Over almost two decades, I have parented my children through the rise and reign of Pixar. Conceived in the mind of a creative genius, it thrived under the tutelage of industry greats who perceived in it a new era of story-telling; once it grew to prominence, it was greedily devoured by the giant named Disney. Praised for bringing a new depth to children’s entertainment, Pixar paved the way for multi-layered story telling that appealed not only to children, but parents as well. In many ways, Pixar provided the soundtrack our children grew up with, and the plot devices it employed have shaped the minds of millions.
I love good story-telling, undoubtedly, Pixar’s strength. I’ve sat through countless re-runs of my children’s favourites in early pre-dawn light or Friday-night movie sessions, and I’m not too proud to say that I’ve been emotionally moved on more than a few occasions (though that may have been mostly influenced by those sleep deprived years doing the early shift while my wife squeezed in a few much needed moments of extra rest). But good story-telling aside, two decades of Pixar have given me pause to stop and wonder at their success, and even the dangers we inadvertently expose ourselves to in the quest for entertainment.
A tried-and-true theme many of these stories carry is that of the inter-generational relationships forged in the family. Often a son, sometimes a daughter, grows up misunderstood by a disappointed father (or mother) until they forge their own path somehow, breaking free from the shackles they perceived bound them, and made their own mark on the world. Inevitably, the disappointed father realises their short-sightedness and embraces the son, celebrating their uniqueness and value. It seems this plot device, repeated in numerous variations, hits a soft spot in the human condition that makes us susceptible to this winning formula. We have a world full of misunderstood sons and disappointed fathers, daughters who feel they can’t live-up to expectations and mothers who want more for their princesses. Something about this reality strikes a chord that Pixar has learnt to strum into a tune we’re all happy to dance to. If we’re not careful, this theme-song becomes the tune we hum all the way to church.
Two decades of pastoral ministry has taught me that a prevailing theme of Christian life is the faulty thinking that we relate to God as though he is a disappointed father. Too many of our pews are filled with boys and girls in adult bodies still trying to win the approval of a father they sense they’ll never be able to please. Too many of our preachers are singing the song that Pixar wrote, perpetuating the soundtrack that binds our lives if we’re not mindful of it. Too many Bible Study groups gather to recite the story-line of sanctification by works, of gaining the approval of God through ‘living up to,’ ‘earning favour,’ and ‘seeking the blessing’ of their father. Too many children are wandering alone, seeking to find their own path to fulfilment, not abandoning ‘faith’ but looking for answers outside the church, hoping God will bless their ‘other way.’
Of course, this isn’t Pixar’s fault. We’ve been singing this faulty tune long before the dawn of this millennium—we’ve foolishly danced along to this tune ever since the dawn of time. Even when a greater song was sung, a song of utter perfection and soul-achingly beautiful, we’ve ignored the soundtrack of grace and embraced the lyrics of self-righteousness. We perpetuated the lie that God is a disappointed father in need of having his eyes opened to our hidden worth. But like the prophets of Baal, we can sing all the day long, but we’ll never convince God of our own worth—because our worth isn’t found in us. We need a new song, a better song.
It is in the courts of heaven we hear this new and better song, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!”It is the Lamb who is worthy. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
We don’t have a disappointed father in need of pacifying. Instead, we have a brother and a King, a friend and a Lord, who has come before the Throne in obedience and with a righteousness I could not accomplish. Here he has also brought you. You and I stand there now, in the presence of the eternal father, and as we anticipate his disapproving look, we raise our eyes to see instead his smile. There, immersed in blood and bathed in grace, all remnants of that old song will be drowned out by yet another tune. Sung in beautiful harmony with the song of the Lamb will come the boisterous and exultant thunder from the Throne.
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:14-17 ESV)