Leadership Lessons from the Soul of Moses

Encased in a body that you recognize in the mirror, your soul is the “you” that’s always been there peering back from your reflection. It’s the part of you that infuses all the roles you play (parent, spouse, friend, leader, employee), and it’s what makes those roles uniquely yours. Your soul is the place where you and God meet–or where the empty spot resides when you are sensing God’s absence and wishing things could be different.

Chances are if you live in the crucible of ministry, you’ve given some thought to your soul-ish self, and maybe you’ve even felt the danger of losing touch with your real self in the course of a day’s work. Jesus is the One who introduces the idea that a soul is something we can misplace:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”  (Matthew 16:26)

This is more than just an academic concern, for the spiritual leader leads from the soul, but it’s easy to lose track of one’s own soul in the care and feeding of the souls of others. Ruth Haley Barton felt the insidious slippage in her own ministry and gathered lessons from the life of Moses as a lifeline back to herself and a vibrant relationship with God. Her gleanings have been re-released in the expanded edition of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Transforming Resources).

The training of Moses’ soul for leadership did not begin on the day he and 600,000 former slaves departed from Egypt, or even in the harrowing days of appearing before Pharaoh. Moses’ journey began much earlier when he fled his familiar surroundings, took himself out of the action, and landed in Midian to escape the murder charges he would have faced back in his home town. The forging of a life-giving connection with God was a lifelong process for Moses, and it will be also for present-day leaders who are willing to ask the probing question, “How is it with your soul?” and to live their way into a meaningful answer.

Leaders Are Refined by the Word of God in Solitude and Silence.

Barton describes Moses’ childhood as “convoluted” (36) and his unrefined, pre-Midian leadership style as “reactive and out of control.” (38) Fleeing was Moses’ first step into a solitude in which God used the days and years to “deepen [his] wounds into wisdom.” (58) God employed the burning bush to get Moses’ attention, modeling the necessity of “turning aside to look.” (58) In the silence and solitude, God spoke, and it was the Word of God that gave direction.

Today, as we take His Word with us into our silence, He will reveal insights we would miss in a hurried and distracted reading. Just as Moses caught sight of the bush out of the corner of his eye on an ordinary day and had the good sense to turn toward it, our own great sightings of God are likely to come because we’ve taken the time to turn in His direction and then to hear His Word when it comes.

Your Calling May Emerge from the Uniqueness of Your Life Story

Moses was initially derailed by his anger, but, ultimately, it was this passion for his people and his strong sense of justice that allowed him to transcend the person he had been on his way to becoming a leader God could use. Rather than fighting against or undoing your authentic self, you may find that, like Moses, in your leadership role you become even more of what God created you to be.

A Leader Learns Wisdom and Restraint by Waiting

Lesson by excruciating lesson, Moses learned to wait for God’s next word. Barton refers to the spiritual disciplines with the engaging term “spiritual rhythms,” noting how each is balanced by an opposite: work and rest; silence and word; engagement and retreat; stillness and action. The stressors of leadership drew Moses deeper into relationship with God. When a leader has learned to wait for God in the darkness, she is on her way to learning the wisdom of restraint that waits for God’s next directive when the way is not clear.

Wise Leaders Operate within Limits

As satisfying as it is to feel indispensable, it’s an expensive luxury. Moses’ father-in-law set him straight on this, advising him in the wisdom of delegation and exposing his responsibility to train other spiritual leaders. If you are experiencing irritability, restlessness, compulsive overworking, emotional numbness, escapist behaviors, or are feeling disconnected from your soul and unable to tend to normal human needs, examine your life for signs that you are exceeding your own limits.

Sustenance for Ministry is Found in Prayer

Just as Moses stood between God and his fractious people, so the praying leader lifts the concerns of others before God, and contrary to popular Christian culture, this intercessory ministry is the greatest gift we bring to our fellow believers. Barton offers helpful insights that address my own tendency to pray prescriptively, as if it were my duty to advise God of all the possible outcomes, and then to help Him in choosing the best one. As we pray, we are reminded over and over again of our own inadequacy to be for our much- loved colleagues in ministry all that the Lord can be for them.

Leadership Is Often Characterized by Loneliness

Because a leader often sees what others do not see and is called to persevere in the face of criticism and discouragement, the life of a leader is characterized by seasons of loneliness. Moses found companionship in God, and refused to take one step in the direction of the Promised Land without the presence of God. Sustained for the long haul of leadership by a vision of God’s goodness, Moses found too that the loneliness of leadership keeps the leader always seeking.

Whether leadership for you involves guiding a half dozen women in a friend’s living room or standing at the helm of a multinational non-profit, for the believer, leadership is spiritual, and it is soulful work. God invites leaders into the crucible of ministry as a soul-strengthening experience, and then He meets us there in the deep and tender places. True spiritual leadership originates in a soul that is making its home in Christ.

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (Transforming Resources), simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your soul-strengthening encouragement,

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Grandparenting: A High and Holy Calling

Mothering is the calling and the gift that came to me even though I did not have either the wisdom or the optimism to pray for it. Twenty-four years into the journey, I’m still learning, and my kids are good teachers. Because my husband and I were “late bloomers” in a part of the world where people tend to marry and start their families early, quite a few of our friends had already become grandparents while we were still up to our fetlocks in parenting. Even after our oldest son married, the idea of becoming a grandparent was nowhere on my radar — and then my first grandchild was born.

Made in the express image and likeness of his dad, my grandson was instantly “knowable” and soon became a kindred spirit. Together we’ve spread paint on paper and on popsicle sticks; we’ve made cookies and craft projects and played in the snow. Our long walks through the woods with the dog or down the road with the stroller have made him a toddler-ace at identifying flowers and making conversation with the neighbor’s donkey.

Resources for Grandparents-in-Training

Like his dad and his uncles, my grandson is also a good teacher. However, even after the birth of his baby sister, I’m well aware that I’m still a grandmother-in-training.

Phyllis and Andrew LePeau have provided a Life Guide Bible Study that encourages me to open the Word of God and to step into its wise instruction for grandparenting well. In Grandparenting: Loving Our Children’s Children (Lifeguide Bible Studies), the LePeaus have a light touch, likely cultivated by their own 13 grands.  And since, in their opinion, “grandchildren are the reward for not killing your kids,” I want to learn from both the positive and the negative Biblical examples so I can be a blessing to future generations.

According to the study, the greatest blessing we can give to our grandchildren is a solid relationship with their parents. We bless them well by layering our affection, our time, our prayers, and our teaching about God on top of what their parents are trying to do. Analyzing the content of Old Testament blessings reminds me of the importance of my words (spoken and written), of expressing high value for their little lives, of picturing a special future for them, and of making an active commitment to their good.

When viewed through the lens of loving our children by loving their children, the story of Ruth becomes a lesson in accepting my daughters-in-law as if they were my own children. Isaac and Rebekah’s regretful favoritism becomes a cautionary tale about multi-generational dysfunction. Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness is the lubricant that prevents a family’s relational gears from grinding and wearing. The little known story of Barzillai, aide to King David, offers wisdom about stepping aside and giving adult children the gifts of freedom and encouragement.

The profound sacredness of loving our children and their children leads to a role that is fun, challenging, and necessary. Michele Howe asserts that There’s a Reason They Call It Grandparenting , and then goes on to distinguish between run of the mill grandparents and GRAND parents:

“A grandparent seeks to pack a positive punch of biblical influence into their grandchildren’s lives. They prayerfully seek out the most effective ways to lend a hand to their adult children in both practical and fun ways. They don’t simply seek to spoil their grandchildren with good times or material extras . . . The wise grandparent will do everything they can to demonstrate and illustrate the love of Jesus Christ to their grandchildren. . . . Grandparents understand how fleeting life is and proactively look for divine opportunities to point their grandchildren to Jesus.”

Grand Ideas for Maximum Impact

Howe expands on her definition with practical counsel around hospitality, relationship building, and unconditional love. “Grand Ideas” at the end of each chapter provide support and inspiration for offering spiritual instruction. Cheering on our grandchildren is a priority whether they live close by or even if distance adds to the challenge.

  • Set aside time and money and energy to invest in that all-important relationship. Make the most of every opportunity to connect.
  • Become a student of your grandchild’s uniqueness so you’ll know their love language and how to communicate with them.
  • Listen with patience to their struggles and successes. Let them know you have their full attention and support.
  • Get creative in engineering opportunities to be with your grandchildren; e.g. picking them up from school, shuttling them to their activities.
  • Never stop praying for any of your grandkids — and their parents.
  • In challenging seasons of family life, be a safe haven. On a fallen planet, illness, divorce, and struggles with addiction can be devastating, but a caring grandparent can provide stability.

The opportunity to have an impact on another generation is a humbling privilege. Working to be a transforming influence in the lives of our children’s children is an investment in our family’s future and a journey that is sure to keep a grandparent’s faith vibrant and growing.


I have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase  Grandparenting: Loving Our Children’s Children (Lifeguide Bible Studies) or There’s a Reason They Call It Grandparenting click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

These books were provided by the publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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A Guide for Living Well as an Introvert of Faith

Little Rock, Arkansas was the Sunday stop on the last leg of our cross-country trip. I don’t recall the denomination of the church we visited, but I sure remember its personality: the two-handed handshakes, the over-the-top meet-n-greet . . . and the dear woman who sat next to me and kept touching my arm whenever the pastor made a good point. That church leaned hard toward an extroverted culture. For this introvert with the plexiglass space bubble, I  honestly couldn’t get out of that building fast enough.  While that church is certainly not typical by any means (thank heavens!), it demonstrates with broad brush strokes the extroverted culture that prevails in the church.

Adam S. McHugh looks at the church through the lens of an introvert. He encourages introverted believers to celebrate their temperament and, rather than being defined by what they are NOT (outgoing, people-loving, gregarious, etc.) to lean into the strengths and gifts that come with their personality.  Rather than equating spirituality with sociability and portraying evangelism as a back-slapping presentation of The Four Spiritual Laws, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture argues for a biblical vision of worship that puts God on display through relationships that encourage both introverts and extroverts to go deep into their inner worlds while at the same time moving outward in sacrificial love.

Explaining the Introverted Brain

Research shows that introverts and extroverts function differently because they process life differently. Introverts derive their energy from solitude while extroverts are energized by interaction and external stimuli. In addition, introverts filter that external stimuli through a finer grid, becoming overwhelmed more quickly than extroverts do with their more flexibly filtering brains.  Introverts tend to prefer depth over breadth in relationships, in their interests, and in self-examination. Scientifically and theologically, it would not be an exaggeration to say that our Creator knit each one of us together as either an introvert or an extrovert.

Solitude vs. Isolation

While introverts have a reputation for being selfish and isolated, all believers who are operating in health will instead practice solitude which McHugh defines as going “deep into ourselves in order to become more self-aware and more compassionate.” In a culture that thrives on over-stimulation, all temperament types need to formulate healthy practices of retreat, times of pulling away from the noise in order to re-enter with perspective and godly wisdom.

Level-5 Leaders

The “Level-5 Leaders” described in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great are not the classic charismatic leaders we associate with success. Their humility, diligence, and willingness to build into the lives of others explain God’s choice of leaders throughout biblical history: the second-borns and the slow-of-speech; the shepherd boys; and the uneducated fishermen. It turns out that “leaders in the real world are about equally divided between introverts and extroverts.”

Thriving as an Introvert of Faith

It is possible for a believing introvert to find a place of fulfillment and influence within the church. This is NOT accomplished by learning and parroting extrovert-ish behaviors, but rather by operating as teachers, leaders, and involved neighbors out of introverted strengths.

I was rather hoping for an “introvert exemption” on the matter of evangelism, but what I got from Introverts in the Church was far better. I was assured that there is an approach to evangelism that does not put me in the role of an answer dispensing content dumper. Introverted evangelists are fellow seekers who share with authenticity how “God’s love has reached the dark parts of [their] lives.” McHugh sees himself as one who shares glimpses of God by responding to the ways in which God is already at work in people around him. A narrow-focus of relationship building, open-ended questions, and non-defensive dialogue open the door for both introverted seekers and introverted evangelists.

Finally, as believers we are called to embrace discomfort for the cause of Christ and for the enlargement of our worship. Both introverts and extroverts will grow stagnant if never challenged. The inward and outward movement of breathing provides a helpful picture of the way a living thing survives and thrives. Believers of all temperaments need the depth and richness that come with solitude alongside the self-giving poured out life that accompanies community. God has created a diversity of personalities and gifts within the church, and this is a treasure we are only beginning to understand.


This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase either Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Cultureor The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Additional Resources

As an introvert, Adam McHugh realizes the power and importance of listening — and he wrote a book about it. I enjoyed reading it and shared my review here.

The Listening Life imagines a world in which the usual pattern of listening is reversed, where leaders listen to followers, where the rich listen to the poor, and the insiders listen to outsiders – not as part of a program or with a prescribed agenda, but one person at a time with listening as an end in itself.

True listening is a path out of the spiritual fatigue and distractedness that we bring to every interaction.  As we listen to God, as we pay attention to the messages our own hearts are trying to communicate to us, and as we turn our focus outward to hear the hearts of others, we are giving a gift that comes directly from God — and in the process, we receive a gift as well.

 

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The Spiritual Practice of Curiosity

Part of the delight of spending time with my tiny grandson is that he takes nothing for granted.
Nothing.
“Bam, why bubble pop?”
“Because you stood on it.”
“Why?”
Well, good question.  Why indeed, but our conversations routinely run on in this vein of relentless curiosity.  They move forward not because “Bam” comes up with anything like satisfactory answers, but because the two-year-old mind has jumped the rails to a new topic.

Historically, the church has an uneasy relationship with curiosity, beginning with the Son of God Himself receiving flack throughout His earthly ministry from the anti-questioning party in power at that time.  Casey Tygrett invites Jesus’ present-day followers back into the spiritual practice of Becoming Curious, beckoning readers into the tension that holds opposing concepts in a space that waits for answers from all the multitude of possibilities.

Risk and Tension

Jesus, the “whole and beautiful,” jumped into the mess of a broken-down world and created tension galore, so it should not surprise us when our own risky ponderings lead us into uncomfortable territory.  Jesus’ twelve “learners” were continually yanked into a right understanding of all they did not know by Jesus’ search-light words:

“What do you want me to do for you?”  

  • Posed to James and John (Mark 10:35,36) when they were gunning for the corner office;
  • Posed to Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47-52) the blind beggar who made a ruckus and sought healing.

It’s startling to see the question posed in both settings (Had you noticed it before?  I hadn’t.), but regardless of their initial intent in coming to Jesus, His unexpected question certainly let them know that they were in for more than they had expected.

The Critical Questions

Throughout the book, Casey Tygrett repeatedly argues for the utter necessity of curiosity for our spiritual formation.  When Jesus probed the disciples (Mark 16:15) for their interpretation of His identity, it was certainly not because He was unclear on this point.  The truth for 1st-century and for 21st-century learners is that our answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?” defines the core of who we believe ourselves to be.

“What practices, habits, attitudes, and realities are now possible because he is who he is, and therefore I can be the same?”

With so many cultural — and, face it, “religious” — influences seeking to name us against our will, a right understanding of our identity in Christ allows us to cling to our “real, God-engraved name.”

Hearing the Why

Pressing into a spiritual practice of asking questions holds the door open for those in the following life to move beyond the basics of what and how questions and to live our way into the world of why.  It’s our motives that shape who we are, and rather than pasting a list of legal requirements to our exterior selves, Jesus challenges believers in the practice of becoming:
Become the kind of person who can forgive beyond the seventy time seven.
Become a lover of the neighbors who act in an unworthy and annoying way.

Failure as Spiritual Formation

Curious living extends two challenges in the uncomfortable realm of failure:

  1.  Learn to understand and embrace our failures as part of who we are;
  2. Repent of our old ways of seeing failure.

In His recorded dealings with the failure of biblical characters, God goes on record as One who meets murderers and cheaters and weaklings of all types with grace and forgiveness.  What if part of the “all things” in Romans 8:28 that God promises to use for our good and for the fulfillment of His holy purposes includes (gulp) our failures?

Rituals, Routines, and Disciplines as Part of the Curious Life

Again, the important question in the following life is “Why?”  If I’m doing something because I want to earn favor with God, or because I think I can control some outcome in my life by it, then it’s likely that a ritual or routine has become my master.  God has ordained certain practices of godliness because He wants “to cut thick neural pathways in our minds that allow wisdom to flow continually.”  We show up in front of an open Bible each day, not because it’s a lucky rabbit’s foot and “my day always goes better if I start with Scripture” like a multi-vitamin, but because this is the path of formation that makes me into the kind of person who is able to discern the voice of God from all the screaming banshees inside my head.

Casey invites readers to keep a Questions Journal as they read and provides prompts at the end of each chapter that prime the pump.  I was surprised at what came bubbling to the surface as I scribbled questions into my notes, and I invite you to start reading Jesus’ biblical questions with a bit more involvement.  What if you were face to face with Him over coffee, and He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  What comes to mind first?

As we persist in our asking and in our listening, may we find that our questions become bolder and that we begin searching to know Him rather than merely to know about Him.  The spiritual practice of becoming curious is God’s gift to His people, and He has equipped our souls to take the shape of an explorer into the deep things that will change our way of seeing the world.  Are we curious enough to follow Him there?

This book was provided by the IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Be watching for details about an upcoming reading group that invites you to read (or re-read!) and discuss Wendell Berry’s classic work of literary fiction, Jayber Crow.  The discussion will begin on Thursday, September 7th.  A flawed and curmudgeonly bachelor barber, Jayber’s homely wisdom has inspired me to think more deeply about what I believe.  Here’s a thought from his ramblings on prayer:

“I prayed the terrible prayer: ‘Thy will be done.’ Having so prayed, I prayed for strength.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Sacred Ordinary/Ordinary Sacred

Annie Dillard has (famously) said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  This is a cautionary saying for those of us who live our days as the sandwich-makers, the sock sorters, and the finders of misplaced library books.  Therefore, Liturgy of the Ordinary has landed upon my reading list like a benediction, for in Tish Harrison Warren’s words, I hear the husky contralto sound track of Peggy Lee’s musical question “Is That All There Is?” Thanks be to God, Tish arrives at a resounding “No!”  The daily, mundane tasks that comprise civilization and self-maintenance on this planet are clearly not “all there is.”  On the contrary, they are shot through with the sacred — even all the repetitive and seemingly Sisyphean tasks that, while admittedly are sacrificial, seem hardly to be sacramental.

Liturgy of the Ordinary pushes back against the dualism that differentiates between answering emails and writing sermons, between talking theology over coffee and talking science fair project over milk and cookies because, for believers, ministry and everyday life are “intrinsically part of one another,” (p. 89).

Trish celebrates the reality that the spiritual disciplines that sustain the following life are quiet, reflective, and homely.  The trappings of devotion, even the elements of the Eucharist, can be found in any North American kitchen, and the inhale and exhale of communion with God around a verse of Scripture can, literally, be done with one’s eyes closed.

Since liturgy is, by definition, “the work of the people,” the faithful have been commissioned to do whatever is needful in the name of Christ.  Tish’s liberating thesis works itself out in the unfolding of the ordinary day of a wife, mum, ministry professional, and friend, a woman who chafes against the routine, who longs for a good night’s sleep, and who delights in the simple beauty of a vanilla steamer alongside a great novel.

The Glory of the Embodied Life

When we wake, no matter how  we wake (instantly bolt upright or groping toward consciousness), we begin our day beloved by God, and the staggering truth is that nothing we do in the course of each day will either magnify or diminish that standing.  Beginning each new day echoes that “first gleam of dawn” which characterizes “the path of the righteous” (Proverbs 4:18) at the outset of the Christian life.

Careening toward the age when it takes twice as long in front of a mirror to look half as good, it is a joyful thing to be reminded that “what we do with our bodies and what we do with our souls are always entwined,” (p. 39).  In taking on flesh, Christ decimated the false notion that the body is an evil burden and not worthy of respectful treatment and conscientious care. 

