"As a man, I'm flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol... as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting." --Bruce Wayne
ORIGINAL JAPANESE: 踏み絵
DERIVATIVE: fumi “stepping-on” + e “picture”
MEANING: A fumi-e was a likeness of Jesus or Mary upon which the religious authorities of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan required suspected Christians to step on in order to prove that they were not members of that outlawed religion. (ref. source: Wikipedia)
The Price of Following
The Tokugawa shogunate was among the more brutal in Japanese history. The Japanese love for aesthetics and beauty was perverted during that time to the place where Christians were tortured obscenely. Shusaka Endo tells more in his book Silence, which was recently made into a blockbuster film by Martin Scorsese, staring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver. The story Endo tells is of a Jesuit priest who goes into the black land of Japan, a country where Christianity was not only outlawed, but detested. To a pantheistic society of Hindu/Shintoism and worship of beauty in aesthetics, beauty through pain; beauty in mortality, temporal, humanity and the observable reality, Christianity was an affront and an enemy.
Tokugawa sought to destroy it. But how could one destroy a symbol? The Romans had tried to crush Christianity by brute force, by spectacle of fear, but only succeeded in fueling its fires. There was only one way to destroy a symbol, to discredit it, to deface it, to have it’s own followers renounce it. So Tokugawa set about his task, building fumi-e tablets and stones as a symbol of the Christian faith and forcing the leaders of the religion to renounce God and step on the fumi-e. It was the ultimate shame, and in the eyes of the Japanese people, it proved how weak the Christian God was. The so-called Christian leaders would rather save their lives than stand by their faith; they would rather step on their God and the trust on Him.
In Makoto Fujimura’s musings on Silence, he tells of his encounter with the fumi-e at the Tokyo National Museum in Tokyo, Japan.
“Fumi-e were created during the seventeenth-century Tokugawa shogunate Christian persecution. They are images of Jesus, or the Virgin with a child, carved on wood or cast in bronze. Villagers were asked to line up on the beach and one by one renounce Christianity by stepping on these blocks… Individuals who refused or even hesitated were arrested and most likely jailed or tortured… What haunted me, and continues to haunt me to this day, is that all of the fume-e images were worn smooth. The cast or carved images were hardly recognizable due to so many people walking over them. The image of Christ, hidden beneath the smooth surface of the fumi-e, serves as an emblem of Japanese faith to this day.” –Makoto Fujimura (Silence and Beauty)
The fumi-e were the downfall of the growing Christian faith in Japan and an enduring symbol of the failure to follow our Lord completely. When we sacrifice our faith for our life, rather than our life for our faith, we reveal what manner of “follower” we are. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I would lay down my life for Christ. I’d die for Him if need be.” Peter said that before Jesus was taken to be crucified. But when it came down to it and the reality of death stared Peter in the face, he was scared. Sacrifice, particularly the ultimate sacrifice is easier said than done. But God calls us to that life and that relationship with Him.
When God is what you are living for, what more is it to die for Him?
We know we shall see Him on the other side of death, in paradise forever. If we love God above ALL else: our family, friends, job, ministry, influence, position, and our very life we will not hesitate to lay it all down for Him. The cause of Christ calls us to sacrifice and suffering, even as Jesus, our example, endured such that the Father might be glorified and sinners might be reconciled to God. Though our methods are different, our mission is the same as our Master’s: to endure much pain and affliction for the sake of reaching souls with the gospel that they might be saved.
What is your fumi-e? What image of Christ are you stepping on or over to get to where you want to be and what you want to do? How much of your faith are you compromising for pleasure? How much of your relationship with God are you jeopardizing for selfish purposes? God wants all of you, not just some of you. Total surrender to Him and total commitment to His plan for your life. Don’t tread on the Master any longer. Stand for Christ, not on Him. Stand on His promises in faith, not on His images in fear.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist