Many churches have an inherent aversion to change, according to Vic Thiessen.
The same is true for the characters of the film Pleasantville (1998). Thiessen, Mennonite Church Canada’s executive minister of church engagement and chief administrative officer, as well as Canadian Mennonite’s resident film critic, used Pleasantville to talk about how liberating change can be in film and in the church in one of Assembly 2014’s many seminar sessions.
Pleasantville concerns two 1990s teenagers, David and Jennifer, who are transported into a 1950s TV sitcom by a TV repairman. There, everything is black and white—literally. The film is set in an idyllic, but profoundly complacent small town where no change takes place. Everything is perfect and everyone knows their roles. But then change is introduced, as is the gradual adoption of colour and liberation.
Thiessen thinks there are some strong parallels between the Holy Land during the life of Christ and Pleasantville, not in terms of its pleasantness, of course. The culture was resistant to change, there were sharp social boundaries and there was little room for compassion.
Enter Jesus. “Jesus introduced change and colour,” Thiessen said. “He spent much of his time with the poor and oppressed.”
Just like in Pleasantville, the film Chocolat (2000) addresses issues of change in a stagnant community, but more specifically in a Christian community.
The main character, Vianne, is the agent of change in the film. She opens a chocolate shop during Lent in a small French town, associates with the outsiders in the community and challenges dominant ideas in many ways. The mayor sees her as a threat to the stability of the town. Although many of the people in the community reject her, Vianne exemplifies love and acceptance, so many townspeople are drawn to her, even when urged not to associate with her.
Thiessen sees these two films as indicative of how Christ interacted with leaders in his lifetime and how God is working in MC Canada today. “Many people believe the church has lost its relevance, but Jesus is still relevant,” he said. “We can catch a glimpse of what it would be like if Jesus, friend to the poor and marginalized, came into our villages today.”
Thiessen cited a recent survey of young Mennonites in North America that found that most young people want their church to be a safe place where all questions can be asked, where deep emotional needs can be met and where all people are welcome. The survey also found they often find these things in their churches.
“Our young adults want to live in colour and eat chocolate—fair trade, of course,” he said.
Pleasantville and Chocolat both conclude with change overtaking their respective communities, and people finding liberation in it. “We need to be open to change, as well,” Thiessen concluded.
—Posted July 23, 2014
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