The moment when a captive Mr. Incredible hears his super family fall over the radio and he loses his will to live. Our innocent romantic, Wall-E reaches out and finally holds Eve’s sleek blade of a hand. Facing the furnace of their demise, Andy’s favorite toys join hands to ride into the sunset together. Carl, tickets to their grand adventure in hand, watches Ellie struggle up their favorite hill only to fall to her knees. Over the years, Disney/Pixar has always brought the feels. So it’s only fitting that their newest offering is a story all about emotion, Inside Out.
How do our modern day master minstrels of heart strings do with a movie all about our emotional insides? It’s complicated. And by that I mean Inside Out is perfect because it’s as complicated as our emotions tend to be. Our heroine is Riley, a pre-teen rink rat from Minnesota, right on the verge of an emotional awakening. To this point in her life, her emotions have been simple, sorted into five distinct categories. The movie is her journey towards a higher plain of self actualization.
We join Riley shortly before a pivotal event in her life, an event that is hard for her to understand. Her emotions, though, have an even harder time placing this event into their normal categories. This sends Joy, voiced energetically by Amy Poehler, into overdrive trying to make sure Riley has “perfect days” to get her through this life transition. This puts her in direct competition with Sadness for control of Riley. Providing the melancholy melody of Sadness is the outstandingly cast, Phyllis Smith, who most will know from NBC’s The Office.
Naturally, their tug of war over Riley’s behaviors ends with both of them being launched into the deepest parts of Riley’s consciousness needing to fight their way back to her emotional control room. The movie is fun and will more than likely supply teaching clips for Psychology 101 professors across the nation for years to come. I laughed, I cried, I gasped coming face to face with my own full spectrum of emotions as I related to Riley. Most of us will. Most of us have faced times in our lives when we fail to reconcile our feelings.
It is only after reminiscing about our favorite jokes that the conviction of the film really set in. Are we afraid to feel our feelings? Joy is given incentive to take control when Riley’s mom affirms her for being her “happy girl” through this trying time. How can she even let Sadness in a little bit after that? Isn’t that so true to life, particularly the Christian life?
You are the light of the world. If you believe what we believe how can you possibly ever show a single tear to those around you? How are you sharing the best news in the world with those around you if you can’t even hold it together? So we try to push it down and as we do this pieces of our personality, of who we are and what we feel fade away. We are afraid to let our sadness diminish our witness. But God is not afraid nor is he surprised by our emotions.
Throughout the Bible we see God get emotional. He shows us how to express righteous anger, he gives us space to weep. We have a communal shoulder to cry on atop the Body of Christ. When released into community, our emotions can draw others to us. They invite God to draw near to us as well.
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. – Psalm 3:3-4
Inside Out is, perhaps, the story of Riley’s first lament, the layered expression that acts as the main character of the majority of the Psalms. Lament is a frantic mixture of grief, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and every variation of the lot. This is a story not just for own emotional health, helping us think of the times we hid or stifled our emotions in a moment of deep distress, but it can also shed light on how we relate to those around us. In your church, small group, Bible study, ministry, do you provide space for your community to feel?
As we watch the events in Charleston, SC unfold, as churches all over the country fall to their knees to share the lament of Emanuel AME, our hope is that their grief will fade, that our cries will open the door for God’s peace to come, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace born out of steadfast love, a peace that is everlasting.
Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart is to bring you praise
From the inside out
Lord my soul cries out