Silence

Last night the Monday night study group I’m in watched the movie Silence .

The film takes place in 17th century, feudal Japan and is told from the point of view of a pair of Portuguese Jesuit priests (Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garupe – played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who, travel there in an attempt to find out what happened to their revered teacher and mentor, also a Jesuit priest (Father Ferreira – played by Liam Neeson) who preceded them in their mission to Japan and reportedly renounced his faith after torture at the hands of the Japanese “inquisitor”.

I believe that Martin Scorsese knew that most people would see a particular theme in the film.  Reviews and commentary following it’s release certainly followed this thinking.

In a January 5, 2017 article in the Chicago Sun Times, Richard Roeper wrote about the movie and what he felt was the essential message of the film…

“Silence,” the movie Scorsese has been trying to get made for some 30 years, is a two-hour and 40-minute epic about faith.

Faith and how it inspires acts of miraculous, selfless sacrifice.

Faith and how it can be the main source of hope and redemption for oppressed peoples.

Faith and how it can be viewed as a threat to the very fabric of a nation.

Faith and how it can be warped to inspire acts of terrible, shocking, unspeakably cruel violence.

In a December 22, 2016, Manohla Dargis wrote in the New York Times that a central theme of the film revolves around the question of God’s silence.

Why, does God not answer prayers and alleviate suffering?

I saw a different message in the telling of this tale.  One that I also found in the common understanding of the stories in the Bible.  There are the stories most people know and recognize on the surface that are told repeatedly through lectionary cycles in many Christian denominations.   But for me there are often other meanings that come alive when I think about and imagine the stories in a broader context.

This is not intended as a critical assessment.  I don’t believe I’m being critical when I address a historical reality that may be somewhat unpleasant to consider.

The story of this film centers on the persecution of Christians.  But there’s often more than one side of any story.  In this case, this other side is even given voice near the end of the film by the character of the fallen priest, Father Ferreria.

When the Portuguese Jesuit’s first encountered the people in the islands of Japan, what did they expect to find and what was their intent regardless of what they found?

The intent of the Jesuit order is the salvation and perfection (i.e. the justification and sanctification) of each individual Jesuit and, ultimately, every human being.

They arrived in Japan with the intent to convert the Japanese people into Christians.  They were certain that there was no redeeming value in any belief system that was non-Christian, so they didn’t bother to understand it beyond what they might need to know to build arguments for their Christian beliefs in opposition to the beliefs of the natives.

 

They arrived in Japan to indoctrinate the local people in the dogma and doctrine of the Christian church.  Essentially, to replace one system of domination with another.

I find it very unlikely that this is what Jesus had in mind.  Had they been following the Way of Jesus they would not have focused so much effort on teaching that following the doctrines and rituals of the church, in the face of severe oppression, would bring them an existence in paradise after they have endured great suffering and death at the hands of their oppressors.

I believe that Jesus intended to spread the word that there was a way to establish paradise on earth in the current time.

God’s kingdom on earth.

The Jesuits didn’t understood why the Japanese feared their conversion attempts.  They failed to understand that Buddhist teaching left room for people to learn about the Way of Jesus without abandoning their traditional beliefs.

We’ve seen these misunderstandings repeated in history.  The doctrine of Manifest Destiny that resulted in the subjugation of the indigenous tribes of the Americas is but one example.

There are other ways to understand God than the one taught through traditional Christianity.  In fact, there are other ways to understand God that leave room for the Way of Jesus and his teachings, as well as those of others.

For me, this movie pointed out that there is real danger in assuming that the beliefs we hold are the only valid or valuable beliefs there can be.

Jesus did not teach us to force our will on others.  He taught inclusion not exclusion.  His Way was really fairly simple.

Love those around you.   Especially those who are different from you.  Especially those who would want to mistreat you or harm you.  Love them deeply.

Cast off your hold on possessions and things and bring your wealth together into common community to care for those who have less.

Advocate for justice, but not in terms of our western understanding of justice as law.   Instead through Jesus understanding of justice as the social manifestation of love.

 

If There Is No God, We Don’t Make Sense

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning — just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.  Dark would be without meaning.  Similarly, the fact that eyes exist suggests that light must exist.  And the the fact that we have spiritual longings … the fact that we even have a meaningful category of thought and speech called spirituality … Suggests that there is some corresponding reality out there which we have the capacity to “sense”.  That capacity would be called faith, and that reality, God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943, p. 46)

Skepticism and Doubt

The skeptic doubts one set of propositions because he believes another.  None of us live with absolute, unassailable certainly about anything; we all live by faith.  What someone thinks or feels absolutely certain of is really relative certainty.  It’s certainty based on faith that they are right.  The fact that they are certain is proof that they possess great faith. Likewise, one who doubts yet believes also demonstrates that some degree of faith is inescapable and runs through all that we claim to know.

Albert Einstein once said that there is no knowing without believing.

