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Tuesday, June 4, 1968: the California presidential primary. As day breaks Robert Kennedy arrives at the Ambassador Hotel; he’ll campaign, then speak to supporters at midnight. To capture the texture of the late 1960s, we see vignettes at the hotel: a couple marries so he can avoid Vietnam, kitchen staff discuss race and baseball, a man cheats on his wife, another is fired for racism, a retired hotel doorman plays chess in the lobby with an old friend, a campaign strategist’s wife needs a pair of black shoes, two campaign staff trip on LSD, a lounge singer is on the downhill slide and turns to alcohol.
Through it all, we see and hear Robert Kennedy calling for a better society and a better nation.

Two weeks ago TCH South View watched ‘Bobby’ and afterwards had a short discussion about it. And what did the film present to us?

We get a series of broken lives all pinning hopes on this one great man, bobby Kennedy.

But Robert Kennedy was shot and killed that night, June 4th 1968.

At the end of the film there is a pastiche of scenes as people lie with blood and brokenness around them. And over the top there is this speech by Bobby:

“Mr Chairmen, Ladies And Gentlemen

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown.

…Too often we honour swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

…I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his colour or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence…”

All these people were putting their hopes in this one man. This one man who recognised that “only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.” But all those hopes were dashed when he died.

The similarities with the themes of the Bible were striking as we talked about it after the film. The world is a place of broken lives. War, affairs, drugs, alcohol, old celebrities.

And into it comes a man who recognises that social reform plans are not going to solve the problem, because those problems go to a much deeper level. Only a cleansing of our hearts can remove the sickness from our soul.

But unlike Kennedy who’s death dashed hopes of renewal, Jesus death and his resurrection to life is the means by which that deepest renewal can happen. As God promised in the Old Testament he gives us a new heart that removes the sickness of our soul and recreates us to love God and others. “After that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people… I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sin no more.” He creates a city where men and women who were once aliens and strangers now not only share a city but share a community centred around the King, Jesus.

Bobby is a film worth seeing and worth talking about.

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