Masterless – Christian Samurai Film Review

Craig Shimahara and I connected several years ago, after he had finished producing his short film Good Soil and I had finished writing The Way of the Christian Samurai.  We obviously shared a certain perspective of Christianity in light of the ancient masters of the sword, the samurai of Japan. So when Masterless was finally done, Craig sent me a screening copy to review.

Visual Masterpiece

Craig’s background is architectural illustration, when he’s not making movies. I point this out as the visuals throughout the film are remarkable. If you have been following the Masterless Facebook page you will have seen several storyboard/scene comparisons over the last couple years; the emphasis was clearly put on creating memorable visuals.

I’m convinced Masterless could have been a silent movie. I don’t mean that the sound and spoken parts didn’t add anything, but the visuals alone are enough to tell the story. Too often exposition has to be spelled out in the dialogue, which either comes across as re-stating the obvious or using the actors to spell out the  plot to tell rather than show what is happening. This is not the case with Masterless; each scene paints a picture, not only of what is going on in the world of the film, but what is going on within the characters, especially the protagonist Kane Madison (Adam LaVorgna).

Depth of Story

The early Christian Fathers read sacred texts in at least three methods, literal (what the text says in historical context), moral (how what the text says relates to an individual’s life as a Christian), and allegorical (how the text relates to the gospel or life of Christ). Classical literature can be read in this polysemous sense, but much of today’s entertainment of the masses cannot.

For example, Gregory of Nyssa wrote about 600 pages in his Morals on the Book of Job, doing a line-by-line analysis of the short book of Job, applying the three senses to every part of the text. You can hardly do that with most of what makes the New York Times’ Bestseller list these days. However, you could do that kind of deep analysis with Masterless.

Just by knowing the premise, that the story of Kane Madison is told both in the happenings of his modern life as an architect, and as his journey as a ronin in ancient Japan. Symbols abound, but there is not necessarily one way to interpret what is happening on the screen. This makes it a great film to use for a group study, and should foster discussion with almost any group.

For example, there is a scene where the ronin encounters an old blind man in a forest. A sword in its scabbard is stuck upright in the ground next to him. The old man mocks the ronin at the same time as he give him a mission – take the sword, follow the path to the tree at the end. When the ronin questions the old man further, the old man responds, “My charge is to inform, not to inspire.”

It is a brief scene, but I could probably write several essays on different topics using just this one encounter. For instance, on the nature of inspiration and evangelizing – for to be “in-spired” by the Holy Spirit is a divine gift, not something another human can do for you.  The taking up of the sword to follow “the way” can be seen either as an allegory of taking up the cross – an instrument of death – as Christ did, or the call of the Christian to do the same to follow in his footsteps. Yet another insight could be the idea of the old man as the faults of Western Christianity, mocking the very souls it supposedly is to lead, speaking but not taking action.

What it is Not

Some movies are made to preach, others are made to show action. You might expect one or the other from a Christian-samurai movie, but Masterless is neither.

Masterless is undoubtedly a Christian movie, but there are no biblical citations, no mention of the name of Jesus, and no explicit preaching. Often Christian films will be so overly concerned that the viewer might miss the message that the audience gets beaten over the head with it repeatedly. They may even have a character to preach to the audience (though talking to another character), often cast as a pastor. Masterless does not lose its message despite staying allegorical, in fact I think it does a better job of making you consider many aspects of the Christian life because it does not make any particular aspect too obvious. The more familiar you are with the Scriptures, however, the more you will recognize bits of dialogue as literal or adapted quotations.

Neither is Masterless truly an action movie, as we have been accustomed to seeing from Hollywood. There are some well-choreographed fights, but there are also fights that you see building, tension mounting, and then only the aftermath is shown. There are reasons for this, but it demonstrates that Masterless was not made for simply for the sake of showcasing martial arts fights strung together with a thin plot. Story is definitely first.

The best way I can describe Masterless in terms of other films is that it is in the tradition of classic cinema or art films. It will more likely remind one of Kurosawa or Hitchcock then Spielberg or Bay.

Family Considerations

We watched this film with our six children, ages 3-14. There was nothing too frightening, no sexual innuendo, and the violent scenes were bloodless. Our 6-year-old did remark that he liked the ronin scenes better than the modern-day scenes.

I do not think it is inappropriate for younger viewers, but the pacing and allegorical nature may make it less interesting for them, and much of what is going on may go over their heads.

Final Thoughts

Masterless is an enjoyable and entertaining film, and one that has been crafted to  encourage deeper reflection and discussion on spiritual warfare and living as a Christian in spite of the difficulties and temptations of the world. It is ideal for a men’s group or youth group to watch together and discuss.

For more information on the film, showings, and availability visit MasterlessFilm.com. You can also pre-order the BluRay edition of Masterless on Amazon. DVDs are also available for pre-order.

Masterless on IMDB

Masterless trailer on Youtube

Rite of Initiation to the Ministry of St. Nicholas

As a Christian parent, how you handle the Santa issue is one of those hot-button issues. Some keep the tradition going, others see participating in the idea of Santa giving gifts as dishonest.

My wife and I have encouraged the belief in Santa Claus, and are not ashamed to admit we still believe in the mission of St. Nicholas of Myra, and acknowledge miracles that take place in the carrying out of that ministry.

The parental challenge, therfore, is how to transition those young children that believe in Santa Claus (with the constant reminder of who he really is/was and in Whose Name he does his work) through the adolescent years to a second childhood of belief?  How do you have that awkward conversation in the first place?

Before our oldest came of age to know the whole story, I had the idea to create a rite of passage ritual. After all, the “magic” or belief in miracles should not end when the idea of flying reindeer and a North Pole workshop HQ pass away.  Instead, the belief in heroic charity should be stirred.

In the tradition of G.K.C.’s Detection Club and disclosing the ceremonies of secret societies, I have decided to post the ceremony we use. Feel free to adapt it to your own use. I had thought of including it in as an appendix to I Hate Christmas, but it did not quite fit the purpose of that book.

We typically conduct the ceremony on the night of December 6 (St. Nicholas’ feast day) with the advent wreath’s candles (with however many lit as ought to be at that point) as the only light. The initiate is summoned from their bed after their younger siblings have fallen asleep. Those already initiated stand on one side of the table, the initiate on the other.

After the initiation, the child takes an active role in Santa activities, such as assisting with shopping, present research, and Christmas eve setup – although their own gifts generally remain a surprise.

The Rite of Initiation

[Name], in Christmases past, you have received gifts from others, in the Christian tradition of the Magi who gave gifts to the Christ Child, and St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave gifts in the name of Jesus.

Your Christmas gifts in the past have been given to you by friends and family. Some have also come in the name of Santa Claus, the immortal spirit of St. Nicholas’ gift-giving ministry.

Stories and legends of Santa Claus living at the North Pole and using flying reindeer to deliver gifts have become popular. These stories try to explain the impossible with stories of magic, and as such are not true.

However the truth about Santa Claus is mystical and incredible. Over the centuries, during the month of December, all around the world, gifts are still given in the name of Santa Claus anonymously by millions of people to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The generosity of this spirit is the cause of many miracles at this time of year.

By using the name Santa Claus – a name for St. Nicholas that has changed over time – Christmas gifts arrive miraculously. This way children associate the winter festival of Christmas and its miraculaous gift-giver with the origianal Christmas Miracle – the birth of our Lord and Savior.

[Name], you have grown in wisdom these past few years, and now understand the true reason of Christmas, and the great importance it represents for yourself and all humanity.

For the sake of those still too young to realize what you have come to know, I hereby invite you to join the ministry of St. Nicholas as an anonymous gift-giver, using the title of Santa Claus.

I also give you the symbols of our ministry:

A Gold Coin – St. Nicholas gave to those in need – the gift of charity. Be mindful of what others need.

A Candy Cane – The giving of a gift is often not about meeting a need, but the spreading of joy. Remember also to give things to others that they will enjoy.

A Santa Hat – All gifts come from God, and so we must seek to give anonymously and in secret so others remember to give thanks to Him. The name of Santa Claus allows us to do so. Remember to give in secret, and protect the mystery of Santa Claus.

For the very young, the fanciful stories of Santa Claus lend exceptional myth and mystery to the true meaning of Christmas. Until those young people grow in wisdom enough to put aside such beliefs, do not dissuade them. Teach them of the story of the Christ child, and remind them of the reason for gift-giving and celebration in the midst of winter while allowing them the more fanciful stories as well. In time, they too will join us in the secret arts of Christmas gift giving, and their recollection of a childhood of wonders will be as a cloak about them in the cold, bitter harshness of a world that denies the supernatural.

Welcome, [Name], to the Ministry of St. Nicholas. Through your gifts, and those of everyone who takes part in the tradition of gift-giving, may God bless us, everyone.

3 Prophetic Warnings From America’s Founding Fathers That Have Gone Unheeded

One of the human race’s favorite games, according to G.K. Chesterton, is called “Cheat the Prophet.” In this age-old game, the players listen to what wise or clever men say, and when they die, they bury them nicely and go an do something different.

As it is about that time when we celebrate the birth of American independence and remember the trials our Founding Fathers endured, the wisdom they imparted, and the genius of the system we have inherited from them. And since they have all been buried nicely, we have gone and made something rather different.

Here are just three of the many warnings and predictions those wise men passed to us, but that have been ignored to our peril.

Continue reading 3 Prophetic Warnings From America’s Founding Fathers That Have Gone Unheeded

On Being Where You Are

As St. Patrick’s day approaches, and thoughts turn to Ireland (or at least some fabled Emerald Isle that bears the name) I think there is something in the saint’s story worth considering when we reflect on our local church:

1) There are many beautiful churches and cathedrals in Ireland.

2) Many modern (built in the 70’s or later) churches in America seem uninspired, even ugly.

I’m not really qualified to make objective statements about architecture; I realize that. I’m going to  have to make a point from those two very widely held yet anecdotal bits of evidence.

As a Catholic that grew up in one of those older churches that was constructed almost as a scale model of an Irish cathedral, the trend  in the last 100 years of architecture is apparent to me, especially as we moved westward to where parish churches were constructed 50 years ago instead of 150 years ago.

There are some that fault the building for the lack of reverence. Some that will bemoan that the quality of music, the attire or attitudes of the other churchgoers, or yes, even the building itself does not present as good a spiritual environment as such-and-such in another place.

There are those who will even travel great distances to go to a place of worship that is, to them, more reverent, more spiritual, and more beautiful than their local parish. If at all possible, people tend to seek out that parish that resembles a cathedral – maybe even an Irish cathedral.

I am here going to mention an  apparently blasphemous but painfully true statements that one must never, ever utter in such hallowed places such as Irish bars on St. Patrick’s day. If you repeat this truth in such a place, you alone are responsible for the beating you suffer for it.

St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was, to put it bluntly, a Brit.

Patrick was forcefully taken from his home and brought to the pagan isle of Ireland as a slave. He escaped, returned to Britain, and eventually returned to Ireland as a missionary and a priest. The rest is history, legend, and the story of a saint.

St. Patrick did not choose to stay near the aesthetically pleasing places of worship. He went back to the pagan land, preached, prayed, worshipped and taught in a land with no cathedrals.

Truth, Beauty, Ignorance

The things that feel spiritual or reverent to us – the music, the attire, the posture and behavior of the people, the building – these are things of man. The are aesthetics. When we make a judgement of things based on aesthetics, we’re making judging as man sees, not as God sees. We’re choosing things because they are attractive, or pretty.

We are called to be in the place we find ourselves, in the time we found ourselves. We may not have been kidnapped, as St. Patrick was, but nevertheless our circumstances often dictate where we are.

Maybe the way the local church worships isn’t as attractive to you because of cultural differences. There are certainly legitimate ways in which worship at one church in a place and time varies from another. Some of the aesthetic preference is simply cultural or nostalgic.

But maybe the lack of perceived beauty is ignorance. Maybe people at your church aren’t reverent because they don’t fully understand what it is they are proclaiming, adoring, and worshipping when you gather. Truth is beauty, as Keats wrote, so the corollary that ignorance is ugly might be fitting.

If ignorance is the case, and you feel you know more than those around you, doesn’t that imply you might just have a job to do there, where God has placed you?

Maybe there is something you need to learn from others in the place God has put you – after all, it was the tax collector who beat his breast in the temple that went home justified. The learned man, who was comparing himself to another in the temple even in his prayer, did not go home justified.

If St. Patrick had stayed where the faith was more firmly rooted, where people worshipped as he had when he was a boy, where they were more reverent than the pagans in Ireland,  we might not have the Irish cathedrals we admire today.

Coffee Doesn’t Cure Acedia

The many changes over the past seven months (and more) with this site and my work has a rather simple explanation. After about 7 years of freelancing, I got a regular job.

The biggest adjustment for my family has been the time; a commute, 8 hours of work or more, lunch time that doesn’t count – almost half the week is now spent away from home.

I now spend most of my waking hours in the “normal” world of an American office. A small but growing company, and having worked for smaller and larger companies in the past there is a lot that stays the same regardless of industry, decade, and state in which the office exists.

There’s the usual temptation to vice that goes along with working in the modern office environment. As I am currently reading a lot of old texts on the virtues and vices for a new project, the reading and research and daily grind have made the overlap stand out. There’s envy, of course, whenever you have gatherings of people, greed whenever money and goods are involved, wrath as tempers flare and patience wanes, pride abounds and there is even lust – though fortunately it presents itself in its older form, luxury, for most of us.

But if I had to pick one vice most plagued the modern workplace, I would not hesitate to name acedia. A word considered so archaic spell check doesn’t recognize it. Over generations the vice became referred to as sloth, and equated with laziness. As with all evil, it has worked best when it keeps us unaware of itself.

The Office Vice

Take this scenario:

For Bob, time at the office begins to slow down as lunch approaches. It feels as though it completely stops after lunch. It is as if the clock does not move at all, and a day feels like a week. He doesn’t feel like he’s making much headway on the tasks and goals at hand, and he’s got tabs open on his browser for news, weather, ebay or craigslist. He leans back in is chair and glances at his fellow works, to see if he might happen to make eye contact and they can discuss some matter – work related or not.  He remembers that Lucy, in sales, had a daughter that was sick with something last week, maybe he should go and ask her how the kid is doing. It would be the nice thing to do, right? Maybe John in receiving could use a hand.

His mind wanders to a reminder from LinkedIn that a fraternity brother has gotten a new title at his job. What if they had stayed on the West Coast? He’d probably be making more money. Definitely be a lot happier. Heck, Bob’s downright certain he would be making more of a difference in the world. After all, that is what he’s supposed to be doing with his life, isn’t it?

You wouldn’t exactly call Bob lazy, and the scenario is probably all too familiar.

Now compare it with a description of Acedia – a vice considered the most dangerous by the desert monks of the 5th century:

The demon of acedia – also called the noonday demon (Psalm 91:6) – is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour (10 am) and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. (2 pm)

First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour (3 pm), to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps [one of the brethren appears from his cell]. Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred.

This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to he adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight.

Rings pretty true, even though the monk Evagrius wrote it some 1600 years ago. Evagrius was so concerned about the vice that he described it is a demon that “rips the soul apart as a dog would kill a fawn”

Acedia practically defines the workplace attitude. Whether the afternoon lull is referred to as a ‘lazy day’ or being ‘food-stupid’ or remarks are made about how everyone is just ‘out of it.’ The mood has a name, though it has almost been forgotten.

