March 2, 2011
Last night the Transmissioners went to see the new film “Of Gods and Men,” a French film that tells the true story of a monastery in Algeria that became caught in the middle of the country’s 1996 civil war. The story centers on the relationships between the monks and the villagers, many of whom are Muslims, and the struggle for the monks to decide whether to stand their ground or flee to France as the violence of the war comes closer to them.
***SPOILERS*** In the end, the monks decide by consensus to stay, even though the signs of danger are growing everywhere around them. And soon after their decision, most of them are rounded up and shot by a radical Islamic resistance group. What impressed me about the monks most was their sense of acceptance in the end, when they decided to stay. There was a sense of surrender, not necessarily out of helplessness but more out of certainty. They did not want to die as martyrs, but they saw their life together in the monastery as the most important decision they’d ever made and were not willing to give it up. As one monk said, “To leave is to die.” And in the end, even when they decided to stay, they still tried to avoid getting caught by the militants.
They didn’t stay becuase of duty, or any interest in being remembered as heroes. They stayed because their love for each other and for God and their vows was ultimately all that was keeping them whole, and giving that up would mean giving up their identity.
What struck me most about the film last night in reflection was how utterly at odds the values of these monks were with the values we are being sold here in New York. The values of profit, self-love above all other, self-service, total autonomy and independence.
I’ve been working on a story about a group called “Underearners Anonymous” which basically teaches men how to correct the “character flaws” that keep them from maximing their profitability. And here these men took to a life of poverty to grows closer to God.
I had a brief retreat last year to a Christian retreat center, but I found myself lonely. And I have worked in charity serving meal at the BRC homeless shelter for the last few months, and I for the most part find it to be a bore. And this film pointed out a missing essential in both those
experiences: a sense of brotherhood. There is no sense of a common love or bond with others for me at BRC: I’m the only volunteer for lunches.
I never had a brother. I have a younger sister, but in some ways the feeling isn’t quite the same. I have known what it’s like to feel part of a brotherhood, especially in sports teams, to have that camaraderie. When I’ve been part of a team like that, the camaraderie has provided a sense of vigor and stealth, and the ability to combat difficult obstacles. These days, I feel its absense acutely. I feel
I work alone and spend much of my leisure time alone. I wonder what it would do for my faith to find myself back in some kind of brotherhood.
Jesus spoke about each of us being his brothers and sisters as we followed him. What an amazing world it would be if we truly lived that way, with that same kind of love. I wonder how much braver we could be in a world like that.