Beauty and the Beast: A Redemption Story

On Good Friday I took my daughters and a gaggle of their friends to see the new live-action Beauty and the Beast by Disney.  I know there has been controversy, but the truth is:  I don’t really care.  We live in this world, which is full of sinners, me included.  So let’s just not go there right now.

Anyway, because of the gaggle that accompanied us, I was politely requested to Not Sit By US! I could have just dropped them off at the theater and gone and gotten a latte, but I actually wanted to see the movie.  (True confession:  I’d already seen it.  As had my daughters, who actually allowed me to sit WITH them the first time. Ah, teenagers!) So I sat alone. In the lovely leather recliner.  With my blankie.  And my latte.  It was blissful.  I digress.

I don’t know if it was because I was sitting alone, or all the reflection that whirls around Good Friday and its impact, but I was strangely moved by the story.  I grew up with Disney princesses and so have my daughters (don’t judge, please just re-read the first paragraph), but I’ve never thought deeply about the underlying story that fairy tales have to tell us – the universal truths that initially created these stories.  Mostly, I’ve just enjoyed the fluffy entertainment and let it go at face value.

This viewing was different.  As we got to the end of the story, I found I was crying.  (Keep in mind – I’d already seen it once, sans tears) The love Belle had for her Beast, and the sacrifices she made, magically transformed the whole castle.

A wise person (okay, my husband) once said: The best stories are redemption stories. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, Lucy reads a beautiful story in a magician’s book, but because of the magic is not allowed to turn back to re-read it, and then finds she can’t remember the story.  But “ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story that reminds her of the forgotten story.”

So back to Beauty and the Beast.  As the credits and my tears rolled, I realized that the story is yet another hidden allegory for The Greatest Story; the Story that feels like a tragedy on Good Friday, but has a surprise ending on Easter morning.

On the macro level, much of the story of Beauty and the Beast is similar to the great Narrative of God.  We have changed from what we were intended to be in the beginning into shallow selfish angry creatures.  We hide ourselves away behind high walls shutting the world out so that no one can see what we are truly like – we put on the masks of politeness, but slowly our facade decays and crumbles just like the Beast’s castle.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people, God’s chosen ones, are given the law to help them remember – to point them back to God.  But much like the Beast shelters and protects his precious rose, the Hebrew children take the Law and turn it from God’s love letter into a set of rules and regulations that they use to judge each other.  In essence, love is shut out and forgotten in the mists of time.

Until one day, a Beauty enters the picture.  The Child of God comes into the world and, like Belle entering the castle, fearlessly sees beyond the beastly exterior into a heart that is worth loving.  Hearts that the Beauty loves so much that He sacrifices himself on the cross to transform the Beasts.

As I sat in the theater, I realized that I am the Beast! This is not something anyone really likes to think about themselves, but it is so very true. The love of the Beauty is what ultimately transforms me.

Now I know this is not a perfect allegory.  One could argue that the Beast saves Belle as much as she saves him.  And I am not trying to say that we have anything whatsoever to do with our own salvation.  Grace is not earned, but rather learned – experienced – given by a great teacher to an unwitting student.  There are no perfect allegories – only the One True Story.  But tales like Beauty and the Beast point toward the Great Story.  Our world needs the Beauty to save it.  Even those that don’t admit it, those who claim there is no God, that life has no meaning, still create stories, unknowingly, that point to Him.

In our fallen world, the world that can’t remember the story, any story that reminds us of the forgotten story is a good story.






On Authenticity

Authenticity is a rigorous inside-out consistency that courageously cares for others.

Awakening the quieter virtues, Gregory Spencer

What does it mean to be authentic?  We tend to define it much like the dictionary – real, legitimate, bona fide.  So very little in our lives is fully real anymore – fake news, polyester, preservatives, social media.  We are craving that which is real.  Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we want to be real.

So why aren’t we?  In a society that is about “what you see is what you get” and “letting it all hang out” (did I just date myself there?  Probably), we talk big about being who we truly are, but we don’t put it into practice very often.  What was your answer the last time you heard the question “how are you?”  Was it an honest “Well, I’m stressed because the dishwasher overflowed, my kid is flunking English, I’ve gained ten pounds, and I’m up to my eyeballs in debt.  How are you?”  Or is the standard “Fine! (smiley emoji)”

Now I’m not saying that airing our dirty laundry as a response to a pretty inauthentic question to begin with is the definition of authenticity.  As a matter of fact, I will argue that it’s not.  The truth is that the person asking that question really doesn’t want an answer but actually just wants an exchange of shallow pleasantries.  But what if more of us answered truthfully?  Would it change the narrative?  It would certainly probably stop the conversation flat.

I think authenticity isn’t the glib answer or the glib question, but rather a determination to live our lives on the outside the same way we are on the inside.  WITHIN REASON! Sometimes my inside isn’t so pretty.  Sometimes my inside is querulous and argumentative and frankly, a little nasty.  To let that out isn’t to be authentic, except in very careful safe situations where I am known and loved IN SPITE of that part of me.  To let that out is just to, in the words of Pastor Kris in a fabulous sermon on this topic, be an authentic jerk.  I’m not sure the world needs anymore authentic jerks.

