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We’ll always have Paris, right?

June 30, 2016

 

“The fundamental things apply as time goes by…” 

During the spring and summer, we have “Faith and Film Night” at the church, which is – OK, I admit it – an excuse for me to watch a movie while at work.

 

And although I’d like to tell you I select from a variety of films for these occasions, truth is, like the preacher who chooses the biblical passage that “God laid upon my heart,” I just pick my favorites.

 

Many of them are classics like “High Noon” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” both of which I have shown on previous Faith and Film Nights. Last week we watched “Casablanca,” another movie I had seen many times but not recently.

 

We always end these film sessions with a brief discussion about spiritual themes detected within the story: Where did you see God in this film? Where did you see evil? Where did you find grace?

 

After watching “Casablanca,” some of us said we saw God in the struggle for freedom as well as Rick’s sacrifice of his own wants and needs for the greater good. We saw evil in Maj. Strasser and Capt. Renault, and we saw both good and evil in several characters, as is often the case in any good story – the characters display their humanity, showing their capacity to do wonderful or terrible things.

 

And we saw grace in Victor Laszlo as he offered mercy and forgiveness without condition to both Ilsa and Rick.

 

Following this discussion, another observation was made that I had never thought much about before: This movie is about refugees. And the movie viewer who made that observation could not help but think about the world being in crisis, once again, over the plight of refugees. This is such a strong biblical theme, yet we often miss it, or simply ignore it. Essentially, the entire Old Testament is the story of refugees. Even Jesus was a refugee, fleeing into Egypt to escape a violent government attempting to kill him (Matt. 2: 13-15).

 

In “Casablanca,” a rapidly changing series of events occurs within the context of desperate people trying to escape from impending peril, and they are willing to take tremendous risks to find a new start. We are clued in that goodness does indeed dwell within Rick – despite his claim of “never sticking his neck out for anyone” – when he clandestinely provides funding for a newly married Bulgarian couple to obtain exit visas for America, thwarting Renault’s plan to seduce the young wife and thus saving her honor.

 

Those of us who call ourselves Christians believe in a God who gave up everything in love to rescue us, and that we are called to give of ourselves for others. The “good guys” in this film are the ones who are willing to give up something for those who have the forces of evil nipping at their heels and no place left to turn.

 

This is one of the compelling themes of many classic stories – sacrifice for others, or giving up some selfish desire for the betterment of the whole. To some extent, movies are simply reflections of society. “Casablanca” reflects a society where people banded together against an evil – Nazism. While it is true that, in Casablanca, there was always someone who would take advantage of the refugees’ situation, others tried to help them. A place of freedom and possibility – America – awaited those who somehow could make their way there. Like the staff of Rick’s club, who expressed regard for Rick’s actions on behalf of the Bulgarian couple, the hearts of those who watch “Casablanca” are warmed by depictions of goodness and grace – people reaching beyond their instincts of self-preservation and economic gain.

 

As we approach Independence Day this election year, much has changed from the America in the 1940s. It is a different world, with different threats. And, of course, there is a danger in being overly nostalgic, as well, for something we think we once had. The “good old days” were not all that good for many people, including women and racial and ethnic minorities.

 

Still, “Casablanca” reminds us that there was a time when real heroes were considered to be the ones who stood up for the defenseless and the persecuted while putting themselves last. Greatness was determined by willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. People venerated the Golden Rule, not those who lived by the mantra of “he who has the gold makes the rules.” It seems that once (or was it just in the movies?) our political and religious leaders talked more about helping the least of these – values held up in scripture and taught in churches – than they did the glorification of self. And Americans applauded such expressions of genuine love and community. Such ideas seem to be fading farther into the mists of memory – or perhaps they are just the notions of quaint, old movies and those of us who treasure them.

 

 

 

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