“But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in somewhere? Unless you just have one of those exceedingly extroverted personalities where as long as you’re around people, you’re pretty comfortable, you probably have (and even someone like that might feel out of place if they went to a conference of introverts…which I know is a bit of an oxymoron, but I’m trying here). Maybe it was your first day at a new school or a new job. It could have been a party where you weren’t really invited, but you went as some else’s guest. IT could have been the first time you walked in the door of a new church. Wherever it was, you probably know that awkward, uncomfortable, I-want-to-be-anywhere-other-than here feeling. Let me change up the question on you just a bit: Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in with your own family. Perhaps your family is really close and that’s wonderful. But it may be that you went through a season at one point during which you were just a bit – or a lot – different from everyone else in your family. That’s no easy path to walk. And still, if you’re connected to a local church, feeling out of place there can be equally as difficult. A recent animated film from Disney does a wonderful job exploring this whole idea of what it means to be a part of a family even when we don’t quite look the same as the rest of its members. This morning let’s talk about being connected and Disney’s Encanto.
With the exception of Spider Man: No Way Home, I can’t remember the last movie I actually saw in the theater. As a result, I didn’t watch Encanto until it released on Disney+. It was worth the wait. The film features wonderful animation, fun characters, a terrific story, and outstanding music with several original songs from Lin Manuel Miranda. Watching it, I had forgotten Miranda had done all the songs, but having listened to Hamilton enough times, I finally thought to myself, “This music all sounds a lot like Miranda’s work.” I was right.
The basic story is that a young family, the Madrigals, in Columbia was trying to escape some sort of government tyranny along with several other families. They had a candle to serve as their source of light as they made their way through the jungles in hopes of finding some sort of a refuge. Their pursuers finally caught up to them. The husband, Pedro, went to try and stop them in hopes of buying time for the others to escape and was gunned down (this happens off screen, although it makes for a tense moment early in the movie). His wife, Alma, huddles with their three children around the candle when suddenly the candle turns magical and transforms the land into a valley, completely walled off from the soldiers trying to get them. The magical valley also creates a magical house for them to live in. As one more bonus, the candle grants magical abilities to each child in the family when they reach a certain age.
One daughter gains the ability to heal any malady with her cooking. Another daughter can control the weather with her mood. The brother, Bruno (about whom they never speak…until they do toward the end of the movie), sees visions of the future. These magical gifts pass down to the next generation as well. One daughter has super strength. Another, super hearing. A third can make flowers. Lots of flowers. A fourth can turn himself into anyone else like a chameleon. Even the youngest of this generation is given a gift by the magical candle and can speak with animals. Everyone in the family is given a gift of some kind. Everyone, that is, except Mirabel. On the day when Mirabal was to receive her gift from the candle something mysterious happened and she received nothing.
The mystery of Mirabel’s exclusion forms the driving theme of the story. Her unflattering uniqueness is a challenge for everyone in the family. For her part, while she puts on a brave face and has fallen into the role of serving as the heart of the whole family, she inwardly struggles with why she was left out. Her family is able to serve and help the town that has grown up around their Casita (which acts as a fun extra character in the story), she can’t do anything special. The regular questions from the children in the town about what her gift is only serves to emphasize her isolation from the rest of her otherwise deeply connected family. Her own parents try to encourage her, but while her father married into the family and has no gift, her mother is the one with the ability to heal people. It’s tough to be consoled over feeling not special by someone who obviously is. At the end of the day, although she does a pretty good job filling her role in the family and burying it, she’s envious of the rest of the family.
At the same time Mirabel is struggling with her own lack of a gift, so is her family. Her family looks at her as different. None of them are obvious about it (except her “perfect” older sister, Isabela, who makes the flowers and serves as the closest thing to a human antagonist for the first two acts), but all of their interactions with Mirabel are just a bit stiffened by her being different and their mutual lack of understanding. After all, if the candle didn’t choose to give her a gift, maybe it didn’t really consider her to be a part of the family the way the rest of them are.
On top of all of this is the family matriarch, Alma’s, growing concern that something is happening to the family’s miracle. She fears that if the miracle somehow ends, she will be exposed to the forces outside their magical little valley and lose someone else in her family the way she lost her husband 50 years before. Although she mostly is able to keep this particular part of her anxiety inside, the chief object of her concern is Mirabel and her lack of a gift. She buries all this concern under a growing obsession with keeping things perfect. The family is perfectly harmonious (even though it’s not). The various members’ gifts are all working just fine (even though they aren’t). The family is able to provide for and take care of the townspeople (even though they can’t).
