Saturday, 11 October 2014

How Do We Measure Goodness?

After a recent hard season of sadness and loss (including the death of my mother), my husband and I were thrilled to have the opportunity of a week away together. No children, no responsibilities. We could please ourselves with what we did, and when.

And so we slept in, ate delicious food, drank lots of wine, and stayed up late watching movies. And we remembered that life is good. And we were grateful.

And we talked about life as it has been in the past, and life as we believe it could be. Life as maybe it was created to be.

And I have come back with a renewed desire to live well in the small things, the mundane, the everyday. To live in such a way that others feel blessed, and loved, and valued.

While we were away, one of the films we watched (and which captured my attention) was "Chocolat", which tells the stories of the people of a small French village in 1959. The mayor, Comte de Reynaud, is a man of strict morals and unyielding religion. He is aghast when Vianne Rocher, a single mother, arrives and sets up a chocolatier in the town. During the season of Lent no less!

The tragedy is that the Comte's religion only inspires him to demand that the villagers accede to his harsh moral absolutes - he seems to care nothing about their lives beyond their outward conformity to this code. And he uses the Catholic priest, Pere Henri, as a mouthpiece for his own bitter, religious dogma. No love, no joy, just self-denial and joyless work. Yet you sense he yearns for something more.

And it is the one he condemns as a sinful temptress who shows genuine care and compassion to those around her. She reaches out to them, invites them in, shares her joie de vivre.

Now I know that many people would point out that she was sinful, immoral, pagan even - but the fruit of her engagement with others was sweet.

Others would say it was all just horribly cliched and that everyone knows that "Hollywood" (a catch-all name meaning anyone who makes films and is not a christian) is always portraying christians in a negative light.

But I'm not so sure.

It didn't feel cliched to me - it felt all too familiar.

And I would like to ask a question. Is it possible that the negative, "Hollywood" portrayal of christians is the result of genuine observation? Can it be that this is what has been seen and experienced?

Toward the end of the film Pere Henri is finally allowed to speak from his heart.

"I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance... Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create... and who we include." 
Beautiful words, I thought.

And maybe worth considering...


  1. So glad you had a great time away. i like the idea that "Hollywood" may be reflecting back what it really sees in religion, rather than what we hope it sees. Food for thought.

    1. Yes, I'm not sure wishful thinking is going to get us very far :P

  2. LL - Beautiful words from a rested soul (yours!)

    The Holy Spirit used this post to warn me against living the life of a movie critique, content on pointing out the shallowness of other people's stories while living an alternatively shallow story myself. Sometimes I wish the Holy Spirit would just leave me the fuck alone! Oh...thanks for writing this!

    1. Bless you James - I pray for joy and beauty in your story as well as depth :)

  3. Thanks, LL! Today was a good day, in Christ.