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 The Writer's Desk:  an NCR Web column
Each week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

April 5, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 1




Pat Marrin Recovering Christianity's core drama

By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration

Holy Week invites us to listen again to the basic story of our faith, the climactic days of the life and the death of Jesus. Recovering this core drama from its biblical framework and language and translating it into contemporary immediacy and intelligibility is the challenge facing every church congregation this week.

Because all stories are about imagery, it is noteworthy that increasingly for contemporary people, these images have become cinematic. This year, for example, many Christians will take with them into Holy Week the powerful images of Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ." Gibson's emphasis on the physical suffering Jesus endured to redeem the world from evil will provide a mental and emotional screen many preachers will rely on and invoke this week. But other films can surprisingly carry this function as well.

Also by Pat Marrin
Feb. 6, 2004 When a local church is decapitated
Feb. 5, 2004 The Good News meets the daily news
Feb. 4, 2004 Jesus had a credibility problem
Feb. 3, 2004 The sacrament of touch
Dec. 3, 2003 Just one pope away from ...
Dec. 2, 2003 'Hope is the thing with feathers'
Oct. 30, 2003 The burden of servant leadership
One of them is the recent British film "Dirty Pretty Things" (just released on video), which depicts the underside of today's London (or any large, urban center), where immigrants, legal and illegal -- part of the river of economic and political refugees unleashed by wars and an unstable, global capitalism -- are caught in the struggles and sacrifices required just to survive. As in life, bad things happen to good people in this movie.

Like the Gibson film, it is rated R, and adult viewers of "Dirty Pretty Things," should be prepared to enter a riveting world where love and courage confront evil as it lurks in the night, and in the banality and ambiguity of human weakness and compromise we all share.

At a posh hotel, the night clerk, an undocumented Nigerian refugee, uncovers an ongoing scheme in which human organs are being surgically removed from desperate immigrants in the hotel in exchange for forged documents and cash. English citizenship or an American passport for a kidney. Other hotel workers, a young Turkish Muslim woman who works as a maid, a doorman from Eastern Europe and a West Indies prostitute conspire with the Nigerian and a Chinese immigrant who works in the morgue of a London hospital to outwit the slick, unprincipled "Senor Juan," the hotel manager and mastermind of the organ trafficking scheme.

The Nigerian, we learn, is a doctor who was forced to flee political violence in his home country. In a scene early in the film, he stops between his day job driving a cab and his night job at the hotel to play chess with his Chinese friend, who muses: "There is nothing so dangerous as a virtuous man." The story focuses on the integrity of this selfless doctor, under pressure as Senor Juan discovers his identity and attempts to blackmail him into assisting in his lucrative scheme as the only way he can escape deportation and as his only hope to help himself and his friends.

Good and evil meet here in shocking ways, yet ones we can recognize in ourselves. Every viewer will bring his or her own lens to such a film and take his or her own lessons from it. But if you seek a different way to enter the events and the essential spiritual encounter at the heart of Holy Week, I recommend "Dirty Pretty Things." A Holy Week without reflecting on, even vicariously (what film is for), the suffering of God among the invisible poor who make up the immigrant workers and refugees of our world, would be incomplete, no matter how pious and liturgically full it is.

We need look no further than today's front page to realize that the passion and death of Jesus is a present reality. If attending church services this week helps to stir to life the story of his cross and to open us to his resurrection, then the invitation and the opportunity are there. If you seek other helps to bring home the power of love to overcome evil - in the world and in our own hearts - this excellent film is another point of access to the deep prayer asked of us during this Holy Week.

Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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