Bridging The Gap in Tokyo

Walking into The Bridge Live, it’s easy to think you’ve just stumbled upon a hidden gem of an underground jazz club. First the location: Shimokitazawa, an artsy suburb of Tokyo that is a destination for urban 20-somethings due to its lively nightlife, edgy shops and abundance of great restaurants. Half Moon Hall, the venue for The Bridge Live is itself an architectural masterpiece.

Next, the musicians. Four or five bands, mainly people from the neighborhood, come to play their music here. The music ranges from classic jazz to folk rock to Beatles covers, but one thing remains the same: the high quality of the musicians who play here. Only then do you realize you didn’t pay a cover charge to come in the door.

When Joey Zorina takes the stage, you realize why you are here. Joey, a talented guitarist himself, is pastor of The Bridge Fellowship, a weekly home church gathering. The Bridge Live is an event held 4 or 5 times a year as a way to present the gospel message to this crowd of young and artistic people. The message is given in a way that connects with what is typically going on in the lives of this demographic.

Finally, the night closes with a professional Christian band or musician who is able to share a testimony along with a few songs. At the end of the night, everyone chips in with help cleaning up and a few groups might go off together to enjoy a meal together in this lively neighborhood.

I first attended The Bridge Live to cover the testimony of Shinada-san, one of the ex-Yakuza men whom our film “2 Criminals” is based on. I have continued to attend because of the quality of the music and message I experienced there and as a way I could bless the musicians playing there with professional photographs of themselves in concert.

This demographic of young and artistic people is often considered a “fringe” demographic, largely because the values of modern Japan culture place so much value on material wealth, and artists typically aren’t the ones making lots of money. This holds true in the West as well, but committing to the life of an artist in Japan is a real commitment that could have a lasting effect on your relationships with your family and friends. But because of their “outlier” status, this group is also one which are more ready to hear and accept the gospel message. However, they may not feel comfortable attending a more traditional church, so having a place like The Bridge Fellowship to attend is a blessing for them.

The Bridge Fellowship will be going through a transition to a full-fledged church as part of the Redeemer City-to-City Movement. Please pray for this ministry as it serves this specific demographic of Japanese and if you feel inclined to learn more and perhaps support them financially, visit their website to learn more.

Start Again – Yona Ishikawa

She stood on the rooftop, guitar in hand, looking like a rock star. The camera drone circled around her, like a planet orbits a star. Yona Ishikawa created that gravity, pulling you into her music, into her world.

We were on the roof with a video mission team my friend and colleague Paul Nethercott brought from Minnesota. This was the third of three Christian artists they were shooting music video for and by far the most elaborate production. The day before, they had shot at an industrial warehouse in the pouring rain. Today, the rooftop of the house they were staying in and the streets of the surrounding neighborhood.

The incredible revelation about Yona does not lie in her current state as a confident musician rocking it out in music videos on rooftops shot by a film crew from the States. It is in her backstory, when she spent ten years suffering from depression and life as hikkokomori, living as a shut-in in her home with little social interaction. It is often difficult for people who have lived through depression to share their experience with others, particularly in Japan, but Yona felt it was important to share her experience to let people know that God can transform lives, like He lifted her out of her state of depression and isolation. She even wrote a book, “Start Again” (in Japanese only) about her experience.

Though I wasn’t present for the interview, Paul explained her story to me and told me about the song we were recording the video for:

“The song we recorded with her is called Industrial Waste!  (産業廃棄物). She said that is how she felt, worthless and of no use to anyone, just garbage. However, she came to realize that God loves her just the way she is.”
You can clearly see from the photos that Yona is a changed woman. She is a musician, artist, and writer whose confidence and joy hide a very difficult and dark past that she overcame through her faith in Jesus.
Conservative estimates indicate 500,000 people are living as hikkikomori in Japan today, though the numbers likely exceed 1 million because many cases go unreported by family members of the afflicted. Millions more are suffering from some form of depression, often ending in suicide. Please pray for those in Japan who are suffering and for people like Yona to come forward to share how God transforms and heals.

What Is the Role of Art in Worship?

Somewhere, somehow, we simply lost our way. They understood the power of art as a form of worship in the Renaissance, when Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were prolific in producing works of art for the glory of God. For centuries it seemed that art and religion could not only co-exist, but magnify the beauty in each other when practiced together.

Yet inevitably, the separation came and the Western world has never again been able to realize the power of combining art and worship as it was done in glorious history.

One only needs to read through the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, to realize that God, the most powerful being in existence, is an incredible artist. Genesis 1 takes us step by step through God’s creative process for creating everything, and the level of detail He used in making the created world. Taking it one step further, you don’t even need to read the Bible, just take a walk in the forest or along the beach. Dive into the depths of the seas or climb the highest mountain. The glory of God’s creation is everywhere as only an Artist-Creator can imagine it.

And then we read that mankind was created in God’s image, which means, among other things, that all that creative capability God used to make everything is also inherent within us. We were made to be creators. We were made to be artists.

Yet the typical church in modern days is sadly lacking in artistry as worship. Church leaders are faced with difficult financial choices these days, yet it seems art generally falls to the bottom of the priority list at most churches. Looking around the typical church, you will find signage and materials derived from Christian clip art. Store bought posters with Christian phrases or Scripture passages. Powerpoint slides with stock image backgrounds. Art in church is no longer something to be created, but something to be consumed, purchased in packages from companies who sell the same stuff to thousands of churches.

Certainly most churches do not have the budget to hire graphic artists, art directors, interior designers and the like. But not all art is produced by professionals and some of the most beautiful pieces of art come from the hearts of children who see their art as an act of worshiping Jesus. Yet somehow, we don’t encourage people to worship God through art. Arts and crafts in most churches are just a fun thing to do to fill time at the end of Sunday School hour or an event to outreach to the community. What if we elevated art back to the level it once held during the Renaissance, art purely as a form of worship?

A few years ago, Crossway took this very idea and did something with it. They commissioned a Japanese Christian artist named Makoto Fujimura to produce a special edition of the Bible called “The Four Holy Gospels”. Basically, it is an edition of the four gospels of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) printed in art book format and illustrated by Fujimura. “Illustrated” is actually a bit misleading because Fujimura is an abstract artist so much of the art happens in the wide margins of the pages of the gospels and is designed to interact with the text on those pages. The product was an incredible work entwining art and the beautiful message of the gospel in a form that would compel you to open and read it daily. You would never use your Bible app if you had a Bible as beautiful as this.

A video made by Crossway further explains their motivation behind this incredible project.

I believe this is one small way that reveals how bringing art and worship together elevates both acts. Art doesn’t have to be a secular activity and worship doesn’t have to lack in creativity.

Ultimately, the question is have we downplayed the role of art in worship too much in the modern church? And if we have, how do we reintegrate art and worship in our churches in ways that engage people and allow them to participate, as artists created in the image of God?