February 20, 2010


A new Christian movie about marriage has been released called "No Greater Love" (straight to DVD). I was sent a screener and was extremely disappointed. "No Greater Love" starts the same way the excellent Christian marriage movie, "Fireproof," does—with major marital discord. However, NGL is no "Fireproof."

At the beginning of NGL, husband Jeff (Anthony Tyler Quinn) and wife Heather (Danielle Bisutti) fight over Jeff's stubborn dedication to work, which often takes him away from home. Heather descends into a spiral of substance abuse and disappears, leaving Jeff with their young son, Ethan (the pre-adolescent Ethan is played by a talented Aaron Sanders). It's a smartly-done exposition, but then the story logic and emotional timbre unravel from here on out and the whole movie screams ideology. That horrible kind of religious ideology that subordinates the truly human (and therefore truly godly) to misguided derivative platitudes that end up denying the truly human. This is the kind of ethos that makes non-Christians (rightly) run as far away as they can from Christianity. NGL confirms their (mistaken) fears that God wants to obliterate our personhood, squelch our humanity, and turn us into robotic, irrational, uncompassionate religious operatives.

Where to begin? The writing, especially the dialogue, is often stultified and doesn't flow. Genuine reactions to new information do not happen. E.g., when Jeff tells his girlfriend (Heather has been gone for about ten years) of Heather's disappearance, she doesn't ask right away if there are any clues to her whereabouts. She asks this later. This is called the writer's objective rather than the character's objective. The writer's objective must always take second place, or rather be hidden in the character's objective, but we see it baldly throughout NGL. SPOILER ALERT: When Jeff and Heather finally meet again, Heather has become a Christian (while Jeff is not). Heather is strangely detached from wanting to see her son, and the first place Jeff takes her is to see a friend of his. When she is finally reunited with her son, she is more than willing to abandon him again if it's "God's will" that she move to another State. ("God's will" is discerned by an extremely deterministic notion: If God allows this or that to happen, then this or that course of action MUST be taken. There is very little room for reason, intelligence, free will, or even kindness and love.)

Strangest of all, however, is how marriage is viewed. Even though Jeff and Heather's marriage was not a Christian marriage, marriage is a natural institution, and hardly anything is said about the essence of marriage. The only thing that determines whether or not Jeff and Heather are actually married is the question of whether or not Jeff signed the divorce papers, and even though this is technically correct for a non-Christian/non-sacramental marriage, it is all rather cold and clinical (as well as requiring of the audience a breadth of knowledge about the institution of marriage). And later, when Heather's pastor and his wife urge Heather to stay with Jeff, it seems mainly to "influence" him and hopefully make him a Christian.

As a mini-refresher on the sacramental, and therefore Catholic, understanding of Christian marriage: it's indissoluble. Civil divorce is "allowed" by the Church for legal reasons (property, child support and custody, etc.), but divorce itself is not recognized by the Church because it's not recognized by Jesus. Why not? Because marriage is meant to reflect the faithful, forever bond of Christ and His Church, that is, marriage is meant to show us how God loves us. But we're only human and sinful and life is messy and sometimes married couples can no longer live together. Terrible things can happen. Yes, and so separating may be necessary.

What about annulment? Isn't that just "Catholic divorce"? No. An annulment says that the necessary grounds for marriage did not exist from the get-go (although none of the parties involved knew it at the time). So there was never a true marriage in the first place. But doesn't that make one's children "illegitimate"? Absolutely not. Again, "illegitimate" is a civil, legal term and concept. Human beings can't be "illegitimate" in God's eyes (and shouldn't be in ours). It's only the State that calls children "illegitimate" if there was no legal bond between parents when the child was born. So, you mean to tell me that because there have been hundreds of thousands of annulments granted by the Catholic Church in the U.S. (in the 20th century), that there have been that many "never was" marriages? Ah, here's where it gets problematic. Has there been an abuse of giving out easy annulments* in the U.S.? Oh yes. John Paul II addressed this many times during his pontificate. At one point he even appealed to the couples requesting annulments themselves and asked that they really examine their consciences as to whether the conditions for valid marriage existed when they got married. (For example, if couples just keep vaguely claiming that they were immature or not psychologically ready—at whatever age—just about every married couple could say that. All of life is a growth process.)

