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Checking in at Hotel Rwanda

by William Cleary

Religious people will be stunned by both the meditation and the movie Hotel Rwanda. I dragged myself there after hearing from so many who had little to say verbally but who spoke volumes with their faces: "Hotel Rwanda" leaves the jaw slack.  It's not entertainment.

            What puzzles us first is the historical event: in 1993 a vicious army of human killers crushed out the lives of a half million people, their neighbors, their human companions, families across the street. The Asian tsunami did the equivalent but the killer there was nature itself, grotesque as that sounds. In Rwanda it was human choice, long years of growing hatred, and arms. Right here I for one realize how dangerous is any army, any crowd in the same uniform, any band of humans armed for killing. Without floods of arms available in Africa, nothing so tragic could have happened.

            Secondly: how important is this movie documentation. We must never forget Rwanda: what made it possible, what motivated its ruthless energies, what it says about human evil and its causes. We too, each of us, have immense potential for complicity with evil. The so-called holocaust was/is a similar lesson to us. Thank God Jewish historians and artists will not let us forget it. Similarly we have to remember Rwanda, the facts, and also the fiction.

            The fiction? This movie tells a true story but one that is truer than true.  The heroism of one man and one couple, of one group of people, is immortalized, but all the manufactured conversations in the unfolding of the story are also wonderfully invented and recorded. We laugh with the lovers just seconds before "Paul" (played spectacularly by Don Creadle) tells his wife she must think of a group suicide for herself and all their children: a leap together from the hotel roof. And it's believable. Could you do it? Could you require it? You could. See the movie. Life can get that desperate, that tragic, people that trapped.

            Where is God? After Rwanda, after the tsunami, it is a new God for me, in a new place: a deeper mystery than ever. Faith keeps God close, just a thought away. But God's ways are not our ways more decisively than ever. As a New York Times science article pointed out, when our planet earth moves, creates mountains and giant cracks, it is essentially life itself that pours out. Every tsunami carries new life forces and if we are in the way, we shall not survive it.

Similarly when hatred of others and domination needs infect the human heart, tragedy is on its way too. Before we question God, we have to turn to one another in compassion and openness and toleration. Otherwise wwe are not living wisely at all, however sophisticated our computer electronics and our email connections among the privileged. It is not so much God we need: it is the wise use of the intelligence we already have in abundance, the wise strategies of human greetings and respectful talk and basic equality and forgiveness and solidarity -- and compassion above all, the core Gospel commands. Without these, we court catastrophes like Rwanda.

Let us pray. Holy God, at times we find it almost impossible to believe in you. So much in our world speaks out against your existence: injustice and human evil most of all, but also disease and sorrow, anger and delusion. Almost any kind of a God we can imagine would never allow the worldwide abuses of women and children, of the poor and vulnerable, or massive, sudden death from unexpected natural disasters. You are an unimaginable God. Still we believe. Help thou our unbelief. Amen.



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