and I take it in and in a case like that, it’s a very beautiful majestic picture. Sometimes it’s not always a beautiful, majestic picture. Last week I was at Lake Geneva youth camp where I grew up and I just wanted to take a minute to soak it all in and how meaningful it was, the various experiences I’ve had through the years. Maybe it’s taking that time in our lives, setting aside from that time, even if it’s five minutes here or there or it’s a designated twenty minutes every morning to meditate and to reflect on those experiences and to think about what great blessings we have and who God is. That can be very helpful for our souls. Okay. Gratitude. Savoring God’s Gifts. How can reflecting on those things be helpful for us?

Ken: Yes. In the morning I begin with some meditation and in the evening, I will engage in this simple gratitude exercise that’s been around for at least 500 years introduced to us by St. Ignatius of Loyola. For him, the new technology wasn’t the latest iphone, but it was the printing press, in his day at least. In the evening I open a free app called the reimagine the examined. It leads me to look back over the day, the last 24 hours or so, and to imagine the day and to give thanks for two or three blessings. For example, as I did this last night, one of the things that I gave thanks was the opportunity to begin the day with a swim in an outdoor pool. It’s pretty warm in Vancouver. I gave thanks. Some friends dropped off some raw prawns that they had just caught and I’m Japanese so I like raw fish. It’s really delicious. I had a chance to savor that. This may seem, Kurt, like a ridiculously simple exercise, but it will actually change the way you move through the word. Shawn Achor’s a psychologist who teaches at Harvard and he says that if you will spend five minutes a day recounting things that you are thankful for, specific things, two or three days, you’ll start to notice more of the good things coming into your life. So for example, my colleague just[NP1]  down the hall, she’s in the market for a new Austin Cooper Mini and so when she’s out on the road, she sees more Austin Mini Coopers. It’s not as if People are saying. Hey, is[NP2]  on the fence. Let’s flood her neighborhood with these little cars. She’s just primed to think about them and notice them and so it is when we engage in a simple thanksgiving exercise, it’s not like more good things come necessarily into our lives, but we notice them more, and when we associate those good things with God’s gift to us, we become more appreciative and aware of His great love for us and it’s not a waste of time, that five minutes, from a very practical point of view either. The studies show that if you engage in a simple Thanksgiving exercise, your energy will spike and your happiness will spike about 25%. It will change the way you experience life.

Kurt: The car phenomenon is surely absolutely true. Just a few months ago we upgraded to a minivan. The Chrsyler Pacifica was the car we purchased. All of a sudden, as you’re researching what cars and you pick the one, all of a sudden you see all the Chrysler Pacificas on the road. You didn’t see them before, even though they’re all there, but you’re right, you become more aware and attentive to your surroundings and in that same way when we think about the things we should be grateful for, we see more of those things, and if I could relate it to sort of the apologetic field too, I’ve noticed, I know some people who are skeptics and are not believers and interestingly enough, or even I know some people who believe God exists, but they don’t really bear fruit in their lives. I think something like this could be a very helpful exercise for those people to have those truths marinate as I mentioned before because if God is the creator of the universe, what does that mean for who you are and the things that you have? You didn’t have to have these things, but you do, and therefore we should show gratefulness, we should show gratitude to the creator God, and maybe when I hope some of those skeptics or some of those folks that believe those truths but haven’t, say, assented to them yet, maybe the gratitude will get them there and will lead them to accepting the truths of Christianity or just in general more gratefulness to who, in fact, God is, and making the creator their God. Yeah. Definitely some application for gratitude in our lives. It really helps to put, especially on social media, people talk about first world problems. Having a sense of gratitude can really help us understand. I had to wait in line 10 minutes for this crazy cup of coffee that I can’t even pronounce and I don’t even know what’s in it? It can help people realize there are things we should be grateful and there are things other people don’t have that would bring empathy in our lives and really we begin to exemplify and act out Christlike characteristics. Okay. Simple abundance. We live in first-world economies. Resources are abundant. Material goods are abundant. Sometimes to a fault for people though, huh? And maybe we need to think about just simple things in life, how, I know you wrote about how some people think more material goods will lead to higher sense of happiness, but that’s not the case. It’s only maybe a base level of goods that would get us there, but that would become unsatisfied after that level. Talk to us about simple abundance.