NGL leans toward a kind of Christian fundamentalism. Christian fundamentalists purport to "take the Bible literally," which, of course, they do not. Otherwise they would have chopped their hands off and plucked their eyes out when last they sinned with them. They also do not take Jesus' teaching against divorce literally. However, we know that the Bible DOES have to be taken literally ACCORDING to the literary genre and MEANING God intended. Which is why we need the Church, "the pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15) to help us INTERPRET Scripture, otherwise we become like "sheep without a shepherd, each going its own way" (Isaiah 53:6) and we wind up with 30,000 Christian denominations—and counting—in the USA alone. When we cut ourselves off from Peter, our Jesus-appointed shepherd (and his successor, our "German shepherd"), we can come to the oddest conclusions on our own.

How does NGL lean toward fundamentalism? By taking "literally" the passage from Ephesians 5: "…wives obey your husbands." I just love it. This one line is frequently excerpted from the whole passage which includes: "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church." Whoa! What a big bill to fill! A professor at a small, orthodox Catholic college I attended said: "Technically, if husbands aren't loving their wives as Christ loves the Church, why should wives obey them?" Also, the MUTUALITY of love and marriage is missed (by taking only one sentence out of its context): "Submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). Heather begins "obeying" Jeff in all matters. Asking him what he wants her to do in every little situation, which, appropriately, drives Jeff nuts. Until the pastor explains what she is doing. In fact, Heather's whole demeanor now is that of a demure, shrinking violet.

From a story-telling point of view, there are several large flaws. One is that Heather protests she tried but couldn't find Jeff and Ethan (even though they eventually ended up living in the same town under their own names and Jeff owned a business). In an age of Google, this is just not probable. Another is that it's emphasized that Jeff has not mended his workaholic ways, and this continues to greatly disturb Heather, but then the issue is dropped and never dealt with. There's an attempt to apply 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (about non-believers married to believers) to Jeff and Heather's situation, which makes the plot points obscure and technical (never a good thing), not to mention, confusing.

I would have just dismissed NGL as an unfortunate attempt to make a movie in support of fidelity in marriage, but when two well-known Catholic media companies began promoting NGL as a wonderful movie on marriage, I became alarmed. I even checked with one company to make sure it was Catholic and not simply Christian. I called them up and asked if they had seen the movie or if they had any theologians on staff who vetted whatever they were promoting. Thus, this review.

We need to make sure that in our enthusiasm for Christian entertainment and the promoting of Christian values and outcomes, we don't begin compromising quality and the fullness of truth. We don't need to. We can't afford to. The end doesn't justify the means.

Be on the lookout for a new movie by the producers of "Fireproof" called "Courageous." It's about fatherhood. Here's hoping it will be as great as "Fireproof"! http://www.courageousthemovie.com/


*Things are somewhat better now, but in the 70's and 80's, certain dioceses were known for their McAnnulments.

February 18, 2010


"Love and Responsibility"
[as always, Sr. Helena's superfluous comments in brackets]

Father Loya's Byzantine church starts Lent on Monday. They have the "Vespers of Forgiveness" to prepare. They ask each other's forgiveness. They also have "ascetics" day (on the Saturday before our Ash Wed.) when they celebrate the first monastics (which today might also include religious orders/congregations).

The only correct, true worldview is SACRAMENTAL, CATHOLIC, HUMAN, LITURGICAL. Theology of the Body is a new delivery system for the entire Catholic Faith.

When some Theology of the Body people (including some well-known ones) heard that JP2G flagellated himself as a penance (this news just broke from the postulator of his cause)—and we also knew that he often slept on the floor, and prayed prostrate in the form of a cross on his chapel floor—were shocked. Why were TOB people rocked? They misunderstood that maybe JP2G was saying that the body was bad by this. But let's use some common sense: How could a man who wrote all these things about the body being good 'secretly" negate that? He was not saying that even the urges of the body are bad. They are not only neutral, they are GOOD! But asceticism and discipline are a part of the Christian life.

