Japanese people are gift givers. It can make holiday seasons rather interesting. Sometimes it feels like we are playing some kind of game. You lose points when you are given a gift and you get points by giving gifts. This is how I feel, anyway. I asked Aaron how many points I started with by being their English teacher and he just responded that God's grace is enough for him.
I am especially confused by my landlord. Who starts out with positive points? Is it me, because I pay him money to live there? Is it him, because he does things like rescue me with fancy drain cleaners that make my shower drain work again? I don't know. But he is constantly giving me vegetables, and once even a chocolate cake that was possibly the best cake I had ever eaten. Day before yesterday, he told me to wait when I was leaving my apartment, and then ran inside, returning moments later with a sweet potato the size of a small cat. A year ago I tried to gain some positive points with my landlord. I had baked pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and I brought him some for him and his wife. Not five minutes after I had delivered the pie, he was upstairs at my door delivering sweets of his own.
One of my students has been supplying me with baked goods every week. She told me, "I want to support your Japanese test taking in this way." And I must admit...it was the greatest thing ever to return to Hongo Sunday night, the monster Japanese test out of the way, and find chocolate cake on my desk with a note saying, "To: Pamela. You must be tired! Have some "sweats". Fm: N." Only after she came back and asked me if she'd written down "sweets" or "sweats" did I realize she had written "sweats", but it makes the note ten times more precious. :-)
Today I received an email from a student that said, "C. and I are planning to give you a Christmas present today. She has taken care of it for 3 weeks." I kind of chuckled, wondering if I am about to receive a puppy. I'm not sure what it will be. But I am reflecting on how living in Japan has helped me a lot to receive gifts freely and thankfully. There are so many times that I get something that is *impossible* to reciprocate. And believe it or not, it is good for me. The "points" system kind of breaks down after awhile. It's no longer about "am I okay with my landlord?" It's more about...what does it mean to live thankfully and generously? This is what our relationship with God is too...He's already given us so much that the point system is broken. There is no way to "get enough points" to work our way back to equal. There is an incredible freedom in that...the "point system" being broken, what is left to do but give from the heart?
This question is, naturally, a little more persistent and weighty during Thanksgiving and Christmas. The social pressure to give out of obligation is very high. Last year I think I pretty much boycotted the social aspect of Christmas all together out of sheer rebellion against the thing. But this year, I am trying to come out and live the new life...a life founded on true generosity. It's going to be considerably more challenging than the normal way of looking at Christmas.
I'm encouraged by the fact that other Christians are thinking this way too. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend this video.