Skip to content

Well …?

I have had frequent cause to think about this Signpost since I first posted it more than two years ago. The subject of my musings was the 1986 film, The Mission, under the best of circumstances a hard film to watch. Set in the 1750s in South America, it depicts how the arrival of Europeans in the Americas was not healthy for indigenous peoples generally, so frequently were they victimized by the politics of power and the economics of greed. As if that were not enough, this film interweaves the complicity of religion with the structures of power. In this case, the church, itself deeply enmeshed in European colonial politics, sacrifices a community of Guarani people for what can only be called its own political and institutional expedience. The church not exactly at its best.


Fueling the reprise are wars on two fronts, one that shattered 80 years of post-World War II order in Europe and one that pushes the prospects for some semblance of order in the Middle East ever further into an indefinite future. Timing being everything, others seemingly wait in the wings for their turn.


A little dour, perhaps, but no less so than Jesus’ own reminder to expect to hear of wars and rumors of war alike (Matt. 24.6), and when they tragically, horrifically, appear, what are we to do? Not what are we to say, we know what to say and say plenty, but rather what are we to do? Or more to the point, when history and circumstances and things said and deeds done (some will think of sins of omission and commission) bring persons, communities, tribes, or nations to the point of violence against another, what might the church and its people do?


The Mission gives us a hint. Talking about a film is not necessarily to recommend a film (this one is a really tough slough, particularly in the closing military campaign), but if you should happen to view it, look for the redemptive moment at the end, the very end, following the credits. As the story concludes, “church” and “state” through their two proxies recount the fate of the native peoples, and the Governor says that their massacre was unfortunate but inevitable because “we must work in the world; the world is thus.” Through its clergy, the church replies, “No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it.”


The camera fades and the credits start scrolling. The viewer supposes the film has ended, but it hasn’t, not quite, for as the credits conclude, we see the church’s face staring through a window at the audience, at the viewer, at us, as if to say, “Thus have I made the world … what kind of world will you make?”


Remaking the world sometimes seems like a dubious enterprise for the religiously-minded, and then along come hints and harbingers and signs that the past may be prelude to but does not inevitably determine the shape of the future: the shape of the future is a matter of the kind of world we choose to make.


Well …?

1 thought on “Well …?”

Comments are closed.