Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lessons from Titanic

Anyone who knows me knows that I love old movies. The Turner Classic Movie channel (TCM) is my favorite channel on cable. This comes in handy at the library. I am far more likely to track down an old black & white film in the shelves than anything else. And if there is one thing the library has plenty of, it’s old black & white films! The other day I decided to search out some more Cary Grant films. In my searching the shelves I came across “A Night to Remember” the 1958 film about the tragedy of the Titanic. I’d only seen bits and pieces through the years, and I decided I should watch it in its entirety.

The film was beautifully made. Void of the “Jack and Rose” fictional love story, this film truly captured the sentiments surrounding the incident. The film was successful in explaining a lot that I never knew. For example, according to the film, there was a ship that was incredibly close to the RMS Titanic. The doomed steamer tried multiple times to make contact, and the ignorant crew didn’t even respond to the cries for help. They observed the emergency flares, wondering why such a large liner would be firing them, instead of coming to their aid.

But what stunned me the most was the way the passengers treated the situation. To be sure, at the beginning the crew decided to be calm about the situation, so as not to cause a panic. They simply started telling people to put on their life jackets and head to the outside, “just as a precaution.” Most of the first class passengers didn’t want to, and the film did a great job listing their various reasons. Some simply didn’t want to because they found it uncomfortable. It was too chilly outside. It was an inconvenience that they didn’t feel they should be obligated to accept.

Then, as the situation became a little more obvious, the women and children had begun to be allowed onto the lifeboats. A few excuses for not going on board were revealed. One that comes to mind was the woman who was afraid because she had never gotten into a lifeboat before, and she was certain she would miss her step coming aboard. She saw how far down the water was, with the other lifeboats that were already safely in the water. She screamed out of fear, but she made it safely. As the transitions between the class passengers and the “steerage” passengers began, I heard one woman say, “I will not sit with them, they’re steerage!” Some boats were lowered with too few people. There a few examples shown where people insisted there was no room, when there was clearly plenty.

Anyone who has seen either Titanic film will remember “the Unsinkable Molly Brown.” In both films, we see her as an assertive, women’s liberation sort of woman. Not traditional in any sense, all of her actions ignoring status and seeking to be as helpful as possible. In one instance, she insists on allowing more people into the boat, saying everyone can make some more room to get someone else into the boat. After the ships sinks, she suggests their boat go back to help those left in the water. She even convinces the women to row as well, so they can stay warmer by moving their bodies.

Perhaps the strangest account, and whether it is true or not, was a woman who had to run back to her room and get her “lucky pig” a porcelain painted pig… rather large for a good luck charm.

As I watched I found myself screaming at the television as if I were watching a football game (and actually caring about the outcome). “PEOPLE! THE SHIP IS SINKING! GET OVER YOURSELVES!!!”

Sure it seems pretty obvious. We’d all like to believe we’d be a little more like Molly Brown. But in reality, I’m pretty embarrassed to say I see myself a whole lot more in the other passengers. I’ve been guilty of making all these same excuses, and more, to avoid stepping out and telling others about the abounding love of Christ.

That person wouldn’t listen to me.”

“It’s inconvenient, I’ll be late for Bible Study!”

“This is too scary, what if I fall flat on my face?”

I have been completely guilty of taking God’s gift of grace for granted and keeping it all to myself, keeping the lamplight under my hand as they say.

One question that stuck out in my mind was, “how could the selfish first class passengers survive, and the poor third class “steerage” passengers not make it? How is that fair?” But then I realized, those passengers would have to live the rest of their lives knowing that for whatever reason they survived while others didn’t, simply because of status, nothing at all to do with who deserved to live and who didn’t. The same is true for us. We did nothing to deserve this grace we've been given. But hell is a reality. It’s not a theory, it is truth. There’s no going back, no changing your mind, no doing it over again differently. Do we really believe that about the eternal destinies of those around us?

The overwhelming truth is that the ship IS sinking. It’s sinking fast. Faster than any of us realize. Every day, people are dying without knowing who Christ even is, let alone how much they need Him.

Let us not be the born-again “first class” passengers