Ken: Sure. I was flying out to Manila the Philippines, from Vancouver on one of these Red Eye flights, and around midnight, I unexpectedly got upgraded, so I was really excited, came wide awake, and I walk into the business class cabin, and this flight attendant named Maria, I remember her name. I was pretty moved by getting upgraded.

Kurt: Who wouldn’t be on a Red Eye across the Pacific?

Ken: She brings me a menu and I open it up and I’m like, “Am I in a fancy restaurant?” There were beef tenderloin, a papaya, salad, and I ordered the entree and then I thought, “But I’ve already had dinner.” It’s close to midnight and I invited to Maria over and said “Maria. Thanks. This dinner looks amazing, but I’m already full. I’ve had dinner. I’m just going to pass. I’m just going to sleep.” When we’ve full, when we’ve had a meal. It’s not like we’re not drawn to food or maybe a dessert, but we don’t crave food in the same way that we do when we’re famished or hungry and in the same way, when our souls are filled with a sense of God’s love, filled with a sense of His presence, we don’t pine after material possessions in the same way that we would if we were lacking something significant inside us and so if we have more to live for, we need less to live on. We obviously need a certain baseline as you just mentioned to live in a place like Chicago or wherever, Vancouver, but when we have more to live for in terms of God’s purposes for our life, we need less to live on and therefore we’re able to live and give more generously. Just yesterday, Kurt, I was thinking, I’m a trustee of World Vision and I went to Tanzania this past year. I also went to India and I met kids that lived in abject poverty but they’re a lot happier than I am, just filled with joy and I thought about why and it’s because they live in cultures that celebrate giving in generosity. They don’t have much, but what they have, they give, and the neuroscience shows that when you give, the pleasure center in your brain, the same area that lights up when you eat or have sex, lights up when you give, and so I’m a pastor, I’ve got a day job, and so 100% of all the royalty money from this book, Survival Guide for the Soul, will go to missions like World Vision that work with vulnerable children, no sacrifice on my part. I’ve got a day job. We were able to give about $300,000 of gifts from my first book I fairly recently[NP3]  and it was a joy to do. No sacrifice. I’ve got a day job. If folks can find ways to live simply, there’s less clutter between them and God, they’ll connect more deeply with the one who loves them most, and if they meditate and interact with a generous God and they become more generous, they’ll live with more joy.

Kurt: So what you’re saying is there is a scientific phenomenon in our brain where when people give money it activates the pleasure center and for that reason people should donate to Veracity Hill.

Ken: I was about to say that. You didn’t even bribe me, but Kurt and his colleagues are doing a good thing here at Veracity Hill. You’ll feel good. God will smile. God smiles on you either way, but something will go off in your brain that God has created.

Kurt: Great. Funny. Sorry for taking that little tangent there. We’ve got to come to a break here, Ken. For those that are tuning in with us, we’re talking about soul renewal if you will or survival for some, practical steps you can take to become more like Christ, to have some of these truths that we know and we think about, marinate in our lives, and how it applies and lead us to be more Christlike in our day to day activities and how we think about others and just our temperament and our attitude and our approach. When we come back, we’ve got more spiritual practices that we’re going to be talking about, but stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.

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Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’d like to learn how you can become a sponsor, if you’ve got a ministry or organization or business that you’d like to have showcased on our program, you can go to our website, and click on that patron tab. Now, today i’m joined by Ken Shigematsu, he is the senior pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is one of the largest and most diverse city center churches in Canada. We’re talking about spiritual disciplines, ways in which we can take a hands-on approach to renewing our soul and to connect with God and to have these truths marinate in our lives. Ken. I know I didn’t give you a heads-up, but we do a program on the show called Rapid Questions where we ask some fun questions about who you are, things you like, that sort of thing. I hope you won’t mind here. We’ve got sixty seconds on the game clock and the goal is to answer as many of these questions as you can. I will start the game clock and we will get rolling.

What is your clothing store of choice?

Ken: Uniqlo clothes. It was originally founded in Japan, but they’ve got their first store that opened up here a little while. I guess you should be short answers.

Kurt: Taco Bell of KFC?

Ken: Taco Bell.

Kurt: Where would you like to live?

Ken: Vancouver.

Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?

Ken: Sport is basketball.

Kurt; What’s your most hated sports franchise?

Ken: Most hated sports franchise. Probably the Boston Bruins.

