Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Disney Hymns

This post was written on 24 Oct 2010, though it will not be published until later in the week.

[Note: I am frustrated with how the video embedding turned out, but I can't seem to fix it.]

Today the church I recently began attending gave an interesting service: all of the hymns were Disney songs. The first hymn that we sang in church this morning was "Colours of the Wind," from Pocahontas. Before we started, the priest told us that as mother she felt a lot of the Disney sungs "hit [her] in the gut" as she watched the movies with her children, even if "they aren't in [her] language." So she asked us to notice whether we thought the hymns were appropriate. If they spoke to us, why? If they did not speak to us, then this is an opportunity to ask why they didn't, and what it is that we expect of hymns. Either way, as she said, "it's a win-win."

"Colours of the Wind" struck me immediately as more animistic than orthodoxy might allow; however, many traditional hymns in fact give the natural world the same attributes, where the mountains praise God. If traditional hymns use this personifying language, then "Colours of the Wind" could be included in our liturgy. (And also, may I say, what ideologically loaded flirting that is.)

The second hymn, in the midst of the Scripture readings, was "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins. It seemed to be an appropriate bridge between the first hymn and the following hymn. While this was not the first time I'd heard the song before, I certainly did not remember it. It is quite beautiful.

The third hymn, located before the Gospel reading, was "God Help the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Originally, they were going to use "The Bells of Notre Dame", but the choir had difficulty with that song. I thought this a shame; once I said that the opening to the The Lion King was perhaps the most impressive animated opening, and he said that actually that honour belongs to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you watch it, you will see why. It's very impressive. But back to the Outcasts.

"God Help the Outcast" was a better choice for the service than "The Bells", though, as the Gospel reading was Luke 18:9-14. This passage describes a proud man who thanks God for not being a sinner, and a sinner who begs for mercy. I think, if you listen to the song and read the passage, you'll see a connection. In particular, given the sorts of struggles the church and the world are going through today, this is an appropriate selection. Then again, in every historical moment there has been division within Christianity over those who excluded, between those who wish to continue excluding and those who locate Christ among the excluded... That tension will recur endlessly in a religion which worships a God of the Outcast.

The first of the Offertory Songs was "Circle of Life" from The Lion King.

I knew this one fairly well, having learned to play it on the piano once upon a time. I love this song, but it seemed less obvious to me what it had to do with God. It does, of course, have to do with the mystery of the world and the enormity of its structure. It has to do with cosmic harmony, with the organization of the universe at large. I suppose that is a fairly religious thing. It taps into what those faded and overly prettified pictures of flowers and forests and waterfalls are trying to say, and does it in a way that doesn't make jaded me groan. If not explicitly religious in content, it contains some of the vibrant awe that is a part of religion.

The second Offertory Song was "Be Our Guest" from The Beauty and the Beast. This was very appropriate: it introduced Communion, where we are guests at God's table. The unrestrained joy of this song is perhaps not what we are used to, though I have attended Communion services which emphasized joy, not solemnity. The culinary references, and the candlestick character, seem especially related to Communion.

I should note that the version we sang was somewhat shortened, excluding a lot of the song which referenced the movie's narrative. Oh, and after the curse is broken, what does everyone eat on? The cutlery and crockery have become humans again. And the furniture, too...

Somewhere in there (I'm not sure because it's not in the bulletin) we sang "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan.

This one has interesting lyrics to it; I'm sure it's not supposed to be read religiously, but when placed in the context of a church service that reading leaps out of the words. As is often observed, religious poetry and romantic poetry are often interchangeable.

The Closing Hymn was "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. Do I need to explicate this one? Perhaps it's not obvious to a non-Christian what this would have to do with Christianity. There is a trope common in Christianity that the world looks differently--literally, is new--when you convert or have a religious epiphany.

So. What do you think of the service? You must imagine this taking place in a somewhat liturgically conservative Anglican church. I have two interesting observations: 1) Context matters so much in interpretation; 2) There are many ways we can go about making church services more welcoming to newcomers, given just a little creativity on our part.

1 comment:

Cait said...

I of course love Disney songs. I think that they're fantastic. And your church certainly picked some good ones. Feed the Birds is heart wrenchingly beautiful.

I think that it was a great idea to use Disney songs in a church service, and I really liked how everything linked together. I think that it was really well done.

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