“Frozen” and the Gospel

Our worship team sang select verses from “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen during worship on Sunday. I couldn’t help smiling as I imagined what some of my clergy colleagues would think. I have friends who are worship snobs (of both the liturgical and contemporary varieties) who would be horrified. But as I reflected on the message of the song and of the movie, I thought it was entirely appropriate as we enter more fully into this Lenten season, especially with a congregation of people who have been hurt or burned by churches in the past.

I’ll share that I’m someone who is highly critical of the Disneyfication of culture, but I also really appreciate Walt’s original vision and, doggone it, Disney just does so many things so well. For me, knowing and appreciating Disney is part of cultural literacy, and for us homeschooling parents, visiting Disney World is just as important as visiting Washington, D.C.

So I was amused to see a news article about a pastor who got his nose out of joint about the movie. (Although I also wonder, How hard is it to find a right-wing pastor somewhere in America who isn’t foaming at the mouth about something? This is news?) The big issue, of course, are the casual ways the movie refers to a gay relationship and, he argues, bestiality.

(Regarding bestiality, Rev. Swanson is apparently seeing something I’m not—either that, or it’s just another way to casually link consensual gay relationships to something nonconsensual and abusive).

I’m not the only one who sees that Frozen may be the most Christian-themed movie Disney has released since Pinocchio. I’m impressed that Disney had the courage to poke fun at past Disney tropes of falling in love, marrying, and living happily ever after. Someone on their creative team obviously paid attention to feminist critiques of the role Disney plays in the social education of girls (and boys) over the last several decades. (This movie definitely passes the Bechdel test). The overarching message of the movie is that “true love” isn’t about the hormonal rush of finding your sexual mate, but the self-sacrificial agape love that one sister has for the other. Both heroines overcome their separation and shame through the power of love. I think it’s a great illustration of the Good News.

As for the song “Let it Go,” I don’t agree with Garbarino’s assertion that it represents Elsa’s “fall.” I believe her “fall” was the years she spent locked in her room with her parents’ well-meaning but wrong-headed teaching that her feelings and her power were meant to be closeted. Her answer—self-imposed exile—was not freedom either, but when she sings, “no right, no wrong, no rules for me” she’s not denying the existence of morality. She’s celebrating the fact that her gift is no longer subject to the moral judgment of others. She’s a woman claiming power that she has been told to hide her whole life. I can see why that would make Rev. Swanson uncomfortable. It’s too much like Tamar in Genesis 38 turning the tables on her slut-shaming father-in-law and the double standards of his culture.

More than any other Disney movie, this is one where we see both the light and dark side of community and social life. Community can be judgmental and censorious, but it can also draw us into life-giving relationships. Even when Elsa thinks she has run away, her actions continue to have an impact on the community. There’s probably a great sermon in there, too.

Finally, the conventional Disney hero, Prince Charming, becomes the villain. The movie shows us the way some people use social and political power and ginned-up moral outrage to gain advantage for themselves at the expense of others. I’m sure this message wasn’t lost on Rev. Swanson, either. The moral and spiritual messages of this movie do not look like the Christianity he believes.

But they look like what I believe.

Worship in IMAX 3D

Last week I went to see Prometheus in IMAX 3D. For a sci-fi nerd like me, it was worth every penny of the $15 ticket. The most awesome thing about the IMAX theater is not the visuals, in my humble opinion—it is the speakers. You do not hear the bass so much as feel it, and it is so powerful that when Prometheus was landing on the alien planet I could feel the rumble of the engines in my body. I actually worried a bit that the vibrations might be throwing my heart out of rhythm, but I couldn’t remember if that was an urban legend or not.

But really, after the first thirty minutes or so of alien landscape flyovers, tiny shots of the ship dwarfed by enormous moons, and gut-scrambling engine noise, I more or less forgot about the special effects. All the noise and glam is pointless unless it enhances a good story, and I got wrapped up the story. I forgot I was watching a movie in 3D.

The same thing can happen watching an antique 6-inch black-and-white television screen, if the story is good enough. And all the special effects in the world can’t save a boring film. I was one of the unfortunate people who shelled out money to see The Matrix: Reloaded in the theater, and I found myself checking my watch and thinking about what I would do after the movie during the fight scenes.

I think the same thing is true of worship in church. You can put a lot of resources into creating an experience with lighting, fog machines, big screens, gimmicks, and great audio, but they can’t compensate for a lack of substance. And if the story is good enough, people get caught up in the experience and forget where they are, or the limitations of the technology.

It is also possible, of course, for technology to sabotage worship. A buzzing microphone or lighting problem will distract people and cause them to drop out of the experience. But these things are easily overcome. Nothing can take the place of a good story, well-told.