Maybe to be authentic means allowing our insides to be changed to match our outsides?  This is part of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.  What if the best of both inside and outside matched, and the icky stuff was transformed?  And then what if we were real about that process?

I don’t think there is anything wrong or shameful in sharing our struggles.  Here is a secret.  I’m not perfect.  Neither are you.  As far as I know only one person was ever perfect.  So I want to be more like Him.  As hard as I try, and I should try, I certainly won’t achieve it this side of heaven.

What if being authentic has a different meaning for those of us who are Christians than for the rest of the world?  So often “religious” people are branded as a hypocrites.  BECAUSE WE ARE!  Jesus went after the religious bigwigs of His time going so far as to call them “whited sepulchres.”  I love this term, mostly because we don’t use it so much anymore.  We plant our dead people.  In Jesus’ time and place, they put bodies into carved tombs that were whitewashed on the outside to be all pretty and attractive, but the insides of which did not smell so very good.  Jesus calls out the religious hypocrites of His time, telling them that while they look good externally, they are actually quite stinky.

Hmm, people.  Are we as Christians as different from that as we should or would like to be?  Are we open with our non-Christian neighbors about our very real struggles? Or do we put on a pious face and pretend everything is hunky-dory?

One of the most beautiful things about following Jesus is that we don’t have to be one thing on the outside and another on the inside.  If we had it as all together as we want the world to believe, we wouldn’t need a Savior.

Somebody once asked me if I didn’t believe that people at heart were basically good.  I had to answer that I did not, based on my personal experience of my own soul.  My insides aren’t so pretty.  By all external appearances, I would be considered a ‘good’ person.  But I know the thoughts I have and I am rather frequently not so proud of them.  But this is where grace comes in.  I am being continually renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit’s work.  When I allow that to happen, when the Spirit scrubs the inside of the tomb, then my outsides and insides can begin to match.

I’m not, however, allowed to get hung up on my own goodness/badness.  Authenticity says that I am not allowed to be the center of my universe.  Being authentic means I take what God is doing in my life and I let it spill out to other people.  To the lady I meet in the grocery line.  To the hasty jerk that cuts me off on the road.  To my friend struggling with cancer.  To be authentic means to take a step in courage to love others – really love them – where they are, not where I think they should be.  To allow a transparency in my own life that lets the light of Jesus shine through.  When I’m wrong, I apologize,  When I’m right, I don’t press the point.  When I’m confused, I admit I don’t know.  I take off my mask of perfection (which isn’t real anyway), and be the best me that God makes me.

To become real hurts, but it is worth it.  Ask the Velveteen Rabbit.

On Modesty

My search through Scripture looking for verses that addressed modesty only revealed two circumstances in which the word is found – the first being in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul is talking about how the gifts of the Spirit are like a body, and some parts that we think less of are actually accorded greater honor as we treat them with modesty.  The second is in 1 Timothy where Paul is telling Timothy to instruct the women of his church to use modesty and self-control in how they adorn themselves.

So what are we to do with that?

Modesty gets a bad rap in today’s culture.  We are told to flaunt our wealth, our bodies, our opinions, and to do anything less means we are old-fashioned and prudish.  We live in a land of excess, of too much, and we see it daily on our iPhones, TVs, laptops, tablets.  We need the newest, the best, the biggest.

Those of us who came of age in the 1980’s and 90’s are the most susceptible.  We were told we could have it all.  And should have it all.  And then should let everyone know in our carefully curated social media lives that we DO have it all.

Is it any wonder that today’s coming of age generation is slightly revolted and turning away from all that conspicuous consumption?  But really, are they any different than us in the pride they take in their simplicity and tiny houses – in living off the grid?

Modesty does not assume a hair shirt.  It does not sit in sackcloth and ashes and proclaim how modest it is.  Modesty just means to live a well-tempered life.  To be modest means to find middle-ground, let things be what they are, and to NOT DRAW ATTENTION to it!  If you proclaim to live modestly, then by sheer virtue of the fact you’ve said it you are not doing it!

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis puts it this way (exchange the words modest and humble):

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 8 “The Great Sin”)

How is it that C. S. Lewis continually sends it out of the ballpark?  (I have a theory that involves pondering, but that is in another post, see On Discernment.)

I’d like to think this is all new – that no society before us had so much time to blow their own horns. But it’s not.  History is chock full of eras of excess, and pride in lack of excess.  There is nothing new under the sun (said several millenia ago by a pretty wise man).

The big question is: How do we walk the tightrope between true and false modesty?  My parents’ generation was raised to assume a false modesty about everything they did.  This led to a whole lot of them underplaying their gifts and trying to remedy their weaknesses.  My generation was given awards just for showing up.  As Syndrome says in  The Incredibles, “when everyone is super, nobody will be.”  (The Incredibles, 2004)

There is nothing wrong with being “super” if that is the gift you are given.  Just as there is nothing wrong with affording greater modesty to parts we think less of, to paraphrase Paul.

The point is that true modesty neither denies nor exalts.  It just lives.  And in a culture where that becomes increasingly difficult, it is a virtue we should probably all be praying for.