for release Friday February 27, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Sin and Grace
February 25 marks the beginning of Lent for Protestants and Catholics. Muslims have a similar season of self-denial and repentance during Ramadan. And for Jewish, the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, probably comes close in spirit.
I was not brought up in a tradition that practiced trying to be good during Lent, but I was definitely brought up in a tradition that preached, and tried to practice, being good all the time. So sin was a concept that I absorbed from my earliest memories, learning songs with lyrics like:
“Mommy told me
A little kid should know
It’s all about the devil
And I've learned to hate him so … ”
One movie that explores temptation, sin, and Lent from a very secular perspective is the 2001 movie, Chocolat. I just finally got around to viewing it on DVD. The movie is full of religious themes and imagery and while overall I enjoyed the movie, it is one of those that leaves me a little disturbed.
An unmarried mother (played by Juliette Binoche) opening up a chocolate shop in a quaint, picturesque, very Catholic French village in the 1950s at the beginning of Lent sets up the conflict of the movie. Decadent, luxuriously swirling melted chocolate tempts the townspeople, and viewers as well. The mother (to the daughter’s dismay) insists on wearing sexy red heels instead of matronly black shoes like the other village women.
Even though the movie exposes the hypocrisy of do-gooders who are quick to judge others and swift to exclude anyone who doesn’t behave in the expected or orthodox ways, the “unorthodox” heroine remains unrepentant for taking license with sexual behavior. She also has no use for organized religion (yeah, I know, what else is new) even though in the end she atones for herself by putting the needs of her child first.
At least the priest in this movie redeems himself (and organized religion?). After being pressured to use sermons penned by the sanctimonious mayor, the priest comes through with a final sermon of his own that proclaimed the truth that loving and including others is the Christ-like way.
As a society, we are happy to let the reality of sin and wrong doing quietly disappear, just as “unspoiled” French villages gradually lose their pointy-steepled skylines to yellow neon arches. Who needs sin? We don’t want to be reminded that some things remain wrong or not good for us and come between us, our families, and God.
But, if there are no absolutes in the world, then everything else loses meaning and specialness. There are no moorings, no place to start from.
While I can sympathize with the heroine’s temptation to sleep with the enticing “river gypsy” played by singer Johnny Depp, when she succumbs this only proves the townspeople’s worry that the river people will lead the town into immoral behavior. So much better if movie producers could make the movie’s point without always plotting the obvious (unmarried main characters sleeping together). Whatever happened to the appeal of romantic tension?
So is it unrealistic to have an unconsummated romantic relationship until marriage? Life ends up imitating the movies. It only seems unrealistic because it is hardly ever shown in the movies or TV. If romance without sex were shown all the time, would life end up imitating the movies?
While you’ll never convince me that eating chocolate during Lent is an absolute wrong, some things are. I won’t list them here because then it is too easy to fall for another sin: judging others. If you don’t measure up to my list, then oops, you’re doomed. God doesn’t want us to do that kind of measuring and judging. The only way any of us can be seen as truly “good” in God’s eyes is through God’s grace. (Even though I don’t do some things, I commit plenty of other wrongs.)
Can we lovingly accept other people, even though we think they are doing something wrong? Sure. Are there absolute rights and wrongs? Try the Ten Commandments—which, as I wrote recently, are helpful to look at as ten “promises.”
But that’s also where grace comes in. The trick is that too often extending grace to others is seen as condoning behavior, and adopting an “anything goes” attitude. We need to point out the difference to our children or in discussion with others.
We can also be thankful that God’s grace is a beautiful, wonderful thing available to all who accept it and live by it.
For a free booklet to use for Lenten meditation, write for “Squeezing Prayer into a Busy Life.” Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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