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.

 

Is this really His plan?

Another day, and another mass shooting (or more than one) hits the news.  In the wake of these senseless acts many are drawn to ask some very straight forward questions…

How can a loving God fail to intervene and stop the harm that humans cause in this world?

If God has a plan for us, and for our lives, does that mean that part of His plan includes living in a world filled with such utter evil?

Is this really His plan?

I’ve struggled with these questions often.  Yet my faith remains strong.  In fact, my faith has grown along with my struggle.

I know there are those who don’t understand how that can be.  I’m not going to pretend to have answers for anyone other than myself.  My thoughts on this subject may not be helpful to you at all.  But… if there is any chance that they might help, I would be remiss if I didn’t share them.  So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I think.

I think that the core of our confusion comes from a misunderstanding about the nature of God Himself.  Without intending to, or understanding that we’re doing it, we ascribe human qualities and attributes to God when we think about these things.  We presume that God sees the world the same way that we do.

God is love.  When He created us He created us to be able to experience Him.  To have relationship with Him.  To love Him.  When we love, we are engaging in relationship with God.

In order for our ability to love to have meaning we must also have the ability to not love.  God gave us the choice to love or not in order for us to be able to comprehend His love for us.

Think for a moment of some of the great opposites of life.

Light and dark.

We can’t understand light, without dark.  One requires the other in order to provide the framework for understanding either.

Hot and cold…  soft and hard… loud and soft…

Good and evil.

Love, or hate.

 

We can choose love… choose relationship with God.

-or-

We can choose to not love… we can reject God.  The cumulative effect of the rejection of God is the introduction of evil into the world.

God knew that many would rebel against Him.  But He also knew that many would choose to follow Him and have a relationship with Him.

God knew that the effect of those turning against Him would be suffering in the world.  However, suffering was not His purpose.  It’s a consequence of our rejection of Him.  Yet, He takes our suffering and uses it for His purpose.

It’s through our suffering that we are able to gain sufficient perspective to understand what Grace is all about.  God exists in a constant and unending state of Love that we can take part in.  Without suffering His grace would have no meaning.

To appreciate light we have to experience dark.

In response to events such as these we have a choice.  We can turn away from God or we can turn toward God.  Through the suffering of His son, God has experienced human suffering at its worse.  He understands our pain.  He provides us with an option for relief from our pain.  He offers us the opportunity to transcend our humanity and to join with Him in perfect eternal relationship of spirit.

I can’t say that I know how God will use these senseless acts for good.  But… Here I am, writing about His love.  Encouraging you to turn toward Him rather than away.

Here I am, stepping forward to be counted as a man of faith – and sharing my faith openly with others.  This is not a path I imagined for myself.

In a strange, counterintuitive way, these tragedies strengthen my faith and my resolve to do my part to share the message of God’s love for us.

Radical Inclusion Should Not Be Radical

In my most recent two posts I presented some snippets of ideas from Brian McLaren’s book The Secret Message of Jesus.  Those posts dealt with a touchy topic.  That is, considering the possibility that there may be limits to inclusion.

Now, I would like to challenge you to consider the extensiveness of radical inclusion that can occur at the same time.

Reading over my previous posts I felt that I may have left readers with the impression that I was presenting material intended to justify closing the community of Christ and not including some based on judgement calls.  This is not my intent.  Perhaps I took the easy way out by posting a quote from someone else with out properly qualifying my views on the topic.

I believe that it is acceptable and necessary for a community of Christ to limit inclusion when that inclusion would bring in forces INTENT on disruption and disunity.  There are those people out there.  They join a community and then begin to sow seeds of discord and disruption.  This doesn’t mean that I think that they need to conform or that different opinions and viewpoints aren’t welcome.  They are.  However, it’s never appropriate to be judgemental, and it’s certainly not appropriate to actively work to disrupt the work of others who are trying to do their part to make Christ known and live out his kingdom here and now; in this time; in this age.

I’m getting a little off track here, so let me regroup.

I’m linking a video to a message delivered last Sunday by a pastor at Eastlake Community Church.  Google them if you want to know more about them.  They have an online church community as well as several physical locations in Washington state.  This pastor’s message is powerful and speaks volumes about what it means to practice the same kind of radical inclusion that Jesus practiced.  Watch it.  Share your thoughts.  My thoughts are simple.