How do more and more people cope with it? Caffeine. Energy Drinks. 5-Hour Energy fought its way into the market with the slogan that it beat “the two-o’clock feeling.” Imagine how ridiculous it would be to develop a tonic to beat any other particular vice! I’m sure it will happen, and has happened. But for the moment it is happening, and no one quite realizes it because the name and definition of the vice has shifted over time.

Evagrius describes ascedia as “an ethereal friendship, one who leads our steps astray, hatred of industriousness, a battle against stillness … laziness in prayer… untimely drowsiness, revolving sleep… an opponent of perseverance … a partaker in sorrow, a clock for hunger.” Even he who defined it (and the other chief vices for the first time) had a hard time defining it. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church defined it more succinctly as “a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray.” Restlessness is a key trait of acedia, and yet not something we associate with being lazy. Being a busybody, gossip, or just doing busywork may appear to be industrious, doing something, and “not lazy,” but all are actually acedia.

If you think about it, our culture’s obsession with current events, celebrity stalking, and the 24-hour news day all are symptoms of acedia also. It’s not slothful to stay informed, but it isn’t industrious.

So in a nutshell, checking Facebook one more time, taking a stroll about the office, and getting another cup of coffee are not going to break “the two-o’clock feeling.”

The Cure for Acedia

What actually is the cure for acedia? First of all, being aware of it. Acedia has managed to be so entrenched because it is seen as acceptable, even unavoidable. The idea of naming a power to conquer it has some truth here: name the noonday demon, pray for the strength to overcome, and consciously fight it, and it will have little power over you.

Evagrius writes in the Eight Thoughts that perseverance, “the execution of all tasks with great attention” and the fear of God are the cure for acedia. “Set a measure for yourself in every work and do not let up until you have completed it. Pray with understanding and intensity, and the spirit of acedia will flee from you. ”

You can also keep in mind the following words from the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai (and quoted in The Way of the Christian Samurai):

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.”

Attentiveness, awareness, prayer, and perseverance – and charity. Test every moment, every act, against the test of charity. Is what I am doing loving God and my neighbor? Or am I distracting myself and my neighbor?

Further reading on the Internet:

 

New Edition of Clean of Heart Available!

After several years of publishing Clean of Heart by Rosemarie Scott, an invaluable book for overcoming habitual sins against purity – put bluntly, pornography and masturbation –  the program is no longer distributed by myself or Eternal Revolution (or the old name that appears on the Revised Edition of the book, R.A.G.E. Media. )

Rosemarie has a new 3rd edition out, published directly by herself with the help of Amazon (Hooray for Distributism/Microcapitalism!)  and it is available today on Amazon with a new, gorgeous cover.

It has been an honor to serve Rosemarie and those her book has helped these past few years; I pray that the good work is continued.

Please also note that our subscription service has changed, so this email may appear unusual. If you are getting this email, it is probably because you bought G.K. Chesterton products, The Way of the Christian Samurai, or Clean of Heart from Eternal Revolution. Or you signed up on my site, which has also changed.

If you’d like to get blog posts sent to you by email, subscribe with the form on the right side of the page!

Mea Culpa

The past several months have been full of radical changes here.  Radical,  coming from the same Latin root as the word “root.”  The shift has changed the very basics of my family’s life,  particularly our available time.

This “root”  change has led me too look back over the past seven years of Eternal Revolution and the projects and books I have created.  I realized that my initial goal – to produce useful books and written materials,  has somehow been diluted and even lost along the way.

What stated as a ministry became a business.  Instead of focusing on words and the Word,  I took on more projects with the hope that they would help provide for my family while I wrote.  Eventually,  I was spending more time marketing, making board game pieces,  designing and printing t-shirts,  and the bookkeeping necessary for so many irons in the fire that there was no time to do that which I set out to do.

When God called Abraham out of Ur,  He told Abraham to leave family behind.  Instead,  Abraham took Lot and his family along too.  Much of Abraham’s troubles on his journey were due to the Lot he brought with him; and a great man struggles and fruitlessness has come from my lot.

