Peace and poetry challenge church

Yorifumi Yaguchi

The Wing-Beaten Air: My Life and My Writing

Yorifumi Yaguchi

If a book can be a blessing, this hopeful and worthwhile volume qualifies. Mennonite poet and pastor Yorifumi Yaguchi recounts his life and the development of his Christian faith and writing in The Wing-Beaten Air. Not merely a reflection on the past or tribute to the power of God in people’s lives, for which he is genuinely and unsentimentally grateful, this book is part of Yaguchi’s ongoing work for the cause of peace.

The Wing-Beaten Air is a blend of memoir and poetry, but it overflows – if such precise and economical writing can be said to overflow – the boundaries of those two genres. It also contains elements of theological reflection, pacifist declaration, an activist handbook, and a “how-to” volume for young churches.

Yaguchi’s life story is compelling. An internationally-recognized Japanese poet, he is also an editor, translator, and academic, having taught Bible, English, and American literature at universities in northern Japan.
He is also a longtime peace activist.

Growing up hungry during World War II, Yaguchi wondered how the supposedly Christian nations of Britain and the U.S. could wage war. He came to his pacifist convictions through the peaceful convictions of Buddhist family members and careful study of the Bible. He participates in both political activism and the everyday work of Jesus’ radical peacemaking.

Currently, he is working to prevent Japan’s further involvement in the Iraq war, and against a national computer network of ID numbers which could be used for conscription.

Yaguchi’s writing voice is graceful, humble, and unflinchingly honest about his own Christian walk, while gentle and thoughtfully critical about others’ actions and the world’s preoccupation with war. His kindly anthropological observations challenge us in the North American church on our complacency towards militarism and materialism, and lead us to consider which parts of our tradition are religious and which cultural.

Yaguchi is intent on using his gifts to encourage Christ’s shalom on earth. Many poets “are not much interested in writing from the standpoint of the Christian faith anymore,” Yaguchi notes, asking: “What does this mean for the church? Is the church in the West dying?”

More than 40 poems, interwoven with the memoir, add lovely imagery and subtle details. They serve almost as photographs, illustrating moments in his personal history or aspects of his faith and pacifism. Poignant images include the “chill moment of despair” when a Japanese officer pointed a gun at his head for talking with an American soldier, and Yaguchi’s coming to faith and decision to be baptized. “I felt I had been caught by some overwhelming power of God,” he writes.

The book includes nearly two dozen actual photographs of family, friends, church leaders, and colleagues.
With powerful similes and humour based on keen observation of small moments, Yaguchi draws the reader into close examination of a life thoughtfully and joyfully lived for God.

This book has great significance for scholars of pacifism, literature, and Mennonite history, as well as for readers who simply appreciate fine writing and an engaging narrative. It brings together evangelical faith and social justice in a way the North American church needs to hear. “How can a Christian poet be effective in such a non-Christian society?” asks Yaguchi. This book is part of his response.

—Kristen Mathies is a writer and teacher in Kitchener, Ont. She holds MAs in literature and peace studies.

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