Celibates "simply" re-direct their urges, passions to their ultimate goal, fulfillment. Physically, emotionally we have to take steps to discipline ourselves, but it's really an affirmation that the body is so good [and powerful] that we have to consciously direct it.

In the Byzantine church, they don't eat meat or dairy all 40 days of Lent. The body rebels (at first) against asceticism. We feel hunger pains, we're irritable.

JP2G wanted to unite himself to the sufferings of Christ. JP2G saw himself as the father of the whole world (which he was)! He was clear that he saw himself suffering for the world, redemptive suffering and suffering with his contemporaries who are suffering.

We don't criticize athletes for disciplining their bodies. [St. Paul says: "they do it for a crown that fades, but we discipline ourselves for a crown that doesn't fade."] If you were to ask an athlete what defines them, they'd probably say: "the pain." The average career of an NFL player is 3 ½ years. Many say they quit because of the pain (of practice, drills, injuries, etc.)

Father Loya's church--March 18, Thurs. eve—"The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete," very deep service where they take every reference of the Bible that talks about choosing good over evil, penance, reparation. They do "full body prostrations" where they keep bowing and touching their head to the floor. It goes on for several hours. You are invited to Father's church for it. Father's church (Annunciation Church in Homer Glen, IL): www.byzantinecatholic.com You can participate a lot, a little or just observe. (This service was devised by St. Andrew of Crete.)

Our struggle is not against the flesh, but against its distortion and struggles. We are getting it ready for the age to come: "eschatological man." The source of evil is really the mind, the heart. The heart is the workshop of either righteousness or unrighteousness. Seen from below: asceticism is an unceasing battle. From above: it's enlightenment.

The material is good, but we want to master it with the spiritual. Our longings are all ordered to a longing for God.

John Paul II never used the phrase "custody of the eyes." And the real meaning of the word "custody" or "custodian" means to take care. What if a custodian of a building ran away all the time? We shouldn't look at porn ever. Not even one time [because it is just completely disordered to do one thing: scintillate, titillate, arouse, cause us to use ourselves and others, keep us on the physical level only]. But we have to get to the point where we "re-present" things that are presented wrongly to us, to see and think about things rightly. [In the movie "Avatar," the Na'vi greet each other with "I see you."]

"THE FACT THAT WILD ANIMALS WERE SUBJECT TO THE (ASCETICAL) SAINTS SPEAKS OF ANOTHER WORLD. " (Evdokimov) Humans and animals living in harmony is the way it was in the Garden of Eden.

Paul Evdokimov is a great Eastern Orthodox writer who writes in his own way about TOB.

Ascetics wanted to break the tyranny of the passions (because they can control us and disorder us).

Everyone is called to be close to God. Everyone baptized is called to be a mystic because "the mystical" is the most real. Saints and mystics are the ONLY "normal" ones. Sin brings us away from "normal." We think is sin is normal—"I'm just a human being."

Gregory Popcak book—"The Exceptional Seven Percent"—for better for ever. Only 7% of marriages are great, 15% are pretty good, the rest are struggling. (Father is having a marriage retreat in his parish.)

In TOB, you never let words go by. You capture each word and find out what it really means.

Sr. Anne: What about people who think sainthood, mysticism, asceticism is for nuns and priests and monks and not for married people?

Father: There are many, many saints, but most are NOT canonized. Perhaps the greatest saints today are the happily married couples because they are the most heroic, especially in this day and age. We are all called to be saints. Saints are also not self-aware that they are saints because being prayerful, heroic, living in reality, etc., becomes NORMAL for them. But at the same time, the closer we get to the brightness of God, the more we see our own sinfulness and need for mercy.

There's a prayer in the Byzantine church: "May our lives be unceasing penance." [Founder of Daughters of St. Paul, Blessed James Alberione said: "Live in continual conversion" or "Live with a penitent heart."]

