Fr Provincial at GC36: Crimson Tide

POST BY DPreston

'Crimson Tide': a taut, claustrophobic thriller
'Crimson Tide': a taut, claustrophobic thriller

The late Tony Scott was a movie director who was somewhat overshadowed by his more acclaimed Oscar-winning film-maker brother, Ridley Scott; but the corpus of Tony’s movie work, if more populist, is not slight. 'Top Gun', with Tom Cruise, was Scott’s breakthrough movie; and others ( e.g. ‘Enemy of the State’ and ‘Déjà Vu’) are certainly worth an evening of popcorn and thoughtful entertainment.

My favourite Tony Scott movie is a taut, claustrophobic thriller called 'Crimson Tide'. It tells the tale of the American nuclear submarine, USS Alabama, that has lost contact with military high-command, and the crew are torn as to how they should respond to a situation that MIGHT be developing on the surface.

The ‘might’ in the last sentence is very important: nothing is clear, but the options are stark. Should the submarine launch nuclear weapons, (as the standing-orders to indicate they must); or should they desist from such an action because the last message the submarine received was incomplete and ambiguous?

The ‘keep-it-by-the-book’ Captain, played by Gene Hackman, wants to launch the missiles; but his more intuitive second-in-command, Denzel Washington, questions the law-book in these circumstances and tries to see the here-&-now human story. Both paths of action mark radically different ways to proceed and either might lead to severe consequences in the wider world. Who is right?

Although the crew of the USS Alabama are not in an everyday situation, they dramatically illustrate the clash of leadership and processes of decision-making that can be passionately debated in ordinary families and communities. For groups, complete truth is rarely the monopoly of one person (even the leader) and fragments of the jigsaw of truth often emerge from various sources – the rule book, intuitions, history and personal experience – and the task of good leadership is to try to allow the right decisions to emerge from that crucible of debate.

The General Congregation is in a such a phase of exploration and debate: ways of proceeding and probable directions are not immediately obvious. Suggested ways forward can clash with other possible ways forward and the GC leadership has to plot a collective course through the conflicting needs and demands that arise.

There was a structural clarity of the early processes of the GC, but the pilgrim road is now less clearly discernible. It is as though the strong lights of sun and moon are gone temporarily from the sky and we more gingerly find our way forward by starlight.

This lull should not be surprising. The Spirit is trying to interact with the minds, hearts, senses, passions, fears and aspirations of every human being on the planet, so it should not come as a shock that the 215 flawed delegates of the GC are experiencing that interaction in various different ways.

The challenge is for the GC to resist the fraught interaction that developed on the USS Alabama, and to quieten in hope and trust and seek the Spirit who whispers Truth to all those who wish to hear.