July 26, 2021
There’s that saying, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Merida is not well behaved. There’s an element of the untamed in Merida, the main character of the 2012 Disney Pixar film Brave.
Brave exemplifies the Beatitude of “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” It might be hard to see it at first. This movie is full of feisty Scots, spoiling for a fight.
The movie is set in a fictional version of Medieval Scotland. Princess Merida of clan Dunbroch discovers that she is to be betrothed to one of the sons of her father’s allies. Queen Elinor explains that this is tradition. This is the way things are done. Failure to consent to the betrothal could harm the kingdom. She then tells Merida the legend of a prince whose pride and refusal to follow his father’s wishes destroyed his kingdom. Merida complains that she’s heard that story a million times.
“It’s not a story, it’s a legend. Legends are lessons. They ring with truth,” Queen Elinor explains.
Yet Merida feels trapped. “I’m the princess. I’m the example. I’ve got duties, responsibilities, expectations. My whole life is planned out,” she says.
The other clans arrive, and the first-born sons are presented. The sons must compete in the highland games for Merida’s hand in marriage. But Merida twists the rules and announces that as her own clan’s first born, she’ll compete for her own hand.
The Queen and Merida get into a fight. Harsh words are used. Merida slashes a tapestry that is a family portrait, symbolically separating herself from the queen. And she literally runs away, and finds a hut of an elderly witch.
And despite that this is a fictional, animated tale filled with magic and wisps and demon bears and this witch and a talking bird… Merida does something very human. Movies are stories that ring with truth and what happens is that Merida… instead of swallowing her pride and communicating with her mom… She tries change her mom.
Merida feels trapped. She resists what is required of her. She is so unlike her mom. While Merida is wild and free, her mom the Queen is staidand calm. They are so different. The Queen is constantly correcting Merida’s behavior.
“A princess does not place her weapons on the table. A princess does not chortle, doesn’t stuff her gob, rises early, is compassionate, patient, cautious, clean, and above all, a princess strives for, well, perfection.”
It’s understandable that Merida wants to change her fate, her circumstances. She feels too young to be married off. She’s not ready. So Merida asks the witch, “I want a spell to change my mum. That’ll change my fate.” Merida bargains for a spell to change her fate, and the witch gives her an enchanted cake.
When the Queen eats the cake, she’s changed… into a bear. In order to turn the Queen back into a human, the witch says, “By the second sunrise, your spell will be permanent, unless you remember these words: ‘Fate be changed. Look inside. Mend the bond torn by pride.’”
When we think of peacemakers, we might think of Gandhi. We might think of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We might think of Mother Teresa. Those larger-than-life characters who seem to float into life, not really tethered to the gritty realities that we seem to be mired in.
Sure, THEY can be peacemakers. They don’t have the same situation as we do. They operate on a larger scale. These are great pillars of peace, but peace can be also found in very small ways. Like in the Rev. Harry Emmerson Fosdick. He was a pastor in New York City who was a pacifist. Yet when a world war broke out, his heart broke. How did he witness to peace? Well, he went down to the docks and prayed for the troops who were loading onto the transport ships to the European theater. He would then write their families, saying, “I prayed over your son. He boarded safely and I hope he returns to you soon.”
Sending small notes and cards is how to spread peace. Praying for others is a way to pass the peace.
Peace looks like sitting down and swallowing your pride and admitting you were wrong and asking for forgiveness. It means explaining your intentions and realizing that your actions might not reflect those intentions. There can be a great gulf between intention and action. Merida never intended to turn her mom into a bear, she just wanted her to listen. The problem is that while we judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions. People can’t see our intentions. They can only see how we act towards them.
You can’t change other people, you can only change how you react to them. Sometimes pride keeps us from changing how we react. Our pride keeps us locked into combat. Our resistance to change or to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes leaves us too vulnerable. Too exposed. We don’t like that, so we resist. We put up walls. We separate. We act out. We lash out, sometimes violently.
Instead of Cain learning why Abel’s sacrifice pleased God more than his own… instead of sitting Abel down and learning. Or praying to God… Cain kills Abel. I know it’s an old story, but legends are stories that ring with truth. We all have an inner Cain who would rather lash out in our jealousy than sit and learn.
I don’t know why this is. I have it. You have it. We have it. It seems to be something deep within our species. I sure wish it wasn’t. Most humans seem to be resigned to this fate. “Well, we’re just always at war. We’ll settle for mass shootings. We’re fine with the daily violence, brutality, and revenge-narratives. Can’t change your fate.”
