This could be the beginning of the story of Moana, or almost. That story begins with a young woman who lives in a safe little island community but who from a young age is called beyond the shores of her safe land to new places, to a mission greater than leading the familiar faces and solving the familiar, daily problems of those around her. This is also the beginning of the story of a church, who began by baptizing people, all people, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And somehow ended up in a very different place.
For me the last seven years have been full of ups and downs, of self discovery, frustration, joy, pain, and just about everything in between. I came to this journey toward ministry with a path set before me to do as others have done, but in my heart have always felt a different call and a different path, not one full of pews and hymns, but full of blood and guts and fist fights and kids throwing things at my head some days. One could say I've felt a call to adventure.
I was watching Moana last night for the second time, and it hit me what a wonderful metaphor for the church it is. Moana's people were once adventurers, until they found their safe island Motunui, and then somehow they stopped exploring. Soon their lives became about preserving the little haven they had created. It was lovely, and life giving for many, but it was also dying. Because outside of their little paradise the world was dying. But Moana's father, the village chief, was scared of what might happen if she followed the call of the ocean and the call of her heart, and forbade her from leaving. After her grandmother became deathly ill, in her grief she fled to a secret place and discovered that her people had once been explorers of the ocean. Reassured that this voice inside her was not insanity but a deeper call to her true identity, she escapes Motunui to restore the heart of Ta Fiti, the goddess whose heart was stolen long ago by the demigod Maui.
The heart of the world is broken, and it's no longer something we can address only within the walls of our churches. That's not to say that the broken aren't within our churches, but like Motunui, the church, too, is dying. An old, clunky, irrelevant institution struggling to demand its inhabitants stay on the island is nonetheless bleeding members, closing doors, and soon will die as well. The world is out there, beyond the reef, and demanding that leaders stay and grow coconuts on a dying island isn't how to solve the problem. This only delays the inevitable. Moana strikes out and in so doing finds herself, singing "Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island, I am a girl who loves the sea, it calls me..."
And in remembering her name, Moana is empowered to help the goddess Ta Fiti remember who she is, to heal her broken heart and ultimately heal the world.
Ironically, it was in leaving her safe little world for unknown danger that she saved the world and herself, because so much about our suffering is about how we have forgotten who we are. We are not the sum of where we live, or our church buildings, or the things that have happened to us, though those things shape us. We are not our failures or our trauma, and we are not what others have said we are or what we can be. We are not defined by the lack of imagination of old, boring people who would put us in boxes, and we are not the the stories others have told about us. This does not define you: you know who you are.
Who is that? The daughter or son of the most high, child of the one who created everything. You are beloved. And if you can remember that you can stop being so scared of losing your safe island, and you can stop being scared of those hurts and scars, and if you can remember that, you can stop being scared of not getting the attention or respect of the people you think you need it from, and if you can remember that everything changes.
So remember. This does not define you, church. This does not define you, broken one. This does not define you, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother. This does not define you, criminal, hated or victim. This does not define you.