The classic and hilarious French film Mon Oncle can be maddeningly frustrating to watch. It chronicles the minutiae of interactions that a well-loved but crumpled uncle has with the increasingly modernized, mechanized, and sanitized new Paris after World War II. In doing so, the film highlights the distance between the old city and the new city by elaborating on the many little yet oft-repeated steps that separate these two versions of the city.
These two versions of the city are also two distinct ways of interacting with and understanding life. The residents of either side of the city are distinctly uncomfortable trying to cope with the way of life on the other side of the tracks. However, the old city residents are not only uncomfortable in modern Paris, they are also incompetent in modern Paris. While uncomfortable in old Paris, modern Parisians are still able to project their power and status in the old city.
What does this have to do with Exodus? Consider how the distance between old Paris and modern Paris is embedded within the many little things that modern Parisians are so adept at they become unconscious habits. In contrast to the uncle, it is their facility with all of the seemingly trivial things like garage door openers and automatic gates that identify and separate them from their old city neighbors. We so take for granted this learned and practiced facility that watching incompetence in the uncle is funny to see. This film forces us to pay attention to these things that lead to that social distance. While we probably cannot imagine the vast social distance or experiential horror that is slavery, a film like Mon Oncle can remind us that social distances like those in Exodus are larger than we would like to assume. If the distance between old Paris and modern Paris is this large, what would it be between slave and free?
As well, Mon Oncle can offer us a glimpse at the many little ways we create and embed social distance between neighbors. What does that mean for us as Christians and as neighbors? What are the little yet oft-repeated steps that separate us from those on the other side of our city's tracks? What does that mean for us as Christians who worship within a community? What are the little things that we are so competent at we take for granted that would trip up someone who lacked our practice and training? On which side of the tracks does our worship take place in?
Try to imagine that you are an Israelite whose only way of living was as a slave in Egypt. Enter Moses and the Exodus. What sorts of personal transformations must you undergo to live life differently out of Egypt and out of slavery? Imagine the uncle now living at his sister's house in modern Paris and how foreign and hostile so much of this environment is for him. Now remember that his discomfort is tiny compared to that Israelite.
When we evangelize and invite others in our community into our Christian community, we are all too often also inviting them out of old Paris and into modern Paris. Some of those differences are undoubtedly good and well worth getting adjusted to, but we also know that there are many of these little barriers that aren't. Which ones can you identify?