The "mystical" is the most real, not the most unreal. The mystics were so INTO WHAT THIS WORLD REALLY IS that they were close to God. (Not AWAY from the world.)

Monastics started monasteries because early on in Church history everyone was becoming Christian and getting spiritually flabby (after the years of persecution), and so they wanted to lead a more rigorous, virtuous life. It was called white martyrdom. [All virtue is martyrdom. :] ]

We are the only creatures who can act outside of what it means to be what we are. We can act INhumanly. (A dog can never act UNdoggily.)

In Byzantine Church, when they eat the food from their Easter basket on Easter—which they've fasted from all Lent, it heightens the experience, and tastes so heavenly.

We Catholics are all supposed to abstain from meat on Friday—that never changed, even after Vatican II. Actually Vatican II said if you CAN'T abstain from meat, do something else. And it's always good to find penances that are really penances for us.

Q: I'm a vegetarian, what can I do instead of abstaining from meat?
A: Good question. You have to find where YOU will feel some pain. But the pain is not the point—it's where YOU need to do battle.

PRAYER, FASTING AND ALMSGIVING IS A TRIFECTA that purifies us. That's why the disciples couldn't cast out demons at first: they weren't doing the 3 deeply enough! Prayer makes us open to God which makes us more charitable.

Even though we're giving up something, Christianity is all about being IN something, being a PART of something.

Asceticism in a soundbite is "spiritual warfare." Warring against concupiscence and disorder so we can be ordered.

February 12, 2010


February 12, 2010
"Love & Responsibility" VJP2G, starting p. 101

When a man is attracted to a woman and vice versa, the couple doesn't always really know what's going on and therefore don't always know why it ends badly. JP2G says there are three elements in attraction: 1) SENSE--starts on the very basic sense-level. 2) COGNITION--Man knows this is woman, woman knows this is man. 3) IMPRESSION—this impression can remain even after they are not in each other's physical presence. Our interior senses can prolong the meeting/attraction. After an impression we can have a REACTION. A sense-impression is reaction to CONTENT. An emotional reaction is a reaction to a VALUE.

There is a hierarchy here:

There can be 3 results to the above:
1) sensuality—involving the physical senses
2) sentimental—emotional
3) integration—putting it all together, prioritized properly. All parts work together in beautiful harmony.

SENSUALITY alone can be consumeristic. It does not try to come into contact with the deeper realities, the person, true beauty. It's OK to see someone's body first and be physically moved (and maybe see some of the person coming through the body). But if it stays only at this level it can fool us into thinking we're in love, that it's love, into thinking that we really know the person.

p. 106—It's OK to see someone as "hot." There is nothing wrong with this. It's natural. Even children—who are not sexually developed—can be attracted to each other: puppy love. But this is not true love.

p. 107—We can't use a person's body apart from the whole person because it's an integral part of the person. If we do, it threatens to devalue the person. The couple may not realize that they are using each other because in their erogenous zones they feel good, they feel close. If relationships are based only on the sensual and stay there, they usually end badly, even in hatred, because the persons feel used.

p. 109—SENTIMENTALITY involves attraction to the whole person, male to female, female to male—not just their body and is not an urge to consume with the excitability of the physical. Sentimentality is the source of affection. There is an admiration for what is feminine by the masculine and vice versa.

In general, women are more sentimental than men, men are more sensual. Women by nature need a relational connectedness, men by nature are more connected by the physical and the perception of visual beauty. It doesn't mean that he's more of an "animal" than the woman, we're just hard-wired differently. It's so important that men and women understand this about each other.

If we stop at sensuality and sentimentality, we're still not at LOVE yet. But sensuality and sentimentality are like the building blocks of love.

p. 114—Love is full of drama. Persons, among all objects on earth, have an inner life. "Integration" means bringing things together as a whole. We need TRUTH and FREEDOM in order to integrate ourselves. If people are seeing things honestly, they'll have a greater experience of love. He will see her as a PERSON, she will see him as a PERSON, honestly.