“Because of the embodied work of Jesus, my body is destined for redemption and for eternal worship – for eternal skipping and jumping and twirling and hand raising and kneeling and dancing and singing and chewing and tasting,” (p. 48).

capture

Tish Harrison Warren writes of the believer’s “everyday work of shalom”; of the “third way” in which we are neither Mary nor Martha, but are delighted to find our worship and our work as one; of the ministry of friendship, the sacrament of coffee, as well as the gift of rest.

I hope that you will click on over to Englewood Review of Books to finish reading my thoughts on this remarkable book in which Tish draws a clear line of connection between the activities of her daily routine and the pursuit of holiness.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press,  in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Silence and Beauty

C.S. Lewis described our world as “the Kingdom of Noise,” and he composed a psalm in the praise of  noise from the pen of Senior Tempter, Screwtape, in his letter to a young apprentice. By contrast, artist Makoto Fujimura praises the beauty of silence particularly in the context of Japanese culture.  “Perhaps in no other culture is a single word so relevant as silence is to Japan.  In Japan, silence is beauty and beauty is silent.”

In his analysis of Shusako Endo’s global best-seller, Silence, Fujimura deals with the book’s uneasy questions about the  nature of suffering,  faith, betrayal, and service to a God who, at times, chooses to remain silent.  Set in the 17th century during a period of intense persecution of Christians, Silence traces the ministry of Father Sebastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese priest who traveled to Japan to investigate rumors that a senior missionary had apostatized under torture.

As a bicultural Japanese American, Makoto Fujimura is uniquely positioned to ponder Endo’s assertion that Christianity is ill-suited to take root in the “mud swamp” of Japan — especially since this is where his own faith journey began.   As an artist who paints using layers of metal and natural pigments to create visual beauty, he is also uniquely qualified to probe the layers of meaning in Endo’s narrative arc.

It would be ideal to read Silence and Beauty in concert with Endo’s novel, but even with a year between my reading of the two books, I found that revisiting the fictional work through Fujimura’s eyes reawakened and deepened my interaction with and appreciation for Silence as a reflection on present-day culture:

  1.  A major theme that recurs throughout Endo’s  Silence, is the trampling of the fumi-e: an icon of Christ which Japanese Christians were forced to step on to show their rejection of the faith.  Silence and Beauty expands on the theme, helping the reader to see that even those of us who are free to do otherwise may find ourselves trampling God and the people most dear to us.   Father Rodrigues’s definition of sin helps me to see Fujimura’s point:

“Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another – to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.”

2.  Fujimura and Endo both ponder the nature of faithfulness.  Am I faithful to Christ if I am publicly disgraced, and yet privately effective in prayer, ministry and relationships? Am I more faithful to Christ if I have a recognized role in society as His representative, but privately have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing to help the people around me? Endo’s Silence was an agonizing read for me with Rodrigues lamenting the silence of God in his own experience while trying to be a spiritual leader in a cultural context that was completely alien to him — all the while with the threat of torture or imprisonment hanging over him.

Of course, I wanted him to come through the testing with triumph and go on to lead a Great Awakening among the Japanese because of his heroic faith. That’s not how it ended, and I’m still trying to reconcile this.

3.  A further theme of Silence and Beauty is the process of making peace with ambiguity.  It is the tendency of Christians (particularly Western Christians) to draw a hard line between faith and doubt — a faith-is-good-doubt-is-bad- dichotomy.  Makoto underlines Endo’s exposé of this flawed logic for, “it does not express faith in God but instead a faith in clarity and, . . . ‘our lust for certainty.'”

4.  As Endo reached back in history to the story of the apostates of the 17th century, Fujimura picks up the thread and carries it forward to his Ground Zero experience on September 11, 2001 with his studio a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.  Just as the fumi-e represents all of our betrayals and our failures of faith, Father Rodrigues’s intense suffering and wrestling with God represents for us all of our personal Ground Zero realities.  Silence and Beauty offers the redemptive truth that it is only through “resilient prayer” and forgiveness that we move through and eventually beyond our trauma.  In the end, then, it is only the Gospel that will heal and transform a heart — or a nation.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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