Father Rodriguez with Kichijiro in the Movie, Silence
Thoughts on Silence
After watching the film, Silence, I was mute, full of emotion, questions and also a need to be around people (at least for a time afterwards). I won’t give a full synopsis of the film here but I did want to write down some thoughts that have been churning in me after reading Makoto Fujimura’s book, Silence and Beauty, as well as reading Endo’s novel, Silence and then finally watching Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence. That was the sequence I followed. Not saying that is the way to do it but it was my way. I found after each book and after the film that I needed space and time to fully get my questions out. Perhaps to untangle the mesh of emotions that came up as well.
I couldn’t help but think that the film and books touched so deeply on this theme of shame. How it was a profound part of the Japanese culture but is just as much a part of ours today.
In the New York Times article titled, “Shame Culture”, David Brooks writes, “The desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense. People dread being exiled.” We tend to think of shame as something that happens very readily in Asian culture (I am a missionary kid from the Philippines and have seen first hand the effects of this “saving face” mentality and how it is handled) yet we never seem to see that it is right in front of us here in our western culture. In the article Brooks quotes from Andy Crouch who writes, “Any talk of good or bad has to defer to talk of respect of recognition…Asia’s shame culture is to have save, “face” or honor but contemporary culture is to be unique, attention grabbing…” We have become a social media society that seeks to be liked, loved, envied even but dare not be disagreed with. Crouch is quoted, “Shame culture can be unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in…”
In the film we see that the Japanese devise a deeper way of persecuting the Christians by using shame. They see that if they get the very Jesuits to apostatize then they can make them an example to the other Christians. They could root out this religion through the means of stepping on the fumi-e (cutting down any respect they might gain by their shamefulness).
Dan Allender, renowned psychologist, writer and founder of the Seattle School of Psychology and Theology writes, “Shame is one of the most effective weapons to silence us and shut us down. It is where Satan (his very name is “Accuser”) divides our heart most effectively from God, others and even from oneself.” In fact, Dan writes, “I often try to escape my own suffering and equally refuse the kindness of God in the midst of my struggle…yet God waits, exposes and constantly invites back.”
The film seems to play on two central figures that of Father Rodriguez and Kichijiro. Both travel through the film and become different people by the end. Father Rodriguez seems to discover his own humanity (and in it his humility as well as a deeper love for the sufferer more likened to Christ than he ever was). Kichijiro is the Judas figure of the story. He keeps betraying yet wanting to confess and be forgiven. Both men know what it means to live in shame. Yet, as Tish Warren writes in Liturgy of the Ordinary, “Our failure or successes in the Christian life are not what define us or determine our worth before God or God’s people. Instead we are defined by Christ’s life and work on our behalf.” Rodriguez literally hears Christ tell him to stomp on the fumi-e. Kichijiro relentlessly shows the ability to keep getting up and striving to live in grace even when it doesn’t seem fair to be tried so cruelly by the world.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I heard a sermon on this passage two days after watching the film. Naturally, my ear was struck by the word, “shame” in the Scripture. What did it mean that Jesus “despised the shame?” My Pastor, David Rogers said, “Jesus FELT the cross. Don’t forget that He knew it through His own flesh and blood.” I forget as I see Jesus, the Son of God, almost inhuman at times. But He was human. FULLY human.
John Piper writes about this passage, “Shame was stripping away every earthly support that Jesus had: His friends gave way in shaming abandonment; His reputation gave way in shaming mockery; His decency gave way in shaming nakedness; His comfort gave way in shaming torture. His glorious dignity gave way to the utterly undignified degrading reflexes of grunting, groaning and screeching…”
How could the Son of God let Himself be shamed to such a level? This scripture points out the JOY set before Him. Jesus believed that shame, fully exposed, fully in the open, could be grace for all of mankind.
Rodriguez is able to let the Catholic Church believe he has apostatized. He is able to take on the role of a married man (even after taking vows that he would not do that). He is able to take the ridicule of the village children (the people) because he fell past the shame into a deeper place of love. He became one of them. No longer is he above them or using them for some deeper meaning to his life. He sees with truer eyes: They are you and you are they. And in a nutshell we aren’t enough. Not one of us is. We all fall short; we all step on our fumi-e perhaps unnumbered times a day. AND YET GOD LOVES. Phillip Yancey writes in, What’s So Amazing About Grace? “God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are…”
where Inoue says to Rodriguez, "Your glory is their suffering!" Glory is not through that path at all
but in letting go and BEING with another person in their suffering, just as Christ did for us.
How does our true compassion meet shame? How does empathy help me see more clearly
the truth of how I am loved? How does Emmanuel meet me today?
Calvin Miller writes in The Table of Inwardness:
"Did I talk to God today?
Yes, some, but more than talk, I listened.
Did I see Christ in my world?
Yes, I saw nothing but Christ."
Shaming Shame, Ecclesia Houston Podcast, Dan Allender, May 15, 2016.
What’s So Amazing About Grace? Phillip Yancey, Zondervan, September 30, 1997.
Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren, April 1, 2015
The Table of Inwardness, Calvin Miller, July 1984.
What Does It Mean for Jesus to Despise the Shame? Article for Desiring God, John Piper, March 29, 2013.
The Shame Culture, New York Times, David Brooks, March 15, 2016.