The Chocolate Bunny and Idolatry Today

It’s quite possible that I will never be able to shake this song from the popular Christian children’s show VeggieTales out of my memory bank. The musical number was none other than “The Bunny Song” from the Rack, Shack & Benny episode. I mean this episode had everything! Crowd favorites Bob, Larry, and Junior were the main protagonists in the story. It had the obnoxiously hilarious giant chocolate bunny statue. The gripping flying scooter chase scene through the HVAC system of the Chocolate Factory had you sitting at the edge of your sofa while you sipped your Capri Sun.

But that song featuring the asparagus as backup singers has embedded itself so deeply within my brain that even now, 20-some years later it finds a way to come to the fore at the most random of times.

While washing dishes, showering, or sneaking a piece of chocolate I quietly mumble to myself… “The bunny, the bunny, oh I love the bunny…

Well, I’m almost 30 now, and one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the Bible isn’t merely a book of children’s stories that can be adapted to suit adults, as some may presume. It’s much more a book for adults, that through media, like VeggieTales, can be adapted to suit children. Certain stories are more easily adapted than others and there are many stories that are often set aside altogether until children get to an appropriate age. But if we think VeggieTales, or similar Christian media for children, exhaust the depth of these stories we’re missing the profound potency of them.

Consider the story of “Rack”, “Shack” and “Benny”, which is a riff on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found in Daniel 3. They were three young men who were taken as exiles to Babylon after the capture of Jerusalem, where the Temple was shortly thereafter destroyed. They were no longer in their hometown, but found themselves within the heart of the Babylonian empire being trained to fill positions of great responsibility and service to King Nebuchadnezzar.

They were given new names. Trained to be important leaders and administrators within the empire. And after years of providing loyal service to the Babylonian Empire – with few conflicts beyond those due to remaining faithful to their religious dietary laws – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves confronted with a challenge. Would they bow down and worship the giant statue King Nebuchadnezzar had erected, or would they resist and face the threat of being thrown into the giant furnace the king had created for the disobedient?

It’s a familiar story. And one that we probably overlook since we know the ending so well. But this story has probably even more to say to us adults than any children’s adaptation could express to kids. That idolatry, despite being less overt, is still present even today.

what is idolatry?

It’s probably worth noting that the first and second commandments God gave the Israelites were orders against the worshipping of other gods and manufacturing of idols. I mean all ten commandments are clearly important, but for these to be listed as one and two, probably means something right?

But wasn’t idolatry the worship of others gods? Like when people bowed down for statues and created things instead of the God of Israel? Isn’t that something only those primitive and uncivilized people of the past did?

I think the problem is we tend to have a low resolution understanding of what these “gods” were back then. And just because we don’t refer to things as “gods” today doesn’t mean there aren’t equivalents to them.

Idolatry is so much easier to spot when viewing another culture from the outside. It is far more difficult to spot from within. It can be like the air we breathe. The water we swim in. While it might not be a golden statue like the one Nebuchadnezzar erected, our idols today promise similar things.

Yet they always fail to deliver on those promises. And therefore, it’s beneficial to us to see them for what they are before they ultimately let us down. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to spot idolatry in action today. Maybe they can help you as well.

That we can think no higher than

Whether it’s the grand utopian visions of a completely equitable society and the perfect political platform being implemented, the lowly carnal desires for our next “fix” or sexual encounter, or anywhere in between, we all have something to which we are aspiring. For some, those goals have never been achieved. They are lofty and seemingly unachievable. Always out of our reach. Yet for others the most salient desires are those that they have been conditioned to enjoy through previous encounters with them. Sex, drugs, the acquisition of wealth. For everyone, there is something that sits at the top of their hierarchy of values.

For King Nebuchadnezzar, the statue wasn’t erected simply to have people worship it. While there’s debate as to whether the image was that of one of the gods of Babylon or of the king himself, its safe to say there was a purpose behind it. Their religion was not mutually exclusive from their everyday lives and the success or failure of the empire. He was expecting something in return from the people worshiping it. Something that was of utmost importance to him and probably most in the Babylonian Empire.

Maybe that goal was unity. If you force everyone to worship the same thing with the threat of death, you have to a certain degree established a form of unity if everyone obliges. Maybe it was to worship a god in an effort to seek blessing upon their empire in the form of wartime success, fertility, health, fortuitous weather for crops, or material wealth. Whatever it was, they were willing to bow down and submit to it.