Kurt: What’s your favorite movie?

Ken: Favorite movie is, a little embarrassed to say this, It’s A Wonderful Life, the Christmas movie.

Kurt: Nice. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?

Ken: No.

Kurt: Pick a fictional character whom you’d like to meet?

Ken: Alyosha from The Brothers Karamazov.

Kurt: What celebrity are you most like?

Ken: I don’t think I’m most like this celebrity, but the one I’d most like to meet is probably the Pope.

Kurt; The Pope. Nice.

Ken: Pope Francis. I don’t think I’m like him necessarily, but I admire some of the things he’s done.

Kurt: Sure. Sure. You’d like to meet him. I’d like to ask him, I know the Catholic church has recently, they had the catechism change on capital punishment, so that’s caused some internal turmoil amongst devout Catholics. Interested to follow that debate along a little bit. I haven’t looked at the issue all that much, myself. I just know there have been some folks that I follow, some Catholic thinkers, that are saying, “Right a second. Hang on. Wait.” Interesting. Your favorite sport’s basketball. That’s my favorite sport to play. Do you play basketball? Do you just watch it?

Ken: I did. I played competitively through high school and at college, I just played intramurals. I still have some weak knees. I didn’t have many arrows in my quiver, but the one thing I could do is drive and get fouled and so I had a habit of landing on peoples’ legs and twisting my ankle. I still have crunched ligaments and so I have to be careful when I run.

Kurt: Hopefully you were a good free throw shooter then.

Ken: Yeah. I worked on it and I wasn’t officially meditated, but when I shot the ball it was pretty challenging and then I took a deep breath, a meditated breath, that would relax me a bit. Not a great free throw shooter…

Kurt: But you got in that rhythm.

Ken: But I got in that rhythm and meditation and the breathing helped.

Kurt: Nice. During the break, I was thinking about the simple abundance. I was quickly looking up an article that I had read in the past about my generation. It’s predicted we’ll have less financially than the previous generation. Whether that’s true perhaps remains to be seen and lots of other factors that could affect that, but this comes from, their money department or section. Millennials are also widely predicted to become the first generation in U.S. History to do worse than their parents financially. That’s interesting and I think a good warning to people to simply start practicing simple abundance. I can see it in my own life. I know people, they’ve got folks that have lots of material goods, sometimes these goods are no longer put to use, so perhaps the less goods we have, the better it would be that say we don’t become attached to these goods and attached to the goods we can’t afford either. So that simple abundance lifestyle and way of thinking can prepare us for the future, at least some of us in my generation.

Ken: If I can just interject for a minute, Kurt. Especially to younger folks, people in your generation, Christianity and Eastern religions as I point out in the book, they both teach that money and material possessions can bring a certain level of happiness, but only the lowest rung. The higher levels of happiness come from generativity, that’s what you’re about Kurt, and from surrendering to an infinite love. Whether our friends and listeners become wealthy in a material sense or not, they can experience great joy by experiencing the love of God and living for a cause bigger than themselves.

Kurt: That’s great. Talk to us about servanthood. At the church I grew up, I recall a lot of people chipping in, volunteering, whole Sunday programs, volunteering, and the church I go to now you get that, but somewhere along the way, it began to shift, at least in my perception, that people went from volunteering to, “Hey. Can I get paid for this?” There was sort of a shift in what I perceived as the ethos from volunteer supported church ministries to paid church staff which would help do the work and then oversee people doing things. How important is servanthood for spiritual practice?

Ken: Just to comment on what you just mentioned, there are social science studies that show that if you’re paid to do something that could be voluntary and then you’re no longer paid, you lose the joy in that activity, whereas if you’re just a pure volunteer, then there’s a joy that you get when you’re not paid. For example, I occasionally do weddings, we have a large staff here. I know that young couples usually have big expenses around their weddings so I insist in not being paid. Sometimes people will give me a gift certificate for a restaurant. I don’t ask for that, but there is a joy in just offering my services to officiate at a wedding as a pure gift, that I don’t get if I’m paid to do something. I’m from Japan, Kurt, as I mentioned earlier, and my wife and I the other day at breakfast, were talking about this physician that was renowned across Japan that died fairly recently and he continued to offer medical care until he was 105. Not kidding. 105. He’s the son of a pastor, a devout Christian, but when he was 59 years old, he was taken hostage by a terrorist group in Japan, exported, taken as hostage to North Korea, thought he would die, and miraculously, he was freed, and although he was already a Christian, he had just a profound sense that his life was a gift. That his existence was grace. That he began to serve others around him in really generous ways, continue to practice medicine, and finally as a volunteer until the age 105 when he died and he would crisscross the country and talk to elementary schools, to senior citizens, and everyone in between and he would say the secret to a flourishing and joyful and fulfilled life is giving, it’s service, it’s taking your time. He was a scientist so he thought in terms of time and linear, to give your most precious commodity, your time, for others. Jesus was right. It is more blessed than give and receive. We find our life by giving it away.