LOVE is always a matter of the spirit, an interior matter. Love is not a feeling. Love is a spiritual state of freedom, truth and honesty. What's going on in the body alone doesn't constitute love.

p. 117--The value of the person is bound up in freedom which is of the will. If we say: "I can't help myself, we love each other." That's not love! You're not free! Love is not a compulsion. (Sentiment can be a compulsion, too.)

The objective value of love matters the most (not just the subjective value—how I experience love).

Love is about a choice to do what is better for the other person, regardless of how/what you feel (physically or emotionally). Again, it's OK to have physical and emotional elements (and it's good), but ultimately it's about love.

A: You have to read the rest of "Love and Responsibility" and "Theology of the Body."Ha ha. Love is greater than the sum of its parts. It's a mystery. God is love. Love is very outward oriented to what is not just good but BEST for the other and doesn't count the cost to self.

We don't want to be JUST objective about love or JUST subjective. We want both, and to be integrated.

A: God and the Church say: there's more to love than that. There's a covenant. Sensuality and/or sentiment often comes back. Couples go through dry periods. But they have to give it TIME. There's a process. Couples fall in love over and over again.


A: People need to learn to see each other as man and woman again. "Who is he for her? Who is she for him?" What are their needs as God created us? [And Father said he's serious about finishing reading/studying L & R and TOB!]


A: This is a very hot topic in our culture. Don't have time tonight to go into it. But remember: the body doesn't lie. The body tells you who you are and who you are to be attracted to. That's why it's "THEOLOGY OF THE BODY." Same-sex attraction says there has been a disturbance in the development of a person and who they are ordered to be attracted to. But these are very complex issues and have to be dealt with fully and with compassion, but also with TRUTH. Go to Father's website: www.taborlife.org to ask him more about this. You can also check out his articles/talks on: www.catholicradiointernational.com

and the Theology of the Body section of www.catholicexchange.com

February 8, 2010



“It’s not about pretty pictures. Photojournalism is the tool to help people see their life.”--John H. White (as quoted on Columbia College website where Professor White teaches photojournalism http://www2.colum.edu/cps/demo/portfolio.php )

I’ve chosen the work of Chicago photojournalist, John H. White. I say “the work” because he received a Pulitzer for his body of work, rather than just one photo or a series of photos, which seems to be a rather exceptional state of affairs. (White is halfway down in left-hand column. He is the only one receiving a Pulitzer for his body of work.) http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Feature-Photography
“1982--John H. White, Chicago Sun-Times
For consistently excellent work on a variety of subjects.”

I chose White because I was blessed to hear him speak at a regional CPA (Catholic Press Association) meeting, and I was very impressed by his spirituality, his humanity, his ethics, and what he had to say about the vocation of a photojournalist. The man can’t say more than a sentence without reference to God. He lives so close to God, and it shows in his work.

John H. White was born in Lexington, North Carolina. His father, a preacher, gave him his first photography assignment when John was fourteen: to photograph the ruins and reconstruction his father’s church which had burned down.

White joined the staff of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1978, and received a Pulitzer for his body of work in 1982. The photo that he describes as “launching his career” is the photo below of a 1981 Lake Michigan baptism.

White has worked on various projects and books and has received many honors and awards since receiving the Pulitzer. Best of all, he has been teaching photojournalism at Columbia College (Chicago) since 1978, training several generations of photojournalists.

The following video is a celebration of White’s 30-year career at Columbia. Photojournalist as SUBJECT of the camera! LISTEN to the scores of cameras clicking away!

White did not have an easy life and experienced much prejudice getting his career off the ground. He says simply: People were “unkind” about giving him the “the good” photography jobs. But he believes that his life and work have been according to “God’s syllabus.”

White says that there are times when he will not take pictures—even when the competition is snapping away. These would be intimate times of grief, in the ICU, etc. Sometimes, he says, he has been so overwhelmed by the moment that he just didn’t take the shot. Because he’s in constant conversation with God, White prays before his shots. He interacts with his subjects, and constantly wears his camera around his neck like a third eye. He has been known to come upon a family reunion in a park, ask if he can take some pictures (no one knows who he is), and then hand the family a roll of the best pictures they will ever have of themselves and anonymously walk away.

