Beauty out of Ugliness

By Mark RodgersLast week, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto was brutally murdered by the the extremist group ISIS. The incident unfortunately reminds us that religiously motived intolerance can lead to brutal oppression, but it also occurred in a week that marks a moment in history when people were persecuted because of their faith.1069A week after he was shown holding a photo of the corpse of his fellow Japanese captive, Haruna Yukawa, Goto became the next in a string of brutal killings by ISIS, the most recent being the burning of a Jordanian pilot. Many of ISIS' killings are meant to provoke international outrage and concessions, but persecution in Syria and Iraq has also been focused on domestic religious minorities, including Christians for which ISIS has used crucifixion as a tool of martyrdom.The Japanese beheadings and the martyrdom of Christians intersected with both history and the Catholic calendar last week on February 6, the Feast of St. Paul Miki and the 26 Martyrs of Japan.Paul Miki was born into a wealthy Japanese family and educated by Jesuits, whom he joined and became a well known and successful preacher. He was arrested and jailed with other Catholics leaders, and forced to march 600 miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki. He was crucified on February 5, 1597, while preaching his final sermon from the cross. Making the timing of last week's beheading even more poignant, crucified alongside Paul Miki was another martyr, Joan Soan de Gotó.Religious conflict and persecution are sadly nothing new, as President Obama's controversial comments at the National Prayer Breakfast last week reminded us. Certain chapters can be forgotten, however, as has been the story of Japan's martyrs. This is about to change.February 5 was also the first day of filming in Taiwan for the movie Silence, about the persecution of Japanese converts to Christianity in the early 17th century. The Martin Scorsese film starring Andrew Garfield (Spiderman) and Liam Neeson (Taken) will serve as a reminder of this lost chapter in Christian history, but equally as a reminder of the challenges of maintaining religious liberty when a faith is perceived to be a threat to power.Bono-Edge-360-U2-WallpaperI've written about Silence in the past, and like the film Calvary that I reviewed last month, it raises as many questions as it tries to neatly answer. Through a joint venture called Cave Capital, I am involved in the production of Silence because, unlike recent "Christian" films that have been widely distributed but narrowly received, it will have a broad audience and be a catalyst for important conversations.At the heart of both films is the same message -- as hard and unfair as life can be, God can redeem our circumstances for a greater good. There is purpose in suffering. For Christians, this is what we understand to be the journey of the cross. As U2 sings in their song Grace, the Good News is that "grace makes beauty out of ugly things."