My family spent a lot of time traveling this summer. We made a trip to Chicago for a friend’s wedding, and we road tripped out to California several times to stay with my parents as well as to get out of the heat of summertime in Phoenix.
On our last trip back, we let our five-year-old watch the Disney Classic Peter Pan in the van. I can’t remember the last time I have watched the movie (or in this case, heard it), but as the movie played, I was shocked. If you haven’t watched Peter Pan in a while, go back and do so.
What I remembered about the movie was the flying, the singing, the sword fights. I remember kids in costumes playing follow-the-leader. What I did not remember was how every girl that Wendy encounters is abusive to her. When she meets Tinkerbell, for example, Tinkerbell tries to get her killed! And of course, the mermaids try to drown her! don’t know how I ever missed either of these things.
Going back and watching childhood classics, however, isn’t always such a negative shocker. In fact, it can often be pleasantly surprising. I recall the first time I watched Aladdin as an adult, being delightfully surprised by the opening scene with the merchant (who we all know is actually the Genie, right?) who tries to sell a “combination hookah and coffeemaker, also makes julienne fries!” Hearing this line as an adult, I wondered, “Did he always say it was a hookah?!”
Well, of course he did. The movie didn’t change. I did. I grew up and knew something more about the world. I actually knew what a hookah was so what always was took on a new meaning for me.
Even the memorable scene from Lion King in which Timon and Pumbaa watch Simba fall in love takes a different tone in adulthood. As my early 20’s passed and all my friends got married, I was of course happy for them, but I also was grief stricken, knowing that about to change our friendship forever somehow.
Often, we may think that these jokes or themes in these movies exist solely for the sake of throwing a bone or two to the adults who fork out $8 per kid to watch the newest Pixar release in theaters. But I was struck with a nuanced thought the other day: what if Disney puts these jokes in the movies to help adults rediscover in a new way the story they loved as children?
What if kids’ movies are spattered with somewhat off-color, dark themes and jokes in order to open up the story to people who watched the movie as children so that there is continual value in revisiting these stories as adults?
For many who leave the faith, the story almost always sounds the same: “Well, I went to Sunday School when I was a kid, but then I grew up and (fill in the blank).” Maybe the blank is filled by “started reading Christopher Hitchens.” Maybe it’s filled by “realized how hypocritical people in the church really were.” Whatever the case may be, it seems clear that believing in Jesus Christ, believing in God is something for children who know nothing about the world. Conversion away from faith is a story of “maturity.”
But what if the Christian story is really more like a Disney movie? I don’t mean this in the sense that is for kids, but rather, what if it’s really something that we continue to approach as new every time we hear it? What if every time we read a familiar story from the scriptures we are meant to walk away thinking, “How did I not see that before?!”
What if we approached faith in Christ the same way we approached watching childhood classics as adults? Sure, there would be an element of familiarity, but I’m confident that we would begin to realize somethings we have never noticed before. Part of our problem is that we think often tend to think of and portray Orthodoxy as a static set of beliefs to which we either adhere or don’t.
But that’s not actually Orthodox Christian faith.
Orthodox Christian faith is dynamic and powerful, tied to a real relationship with a real Person, and while the truths of Christianity are eternal, we are not. We change; we grow up. We acquire different experiences that open the mystery of Christ to us in new and surprising, sometimes challenging and frightening ways.
Perhaps this is why the wisdom of the Church is such that we have a liturgical cycle. Every day, every week, every year - we filter through the same stories, the same readings, the same hymns in order to rediscover again and again the bottomless depths of God’s love and might! This is what C.S. Lewis touched on in Prince Caspian as Lucy tumbles with Aslan, surprised to find that he is actually bigger than she remembers. Aslan’s response to her is simple: “That is because you are older, little one...every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
So as we approach the faith of our fathers, the faith of our childhood with new eyes and new hearts, perhaps we should embrace the mystery of Christ as we respond to His never-ceasing invitation, “Come further up, and come further in!”
Photo credits: Depositphotos
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
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