All posts by Christopher

I'm a visiting professor at Bowdoin College. I teach, write, and discuss Japanese popular culture, language, literature and other topics on East Asia.


I tend to say that I hate winter…it’s just so cold and dead.

But I do have SOME good things to say about it – yes, even outside of Christmas. I like the color of the sky as the sun sinks down; midnight blue meets its persimmon complement as the dark hands of the leafless trees reach up in praise to the King of the frozen sky.

Right now, I am listening to Richard Souther’s “Dream Suite” off of his 1985 debut album, “Heirborne.”

Typical of many of the trips we took, I remember listening to this cassette on my Sanyo (Fast-forward only!) walkman in the back of the family 1982 Impala station wagon, staring at the blueish shadows on the purple snow at 11PM as the stars twinkled at us. The broken down corn stalks and golden uncut grass showed an undulating silver wash as we sped on by at 55 MPH. This was on the way to my grandmother’s house for Christmas break. I was eight at the time. Dad was listening to cassettes of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, but at that age, I wanted to drink this music in as much as I can. This was the first time I had ever experienced nine chords, and rich, fat synthesizer pads.

Years later, I would find the Meadowlark collection released on CD’s for about $7 a piece in a Borders near Roosevelt Field mall in Long Island, and would buy everything they had. Meadowlark was Sparrow records’ answer to New Age, godless music. It was “New Age” in its style, but was done by and on Christian themes. Richard had 4 albums in this series, 2 as Richard Souther, 2 solo piano albums, released under his middle names, “Douglas Trowbridge.” How cool is that, I loved all these albums and had no idea they were the same guy. Check him out at

Sometimes, I long to sit in the back of that Impala again, on the way to Warsaw, NY. Through the cold night, warm inside the car with my family, on the way to see more dear people who I still love and miss very much.

My life tends to imitate itself. Years later-it was 1999, when I was done with college-we still were making that same trip over the Christmas break. This time, we stopped in Rochester, at a Borders again, and there I bought Ken Ishii’s “Jellytones” album. There is a piece on that disc called “Endless Season,” which I listened to over and over again, in the back of Dad’s minivan, this time on a Sony Discman. It has a great portamento lead and shiny pads that also signifies winter to me, but this time it’s when the sunset sky is all pink and purple, making the snow seem like a faded blanket of made of fuzzy peach skins. Fat flakes come plopping down on your windshield and everything outside seems so silent and still. Wait a second, I’ll go cue it up in iTunes.

Ken Ishii soon became my subway ride buddy. Still I can close my eyes and see that snowy road…

Yes, I do actually have a few good things to say about winter.


We live in a society vastly concerned about our works. We are always quick to inform everyone why we really haven’t failed at something when it’s gone wrong, why what we’ve messed up is not really our fault, and why the things we do are right, at all costs. In other words, we are always justifying ourselves to others.

This is what we were talking about in class the other day.

If we are always denying we are wrong, fallible, flawed, is this really true? I would have to say that it is most certainly NOT true.

It used to be that people said, “Nobody’s perfect.” But now we say, “It’s not my fault.” Or even, “It’s all good,” that is, “whatever you’ve attempted to do is good.” Personal accountability is at an all time low, and we are always justifying our behavior. We want to look good. What if we all of the sudden did not care about how we look anymore? Or even, what if no one cared about what job we did, or where we live, or what car we drive? What would happen?

Maybe we’d lose our identity, we’d wind up having nothing to justify anymore, but we’d have nothing to show either. Where would we be if we weren’t always justifying our selves to everyone around us?

Perhaps we’d be empty, because no one would care. We’d have to derive our sense of identity, our source from something else, something outside of ourselves. Something other than our works.

Just food for thought.


I was recently listening to Ji-Yoen Choi’s solo organ recording, where she plays the Reddel Organ at Valparaiso’s Chapel of the Resurrection. I have really enjoyed Jean Langlais over the years, and Choi’s rendition of the Fete for Organ is just so lyrical. At 16 seconds in, I closed my eyes, and was transported back in space and time. The small, brassy mixture she uses, which is so typical of Langlais, flooded my heart with so many memories.

Not only is this very similar to John Cook’s Fanfare in terms of the sound of the mixture, but so many Christmas pieces we sang in the chapel lent themselves to this type of registration.

As the years pass, I find myself longing to return to the Chapel of the Resurrection – it is my most favorite place on earth. It is where the scriptures were opened to me like never before. It is where in word and song, I learned the truth of God’s unstoppable grace – I am not held accountable for my sins – and that God has forgiven my sins only because of the work of Jesus Christ. What pure Gospel this is! Romans 7 and 8 came alive for me as part of the text for Bach’s motet, “Jesu Meine Freude.” Life changed for me because of that place and time.

The Advent-Christmas vespers was such a warm time amid a cold, wet, flat campus. Life happened indoors as it slowed down out of doors. The soft lighting, the bright sounds, the joyful praise we raised to our Christ, is so remarkable. It is a glimmer of things to come. It was a time of discovery, a purer time, where there was more simple knowledge-spiritual milk-to learn and digest. Now, I must grapple with the heavier stuff, the knowledge of self, the understanding of the bondage of the will, original sin’s grip on us, our lot that is thrown in with Adam, the human misery – the fact that I am surrounded by death.

Is it a wonder that naturally, I want to be there? Again and again.

There is where the light would stream, vaulting and barreling through the 5 storeys of glass. There is where I received the body and blood in the bread and wine, in the most dazzling setting. I could not but admit God’s unsearchable greatness; I could come with no merit of my own, to receive the great gift of Christ’s living presence, at a time when I knew practically nothing. I just enjoyed God and what he had done for me.

So the sights and sounds of that place fill my heart, and are readily called to the fore of my mind with small triggers. (How I thank God for the art and music that has been used to draw me to him!)

And such it is, that I am drawn to that place.

And not just that Physical place, but the Spiritual place that was uncluttered by years of trials and doubt.

It took me many years to realize that God creates new experiences and new ways to enjoy Him and his presence. You can never go back, but you can truly appreciate where you have come from, and take that with you on your journey. Our journey that leads heavenward will end in a place that is even better than my favorite place on earth. If what I had at VU is but a fraction, a mere dot on the head of a pin, of the joy and splendor of heaven, I can barely wait to get THERE. To that place. To a glimpse of that SPIRITUAL place, better, because I will have known all the sorrows of this life, while truly knowing an unending joy.

That is my home, my Furusato of the eschaton.

So, as the year draws to a close, and I enter into my 10th year since I graduated and left THAT place, I, very Janus like, look back and smile, but look forward and long for that day when our joy is made complete by Him.

VU Organ