Friday, June 16, 2017

Missionary Movie Churches: Of Gods and Men

Des hommes et des dieux (Of Gods and Men),2010
Can Christians and Muslims get along? According to that COEXIST bumper sticker, this should be easy, but one does wonder whether it is really possible. In this French film, based on real events from the 1996 Algerian Civil War, we do see Trappist Monks living peaceably, happily, with Muslim locals; sadly, they are not left alone. The film opens with a passage of Scripture, Psalm 82: 6 - 7: “I said, ‘You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.” It’s those rulers, the men who think they’re gods, that are the problem.

The film shows us the monks caring for the local people, providing for educational and medical needs. The monks are invited to parties and celebrations in the community. The monks help the locals with bureaucratic issues, like getting passports. The film shows a tender scene when a young Muslim woman comes to a monk asking how one can know when you’re in love. The monk answers, “I was in love, several times, but then I encountered another, greater love and gave over to it. That was over fifty years ago.”

But the Civil War comes to Atlas Abbey of Tibhirine near Médéa, Algeria. Someone tells the monks about a granddaughter who was killed for reading. They promise to pray for the family. At a nearby construction site, Muslim rebels kill all the Croatians, letting other locals, Muslims, go free.

The military offers the monastery protection from the terrorists, but the monks refuse protection. They do not want soldiers with guns on the grounds.  “In this time of violence… Let us turn to the man of sorrows.” When the military leaves, the monks celebrate Mass.

The local authorities suggest they should leave and Christian, the leader of the monastery concurs.

One of the monks responds, “Christian, we didn’t hire you to make decisions on your own.”

Another says, “We were called to live here.” So they remain.

Soon after that, Muslim terrorists do come to the monastery. One of the terrorists asks, “Where is the Pope?”

“There is no pope here.”

“Your leader?”

They meet Brother Christian, who won’t allow them to bring guns into the monastery (“This is a house of peace”) and amazingly, they comply. The terrorists have a wounded compatriot who needs medical attention. And the monks provide it.

Word of the incident reaches the authorities. “You’re very indulgent with the terrorists. Rumor has it you are shielding them in the monastery.” The Trappists refuse to take sides.

Violence increases in the area. One of the monks suggests, “We could go to a safer place in Africa.”

Christian responds, “And leave the villagers to terrorists? A shepherd does not leave his sheep. Help will come from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

The monks discuss the increasing dangers among themselves. “Dying for my faith shouldn’t keep me up all night.”  

“Staying here is as mad as becoming a monk.”

“Why be martyrs? Out of love. But in the end, we try to avoid it. But after is eternal hope.”

The monks take a vote about whether to stay or leave. Christian says, “Our mission here is not finished. God set his table here for His friends and his enemies.” All vote to remain.

In the end, terrorists abduct the monks. It is not known who, exactly took the men away in a midnight raid. They face death, believing they have chosen eternal life.

four steeples for these movie monks
Like last week’s film, The Mission, Of Gods and Men competed at the Cannes Film Festival, taking home the Grand Prix (second place prize). But for their devotion to God and their neighbors, Movie Churches is awarding the Trappist monks of this film Four Steeples.

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