Kurt: Some of the ways we can give is not just money.

Ken: Exactly.

Kurt: It’s two different phenomena to give one’s money can help cover financial obligations, but to give one’s time, that’s a different experience. It’s one thing to pay people to do a job. It’s another to do the job yourself. I think here about like healthcare. You can, and this might be like an older type of example, but you could pay someone to care and to nurture for someone who’s on their deathbed or let me use a contemporary example. It’s one thing to care people to care for your aging parents in a retirement home. It’s another thing to have your parents live at home with you and to watch their health decline. I know when I grew up, my grandfather came to live in our home as he was dying. He refused to do the retirement home thing, but I’ll tell you what, I had some conversations I never had had with my grandfather when he moved in and I learned more about life, about who he was, and I appreciated seeing him and seeing what it was like for a human to come to death’s door and to die. That’s a whole different experience, so when you give your time, when you give your energy, that’s a different thing than just giving your money. To be a servant seems like it covers more the giving of the time and energy, more than just giving financially. Maybe we should think about ways we can serve in our Christian churches, in our communities, non-profits, even our neighbor, how about our neighbor who might need our help clearing his gutters or something like that? Those are ways we can help and serve and love others. Friendship is another spiritual discipline. I know some people that they don’t have many friends and not that number is a value, but the quality, some people can be very isolated and not have any quality relationships either. Talk to us about friendship.

Ken: Social scientists talk about the fact that we have these things called mirror neurons. Kurt, if you’re at a party and you’re talking to someone and you reach into the bowl for some chips, you’re more likely to reach into the bowl and mimic them and eat some chips yourself or if you’re laughing as you’re just doing, our listeners are more likely to laugh or at least smile. Our emotions are contagious.

Kurt: How about yawning?

Ken: Yeah. Yawning is contagious and contrary to popular opinion, I know that people consider that it’s rude. I heard a judge scold someone in court for yawning. It actually releases some dopamine in our head and makes us more alert and awake so there’s a positive function to yawning, but our mirror neurons also cause us to mimic the values and the desires of others and if we want values and desires that are consistent with Jesus Christ, we do well to walk with a sister or brother who loves Christ, who wants to be faithful. We’ve also talked about wealth here and you mentioned that your generation may be less wealthy financially than your parents’ generation. The social science also shows that the greatest predictor of happiness is not your income, your family income, is not your GPA, is not whether you live in a warm, climate, during the winter. It’s the quality of your social friendships and as you mentioned, it doesn’t have to be a lot of friends, but it’s the quality, whether it’s members of your family or people in your neighborhood or church or whatever. 

Kurt: Discerning our sacred calling or vocation. This is I think the last spiritual discipline here that you’ve got. For me that’s something that I thought about in my life. I’ve thought, vocation can be a broad sense in how God calls us in what we do. Some people I think have misconceptions about vocation, but how is it that in discerning our God-given vocation, that can be a spiritual discipline if you will? I think some people view it as a spiritual task, a burden to bear, you’ve got to figure it out, but how can that be healthy for us?

Ken: The theme of the book is about how to flourish spiritually when we feel pressured to achieve and so a lot of us, especially in this social media age tend to judge ourself in comparison to our peers.

Kurt: Oh my gosh. It’s awful on social media. You’ve got people posting pictures of their vacation, all of a sudden you think, “I want to be on a vacation.” The comparison there. Absolutely true. Sorry. Continue.

