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Spring 2005 | Volume 28, Number 1

Letters to the Editor

I WAS MOVED DEEPLY by the picture in the last issue of Response of John Perkins — keynote speaker for the President’s Symposium on Reconciliation — with both of his hands out-stretched. In John’s words, “Reconciliation is the atonement and the work of Jesus coming into the world. It’s what God used to bring us back to himself. It is the way enemies become friends.” What is more exciting and important than that? I am greatly impressed by how intentional the leadership of Seattle Pacific University has been in the area of reconciliation, and I think that opening the Perkins Center for Reconciliation is a fine example of being a light on the hill. I am certain that there are a number of people in the United States who are bearers of a light for justice and reconciliation. However, I believe that a giant among them is John Perkins, whom I personally count as a mentor and consider to be a patriarch of community development; a true savant of God; and a light-bearer for truth, love, and reconciliation to this present generation. It is my prayer that in a fuller way reconciliation (Revelations 7:9, “… and I looked and I saw a multitude that no man could number from all tribes and peoples and tongues”) will become a reality in every sphere of life at SPU, realizing that all who have embraced Christ and his teaching have been given the power to become reconcilers.

— Allen A. Belton, Senior Associate Director, Urban and Global Missions, University Presbyterian Church, Seattle, Wash.

Living and Learning With Marilyn Meberg
I READ YOUR FEATURE ARTICLE about the 2004 SPU Alumna of the Year, Marilyn Meberg ’61, with great interest. Marilyn and I were roommates in Marston Hall from 1960–61. Having enjoyed a relaxed style of living the previous year with my roommate, Judy Raikko Oraker ’61, I wasn’t prepared for Marilyn. One of the first things she did was set some standards for me to live by. These included lights out by 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. and keeping things neat and tidy. As the quarter progressed, I was convinced our living together was not a good idea. I petitioned our housemother, Opal Townsend, to please move either me or Marilyn ASAP. Mrs. Townsend wisely told me to stick it out for the quarter, and if I still wanted the change, she would honor it. By the time the quarter ended, there was no way I wanted to move. I truly believe God wanted us to live and learn together. In many ways we were kindred souls. We both faced some emotional challenges, and in each other we found a special healing and a special bond. Even though Marilyn and I don’t see each other or communicate very often, I love her. I thank God and Opal Townsend for sending her to help me on my life’s journey

— Louise Koch Locke ’61, Seattle, Wash.

Reading Silence
THANK YOU FOR THE copy of Silence. I happened across Luke Reinsma’s Response article about the book as I was searching the Web for information about [Shusaku] Endo in connection with a class on modern Japanese literature.  My wife, who is from Japan, has recently become a Christian, and I was interested in the fact that so few Japanese (about 1 percent) have embraced Christianity in modern times.

Reinsma’s article and the book’s introduction quote St. Francis Xavier, one of the leaders of the Jesuits, as saying Japan is “the delight of my heart” and is the “country in the Orient most suited to Christianity.” By the end of the 16th century, we are told, there were more than 250,000 converts. However, the missionaries were later expelled and all converts were forced to renounce their religion. Those who did not were tortured and/or killed. The book details their travails.

But what about today? The Japanese have been quick to adopt Western methods and culture, but seem to shun its dominant religion. Their neighbors in China, Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippines have far greater numbers of Christians. Perhaps as others read Silence, they too will ponder this question and share their insights.

— Burt Schneider, Announcer, KUAT / KUAZ, University of Arizona

THANK YOU FOR THE opportunity to become aware of such an interesting book as Silence by Shusaku Endo and for the offer of a free copy. After reading Luke Reinsma’s article, I was very curious, as I was ignorant of the widespread persecution of Christians in Japan’s history. The book itself prompts more questions than it does answers, but I am looking forward to a discussion with friends who plan to read it for our book club.

One of these friends is buying a copy for her father, who has spent his life training missionaries. Who better to understand the complexities of taking the gospel to different cultures and how the mission experience does not always follow our idealistic expectations of what it will be like? I liked Reinsma’s comment: “Increasingly, we’re beginning to understand that mission work – or ‘engaging the culture’ – might be a kind of dialogue rather than a monologue, so that we’re not talking about others but talking with them.”

The pressure for Christians to apostasize that was described in the book reminded me of a discussion I had with some high schoolers a few years back at the time of the Columbine shootings We were discussing the fact that one of the killers reportedly asked students if they believed in God, and if they said yes, then he shot them. I was surprised to have two of the kids ask, “But Jesus would have understood, wouldn’t he, if we said no?” At the time, I remember being shocked that they would even consider denying their faith in that type of situation. This book reminded me of how familiar Jesus is with our frailty and weaknesses and how his love covers even our repeated failures.