I’ve heard it said that idolatry is “that which we can think no higher than”, assuming that thing is not God himself. What are the ideals or values of which we can think no higher than?

Unity? Diversity? Equity? Freedom? Liberty? Kindness? Strength? Wealth? Power?

We may not have statues dedicated or godlike names given explicitly to these ideals today, but we have flags, posters, banners, and movements dedicated to them. Can we think of anything higher than these values? And are we willingly or reluctantly deciding to bow down and submit to any of these ideals?

WORSHIPING the gift

When in college, I accidentally stumbled upon an absolute gem of a book. I initially thought The Great Divorce was a book on marriage and decided to read it. Boy was I wrong, but it has become quite possibly the most influential book I’ve read in my life.

C.S. Lewis, in this wonderful novel, details the journey of a bus-full of travelers leaving their homes in hell to visit heaven. The story is told from the perspective of one of those travelers as he observes each of his fellow passengers have their own encounter with residents in heaven. One would think they would all find heaven to be blissful and alluring. But that’s not the case.

For each visitor, what keeps them from experiencing the fullness and grandeur of heaven were the “gifts” they had come to love. Knowledge, pride, material wealth, sex, kinship, and even marital relationships. Good things, heck many of them we would consider great things. But when they become the ultimate thing they keep people from experiencing the fullness of a relationship with God. When asked to give up these gifts in pursuit of God, they all fell away and preferred their residence in hell to a life in heaven. In essence, they were trying to enjoy the gifts without recognizing the Giver.

“The essence of idolatry is enjoying the gifts but not honoring the Giver.”

Warren Wiersbe

Throughout the book, Lewis shows how in heaven, a proper appreciation for God redeems all of these gifts. Sex when corrupted may take the form of lust, but in it’s proper place can lead us to a greater understanding of the love that God is. That family relationships, when put in its proper place as a secondary to our relationship with God, can keep us from smothering our family members with existential burdens and unattainable expectations and allow those relationships to point us to a relational God. That knowledge, for the sake of accruing knowledge, may lead to conceit instead of pointing us to the transcendental.

What are the gifts we strive for? Can they bear the weight of all our expectations in this life? Or do they just get corrupted when we fail to acknowledge the God who gave them in the first place?

what i give up everything for

There are many things vying for our complete allegiance. Our jobs. Our families. Our schools. Our political parties. Our country. Our bank accounts. Our political movements. Our urges and temptations. Our churches.

The reality is there are no shortage of things to which we can be dedicating our lives. We all sacrifice ourselves for some thing or purpose. But what are they?

I would give up everything for fill in the blank. It’s probably a worthwhile question for all of us to ask ourselves from time to time.  It may just point out the idols we have today. 

we adults need reminders too

What is it that we can think no higher than? What gift in life do we treasure above everything else? And what is it I would be willing to give up everything for? Our answers to these questions are not necessarily bad things. But if whatever they are isn’t God, we are bound to corrupt them under the unbearable weight of our expectations. And they will fail to deliver what we seek from them.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worked for the benefit of the Babylonian empire, but when it was at odds with their desire to worship God and God alone, they did not submit. King Nebuchadnezzar sought unity, something that is not a terrible ideal, but when that becomes they only ideal to which we strive it becomes distorted.

But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who had shown over several years a desire to serve the empire and see it prosper, were willing to disobey the order to bow in front of this image, even in the face of execution. They chose to be faithful to the One who rightly deserves our praise and utmost devotion. We must likewise discern what is good and worth participating in within our society, and be willing to not submit when they fall out of alliance with the God we serve. Even when it’s unpopular.

That being said, I do think this VeggieTales episode really points not just children, but us adults in a useful direction. Consider the lyrics to “The Bunny Song.” Although they are saturated with messages for kids like eating healthy food and avoiding sweets as one’s main sustenance, there is also very much a message the show creators are pointing at. Something deeper and more profound that we all need to aware of.

The bunny, the bunny, whoa, I love the bunny
I don’t love my soup or my bread, just the bunny
The bunny, the bunny, yeah, I love the bunny
I gave everything that I had for the bunny
I don’t want no health food when it’s time to feed
A big bag o’ bunnies is all that I need
I don’t want no buddies to come out and play
I’ll sit on my sofa, eat bunnies all day
I won’t eat no beans, and I won’t eat tofu
That stuff is for sissies, but bunnies are cool!