All told, the picture that begins to emerge fairly quickly in the story is of a mirror that has become a mosaic of cracks with a sheen on top that prevents the casual onlooker from seeing them. But when you look just a little more closely, you can see how fractured things really are. They are fractured to the point that only a little bit of tension threatens to see the whole thing crumble into ruins. It’s a pretty picture…except it’s not. Toward the beginning of the movie, Mirabel has a vision suggesting the real state of things which sets her on a quest to figure out why and how she can fix it.
The film’s primary tension is the battle of wills between Mirabal and her search to discover what’s wrong with the miracle and Alma’s increasingly embattled insistence that nothing is wrong and if everyone will just be perfect, everything will be fine. In this, she becomes the primary human antagonist of the story. I keep using the phrase “human antagonist” because the primary antagonist of the story is the drive for perfection and the avoidance of dealing with the issues that have been slowly growing for several years. With this in mind, with Encanto, Disney takes their normal animated feature film script, tears it up into little pieces, and throws it in the trash. There is no princess or handsome prince to rescue her (or, as the more recent movies go, to be rescued by her). There is no sinister villain trying to achieve some nefarious end at the expense of the kingdom. There is no clash between good and evil. There is only the Madrigal family seeking to work out their internal issues together.
That last part is what makes the movie so good. The Madrigal family may be superlatively gifted, but they are not perfect. There are tensions and hard feelings and misunderstandings and envy and hurt aplenty. But all of those rest on a foundation of a love for and commitment to one another that holds the whole thing in place like the laminate on a car’s windshield keeps it from shattering into a million pieces on impact. Oh, their issues threaten to tear them apart, and in the climax of the film it looks like they will. They are all separated from one another, the Casita crumbles into ruins, and the valley itself cracks open. But their love for one another and a willingness to keep pursuing each other even amid the hurt wins out and sees them restored and stronger than they were in the beginning.
This is where I found my heart and mind drifting to the Scriptures and seeing the Gospel beginning to shine through storytelling. Each member of the Madrigal family has a purpose. They are all unique – even Mirabel – in ways the family needs to hold together and accomplish all they are intended to accomplish. Their gifts are not the same, but they all matter. In the end, it is the one with the gift that seemed to be the least significant that was able to not only see, but lead them on a path to restoration when it looked like they might crumble into dust.
Doing life in a family is hard. It’s often uncomfortable and inconvenient. We are not the same and if we are not careful, our differences can become points that separate us from one another instead of drawing us closer. This is true both as we resent the places where one person’s gifts and talents are different from ours, and also where we are envious for the gifts and talents they have instead of being grateful for our own. And all of this tension exists whether we are talking about an individual family or the family of the church. In many ways, expanding the size of the family in question by looking at the church only serves to exacerbate the issues that would otherwise be fairly small in the context of a single family. Yet what Paul writes here in this critical chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church is of such vital importance that it is hard to underestimate the worth of our understanding it to the fullest measure possible.
You are unique. God made you that way. He created you with a specific blend of gifts and talents, and has allowed a certain set of life experiences to shape those into a powerful package that is shared by exactly no one else in the entire world. It’s simply no use comparing yourself with anyone else positively or negatively. He didn’t make you like them and didn’t make them like you. He could have if He wanted to, but He didn’t. He made you like you. But if we’re not careful, we can let ourselves be overwhelmed by the temptation to desire to be other than we are.
Now, this doesn’t mean every single thing about us is good. We are still broken by sin. There are places in our lives that need to experience the redemption of Christ. Actually, our whole lives need that. But needing to be restored by the power of the Gospel is not the same as being comfortably confident in our God-given uniqueness. And where we have let those feelings rise up in us, it’s no use to try to hide or otherwise deny it. We need to put it out on the table, seek forgiveness where necessary, and learn to celebrate others instead of envying them. Doing this will help us avoid the debilitating tension that will threaten to undo us if we let it get away from us. When the Madrigals learned to do this, they were restored and stronger for it. This film is worth your time for that alone. When we commit our own lives to the wisdom and design of God, we will experience the same thing. None of this will be easy, but it will be good. It will be Gospel. It will lead to life. Let’s get to living.