Peter Pan, That’s What They Call Me
This past summer, I had the opportunity to survey 132 freshmen in high school. I asked them what movie they had watched the highest quantity of times in their life. High School Musical scored well amongst the girls and Happy Gilmore brought in a chunk of votes amongst the boys. (Who would have thought that movie would have 20-plus years of staying power?) Much to my chagrin, Happy Gilmore did not win and much to my relief, High School Musical was also edged out.
There was one epic film about a fish who had lost its way that garnished the most total votes. Amidst my not-so-robust sample, Finding Nemo has the highest quantity of views by fourteen-year-olds.
I love movies. Outside of maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves professional basketball team, I don’t think there are many things I enjoy watching more than movies. However, I have made a peculiar agreement with myself regarding movies, I only watch them once. Very few movies have I seen all the way through even twice. I think this is because when I was a kid there was one movie I watched way too many times and it must have burnt me out from movie-viewing duplication.
The specific VHS that I wore out was the movie Hook. If you have not heard of this movie, don’t worry — that is far more normal than having seen it hundreds of times. For some context, Hook was the 1990’s theatrical version of Peter Pan.
One of my very favorite people and actors Robin Williams played Peter Pan in this movie. Julia Roberts played Tinkerbell. Gwyneth Paltrow played Wendy Darling. And, the villain was, of course, Captain Hook played by Dustin Hoffman.
You may or may not have seen Hook, but you probably know the story of Peter Pan. If you need a reminder, here’s a recap from the interweb:
“Peter Pan is a boy who could fly. As the nursery story of Peter Pan goes, Peter is a boy who ran away from home the day he was born because he heard his parents talking about all the things he would do when he was a man. To avoid adulthood, Peter went to live with the fairies in Neverland so that he would never have to grow up.
Peter’s new home Neverland is a magical place. A place in which anything you can believe can come true. Even the ability to fly.
In Neverland, Peter lives with other children who call themselves The Lost Boys. The Lost Boys, who are in awe of Peter’s ability to fly follow Peter as he promises to make their dreams come true, and even teach them to fly.”
The key to the magic of Neverland comes from Peter’s magical sidekick Tinkerbell. “Tink” as The Lost boys call her, owns magical pixy dust that can make anyone who believes be able to fly.
Neverland is in many ways perfect. Except for the evil antagonist of the story, Captain Hook. Hook is an angry man who daily seeks revenge on Peter Pan for feeding his right hand to a crocodile sometime in the recent past. Hook and his brigade of pirates bring adventure and even danger to Neverland.
In the story children like Wendy Darling sit in their window sill every night and stare at the moon. As they stare at the moon, children wait, anxiously hoping that this would be the night that Peter Pan would fly to their window, extend his hand and invite them to Neverland to become Lost Boys.”
I find numerous parallels between Peter Pan and my understanding of Christianity.
First and foremost I see the parallel of belief. Tinkerbell says that to be able to fly with Peter Pan there are two requirements:
First: You must believe in Peter Pan and his ability to fly.
Second: You must have Tinkerbell’s magical pixy dust.
In this analogy, I see Peter Pan as Jesus. Peter Pan and Jesus were both young boys who left their families at birth and were brought into a new world. In that world, they both became leaders of their followings — The Lost Boys, and The Disciples. Peter Pan and Jesus both possessed an ability that no other human possesses. In Peter’s case, this is his ability to fly. In Jesus’s case, it is the ability to live a life without sin.
I also see Tinkerbell’s pixy dust. I see Tink’s pixy dust to be the Holy Spirit. Like the pixy dust in the story, here on earth, we can not physically feel the Holy Spirit. But just as the pixy dust gives The Lost Boys the ability to fly, the Holy Spirit gives the disciples of Jesus power. Powers such as the ability to forgive, to be kind, and to love. To fly with Peter you need the pixy dust just as to walk with Jesus you need the Holy Spirit.
