Several months ago, The Princess looked over at me and said, “Disney lied about high school.” And while I wanted to say, “Of course they did. I’ve known that for years.” What I actually said was, “Really? In what way?”
She went on to explain that she knew that people really didn’t break out into song and dance numbers on a regular basis during the school day. That came as no surprise to her. (Fortunately. I din’t want to have that conversation.) What did surprise was how little her school’s dynamics reflected what she had been told to expect. Students do not stay in their media assigned categories. Smart kids are in sports. Cheerleaders are in choir. Everybody who has time is involved with the Drama club. The ‘popular’ kids are the ones who do a little bit of everything. They are popular simply because they know the most people. The Princess has discovered that most high school students are entirely too well-rounded to be dropped into any one category which means, Disney has lied to her.
So I talked to her about stereotypes and their use in storytelling. I told her those images have been around for a long time and that my movie and TV experiences as a child reflected them as well. She thought for a moment and decided, “Disney should do better.”
In the days that followed, I started thinking about how our collective story telling represents the church. For fun I did an online image search for ‘church congregation’ and got page after page of well dressed white people sitting in rows. Occasionally one of them had their hands up. Occasionally they were standing. Most of them were not young. In the movies people go to churches for weddings or funerals. The only hymns that are sung are “Amazing Grace” and “Silent Night” depending on the season. This is a sweeping generalization, but people remember the generalizations not the exceptions.
The Church is more than it is made to be. We are diverse. We worship in coffee shops and camps. We are in school gymnasiums and open fields. Yes, we also sit in rows in church buildings. But while we are in those buildings we sing more than just ‘Amazing Grace’ and we use organs, guitars, trumpets, drums, and even the occasional ukulele. It is time for us to stop letting others tell our story for us. We are more than the stereotypes that have thrived for 60+ years. It is time we celebrated our diversity so when people are confronted with the limited scope of media storytelling they can respond by saying, “They should do better.”