“Listen to what your heart is telling you.”
I had the delightful experience of attending a middle school play recently: Cinderella and the Candy Kingdom. It’s the usual Cinderella story, but set in a world of chocolate, sugar and sweets. Plenty of puns made it a very fun show: the wicked stepsisters of Cinderella were named Kit and Kat. The prince of the kingdom was named Reese, who rarely appeared without his squire, Hershey.
While Hershey won the audience with his consistent jokes and eager banter, it was Prince Reese who brought home the underlying meaning of the play. In the world of the Candy Kingdom, everyone loves sweets: first dessert, second dessert, third dessert. Whip cream and chocolate syrup on everything. You get the idea. Yet the young prince has a secret: he doesn’t like sweets. In other words, he’s not like everyone else. He doesn’t belong. Not only that, he’s in line for the throne, but isn’t the “right kind of prince.”
Yet he displays great bravery when he “comes out” to his family as not loving sweets. After the initial shock sets in—how can you not love sweets? EVERYONE loves sweets!—his mother the queen and the rest of the family embrace and accept him, just as he is. They don’t force him to be like them. They accept him as the bread and cheese and natural food lover that he is.
Fittingly, the young Cinderella does not love sweets either. In fact, the opening scene of the play begins with the young prince out hiking on Rock Candy Mountain, where he happens upon Cinderella, who is out having a secret picnic of bread and cheese. The fact that her basket has no sweets in it intrigues the prince, who immediately appreciates Cinderella’s tastes.
The two who don’t belong in their larger community are also the two who, not surprisingly, like to go on hikes and walks, and explore new territory. The character Marsha Mellow—in hilarious, exaggerated fashion—can barely be bothered to cross the room, let alone leave it!
Cinderella shows off the view from up high when she is visited by three peeps (kids wearing colorful footy pajamas and bunny ears), who are the sidekicks of the Tooth Fairy Godmother. “You can see so far, and everything below looks so small.”
Is it any wonder that the two who don’t quite fit also are the ones who have explored new territory and have seen things from more than one view?
In the final scene, as the prince is seeking the girl who left her glittery, shiny hiking boot at the “Gum Ball” —he worries about whether he’s making the right decision to pursue Cinderella. One of the peeps says to him: ““Listen to what your heart is telling you. Trust your feelings. Stop thinking so much with your head.”
It reminded me of my own journey to accept people of wider and diverse views, beliefs, traditions and ways of being. That only began to happen when I trusted my heart, over what my mind had been so thoroughly trained to tell me. I began to realize that for all the wonderful things I learned in my Christian upbringing, part of what came along with it were lines and walls of just who was acceptable, and who was not.
As I began to trust my heart, I began to realize that Muslims, atheists and others were not people to be afraid of, but human beings, neighbors, and friends to get to know. As I began to trust my heart, I began to get to know gay and transgendered folks who are some of the most delightful people I know. And what was even more satisfying, is that as I continued to get to know Jesus, I began to realize that he had been there all along, in that place of compassion and welcome, and that he had been hidden from view behind the walls of theology and purity that we’d constructed.
As the prince came out with his true, honest self, and found life and acceptance from his family, and a partner to travel the journey with him, I had to wonder: what if we all put on our hiking boots, explored new territory, took in the wider view, and learned to trust what is in our hearts?
What these eighth graders put on display to this roomful of parents looked to me a lot like the kingdom Jesus came to tell us about. And that is pretty sweet, indeed.
Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, speaker, and author of the book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. He’s also a big fan of his kids, baseball, and a good scotch. Listen to Bryan’s weekly podcast: Pub Theology Live! on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET.