Monday, December 16, 2013

Frozen: A sermon delivered by Disney Pixar

So many people have read this, and I don't know any of them... If you like it please leave a comment...if you used it in a sermon for ideas that would be cool to know too!

Frozen: A sermon delivered by Disney Pixar
Loved and reviewed by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 16, 2013 

The roses out on the roof were in full bloom, and peeped in at the window; and there stood the little chairs, on which they had sat when children; and Kay and Gerda seated themselves each on their own chair, and held each other by the hand, while the cold empty grandeur of the Snow Queen’s palace vanished from their memories like a painful dream. The grandmother sat in God’s bright sunshine, and she read aloud from the Bible, “Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.” And Kay and Gerda looked into each other’s eyes, and all at once understood the words of the old song,

“Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see.”

And they both sat there, grown up, yet children at heart; and it was summer,—warm, beautiful summer. ~ Hans Christian Andersen from “The Snow Queen”

Last year, I went to see Les Miserables in the theater and thought it moving, and so I wrote a collection of my thoughts on it, and many of you were interested. I have been so inspired again; this time in a much more unexpected place: a Disney Princess movie. In my sermon this past Sunday, I said that Frozen is the best Christmas Sermon I have heard this year. It is that, and certainly more, here is why.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise because a few years ago Tangled also had a very powerful and important message for us today (honestly princess movies overall get a bad rap for spreading shallow damsel in distress themes, a view caused by much too short-sighted, close-minded, agenda-driven viewers). Like Tangled, Frozen tackles the dangers of fear, and the way fear keeps us caged, rather than free, never becoming who we were made to be, who the world very much needs us to be.

I am going to deal with the plot here, so I should issue a spoiler alert, so at least you’ll be warned to stop reading. . .

Frozen is basically the story of two sisters, the princesses of Arendelle, Anna and Elsa, and one of them (Elsa) is born with the magical power to freeze things. She can make ice, snow, beautiful sculptures of ice, basically out of thin air, and of course a snowman named Olaf, but she does not know how to control her power. At a young age, she accidentally injures her sister, Anna, by hitting her with her “ice blast.” It hits her head and not her heart, so she is not killed. The unconscious Anna is taken to trolls who save her, and they can save her because the freezing hit her head and not her heart. An important theme is introduced here that a head is much easier to change than a heart, a subtle foreshadowing of the later important dichotomy between head love (superficial, flimsy, transient) and heart love (real, powerful, eternal).

The trolls then warn Elsa’s parents that “fear” is the greatest danger, that within Elsa there is great power, but fear could cause a very dreadful future for them and the kingdom. They take “fear” to mean the way that people would react to Elsa’s power, being afraid of her, so they keep it all a secret, locking her away, even from Anna. Their parents, in the mean time, tragically die at sea, leaving Elsa to be queen. All this back story drags a bit, but effectively so, because their, Anna and Elsa’s, lives drag as well, isolated from each other and the world. This isolation is shown by Anna singing, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” to the closed door of Elsa’s room. Anna completely is shut out, and doesn’t know why.

The doors and gates must then be opened for Elsa’s coronation as queen. The doors, which have been closed for many years, will now be open, much symbolism there of Elsa’s confinement coming to a close. . . is she ready? Is she in control?

 The song, “For the First Time in Forever” seeks to capture the moods at that moment of the two sisters in counterpoint. The song opens with Anna, who is excited. She cannot wait for her world to change, she sings lines like:

The window is open, so's that door
I didn't know they did that anymore


For years I've roamed these empty halls
Why have a ballroom with no balls? (a great subtle reminder of the fear motif, go Disney)


There'll be actual real live people
It'll be totally strange
But wow, am I so ready for this change

'Cause for the first time in forever
There'll be music, there'll be light
For the first time in forever
I'll be dancing through the night

She is a na├»ve, excited, clumsy, dreamy, teenage girl, ready for anything, ready for love. She is starved for contact with people, and is certainly ready to fall in love at first sight. She is everything the Disney princesses get accused of being, and it’s great because she is going to meet the world, and it’s not going to be what she expects. It’s cruel, but it doesn’t kill her, beat her or destroy her, rather it teaches her about what real love is, and what real life is, offering a great look at the reason why humans need struggle.