I relate to his story.  I’ve spent many years thinking I was being inclusive and not understanding that being silent was actually being passively exclusive.  When we fail to practice inclusivity by putting it into visible, supportive, action, we fall into the trap of being exclusive through passive inclusivity.  I understand now that silently accepting and including someone who is seeking Christ is the same as excluding them.  I understand now that I have a personal responsibility to honor my faith by actively … perhaps radically … including them.

Eastlake Community Church message – 1/25/15

The small, insignificant, and easily over-looked reveals God’s glory

– every teaching Jesus had about how God creates something glorious starts with something small. Never once did Jesus say the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Fortune 500 Company with super happy shareholders. It’s always something small, insignificant, easily over-looked…these are the things that reveal the glory of God. I mean, after all, in Corinthians Paul says that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness, yet so often we act like weakness is something to be ashamed of, to try and make up for, to try and pretend isn’t there.  — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia’s Blog

When your day unfolds in such a manner that you need a somewhat harder core dose of reality, turn to Nadia.  Check out her blog and follow your way to her church and you may find yourself bathed in the wonder and joy of hard core truth.

When I read (and listened to) the above quoted statement that Nadia made I couldn’t help but to be struck about the pure TRUTH of it.  God reveals his glory in the small, insignificant and easily over-looked.  I think this is one reason why we’re so blessed to be witnesses to the unfolding truth of quantum physics.  As science manages to dive ever deeper into reality and examine the physical world at ever smaller and more insignificant levels, we find that majesty that reveals the glory of God! Particles that can only exist when they are being observed, things that exist in more than one place at the same time – not here, then there – but here AND there – at the same time!  Things that by their very physical nature defy the “laws” of physics that we human know-it-all’s have defined.

Listen to Nadia with an open mind and you might find yet another modern disciple carving out a new path to understanding our Lord and the Kingdom that he has established for us Here and Now.

I Choose to Have Faith. I Also Choose the Faith That I Have.

Recently, a quote from something I wrote was posted by a friend on her Facebook wall. That quote was…

“The smallest ripples generated by an act of faith will produce waves that can’t be ignored.”

Someone else then posted this comment…

‘Replace “faith” with “goodness” and you have a winner. Otherwise you could say the that the Spanish Inquisition was a “faith based initiative.” Your quote would be doubly true in that case.’

I prefer to stand by my original quote.

Acts of goodness don’t require commitment. They can be incidental and accidental. However, an act of faith requires a commitment. It cannot occur accidentally or incidentally to some other act.

I dare say that the Inquisitions – all of them – did in fact produce waves that could not be ignored. These were not acts of mere goodness (or badness!). They were acts that required enormous conviction. The kind of conviction that only faith can produce.

We have free will. We must choose to exercise our faith appropriately.

“You must choose, but choose wisely” 1

We must also learn to be discerning. We must understand that it’s possible for people of great faith to have anchored their faith differently than we have. Just because someone else has great faith, and I have great faith, does not mean that I share their faith.

I choose to have faith. I also choose the faith that I have.

1 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Paradox Validated

As I walked from the office to the train this evening my mind began to compose. This happens to me on a fairly frequent basis. Typically, my morning musings bear the fruit of more shareable ponderings, but tonight I feel that my evening stroll through that odd blend of mind and spirit was worth pondering further. Especially in light of the face that as soon as I sat down on the train and opened my email my thoughtful wanderings were validated by today’s Bible in One Year article by Nicky Gumbel. The title was Turning the World Upside Down and the three main section headings were God can bring success out of apparent failure; God can use you in spite of your circumstances; and God can make the ‘worst of times’ the ‘best of times’.

I had begun my evening walk thinking about the book of Revelation in preparation for my Monday evening study group’s impending discussion. It occurred to me when I began thinking about it, that the biggest difficulty with the book is the question of its source and purpose. Some would say that John’s images were written as he observed them, that the telling of them has been preserved through the ages, and that we can expect those things to play out much the way that he describes. Others would have us believe that all that was written in his book (and in many others for that matter) is subject to interpretation. When we read it we need to read it with an understanding that it was written at a much different time in history, for a vastly different culture, and with a very purposeful motive in mind.

As is so often the case, I was bothered by a feeling that I should choose between these positions. Literal reading or interpretive…

It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that it’s not only OK – but correct – to accept both opposing views at the same time.

As I’ve written before I believe that we exist in a world of paradox that is paradoxical by design. The examples are uncountable and go back as far as the creation of humans ourselves, regardless of how you may feel it happened. ( Of course I think it was a combination of purposeful Devine creation and evolution – what else would I think?).