As far as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

The supreme task of the physicist is the search for those highly universal laws from which a picture of the world can be obtained by pure deduction.  There is no logical path leading to these laws.  They are only to be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love.

The mechanics of discovery are neither logical nor intellectual.  It’s a sudden illumination, almost a rapture.  Later, to be sure, intelligence and analysis and experiment confirm (or invalidate) the intuition.  But initially there is a great leap of the imagination.

— Albert Einstein 

Faith defined simply 

Faith isn’t something you either have or don’t have, but something that ebbs and flows in the life and soul of every individual.  Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith.  It’s an element of faith.  Where there is absolute certainty, there can be no room for faith.

Practical Faith

I would love to be someone who has the capacity to practice wild and uninhibited faith.  I envy those who declare that their faith is so strong that they “know” God will hear their prayers and intercede where requested.

I don’t have that kind of faith.

I do have faith though.  I have a faith that at a very high level exists with a complete absence of doubt.

But –

When it comes to praying for intercession in our day to day lives I struggle.

Yet I do it.  I do it despite my struggles.  I do it because of my struggles.

I do it because I believe that prayer is not only productive, valuable and important – but vital!

I just don’t do it often enough.  I certainly don’t do it publicly often enough.

Why is that?

I think that oftentimes I get hung up with expectations.  I don’t feel that it’s right for me to have any expectations regarding the outcome of prayer.  It’s hard because I also believe that it’s necessary to be specific in praying for outcomes.

There is of course some paradox there.  Pray for what you want but don’t expect anything specific as an outcome.  Really?  That doesn’t seem logical.  If I don’t expect to see the specific outcome, why pray for it?

I think I’m beginning to figure out the why.

Identifying the expected outcome is an expression of hope.  Expressing my hope – especially in some kind of public forum – exposes my vulnerability.  Exposing my vulnerability is a form of confession.  Confession removes my arrogance from the picture and opens my soul to spiritual relationship.

Spiritual relationship with God.

Spiritual relationship with other souls.

When I confess my vulnerability, and acknowledge that I want and need the spiritual relationship and love of others through their prayer on my behalf, I complete the circuit that allows the outcome to be possible.

Embracing my vulnerability helps me to find balance in my spirit life.  It helps me to see through spirit first.  When I have balance and I’m seeing life through spirit I begin to see with new eyes and I’m suddenly able to see the many various and wonderful ways that spiritual connection with God and with others is possible.

I thank all of you who read and responded to yesterday’s post.  The merging of our collective conscious energy (prayer) resulted in immediate and significant relief.  When we do this act of prayer together, with intention and purpose, humbling ourselves while at the same time acknowledging the source of God’s unending power, anything is possible!

 

A Plan for Pain?

I am taking this opportunity to ask for prayers before I jump into this topic.  My wife has arthritis in her spine and has recently been suffering excruciating and unrelenting pain caused by inflammation of the arthritic areas.

Those of you who know me well, know that I like to think of myself as a rational and logical person.  Faith has been difficult for me at times because of this.  Yet, the more I explore the reasons for my own doubts the more I encounter reality that eradicates those same doubts.

I believe that belief that is not shared is not really believed.  If I don’t have the courage to stand up and declare what I think and believe publically then I must have doubt.  I no longer doubt what I believe so I’m publicly declaring my belief in the power of prayer.

I ask for intercessory prayer on my wife’s behalf.   I ask that you join me in praying for intercession in her life that brings her comfort in place of pain.

I believe that it’s vitally important that we ask for prayer from others, and that we pray for others as well.  I will spend some time in the future sharing my thoughts about the mechanistics of the benefit of prayer.  I have many ideas that may seem rather odd and divergent from what people commonly think of.  However, I think it’s very important to note that end the end – while I may use very different language and concepts to discuss these things – we are talking about the same thing.

I think sharing prayer has an exponential effect.  Therefore I must spread the word and ask for as much prayer from as many people as possible to have the greatest effect.

Thank you!

Back to my original topic.

Is there a plan that includes our pain and suffering?

I think that the pain and suffering we experience in our lives is for our benefit.  One purpose that it serves is that through the experience of pain and suffering we have the opportunity to develop true compassion for the pain and suffering of others.

My wife is one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met.   In fact, I’d say that she is the most compassionate.  When she enters a situation where someone is suffering, they are often drawn to her.  She speaks with them – mostly listening – and through that simple exchange and their presence together the suffering is relieved, at least to some degree.

I believe that my wife exudes and radiates an aura of relief from suffering because she has experienced so much suffering herself.  Her experience of pain and suffering has become a gift for others who seek relief from their own pain.

I’m eager to share my thoughts about the nature of how this can be.  I think that this world is entering a period where science, theology, philosophy and spirituality are going to find common understanding of our place within creation and the universe.  I think that through the exploration of these topics we will find new ways of understanding our place in the world.

More to come.