I was at a women’s book group earlier this week and the the conversation turned to stories about grace. (Did you know The Charlatan’s Boy is appropriate for women’s book groups? It is.) I tried to draw a distinction between good, moral stories that are compatible with Christianity, and stories that actually hinge on the action of grace that is at the heart of the gospel. There aren’t all that many immoral or amoral children’s books and movies out there. Where stories depict the struggle between good and evil, good almost always wins. Characters’ actions have consequences; people get what they deserve.

“The Little Red Hen” is perhaps the purest form of the morality story. Since only the hen worked, she had the privilege and joy of plopping right down in front of everybody and eating her bread while their stomachs rumbled. Perfectly moral. Everybody got what they deserved. And I have to say, the story had an impact on me as a boy. It surely gave me something to think about while I sat and watched my mother bustle about. I even started lifting my feet so she could vacuum near the spot where I was sitting, without having to be asked.

I’m not opposed to moral stories. But I get more excited when I find stories about grace–stories in which people are transformed because they receive better than they deserve. Previously on this blog I have mentioned the picture book Sidney and Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs. A totally put-together pig and a pig whose life is a mess each encounter God. The one pig learns that God loves him in spite of his mess, and the other learns that God loves him not because of his goodness but in spite of his self-righteousness. And in the end, the two pigs find common ground and are both better than they were. I’m always on the lookout for stories like that–stories that prepare the reader’s heart for the truth that we become good and moral not by tapping our inner reserves of goodness and morality, but by opening ourselves up to the work of a God who loves us in spite of ourselves.

For Audience Participation Friday, I want to hear about your favorite stories about grace–stories about people who are transformed because they receive better than they deserve; a variation is the story in which a person comes to terms with his or her own shortcomings and is thereby opened up to the possibility of receiving grace (DiCamillo’s Edward Tulane comes to mind). When I use the word “grace,” I am not limiting the conversation to grace that is explicitly extended by God. People extend grace to one another, and that grace prepares our heart to receive the greater grace.

So…what are your favorite grace-centered books and movies? Grown-up stories are as welcome as children’s stories.