I don’t want no pickles, I don’t want no honey
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want a tissue when my nose is runny
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to tell you a joke that is funny
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to play on a day that is sunny
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny

The bunny, the bunny, whoa, I love the bunny
I don’t love my soup or my bread, just the bunny
The bunny, the bunny, yeah, I love the bunny
I gave everything that I ha-a-a-ad…
For the bunny

WALL-E and the Prodigal Son

Beyond its charming love story and the adorable personification of a little trash compacting robot, WALL-E gave its viewers much to meditate on. WALL-E truly is a masterpiece in storytelling. Conveying most of the story with so few words, the story is strikingly simplistic and yet filled with incredible depth.

This 2008 Pixar movie has served as a G-rated version of classic stories like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, asking the audience very similar questions. Can wealth and comfort really provide the security and fulfillment we all long for? What are we giving up by trying to escape the difficult realities we are presented with on earth? What does courage really look like? And what exactly is it that makes this little robot so endearing?

But unlike Brave New World, WALL-E presents us with more lighthearted scenes with WALL-E going back to his home as probably the most memorable. We see the WALL-E trying to find a place for his newly found spork, creating a hat out of a trash can lid, and recognizing the beauty of held hands from a scene of “Hello, Dolly!”. And while that scene gives us a thorough introduction to what motivates this little robot, I don’t think we have to look much further than the first few minutes to get a glimpse into one of the most important and overlooked parts of the story.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that just before zooming in on a trash covered Earth, they were finishing the following lyrics from the song “Put On Your Sunday Clothes.”

There’s a slick town, Barnaby… Out there. Full of shine and full of sparkle. Close your eyes and see it glisten, Barnaby.”

The stark contrast is immediately drawn between the “shine” and “sparkle” we would envision for an idyllic world and the reality of a trash-covered Earth. Between the world we would all love to live in, like the Axiom ship the humans escape on, and the littered world this fictitious group of people decided to leave behind. Between the world we all would want to leave for future generations and the world this lonely robot is left to inhabit.

And yet, if we were to place ourselves alone in this polluted and toxic world like this, would any of us have the attitude WALL-E has? Would we be listening to music and humming along while working what to many of us would seem like a meaningless job like compacting little cubes of trash all day? Would we be content with such little impact and without praise from others?

Or would we be looking to escape that reality like the humans in the movie? To fill our stomachs to the full? To spend our time binge-watching more TV shows than we could ever watch in a lifetime? Trying to escape reality through whatever food, sex, drugs, alcohol, or virtual realities we can get our hands on?

If this robot was disgruntled, would he have nearly the appeal that he has had on people, or is it in fact his pleasantness in spite of the circumstances that makes him so alluring?

And yet, WALL-E presents us with another conundrum to consider. WALL-E is the only robot in the movie that from the beginning of the story seems to have transcended his programming. And he’s also the only WALL-E robot still functioning on Earth with all others losing functionality after 700+ years of hard work. All other robots are stuck doing routine functions without really giving consideration to why they do what they do. I don’t think this is a coincidence either, but rather an important facet of the story.

WALL-E, by the end of the movie helps both groups realize what they are lacking. He is such a powerful character because he serves as the unassuming savior of the story. A robot going about his business even to the point of his near destruction for love and for purpose. And this story is so poignant and moving because it invites us to ask how do we respond to watching such heroism and courage. And it’s this aspect of the movie that reminds me of one of my favorite passages in the Bible.

The passage is found in Luke 15 and it’s the parable of the prodigal son. So many of us are familiar with the story of the younger son. The younger asks for his share of the father’s inheritance. He essentially asks his father to liquidate half his wealth because he couldn’t wait for his father to pass away and acquire his share of his wealth then. Then he goes and wastes his inheritance on frivolous things only to find himself in trouble when a severe famine occurs.

He returns to his father only hoping that he would be merciful enough to allow him to work in his garden again. He does not expect to be received as his son again after what he did. But expects to be received like an average laborer, to earn a living just so he does not starve. But instead the younger son is welcomed home with open arms from the father and a feast. The story demonstrates that God is always open and ready to receive the repentant sinner. A story that fell therapeutically on the ears of the downtrodden, sinful, lost and forgotten in society both then and today.

