Happily Mostly After

Happily ever after is a lie.

And no, I’m not having man problems. I don’t hate my job. I’m not sick. I’m not in weather-related funk, and I’m not overly discouraged about the state of the economy. I’ve just got this on my mind… A photographer staged some life-sized vignettes of ‘princesses’ in their ever after.  These renderings show anything but a fairy tale ending. Belle–addicted to plastic surgery?; Cinderella–drinking away her disappointment.  There’s more. Check it out.

To some, this will look like the work of a cynical artist; one who is bitter and does not believe in lasting love. But to me, it is a blessed truth-telling. An honest look at the bigger–and often, better–story at work behind our deluded fairy tales.

I’ve always had a gripe with princess culture. It perpetuates rigid gender roles that keep girls passive and men powerful; and it sets up pretty ridiculous standards of physical beauty (always with the disproportionate eye-to head and boob-to-waist ratios…who is that for??) Sure, Disney has given the ladies a little more depth in the last decade or so. Even so, the ‘pink aisle’ has dominated our little girls’ imaginations to a fault. And it’s not just about being cute/pretty/fancy, and it’s not just about little girls. The promise of that which ends happily–forever–runs deep in our shared cultural story. For men and women, of every age. And like I said…it’s a lie.

According to the gospel of Disney–if you do what’s right, work hard, and choose the right character to marry, you will always be young and beautiful. You will always be immune to heartbreak. Evil becomes a caricature–larger than life, humorous in its folly, and utterly removed from our reality. We have arrived. We have received our legs/found our prince/reclaimed our palace/vanquished the nameless foe. All will be well. Forever.

Trouble is, we hear this story enough, we start to believe it.

It isn’t just Disney spinning off this fairy tale for us. It’s also corporate America.  The vacation/fashion/finance/food and beverage/motor vehicle/entertainment industries… All invite us (and our spending money) into the same story. That story promises only good things. Forever.

That’s a shallow and scary promise.

And then I realize that the Church has been telling the same broken story for a really long time.

Are we a product of the Disney edict of salvation? Or are we the original authors? Follow this Jesus guy, (maybe he’s wearing tights), make good moral choices, pick the right mate and be a good girl/boy…and you will live HEA. Forever, with Jesus. I’m not even lying, Zondervan has manufactured an actual princess Bible.

Cause even Jesus needs a princess cover.

And maybe this is why millenials are leaving the church.

All the cool kids were talking about it last week, but I’m neither cool nor kid. I may be late for the bus, but I’m pretty sure the Disney gospel–if not Disney itself–has played a big role in the mass exodus of young people from the life of faith. After all–we bought, paid for, and believed this story: that all we had to do was be good, and all would be well. Forever. Somehow, we believed that story so much, we sanctified it.

Now we’re beginning to see what comes of that shiny pink gospel: increasing numbers of hurting, broken people who see no need for the peace of Christ, or the grace of God, or the love of community. If only they follow the plot line and step into all the right roles at all the right moments…all will be happy, forever.

The Happy Ending gospel puts our focus on the future/someday/eternity kind of paradise, when our real life is happening right now. And we miss it. Or our neighbor needs help, and we miss it. Our kids are in trouble, and we miss it.  And Jesus–the real, living, embodied Jesus, not the Disney rendering–is standing right in front of us, calling us to follow him into a better story. Do we miss it? Do we sacrifice it for the fairy tale?

Far too often…yes. We do.

Maybe that’s why I see so much good news in the fallen princess pics. Like the Jesus I hope we share with our children, they are real and starkly beautiful. They point to a bigger, more complex, and humanly beautiful story. In this shady corner where Rapunzel is a bald chemo patient and Ariel is stuck in a fish tank–there is hope. There is a promise that good news and real beauty are possible, even in the unhappy chapters.

In fact, the grace of Jesus comes to us ESPECIALLY in the unhappy chapters. That’s kind of what he’s there for. He doesn’t even need tights.

There IS happiness. There is joy, and abundance, and real life blessing. Loving families, health and wholeness, celebration; fulfilling work, service to others, sharing around the table; there is abundant grace and mercy. Not because we are beautiful, or good, but because that Jesus has made us a part of the real, the bigger, the better story.

In that real story, there will be pain and suffering. There will be heartbreak, and gray hair, and tragic mistakes. There will be missed opportunities and hard villains and there will be poisoned apples of temptation. But in the real live Jesus story, we are never bound to the fallen place or the broken part.

Life is not a fairy tale. It is a dadgum gift from God. And refusing to see that life–even love it–in all its broken imperfection is nothing short of sinful. When we live by a true gospel story, instead of a pinked-up happy ending, something miraculous happens… We find ourselves firmly bound into a community that will cherish and uphold us in all of life’s inevitable sadness; and make real and holy the everyday blessings that we so often mistake for

The End.

 

 

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Tammi Davis

    What a beautifully written piece! I had to write and tell you that your words touched me so much. I found you through the Bluegrass Redhead blog.

  • Sandra Orrick

    Good job countering the prosperity gospel. The three Hebrew worthies preached the most succinct sermon on this topic ever: “Our God, whom we serve, IS ABLE to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, BUT IF NOT…” and He walked with them through the fire. We can’t get away with treating God ike a gumball machine. The princesses must realize they won’t always be beautiful or rich or fortunate but God is with them for blessing anyhow.

  • R Vogel

    Nice perspective. Reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite fictional characters, Tyler Durden: “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” I am not a millennial, but I saw the beginnings of it in my generation. It began to dawn on us that the lies we were raised with were just that, and that the ‘prosperity’ that our parents generation enjoyed was mostly leveraged. Brass idols. The next generation, as I see them, are rejecting the lies earlier, or perhaps that are not being raised with them at all due to revelations of my generation. That means that the church that we rejected has virtually nothing to say to them.

  • Worthless Beast

    Hmm. You just reminded me of maybe, just maybe, I like videogames (and though I do not have children, think that if you’re an attentive parent who chooses the right ones for your kids to play, it works out).

    I’m a huge fan of the Legend of Zelda series. It’s a fairy-tale type of game series – you play a hero who must save the world and a princess (and sometimes are helped in saving the world by the princess… seriously, in “Spirit Tracks,” Zelda suddenly became a little bad$$ even though she was a ghost…) Even though, if you work at it, as player, you will save the world and get the happily ever after, a great deal is made of your hardships and you typically lose whatever partner helped you on your journey (they have to go back to their old world, be put into a sleep in order to have a spiritual-war with evil or outright even…die). And, of course, you know then the next Legend of Zelda game comes out – it doesn’t matter that you saved the world, it never *stays* saved.

    The much sillier Katamari series – a comedy game… in which you can never please “God” and he spanks you with lasers from his eyes when you mess up.

    Shadow of the Colossus (my favorite game) – is a mystery wrapped in a tragedy wrapped in a moral conundrum.

    I was taught by Disney as a young girl, but I was also taught by Nintendo and Sony. I think that was a good thing. I won’t even get into anime, or into some of the modern Western animation (that gives us strong characters like Korra from the Last Airbender franchise)… There are many stories, even “fairy tales” that are bittersweet and more about the courage than they are about happy endings.

  • http://lotharson.wordpress.com/ Lothars Sohn

    Hello Erin, are you sure that some kind of gender roles cannot be beneficial for both the society and the individual?

    I find that great, that we now have female preachers and theologians.

    Yet, I’m not convinced that woman soldiers are a progress…

    Lovely greetings from Germany.
    Liebe Grüsse aus Deutschland.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com


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