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Monday, 2 January 2017

'Silence' - Endo, Scorsese, Fujimura, Yancey & Kraus

“My personal encounter in the late 1980s with fumi-e displayed at the Tokyo National Museum led me to read Endō’s masterpiece, Silence,” writes Makoto Fujimura in his new book Silence and Beauty. “As I write this, the novel is being made into a major motion picture by the master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. A good friend of mine introduced me to Scorsese, and my conversation with him compelled me to write this book."

"Only Mako Fujimura could have written this book," Philip Yancey writes in the foreword to the book:

"Bicultural in upbringing and sensibility, he understands the nuances of Japan, and his knowledge of the language sheds light on Endō’s original source material. At the same time, Mako’s years of living in New York have given him a contemporary, global perspective ... Informed by both East and West, Mako guides the reader on excursions into Japanese art, samurai rituals, the tea ceremony and Asian theology, even while relying on Western mentors such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, J. S. Bach, Vincent van Gogh and J. R. R. Tolkien."

Yancey continues:

"Shūsaku Endō described Japan as a swampland for Christianity, and missionaries who have served there tend to agree. Other Asian countries have seen explosive growth—the megachurches of the Philippines and South Korea, the massive unregistered church in China—while in Japan, the average church numbers less than thirty. A nation that copies nearly everything Western, from management practices to McDonald’s, baseball and pop music, curiously avoids religion. Most puzzling, as Mako mentions, is that so many values in the culture already reflect the way of the New Testament. Why, then, do so few Japanese convert?

That question troubled Shūsaku Endō too, who ultimately concluded that the failure stemmed from the Western emphasis on God’s fatherhood. Mother love tends to be unconditional, accepting the child no matter what, regardless of behavior. Father love tends to be more provisional, bestowing approval as the child measures up to certain standards of behavior. According to Endō, Japan, a nation of authoritarian fathers, has understood the father love of God but not the mother love ...

For Christianity to have any appeal to the Japanese, Endō suggests, it must stress instead the mother love of God, the love that forgives wrongs and binds wounds and draws, rather than forces, others to itself. (“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing!”) “In ‘maternal religion’ Christ comes to prostitutes, worthless people, misshapen people and forgives them,” says Endō. As he sees it, Jesus brought the message of mother love to balance the father love of the Old Testament.

This insight helps answer a common question about Silence: Why did Endō express his own  deeply felt faith through a story of betrayal? ...

Endō explains that he centers his work on the experiences of failure and shame because these leave the most lasting impact on a person’s life ... The entire Bible can be seen, in fact, as a story of betrayal, beginning with Adam and proceeding through the history of the Israelites, culminating in the cross ... Our only hope is the forgiving gaze of the betrayed Savior, the still point of Endō’s novel."

In sessions that I led in the past at North Thames Ministerial Training Course we explored many of these same issues involved in cross-cultural communication of the meaning of the Atonement by looking at examples of missionary work in Japan through the writings of Endō and the approach of C. Norman Kraus as summarised in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross (Green & Baker, 2000).

Endō's writings depict both the anguish of faith and the mercy of God. A central theme of his writings has been the clash between Japanese culture and a very Western mode of religion. Novels like Silence and The Samurai suggest that Christianity must adapt itself radically if it is to take root in the “swamp” of Japan.

In assessing Christ’s atoning work, Kraus suggests that a Japanese “shame” culture is a less distorting lens through which to read the New Testament than a Western “guilt” culture. The “atonement theory” which emerges from Kraus’s reading centers more on “solidarity” than on “substitution.”

Among the questions we explored in these sessions were:
  • What are the cultural factors that Ferreira in Silence thinks have prevented the Christian message from taking root in Japan?
  • What other factors in the success or failure of this mission to Japan can be identified in Silence?
  • Ferreira says that “the God whom those Japanese believed in was not the God of Christian teaching”. Assuming for the moment that he was right, do you think this matters and why?
  • What are the cultural factors in Japan that Kraus takes into account in developing a theology of the atonement for Japan?
  • How do these factors influence the theology of the atonement that he develops?
  • In your view, is Kraus’ theology of the atonement consistent with the Biblical concepts and images of the atonement? 
  • In what ways does your discussion of The Samurai link to Kraus’ atonement theology for Japan? Are there cultural issues that are common to both? Are there understandings of the atonement that are common to both?
  • Does Kraus’ theology answer the issues raised by Ferreira in Silence?
  • From your understandings of Japanese culture, which of the Biblical concepts or images of atonement would you emphasise in mission to Japan, and why? 
  • What factors do you think need to be taken into account when communicating the god news of the atonement in a culture that is not your own (whether this is the culture of another country or a sub-culture within your own culture)?
In one such session we identified the following:

Issues for cross-cultural communication of the Atonement 
  • Unholy alliances of politics, economics and religion and no consultation with the indigenous peoples
  • Our religion is embedded in our culture - difficulties of disentangling the two (can we do this?)
  • Perceived conflict between different religions i.e. Western Catholicism and Japanese Buddhism
  • May be exporting our denominational, and other, divisions
  • Need for understanding of social structures i.e. hierarchies
  • Need for understanding of cultural norms i.e. shame
  • Suspicious personal motives and suspicion of motives
  • Suspicion of ‘outsiders’
  • Shaming or threatening people through lack of cultural understanding
  • Causing threat through the undermining of cultural hierarchies
  • Concerns over Empires following on the heels of missionaries
  • Disruption of a ‘closed’ cultural system through ‘outside’ ideas
  • Violence accompanying ‘mission’
  • Lack of respect for the indigenous culture and religion
  • Discounting of indigenous cultures
  • Clash with indigenous religious understandings e.g. Velasco’s passion and the Buddhist sense of ‘not desiring’

Ideas for cross-cultural communication of the Atonement 
  • Importance of outsider’s showing care
  • The giving of honour to all whatever their place within cultural hierarchies
  • The giving of help rather than the bringing of oppression
  • Exposure to Christian selflessness across cultural hierarchies
  • Recognising the examples of service seen in indigenous peoples e.g. Yozö’s example of dedicated service being an image of Christ
  • The experience of cultural rejection leading to identification with Christ
  • The stripping away of culture leaving people exposed to revelation
  • Identification with Christ through experience of sorrow
  • Tapping into a universal sense of longing
  • Seeing the universal in the particular
  • Drawing metaphors from within the culture
  • Salvation as being saved from the consequences of cultural norms and practices e.g. Christ above the “karma of man”, identification with Christ once shamed

Bruce Cockburn - Tokyo.

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