I also see Neverland. Initially, I thought of Neverland as heaven. But I don’t think it is. Instead, I believe Neverland is God’s creation, the world. An amazing place where we can find ourselves. A place where we can do anything. Neverland is not heaven because Neverland is not without sin.
That is due to the presence of Captain Hook. Hook lives in Neverland, and as you may have guessed, in my understanding he represents evil or Satan from the Bible. Our world is and can be an amazing place, but it is not perfect. Today, we all live in a flawed world. Sin, temptation, and evil is abundant, just as Captain Hook is present in Neverland.
Lastly, I see us, humans. We are the Lost Boys. We are the followers of Peter Pan, always on the run from Captain Hook. Just as Peter Pan came to the Lost Boys’ window and brought them to Neverland, the bible says Jesus came to each of us in birth and showed us the kingdom of heaven. Like Peter Pan to The Lost Boys, all Jesus asks in return from us is to believe.
Now, up here on my soap box, you are probably assuming that this is probably the point of my pseudo-sermon that I tell you the difference between Peter Pan and Jesus. It would make theological sense that I would tell you Peter Pan is just a nursery tale and that Jesus’s story is real.
But for me, it hasn’t been that simple.
When I was 14, like the Finding Nemo fanatics, I didn’t think Jesus was real. At the very least, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this crazy story. It was too big. I remember going to church camp as a kid and my camp counselor sharing his faith. 14-year-old me thought, okay when I’m a senior in high school, like my counselor, maybe then I’ll understand.
And then a few years later, I was a senior in high school and a church camp counselor myself. It was my time to talk about my faith to my campers, but I still didn’t fully believe the story. I still had questions. I had a lot of doubt. I remember thinking then, maybe when I’m an adult this will all make sense and I will have a faith I understand.
And then I became an adult.
As an adult, I now work full-time in Youth Ministry at a church in Minneapolis. For years, I have gone to church services as part of my job. I have read along with the Creeds, I have listened to the sermons, and sang along to the hymns. Consistently, my actions exclaimed, “I believe.” But in reality, I am still stuck. I still think to myself, do I actually believe? It still doesn’t make sense, even as an adult.
I’m not really a kid at all anymore. When it comes to my faith I still get confused. I still wrestle with the idea that the story of Jesus is any different than the story of Peter Pan. Some days it still just feels like this is all a story.
Sure, in certain times and at some places, believing in God is easy. In those instances, it all makes sense to me. But lots of days I look around and still wonder if the story of Jesus isn’t just another fairy tale.
In the twenty years that have proceeded that first day I popped in the Hook VHS, I have learned a lot about who Jesus was in the bible. I have learned his story, I have learned what he taught. Much like Peter Pan, I find parts of the story of Jesus to be unbelievable, but I have come to find the things Jesus taught to be very real. I now know the lessons Jesus taught make for quite a story.
I’ve learned quite simply that Jesus was good. That He was a good man. A man who loved people. A guy who was kind. And that He was a person who forgave. Jesus was a teacher in the sense that He told people how to live. But more so than telling, He acted. The Bible tells us that quite literally, Jesus practiced what He preached.
Maybe if you are like me, you have a lot of questions. Or maybe it’s just too complicated to even care about. Maybe you can only understand Jesus as a story. What I have come to know, is that is okay. I want to learn more and I want to believe more, but I have peace in the idea that even if all of this is just another fantasy, like Peter Pan, that I will be better for having listened. I unequivocally know that I will be a better version of myself in striving to live like Jesus.
The world will be better if we love like Jesus loved… If we are kind as Jesus was kind… And if we forgive like Jesus forgave.
Kind of like a fairy tale, I think songs can be simple but have large meanings. So here’s a song about a fairy tale. I’m sure many of you have heard this song. Know that if in listening to this song you feel more Lost than ever before that too is okay. But listen, hear, and act.
That is what Peter Pan would do.