Biography sources:
--CPA regional meeting, Cardinal Meyer Center, Chicago, September, 2009

“I get excited when I see God in the details.”
“Do all to the glory of God.”
“Those who don’t explore others deprive themselves of God’s precious gift of diversity.”
“People need love. You’re God’s tool.”
“Isn’t life beautiful just the same?”
“I don’t worry about anything. That’s an insult to God.”
“I get through the news and tragedies of the world because of the divine in nature.”
(He uses the word “replenish” a lot.)
“I want to be God’s picture-taking person.”
“Keep in flight.” (His website is http://www.keepinflight.com/)

So, after exploring the life of my photojournalist, which photo did I choose for this project? The photo below. When we think about Pulitzer prize winning photos, I think we usually think of something dramatic, negative, horrific. But White’s vision of life is about the ordinary, the magnificence in the everyday. When he was chosen to chronicle life in Chicago (particularly the African-American community) in the 70’s for the National Archives, he wanted to show the joy, the pride, the camaraderie in the life of the people that he photographed, and he did. He says that he made a conscious choice NOT to show the violence and crime. (And I wonder if this can also perpetuate the negativity.) In the best-selling book “The Tipping Point,” there’s a famous case-study of a neighborhood being repeatedly cleaned up (windows fixed, graffiti erased) and the crime went down drastically (it seemed the cleaning-up was the only variable). It was believed that if a neighborhood looked well-kept, it sent a message that people in this neighborhood were vigilant, would not tolerate crime, and that one should be on their best behavior here. If a neighborhood was run-down, it meant that nobody cared, nobody was watching.

If White is about “telling people their stories,” and letting people “sing their song,” then he is choosing to show people’s best side back to them, or rather the greatness in their ordinary, everyday actions, jobs, duties, responsibilities, hobbies, leisure, creativity. I tend to believe in the great value of the ordinary also, and memorized this poem when I was young:

“We see a tiny bird, and it reminds us that troubles can take wing and fly away,
and in the fragrance of one perfect blossom, a special sweetness fills an ordinary day.”

It’s interesting that this poem was also about “flight.” White takes a lot of pictures of gulls when frequenting the Lake Michigan lakefront (where he goes to pray in the morning).

The ballet dancers in the photo I chose are caught “in flight.” White said he prayed before taking this photo. He asked God for fifteen minutes of good light, but God was busy, so he asked for five minutes of good light, and he got it. I love black and white photos, and I love dance (because I don’t!) I admire people who can do such things with their bodies and, vicariously, I feel like I’m dancing and leaping through the air. The dancers are also young, and youth are usually full of hope.

When I first saw this photo, I didn’t even notice there were two dancers in the air, so this photo also teaches me to look deeper, look again, and keep on looking. I think these three ways of looking are the secret to finding the richness in the ordinary, to finding God in the ordinary, and God is love, so there is love everywhere.

I also chose this photo because I think there is something wrong with a culture that doesn’t dance. Africans (and African-Americans) are known for their gifts of dancing and movement. Even though this form of dance depicted (ballet) is more of a studied, European art form—dance is dance. This photo made me think of the African proverb: “Everything breathes, everything sings, everything dances.” Dancing to me denotes an irrepressible joy. Which I think we need more of.

We just had one of our young Sisters from Cameroon make her first profession in our chapel at our Motherhouse in Boston, and since dancing is part of the African liturgy/Mass, Sr. Neville Christine and her family danced in procession at the beginning of the Mass! (We’ve had our Samoan Sisters’ families dance in our chapel before, but this is the first time one of our own Sisters has danced in our chapel.) I feel like something has turned awfully right.

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Sr. Neville Christine Forchap, FSP

We rejoice with Sr. Neville who made her first profession at our Motherhouse in Boston on February 6!

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February 6, 2010


Just in time for St. Valentine’s Day, “Dear John” is a love story based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (“A Walk To Remember,” “The Notebook”). Judging from the popularity and solid romantic weavings of these earlier novels-to-movies (let’s just skip over “Nights in Rodanthe”), “Dear John” is going to be another favorite.