Elsa, on the other hand, is nervous that she will hurt people with the magic she has been practicing for years how to conceal. She is afraid of the way people will react. She wears gloves, is very concealed, she sings:

Don't let them in, don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel, put on a show
Make one wrong move and everyone will know

It’s that “Conceal, don’t feel, put on a show” line that is so powerful, and is at the core of the power of the movie. She has magic within her, magic that only she possesses, magic that the world desperately needs, but she must keep it within because she is afraid how the world will react. She lives in fear of fear. Elsa is just like so many of the boys I teach, for whatever reason they are afraid of their powers. For Elsa it’s instilled in her by her parents. That may just be true for the boys, too, but I think it’s deeper than that.

For me, this is what Sin is: our misunderstanding of who and what we are. Since we don’t know who we are, we are fearful of being what we are. It’s easier to just go through the motions. It’s safer, but it isolates us, traps us, imprisoning us in these invisible walls. For Elsa it’s a literal wall, and literal gloves, but for us it is so much more. It is everything we build to shelter ourselves from danger, whether people or experience, all to protect our lives, but it has the counter effect; it makes us not ever live.

Sin is, in my definition, based on my own exegesis of The Bible, faith, history, and life around me, believing the lie, that God doesn’t make the world, including us, including everything around us, and including the ways our world works. . . sometimes referred to but not limited to natural law. It is not believing, therefore, that the world is in order, and that, that order is working itself out within God’s creation for Good. One of the symptoms of that disease, probably the most diabolical, is that we do not see ourselves and each other as important, purposed, magic filled (talented), pieces of that glorious order. We choose instead to live in the belief that we do not matter, and instead “put on a show” and call it life.

Elsa is a great narrative example of this fact. It’s not completely her fault alone, rather she is just born within a system that produces it. Her parents instill it in her, as does everyone else she meets. It’s a literal rendering of how Original Sin works, not in some metaphysical spiritual sense, but in a real life, diseased and broken world sense, self perpetuating, all encompassing, invisible because it is all we know.

So the doors open, and the “tale of two sisters” continues running parallel. I want to focus on Elsa first, and then show Anna, but I will mention now how Anna becomes the impetus for Elsa’s actions.

Anna falls in “love at first sight” in typical predictable princess fashion. She meets the handsome prince, Mr. Perfect, dreamy and wonderful, and they decide they want to get married. It happens in song (of course), “Love is an Open Door” (No it’s not, we’ll get to that later):

Hans: Can I say something crazy? Will you marry me?
Anna: Can I say something even crazier? Yes!

And so they go to Elsa to ask for her blessing. Elsa, who his working very hard to successfully hide her feelings, still concealing, still gloved, of course responsibly says, “No.” She argues with Anna, and slowly loses control of everything she has been keeping inside. The ice begins to flow from her, in all directions. People are afraid, and they call her a monster. She flees, thinking that she is protecting them all from the monster within herself, but she sets off in the process a winter storm in the middle of the summer.

We have come to the most moving and inspired moment in the movie. It is the perfect blend of visual, musical, and lyrical all captured in four glorious minutes. Elsa is now free. She is out of the room. She can use her powers. She is safe from hurting anyone (so she thinks). She is still isolated, but no longer repressing her powers and her emotions, she lets them all go, and sings “Let it Go.”

There is obvious power in the song. When she sings “let it go” each time, she creates so many beautiful, no breath-taking pieces of visual art. She makes a magnificent castle, within which she will again close herself, but also she makes a little snowman, a subconscious homage to the relationship she used to have with Anna. . . relationship: the very thing she doesn’t know she really needs.

But lyrically what is most impressive is the seamless connection of three symbolic images: cold, freedom, and isolation. The cold mirrors her power, but also reflects the freeze of her emotions and her coldness towards the rest of the world. The freedom is the outpouring of those emotions, now finally set free. The isolation, so subtly woven, shows that she, though free, is still alone, concealed, constricted, and so her freedom is only an illusion. Her ice palace, though bigger and certainly more beautiful and grand, is no different from her room. The same fear that kept her imprisoned in Arendelle has her imprisoned still. The subtle images of this isolation foreshadow the fact that her freedom is faulty, an illusion, and therefore cannot not be sustainable.

