Faith that Leads to Apostasy
The way of love is heard loud and clear in the movie Silence. The talk surrounding the film has much to do with doubt and faith, but to me, it included much more than that. Actually, for me, the film was never really about doubt in the ecosystem of faith, but rather incarnation and it's importance in that ecosystem. (By the way, spoiler alert: I suggest reading this after watching the film!)
During the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan, many had "denied" Christ in order to spare their own lives. But it is safe to say that the film has you doubting their doubt, that perhaps they never did “apostatize” their faith in the film. Each survivor of the persecution may have been “spitting” on Christ to live, but it's clear that their faith in Christ never wavered.
Their journey reminds me of St. Peter,
who in the moment of testing failed to acknowledge Christ as his master
when pressed three times over.
His fear of death and the desire to preserve
his interpretation of God's Kingdom arrival
was greater and embraced tighter
than his desire and understanding
of how this Rabbi was going to bring the Kingdom of God.
But I do not think Peter doubted his Lord;
he simply wanted to live.
And in his betrayal,
he finds himself needing Christ like everyone else,
as much as the despised Judas.
The Downward Process of the Camera Angle:
This process, which I will call the kenosis movement in the film, was articulated well with camera angles that Mr. Scorsese used. In the beginning of the film, there are lots of shots from top down, from heaven's view, the high steps from the Portugal church, the Japanese Christians always positioned under the fathers. Then as the film progresses you begin to see the fathers progressing downward and eventually the film ends with Father Rodrigues and the Japanese Christians shot at equal angles.
Our view of ourselves has often been like the Pharisee’s perspective of himself in Luke 18: 9-14 where he compares himself to the sinful tax collector. We pray and live out this sense of self and like him we pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector.” And in Father Rodrigues’ case, we may add, “or even like the Japanese or the priests that apostatized.” Until we, like Peter, understand that we were and are just like Judas we can not hope to be a trustworthy recipient of God’s saving grace nor can we hope to be an adequate deliverer of His grace. How can God entrust to Peter the Church, the gathering of the redeemed, if he did not grasp the enormity of his own need of a Savior? How can Peter feed the people if he is not fed by the hands of the Shepherd? How can Peter wash the feet of the faithful if he has not had his feet washed by the Lord?
To me, Silence leads me to meditate on the words found in Philippians, chapter 2.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
There was a scene where Father Ferreira scolds his former disciple, Father Rodrigues, stating that these soon-to-be martyrs are not dying for God, but really for their priest. They are loyal to their shepherd, and he is asking in return for Rodrigues to be faithful to them by rejecting God. But is it God he is asking to reject? Perhaps he is asking Rodrigues to reject his role as a cleric and his authority. Perhaps he is inviting Rodrigues to consider what may benefit the “soil” of the Japanese Church instead of nurturing the estate of the Portuguese Church. That in denying himself, his nation, his power, he may have a chance at planting a “seed” of Christ in this “swamp” where nothing from the West takes root. For in denying self and state, the kingdom of God may take root.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” - Philippians 2
You see, to me, Father Ferreira was still mentoring Father Rodrigues even in his apostasy. In Father Ferreira we find that apostasy is redefined from the doubt of God which should be rejected to the denial of self which must be embraced. In Ferreira we find that in order to bring the message of the Good News we sometimes have to let go of our medium. In the process of incarnation, we must be willing to lose everything, even our own gods in order that God may be experienced in the flesh, in the flesh (soil) of the brothers/sisters we wish to love.
If we are going to become true ministers of Christ in the footsteps of our Master, we must be willing to reject the very throne we sit on. Christ, who was God, "apostatized" Himself by incarnating into human form, and in doing so saved us all. Ferreira was calling Rodrigues out of the cleric robes and into Christ’s sandals. Ferreira, in his apostatized state, was more incarnational than when he was ministering out of the foreign exalted seat of power.
Only those who have acknowledged that they have stepped on the Fumi-e can have their feet washed by our Lord. And only those who have their feet washed can adequately wash the feet of others.
There's a beautiful scene at the end of the movie where the Judas character, Kichijiro, who now has become a trusted confidant to the disgraced Father Rodrigues, seeks confession one more time. Father Rodrigues reluctantly complies, knowing he has now been disqualified from the cleric privileges of giving absolution. But in this scene, we see that it is only when he has become one of them, in form and in failure, that he can for the first time invoke his priestly rights. This last confession, for me, was the purest confessional exchange in the whole film.
Hence, my prayer after the film is this;
May I have the courage to fail in the eyes of our empire,
may I love our God enough to reject my god,
so that the Kingdom of Heaven,
can take root in the Swamps of Earth.
Things to Watch Before We Meet:
I'd also love for you to come with me to a conference held at Fuller Seminary called The Culture Care Summit. (February 8–12, 2017 in Pasadena) Let me know if you're interested when we get together.
From the event site - "The Brehm Center invites you to join us as we continue the conversation on cultural generativity at our second annual Culture Care Summit, hosted by director Mako Fujimura. With such speakers as best-selling author/theologian Philip Yancey, Fuller president Mark Labberton, and many others, we will consider the ideas and questions raised in Mako’s new book Silence and Beauty."