Japan and the Silence of God

As we continue to hear about rising death       tolls, pending nuclear meltdowns and entire communities reduced to nomads, it comes as no surprise that religious communities are starting to ask (and rightly so) ‘Where is God in all of this?’

Shusaku Endo was a prominent (and underrated) Japanese author in the mid-20th century. But his most widely-read work that he wrote (Silence) deals primarily with the silence of God in life’s most abhorrent tragedies. There is one particular passage that I’ve been drawn back to in the wake of the unspeakable tragedies that continue to happen across the Pacific.

In Silence, Endo portrays the visit of a Portugese Jesuit priest to Japan in the 17th century. In one scene, the priest looks out over a ruined and prays: “The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? … Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong men like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering. So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence.”

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be sitting outside of your house surveying damage from the earthquake when the ocean comes barreling down your street. I have to imagine that at some point we’ll find the limit to our endurance. I have to imagine that the prayers of the world can only take us so far. But the thing that we hope with all of our beings is that there’s something other than the stubborn silence of cold darkness that meets us on the other side.


P.S. I watched this video right before I wrote this. Check it out. It’s pretty intense.

Rob Bell, Japan and Hell*

I hate to bring up the Rob Bell thing again. I know it’s tired. I know everyone’s said what they have to say on the topic (including me). But with the constant stream of terrible news coming out of Japan in the last 48 hours, it just seems appropriate to talk about Hell.

In case you’ve been completely under a rock, here’s what you’ve missed: On Friday, Japan experienced what scientists are now calling a 9.0 earthquake (4th largest since we started keeping track), which brought on estimated 30 foot waves, and now nuclear reactors failing left and right. The Japanese government estimates 10,000 dead. Most of the country is without running water and electricity. Hospitals can’t function. Parts of Tokyo are being evacuated because of the nuclear reactors leaking radiation. If you want to look at Hell… Japan is a good example.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t need to picture a far off pit of fire and torment to envision Hell. It’s here. It’s in our midst. We look around our world and see Hell in places like Japan. Or in Libya where a government is actively killing its own people. Or down the streets of any U.S. city where families are divided by divorce, where careers are lost and dreams deferred, where new generations of kids continue to grow up without fathers.

We don’t have to hate on Rob Bell for saying there’s no one in Hell. It’s all around us. However, the one message of hope that we’re yearning for with all of our being is that there’s something more. That there’s a force in the world that is more powerful than our brokenness. That the God, who is love in and of God’s self, will win.


* Can you tell I’m excited for the book? Good grief…

A Problem of Ashes

I’ve never understood Lent.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t necessarily the first kid in the church every Sunday. I thought church was kind of lame because it was an hour of being quiet, sitting still and listening to somebody talk about some guy who lived in Heaven. (I used to have a pretty crazy picture of God in my head, but I’ll save that for a later post…)

Now, if I didn’t understand why we gathered together every Sunday, then I certainly didn’t understand why one Wednesday a year, we would go to an extra service to get ashes put on our forehead. It sounds weird. And, let’s face it, it is weird. And I think I’ve pin-pointed why it’s so weird to me:

Ash Wednesday is about trauma.

Serene Jones defines trauma as any threat, perceived or real, that brings you next to your annihilation. Isn’t that exactly what Ash Wednesday is? The words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” bring us right next to the fact that we are impermanent. Ash Wednesday, then, sets into action the slow and agonizing descent into our own suffering. It introduces us into a life that is filled with the trauma of knowing we are not meant to stay here. It’s the trauma of knowing this is not our home.

Our Lenten depravations are not a way of purifying ourselves so that we can face the horror of the cross. Giving up soda, candy or Facebook isn’t going to help us identify with the depravity of the crucifixion. But they are there to remind us of who we are, broken people living in a broken world. Ash Wednesday traumatizes us because it snaps us back to the reality that we often deny with the way we live the rest of our year. We consume as if we’ll live forever, but Ash Wednesday stands fundamentally opposed to all earthly messages we are inundated with. The iPad 2 will not stop you from turning to dust (although the iPad 3 may). And the whiplash that we feel is because today sends us into a season of repentance.

We need Lent. We need absence before we can know fulfillment. We need trauma before we can know healing. We need the cross before we can know resurrection.


How Does Halo Inform Our Youth Ministry?

Now, before I get too deep into this, let me say just one thing. I’ve played Halo twice. And I really suck at it. Like really, really suck. I’m pretty sure I’ve killed myself more times than I’ve killed anyone else. That being said, I think it has an incredible capacity to teach youth directors and pastors (who may be as awesome at it as me) a lot about the connection of narratives.

I heard Pepperdine professor Craig Detweiler give a talk this weekend on how video games can and do impact the lives of the millions (even tens of millions) of kids who play these games on a daily basis. First-person gaming is so significant because it not only allows youth to participate in a narrative, but it allows people to create the narratives that play out in front of them. Kids can create avatars and characters that look exactly like they do, but the adventure narratives playing out on the screen are drastically different than their everyday life. The connection of these narratives is what drives the desire to keep playing video games for hours and hours (and hours) on end.

Believe it or not, this is a lot like the Bible, particularly the end of the Gospel of John. Even more particularly, with the character of Thomas. Thomas refused to engage in the preaching of the resurrection until he could see the connection between what he saw on Friday, and what the disciples were telling him now three days later. He refused to engage in the hope of the resurrection until the two narratives connected for him. This is why it’s so important that the Jesus in the Gospel of John is wounded.

The resurrected Christ appeared to Thomas with the wounds from his earthly life. The narratives of heaven and earth were connected in Jesus. Thomas stayed disengaged and skeptical until he could see those connections. Once Jesus appeared and Thomas was confronted with these connections, he made one of the most profound confessions of the early church.

So what if… as a confirmation or Sunday school exercise, we asked kids to imagine Biblical stories as video games. What would it look like if Mario and Luigi were Moses and Aaron running from Pharaoh Bowser? What if we took the narrative of our personal experience, the narrative of the Bible, and the narrative of video games and saw the intersections? What would a video game faith look like? What are its advantages? Disadvantages?

If a youth ministry is going to thrive in the future, it will have to connect the variety of narratives that we experience in culture on a daily basis. We either do this, or risk kids abandoning youth group to stay home… and play Halo.


Discipleship: Is There an App for That?

I took a class this past J-term about what discipleship and vocation looks like with youth. It was a great class with a lot to chew on. This is one of the papers we had to write for it. I want to share it because I think it’s a worthy topic of conversation. How can we create meaning in a culture that has everything at its fingertips? What does discipleship look like in the culture of iEverything? I don’t give cut and dry answers because these are not cut and dry questions. Take it or leave it, but here it is…


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