Ken: God is not going to judge our success in relation to a peer that we may admire or perhaps envy. True success is about discovering God’s will, our unique calling, and then embracing that whatever it may be, and we’ll also find our greatest fulfillment as we do that. Some of the practices like silence in God’s presence can really help. I worked in the business world before I became a pastor and there was a time in my life, in my 20’s, where I wasn’t sure whether I was being called to go back to the corporate world, become a pastor, work as a journalist like my father did, and I just spent some time in silence and in fasting and on day three, I know this may sound weird to some folks, the words almost mystically came into my spirit. Tenth Church had no connection with it. Churches filled with anglo-saxons from Europe. I was just Japanese. It seemed so bizarre. When we enter the world to come, God will not ask me “Why were you not Billy Graham? Why weren’t you Mother Teresa? Why weren’t you Kurt at Veracity Hill?” He’ll ask me, “Why weren’t you Ken? Why didn’t you embrace the unique call for you?” As Duke Ellington, the Jazz musician said, “It’s better to be a number one yourself than a number two somebody else.” I would say embrace your unique call. Listen to God’s voice and you will find your greatest fulfillment in fruitfulness. It may not be easy, but there will be an enduring joy that won’t come from trying to be somebody else, someone that you’re not.

Kurt: That’s definitely something I had been thinking about awhile ago, learning to be content in one’s life circumstances and one’s life situation. You may not get that success and you’re certainly not going to get the success overnight. A lot of people, at least what I perceive, a lot of folks, younger folk think they’re going to be the Kylie Jenner of tomorrow, they’re going to become super popular on social media and be that influencer, but it’s just, that’s just not how life works and you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to become one of those uber popular people over night and so learning to and recognizing I should say God’s calling in your life. You said it well there, learning to be who you are and not someone else. That’s a good word. How does redefining greatness help us to apply these spiritual disciplines and to manage our expectations well?

Ken: There’s a chapter on redefining greatness near the end of the book. Kurt, as I was writing this book, my own father, my Dad, was dying. You talked about your grandfather and bearing witness to that. As his life was coming to an end and he actually died in the process of writing the book, I thought about his journey. He grew up in a war-torn Japan in relative poverty, didn’t have much growing up at all, couldn’t buy books, but he studied hard, got books from the library and he ended up going to an Ivy League school here in the United States, ended up becoming a broadcaster-journalist with the BBC, once had tea with the queen which is a big deal there.

Kurt: Yeah.

Ken: Maybe not so much for Americans, but it’s a big deal there, but as he was dying, none of that mattered to me. His “resume virtues” to cite the journalist David Brooks, didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me more were his eulogy virtues, what I thought I might say at his memorial service that seemed pending. I thought about his immense integrity, his astounding kindness, his quiet, but very real love, his devotion to Christ, and when someone’s dying, that has a way of bringing clarity, especially if you’re close to them. For some of our listeners, they may want to become the mega-uber popular social media person and that may seem important now. I guarantee that when they’re on their deathbed that will count for nothing. It will be like lint on the scales. What will matter is what kind of person did I become? Was I true to my calling? Did the love of Christ shine through me? That’s what’s going to matter? I write about the things that I feel really matters? What comes into crystal clarity when a loved one is dying.

Kurt: What really is greatness? No one ever regrets spending not enough time on social media.

Ken: When they’re dying.

Kurt: Managing the expectation there about how to live a healthy lifestyle can really go a long way to producing good fruit in our lives. That’s great. Ken. Thank you so much for coming on our program today and for enlightening and encouraging us as well, not just sharing about how to do this, but having us do these things, these are very helpful ways we can feed our soul and to draw closer to God and to become more like Christ so thank you so much and we’re going to put…

Ken: Thank you for having me.

Kurt: We’re going to put a link to the book here on our website, Survival Guide for the Soul. We’ll put that and get the Amazon link to that, published by Zondervan. This book just came out this week I believe. Is that right? 

Ken: That’s right. Yes. 

Kurt: So get it while it’s fresh. We’ll be sure to promote it. Thanks, Ken, and God bless you and the ministry work that you’re doing.

Ken: Thanks, Kurt. God bless you too.

Kurt: Take care. That does it for our program today. I am grateful for the continued support that we have with our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a couple books a month, and I’ll hope you’ll consider partnering with us on a monthly basis. We’d love to keep this program going and growing and expanding so others can hear the different shows that we bring to you week in and week out. I’m also grateful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Thank you to our technical producer Chris today and for our guest, Ken Shigematsu, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. 

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Seth Baker

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