“Get off my plane!” growls Harrison Ford, the President of this Great Nation, as he finally throws the last highjacker off Air Force One to plummet to his death. “Get off my plane!” and the audience roars with well-deserved, tension-releasing, self-congratulating, patriotic laughter. “Yes!” Right has triumphed. Goodness has prevailed. And our president is a hero. Not just a nation’s leader but a courageous man, a family man, a man who stands by those in his care, who weeps in the face of horror, endures his own pain, rejoices in the downfall of his enemies. And no slouch with a machine gun either. The perfect American. The perfect leader: honourable, passionate, angry, powerful. How like Jehovah! How like Adonai! How like the God of our ancestors!
“This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people. For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as Adonai, our God, is to us?”
“Get off my plane!” My plane. This hi-tech arsenal and communications centre begins as a palace of diplomacy and justice amid the chaos that is the outside world. But the chaos comes on board with bad faith and bullets and what ensues becomes a territorial dispute — a microcosm of a divided world— a fight for American soil up in the sky. One good man against evil. Light against dark. Honor against ideology. Violence against violence.
“What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law?” For this flying morality tale to work the good must be beyond reproach and the bad … demonic. How easy it was in the good old days to know who was bad! But today the czars of the evil empire are our uneasy friends and the bad guys are elsewhere. In recent years Arabs have been in vogue. Gangsters have always been favoured but how much better if they are foreign! Japanese business had a brief moment in the limelight in the late eighties. But Air Force One wants to leave no doubts about who is good and who is bad so the President has to fight for his life and for liberty against the ethnic cleansers, against genocidal maniacs with eyes enraptured by visions of death. Nasty pieces of work—who wouldn’t want to give them a taste of their own genocide? A line has to be drawn.
A line has to be drawn. Isn’t that the essence of law? Dividing up the world into “yes” and “no”? Permitted and forbidden Pure and impure? Tasty and taboo?
“Here,” says Moses, “accept these laws I present to you today so that you may live and defeat your enemies and take their land and drive them out and call them foreign.” Moses draws a line and the line defines right and wrong, and the line defines good and bad, and the line defines inside and outside. “Get off my plane!”
Moses is at least honest. He knows the connection between private morality and public policy. He knows that an enemy must die if the people are to live. Knows they must slit their neighbours’ throats with a good conscience. Knows that spilled blood must be sacramental.
Inside and out — you can do things to those outside that you’d never dream of doing to those inside. They bring it on themselves, those who insist intransigently on being outside. They ask for it.
But like the movie, what begins on a cosmic scale also enters hearth and home. Every outside has an inside and every inside has its own lines drawn, its own borders between us and them. East and West, North and South, black and white, rich and poor, women and men, straight and gay. Until the line drawn is at the front door, or across the dinner table, or down the middle of the bed, or through the centre of our soul.. And all for good reasons; all for God’s sake.
“For God’s sake!” says Jesus, “listen to me and try to understand. You confuse human laws with the word of God. Nothing outside you can threaten your purity. Look where all impurity comes from. Look into your hearts and find there the danger: theft and murder, envy and greed, malice and fear.”
Jesus erases all those drawn lines, all those boundaries, all those borders. He rubs out all the lines but two. One he draws between human interest and God’s desire. With the other he draws the line between inside and out: but this time reversed—for now the enemy within and salvation comes from outside.
And here we are, caught at the crossing point of two divides, just as Jesus was. He alone had the courage to cross them both: to let God into his all too human heart and to let all the despised and alien and unfashionable sit around his table. He opened his arms wide across both divides and we nailed him at the crossing point. But even this, our final attempt to throw god off our plane, has been defeated. Our movie has an unhappy ending. Because now the lines have been crossed and now the outside is inside us … forever.
August 31st, 1998