Yet the Good News of Jesus is that we can change our fate. We don’t have to respond in an eye-for-an-eye. We can turn the other cheek. Peace is the harder route. It’s way harder than war.
It has been said that there is no way to peace. Peace is the way. I don’t know how you respond to conflict. I don’t know how each of you stay on the way of peace. Do you cling to your pride or are you quick to acknowledge your faults? Your missteps? Do you stew and spread rumors and wish to make spells to change someone, mostly in the form of gossip and triangulation? Or do you make a phone call and sit down with the person with whom you need to mend the bond, torn by pride?
There’s a theology that is all about the second coming of Jesus. I used to believe this theology. I picked it up from the Left Behind series and other books like it. This is a strange theology when you do the math… First off, we have Christmas, the first coming of Christ… then we have Easter, which would be the second coming of Christ. The second coming has already happened!
Furthermore, the stories that are told about the second coming say that Jesus will come back with a vengeance. He’ll cast some people into hell, and there will be all this tribulation and war and violence. Jesus’ second coming is described by some as a revenge fantasy. At least, I understood it that way. I could be wrong. I’m sorry.
What we get in the gospels for Jesus’ second coming is forgiveness and restoration. Jesus appears to Peter and asks if he loves him three times, the same amount that Peter denied. Peter is restored. Forgiven. Told to feed his sheep. Jesus comes back and eats. Breaks bread. Tells stories. Blesses. Sends the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. That’s the actual story in the Gospels. Not the made-up one.
Peace is given. “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you,” Jesus says in John 14:27. Yet we don’t understand peace. It’s not what we see. It’s not the stories we like to tell ourselves, frankly it’s not how we’re trained.
We’re trained in war. Constantly. Our TV shows. Our movies. Our culture is steeped in it. The headlines that speak to us and get the most traffic. It’s the old journalism proverb “If it bleeds, it leads.” We’re told we need alarm systems and other methods to protect what’s ours. We’re told we can’t trust our neighbors. We must be on alert at all times. This is not the way of Christ. Nor is it the way of Jesus’ favorite prophet whom he quotes all the time, the Prophet Isaiah. The Prophet who gives us the vision that “God will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.”
Imagine if we train for peace as much as we train for war. What if we learned de-escalation techniques. Taught our children how to reconcile. To mend the bond torn by pride. What if we, the church, the body of Christ, became that place?
In Brave, Merida stands in front of the clans. She says, “The story of this kingdom is a powerful one. My dad rallied your forces and you made him your king. It was an alliance forged in bravery and friendship, and it lives to this day. I’ve been selfish. I tore a great rift in this kingdom. There’s no one to blame but me. And I know now that I need to amend my mistake, and mend our bond.” If a politician gave such a speech today, they would be drummed out of office because that’s not how we’re playing the game.
Yet it’s the Queen, who is still a bear at this point, is able to communicate to Merida through pantomime to break with tradition and that the princess and princes will marry when they are ready. Both proud women find compromise. Merida mends the tapestry, tells her mom that she loves her… and her mom is changed back.
This movie, like Forrest Gump, is about fate. Do we have a destiny? Or are we floating around accidental-like on a breeze. I think maybe it’s both. Both are happening at the same time.
I believe our destiny as a species and as people of faith is to the vision of Isaiah. The vision of Christ where all God’s people gather in the beloved community and are quick to forgive and slow to anger. Where joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are taught and valued. Not war. Not violence. Not anything else.
The final lines of the movie come from Merida. “There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own. But I know better. Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”
I want to see you be brave. To lay your armor down and put your pride aside. To welcome God’s beloved community fully. To embrace the vision of the Beloved Community, not some revenge fantasy. For the beloved community is good news. It shall stop our warring madness. If we are brave enough to act on it. Not just intend it with thoughts and prayers, but actively engage in the work.
I hope that we are brave enough to do so. For they will call us God’s children. Children of God like Gandhi, the Rev. Dr King, Mother Teresa, and Rev. Fosdick. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called descendants of God. For they will act like their heavenly parent, our God who is peace and love incarnate. For God has plans for us, plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give us hope and a future. Amen.
 Pre-tribulation rapture theology was popularized extensively in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby, a pastor in the UK. Darby used verses from Revelation, Daniel, and parts of Paul and smashed together for the idea of rapture and tribulation. Shepherd of Hermas is a non-canonical book that also holds a similar view.
 John 21:15-25
 Jeremiah 29:11