Monday, October 25, 2010

Thy Will Be Done

To see the interview with subject Sara Herwig and the director/producer Alice Bouvrie, click here.

From the outset, I expect this could be one of the most controversial reviews I have done. Not necessarily from my perspective, but from those who often read the reviews. It touches on a subject matter that stirs a great deal of debate, especially within the religious community and has individuals with strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. Thy Will Be Done looks at the efforts of a male-to-female transsexual, Sara Herwig in her attempt to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church. There are those who seek to block her ordination and question if she is or is not a female as the ordination process is complicated by her later lesbian marriage to another female. While this documentary is short, right at one hour long, it is packed with thought provoking story if one will simply give it a chance, watch, and listen with an open heart.

From the opening scenes of Thy Will Be Done we are mesmerized with not only intriguing story, but a well shot and framed film directed by Alice Bouvrie. As a part of the effort which took several years to film we see various parties and an open and honest dialog of the events surrounding the life of Sara Herwig. Bouvrie weaves an intriguing tale using the stories and words of those involved in the life of Sara, both prior and after her gender change.

Thy Will Be Done starts off in a mesmerizing way. It wastes no time addressing the conflict as approached from a Biblical perspective. In the opening shot see Sara getting ready to do some canoeing, showing in part her continued love of the outdoors that goes back to the days of her youth as a young man. There is a voice-over by Sara recognizing, in a respectful way those who would have Biblical issues with what she has done. She shows a respectful perspective of these people, even praising them for standing up and speaking up for what they believe. She appreciates their willingness to base their opinions on Biblical teachings, she just happens to disagree with the conclusions. We see, and hear a respectful Sara, one who seems to have applied the Biblical aspect of love.

From here the story of Sara follows her from her youth as a young man, through a Christian college in Kansas, initial enrollment and attendance at a seminary, to her marriage, and ultimate divorce, gender change, attempts to obtain ordination, and a 2nd marriage, this time to another woman. While only an hour long, the director Bouvrie does an excellent job at storytelling, and Sara’s own willingness to address the issue helps move one beyond the discomfort level some may have with the subject matter. There is a large amount of input from Sara’s daughter and Sara's former wife Billie. A tribute to this film is the willingness of all parties to share open and honest opinions. Bouvrie does an admirable job at being fair in the information provided on screen. She attempted to involve those opposing Sara’s ordination within the Presbyterian Church but they refused to appear on film. Their refusal to participate may have been a mistake as the movie doesn’t really take a position on right or wrong on the issue, as much as it presents Sara’s story. The film seems to be an indication of Bouvrie and Sara’s fairness in the willingness to hear the differing positions of those in the church.

Thy Will Be Done, on the surface would appear to be easy to critical of from those on either end of the spectrum. That is until hearing and seeing the comments from Sara’s former wife, Billie. When looking at the history of Sara, her feelings of always thinking she was a female, there are not only appropriate questions regarding gender change, but also regarding the ways society looks at and perceives those who have had gender change issues. Billie also attended the screenings I attended at Tallgrass in Wichita for a question and answer session. She was clear as to the friendship she now has with Sara and the reasons for it. She stated that her life experiences with Sara now made sense.

Thy Will Be Done is at its heart, an attempt to tell the Sara’s story. In that story is a great deal of thought provoking information on various positions like Gender Identity. The assumption by many on the religious right which assumes that one with Gender Identity issues is gay shows the need for continuing education. While this may be true with some, it is far from true with all. There are legitimate biological issues that are worthy of appropriate, respectful discussion and thought provoking, honest study and discourse. What Thy Will Be Done does is address these issues from a position that many may not be familiar with, specifically from the perspective of one who holds too many of the traditional Biblical concepts of Christianity; yet, it challenges those within these ‘traditional’ beliefs as to those beliefs and the origins of those beliefs. This is important from a variety of perspectives, from the concepts of living in a fallen world, to the reality that bad things happen, and are not always as God intended, to consideration of Biblical interpretation and application. At the core is the concept of how far does one who is called to love, go in the love of one they disagree with? This film presents Sara’s commitment to her faith, and to what she believes her call in life is. While many may disagree with her, her grit and determination is frankly, admirable.

I felt I knew what I could expect when going into this movie. I thought I was going to get an unfair presentation to a controversial issue. I was wrong! What it did was present a fair story of an individual, who, like it or not, is fighting for something she believes in. Unfortunately, many will not sit down to engage in the discussion of the issues in an open, honest way. There are others who will. This documentary will likely not sway an individual’s perspective on the issue of Gender Identity or the role of Homosexuals in ministry. It does, for those willing, provide discussion points on the issue which can be of benefit. While I wish the story would have been a tad longer, it was surprisingly effective, thought provoking and challenging. It is also one that should have many in the religious community, whatever their beliefs are wondering about their own ability to love, even those who are different, those they disagree with, and ultimately, even their enemies. In the New Testament, there is the reminder of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13, but there is also the challenge that if one can’t love their neighbor, their fellow human being, who they see, how can they say they love God whom they have never seen? A rather thought provoking question if you ask me, and one deserving of thought. Thy Will Be Done is a documentary that may just challenge some as to their ability to love, even those they may disagree with. There are many more questions that could be asked, but we have to start someplace, with some expectancy, I suspect that for some, this review is a place to start. Hopefully with thoughtful, respectful debate.

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