Friday, August 7, 2009

Grace and chocolate.

Last night my sister and I watched the 2000 film, Chocolat. I relished much of it -- 1950s dresses! chocolate! Juliette Binoche! Johnny Depp! Judi Dench! amazing soundtrack! -- while not liking other elements.*
Essentially, Chocolat (more serious fairytale than realistic drama) is the story of a Frenchwoman, Vianne, who travels from town to town dispensing grace along with chocolates, but never quite finding it for herself. Vianne is the true heroine of the story, offering forgiveness to those who hurt her, and working to mend the cracks in the small community where she has currently settled. The baddies of the story -- because all good stories have a baddie of some kind -- are the townspeople, who are so wrapped up in legalism and a series of unspoken village laws that they will break the spirit of anyone who refuses to conform.
The problem is, Vianne is a pagan, unwed mother. Her enemies are the church folk who are caught up in Trying to be Good. It makes me a little sad when I see Christianity portrayed in the media as a series of rules that, when followed, suck the life from its disciples, turning them into emotional automotons and harsh moral judges. And that's how I felt when I watched Chocolat. The very people who ought to be showing grace are the ones who don't even know what it looks like.
But hasn't this happened throughout much of history? Between the Pauls and the Tertullians and the Luthers of the church were the Simon Stylites and the Crusaders and the Zwinglis, men and women who heard something of grace but who failed to see its power to save. Instead, their zeal -- right and true in itself -- led them down a path of legalistic action which, in its varying extremes, denied the grace they claimed to serve.
The gospel without grace isn't the gospel. His grace and love come first, then our obedience follows. If we reverse the order, we are only trying to save ourselves and the people we believe we are helping. If I speak in the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
On a surface level, Chocolat appears to be glorifying a rebellion against the status quo, showing that the true heroes are the ones who live in freedom and tolerance. To an extent, I agree. But freedom isn't freedom until we have been set free -- and the freedom that Christ brings is the only freedom that can free us from ourselves and show us grace. His grace comes to us in the form of His love. For us to share that love with others would be a true rebellion -- a rebellion against a status quo which has prevailed since the fall of Eden. Fortunately for me, the grace that was there then is here to help us share grace now.
*Therefore, not a blanket recommendation.


  1. Have you read the book? It's really good, and different than the movie. There's no mayor, and the point of view switches between Vianne and the priest. It's not exactly anti-Christian so much as being about love in its varying forms.

  2. We just watched Chocolat earlier this year, and I felt exactly the same way about it - enjoying some aspects of it while at the same time feeling let down by the portrayal of legalistic "Christians". (and oh the torture of the chocolates being stuck inside the television!) :P

  3. Amanda -- :)

    Julia -- I will *have* to read the book now! It sounds like it'd be lovely.

    Meaghan -- The chocolate!! Wow, it was so dreamy!

  4. interesting that you point out the POVs in this movie. the portrayal of Christianity as 'christian legalism' in the popular media seems to be quite unbalanced and slightly irrational. sure, legalism is a turn-off and can be quite frustrating to deal with, but it goes deeper than that. it's almost like the writers/producers/directors/editors/etc are angry at God.

    ( you used the word 'automoton' ^_^ )

  5. Andrew -- I definitely think you're onto something. Often the portrayal of Christianity in the media seems less like a genuine misunderstanding of the faith and more like a deliberate attempt to misrepresent it.

    Yes, I said *automaton*. Yay for geeky word-usage!

  6. Hello. DD I love reading your thoughts...

    I know you did say that throughout history this legalism idea has raised its ugly head and that's true. But the main thrust of thought (from the comments too) is that the media has an agenda which doesn't reflect reality.

    I put forward another view; the way these Christians behave in the movie, is the way Christians behave. It may not be what *motivates* real Christian people or how they *want to* behave. Or we can be blind to it. This can give us an 'us vs them' understanding?

    We all crucified the Lord of glory. 'They' didn't put him there and now 'we' know about it so we are saved...

    Besides theological reasons, I will tell you two reason how I know this is true.
    1) I have done lots of things other people consider 'outside the box'. The most persecution I have received has come from Christians. Not 'in name only' Christians. Real christians who didn't know how to process my 'freedom' with their understanding of a christian worldview.
    2) I have judged, criticised, misunderstood and been argumentative with, Christians whom I perceive to be 'going down the wrong path' or maybe hopping into the wrong box. (I was still a true Christian when I did that, or do it now)

    But something I've realised is that we are all offenders. I am an offender, pre-judger, self righteous and all that. All those things I see in those people in that village. All those things I despise. I don't want to admit it. I don't like it. I *want* to be different. But it's still true. And without God's love shining in on my life, I wouldn't even know to be frustrated by the fact: that I am like them. That's the only difference - God has revealed to me what I am like and saved me from it. That's the difference.

    Sorry to get this heavy. But it is a "dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." We have to be careful. We think much too highly of ourselves.

    Love you. Love your blog.


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