Courtney Gibson has been around Midtown since its early days. When she’s not spending time with her husband, Adam, and two kids, Selah and Hunter, she enjoys putting her MFA in Creative Writing to good use by editing manuscripts and book proposals. She has recently taken over curating the Midtown blog.
Before my daughter was born, I talked a big game: we would not do princesses. This included but was not limited to: princess costumes, princess dolls, and shirts with phrases like, “Diva Princess.” But then my daughter was born, and it was as if she came out wearing glass slippers and humming Cinderella’s “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” Somehow I went from self-righteously imagining how I would raise a princess-dissing daughter to detangling a very well-loved Rapunzel doll’s hair while watching the 100th episode of Sofia the First.
When my daughter was three, my in-laws took us to Disney World and it really was magical. Somewhere between eating lunch in Cinderella’s castle and touching Gaston’s biceps, I became an adult woman who loves Disney. I even own a shirt that says, “I like my food Mickey shaped.”
The thing about Disney is, they are very good at what they do: be it franchising a story or indoctrinating children into their worldview. I quickly learned that when my toddlers were watching Disney Jr., they weren’t merely viewing shows about pirates and toy doctors, they were absorbing a belief system: a belief system that often did not line up with the good news of the gospel. And while my very first inclination may have been to throw away our television and ban the D-word from our home, I realized that Disney was doing me a favor; they were providing me with a natural opportunity to train my children up in wisdom and discernment.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 says: Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. I began to wonder: What does it look like to teach my children to test everything—to affirm what is beautiful in their world and culture and also reject those things that do not line up with what we know to be true in God’s Word?. How could we have these conversations in a way that becomes normal? I wanted to make sure that as we enjoyed the adventures of Disney, we were always looking out for these three questions:
- What can we affirm?
- What do we reject?
- What can be redeemed?
And a fourth question we ask at times:
- How does this point to Jesus, the ultimate hero?
Here’s a practical example of how these questions have played out in our family’s conversations recently:
Our family was predestined to be Moana fans. As soon as I found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the songs for the movie while simultaneously writing Hamilton, I knew I was a goner.
We took our kids to the theatre on Opening Day and as soon as baby Moana looked up at us with her big Disney baby eyes, we were hooked. And it really is a beautiful movie: the scenery, the adventure, the feelings, and of course the music. The movie wasn’t even over, and I was already singing about the ocean calling me.
As we walked out of the theatre, my husband turned to our kids and said, “I really loved that movie, but I didn’t love how Moana thought she knew more than her dad. What did you guys think?” And then the ball was rolling. Obviously, the way that we dialogue with a five-year-old and two-year-old looks different than someone parenting older children, but here are some conversations that have happened over the last several months as Moana continues to be a favorite in our home:
Affirm what is good.
Moana sees darkness taking over her world and she wants to fight to bring light. She does not want to remain passive; she wants to be a part of the solution and bring light to her community. Jesus calls us to likewise bring light into the darkness.
Moana does a nice job critiquing Maui for his self-centered arrogance. He has his most heroic moments when he learns to use his gifts to serve others instead of serving himself.
The movie also critiques Tamatoa, the crab for only caring about shiny, material possessions.
Moana comes to realize the value of community both on her journey to restore the heart of Te Fiti and as she returns home to her village.
Reject what doesn’t line up with God’s Word.
Moana disobeys her father and the good restrictions he’s placed on her life with seemingly no negative or realistic consequences. Her father’s rules are not frivolous, but rather come from wisdom and experience that she does not yet possess.
Moana’s grandmother tells Moana to follow the little voice inside of her no matter what, because it is the truest thing about her. God’s Word tells us that our hearts include some of our true identity: the image of God stamped on us. But our hearts are also marred with sin that needs to be repented of, not embraced.
Redeem what we can.
Moana sings about having conflicting desires: she both wants to be the perfect daughter and she feels called to the water, where her family has forbidden her to go. All of us have these conflicting desires—these feelings of wanting to do what we can’t do and not wanting to do the things we should do. The Bible says this is because of sin. And the good news of the gospel is that, in Christ, we don’t have to be slaves to sin or our desires!
Both Moana and the goddess Te Fiti are wrestling with their identity. They don’t know who they are and both are encouraged to look inside themselves to find the answer. The good news of the gospel, is that in Christ, we have a new, unshakable identity that is based on Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
Point to Jesus, the ultimate hero.
Like Moana, Jesus left his home to come to earth and eliminate darkness. But unlike Moana, Jesus was sent by his father, on the ultimate rescue mission to save the world from sin and darkness. Where Moana can only encourage people to look inside themselves for strength, Jesus invites us to trust in His strength and power and not in our own.
These conversations are ongoing. As we prepared to meet Moana at Disney World last December, we had a lot of fun brainstorming the questions we would ask her:
Moana, do you see any possible ramifications of only, always following your heart?
Moana did you know that God trusted your dad to parent you so you should listen to him and follow his instruction?
Truth be told, as soon as we met her, she offered us a lesson in wayfinding, and I think the only question that got asked was, “Can you sign my autograph book?” but man, I love the conversations our family is growing to have. I love seeing my children’s minds constantly as work, as they are beginning to test what they hear. Just the other day in the car, as we were listening to the Moana soundtrack, my daughter asked about a line in Maui’s song when he says, “There’s no need to pray, it’s okay.” On the way to the park, my five-year-old and I were able to engage in a beautiful conversation because she is learning how to discern and seek truth.
My prayer for both of my children, is that as they grow in wisdom and discernment, they will have something bigger than the courage to follow their own hearts, but rather they will be captivated by and fall in love with the heart of God—to love the things that He loves, to despise the things that He despises, and fight for the things that matter for eternity.