Tonight we watched the movie "Brazil" (1985), which I saw in high school but that's getting to be a few years ago now...
Anyway, for those of you who are from my generation and may not have had a reason to have ever seen this surrealistic-sci-fi-classic film, it's really cool--although kind of depressing. I'd highly recommend it, but if you're going to watch it you should go watch it first and then finish reading this post, because it's the ending that I'm going to talk about. (That's my disclaimer, don't say I didn't warn you. =)
At first the main character is just going through a normal life, doing what he needs to in order to survive but not trying to be "successful," rich or famous or powerful or any of that--just trying to live like a good person within the system he finds himself in ("somewhere in the 20th century," which is the future in this case...). He's just trying to be your regular Joe, but then he accidentally gets mixed up in governmental bureaucracy, realizes how messed up the system is, takes on the system in his dreams and tries to figure out a way to at least get those he loves out of this destructive system somehow.
He fails. In the end, everyone he knows and loves has died (or become so much part of the system as to be unrecognizable), and he is taken in to be tortured until he'll be a docile part of the system again. (If you haven't seen the movie yet, don't judge it by this description--it doesn't really do it justice, because the movie is a brilliant surrealistic work complete with fanciful dreams, cynical humor and a lot of great commentary on society that I can't get into here or else you'd get bored reading about it...you should just watch the movie!)
So the last scene shows the two evil bureaucrats bending over him, and they say they think he's gone too far beyond them, he's in his own place now...and he is--he's daydreaming about leaving all the cities and civilization with the woman he loves. He's gone crazy, but he's finally in a place where they can't touch him.
When the movie got over, at first I thought it was just depressing: they've destroyed him, there's no hope of society ever going in the right direction, according to the view of life depicted.
Then I thought about it some more. The whole movie is of course not supposed to be realistic--that's why it's surrealistic. To me the real point is to go somewhere that the system can't get to us--somewhere that is so intensely our own, our true reality and sense of truth, that "they" (whoever they is) can't take it from us. I wouldn't recommend going crazy to do so, or retreating to a place inside where you can ignore the problems of the world. I don't agree with the final analysis of this movie that that's the only way to escape the system.
But I do think they hit on an important concept here anyway. There is a beyond, there is a place where we can't be touched by the world, and I think this is what Jesus is talking about when he envisions the "Kingdom of God." That's one of my favorite things about reading about Jesus' ministry. It's not just a political scheme like people thought a Messiah would be about. It's not just a "pie in the sky by and by," either. It's a here-and-now Kingdom, where we so live into the truth of who we are--living out justice and what is right in the world--that "the world" cannot touch us. Sure, it can hurt our bodies, but it can't destroy our souls. (Quick note: I don't think the kind of total dualism that is often made of this is helpful either--I think our bodies are important and they help us connect with God and are part of ourselves.) We can be so intensely who we are that people are drawn to that--drawn to that of God in us, the Light within, the seed of truth that each of us carries. It's speaking truth to the world in such a way that it can't be ignored. It must be dealt with, either by acceptance or destruction.
For followers of this way, the end is often destruction of the body. The early Friends were willing to risk their lives to bring this just, peaceable Kingdom to the earth, to live it out in everything they did. They went to jail, they endured persecutions of all sorts from those around them, they risked their lives to bring the joy of this Kingdom to places like Boston where it wasn't wanted (Mary Dyer and others). They risked their children's comfort to follow this Kingdom, leaving the children at Reading Meeting the choice to either stay at home and wait until their parents returned, or live in the same Light as their parents and continue meeting together.
Quakerism isn't for the faint of heart. We are a prophetic people with a voice that cannot be quenched except in our death--and not even then! Look at how many Quakers there are around the world now because of our past witness.
This summer as I was at the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, we climbed Pendle Hill together, Friends from all over the world coming back to that place where George Fox had his vision of a great people to be gathered. It was beautiful (and I don't just mean the view) and challenging (and I don't just mean the hike). It seems like perhaps it's a chance for a turning point. Are we as Quakers going to sit on top of Pendle Hill, rejoicing in our successes and doing nothing more? Or are we going to allow our lives to be rekindled with this fighting fire of the present Kingdom and once again live as the Spirit calls us to live?
What is the Spirit calling us to now? Is it comfort and security? Is it going along with the system as much as necessary in order to not get into trouble? Is it turning a blind eye on the deadness of those around us and focusing inward on our own piece of truth? I don't think so. I think we are still called to action, there is still a great people to be gathered.
If we are faithful to the Spirit, I trust completely that people will be drawn to this work. But we don't do it for the numbers, or for the notoriety that comes with pesecution. We do it because it is what we are called to do. It is how we are most truly ourselves, it is how we shine our Inner Light, it is how we bring the Kingdom forth into the world. What does the Kingdom look like? Here's what Jesus said his mission was, and challenged us to do the same:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because I have been anointed
to bring good news to the poor.
I have been sent to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In "Brazil," the character's dream-wings are shorn off by the charcter representing the system. I believe the Spirit offers us back those wings, and we can again learn to fly, together.