Columnists > Soul Food

Struggling in Tokyo

Marital woes in Nashville echo around the world

Issue: "Fighting Potomac fever," Feb. 27, 1999

Recently I traveled back to my hometown of Tokyo, Japan, to visit my parents who have been missionaries there since the early '50s. As we sat and talked, the doorbell rang; at the door was a young mother of three named Yoko, holding her youngest. Sixteen years earlier she had become a Christian at my parents' church, and since then her faith had deepened as my mother nurtured it. But that day Yoko was unhappy. Trapped in a difficult marriage and forced to share her home with a difficult mother-in-law and a woman hired to work in the family business, she had finally come to the end of herself and had run away from home with her youngest son. Now, two weeks later, she had finally agreed to go home with her husband, who had promised they would get a place of their own. Her face was blank this morning-there was no joy, just resignation. But it brightened and her eyes sparkled when my mother asked her to sing an Amy Grant song. I winced because of Amy and husband Gary Chapman's marital struggles. And I wondered which song from Behind the Eyes, Ms. Grant's latest album, she would choose. I also wondered if she fully comprehended the pain, loneliness, and isolation that Amy was far too genuine to keep off her record. "Why, why, why, does it go this way? Why, why, why, and all I can say," she began, interrupting my thoughts, "is somewhere down the road there'll be answers to the questions. Somewhere down the road though we cannot see it now. Somewhere down the road you will find mighty arms reaching for you, and they will hold the answers at the end of the road." Amy Grant has never met Yoko Sato and has no idea that a 32-year-old housewife in Japan has memorized her songs, beams with admiration for her, and blushes just a little when, after singing in church, friends call her the Amy Grant of Japan. It isn't Amy Grant's fault that Christians around the world have put her on a pedestal, that too many wrongly pattern their lives after hers. But it doesn't change the reality that they do. I have long advocated separating ministers from entertainers whose work happens to minister. When a minister falls, believers should take a moment to grieve, then quickly proceed to remove him from that ministry because the Bible has specific instructions about that. When entertainers fall, they should be encouraged to right the wrong and get up and sing about what they've learned so that others can benefit, just as believers the world over have benefitted from reading of David's sin in Psalm 51. That doesn't change the fact that there are thousands of Yokos who have confused artistry with ministry and have put Amy way up high, where, in the words of Steve Camp, "the air's too thin." The Grant/Chapman separation can be a useful time of healing for more than just the two of them. It can also provide the impetus for believers to begin taking their eyes off "Christian stars" and to look to God for direction. Maybe the Yokos of the world will take their eyes off Amy Grant and allow her to be human and not the standard of Christian perfection. In turn, maybe the American singer will be able to be inspired by a 32-year-old housewife in the suburbs of Japan who even now is rejecting the idea of divorce and fighting with all of her strength to salvage her marriage and keep her family together.
-Mark Joseph is president of the Los Angeles-based MJM Entertainment Group.

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