— Jill Lundstrom, Rockford, Ill.

IN SILENCE, SHUSAKU ENDO raised a thought-provoking question about our relationship with God. Which is the greater scandal, he asked, Christian apostasy in the face of persecution, or God's silence when Christians suffer persecution? Most of us would probably say the first. But Endo believed God's silence to be the greater offense. However, Endo's view is easily misunderstood, because he believed that God's "silence" is redemptive. How? It is the "offense of the cross."

Endo looked at God's silence with the eyes of faith, through the lens of 1 Cor. 1:18: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God;" and through 1 Cor. 1:27: "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." For the "fallen priest," Rodrigues, this discovery comes as an epiphany, only at the end, when he finally realizes: "God knows our weakness more than anyone" [and still loves us!].

As with all great writers, Endo can be read at different levels. Many reviewers focus on his attempt to find a "maternal" view of God, which is more amenable to Japanese culture. Others focus on his theological ambiguity, which is a significant concern. My own interest in Endo is with his psychological insight. In his lesser known but similarly profound novel, Scandal (Vintage International, 1989), Endo explored the reality of original sin. The Christian protagonist, a thinly disguised representative of Endo himself, discovers his own “sinister side.” Like Solzhenitsyn, Endo reveals the cosmic battle between good and evil that rages within every soul. Like Shakespeare, Endo was aware of how easily a reputed "angel" (Angelo) can be revealed to be a demon in disguise (Measure for Measure). This novel, Silence, raises a related question. In the face of persecution, how deep does faith go? Externally one may be a Christian. But what is one really, underneath?

It is hard to wade through Endo's melancholy. One is reminded of Billy Sunday's famous quip: "If there's no joy in your religion, then you must have a leak in it." However, to do it justice, this great novel must be read from the perspective of other great literature which has wrestled with the same great questions. This includes the literary parallel of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov and Scripture itself, with the struggles of Job (e.g., Job 30:20) and the cry of Christ from the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).

Norman J. Lund, Director, Oxford Tutorials, Kenmore, Wash.

THIS YEAR, I HAD the pleasure of reading Silence, by Shusaku Endo, with the SPU community and University Scholars. If you have not read this book, I would highly encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and take the time to wrestle with a book that will challenge you to examine your faith journey, pulling you out of a Christianity of black-and-white answers into a world where mystery, contradiction, and true faith coexist. It is, as Luke Reinsma states in his article, “an extraordinarily haunting novel … a novel for most of us, most of the time, as we wend our way between heaven and earth with our longing souls and our feet of clay.”

One theme that echoed in my mind and heart as I read this novel was the theme of God’s silence in times of suffering. Life is difficult, and true spirituality does not erase this fact. To think this is not the case is to delude yourself and live in an illusion. I do sometimes wonder if the Christian church in the West is living in an illusion and missing the true mission of Christ to really grapple with the complexities of life, which leaves no room for trite answers, and actively love others despite their culture or religion and despite our strengths and weakness.

Most of us have prayed at some time in our life and felt like God was silent, just like the priest Rodrigues in Silence. Rodrigues prayed and meditated fervently and watched Japanese Christians put to horrible deaths for their faith, and yet, God was silent. How does that relate to your faith in Christ? There are a multitude of examples in our lives and in history of this silence from God. Does that mean God does not exist? No. But it means that God is bigger than our human understanding, and life will not always make sense. As Rodrigues states at the end of the book, the fight he fought was not against the other but against his own faith.

I am haunted by this question. When faced with the choice of denying Christ and becoming an apostate to save the lives of other Christians, what would I do? What would Christ do in that situation? Personally, I think Christ would apostate to save the suffering Japanese Christians who are being tortured, because Christ did not usually do what would have been considered the “right” thing to do among the religious of his time. He was radical in his love and many times chose to break rules to help others. He even chose suffering unto death. To engage other cultures and be a compassionate Christian we must change the way we view others and how we ultimately view ourselves.

I am further in my faith journey than I was before. My “longing soul” and “feet of clay” continue to struggle to serve God in an authentic way, where I acknowledge the silence of life as well as the differences among us. However, I still strive with my whole being to imitate the example of Christ as he lived on earth. Sometimes, this may mean apostasy, because that is the most loving and compassionate response. Sometimes, the loving response is not what we think.

Carolyn R. Roche, School Counselor, Phoenix, Ariz.

 

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