Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"The Nobility of Failure"

The book The Nobility of Failure by Ivan Morris was one of the best books on Japanese History I have ever read. It deals with a series of "failed heroes" - people who tried to accomplish a goal, but failed, and then became heroes in Japanese Culture.

Why? How could they become heroes? Because their devotion to their cause, even when it was clearly lost, showed their "Makoto" - their sincerity, their purity of heart. Japanese History has a long history of creative changing of sides - the fact that these people don't jump ship shows how much they support their position, and thus garners and earns respect. (If you have seen the movie "The Last Samurai", it is based loosely on the life of Saigo Takamori, who led the Satsuma Rebellion. He is one of the heroes that Morris profiles)

What is fascinating about this, and what we might learn from this, is that with these heroes the focus isn't on winning or survival - but remaining true to their principles. And in fact, in many cases because they remain true, because they don't sell out, those principles are then extolled and have more influence. Of course, this all ties into the Bushido - the Way of the Warrior. Do you know what the Way of the Warrior is? The Way of the Warrior is to die.

Now for something that isn't really syncretistic. . .

Let us compare this approach to what our approach to this life as Christians are to be. Are we called to be faithful, or to do whatever we need to do to be on the winning, popular side? Are we to love our life in this world, or do we lose our life in this world? When all the tides of the world say "do this", do we capitulate or do we resist and say, "As for me and my house, we will follow the Lord."

Or to put it another way - the way of the Christian is to die. . . to die to sin, to die to self, and to live to and with Christ.

And sometimes, when we are in that moment of dying to self, when we are holding our ground as the world runs off around us. . . on whatever issue it is where the world is pressuring us - abortion, homosexuality, women's ordination, retaining the liturgy - our old foe loves to come to us and say, "Your cause is pointless -- all you are going to do is drive yourself into the mud and drag your family and your congregation down with you. Give in, go with the flow, it's just the times."

We are called to resist - to bear witness to the truth - even at expense to ourselves. And this is not merely for our own benefit (for remaining faithful even unto the crown of life everlasting IS for our benefit), but also for the witness and encouragement and hope it provides for others of the faith.

This is something we see throughout history.

Then the early LCMS rejected revivalistic theology and insisted on doctrine - many in the US viewed it as a drastic failure. It was a wonderful thing, and ought to shape us today.

When Luther was declared an outlaw - again, he bore faithful witness.

When the various saints and martyrs were sent to their death, it was a failure (except in terms of entertainment value) in the eyes of the world - but again, hope and inspiration for generations of the faithful. I'm particularly favorable to Ignatius of Antioch in particular ("I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.")

And of course, the highest example would be Christ Himself - the world saw the cross as scorn and shame and foolishness - when in reality it was the Wisdom of God for our salvation.

Stick to your guns, Christians! Don't think like a win at all cost American - rather, be faithful above all things.


Mike Baker said...

The way I see it, our task to remain faithful in this time and place should not be difficult. What is really at stake for us when it comes to external concerns? Popularity? Relevance? Making the budget? In the world of suffering for the gospel, we get off the easiest of all.

To whine about our problems as if they are big when they are pitiful and superficially small is the "frivolous way of sophisticates".

Here's one of my favorite quotes about the mindset of Bushido (Which is not really that different than any other warrior mindset throughout history. The US Army warrior ethos and creeds line up almost word for word with the Code of Bushido.):

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one's aim is to die a dog's death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one's aim. We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaining one's aim is a dog's death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling."

-Yamamoto Tsunetomo, 17th Century

Mike Baker said...

One important thing to keep in mind is that Bushido (like all virtue codes) was rarely followed in the real world. Much of it is an artificial construct of the Edo period which was a time of relative peace where warriors sat around and glorified the good old days by spinning stories about how great and honorable things used to be when compared with the decadant present age. (sound familiar?)

The historical evidence points to the fact that the honor codes that were so praised in later Japanese literature were never consistant throughout the whole warrior caste and were rarely followed. In fact, many warriors saw following a code of conduct in war to be stupid because it made you predictable to your enemy.

Like all virtues, Bushido went out the window when everyone's life and property was on the line. But that didn't stop you from writing books about it from the safety of your palace or temple during times of peace when Bushido was an abstract concept that did not threaten your life.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, all this plays into what Patton says at the beginning of the movie - the job of a soldier isn't to die for his country, it's to make some other sap die for his country.

Often this was used, especially during WWII, to convince some subordinate beneath you to die for your country.

However, the idea that I must live, that I must survive at all costs. . . that's not the way things good in a militaristic campaign, and we are in the Church Militaristic - it's called that because sometime death is called for. Have no fear, little flock, have no fear, little flock.

Mike Baker said...

...and Patton died an inglorious death from a pulmonary embolism caused by the cervical spinal cord injury sustained during a low spead car accident between a military truck and his cadillac. He had been phaesant hunting. In the end he didn't die for his country, but from poor vehicular restraints and bad driving. Probably not how he thought it would go.

Death, suffering, and loss are inevitable for all of us... but usually it is so unexpected. Some things are just not avoidable. This body of death and this temporary world are passing away. We know that when someone brings it up but it just doesn't click until we are faced with the cold hard reality of a presant circumstance. We can ignore our situation all we want but the treasures on earth are ALL transitory. It is not a question of if, but when.

So why frantically fight to keep what will not last? In the end pragmatism is a really bad joke. What profit is there to gain the whole world and forfiet your soul?

I have found that if I always keep the heavenly reward won by Christ in mind, the hard choices become a little easier.