Look at these examples:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well now they know

The “conceal, don’t feel” lines return; she thinks that the problem with her magic was that it had to be hidden from people, that now since “they know,” she is free to let her powers loose to find her true potential. The problem is that they may know, but they don’t understand, so there is still a division between her and them. She is still isolated. She has a gift, but keeps it to herself. The world knows she has it, but has called her a monster and sent her away. Again it’s not all her fault, but the fault of a world that is very much broken by the ignorance I’ve called Sin. She is a part of it, too, of course, with her own piece of blame in need of something to save her (It's coming. . . ).

The chorus explodes:

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway.

There is freedom there, but she still “turns away” and “slam[s] the door.” The last line of the chorus is perfect. “The cold never bothered me anyway. . .” It’s about her, and here in this world she can make it whatever she likes. She can be herself now. She can make the world the way she wants it. She can create her own beauty, and the rest of the world be damned.

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free

Now that she is set free, in her mind, she can do whatever she wants, but it is all very much limited within the confines of the world she has created. The connections to us are mind blowing. We each create worlds for ourselves, where we can be free. It is our world of dishonesty. We do it every time we tell a lie. We tell lies to both ourselves and others, creating worlds that are free, maybe, but not at all real. We create a reality where we can be a little bit more free, but then we are bound by that lie, isolated, disconnected, a free self, but for what?

Here we are. We have arrived at the truth, have uncovered our purpose, the truth about God’s world, we ignore when we believe the lie instead of that truth. Here we see that the purpose of life is love. The purpose for our gifts is to share them. The goodness of God’s creation is made by love and revolves completely around love. We can’t actualize it in a castle of our own creation, but instead out in the messy world of conflicting opinions and views. . . but within that struggle, within that mess, is God’s amazingly wonderful creation: the one that he calls “good.”

I’m never going back
The past is in the past. . .

. . . That perfect girl is gone

She sings it, but it just isn’t true. We never can escape from ourselves. We own our lives, every moment, and to think otherwise perpetuates the lie. The beauty though, is that love, accepts us with all the wrinkles, all the mistakes, all the powers that we are ashamed of, because they are all a part of us, and therefore a part of God’s perfect creation. These truths are all shown gloriously at the end of the movie.

So now to Anna. . .

We left Anna asking her sister for permission to marry the man she just met, Hans. They have just sung a song together called “Love is an Open Door,” to which I briefly referred earlier. In this song, they both finish each other’s sentences, stumbling clumsily into a simple sweet version of love in true Disney fashion, but the beauty of the song is that it’s all a farce, an illusion, a joke, and importantly not real. The song is purposefully silly because it is describing love that is silly. It proves that all love is not love. It is a masterfully done paradoxical satire on immature illusions of love. It’s filled with tongue in cheek lines:

Hans: I mean it's crazy
Anna: What?

Hans: We finish each other's
Anna: Sandwiches

Hans: That's what I was gonna say!

In the cloud of this type of love, it doesn’t matter about truth. The emotion of it is all that matters. We’ll soon know, too that Hans is not genuine. He is playing Anna, so he can use her to become ruler. So, rather than finishing “sentences” like we’d expect, he’s quick to say that “sandwiches” is what he had in mind. It is subtle, but this song is hardly Romeo and Juliet speaking a perfect sonnet together during their first encounter in Act 1 of Romeo and Juliet. But she is looking for that R & J storybook type love, and it isn’t the type love that is the central point of Frozen’s witness (In Shakespeare's defense, his play also does not consider the love between Romeo and Juliet real at this point either. It is only Act 1 of course).

So they ask to get married, Elsa refuses, her side of the story begins, with her “Letting it Go” up on the north mountain, but for Anna and the rest of Arendelle, Elsa’s explosion and departure has left them buried in a perpetual winter. Anna’s adventure begins. She tries to restore summer by going to Elsa, getting her to simply “reverse the spell.” Anna is sure that Elsa will do so because she is the loving sister Anna remembers from childhood underneath this new Snow Queen identity.

