Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Modern Conversion Story: God is Great!

In the spring of 2010, I embarked on a project with a doctor, co-writing a book about the vagina. It was to be a funky self-help guide to a woman’s most misunderstood parts: The Vagina, an Owner’s Guide. Part of my remit was to garner as much anecdotal information as possible. I decided to interview prostitutes and Muslims, Catholics and lesbians.

The hookers and gay women were easy talkers. The religious women less so. But I live near Rome and run into nuns every day – what a scoop, to talk to a nun about her vagina! But the approach would be tricky. I knew of a priest through a friend, a youngish man who chatted easily at the grocer’s. Perhaps he could introduce me to an open-minded sister. One March morning, I emailed him: “Dear Father, I am writing a book about vaginas …”

And so the clash of the sacred and profane began. [continue...]

Thursday, January 05, 2012

If That's All There Is

I've been watching Christian movies recently, everything from VeggieTales to movies about saints to films about Our Lady's & Our Lord's apparitions (she seems to make visits with messages for the world or healing springs, etc. & He tends to make personal, individual visits). I've been watching personal stories, fiction & documentaries. My requirements have been, does the film recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord & that Christ was crucified, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven & is with us through the comforter He promised, the Holy Spirit? They don't all enunciate that particular formula but that is the basic premise; if it is not, the film quickly degenerates into ideology & nice warm feelings.

There are many reasons I've been watching Christian movies. The 1st is that afterwards, I feel clean. My background of abuse leaves me susceptible to flashbacks & even now, I must fight the belief that I deserve to be abused. Christian movies don't trigger those negative experiences, they remind me of God's love & actual intention for me which is certainly not more of the evil things that were done to me in the past. Christian movies are another way to focus on Jesus even when my mind is woozy w/ drugs. And I'm interested in what's out there. Christian rock is the fastest growing segment of the music market. It is my hope that Christian films will soon be in a similar position. I want to live in a world that shows me good things not evil. Of course I still watch cartoons & an occasional episode of Buffy or an action or superhero film. But in general, just as I prefer to read good things, I've come to see that I prefer to watch & listen to good things. And finally, many films are like Psalms, they sing praise to God & that's my very favourite thing to do. Every so often, when a film impresses me for good or ill, I plan to write about it.

Recently I watched, A Greater Yes: The Amy Newhouse Story on Netflix. I am happily impressed at the Christian films I can stream or order on Netflix. A Greater Yes is the depiction of Amy Newhouse's response to cancer. At 16, she is clearly God's child, she belongs to Him & has a strong sense of a mission to touch the lives of others for Christ. The Movieguide review says, in part:

The movie A GREATER YES has its heart in the right place. The message is compelling, the emotion strong, and it’s a story that no parent can watch without being moved. The role of Amy is played well, though most of the supporting cast is a bit weak.

The story is very moving, but the script tells but doesn’t show the plot points. All of the scenes are characters talking with no action. Amy’s character is so perfect that she is always perky, even going through the hardest times.
What Movieguide calls perky is actually an indomitable faith in God. As she says, "God always answers my prayers." After suffering six months of grueling side affects from chemotherapy, she believes she has been healed & is ready to take on the world. Though others want her to take a break, she feels she has lived through six inactive months & can't wait another moment to extend God's love to the world. She voices her desire to have a career as a missionary & begins to do everything she can in her own community to share Christ's love. Then the cancer resurfaces, treatment is not working & she is sent home to die. At 1st she wonders why God has left her & stopped answering her prayers but then she discovers that God has been answering "No" because He has a greater yes in store for her.

My main interest in writing about this film (& others too) isn't the cinematography or any of the usual criticisms one encounters in reviews. I'm interested in the message that's portrayed in the story & I think A Greater Yes is missing something, something very important. Amy is the narrator & we come to understand her experience of God through her eyes. Ultimately, I think Amy comes to the right conclusions but she has no sense that suffering is redemptive. Her six inactive months are spent helping a young girl get through chemo, as if God knew she was strong enough to care for the child who was afraid & in need of Amy's childlike faith. Each day, she has her boyfriend invite the school outcast, Jordan, to join his group at lunch. Jordan eventually joins just to get Amy to stop asking & also joins the 6 a.m. prayer group that is praying for Amy's healing; previously, Jordan was a rebel who would not consider prayer. Amy's suffering sparks a revival of faith in a large part of TX. Even today, her story continues to touch hearts & encourage others to love Christ & to persevere. It would have been nice if the other characters were stronger, particularly her parents - I'd have loved to see them sharing their faith with their children. But even without knowing more about them, Amy is very much like St. Therese of Lisieux: she loves Jesus & when the time comes, she suffers with Him. The film doesn't make that clear, just as it fails to make it clear that Amy suffers for Christ - her suffering is a gift that will bring many to Christ just as Christ's suffering made it possible for us to become children of God. (I think Jesus knew we would forget how powerful His sacrifice was so He sends us reminders through people like Amy; it's another way we can know Christ did not leave us alone.) Finally,  I wish she had understood that suffering was also God's gift to her, that God took His dear child, Amy & conformed her to His Son's image: through suffering: she died with Him & she will reign with Him. (See 2 Timothy 2:12)

If suffering only means revival, it's good but it's not much. Helping others is nice but I want more than nice. I want to love like Christ does. I want to heal like Christ does. I want to be made like Christ because that is what God made me to be & only through accepting His will for me can I fully love others; only then is suffering worth it. A person conformed to Christ's image is the most attractive person there is. He (or she) is the only person who can truly win souls to Christ because Christ has been invited to use him/her exactly as He wills.

I highly recommend A Greater Yes: The Story of Amy Newhouse. And I strongly suggest that it be watched while asking the question, is she being conformed to Christ? Though she seems not to be aware of it, she becomes so much like Him, so on fire with Christ's love, her death, so she will be with Christ face-to-face, makes perfect sense even though it is excruciating for those who love her. And though she has died, she will touch more people than the limited few she mentions. God put her in the right place to help the school outcast, put her in the right place to help another child through chemo, He has put her in the right place to show many souls the love of Christ. The God of the living still holds Amy Newhouse in the palm of His hand. She lives with & in Him & she will reign with Him. I have been graced by her story & look forward to meeting her on someday.