Last night my family sat down to watch a movie. I’ve been on a Disney kick lately, but not the animated movie – the old live action ones. For the most part, they are safe, cheesy and fun to watch. I don’t remember them, my husband has never seen them, and my daughter will tolerate them, which is awesome because it means we don’t need to sit through another Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
So this week the movie choice was Pollyanna. My mom used to love this movie, so I watched it fairly often as a kid, though, to be honest, it kinda bored me, so I watched it less often than my mom wanted to. I remembered very very little from the movie. All I basically remembered was that Pollyanna came to live with her Aunt and slowly made the town a happy place to live. Color me SHOCKED when I found the movie to be heavily influenced by religion – something that was so over my head as a kid who never went to church. The discussion of religion kept coming and coming,
I was sitting half paying attention to the movie when Pollyanna casually mentioned that her (now deceased) parents were missionaries (me: wait, did they die on the mission field! TELL ME MORE!). At one point, Aunt Polly is sitting with the Reverend and hands him suggestions of verses to include in the next Sunday’s sermon. It’s pretty clear that the suggestion isn’t really a suggestion (Wait, is she just helping or is he forced to do that because of the money she gives?).
Aunt Polly Harrington: He said you only have the congregation for one short hour a week. And there are six long days of mischief for them before you get them again.
Reverend Ford: Ah! I see your point. Strike hard on Sunday the excessiveness of God’s wrath and hope they carry it with them a few days into the week!
Later, the town tries to rally to raise money for the orphanage began by Aunt Polly’s father, but Aunt Polly pledges to take care of the problem – though only the bare minimum, not what really needs to be fixed. (That doesn’t seem like real charity to me.) People talk about hating Sunday and it being the worst day of the week because of the sour taste the sermon leaves in their mouths. The Sunday sermon is awful: full of damnation and sin – and the viewers have to watch all of it (where’s the salvation, grace and forgiveness?). Later, the town rallys together and asks for the support of the church and the revered declares that he must remain neutral. (Is that really the church’s job – to not take a stand?) Pollyanna finds the reverend practicing his sermon “DEATH COMES UNEXPECTEDLY!” in a field and tells him about her father, who decided to concentrate on the “happy texts”
Reverend: The happy texts?
Pollyanna: Yes. Like, um, ‘Shout for joy,’ or, ‘Be glad in the Lord.’ You know, like that… There are eight hundred happy texts, did you know that?
Reverend: No, I didn’t know that.
Pollyanna: And do you know, my father said that if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must have wanted us to do it.
While leaving that thought hanging in the air, and after commenting casually, “no one owns a church,” she hands Reverend Ford a letter from Aunt Polly with suggestions for the Sunday sermon. Reverend Ford looks after Pollyanna as she leaves, starts to read the letter and falls to his knees, crying, “what have I done?” His sermon the next Sunday is full of love, joy and the “happy texts,” which he has spent the rest of the week counting. Spurned on by a change of leadership, the entire town starts to feel joy which eventually affects even sour Aunt Polly. If only church today had that kind of power – to reach out into the community, bring joy – reaching into the darkness and pulling people out of their isolation. While the gospel does have that power, it feels like too many churches themselves isolate and never bother to go out of their own doors to serve the community around them.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that my mom actually liked the movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us believe that church and region really is like that – often angry, condemning, and guilt-ridden. How redeeming then for the movie to turn not just the town around, but the church – the guiding light? The reverend realizing he’s been preaching fear and guilt, and, when confronted by a child, realizes that church (and more importantly) God and Jesus, isn’t about that – Love, joy and happiness is infinitely more important. If only people (like my mom) could realize that churches like that are not just for the happy-ending-movies, but that that kind of freedom and happiness can be found just around the corner if you can find the right church home.