For those who haven’t seen a pic of me, I’m black and African-American. My family is Nigerian. Having an African name in the US in the 1990s in public school wasn’t as popular as it might have been in the black south in the 1970s. In the earliest grade school days, imagine my surprise that Disney decided they needed an African-set lion story. My peers could celebrate the exotic savanna imagery with the familiar voices of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Rowan Atkinson, Dan Akroyd, Matthew Broderick, and James Earl Jones. It made being Nigerian a bit cooler to me and my peers. The music hit the right combo for a young audience to be stuck in a cool story of becoming a king….a KING!
As I’ve gotten older I wonder a little why the story of The Lion King still resonates with me, so I did what I do. I got curious and examined and talked with people. Following my curiosity, here is why I believe The Lion King impacted me at 5, 35, and why I believe it will impact as I get older.
A Summary by Child Me: A young lion, excited to rule, gets over zealous and leads to the sacrifice of his father, the King, to save his life. He’s lied to that it’s his fault and tries to run away from that weight and responsibility. He’s welcomed by friends that also are trying to forget worry and live free. A friend from the past informs him that his home is being ravaged by the liar because he won’t come back and take his place. He feels guilty, but then realizes, through his Father’s advisor, he will grow into what it takes. His old and new friends join him to take on this new task. As he goes back, he’s faced with the liar who tries to make him feel guilty until the admission that although the young lion made a mistake, the real murderer is the liar - his jealous uncle. He exposes and fights the liar and even uses the skills he learned in youth to accept his new role as king and step into the repairing role.
A Summary by Older Me: A young boy is excited in this new age of hope and works hard to grow into being special. Along the way he meets people who are jealous of the optimism and block him from achieving in the way he was told. Losing hope, he goes down into a self-serving phase of life. He forgets the responsibilities he would have taken on. He joins groups of friends that only promote joy and self with little sacrifice for others, especially those who don’t approve of you. He gets reminded by other friends that there is a need for the gifts and talents to be fully used for others instead of trying to stay out of the mix of needs and responsibility. He then starts to re-engage and partner with people who try to make change and grow skills to challenge the current environment, realizing the past criticisms don’t stop or exclude him from engaging on the journey. In fact, he realizes he is just like the people that came before, working sacrificially to keep good balances.
A Summary through my Christian Faith: We are born in the world excited for what we will face. We are lied to by messages and ideas that our self-serving behavior is the only way to navigate the world. We must protect and help ourselves. Only the excess of our excess can be given to others. We can’t grow into success and self sacrifice. We either work for people or we choose to live life on our own terms. If we’re lucky our family and friends in faith tell us there is a better way, but it comes through holding on to bigger truths about the value of hard work and self-sacrifice. Joy can come from communal flourishing and care. It’s not about chasing new experiences and highs. It’s a joy in the normal. Someone did that for us in love to subvert the lies of the world that make life seem like a race to retire or something from which to squeeze joy. As we step into the sacrificial roles of serving and loving others in a sign of love for Him, we become transformed into the kings and queens He means us to be. We pour out our lives for others and don’t look out for ourselves more than we ought to in situations. People look to us for our integrity, knowing we’re not trying to do more than love, serve, care, protect, admonish for the good will of the highest king.
As a kid Lion King was entertaining and is easy to share. As I got older, Lion King helped me clarify the frustrations I felt in seemingly being held back when I was a kid from leading too soon. Growing up seems like it will be great but the bumps in the road we inevitably face force us to choose a way to live. We can be comfort seeking (which means we find our own place or stay under the thumb of others), power-seeking, or we can engage to serve well and remove what is bad for the community. If enough of us seek that good, we can do amazing things in small ways. If not, entire systems are overturned and people can be hurt.
When we look at a story and its message, it’s amazing the new messages we can see as the years go on. This is the exact thing we are supposed to do with Scripture. It helps me understand the balance parents and teachers make. It helps me see how selfish people manipulate and try to control. It made me realize that although Hakuna Mata is a great song, it is indeed not a great philosophy when I’m avoiding the duties and responsibilities people depend on me to carry out.
The biggest thing I think I realized being blessed to have a great father and serve a great God. I don’t have to be a copy of my father to my kids. I don’t have to be a perfect copy of Jesus to everyone. However, I cannot avoid that I am to live, serve, and lead using the gifts and principles they have taught me.
As Christians, it is easy to fall to the right (Hakuna Mata) or left (complete dominion) but living sacrificially so others don’t have to worry about everything is nuanced. We still must try.
What other messages can we pull from the movie that connect to faith?
What movie has aged well with you as you’ve gotten older? What movie hasn’t?