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.

 

Wondering about wonder

Where has the wonder gone?  I’m not talking about wonder as a verb… A question…  As in… “have you ever wondered about…” or “I wonder what…”.

I’m interested in rediscovering Wonder as a noun…  of finding that fascination and feeling of overwhelming joy when one encounters something marvelous…. Something extraordinary; or beautiful; or just … Wonderful.  As paraphrased from Arthur C Clarks 2001 Space Odyssey…

Something’s going to happen. Something wonderful.

In this context, wonder isn’t something we do.  It’s not an action.  It’s a state of being… an experience… an observation of a state of reality.

In a way, this distinction is similar to the one we find ourselves in when we consider the state of the “scientific” within the Christian and other faith traditions.

Why does a debate between creation and science exist?

The debate itself doesn’t make any sense to me because I think that science is a gift that helps us to experience wonder, and though that gift to experience God.  It’s not about proving whether or not God exists.  It’s about finding the wonder in our physical existence and understanding that our physical existence itself is of God.

Sometimes scientific minds make the mistake of thinking we’ve figured it out and therefore there is no reason to explore further.  However, if we continue to dig and go deeper we uncover more mystery… More wonder.   When we manage to internalize that experience, we transform and have the opportunity to experience God.

The English physicist Sir William Bragg once said…

Sometimes people ask if religion and science are opposed to one another.  They are — in the same sense that the thumb and fingers of my hand are opposed to one another.  It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.

What a brilliant analogy!  Experiential paradox!  It is only through the opposition that we can understand and grasp the wonder.  It is only through the experience of pain and suffering that we can grasp the meaning of pleasure and joy.  It is only through the experience of birth and the certainty of death that we can grasp and understand the wonder of our spiritual birth and timeless spiritual existence.

When I think about wonder, I begin to see that I frequently fall into the trap of thinking that God is a God of actions.  That the concepts we attribute to him are concepts explained in language through the use of verbs.

We say…

God loves us…  God forgives us…

Yet we struggle to accept this.  We don’t understand how we can possibly be good enough for God to love us.  We don’t understand how God can forgive us when we have done so much wrong in our lives and continue to do wrong despite good intentions.  We struggle because we feel that if we fully accept God’s love and forgiveness… if we fully accept God’s grace… we will no longer have a reason for trying to live up to any type of standards.  Why try if God will love us and forgive us no matter what?

The problem is that we are thinking of God’s love and forgiveness as actions that God does.   And with an action that God would do, we assume that God must choose to either do it or not.

I think the mistake here is believing that God’s existence includes relating to us through the actions of loving and forgiving.  Perhaps instead… God exists in a state of loving and forgiveness.  God is love.  God is forgiveness.  He doesn’t chose to love us or forgive us.  He simple is love and forgiveness, and because He wants relationship with us that relationship must exist in a state of love and forgiveness, because God exists in a state of love and forgiveness.

So, how do we manage to love God?  Why do we need to do anything good, moral and right if God’s forgiveness is already there?

Again, as we ask these questions we slip into thinking about love and forgiveness as the relate to God, as actions rather than states of being.  Perhaps what needs to happen, is that we need to experience transformation… to move from a place where we understand our love relationship with God as an action to a place where our love relationship with God is a state of being….  We move from a place where our faith relationship with God is no longer an action… we no longer act faithfully.  Instead we are faithful.  We transform our faith from action to state of being.  We transform our love for God from the act of loving to living in a state of love.

In a similar way, we transform and stop trying to experience wonder within our existence.  Instead we begin to live in wonder as a state of being.

Don’t act.

Be.

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