When we step back from life we call it a spiritual retreat.  In battle,  a retreat is a tactic to regroup and continue the fight later,  limiting your losses.  These past few weeks have been a retreat for me in both senses.  Like Gideon,  when I next charge forth I must do it with reliance on God,  not what I think I need to add to the mission to make it viable.

For that reason,  I have already begun to cast off the extra lot I have taken on,  and this process will continue for a few more months.  The T-shirts have already been marked down by 20%. Also,  the book Clean of Heart by Rosemarie Scott –  a wonderful program for overcoming pornography addiction –  will be moving to another publisher.  There will be some updates in the future as those projects shut down.

As for this blog,  I realized I have made several missteps.  Trying to force myself to write on a regular basis –  a best practice for blogging – has led to less other writing and a quality I was not thrilled with.  I also realized that there are some current events that should be addressed. Finally,  while tying to leave out the Catholic aspects of my faith for the sake of reaching a more general Christian audience has left several important spiritual warfare resources out.  There is a reason that Chesterton called it “The last fighting for of Christianity.”

Over the next few weeks and months,  there will be more tearing down and rebuilding.  The blog will be restructured after the four methods of fighting the Eternal Revolution,  as written in the book I finished this spring.  The website format will change as the ministry simplifies itself again.  There will be some updates about sales and final chances to get products that are being discontinued,  and hopefully soon new articles will be posted and books published (and re-published) to encourage and support all of us fighting the war we call the Christian life.

Pray for Revolution.

When the World Falls Apart

When your world is falling apart, what is it that is actually changing so drastically?

It cannot be anything that can affect your salvation. It may be a change in your role – or what you thought your role was – in the story of salvation. When Peter was called from his boat, when Paul was thrown from his horse, their old world ended. Up to that day they thought they knew what their life would be. And the next day it changed forever in response to a call.

A few lines in the Scriptures over simplifies the upheaval such decisions and such callings cause.

On that note, there will be more changes here at Eternal Revolution. The more I pray about things the more I realize a more radical course correction is needed to bring things in line with my calling.

I stated in The Eternal Revolution that we are not fighting as the army of God. An army follows orders in a clear battlefront. We are resistance fighters, and part of that is shifting and responding and changing quickly to adapt to shifting conditions or orders. This is the way we fight.

Dependence and Charity

The stated goal of many charities is to encourage independence of families or the individual. The entire operation, if properly aligned, is to help the person and those they support to no longer become dependent on some other entity – in most cases that means they organization specifically does not want the person to remain dependent on them.

For Christians, however, especially those aware of the Eternal Revolution and our daily battles with the world, we cannot say our charity work or acts of charity are geared towards the independence of those we serve. When we do what we can to meet the physical, mental, and emotional needs of others we want them to find dependence on God, not on themselves. To be reliant on oneself is to act out of pride.

Charity, as a virtue, ought to always desire to love others as God loves them. We do not want others dependent on destructive influences like drugs, alcohol, or debt. But nor do we want them to see themselves as dependent on their own selves. This can be as simple as directing their expressions of thanks to God, and not to our organizations or our own efforts. It is good for any child of God to recognize His hand behind the hands that help them, and it ought to be their goal to always be dependent on His Charity.

It is not a bad thing that people need help from charities. Charities, especially Christian charities, ought to exist as organizations that do works of charity – that is love. And as Christians we desire that people put their trust, their hope, and their dependence on the love of God. To desire them to be independent of that would in fact be a terrible and uncharitable thing to wish upon another person.

What are You Afraid of?

As we start another week, what is it that you are afraid of? What is keeping you from doing the miraculous, the amazing, the incredible for the Kingdom of God?

Peter could step out of the boat and take a few steps, until he became fearful – even when Our Lord was right there in his presence doing the impossible!

There are always scary stories on the news. There will always be uncertainty and plans gone awry, especially on Mondays. There are always waves, big and small.

But what you fear is what you worship. When you hesitate, catch yourself and ask, “Am I afraid of falling short of what Christ called me to do, or am I more afraid of _______?” If the answer is ever the latter, do everything you can to switch your focus to your King!