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All That Is Fair: I Miss Minnesota…

All That Is Fair: I Miss Minnesota…

Inside Out is the most recent creation to come from Disney’s Pixar animation studios.  Pixar has a reputation for producing the best original movies that also happen to be blockbusters.  The Toy Story franchise is a perfect example.  The three Toy Story films might be the best trilogy ever to come out of Hollywood.  And by “ever” I mean “yes, Coppola, it’s better than the Godfather.”  Inside Out is no exception. 

It chronicles the inner workings of the emotional and cognitive life of an 11-year-old girl named Riley Anderson.  The entire movie takes place inside her head.  In the “command center,” we meet the main characters in this tale.  They are Riley’s five basic emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, and Fear.  These cartoon personifications all look exactly as you might expect.  Joy is glowing and spritely with an uncontrollable smile.  Anger is a tiny red moustached guy wearing a business casual get-up.  Fear is gangly and purple and seems to suffer from a nervous condition.  Sadness is plump and blue and awkward.  And Disgust is a green, immaculately polished girl who has her nose turned up at the world.  These five are Riley’s guides as she reacts to and navigates through her world.

The storyline begins to take shape when Riley is faced with the reality that she and her family are moving from her beloved home in Minnesota all the way to San Francisco.  What starts to unfold is profound.  You get the impression that, before the prospect of this cross-country move, these five emotions have lived together in some degree of harmony.  Joy was obviously the leader of the group, and she tended to color every one of Riley’s experiences.  Each of Riley’s ‘core memories’ (the memories through which an individual connects and synthesizes her sense of self) and almost all of the memories that were in the queue of Riley’s consciousness, were shiny and golden, just like Joy.  It’s clear that the bulk of Riley’s life has been interpreted through Joy’s lens.  Anger, Fear, and Disgust have all played some small part, but they are peripheral.  And then there is Sadness.  Sadness is the one that seems out of place.  No one, including Sadness herself, understands her role in Riley’s life.  Joy doesn’t understand her in the slightest.  And being the strong emotion that she is, Joy keeps Sadness from touching any of Riley’s memories.  So Riley’s childhood can be summed up by overwhelming joy but not much else. 

But the move to San Francisco is difficult and not at all what Riley expected.  She increasingly encounters disappointments that are too big for Joy to simply paint and gloss golden.  Her new house is not in good shape when they arrive.  Their belongings get stuck in the midwest and don’t arrive on time.  Her new school is not as welcoming as she hoped. And she misses Minnesota intensely.  Being a Joy-driven personality, Riley has no where to put these disappointments.  Sadness starts to become stronger.  Even Sadness doesn’t know what is happening to her.  And once she colors a memory blue, it doesn’t change back.  Joy is terrified that this might start to change Riley.  So Joy takes matters into her own hands.  When a sad memory starts to enter Riley’s mind and insert itself as a core memory, Joy desperately tries to block it.  In the scuffle she and Sadness and all of Riley’s current core memories get sucked up a tube that takes them all to the ‘long-term memory.’  Without Joy and Sadness or the core memories in the command center, Riley’s sense of self begins to crumble.  All of the major pieces of who she is begin to become disconnected and forgotten, and eventually she shuts down from feeling anything at all.

On the long journey back, Joy starts to witness and understand the good power of Sadness.  She starts to realize that they BOTH need to shade Riley’s inner life and work together to build all of her experiences into a healthy and balanced personality.  And Sadness starts to see her own value.  To put it curtly, things get complicated.  A childlike understanding of “happy” and “joyful” gives way to a deep-rooted, experienced sense of enjoyment and self-understanding.  It’s called maturity… I won’t spoil the whole movie, but the moment near the end when Riley finally breaks and allows herself to feel Sadness, she cries, “I miss Minnesota!”  And to her delight, her father echoes her sadness.  Without Sadness, Riley would have never experienced the profound joy of resonating.  To know and feel that you’re not alone in your experiences is a healing sadness.  So these cardinal emotions begin to work together and synthesize more complex categorizations just as Riley’s life itself becomes more complex. 

I love this movie.  It was entertaining for sure, but I love what it says about being human.  When a person is well-balanced, emotions are tools they use to exercise their humanity in a way that benefits them and benefits the world around them.  Before the move, Riley felt known and loved by her friends and family.  She felt confident in her honesty, her ability to play hockey, and even her love of being a silly goofball!  When a person is out of balance, their emotions become disconnected and they give way to the fire of anger.  Everything gets consumed by anger.  They cease to be a blessing to their world, and they chip away the fiber of their very humanity.  In the middle of the movie Riley, shuts down and Anger takes over.  She begins to defy her parents and push away her old friends.  Her new world just allows her to blend in and go unnoticed.

Jesus talked an awful lot about what it means to follow him.  One of my favorite sayings from the Gospels is when Jesus talks about being salt and light to the world.  Matthew 5:13-15 says this: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” 

In this statement, Jesus is not simply saying something about evangelism.  He is in fact using metaphor to describe our value as we have been made—and as we are being made more complete as we were intended to be.  Riley had a small taste of what it feels like to be “thrown out and trampled underfoot” or to be “put under a bowl.”  She was a truncated person, merely a shell.  But as her emotions come back to their proper place and she returns to herself, her world becomes more balanced and secure and more deeply joyful.  She became more complete in the very moment she allowed herself to break.

Isn’t that ironic?  In order for us to experience healing, restoration, wholeness, etc, we have to allow ourselves to break wide open!  To be put back together we have to fall apart.  It’s just the way life works.  And we have a Savior who didn’t just tell us these things.  He came to die as one of us.  Without the sadness of his death, we cannot know the profound joy of his resurrection.  It is with him that we can resonate our humanity.  It is with him that we can find balance.  It is with him that we can become more complete.  Our saltiness will go out.  Our light will warm the cold, dark lonely that surrounds us. It is in those moments when we allow Sadness to drive that we can say, “I miss Minnesota!” and our childish understanding begins to expand.  We see who we are.  We understand what we lack, what losses we have suffered.  And we leave ourselves wide open to receive comfort and to know and feel that we are loved.  Unless we can receive it, we cannot effectively give love away. 

As you seek to follow Jesus, let the world around you echo back his truth.  Even a clever cartoon can be used to tell us that we are fragile, and life is hard, but love is everything.  And the love of one who “gave his life for his friends” is the most powerful love of all—credited by his life, executed by his death, and galvanized by his resurrection.  This Easter, may the love of Christ dwell in you richly—both Inside and Out!