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, John (super-cute Channing Tatum) is a soldier who falls for a college student, Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), while he’s on a leave one summer. The chemistry is palpable and these two really seem meant for each other. But of course there are complications, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say there is a “Dear John” letter involved.

There’s really nothing earth-shaking in the story or the relationship of John and Savannah, except that it’s refreshingly ordinary, and although the sexual tension can be cut with a knife, their blossoming, unselfish love includes other people: John’s reclusive Dad and a neighbor’s autistic son. There are different kinds of love here, all overlapping.

Savannah kind of sets the tone for both of them. She’s a good girl, he’s a reformed brawler, but they’re not so different that they don’t quickly find common ground. These are two very believable characters and two very good actors, so it’s easy to get caught up in their tale. The direction is seasoned and seamless. No gimmicks, not too much melodrama.

Critics despise two kinds of movies: comedies and sentimental tearjerkers, no matter how much audiences embrace them. Is “Dear John” a tearjerker? Not really. I didn’t shed any brine. But it does portray that kind of love that we all want (although the sacrificial aspects of their love are sometimes strained, outlandish, and a bit unfathomable). Actually, a weakness in the story is a never-satisfactorily-explained sort of faithlessness on the part of one of the lovers. But the human heart is fickle. But we don’t want to be reminded of that. Not by Nicholas Sparks. (Dude-what were you thinking? )

“Dear John” also reminds that unselfish love is really, really hard. Waiting can be really, really hard. I am reading “Love and Responsibility” (by the Venerable JP2G) which is so encouraging by its acknowledgment of this, and a philosophical dissecting of the same. During the movie, the Keith Green song kept going through my head: “You Put This Love In My Heart,” reminding me that only God can make us capable of truly self-giving love.

The acting—especially on the part of Tatum--is inspired (and I’m not just saying that because he’s super-cute). What many people don’t realize is that close-up, constantly emotive acting is the toughest kind of acting. While we may think soap operas are cheesy (albeit addictively cheesy), they are proving grounds where actors cut their teeth. Tatum masters a wide range of facial expressions and guymotions (guy-emotions: yeah, I just made that up) that make “Dear John” what it is. There’s a humility to his acting—as though he realizes he’s still new at this, but he’s also a complete, gifted natural. Okay, end of gush.

I don’t like being manipulated any more than the next movie-goer, but what’s wrong with tenderness? Isn’t that what the world needs more of?

“Dear John” never lags, and there are a few lovely twists at the end, but it also feels like there are too many endings, and the final ending is rushed and a little bit meh.

There’s one pre-marital sex scene (not terribly graphic) and one “really bad judgment on the part of a married person” scene. It’s strange to me that sex SCENES can still be PG-13, while three uses of just the “F” WORD warrant an automatic “R”-rating.

Nice modeling of dating conversations.

The war scenes felt authentic, but the lack of some kind of PTSD didn’t feel too honest.

OK. What's with gals wrapping their legs around guys when they kiss, or just say hello? I know this has been going on for a while now, but that doesn't make it OK in my book. It's too much. It's inappropriate. It's explicit. I know they don't mean it to be, but am I alone in this?

Nicholas Sparks seems to like to put actual WRITING in his novels/movies: “Message in a Bottle,”“The Notebook,” “Dear John”—could this pattern have something to do with the fact that he’s involved with the Creative Writing Department at Notre Dame?

Final verdict? Keep cranking ‘em out, Mr. Sparks!

OK—I’m going to put the actual trailer here. I don’t usually do that on purpose because then you’ll think: “I don’t need to read Hell Burns© review! I’ll just watch the trailer and make up my own mind!" OR “Hey, now that I’ve seen the trailer, I don’t need to see the movie!” I put it here to show you the acting chops of you-know-who. This is one trailer that is utterly faithful to the movie. It’s no better or worse than the movie. What you see here is what you’ll see in the movie.

OK, I just checked www.imdb.com and it's not just me. CT has no less than 5 films in development and 3 in production. Case closed.

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February 3, 2010


BERMUDA, 1970's




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