“Faith on Film: Inside Out”
August 21, 2022 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church - Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: ‘What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!’
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
We have a lot of music in our service today. Which is both good and bad since I’m doubling as your preacher and musician today and you know what they say, jack of all trades, master of none. Yet it seemed impossible not to include some favorite songs in today’s worship for a couple of reasons.
Today our worship is focused on the emotions we feel inside. And I for one (I don’t know about you), feel like songs are often one of the best ways for me to get emotions from the inside out. Maybe you have a song or an album you like to play when you’re feeling big feelings, both happy and sad. The roll down the car windows on a summer day soundtrack or the dancing around the kitchen in your socks music. Or the mood music you play through your headphones when you need to let yourself feel big feelings. I started the service by playing a song from a CD my mom recently gave June for her birthday. The album is called Passing Clouds by Kate Oliver and it’s about feelings and through catchy songs, the singer helps children understand feelings are normal, and how singing and breathing can help us through hard times. I know my mom gave the CD to June, but I confess I have been playing it on repeat lately when I’m cooking in the kitchen and June has been nowhere in sight. Because it’s meant for children, it’s simple, soothing melody, I guess, is what appeals to me when I’m winding down from my day. The words go like this:
sometimes when I’m feelings sad, sometimes when I’m feeling bad,
hey, it won’t go away.
My feelings seem too big to fit. I don’t know what to do with it all. I feel too small.
And I remember that it helps to recall: this feeling will pass. This feeling won’t last.
Like the clouds in the sky will blow away, fly away.
I’ll feel the sunshine shine down on the rest of my days.
mad, cross, angry, scared or frightened worried, nervous, tummy tightened. hey, it won’t go away.
So I’ll breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Let it out.
I think this song speaks to me because the reminder is universal, no matter what your age. Emotions, like the clouds, come and go. This was the basic gist of the brilliant movie, Inside Out, that we watched together this week. Again, supposedly it’s for children, but again, the message is universal. We all have emotions and they each take turns sitting at the “control panel” of our brains.
The plot of the movie stars the emotions as characters that guide Riley, an eleven year old girl. Riley has been, for most of her young life, a pretty positive, upbeat child. When we get the peak into her brain we see that the bubbly personified emotion of “Joy” loves to be in control of the control panel. Other emotions are there, too, like anger, disgust, worry and sadness, but Joy is clearly in charge telling the other emotions to get in line to help keep “their girl” happy. This is especially so when life has kind of conspired against them as Riley has moved across the country with her mom and dad and is starting at a brand new school. Joy insists that everything can and will be okay, no matter what. This plan where Joy is in charge works pretty well until Sadness starts to inadvertently cause problems by tainting some of Riley’s memories with blue sadness. Riley is missing her old home. Joy won’t stand for that and draws a circle on the floor and tells Sadness to stay inside the circle for the rest of the day.
It’s a funny part of the movie because we all know that emotions don’t follow directions. Especially sadness! It can’t be boxed up and put out of sight. Yet on the other hand, if we’re honest with ourselves, how many times have we tried that exact thing? In an effort to keep up appearances, we take our less-than-happy emotions and try to hide them in the back corners of our brains.
How are you today?
Oh, I’m fine! Everything’s great!
Happiness is the expectation of us. The “pursuit of happiness” is such a common phrase that it can be found everywhere, from the American Dream to the Declaration of Independence. Even when our emotions are complicated, and the times are tough, we try to put on a happy face.
After Riley’s move, when it’s clear things are not going as expected (the truck is late, their house is, well, less than pretty, school has not started well), Riley’s mom asks her to “put on a good face” to be happy for her daddy since it was because of him that they moved.
But sometimes, we just can’t. Sometimes try as we might, the “Joy” inside of us has gotten lost. What I love about the movie is that it explains in a relatable, child-friendly way how it’s possible for Joy to sometimes not be available at the control panel. In the movie, the character “Joy” literally gets lost in the maze-like parts of Riley’s long-term memory. A creative explanation for something that’s actually really normal. Sometimes our Joy just gets lost.
If you randomly open a Bible, you will most of the time open to the Psalms. It’s a large portion of the Bible and it’s pretty much in the middle. The Psalms are technically one of the “books” of the Bible, but in actuality, they are a collection of songs. Here we have music, again. And the absolutely beautiful thing about these Psalms and the reason why they are some of our most beloved passages of scripture is because the lyrics of these songs, these Psalms, cover the whole spectrum of emotion. They are the voice of feelings.
Psalm 83- My God! I’ve had it with them! Blow them away! Knock the breath right out of them, so they’re gasping for breath, gasping, “God.” (Anger)
Psalm 96- Let Wilderness turn cartwheels, Animals, come dance, Put every tree of the forest in the choir—13 An extravaganza before God as he comes (Joy)
Psalm 12-How much longer will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How much longer will you hide yourself from me? (Disgust)
Psalm 17-Deadly enemies surround me; they’re around me now, wherever I turn(Fear)
Psalm 39-Hear my prayer Lord, and listen to my cry; come to my aid while I weep. (Sad)
Through these musical expressions of emotions, people for millennia have been seen and heard by God in the fullness of their feelings. Nothing has to be hidden. Not everything had to be washed in positivity. No. God wants us to be honest. God needs us to be honest… Because the alternative to pleasantly hiding our true emotions is loneliness and isolation in our pain.
It just so happens that the character of Sadness has an important role to play that Joy hadn’t first realized. The pain that Riley is feeling can’t be seen by those around her, unless she first reveals that she is sad. There were some memories for Riley that were indeed joyful memories, but upon closer inspection, they began with sadness and only moved into Joy because of the way Riley’s friends and families supported her through her sadness. In other words, if we hide our pain, no one can see it. And if no one can see, how will it heal?
The Psalms get at this, too. In Psalm 30 we hear that emotions, like clouds, pass, one by one. In a fit of anguish and uncertainty, the writer of the Psalm 30 expresses that in the midst of pain, God still shows up.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
And here the order is important. The dawn would surely not be as bright or beautiful if it didn’t come after a long, dark night. When we put on a strong front and bravely plaster that happy face to hide the sadness we might be feeling, we do ourselves a deep disservice. God wants to bring healing to our hurts. God wants to help that pain pass. But unless we acknowledge it ourselves and open ourselves up to the care and compassion of those around us we are stuck in a cycle of hidden grief.
I had a moving conversation this week with someone who, many decades ago, decided to go to an Al-Anon meeting, a support group for people who have been impacted by someone else’s alcoholism. After that first meeting he never looked back. He found in that group a place where he could talk about and show the side of himself that was hurting. And when he did that, he experienced the love and support of a community that lifted him through.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
For every season of sorrow, there is a season of blessing. For every valley of the shadows, there is green pasture. This is part of the complicated, real life that God has set before us. Be true to yourself and let those feelings in, all of them. God will be there after every dark night with a beautiful, spectacular, breath-taking sunrise. May it be so. Amen.