So she heads out of town, leaving Hans in charge, not planning for much of a trip, still in her party dress. She soon realizes the trek will be harder than she had thought. She is befriended by Christophe and his Reindeer, Sven. They are not the picture of prince charming and his noble steed, but instead are big burly clumsy, unsophisticated and unkempt, but loyal, loving, creative, genuine, and sensitive. They help each other get to Elsa at first as thrown together business partners, but eventually as “just friends.” They can’t be more than that—she’s a princess and he delivers ice. He’s a “Fixer Upper” as another fun song suggests, but also shows, that so is she. . . she after all is “engaged” so someone she met at a party on the same day.

Anna finally makes it to Elsa’s castle and asks her to stop the perpetual winter. Elsa doesn’t know how, so refuses. She’s saddened because the illusion that she can be free in her isolation is destroyed. She accidently again, mirroring the accident in the beginning of the movie, strikes out and this time wounds Anna in the heart. Then Elsa chases her and Christophe off by creating a snow monster.

The craziness of these events continues with a steady stream of action as the pieces unwind. Hans leads an army that catches and imprisons Elsa. Anna’s heart is freezing, and she will die if she isn’t saved by an act of true love. They of course think the only act of true love is a kiss from her true love, which must be Hans (it isn’t). Christophe leads her back to Arendelle, delivers her to Hans safely. Hans reveals his true self and true intentions of wishing to take over Arendelle, and his plans to kill both sisters.

Long story short, Anna gives her own life to save Elsa. Sacrificial love is the answer to how to reverse the perpetual winter. Sacrificial love is the missing secret to how to control Elsa’s powers. Sacrificial love stops the freezing of Anna’s own heart. Sacrificial love restores the sisters together once more in friendship. Sacrificial love helps the people to love and understand Elsa, rather than fear her. Sacrificial love is shown from Christophe towards Anna, giving her to Hans, thinking of her rather than himself. Sacrificial love is even shown by Olaf the snowman as he uses a fire to thaw Anna's freezing heart. Sacrificial love solves all the problems of the world. Happily ever after. . . messy. . . facing fear. . . changed. . . but happy. . . actualization of self and purpose. It may not be your definition of Happiness, but think with  your heart and not your head, and you will know it to be the only true definition.

The movie is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "The Snow Queen." That story is about returning to the innocence of youth in the way we see the world, to see the world with the faith of a child. He writes at the close of the story:
The grandmother sat in God’s bright sunshine, and she read aloud from the Bible, “Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.” And Kay and Gerda looked into each other’s eyes, and all at once understood the words of the old song,

“Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see.”
If Christianity is about salvation, and salvation is about correcting Sin, and Christ’s sacrifice does exactly that, the Gospel story is a perfect mirror to this story. We each have power, like Elsa, it is within us, and perfect. We need to find out what it is, not for ourselves, but so we can share it to the world. The enemy to that actualization is fear. Faith then is the remedy. We need to believe, as Jesus teaches us and shows us through his own act of sacrificial love, that God is in control, loves us, has created us each with the purpose to love, to share the gifts he gave us to the perfecting goodness of the world, not to our perspective, but to the creator’s perfect perspective, complete, whole, eternal, and true. We can live not in fear, but in love, the only happily ever after. It’s another way of saying:

Our father,
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,                  (We know You are)
Thy kingdom come,                       (We know it will)
Thy Will be done,                          (We know it will be)
On earth as it is in heaven,             (Full perfect perspective includes both. . . all)
Give us this day our daily bread    (God will don’t fear)
Forgive our debts,                          (We have them, can’t escape from them, but God made us)
As we forgive our debtors             (Yeah, everybody else too)
Lead us not into temptation           (Help us from the illusions)
But deliver us from evil                 (Even or especially within ourselves)
For thine is the kingdom                (Not ours)
And the power and the glory         (Yes Yours not ours)
Forever                                          (Happy ever after)
Amen.                                            (May it be so!)

If you haven’t seen it, go see it. It is the best Christmas sermon you will hear this year, or come see us at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church. . . for some almost as good (Wink)!

God Bless. . .

Rev. Peter T. Atkinson