This article first appeared in the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, volume31, number2 (2008). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
The pebbles forgive me, the trees forgive me. So why can’t you forgive me?
— from the song “Anyone Else but You,” by the Moldy Peaches, sung by the characters Juno and Bleeker as the 2007 film Juno closes.
Dancing Elk, Minnesota. Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (played by Ellen Page) is a cut-up and queen of her own “freaky-girl” teen universe. After having a solitary sexual encounter with classmate Paulie Bleeker (played by Michael Cera) that results in her getting pregnant, however, she quickly realizes how little she really knows about life. Juno’s parents (played by J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney) trust their daughter’s judgment to keep the baby and place it for adoption, after her harrowing tale of having fled the waiting room of the Women Now clinic and a planned abortion. Best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) leads Juno via the local Penny Saver paper to Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner)—an affluent suburban couple who have been unable to conceive a child of their own. Juno must grow up fast now in the face of a series of adult decisions and must learn to rely on family and friends to help discover who she truly is.1
Novelty or Functional Appliance? Christians of all ages have seen Juno and others will bring her into their living rooms via cable or DVD. Not all agree, however, on what to do about her.2
Some find in her message redeeming value. Christopher Gould, sixty-four, believes that “the way that Juno responds to her pregnancy is how Christians ought to want a young unmarried woman to respond, and God can be glorified in her final choice.” Also, Jenifer, thirty-eight, “would recommend Juno to any Christian adult who can filter what they don’t agree with and still enjoy a warm hearted and thoughtfully made secular film.”
Some find in her message futility. Becky, forty-nine, notes that “the characters still stayed on their same dysfunctional path, only the circumstance changed that the characters were in. If there was any redeeming feature in this film it would be showing how empty, lost, unfulfilling, and pointless life without Christ is—because that is what all these lives were in this movie.” Susan, forty-one, says, “Ugh. I deeply regret seeing this film and feel stunned by it. It’s been heavy on my heart since. This is definitely an unclean thing which I have set before my eyes.” Maria, thirty-nine, and her husband and sister all walked out after fifteen minutes of viewing “this very disturbing and disgraceful film…appalled by what Hollywood spews out.”
Some find in her message a song of praise. Adam, seventeen, said, “Amazing! Totally relevant for any Christian to watch and enjoy with nothing really offensive to leave you feeling awkward.” Jacob, thirteen, comments, “My mother and I went to see this movie [and]…found a joy in it. It was witty and random. Although there was a scene at an abortion clinic, she did the right thing and decided to go through with the pregnancy.”
By the time I saw Juno, my expectations were preprogrammed by a healthy distrust of Hollywood and reviews like that of sixty-year-old Larry, who “had hoped that maybe the script was only a cynical parody depicting a fringe element of our culture, but reading the glowing reviews of the young viewers, [I could] only conclude that it is a realistic portrayal of our continuing cultural descent into amorality, ugliness and depravity.”
I already had a title in mind for the Viewpoint column I was to write: “Lament for Juno.” I planned to compare the demise of our modern culture with that of Juno’s and, in the spirit and fashion of the prophet Jeremiah, offer a lament for our world’s impending “night in which all cows are black.”3
At the Movies. I found the script online, read through it a few times, and made my way to the matinee. At the end of the film, just after teen mom Juno has delivered the son she was going to give away for adoption, when she was crying in that hospital bed, alone, my face was warmed by tears of compassion for her.
Juno changed my way of thinking, but not as I anticipated. I wanted to pick up a hamburger phone like the one in the movie, and call her and say, “Yo, yo, yiggety, yo, Juno! I am sorry I pre-judged you.” Taking the risk (or not) of sounding silly by harnessing Leah’s teeny-bopper lingo, I wanted to tell her that she was brave and courageous and beautifully vulnerable and right on the edge of discovering the deepest kind of love there is. I wanted to tell her that Immanuel, “God with us,” loved her and was reaching out for her …and that I was undone by her story!
