[rb_dropcap]B[/rb_dropcap]ernice and I had a pleasant surprise flying back from Nairobi. We got to see the new Samurai X movie, “Rurouni Kenshin” (2012). (See https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1979319.) The whole family had been exposed to the TV series for some time. We had heard that there was to be a movie out but wasn’t sure when it would be released in Singapore/Malaysia. (There have been a number of animated movies before. This was going to be one with real actors.) Getting to view the movie was one of the compensations of the long flight home.
We thought the movie was well made but I suspect that those who have followed the TV series would appreciate the movie better. The main protagonist of the story, Kenshin Himura, is a master swordsman who acted as an assassin for the Japanese emperor during the early Meiji era. He thought that he had to kill for a higher purpose — to help usher in a new era of peace. After awhile he was so sickened by the fact that he had to kill so many people that he renounced killing. He would still fight to protect the innocent but he would not kill again. As a symbol and tool of this new commitment, he uses a reverse-edged sword, where the usual cutting edge is blunt but the sword is sharp on the inside of the blade curve. You can defend yourself with this sword in a fight but you can never kill with one.
The Samurai X story touches on a key theme — that human history is marked by so much conflict, yet we never seem to be able to find the peace that most of us desire. We empathise with a character who is so sick of conflict that he turns his back on it. It is a story that echoes a universal desire, but one wonders how can real peace be found?
We were flying back from Littworld, an international conference for Christian publishers organised by Media Associates International (https://www.littworld.org/) once every three years. The conference was a foretaste of Revelation 5:9–10, with people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” One of my best memories of the conference was being asked to help take a photo of a group of four people — two Indians and two Pakistanis. They were laughing and linking their arms together, a stark contrast to the usual relationship between their nations. I am not romanticising what was happening and I would not be surprised if they did not see eye to eye on everything. But their friendship was real and they were truly at home with each other. What did they have in common besides a commitment to publishing? They were all followers of Jesus.
The Bible tells us that conflict entered human experience because of sin. When humankind chose to disobey God and go their own way, they also destroyed the only basis for human unity, our common bond with our God and Maker. (See Genesis Ch. 1-3.) Therefore to regain true unity we must once again be properly related to God. And God in Christ came to give His life to repair the damage:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11–18 NIV)
Here, Paul is talking about the divide between Jews and Gentiles but his final vision is for all peoples, a “one new humanity” reconciled to God and to each other through the death of Christ. However Revelation 5:9–10 reminds us that this is a unity that celebrates diversity. It is not a unity that requires one to give up his or her uniqueness to be acceptable to another. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul would use the body parts analogy to illustrate this point about unity with diversity.
The end of conflict and violence. True unity that embraces diversity. The world cries out for this but finds it only in things like manga myths. That is why agape love in a community of diverse people may very well be the final apologetic (John 13:35). Remember Jesus’ disciples had among them, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector, two who came from groups that hated each other. Yet they were expected to lay down their lives for each other. I have Christian friends who are Republican and Democrat (USA), DAP and MCA (Malaysia), and PAP and Worker’s Party (Singapore), all serious followers of Jesus Christ. I would encourage them all to be true to their convictions with the light that they have, remembering that this side of heaven we all see in a glass darkly. But there is also another call, the call to point to another kingdom, a better kingdom. To do that, we must love one another in our diversity. May we rise to that call too.