But Jesus also continues with the story of the older son, which is often forgotten and discussed far less often. And this part of the story is intended for a second group in his audience. It’s the story of a son who worked in the garden, never asked for his father’s inheritance, and appeared to be doing everything right. Yet he was bitter when the younger son was received by the father so joyfully. The father asks the older son why he would not come inside for the party to celebrate the return of his younger brother, but the older son remained resentful.

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

For a son who appeared to be doing everything right, and laboring away for his father, he was quite indignant and certainly not appreciative for the situation he was in. Despite being in the father’s garden, he was not happy, let alone content. Quite an interesting difference presented in these two brothers.

The parable of the prodigal son is an interesting one because it provides two examples of how not to live, but in a way insinuates that there is a third way of living. A life that enjoys working in the Father’s garden and is ready to invite others to join in.

WALL-E captivates me in many of the same ways that Jesus does. To the casual observer WALL-E’s job would appear to be without meaning of significance. He’s a trash collecting robot. There are far more inspiring things one could do for an occupation. And yet, he joyfully goes about his work diligently and when an opportunity arises for him to carry out a significant mission and return the lost plant to Eve, he’s prepared to do it. Through his actions he invites the other humans and robots to step outside of their comforts and their programming to see there are more meaningful things in life to pursue. He helps them transcend who they were to become would they could be.

Jesus lived his life in the very same manner. Whether we have tried to find an escape from the harsh realities of life through the dulling of our senses and the gratification of our fantasies or mustered all our strength to begrudgingly work through life, Jesus has something to offer us. A model of a willfully laborious life given sacrificially, even to the point of death and ridicule, all so that we can see there’s abundant life to be found living in this same manner. That there is a different way to live that may seem counter intuitive to the casual observer, but when acted upon, truly can provide life in its fullest.

We can get up to work each day in a world that is often missing its “shine” and “sparkle” and go about our little jobs even when they appear to have such little meaning. We can labor in the Father’s garden, being joyful for the opportunities that come our way, and excited for the day when others may decide to come back or join us in the labor. And who knows, maybe we find a little rest in the midst of the work. A message maybe as relevant today as it ever has been.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 –

So yeah, WALL-E is a beautiful and thought-provoking movie for many good reasons. But in my opinion, what makes it most influential, are the aspects that most echo the gospel. A life lived so radically that it brings life to those around them.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

I wouldn’t say I was an avid reader growing up, but there were several books that I thoroughly enjoyed reading as a child. The Lord of the Rings, The Hardy Boys, and Harry Potter come to mind immediately. When I first read them, I appreciated these books simply for the story. The joy of an unforeseen plot twist in the Hardy Boy mysteries. The constant evolution and unfolding of characters like Severus Snape. And the freedom to imagine new worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize these books contain more than just the stories themselves and have started to appreciate the author behind the story more and more. .

Similar to authorship, someone without going through proper education and training cannot just wake up one day and be an architect and design a house that will both stand and be aesthetically pleasing. And someone cannot instantly become a composer and write a piece of music worth listening to without some type of instruction. There are years of developing the skill and accumulating experience that leads to the final piece of art. I’m blown away by the creativity of these authors and am impressed with their ability to construct such poignant stories. I wish I could craft a story like the ones I read growing up, but it could not just happen by chance as The Simpsons so aptly illustrate in this clip.

In a way, the work of art is an extension of the artist. The house in some way takes on the character of the architect. Music takes on the character of it’s composer. The narrative takes on the character, or essence, of it’s author.

revising an old post

One of the first posts I ever had on my blog was “The Relationship of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter.” It seemed like the most fitting story to write about, as I was a big Harry Potter fan as a kid.

I was the type of fan who was waiting in line at the bookstore before the store opened to pick up my reserved copy of each book when it was released type of fandom.

The type of fan that would forgo sleep to read each book in a matter of days.

The type of fan that went to the Barnes & Nobles midnight release party for the seventh and final book.

The type fan that dressed up as Harry Potter himself (and in my opinion pulled it off well) for Halloween! Sorry Ashley and Alex for not running this by you beforehand. Nice cat ears by the way Alex.