How to Dismantle a Bomb. Those who know me well and still claim to love me say I have a “strong sense of justice” but often “lack compassion.” Those who know me well and avoid me say the same. It is my opinion, though I hesitate to offer a universal affirmative proposition, that every apologist carries within the seeds of his or her own destruction.4
We harbor hopes of rescuing the drowning doomed in our cunning little minds and seek out opportune moments to dismantle the perspective of another human being. All the while, Someone much wiser in the ways of truth lovingly and gracefully continues to reveal to us our own inadequacy and occasional hypocrisy.
I was fully prepared to torpedo the movie Juno, but after seeing and, consequently, falling in love with it, and reading and seeing my opinions in both the positive and negative comments, I see myself more clearly. In this new light, I realize how thankful I am that grace abounds to the chief of sinners and realize that I disagree with the likes of Larry, respectfully of course.
Am I saying that Christians should not be diligent in sharing their faith or choosing what movies they watch? Never! Jesus sent His disciples into the world with the good news, but told them to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16 KJV). Having found that the answer was love, deep within their own hearts, not only was their message one of love, the motivation behind their message was one of love, too. It seems that the gospel is more than just the need to be forgiven from a laundry list of sins, like having sex before marriage or cheating on your taxes. It is a ministry of reconciliation of the messenger to God, then of the receiver of the message to God, and finally of the messenger and the receiver one to another. How can we even begin to embrace this gargantuan task if we refuse the sinner on the grounds that he or she behaves badly and isn’t born again? Were we not all once in such a state?
“The best thing you can do is to find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. That’s the kind of person worth sticking with,” Juno’s father says, when she begs him to tell her that it is possible for two people to really love each other and to stay together forever, or at least for a few years. When he said that, I immediately thought of how Christ has always loved the misfit that I am. More amazing still, He went as far as being crucified for my sin of having not always loved him, so that we could “stick it out” together for eternity!
I carry a snapshot of a famous painting in my pocket and have for many years, since I stopped living far, far from the love of Christ. The painting, titled simply “Forgiveness,” is the work of Thomas Blackshear II, and depicts a man, holding instruments of crucifixion, upheld in a love embrace while in the midst of a collapse, by the very Christ he had sought to crucify.
The writer of Juno, Diablo Cody, helped me to realize more clearly that I often make the mistake of trying to point the lost toward redemption by showing them how they are crucifiers of Christ or, worse, how they need to surrender their weapons of crucifixion (to me), because Christ is in me waiting for them to do so. It seems as backward as trying to buy clothes at the Pump n’ Munch, but Cody, a former stripper and phone sex operator, who by her own admission is not a disciple of Christ, showed me, a seasoned Christian apologist, a perspective of that painting that I had never considered. That man is me; but that man is also her, or Juno, or my next door neighbor; and, ultimately, it wasn’t my place to set her or anyone on the straight and narrow.
It instead is time I learn how to share with others just how hard it is to be me and how Christ loves me in spite of that. I need to share how I, while simultaneously defending and making a mockery of true faith, am saved by grace through faith in a Christ who asked, “‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’” and when “she said, ‘No one, Lord’…said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’” (John 8:10–11 NKJV).
— C. Wayne Mayhall
1. For a more detailed synopsis of Juno visit Jason Buchanan’s, “All Movie Guide” at http://www.fandango.com/juno_v356873/summary.
2. For a Christian review of Juno, written by Spencer Schumacher, see “A Christian Spotlight on Entertainment,” a ministry of ChristianAnswers.net at http://www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2007/juno2007.html. All of the individual comments appearing in this column are from the “Viewer Comments” section following Schumacher’s review.
3. The philosopher Hegel, in his Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford University Press, 1979, 79), criticized another philosopher, Schelling, for his notion that reality was predictable with great confidence, saying that such a reality would be meaningless and singularly uninteresting.
4. “All apologists carry within the seeds of their own destruction” is much more difficult to prove than “No Apologist carries within the seeds of his own destruction” (a universal negative proposition), since one must question every apologist on the face of the planet to prove the former versus finding just one.