This past Sunday evening at TMC we had a movie night and watched the film "Of gods and men." The film by French director Xavier Beauvois is the true story of a community of nine trappist monks living in Algeria during the civil war in the mid-90s. This group of monks had lived in harmony with the Muslim population of the area for many years, prividing medical services and community support. When the civil war broke out, foreigners were at great risk in the country. Rather than flee the country, these monks decided to stay. Through much stuggle, both spiritually and communaly, they ultimately decided that they had given their lives to serve God and the people in their village, and that their work was not yet complete. Seven of the nine monks were eventually captured and martyred as a result of this decision.
Discussion of the film was facilitated by a TMC member who had opportunity to meet the two survivors of this community while serving with Eastern Mennonite Missions in Morroco. He shared personal stories of these two men who were willing to make great sacrifices for their love of God and the love of their Muslim neighbors in Algeria.
At one point in the film, as the threat of violence was escalating and the monks were in great danger, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal was quoted who said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." It is true that much violence in the world, and the violence in the Algerian civil war, is justified by religion. But it strikes me that there is another path that religion can inspire as well; the path of self-sacrificial love on behalf of one's neighbors, and even on behalf of one's enemies. That's the type of love that Christ embodied and lived by. And that's the type of love that guided these nine monks. Their faith inspired them to a love that was greater than the violence and fear and hate that was all around them. In fact, without their faith foundation, they would not have had the strength to endure to the end.
As a Mennonite/Anabaptist church in the peace tradition, there is a lot we can learn from the example of these nine monks. We are blessed to not face the same threat to our lives as so many around the world face. But we still face choices every day in which are called to respond to more subtle forms of violence and hate with the power of love. May our faith and our religion constantly move us toward being the kind of people who sacrifice and risk and endure in the way of love, just as our Savior did.