The whole post was intended to share an interesting illustration of God the Father and God the Son that I had stumbled upon. The premise of the illustration was that the only way Harry Potter could know who J.K. Rowling is would be if she were to write herself into the story. Then, and only then, Harry Potter would be able to know his author. The realization for me being that the only way to truly know the author of our story, would be for that author to write him or herself into human history. As Paul says in Colossians 1:15, “The Son is the image of the invisible God.” Christ took on human nature to reveal himself and walk alongside people to show who the author (if we stick with the analogy), God the Father, is.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over seven years since I published that post. Within that time, my thoughts on this analogy have changed. Not that I think it’s a wholly inaccurate illustration but that it’s incomplete. The Father and the Son, although being incredibly complex on their own, seem to be easier to grapple with than the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, which I completely omitted in that post.

The Holy Spirit has often been mysterious, difficult to understand, and rarely discussed specifically, especially in our culture. Even as a regular church attender, I rarely hear much time dedicated to understanding probably the most obscure Person of the Trinity. And yet, the Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Bible from beginning to end. If you’ve been baptized, we are told that it is symbolic of being baptized with the Spirit. And that you have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within you. What in the world does any of this mean? What is it that the Holy Spirit is doing? And who exactly is the Holy Spirit? I know these questions have been some of the most difficult for me to answer personally.

In my last post, I started exploring what spirits are. “Spirit” is no longer in our vernacular, and is probably indicative of why the Holy Spirit gets so little conversation in our culture. Spirits are similar to what we would call values or ideologies today. They are dynamic and invisible and are shared and developed within interpersonal spaces. Spirits can influence individuals, families, communities, and nations in both positive and negative ways.

But I think to really begin to see how spirits, and the Holy Spirit specifically are at work in the world, we need to explore what this word “spirit” has meant historically.

the root of the word “spirit”

Our use of the word spirit today derives from the Latin word “spirare,” which means “to breathe”. There are many other words that we use today that come from this same root that we probably wouldn’t associate with the word “spirit.” Aspire means to “breath on”, or to work towards a goal. Conspire is to “breath together” or craft a plot together. Inspire is to “breath into”. And even respiration, or to “breathe again” comes from this same root word “spirare.”

So what in the world does “spirit” have to do with breathing, and is this just another one of those weird aspects of the English language that our word spirit would be associated with this Latin root that seems unrelated?

Surprisingly the answer is an emphatic “No.” This isn’t just a “the English language is weird” thing. The Greek and Hebrew words for spirit were “Pneuma” and “Ruach,” respectively and both of these words were used to represent the words breath, spirit and wind. While in English we have separate words for all three of these, the Hebrew and Greek languages have one word that means all three. That breath, spirit, and wind were all related to one another within these cultures.

And this is consistent with how the Holy Spirit is depicted throughout the Bible. The Spirit hovering over the waters at the beginning of creation. God breathing life into the nostrils of Adam. God breathing life into the dry bones in Ezekiel. The Holy Spirit descending like a dove onto Jesus at his baptism. Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. The loud wind that is associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This imagery is even used for those born of the Spirit.

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." - John 3:8 -

From the vantage point of the writers of scripture, they saw the wind, breath, and spirit as one and the same, animating and giving life to the world around us. It sounds very mystical and like an antiquated way of looking at the world. But should it be?

the “trinity” in harry potter

Sticking with the Harry Potter analogy, consider that part of J.K. Rowling’s essence is found in every word, every sentence, and every chapter that moves the plot line. Her character, her values, her dreams, her aspirations, and her experiences are distilled and breathed into these books and animate the characters bringing this fictional world to life. That if J.K. Rowling were to write herself into the story, we could see a similar “trinity” in play. J.K. Rowling as the author, J.K. Rowling as the character within the Harry Potter story line, and the dynamic “spirit” of J.K. Rowling that permeates through and inspires the entire story line to bring about her desired plot line.

For Augustine, an early Christian theologian from the 4th and 5th centuries, love served as the best example he could use for the Trinity.

“Now when I, who am asking about this, love anything, there are three things present: I myself, what I love, and love itself. For I cannot love unless I love a lover; for there is no love where nothing is loved. So there are three things: the lover, the loved and the love.”

The person of the Holy Spirit only becomes more beautiful when we consider His role within the Bible. God’s Holy Spirit emanates from this relationship between the Father and the Son and it’s what gives life to the very story we are a part of. It’s similar to J.K. Rowling’s love for Harry Potter, and that love manifesting itself in what I think is a very beautiful and well-written story revolving around him.

