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