Warning: this post contains references to the animated feature film “Frozen.” Overexposure to this movie may result in children shrieking song lyrics in the car, a conviction that your front yard snowman can talk, and a commitment to trip over “Frozen”-themed toys for at least the next three years.
You may have seen me in the headlines recently: “Last North American Hold-Out Finally Succumbs, Sees Popular Children’s Movie. Nobody Noticed.” Timing, big life transitions, and overexposure by osmosis eventually led to a situation in which my household, which includes two young children, simply hadn’t seen the film yet. But I’m glad we saw it when we did, all four of us hunkered down with bad colds, the oldest kid now old enough to really appreciate the message.
Because cynics, beware: there is a definite message in “Frozen,” and it’s great. Inane children’s entertainment makes cynics of us all – bland, mindless programming led Stephen Colbert to tell his children they could watch all they wanted of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” because of the intelligence behind the show’s humor. For a long time, Disney slid, slightly out of control like a crooked car on an icy inclined street, veering closer to storyless animated punchlines merchandised primarily through Happy Meals. I won’t argue that “Frozen” showcases the best narrative ever, or even that the music is that good.
But truth, beauty and goodness matter – and finally, we have a Disney film that doesn’t show the hero lying (“Aladdin”), helpless (most classic princess movies), or struggling with grown-up themes a bit beyond the imaginative play stages of children (“The Lion King,” wrestling with guilt over the unjust death of a parent and struggling to find identity and role in society – themes that work well in “Hamlet” but perhaps less so with five-year-old’s).
So if you’re late to the game like me, or you’re a parent who’s only caught bits and pieces of the movie walking through the room carrying clean laundry, or you’re not a big movie watcher and the most recent hit you remember is “A Few Good Men,” here’s why you need to watch “Frozen.”
And if you’ve seen it a million times and you want to strangle the animated snowman and never hear “Let It Go” ever again, here’s a new faith-y take on “Frozen” – a movie, as it turns out, that easily brings John Wesley to mind.
1. I could have spewed a hot beverage into a cloud of spray when I heard a main character say, “love means putting other people’s needs before your own.” Was this a Disney film or “Veggie Tales”? I think we’re seeing what I’ll term “The Veggie Tales Effect” – a renewed appreciation for childhood storytelling in film that showcases true virtue (another recent Disney movie, “Maleficent,” demonstrates this trend). There are plenty of online resources for integrating this message into children’s sermons and resources, and it ought to be done.
What does John Wesley say about this “Olaf” kind of love?
What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, “My son, give me thy heart.” It is the “loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets:” These contain the whole of Christian perfection. (John Wesley’s sermon “On Perfection”)
2. Plenty of adults need to see a story about frozen hearts and thawed hearts. All the world’s programming about effective Christian witness can’t compete with believers who have warm, thawed hearts, and all the world’s programming about effective Christian witness can’t thaw frozen hearts that sit like a cold stone on an unbending pew, rock-hard, Sunday after Sunday. And what thaws a frozen heart? An act of true love (contrasted admirably to the trope of “true love’s kiss”).
Here, then, is the sum of the perfect law; this is the true circumcision of the heart. Let the spirit return to God that gave it, with the whole train of its affections. ‘Unto the place from whence all the rivers came thither let them flow again. Other sacrifices from us he would not; but the living sacrifice of the heart he hath chosen. Let it be continual offered up to God through Christ, in flames of holy love.’ (John Wesley, “The Circumcision of the Heart”)
Wesley also cited a beautifully well-worn passage from Ezekiel when he preached,
But the great question is, whether there is any promise in Scripture, that we shall be saved from sin. Undoubtedly there is…Such is that glorious promise given through the Prophet Ezekiel…”A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (“On Perfection”)
Not all grown-up cynicism springs from overexposure to trite children’s programming after all, as a recently cited thought from G.K. Chesterton reminds us: “for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” We are called to have soft, yielding hearts, the kind that grew in Simon Peter after the series of “do you love me?” questions from Jesus, the kind of heart that Judas wanted but couldn’t quite manage as he threw silver coins in a supreme act of futility, attempting to undo his actions – by going to the high priests and elders instead of Jesus himself.
3. You have ice somewhere in your veins. If only the ice in your veins made itself show in a telltale streak of light hair. The trek towards a heart full of complete, sacrificial love is one in which brittle shards of bitterness and fear melt into forgiveness and boldness – as scripture points out. “Perfect love casts out fear.” It’s true that “some people are worth melting for,” as the dripping snowman exclaimed, and your call and mine is to allow the crackling blaze of the Holy Spirit to chase away the chill that comes with living in an “always winter, never Christmas” world. Thank you, God, for the act of true love we’re getting ready to march towards in Lent, that has set the world melting.