And just like how J.K. Rowling worked through Dumbledore, Snape, Hermione, Ron, and a host of other characters to carry out this storyline, God has invited us to breathe in His Holy Spirit. He has invited us to allow Him to dwell within, motivate and empower us as He carries out his story. Not that this is the only spirit we are inspired by, but that it is the one spirit that gives life and blows us like the wind towards the things in keeping with who God is.

Maybe this is all sounds weird and strange. I would completely understand anyone who felt that way as I clearly couldn’t have articulated the Holy Spirit this way seven years ago when I first attempted this illustration. For me, this recent shift in my perspectives on the nature of God and specifically His Person of the Holy Spirit has been life giving. The ability to rest and not feel like it’s all in my power. And the ability to “test the spirits” as John would say and see what’s worth breathing in.

I’m sure many of us heard the old adage growing up “You become what you eat.” May I suggest one slightly modified? Maybe that you become what spirits you breathe in? The questions then are, “Is there an author to this crazy thing we call life?” and “Do you trust the author enough to breathe in their spirit and allow them to work through you?”

Quick disclaimer

I’ve heard it said that theology is like a map. The maps we use are scaled down and smaller representations of the actual world. It’s this smaller size that allows us to use the map. And the map hopefully has sufficient details for our purposes of navigating the world. Likewise, this illustration is not a complete and exhaustive depiction of who the Holy Spirit is. It is a reduction, or a map, that for me helps me to navigate my relationship with God. And my hope is that it helps you. And hopefully over time, that map becomes more detailed, more vibrant, and more accurate.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Let me know your thoughts and if you have any other helpful ways you have found to explain the Holy Spirit.

Why We Shouldn’t Throw Away Fairy Tales

One of the things I most look forward to as a father will be the opportunity to read stories to my son. Morgan and I have already started the habit of rocking him to sleep while reading books and I am excited for when he’s old enough to really engage with the stories.

For some reason, there’s something about stories that resonates so much with me and maybe that’s the case for you as well. I’m not ashamed to say I’m the type of guy who gets teary-eyed at the end of movies like Up, Wreck-It Ralph, and Toy Story 3. How can you not shed a tear when Carl gives Russell the Ellie badge, when Ralph is sacrificing himself into Diet Coke Mountain, or when Woody, Buzz, Jessie and their friends are all about to be melted in the incinerator and they are locked arm-in-arm facing it together?

These stories don’t have to be animated films though to create these deep feelings. Maybe war films like Saving Private Ryan conjure up similar emotions as you witness their camaraderie and sacrifice. While they aren’t usually my cup of tea, romantic films like The Notebook get people welling with emotion as they see the deep love Allie and Noah share. Or maybe you were feeling emotional when half of our favorite heros from the Marvel Cinematic Universe vanished into dust before our eyes in Avengers: Infinity War. Hopefully no one needed a spoiler alert on that last one!

Maybe the stories that most resonate with you are from literature. I remember the shock when reading Harry Potter and the scenes when Dumbledore and Snape died. As with any great piece of fictional writing, these were characters I had come to know and identify with and to read of their deaths was to in some way experience that myself.

These experiences drive us go to the movies and read books. These stories seem to point to certain values or ideals that resonate with so many of us. Even when we can’t articulate into words what exactly in the story resonates with us, their impact is felt. In a way, these fictional stories, although they are not necessarily true historically, abstract out themes and concepts that are incredibly true to our real-life experiences as human beings.

What’s interesting is that lately there seems to have been more dialogue about Disney’s princess stories. Now I’m not going to argue that the Disney version of these older stories are the epitome of fairy tales, but I do think that they are the ones we collectively are the most familiar with.

Keira Knightley, an actress probably most commonly known for her role in the Pirates of the Caribbean, recently said on Ellen that the movies Cinderella and The Little Mermaid are banned in her house because of their depiction of women. Her comments sparked some discussion with people voicing both support and opposition to her thoughts. I don’t think she’s alone in holding these opinions.

Even a scene in Ralph Breaks the Internet, featuring the Disney princesses, which I will admit I found to be humorous (and still do), poked fun at the past princess stories that Disney had created and as stated in news headlines “spoofed the Disney Princess Industrial Complex” and was a “moment that mattered.” A scene like this would not have happened if Disney did not realize this was a widely shared sentiment.

As funny and creative as that scene is, the question remains… Is what this scene portrays about these older stories true? These movies have been mostly acclaimed since they were released. The question is then what changed recently? Are we better people today that we can look back on these stories and see them for what they really are? Or do we have a different and maybe inaccurate perspective on what these stories were really meant to convey?

