Last night I got to watch one of my favorite movies. "Lars and the Real Girl," written by Nancy Oliver, directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Ryan Gosling, is the story of a painfully shy and emotionally wounded young man who finds healing through a relationship with a life-size "anatomically correct" doll named Bianca. It's also the story of how a town loves outside their comfort zone. Touching and humorous, "Lars and the Real Girl" show us a reality we wish could be ours.

In "Emma," Mr. Knightley's love of Emma requires he speak the truth, as uncomfortable as that might be for both of them (see post here). In "Lars and the Real Girl," Lars' family is advised by the family doctor to support his delusion that Bianca is a real girl. In other words, they're told to steer clear of the truth, or at least to buy into a different version of the truth: to have faith that this delusion has come as a means of bringing about Lars' emotional and social health.

I'd forgotten several things since I last watched the movie and was pleasantly surprised to see the clergy portrayed so compellingly. In one of the opening scenes of the movie,  Lars is sitting in the pew of his church, listening to the sermon. "There are many laws in the world," says the pastor, "but there's only one law in God's eyes. That law is to love one another. Love is God in action."

Putting love into action is the heart of this movie. At one point, Lars' brother Gus and sister-in-law Karin come to the members of the church board to request they support them in acting as if Bianca is real. At first, the members are taken aback. Woudn't this be sinful, or unhealthy? they protest, until they are reminded by one of the parishioners of their own checkered stories. The pastor then says, "The big question we want to ask ourselves is, of course, 'what would Jesus do?'"

Guided by the expertise and compassion of Dagmar, the attending physician, and the support of Lars' pastor, Gus and Karin, as well as the rest of the townspeople take on the challenge to love outrageously. Moving past feeling awkward, moving past the stares and the jokes, one by one they join in making Bianca one of the community. Karin dresses Bianca in her own clothes, and talks with her at mealtimes. When Lars shows up at a colleague's birthday party, Bianca is taken out on the dance floor (in her wheelchair) by the hostess's husband. She is invited to volunteer at the library, model clothing, be on the schoolboard and treated with dignity and cheerful goodwill. When she becomes "ill" several ladies bring casseroles and their knitting to sit with Lars.
This is what it means to be community. It's love in action. It's God in flesh and blood.
To paraphrase a favorite Jane Austen character: "If I loved [it] less, I might be able to talk about it more." If you haven't seen the movie, set aside a night to do so. You may feel uncomfortable for a while. It's OK. As the story unfolds, perhaps you'll discover yourself in one of the characters, maybe relating with Lars' brother and sister-in-law as they wrestle with the questions of "how long?" and "really?". You might even wonder, along with some of the "righteous," how good can come from a love toy. And when you're done, I wouldn't be surprised if you join me in asking yourself, what will it take for me to choose creativity over fear, to lean into compassion over embarrassment? How far is my love ready to go?