We Don’t Talk About Bruno, no, no, no!

Ah, Bruno!

Let’s be honest… when we hear about prophecies, visions and strange murmurings, we either think of Bruno or we are reminded of the series of seemingly strange men in the Old Testament. If you’ve got a child under 18, are a Disney fan, or perhaps have even just looked at music charts in the last few weeks, you’ll no doubt have picked up on this (very) catchy song from Disney’s newest offering: Encanto. Bruno is introduced as a strange family member who can’t help but apparently ruin the lives of those around him… or so they say.

In case you haven’t seen the film, it centres on a family who have each been given as children. Each of these gifts helps the family and the community. Most of the gifts are pretty cool (super human strength, for example), but Bruno’s gift – the gift of prophesy and truth telling – appears to be more of a curse. So much so, he spends most of the film missing in action and has an entire song dedicated to telling us all why they don’t even talk about him. Despite their best efforts to paint this picture of Bruno as a mad-man, in reality he is no more mad than the rest, with their strange ways and powers. He is, put simply, a truth teller. And, for some, the truth is scary.

Bruno isn’t, though, the first truth teller to have ever existed. There have been many truth tellers in the past, and many exist today. In the church, we call them prophets. Prophets are people who speak truth into situations, pointing people back to God even in the most difficult of times. In the Bible, we meet many prophets who speak truth about certain situations, often to their own great danger. For example, we see Daniel literally fed to the lions because he refuses to bow down to a different god. We meet Moses, who tells Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave their bondage in Egypt, chased by a ferocious army. John the Baptist comes and warns people that the Kingdom of God is coming and they must repent, turn back to God and be baptised. Eventually, he ends up being beheaded and his head being served on a silver platter.

To be a prophet is dangerous work. It is to face the wind head on, and point to Jesus, no matter what’s happening. It is to stand up and tell the truth, even if you know the people hearing your message aren’t going to like it. It is to challenge and to hold both mirror and window up to society: a mirror so people can see the reality of their actions; a window so people can glimpse something of the goodness of God in their situation. As I said previously, people don’t often like the truth. It rocks the boat and disempowers the status quo.

Each year, in Lent, I think of the prophets who came before Jesus, who gave up everything to point people towards his coming. I think of the people who I’ve met in my lifetime, who bear the cost of pointing others towards Jesus, challenging behaviour and demanding better of the people around them. This Lent, let us pray for more prophets and truth tellers; for more people who point us towards Jesus, no matter the cost. May we raise up children who are fierce in pursuit of the truth, and fervent in their love for Christ. Amen.

Notes for talking to children: many of the short reflections I am releasing over Lent use songs that children will likely know well. Please feel free to use them to talk to your child/ren about Jesus and faith. Prophets is particularly tricky, as they may have questions about whether the prophets in the Old Testament had eyes that glowed green and could they tell if someone’s fish was about to die – as in Encanto. However, the focus, I think, is on a) the keeping close to God and developing that listening ear to hear what God is saying and b) the speaking of truth, even when that might be really hard. As ever, honesty, openness and authenticity is key with our child/ren. They often teach us more than we teach them.

The Next Right Thing

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
‭‭(Luke‬ ‭23:55-56‬, NIVUK‬‬)

They rested. But was it Sabbath rest? Or the rest of grief? The tiredness of grief that must have consumed them immediately after the brutal death of their friend and teacher, Jesus. This is the part of the story that I so want to read, and yet there’s so little detail of what they did. Is this it? Is this all they did? Rested?

Holy Saturday – Day of Sadness by Hanabella

This is the bit of the story that is scant with detail, but anyone who has ever experienced grief or loss knows what came next. The fatigue. The loss of appetite. The tears for no reason. The isolation. How could they have rested, truly rested, and worshipped at a time such as that? How could they have participated in Sabbath rest and worship?

We see this played out in Frozen 2, when Anna loses both her sister and her friend. She sinks to the floor, barely able to speak. She sits alone in the dark, a metaphor for the isolation in your mind after loss. When she sings, it is with a whisper.

I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
.

“You’ve gone to a place I cannot find … you are lost, hope is gone.” Words sun by Anna in the song Do the Next Right Thing. It’s a hint given throughout the film: when all seems lost, we do the next right thing. Yet, Jesus gives the same instructions. He tells them to break bread and to do it in remembrance of him; to drink wine, remembering his blood poured out for all; to worship their God, without pretense, and with their whole hearts. Despite their loss, despite the hopelessness they find themselves inhabiting, the women, we are told, do the next right thing. They entered the Sabbath and they rested in their grief.

Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don’t know anymore what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor
When it’s not you I’m rising for?

In the immediacy of losing Jesus, they must have wondered what happened next. Here was a man who’d taught them so much, proclaimed to BE the truth. The way. The life. But now he was gone. They had rooted their lives in his; where he went, they followed. Even until the end, even with the danger of being associated with this man, the women followed to the cross. And to the tomb.