Take Sleeping Beauty for instance. This is a story that could very easily be construed as “a woman is in trouble and needs a big strong man to save her.” There is the obvious plot line of being willing to fight for true love, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing to teach. However, I think Sleeping Beauty contains a strong lesson on parenting.

Aurora’s (Sleeping Beauty) parents, did not invite Maleficent to Sleeping Beauty’s christening. In essence, her parents were unwilling to allow anything that could be potentially dangerous into her life, which I think we all know, whether or not we want to admit it, is impossible to do.

They were then confronted by Maleficent and issued a curse that on her 16th birthday she would die from pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. Her parents then decided that in order to protect their daughter, they would burn every spinning wheel in the kingdom and send her away to live with the three fairies. They decided to keep her secluded from all spinning wheels, which I think is a metaphor for all potential things that they believed could cause her harm. Interestingly though, they couldn’t keep her from pricking her finger on the spinning wheel as Maleficent still found her way to Aurora.

There is so much more to this story that could be extracted. We could learn from the isolation of Maleficent contrasted with the family and community of all the other characters. Or we could compare Prince Phillip’s courage to the fear of Aurora’s father. Or how about the importance of strong female supporting characters (which is present in a lot of these fairy tales) around Aurora and the importance that mentorship has in a young person’s life.

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is responsible for redeeming the Beast and is by far the most admirable of all the characters. Gaston, represents the epitome of the self-aggrandizing jerk that I hope we all agree no man should be emulating. Ariel, Pocahontas, and Mulan all represent incredibly strong and courageous women in their stories. Cinderella is a great demonstration of good things coming to those who are diligent with their responsibilities and that is a great lesson for men and women of all ages.

Disney adapted these fairy tales that had been passed down for several centuries across cultures. There are reasons these stories were shared for so long and that Disney was willing to adapt them into films. You can compare it to evolution and survival of the fittest. These stories that have been handed down to us have been maintained because they speak to some of the deepest virtues and values that we have come to embrace as a culture better than other stories that have been told. Yes, they may be imperfect stories, and worthy of critique, but I think we need to be careful about thinking we are so different or (even worse) better, than our ancestors and that they cannot through their stories speak into our lives.

For the same reason that not every movie and story made today will be remembered 100 years from now, not all stories of old have been passed down by our ancestors to us. There’s a reason Lion King will be remembered and not The Emoji Movie or why books like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter will last instead of The Twilight series.
I’m not saying we can’t joke about these movies. I just think we need to carefully watch what we joke about, because it very easily and quickly be adopted as “truth.”

It feels like there has been a growing disdain or casual indifference to most of what we inherit. It’s almost like we’ve become so preoccupied with the mistakes of our ancestors that we are now in the process of trying to clean the slate of their influences in our lives, which often manifests as the throwing away of everything that they created, valued, and passed down to us, including their stories. We view these older stories as antiquated, irrelevant, or (even worse) oppressive in the themes they portray.

However, I think there is a real danger in this interpretation of these stories and as a result the dismissing of them. Reducing each of these stories down to the plot line of “a woman is in trouble and needs a big strong man to save her” or fill in the blanks “_ is oppressed and needs the oppressor __ to save them” is stripping these stories of their real value and intended message.

I’m not saying there’s never been oppression, nor am I saying that these stories are perfect in the stories that they tell. However, I think we will be giving up on some of the best stories we have to learn from and discrediting the significance of what our ancestors learned if we just throw them away. I believe that the degree to which we decide to give critical thought to the themes of these stories is the degree to which we will draw benefit from them. Yes, we can still criticize these stories, but to discard them could be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And if that’s the precedence we set, why should we expect our descendants to want to hear any of the stories we tell?

C.S. Lewis once said, “But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

I hope we can continue to give these stories a chance to teach us and consider why they have been deemed valuable for so long. I think they have so much to teach not just my son, but me as well because they have been shared with so many people across time and have resonated with so many. I don’t want to be a parent, like Aurora’s father, that in an effort to shield my son from all of the potential malevolence in the world keeps him from living his life. Similarly , I think it’s much better to engage with these stories and be able to learn through the process, then to not even give them a chance.

Let’s be careful about what we decide to throw out  because our ancestors are worth listening to and we may be getting rid of the very best they were trying to share with us.