In 1998 I went to see the movie Titanic. At first I’ll be honest I didn't’t want to see the movie. I remember dropping my sixteen year old daughter and her girlfriend off at the theater and saying “I know how that story ends”! Eventually I succumbed to the pressure and went to see the movie….six times (lots of pressure). I was undone to say the least, and so were many others making Titanic not just a blockbuster but a phenomenon.
James Cameron did the impossible; he captured the epic sinking of Titanic while weaving a beautiful love story over it to capture the human heart and the human tragedy. From the haunting opening scenes of the actual footage of the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean to the touching scenes of Rose’s reunion with Jack at the end; the power of the movie was well for lack of a better word…titanic.
The Titanic was in the news the other day; it was the anniversary of the discovery of its resting place. This is not what propels me to write on Titanic today, no it’s another story much in the news these days. I am referring to the story of refugees from Africa and the Middle East seeking asylum in the West which has been so poignantly personified by the horrific tragedy of three year old Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on Turkey’s shore.
So what is the connection?
Titanic in its historical context was a floating palace; the symbolic culmination of the “Gilded Age” while at the same time being a technological wonder presaging what was thought to be a new epoch of material acquisition unknown to man. She was thus a metaphor for the world at the beginning of the 20th century sailing along in a bright blue universe. And like that world she was divided into three classes; First-, Second-, and Third-class or “Steerage”.
To grasp the full meaning of the word steerage I quote from Wyn Craig Wade’s book The Titanic: End of a Dream:
“The Titanic carried accommodations for a potential 1,024 third-class passengers, the vast majority of whom would be emigrants. Depending on the booking, portions of third-class quarters could be converted to freight and baggage compartments--- a tradition lingering from the days when “steerage” had meant exactly that. In the 1860’s, for example, it had been legal to transport human beings to one shore and then carry cattle in the same quarters on the trip back. One shipboard notice of that era adjured first- and second-class passengers “not to throw money or eatables to the steerage passengers, thereby creating disturbance and annoyance”. Things had now changed considerably. American immigration laws still made it mandatory to keep gates securely locked between third-class and other passengers; the policy was intended to limit the spread of infectious diseases.”
If you have seen the movie Titanic you will remember those locked gates. The ship is sinking; those in steerage are desperately trying to escape the incoming flood and those locked gates are keeping them trapped in certain death. In one memorable scene Rose and Jack break through a wall and are told by the official steward in a neat and tidy uniform “That’s White Star Line property….You can’t do that”!
And there is the connection. Every time I hear the First-class Post Modern West say to those in “steerage” trying to escape the flood of death sweeping over the third world “You can’t come in here; you’ll have to go back”. I think of Titanic and those locked gates.
The “unsinkable” ship went down. She was a portend not to the heights to which man in his pomp could ascend but one to which man in his arrogance and greed must descend. Her corroded ruin on the ocean floor is a prophetic picture of the 20th century’s descent into wars and destruction the likes of which the world had never known.
So here we are today in 2015. The Third and Second Worlds have been under water for some time. Those on the upper deck have ignored the tragedy below while taking tea and listening to music. But we cannot ignore it anymore; the flood is coming. This is not a religious, political, cultural, economic, or east –west problem. When a three year old boy created in the image of God washes up on shore like a piece of “steerage” it is a human problem. Something is wrong with humanity.
So if my hope were in humanity to “fix” the problem I would be lost. But it is not. For just as James Cameron could not write a screenplay simply about the disastrous sinking of the Titanic and the loss of 1,522 souls, but had to write a larger story of sacrificial love; a love so powerful it transcended death….so did God.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:16-17