In the same way, Anna’s life is rooted into that of her sister. She finds her truth and identity in being Elsa’s plucky but vulnerable younger sister. She’s not the queen, but by blood she is royalty. And when her sister is lost, Anna doesn’t know how to do the next right thing. Why? Because the one who guided her towards that thing has gone. I wonder if the women felt this despondency. How do we rest and worship when the one who guided us to rest and worship is gone?

But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

They must have felt lost. Yet they had a deeper faith, rooted into a tradition of worship and rest found in keeping the Sabbath. They knew that Yahweh had delivered the people they belonged to out of Egypt and through the waters into new life. They had to believe that if they did the next right thing, if they stepped into the Sabbath to worship and rest, that Yahweh would deliver them out of this grief, through their tears and into new life. The life he had promised them. The life where they would no longer hunger or thirst.

Of course, this is the turning point in the song, where Anna’s voice strengthens and she starts to make a move. She becomes resolute in what she has to do next. If this were a musical about Jesus’ death and resurrection, one of the women would sing this. At this moment, though, they’d have been mourning and resting in the darkness of their own home for 2 nights and a day. They’d be getting ready to make a move out of Sabbath and into the next right thing: returning to the tomb to continue mourning.

And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing.

That first Holy Saturday wasn’t just about darkness and isolation, grief and loss. It was also about Sabbath: rest and worship. Worship that no doubt included loud cries and wailing. Rest that no doubt included both silence and noise. Today, as sit in our own social isolation, I wonder if we have lessons to learn about how we rest and worship this Easter.

It was that line which made me first thing of the crucifixion story: “What comes then? When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again.” I instantly imagined Mary and the other women yearning for yesterday, mourning not just the loss of their beloved friend, but also the loss of life as they knew it. Life as they’d hoped it would be. Yet, they made a choice: to rest into their grief and loss. They made a choice: to wait and return to the tomb after a day of Sabbath. They made a choice, to hear God’s voice. To do the next right thing.

Fixer Uppers

“So he’s a bit of a fixer upper, so he’s got a few flaws…
We’re not sayin’ you can change him
‘Cause people don’t really change
We’re only saying that love’s a force
That’s powerful and strange.
People make bad choices if they’re mad
Or scared, or stressed.
Throw a little love their way
And you’ll bring out their best
.”
(Fixer Upper, Frozen)

It’s funny, isn’t it? ‘Let It Go’ quickly became the defining memory and feature of Disney’s 2013 film Frozen. Yet this song, ‘Fixer Upper’, is the crux of the story and its morale. It links back to the beginning of the film, when Elsa is told by Grand Pabbie (the chief troll) that fear will be her greatest enemy. Fast forward and Anna is being told by the same trolls that people make bad choices when acting out of anger, fear or stress. On the surface the story at this point is about Anna and her quest for true love to undo the ice in her heart, yet this song points beyond that to the end of the story.

It cleverly, if you’re looking for it, points past the obvious to the underlying problem which needs solving. Above all, Elsa needs releasing from the fear of her powers, in order that she might be truly free to live as she was created. We see this in subtle ways throughout the film (and its sequel). In ‘Let It Go’ Anna delights in her new found freedom, because the truth is out. But truth only does part of the work here; freedom is short-lived because, even though everyone now knows her secret, she still exists in fear. Fear, rather than freedom, control her and her actions.

The film ends with Elsa finally realising that love is the answer. Instead of fear, she controls her power with love, and finally the eternal winter thaws and Arendelle is restored. Frozen 2, without giving too much away for those who are yet to see it, is a continuation of Elsa stepping into the freedom of knowing who you really are. Freedom, it’s safe to say, is a key theme of the Frozen duology.

Where do we find freedom? Some find freedom in exercise, relationships, work, but I’d argue we only find true freedom in Christ.

“Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there. Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
2 Corinthians 3: 15-18 (MSG Version)

Paul makes it clear that it is Jesus alone who can rid people of the veil which previously hid God’s glory from them. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, there’s nothing behind that veil; God is a living presence, shining in our faces with all of God’s brilliance. Today the veil is all the things which stop us from seeing that Jesus is the one who brings true freedom. The veil is work, family, ambitions and goals. It is thinking that we have it within ourselves to find freedom. Elsa only realises that the solution is love because she witnesses the self-sacrificial love of her sister. So, we too must realise that the solution is love through witnessing the self-sacrificial love of God.

It is only in dropping the veil and allowing God to enter our lives that we find freedom. As God’s spirit enters our lives, we become more like him, our lives transfigured in brightness, we find freedom: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3: 17, NIV)

We are all a bit of a fixer upper. We all have something we need to be set free from. We all make bad choices, when we’re angry, stressed or scared. But throw a lot of love our way, and it’ll bring out our best.