We evangelicals pride ourselves on being thoroughly profamily. We defend motherhood as a legitimate career, take stands against divorce, object to sex outside of marriage, protest pornography, and challenge homosexuality. We even include the human fetus in the family circle.

We defend the home turf, taking aim at dangerous trends. But as a result, we have made much more clear what the family is not than what it is.

Now, in theaters across the country, a feature film has made a positive statement about family commitment. I can’t imagine anyone making a more moving statement than Eleni.

Eleni is not a profamily polemic. Based on New York Times reporter Nicholas Gage’s quest to discover how and why his mother died, the film is simply the true story of what one mother was willing to do for her children during the Greek civil war.

When Communist guerrillas overrun Nick’s tiny village in the mountains of northwestern Greece, they decide to export its children (including young Nikola) to Albania and Czechoslovakia. Eleni determines to help her daughters and son escape.

Forced to stay behind, Eleni clutches seven-year-old Nikola for the last time and whispers, “My heart, my blood,” revealing the depth of her passion and what it will cost in the end.

Eleni is falsely accused and tortured. The charge is treason—but her real crime is helping her children escape. After Eleni has been condemned, she is allowed a final visit from a daughter who had been forced into military service. “I thank God I had the joy of being a mother,” Eleni tells her. She takes comfort in the thought of her children eventually being blessed with children of their own. Then, moments before her execution, she cries, “My children!”

Our age is not known for its heroes. We are embarrassed by anyone larger than life. We expose the clay feet of the heroic, and feel relieved to know they were human after all.

But for Nick Gage, Eleni is something of a Christ figure, willing to be consumed by an insane war to give her children a chance to reach America—the Promised Land where waits the father who has been cut off from his family.

In the end, Eleni’s last words redeem her son, allowing Nick to let go of his all-consuming hatred for her killer. Her cry, “My children!” echoes in Nick’s head and keeps him from murder. And those words bring him back to the family that he has neglected in his obsessive quest. He breaks through the isolation caused by his intensely private anger and pain. Embracing his own son and daughter, he determines that he will be able to say “My children!” with the same commitment and passion that Eleni did.

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STEVEN MOSLEYSteven Mosley is a screenwriter living in southern California.

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple may be the most misunderstood movie of the year. Some reviewers have called it feminist; others have denounced it as racist. None has seen the central point: God’s grace permeates this world, whether or not we are aware of it. Even the cryptic title is a code word for grace. Near the end of the movie, a character asks if God doesn’t get angry when we “walk by the color purple and don’t even notice?”

The novel is in the form of letters to God, and the movie is able to maintain some of the same flavor. The main character is a poor black girl in rural Georgia. Raped repeatedly by her father, Celie is then sold to a brute of a husband known to her only as Mr.—. Celie is knocked around, her spirit abused, until she is just a shell of a human. But she meets two characters who help her regain her spirit. The strong-willed Sofia marries Mr.—’s son Harpo and marches into Celie’s life. Then Mr.—’s mistress, a soulful blues singer named Shug, moves in. Both help Celie to gain the self-confidence finally to stand up to Mr.—.

The message is that God’s grace is for here and now, not just hereafter. At one point, Celie tells Sofia’s husband to beat her because she won’t grovel. When Sofia confronts Celie, Celie’s answer is, “This life will soon be over. Heaven lasts always.” In the context, the audience clearly sees how lame this answer is.

Many Christians may have trouble seeing God’s mercy amid all this brutality and promiscuity. Could God’s grace still show through?

Yes. Because of the world’s perversity, God sent his only Son to die, the ultimate expression of his grace. And it is through the fallenness of humankind that God chooses to work.

Spielberg should be complimented for transforming the book’s lesbian love scene. The only relationships Celie had known until Shug came along were brutal and unloving. In the movie version (which is not sexually explicit), Shug shows affection toward Celie, and opens a chink in Celie’s emotional armor. The scene is thus important, without being sensational.

Spielberg has made a beautiful addition to the Walker story that shows God’s grace bursting through. Shug is singing a blues tune at Harpo’s juke joint while just up the road, the church choir begins to sing. With brilliant intercutting of scenes, Spielberg neatly fits Shug’s song “I Want You to Listen Up” into the choir’s “God Might Be Tryin’ to Tell You Something.” Shug leads a procession to the church and walks up to the preacher—her father—and says, “See, Daddy, even sinners have souls.”

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In the end, all the characters have taken a step toward God, even the brutal Mr.—. Some find the ending unrealistic. But problems still exist, even though the characters have turned around. At least they are pointed in the right direction. What could be a more hopeful portrayal of real life?

TOM NEVENTom Neven, a former editor of the Wheaton College newspaper, will graduate in June with a major in philosophy.

American writer John Updike’s early poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” describes Christ’s resurrection. And the story “Pigeon Feathers” tells about a boy’s finding faith because of the beauty of a common bird’s plumage. Later novels contain graphic descriptions of sex and rampant adultery. Whatever happened to the faith of John Updike?

The prolific author shows us a world of corrupt people attempting to reach grace, of men believing in God because they feel they must, of goddess-like women unconcerned with spiritual values. In Updike’s books, the middle class dances while America’s morals die, and a Calvinistic God hurls lightning bolts at the church. Updike has named as his main themes “Domestic fierceness within the middle class, sex and death as riddles of the thinking animal, social existence as sacrifice, unexpected pleasures and rewards,” and “corruption as a kind of evolution.” Over these themes broods God and a sense of guilt.

Updike’s latest book of poems, Facing Nature, and the recent story “Made in Heaven” show a man who believes because he cannot stop now:

• The poem “To Ed Sissman” reveals the dichotomy of an ambivalent faith: When Updike’s friend tells him it “would be a comfort to believe,” Updike’s faith is a “rabbit frozen in the headlights” that “scrambled for cover in the roadside brush of gossip.”

• In “Made in Heaven,” Brad, a lukewarm believer, is initially attracted to Jeanette because of her Christianity, and on their wedding night attempts to please her by praying for their marriage. By the end of the story, Jeanette no longer believes in God, and Brad is lonely and disillusioned.

The religious ambivalence in John Updike is on display in his most recent novel, The Witches of Eastwick. The satanic Darryl Van Horne preaches a sermon titled “THIS IS A TERRIBLE CREATION.” After discussing the grossness of the centipede, tapeworm, and tarantula, he says, “Now I ask you, isn’t that pretty terrible? Couldn’t you have done better, given the resources? I sure as he could have.”

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But while Updike writes about God’s “mistakes,” he also shows that the alternative is unappealing: Greasy, hairy, and full of spittle, Van Horne preaches in a church where the pastor is an adulterer and where the word “evil” is rarely heard. “I feel that to be a person is to be in a situation of tension,” he has written.

Males And Ministers

Thoughts of theology, morality, and guilt are never far from Updike’s male characters, but his female characters are puzzled by the males’ religious crises. Updike’s males sit passively, waiting for an act of God, while earthbound, unbelieving females make decisions and act. His writings are full of domestic squabbles about religion.

Many of Updike’s characters are ministers—multi-faceted men, sympathetically portrayed. But most of them are unable to find faith. Updike’s males attend church services that are not fully satisfying but are nevetheless important. In the novel Couples, the church burns, and the main character becomes insignificant with this removal of his guilt.

In the Rabbit novels, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom demonstrates Updike’s theme of “corruption as a kind of evolution.” In Rabbit, Run, Angstrom is a man of guilt, pulling down a windowshade so he cannot see a neighboring church before he commits adultery. By the most recent novel in the trilogy, Rabbit Is Rich, Angstrom’s religious search has boiled down to praying on buses and “Sunday school images.”


When in his later twenties, Updike had his own religious crisis, a fear of death. At this time he delved into the works of existentialist Christian writers Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth. (He now supplements those thinkers with C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and others.)

Updike manifests at least a form of godliness: he attends church once or twice a month, he wrote me, and he keeps up his pledge. “I have attended church services all my life,” he wrote.

Somehow, in this long churchly association, he gained insight on what it means to be born into a world of sin. To Updike, to feel guilt is a kind of morality.

Guilt is one thing. Graphic sexual description is quite another. Why is he so explicit? Updike writes about sexual events, he said, because “our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite … he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.”

But is Updike a Christian? “I call myself Christian,” he has written, “by defining ‘a Christian’ as ‘a person willing to profess the Apostles’ Creed.’ I am willing … to profess it (which does not mean understand it, or fill its every syllable with the breath of sainthood), because I know of no other combinations of words that gives such life, that so seeks the crux.”

The ambivalence remains.

REBBIE KINSELLARebbie Kinsella, a former campus minister with Chi Alpha, is a data entry operator at Northern Illinois University, Dekalb.

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