What I don’t like about Frozen

If you’ve ever had a kid knock on your door and then get mad at you for opening it because you were interrupting their song, you might have a kid that’s hooked on Frozen. Even though the DVD was released a long time ago, excitement for the movie and its related merchandise is still at high levels. In fact, children will probably only stop caring about the film shortly after I’ve shelled out an unreasonable amount of money for Nordic themed Christmas gifts. But despite the anxiety I feel over this kind of popular culture phenomenon, and the fact that I’m understanding that part of my father’s personality better all the time, I don’t actually mind Frozen all that much.

I think that both Ana and Elsa, despite their complexities, are good role models for my daughters. I like the avoidance of a romantic happily ever after ending. I especially like that the rescue was a collaborative effort, and that both male and female characters (as well as the non-human sidekicks) demonstrate courage, self-sacrifice and creative problem solving. But despite these and many other things right, Disney got what I think is a big thing wrong (even if it was accidental.)

In 1995, Big Idea Promotions released a Veggie Tales movie called “Rack, Shack and Benny.” As always, they presented Bible story reenacted by computer animated vegetables. This time it was the story of three exiled Israelites who refused to bow down and worship a Babylonian god. As punishment for their stance, they are sent into a raging furnace, from which they are miraculously saved. In the cartoon adaptation, the vegetables work as slaves at a chocolate factory and refused to sing the song of praise to “the bunny.” In this song they would have to sing that their love for the bunny superseded their love of their own parents and their desire to attend church or school. By refusing to sing this song they demonstrated their faithfulness and their point about standing up for what you believe in was made. There was just one problem. The Bunny Song was really catchy and fun to sing. So, the moral of the story was lost in the entertainment value of its primary song.

There is no question that the biggest song in Frozen is “Let It Go,” and while it doesn’t commit the same blunders as “The Bunny Song,” its message is inconsistent with the moral of the movie. I would even argue that it runs contrary to the overall story. Again, don’t get me wrong, I love the song. I especially love how the mournfulness of the first verse transitions so easily into empowerment and celebration. It’s almost as though in every second Idina Menzel stretches out “and now they know” you can feel the emotional momentum shifting, and everyone listening who has a secret they are hiding from the world gets just a little feeling of release.

But moments later Elsa’s release starts to fall apart. As she is made aware of the consequences of her actions she sings one line that cancels out every word of “Let It Go.” As the tension builds, she cries out, “I’m such a fool, I can’t be free” and we are all back down at rock bottom with her. “Let It Go” was supposed to be Elsa’s freedom song, but Elsa didn’t need freedom, Elsa needed redemption.

I get it, it’s fun to sing along with her. Who doesn’t want to throw off the burdensome expectations of the people around us and find our self-worth by embracing our own uniqueness? But there is a price we pay for isolation. There is a price the people around us pay when we isolate ourselves. Every problem in Frozen is the direct or indirect result of Elsa letting it go.

In the end, Elsa realizes that she is loved and that she has love to give. Love doesn’t mean letting go. Love means holding on to someone and allowing them to hold on to you.

Servanthood on Parade

Why would I pay attention to the parade? I knew what to expect from the parade. I knew that some local C-list celebrity would be the parade marshal. I knew that all the aspiring and elected politicians would be seated prominently in expensive cars. I knew that the biggest, most elaborate displays would be signs of wealth and excess. Those weren’t the things I was there for. I was supposed to see the people stories, the human interest angle.  I am a pastor after all.

At last year’s High River Little Britches rodeo parade, the river was low and the spirits were high. This year, the river was relatively high, there was still some anxiety in the air.  It wasn’t long after last year’s parade that a freak storm dropped an abnormally high amount of rain on a ground that was frozen unusually late so it couldn’t absorb enough moisture and on mountains that were holding an exceptional amount of snow for June.  That resulted in major flooding in Calgary, Canmore, and the Siksika Reserve, but the flooding was so bad in the town of High River that the whole community was blocked off and inaccessible to its residents for a whole month.

The repairs in the downtown, like the repairs in many of homes in the town, are still not completely done. In fact, on some buildings you can still see the water line of where the water reached it’s highest and it sat there for days and days. The water line behind us while we watched the parade this year was chest high.  The route had been altered because of repairs and ongoing work, but there were probably just as many people as other years, and with rain in the forecast, a number of people who would have otherwise come probably stayed home.  So, despite a lot of things not being back to normal, the turnout was surprisingly good.

These are the things I was paying attention to, the turnout, the weather, the mood and so on.

As the parade began, I was hoping that maybe in the floats and the displays I might see symbols of perseverence, signs of the human spirit overcoming difficulty, or some evidence of God working a miracle in this town.

At the front of the parade, there was no marshal. I asked the people around me who the marshal was and they told me there were four marshals. Rather than having one celebrity, as I expected, but a representative from each of the four rebuilding and relief agencies that are active in the community were serving jointly as the marshal. The Mennonite Disaster Service crew had trouble finding enough people, not because they didn’t have enough volunteers, but because many of them were uncomfortable with the attention.

The parade continued, and the politicians happily greeted us. The provincial representative and presumptive federal candidate rode by with big smiles and ambitious waves. There weren’t any local municipal politicians though, maybe they would come later. The mayor deserved a higher profile. It’s his town after all. The first marching band was approaching and so I turned to look which one it was.  There were two men walking down our side of the road handing out candy to the kids.  I wouldn’t have even noticed them, except that one of them looked awfully familiar. I looked down and as he gave a lollipop to each of my kids, it hit me. That was the mayor.  The man who volunteered to make unpopular decisions and lead and anxious people toward a more secure future turned down a luxury seat and a high profile position to hand out candy to kids.

As the parade drew to a close, I began to reflect on all the people it took to make a parade work.  There were large marching bands, there were elaborate floats and there long lines of trained funny car drivers, but the biggest group was still to come.  To my surprise, it was a group that simply identified as the local Filipino community. They had a pick-up truck with a banner and some flags, otherwise it wasn’t all that elaborate, but there were people, lots of people. Now, there may have been Filipino doctors in that crowd, and professors, and philanthropists, and celebrity athletes, but most of the time, when people in this part of the world come into contact with someone from the Philipines, it is in the service sector. They are the Temporary Foreign Workers that make it possible for me to pay just over four dollars for my morning coffee, donut and muffin.  Many of these people work as our servants, but at this parade they walked past us with dignity, joy and pride in who they were and in their opportunity to be here with us.

My kids went home with a bunch of candy, most of which my wife threw out, but I went home with a reminder that service is leadership, and leadership at is best is service.