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SILENCE

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Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, first published in 1966, endures as one of the greatest works of twentieth-century Japanese literature. Its narrative of the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan raises uncomfortable questions about God and the ambiguity of faith in the midst of suffering and hostility.

Endo’s Silence took internationally renowned visual artist Makoto Fujimura on a pilgrimage of grappling with the nature of art, the significance of pain and his own cultural heritage. His artistic faith journey overlaps with Endo’s as he uncovers deep layers of meaning in Japanese history and literature, expressed in art both past and present. He finds connections to how faith is lived in contemporary contexts of trauma and glimpses of how the gospel is conveyed in Christ-hidden cultures.

In this world of pain and suffering, God often seems silent. Fujimura’s reflections show that light is yet present in darkness, and that silence speaks with hidden beauty and truth.

silence-and-beauty

Silence, Beauty, and the Shape of Christian Discipleship

by Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

In 1966 the Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo published his masterpiece of historical fiction, titled Silence. It’s the story of Catholic missionaries in Japan during the 17th century, of Japanese persecution and torture of Christians, of apostasy and love, and of a God who stays silent during suffering until it is time for God to break the silence. The novel raises profound questions about love and suffering, and, in doing so, sticks with and haunts its readers for years.

View this conversation with internationally renowned artist Makoto Fujimura, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, and theologian Neal Plantinga. Participants describe their first encounter with the novel Silence and then discuss the power of icons, the unthinkable forms sometimes taken by love, and the grace of God in history that gives voice to the voiceless. Fujimura also previews the film Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese.

Makoto Fujimura is a gifted artist and writer. In his memoir titled Silence and Beauty, Fujimura reflects on Endo’s novel, on faith in the face of torture, on the artist’s calling, on Japanese history and culture and what it means for Christians to be a tiny, historically persecuted minority within Japan. Deeply imaginative, brooding, and piercing, Silence and Beauty stirs the reader’s heart with longings previously unknown.

Congregations are encouraged to read Endo’s book and view the movie Silence produced by Paramount Pictures.

Silence Discussion Guide
The following questions may be used for discussion and further reflection:

Share with the group one thing that struck you as you read (or viewed).
What questions does this story raise?
This story is often described as “atmospheric.” Why so?
Who are the main characters?
Who is Kichijiro and what role does he fill? Is his defense of his actions plausible? Would we be like him if under similar pressure?
Why would a novel like Silence become an international best-seller, including in Japan? After all, it tells the story of Portuguese missionaries in 17th century Japan, and ends up making both Japan and the Catholic Church look pretty bad. Why is this story widely regarded as a masterpiece?
Could there be cultural or national “swamps” where the gospel simply can’t take root?
Is God’s silence in the face of persecution always a form of abandonment by God?
If the only way a Christian can save the lives of other Christians is by renouncing Christ, would it be right to do it? What if you only think you can save their lives (persecutors sometimes lie)? If you renounce Christ to save lives, can Christ “take it”? Might Christ even invite you to renounce him to save lives? Or is any thought along those lines mere self-deception?
In short, does Rodrigues betray Christ by trampling or does he follow Christ?
In general, should we calculate the possible consequences of our actions as the main basis for an ethically questionable decision, or just follow God’s commands, and let God take care of the consequences?
What moral ambiguities test Christians today? Have you ever faced a quandary? For example, with a difficult relative? With a friend who is betraying his or her spouse? On the street in front of a panhandler? How do you decide what to do?
What are some small, undramatic ways we ourselves renounce Christ? At work. In our political choices. In our consumption of pop culture. In our family systems.
Where in the world today do Christians face real persecution? What forms does contemporary persecution take?

Silence and Beauty Discussion Guide
Questions for groups reading Makoto Fujimura’s book Silence and Beauty:

What special angles of vision do the Japanese have on beauty? If you were to introduce the concept of beauty to someone, how would you proceed?
Is beauty a purely relative concept? Is beauty only in the eye of the beholder?
What might it mean to refer to the beauty of God?
What’s the connection between appreciation of beauty and faith in God?
Why are the Japanese fascinated with hiddenness, and what forms does it take for them?
Why is trauma so deep in the Japanese psyche?
Why are the Japanese resistant to the gospel (by contrast, for instance, with Koreans)?
What are our own fumies? What in our own faith are we willing to trample in order to fit into a prevailingly secular culture?
After he has become apostate, does Father Rodrigues still have a ministry? A valid one?

Silence and Beauty Exhibition

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In Bonhoeffer, a four-session video-based small group Bible study, New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas will help you discover the major themes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing and speaking and how he not only helped transform an entire faith community in Germany during World War II, but how his beliefs continue to impact the Christian faith of people throughout the world today. Pulling themes from all Bonhoeffer’s major books, Metaxas helps you understand why these spiritual truths meant so much to Bonhoeffer and how they can be an inspiration and challenge to your faith. – The Hub

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Makoto Fujimura shares how he came to understand the beauty he creates through art by understanding and accepting the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

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IAM

 

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A masterpiece can be said to be a work with the capacity to outlast its time and speak to cultures vastly different from its own; to transcend its time and place and inspire new works by artists in succeeding generations

When first published, Eliot’s poem received a lukewarm reception by colleagues and literary critics who compared it to his masterpiece, The Wasteland, and found it lacking. Friends of Eliot’s, such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, criticized the poem for its overt allusion to Christian faith and the traditions of sacred poetry, like that of Dante and Julian of Norwich, and the obvious way the poet attempted to blend modernist literary tropes with traditional religion. These critics thought Christianity was a thing of the past and irretrievable by contemporary artists and thinkers. Yet now, more than three-quarters of a century later, the poem is considered a major milestone in English literature.

