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Hotel Rwanda


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Revisiting the Passion of the Christ

by Brian D. McLaren


Maybe it's because I spent time last summer in Burundi, the poorer twin sister of Rwanda that shares a similar history, tribal makeup, geography, culture, and terrifying undercurrent of genocide. Maybe it's because while I was there, I met Anglican priests serving in Rwanda who told personal stories of the tragedies there - and their efforts to bring healing and reconciliation in the aftermath. Maybe it's because (some readers may be tempted to write me off after reading this sentence) I was so frustrated by last year's promotional hype surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ - and I was so frustrated by the movie itself, though I know many found it moving and spiritually edifying. Maybe it's because I have deep concerns about the alignment of major sectors of Christianity with "red-state Republicanism," and I worry that a kind of modernist, nationalist neo-fundamentalism is trying to claim all Christian territory as its sovereign domain.


For whatever reason, when I walked out of the 2005 film Hotel Rwanda this thought wouldn't leave me: If we really had the mind and heart of Christ, this is the movie we would be urging people in our churches to see. In fact, I can't think of a more worthwhile experience for Christian leaders than to watch Hotel Rwanda and then ask themselves questions like these:


Which film would Jesus most want us to see, and why?


Why did so many churches urge people to see Gibson's film, and why did so few (if any?) promote Terry George's film?

What do our answers to that question say about us?


What were the practical outcomes of millions of people seeing Gibson's film?

And what outcomes might occur if equal numbers saw Hotel Rwanda - as an act of Christian faithfulness?


In what sense could Hotel Rwanda actually be titled The Passion of the Christ?


What do we make of the fact that a high percentage of Rwandans who participated in the 1994 genocides were churchgoers?


What do we make of the fact that a high percentage of the Americans who ignored the 1994 genocides (then and now) were and are churchgoers?


What kind of repentance does each film evoke in Western Christians? Why might the kind of repentance evoked by Hotel Rwanda be especially needed during these important days in history?


It's been well over a week since I saw the film, and I still feel a churning inside me, a disquiet, a rumble in my heart that feels to me like "the burden" that the old prophets used to speak of, maybe even a simmering heat reminiscent of Jeremiah's "fire in my bones."


And now, I realize that even raising these kinds of questions has possibly stimulated defensive and divisive temptations in many readers. "This guy must be a liberal," some readers are thinking. "Go get 'em, Brian!" others might be saying.


And then I go back to the film again. And I think about Tutsi and Hutu locked in a cycle of fear and aggression, insult and revenge, attack and counterattack. And I also think of the Twa - the literal "little people" of our world - whose story is so little known and who suffer in the crossfire between the larger, more powerful tribes. And I think about how our community of Christian believers is divided by tribes also caught in long-standing cycles that seem to defy reconciliation: Protestant, Catholic; liberal, conservative; red state, blue state; contemporary, traditional; postmodern, modern; seeker-driven, seeker-sensitive; purpose-driven, tradition-driven; and so on.


And I go back to the film and think of the hotel and its manager, himself a Hutu but one who loves Tutsi as well. I think about his distinction early in the film among family (who deserve help) and non-family (whom one can't worry about), and how in the course of the genocide he comes to see that all neighbors are family. And I wonder why so few of us see our neighbors in the Christian faith in anything close to a similar way - not to mention our non-Christian neighbors who may also be modern-day prostitutes, tax collectors, and Samaritans. I wonder what kind of tragedy it would take to bring us to the insight gained by that hotel manager.


Then I realize that, in some ways at least, the tragic tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, did that. I didn't hear anyone saying, "Let's raise money for Baptists in Indonesia," or "Let's send help to Evangelicals in Sri Lanka," or "Let's be sure no liberals get any of our help, or any Hindus, or Buddhists, or Muslims." I think about the words of a Sri Lankan - whether he was a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, I don't know - who said that a wave of destruction had crashed upon them, but when he looked to the horizon he saw another wave rising: an even taller, deeper, and more powerful wave of compassion.


And then I realize that's why Hotel Rwanda seemed to me an even more Christian film (forgive me if this sounds crazy to you - but try to understand) than The Passion of the Christ. It evoked in me a wave of compassion for my neighbors around the world, whatever their color or tribe, whatever their religion or politics. And I hear our Lord saying, "As you have done it to the least of these...you have done it to me."


For a wave of compassion to arise, we know there must first be a wave of repentance. How odd that re-thinking (which is what repentance means) must precede emotion, but then again, perhaps it is bad thinking that numbs and steels us, and blinds and distracts us from the sufferings of our neighbors.


I wonder if I can look to the horizon and see, by faith, a wave rising, a wave we could call "the compassion of the Christ." Could that wave rise and catch us all, bringing us together for the sake of the least of these, whom Christ is not ashamed to call sisters and brothers, whom he loves with the greatest passion of all: compassion?


Brian McLaren is the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland. This article originally appeared in Leadership Journal.

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To put it in broad theological terms, The Passion should make us examine our justification (vertically between us and God), whereas Hotel Rwanda should motivate our sanctification (horizontally between us and our fellowman).


I agree that the church does not do enough to promote good art like Hotel Rwanda.

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And what's more, the Church doesn't do enough to make its members aware of pressing social ills, genocides, etc. The Church in America has been woefully nonprophetic in allowing the masses to slumber as genocide rocked Rwanda; as the George Jr. administration rushed us off to an unjust war with Iraq; and currently as genocide continues to take place in The Sudan, and as AIDS reaches crisis levels in Africa. Woe is we. May we wake up soon and repent!

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I read (sorry - long time ago, I don't remember where) that the actor playing Jesus in the Passion was struck by lightening more than once while filming the crucifixion scene. If that's true (anybody?) then I think it is clear that focusing on the Passion misses the point. It don't get no clearer than lightening bolts folks. Perhaps we should be focusing on following Jesus - what better example of how to be human than God in human form?-, not JUST believing in Him or seeing that belief as paramount.

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One of the 2 sacrements the Lord left us with was taking communion. Regarding this, Jesus said, "This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." Paul said, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes."


I don't think it's an either/or question. Nothing Jesus said to his disciples told them to minimalize His death--in fact, they never really got that it was part of the plan. He even had to rebuke Peter when Peter objected that the Lord have to suffer and die. His death on our behalf is important, as is our call to minister to the suffering.


Bro Rog, while I would agree much of the church is asleep to worldwide suffering, I think it could be argued that in many instances (Sudan, for one) the church stands alone in reaching the suffering. I know he's not real popular on this forum, but ask the people in southern Sudan what they think about Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse. He/they have been flying into hostile areas, setting up hospitals, getting bombed, etc., long before the UN has gotten off it's rear end. And there are many more good ministries doing the same. Where are other religious groups/agencies in the Sudan? Why don't we also call them out?


Again, we're in agreement that more of the church needs to step up, but let's also acknowledge that many in the church are reaching out mightily in the name of the Lord.


By the way, I want to see Hotel Ruwanda ASAP.




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