Recently, I have become preoccupied by a particular kind of music: the Disney song.
Months ago, my daughter Abby learned a few songs from the Disney film Moana as part of a “Music Together” program. She loved the songs, even though she hadn’t seen the movie. So, about a week ago, we watched Moana together and I found myself quietly tearing up.
I was so moved that I spent some time reading about the making of the movie. Eventually, I read an interview with the man who wrote the lyrics to most of the songs. His name is Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he is most famously known for writing the Broadway musical Hamilton, which adapts the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the United States, through a mixture of hip-hop and traditional Broadway music.
In the interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, he talks a little bit about one of the most well-known songs from Moana, “How Far I’ll Go.” The interviewer brings up the fact that serious fans of Disney films have a specific name for the kind of song that “How Far I’ll Go” represents. They call them “I want” songs.
Almost every Disney movie includes an “I want” song, in which the main character tells the audience the guiding force behind their decisions, the source of their deepest desires. Even if you’ve never seen a Disney movie (I wouldn’t blame you), you might know some of these songs. For instance:
“Up where they walk, up where they run
Up where they stay all day in the sun
Wanderin' free - wish I could be part of that world”
“I want much more than this provincial life
I want adventure in the great wide somewhere
I want it more than I can tell
And for once it might be grand
To have someone understand
I want so much more than they’ve got planned.”
“Oh, I just can’t wait to be king.”
At the base of these songs is the question, am I satisfied with myself, with my situation, with the world in which I live? And the answer, in general, is, “No. I’m not satisfied.”
I do not think we should be surprised that Disney songs, which are like mirrors into the soul of the United States, have as their theme: “No. I’m not satisfied.”
In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown talks about what she calls the “culture of scarcity” in the United States—our belief that, despite the abundance of resources in this nation, we are not enough and we do not have enough. Brown quotes another author, Lynne Twist, who writes, “For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something….This mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.” (Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money, p. 43-45, quoted in Daring Greatly)
We live in a culture of people who say, over and over, “No. I’m not satisfied”
This word, “satisfied,” also runs through all three of our scriptures today.
Jesus, after learning about John the Baptist’s death, goes away to a deserted place. But! The people are not satisfied with this; they follow him until he heals their sick. After the day-long chase, the people are hungry. The disciples want Jesus to send the people away, “It’s someone else’s problem!” But Jesus is not satisfied with their solution; he says: “you give them something to eat.” And from five loaves and two fish, 5,000 men, besides women and children, “ate and were filled.” They were satisfied.
Meanwhile, in Psalm 17, the poet wants God to “vindicate” him, that is, to give him justice. At the end of the psalm, he prays with confidence that when he wakes up in the morning, he “shall be satisfied, beholding [God’s] likeness.” In the Hebrew Bible, beholding God’s likeness meant that God would act favorably toward someone. The psalmist will be satisfied when God grants him justice.
Finally, in Genesis, we encounter Jacob, who, by all accounts, never seems to be satisfied. It is his defining characteristic. He is not satisfied with following the customs of the day, which would have meant that he, as a second child, would receive a lesser blessing than his older brother. So, earlier in Genesis, he tricks his father into giving him his older brother’s blessing. Jacob is not satisfied when, after serving a man named Laban for 7 years in order to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel, Laban tricks him into marrying his daughter Leah instead. So, earlier in Genesis, Jacob agrees to serve another 7 years so he can marry both daughters. In today’s passage, he is on his way to reconcile with his brother, when he is attacked! He beats his attacker and pins the attacker to the ground. But he is not satisfied with simply defeating the attacker; no, he tells the man, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
Now, I do not know if we can actually treat Jacob as a moral example for us. For instance, I do not think God calls us to trick our parents in order to get more. This is the kind of dissatisfaction that leads to the greed and prejudice and “culture of scarcity,” that Brené Brown pointed out. This is the kind of dissatisfaction that is rooted in feeling that we are not enough and that we will never have enough. I believe we should reject this kind of dissatisfaction.
But, come to think of it, I do not know if Brené Brown quite gets our society right either. She is worried that we as a society are wrongly dissatisfied. We want more than we need. I think this is true for many people in this nation, but not for all.
There are many in the United States who are living in poverty.
There are many who are living without justice.
There are many who are living in fear.
If we must reject the kind of dissatisfaction that led Jacob to trick his parents, which leads to greed and prejudice and taking more than we need, I think we also need to reject being satisfied with the way things are.
I believe God calls us to a certain holy dissatisfaction.
We should not be satisfied with a world in which anyone dies of hunger.
We should not be satisfied with a world that seems to mock God’s justice and righteousness for the poor and oppressed.
We should not be satisfied with a world in which people live in fear and that fear causes war and pain and suffering.
With the psalmist, we should call out, “Hear a just cause, O God, attend to our cry…from you let our vindication come….Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge.”
With the people in the gospel of Matthew, we should seek after God until all the sick are healed and everyone is fed.
Like Jesus, we should not be satisfied with solutions that say, “it’s someone else’s problem.”
And, perhaps, like Jacob, the one whose name was changed to Israel, which means, “struggles with God,” we should not be satisfied until we can look through the struggles in our lives and wring from those struggles any blessing that we can. Not because the struggles themselves are good, but because we believe that God is powerful enough to bring good even into the worst situation.
I think this is why I was so moved by Moana.
In The Little Mermaid, Ariel sings because she isn’t satisfied with being a princess and having a wonderful family. She is bored.
In Beauty and the Beast, Belle sings because she isn’t satisfied living in a poor, out of the way town. She is bored.
In The Lion King, Simba sings because he is tired of following all the rules that are meant to keep him safe. He is bored.
Now, it’s not necessarily wrong to want something better for yourself, especially if your life is not good. But I liked Moana so much because she is different.
In the interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, he describes writing a first version of “How Far I’ll Go,” called “More,” in which Moana expresses the same thing as all these other Disney characters: “I want to see what else is out there.” That is, I’m bored. I want more. But the song changed. “The key insight,” says Miranda, it that “It’s not about not liking where she is and wanting to go somewhere else. She loves where she is. She loves her parents. She loves her island. She loves her community. And there’s this voice anyway.”
Moana doesn’t sing because she’s bored. She loves her life. But, her people are facing a terrible food shortage. She believes they can find food beyond their island; but everyone else, including her father, is too afraid to sail beyond the reef that surrounds the island. Her song is about feeling the call to conquer this fear. She learns, in fact, that her people were once voyagers, sailing from island to island, but something happened that caused them to stay on one island only. And now they are running out of resources.
At one point in the movie (spoiler alert), Moana fails. She feels lost. And the spirit of a loved one tells her that she does not have to keep going, because she is already loved and her family is already proud of her. In essence, her loved one says to her, “you are enough; you have done enough; I am satisfied with you.”
This little speech gives Moana the confidence to go on.
She isn’t doing this to get more. She strives so hard because of her love for her people. She doesn’t have to do this to be accepted or successful. She is already loved and accepted. She is not satisfied with failure because she is not satisfied with the way that her people are living; or with the thought of them dying.
Friends, God is satisfied with us. God says to us: “you are enough; you have done enough; I am satisfied with you.”Indeed, as the scriptures proclaim, before we were even born, before we could do or not do anything, good or bad, Christ died for us. God considered us enough to die for.
But. God is not satisfied with the way things are. God is not satisfied with hunger and injustice and fear and hate. And God calls us to join in a holy dissatisfaction.
May it be so. Amen.