Four Quartets is relevant to our own cultural moment because of its powerful testimony to the grace and vision of the Gospel message in a multicultural milieu. In Eliot’s vision all hinges upon the “still point” where the human experience of time evokes wonder, fear and longing for continuance and redemption, and where Christ’s presence is the pivotal point for the entire Creation. Herman and Fujimura have made a substantive response in painting, not so much illustrating Eliot’s work or making direct allusion to passages in the poem as attempting to find, in Eliot’s words, the “objective correlative,” between the poet’s themes and their own works. Christopher Theofanidis has produced a compelling score that evokes the brooding and brilliant light of Eliot’s poem. In effect, the painters and composer are collaborating in intentional dialogue with the poem, revealing the staying power of its genius and its self-declared reliance on the Christian literary and theological tradition.

Artists Makoto Fujimura and Bruce Herman, along with composer Christopher Theofanidis and theologian Jeremy Begbie, have begun a touring exhibition and festival of theology and the arts which reveals this very thing: Eliot’s masterpiece is still able to transcend its era and social location, generating fresh response and inspiring young artists of today. Fujimura and Herman have each completed four large works in response to the imagery, emotion, and allusion evoked by Four Quartets, and have collaborated with Christopher Theofanidis in his commissioned musical score entitled “At the Still Point.” Dr. Begbie has initiated and is actively organizing a scholarly and theological colloquium at Duke University that underscores Eliot’s relevance for this new generation.

A conversation with Makoto Fujimura & Bruce Herman

 

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I had a nice quiet walk back to the Georgia World Congress Center. I was beat from the night before and was going on five hours of sleep. We start off each day in our community groups and I spent my walk preparing my heart for the day.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:4-5 (ESV)

Francis Chan opened up our community group with this passage of scripture. We can’t do anything apart from God. Satan likes to distract us from abiding in Him by the thoughts he puts in our heads. We look at others and envy what God is doing in them. This is due to our own pride and arrogance. We need to humble ourselves before the Lord and hope we are abiding in Him.

Francis gave the example of leaders. Do we follow them because of their knowledge and communication skills? If anything we should be paying attention to how they walk with God. There should be something attractive about them that we are not be able to describe. That’s the power of God shining through someone abiding in Him.

Insecurity and Pride go hand in hand

Even though I empathize with them, I truly believe this. Insecure people make life all about them and believe in the crazy thoughts that Satan puts in our heads. I know this from my own personal battle with insecurities and from others that I have done life with. Things like social media fuel our arrogance and make it hard to lead. We need to put those thoughts aside and just abide and rest in Him. Disconnect from the voices and get back to who you were when you first believed.

Now this is the part that really hit me. Francis talked about that child-like faith we had when we first believed and how we need to get back to it. I met with my community group and couldn’t stop sobbing. My mom used to work two jobs just so I could go to camp and other youth events as a kid. I remember at one of my first camps a bunch of us went wandering in the woods of Prescott and got lost (we were about 12 years old). After a few hours, there was this one kid that started to freak out and couldn’t stop crying. I remember walking up to him and telling him that God will pull us out of this and I prayed for him. I can honestly say I just don’t do that much anymore. I couldn’t stop crying because I don’t know what happened to that child-like faith that I used to have as a boy. I was the little boy who read the passage about having faith like a mustard seed and being able to move mountains and literally stood in front of a mountain and truly believed God would raise it up. That’s child-like faith – believing that God can do the impossible! The best and worst thing that has ever happened to me is I went into ministry. I’m always thankful of the opportunities I had but at the same time it fueled my insecurities. I pray that I continue to humble myself before Him and abide in Him.

Francis Chan

Francis Chan

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Today was an awesome week for me as four couples I’m friends with got married. I can honesty say that all four of these couples truly love Jesus and I foresee all of them having amazing marriages. It’s been a fun day and I’m so excited for all of them! Also I noticed this week is anniversary week for many of my friend’s marriages too. This was especially encouraging to me as many of them had rough starts to their marriages. I honor all of them for gutting it out through the tough times and they are seeing the rewards for sticking it out. It really shows couples who truly believe in God’s plan for marriage and have the faith in His power to make their marriages work. Very inspiring! Congrats to Johnny and Creselda, Jake and Erin, Ben and Krystal and Daniel and Darcy. God bless all of you and your marriages!

“God created marriage. No government subcommittee envisioned it. No social organization developed it. Marriage was conceived and born in the mind of God.”  

~ Max Lucado

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