My thinking goes sort of like this…

I was born both physical and bound by the finite realities of this world. I was also born spiritual, transcending the physical limitations of this place.

Both at the same time.

Opposing truths.

A variety paradox.

Perhaps John writes about what he saw in his visions. And in the process of trying to share a spiritual experience he uses the only tools at his disposal. He uses physical, worldly images to describe a spiritual vision of a coming spiritual experience.

Perhaps some of what he writes about are dreams of what might be in the physical world.

Perhaps John couldn’t tell them apart.

Perhaps he lived in a place and time where the distinction between a physical and spiritual reality was much less important than it is to us today.

Perhaps he lived in a time when it was acceptable to use language that relates to the physical world to describe a purely spiritual experience.

Perhaps, if we keep a really big picture in mind, it ends up not really mattering which truth is real. We begin to understand that we can accept both versions as true and real at the same time.

When I opened Nicky’s email I received a form of validation for my strange musings!

Jesus turned the world upside down!

By dying on the cross in the manner he did, he experienced an unimaginably humiliating defeat. At the same time; by dying on the cross in the manner he did, he experienced an unimaginably stunning victory.

Defeat and victory in one act.

Both true.

Both not.

A paradox.

I can’t count the number of times it’s happened in my life as well.

I failed.

But then – out of that failure – success.

Both failure and success.

True and untrue.

A paradox.

Then – when I think I’m not in any kind of position to do God’s work here on this earth – something happens.

I respond without thinking.

I do what I was placed here to do.

And somehow, a circumstance is altered in a significant way.

Often not for me – but for someone else.

I help them without intending to.

One action ends up being something else entirely.

Victory from defeat.

All that from John through his most bewildering book.

Imagine that!

All In (Part II)

I was recently asked to write an article for my church’s e-devotion series. I was assigned a theme. I was pretty surprised when I learned that the theme was “Go All In and Make Waves”. I’d written my original thoughts about going “all in” back in July. Now I have another shot at it with a particular slant – a stewardship campaign.

Interesting combination!

The concept of “going all in” is something I’ve given a lot of thought to though so I figured what the heck. I’ll just post it here too.

John 3:5-8

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

——————————————————————

While there are subtle advantages and disadvantages to going “all in” in Texas Hold’em, the broad meaning of the phrase seems particularly compelling in the context of this campaign. Going “all in” can mean to wager one’s entire stake.

John seems to understand this without having played any Texas Hold‘em. Wagering a portion of our faith won’t cut it. Being partially committed to our Lord won’t do. As much as I’d like to hedge my bets and hang back, I’ve come to realize that the only winning hand in this life is to…

…wager it all…

…put all my chips on the table…

…“go all in”.

In the Indiana Jones movie The Last Crusade there is a scene where Indy has to cross a cavernous void. He can see that the path he’s on continues on the other side, but he can’t see how he would get there. It just looks as if the path ends with an empty void before him. However, as he contemplates his predicament he begins to understand that the challenge he faces is that he has to take a “leap of faith” and step out into the void. He has to “go all in”.

I can’t help but think of the words from 2 Corinthians 5:7…

“For we walk by faith, not by sight”.

Stepping forth spiritually to live out the promise of our baptism requires the same kind of blind faith. It’s not what we “know” through our experiences in the physical world that matter. It’s what we “understand” of our spiritual promises that prove to be the key to overcoming our challenges.

When we give of ourselves completely; when we “go all in”; we are walking by faith – not by sight. We’re living the reality of our baptism; Spirit giving birth to spirit; and placing what we “understand” before what we “know”.

For example; if we adhere to the realities of our physical world that we “know”, we might believe that when we give something away we end up with less.

But…

When we live the “understanding” of our spiritual existence, we come to see that when we give something away we actually RECEIVE MORE.

It’s counter intuitive. But so was Indy’s step into the void. Yet, the only way for him to move forward was to believe first and validate second…

…To walk before seeing…

… To “go all in”.

Going “all in” can be thought of as the expression of total spiritual commitment. It’s an expression of faith. It’s walking by faith rather than sight.

Anytime someone gives of themselves with complete spiritual commitment that they are walking by faith those around them will notice. The smallest ripples generated by an act of faith will produce waves that can’t be ignored.

Go ahead. Go all in. Take that step. Walk by faith, not by sight. Live the promise of your baptism.