Different faiths can energize your own

Are you energized by those whose faith differs from yours? Or are you troubled by them?

It’s one thing to acknowledge religious diversity. It’s quite another to embrace it and celebrate it. The reality of overlapping cultures within our community invites us to look beyond past differences and strive to understand those who live around us.

To that end, let me suggest a first-run film available at your local video distributor. “To End All Wars” is a low-budget movie that never hit the theaters on a national level because of financial constraints.

“To End All Wars “(starring Keifer Sutherland) is based on a true story set in Indo-China in the 1940s. It recalls the horrific experiences of a Scottish regiment in a Japanese-run prisoner of war camp during World War II. The graphic portrayal of war and POW abuse accounts for the film’s R rating. It is about as gruesome as “Saving Private Ryan” or “Schindler’s List.” And although it is not a film for those easily disturbed by gut-wrenching realism, it is one that illustrates the universal tendency toward revenge and the untapped power of forgiveness.

The story centers on a soldier by the name of Ernest Gordon. Against the backdrop of the brutal confinement and forced labor at the hands of the Japanese, young Gordon helps to galvanize the hope of his beleaguered colleagues by instituting a jungle academy. Calling on the educational and life experience of his peers, this would-be teacher employs literature, philosophy, religion, poetry and music to create his unique curricula. In a truly unorthodox setting, Gordon proves how creatures easily motivated by hate can be humanized (even in the midst of war).

In real life Gordon becomes the Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University following his eventual release. It is a position he holds for the better part of three decades. His preparation for such a restigious and influential calling was more than a seminary degree attained once he returned home to Scotland following the war. What he brought to his post was primarily the result of what he learned and modeled in the cauldron of injustice where he saw sacrificial love lived out before his eyes.

“To End All Wars” is a movie that challenges how we go about trying to convince others what fits our faith is worth trying on. In terms of what I’ve observed in my faith tradition, the principles of the Christian faith are often reduced to predictable words that have a religious-sounding ring to them.

Familiar phrases clothed in a Sunday morning wardrobe are prejudged as unfashionable by a sermon-saturated culture. The mere fact that the preacher speaks the words (that might very well be life-changing) limits the degree to which those who hear him or her actually listens.

The themes of love, forgiveness and redemption are visually dramatized in “To End All Wars.” The director (David Cunningham) has done such a brilliant job these core elements of Christianity cannot be easily dismissed or misunderstood. As I watched this poignant video recently, I found myself being pinned to the mat by the principles of Jesus. Although it is not a religious film, its challenge to understand and love those different from us (even those who have wronged us) is nonetheless deeply spiritual.

As an Evangelical pastor, I was at once inspired and humbled by “To End All Wars.” Although the portrayal of undeserved mercy brought tears to my eyes, the film reminded me that religious truth is not always best conveyed by conventional means. That’s what celebrated poet Edgar Guest observed decades ago when he mused, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” In this remarkable film we are shown the way of love rather than being lectured about it. It’s a persuasive device even Jesus endorsed. He’s the one who said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:35 NLT).”

Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos is the head of the Mercer Island Covenant Church and a regular contributor to the Reporter.

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