One of the reasons why I wish reporters would focus more on religion news that’s apolitical is because when they do, the stories turn out so much better. Take this great piece from Gabe Oppenheim of the Washington Post. The news angle for the story is that a local woman won the top documentary prize at the Student Academy Awards in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. But that’s about the least interesting aspect to the whole story.
Oppenheim explores the filmmaker’s motivation and ends up with a beautiful story on his hands. Laura Waters Hinson’s film “As We Forgive” is about reconciliation between the survivors and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide:
In the film we meet Rosaria, who pulls up the hem of her dress to reveal mounds of raised scar tissue running down her legs. Hacked and beaten during the genocide, she now lives in a house built for her by Saveri, the man who killed her sister. Another survivor, Chantale, who lost 30 family members, meets John, the stooped gangly man who killed her father. He can’t face her; her eyes are embers. “Remember all your old neighbors,” she says. Yet the next day, Chantale begins working to build a house for another ex-con who confessed his crimes.
For Hinson, it was proof that the “transcendent filters through every aspect of life” and also that the world is really messed up.
Oppenheim goes on to explain that for Hinson, forgiveness is a very personal subject. After moving to be with her boyfriend in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 2001, he proposed to her. Then he dumped her in a most humiliating fashion. She had to sell her bridal gown on eBay and reimburse her bridesmaids for their expenses. The reporter doesn’t ignore the ghost in the story:
She’s religious now but wasn’t always. Raised Episcopalian, Hinson says she didn’t get “serious” about it until after Furman, when she joined the Anglican Mission in the Americas. That group broke away from the Episcopal Church — rejecting its liberal reforms, including the acceptance of gay clergy — under the auspices of Rwanda’s church.
The link led her local congregation to plan a trip to Rwanda in 2005. She didn’t sign up to go. She was frenzied, searching for a suitable thesis topic. But one congregant dropped out and a pastor urged Hinson to take the spot. When she got there, she knew she had found her film. She came back and started researching, planning to shoot in the summer of 2006.
She was so interested in the topic that she hosted a dinner at Armand’s Pizza on Capitol Hill for a Rwandan bishop who was working to facilitate reconciliation. There she met a fellow American University student who was also planning on filming in Rwanda in June. He and his friend agreed to shoot her movie, if she’d provide room and board.
For most mainstream media stories, religion is usually explored as part of some political drama. But for most religious folks, it’s the basis for their daily life or interwoven with their lives just like Hinson’s. Reporters miss out by not exploring the role that religion plays in subjects’ daily life.
Oppenheim writes the rest of the story quite well. He weaves Hinson’s documentary subject together with Hinson’s personal drama:
The story ultimately appealed to Hinson for its reversal of the genre’s cliches. Instead of being a tale of African ruin and our reluctance to help, it was a “tremendously hopeful” picture of people learning to forgive in circumstances, she says, in which we never could. Hinson liked to believe she herself had learned something.
Two weeks after leaving Rwanda, in August 2006, the belief was tested. Her ex-fiance called, 4 1/2 years after their breakup. “I feel kinda crazy,” she recalls him saying. “And I still love you.”
The fiance goes on to repent of his immaturity and hurtfulness. Turns out his story has a religious aspect as well. He had studied to become a priest since they’d been together and learned a great deal about forgiveness and repentance. You have to read the story to hear about their reconciliation. Well, I’ll just give it all away with the last line:
“Our marriage,” she says, “is built on forgiveness.”
What a great story.