What Hollywood gets right, and the Church gets wrong

Last weekend, my family watched Hollywood’s latest spin on Charles Dicken’s classic Christmas Carol – a musical comedy with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds titled, “Spirited,” which is in theaters and Apple TV+ now. (This blog post is not sponsored by Apple.) Not to spoil anything, but throughout the musical an important question is pressed: “are some people just unredeemable?” The movie begins with Jacob Marley making this ‘unredeemable’ designation for some persons. This can represent external voices speaking into our lives, calling us unredeemable. In the musical, this ‘unredeemable’ designation follows the characters until the external voices are internalized, eventually leading to a song called ‘Unredeemable.’ This sadly happens in real life too, right? If people say it enough about us it must be true.

I think the lyrics of the song capture this toxic internalization well:

Am I forever unredeemable?
Can I ever overcome
All the wrongs I'm running from?
Can my worst be left behind?
And do I deserve to find
There's a soul who could see any good in me?
Or will I only ever be
Spent every waking minute
Taking all that I could take
Never stopped to reckon with
The ruin in my wake
With all the bridges that I burned
All the wounds I didn't mend
All the worth I thought I earned
It turned worthless in the end
What was it for?
Is it possible I was meant for something more?
Am I forever unredeemable?
Can I be the man who breaks
From a lifetime of mistakes?
Can my worst be left behind?
And do I deserve to find
The kind of love that I could lean on every day?
Or will I learn I have to stay

(You have to believe inside the worst of us
There is some decency somewhere
You know that you can achieve something miraculous
If you'd only care)
I have to go
I have to try
That's how I'll know
Know if I

Am forever unredeemable
If I'll ever be someone
Who makes up for all they've done
Or is all I am unlovable?
Am I someone someone can forgive?
Can I take the leap and live?
There's a lot I'd leave behind
But I've got to go and find
If it's true that there is truly good in me
And maybe see that I won't always be

I think Hollywood nailed it here. The shame and guilt we carry and that is put on us by others, (which may be rightly deserved) can make us wonder if there is any hope of redemption for us.

Unfortunately, the Church (big ‘C’ meaning the institution of Church) does its fair share of making people feel unredeemable, too, without offering the very hope it was born to bring the world. Depending on the church (little ‘c’ meaning a local or individual church) the designation ‘unredeemable’ is applied to: MAGA folk or woke folk; LGBTQ+ persons or single persons; women or people of color; poor people or rich people; those who speak truth to power or those who stay silent; those who agree with the pastor or those who disagree with the pastor; immigrants or refugees, etc. This list goes on too long, because I think any church that designates anyone or group as ‘unredeemable’ has missed the whole point of what happens in Jesus, starting on Christmas and culminating with Easter, has it all wrong!

In Spirited, we see self-redemption through forgiveness and self-determination, which can only go so far (even the movie admits that, though it makes self-redemption seem within our grasp.) The good news of Christmas is that though we can’t save ourselves, God takes on the frailty of flesh in Jesus. God comes to an unredeemable town, through an unremarkable couple. God’s arrival is first announced by angels to deplorables and confirmed by visiting coastal elites – all to save all of us! Because to God, EVERYONE IS REDEEMABLE! And God will do whatever it takes, even by taking on death itself to make sure we are all redeemed.

The message the Church has been given to share with the world is that we are redeemed! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 NRSVUE

I’m glad that at the United Methodist Church of Geneva we illuminate our community with God’s grace as we lovingly accept, listen to, and serve all in the Spirit of Jesus, instead of making unredeemable designations. This is the good news we are called to share with each other and embody in the world. This good news fights all the external voices that try to get us to internalize the false message that we are unredeemable and instead brings life, light and hope to the world.

You are forgiven.

You are redeemable.

You are loved.