Victor Chininin Buele
Well, Encanto finally hit Disney+ close enough to Christmas that I decided I should watch it before the kids got around to asking me about it. The baby woke up super early, so I watched it at about 4 AM or so.
I was left an emotional wreck after it.
There are dozens of things I could write about regarding this movie. It is that thick with things that merit a thorough theological discussion.
But, at the end of the day, since you and I don’t have a lot of time, I am going to focus on Bruno.
Honestly, I do not understand how can people possibly be enjoying this song. It is perplexing to me. But it wouldn’t be the first or the last time.
The song is masterfully catchy.
As a musician, I know what the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda has done here, and it is remarkable. Layering and beat, harmony and melody. Outstanding. Simply high quality. Add the wonders of the animation to it, and it is mesmerizing.
But, did you spend a moment thinking about what is coming in this packaging?
Redimi2, a Christian urban musician presented a musical project titled Trapstorno. He managed to use trap, a music style of incredibly dark and worldly roots, to present the message of Christ to many who are walking in darkness.
He says in that song,
Ningún género musical es malo, dime quién eres tú para condenarlo
La música es el papel de regalo, pero ese regalo hay que revisarlo
Si tiene música, voy a usarlo, el Evangelio voy a anunciarlo
Si este código no puedes descifrarlo, es por estar consumiendo Conejo Malo
Let’s attempt to explain that in English: “No musical genre is bad in itself; tell me, who are you to condemn it? Music is the gift wrapping paper, but the gift must be thoroughly examined. If it is music, I’m going to use it–the gospel I’m going to announce. If you don’t understand this, it may be because you’re taking in so much Bad Bunny.”
Quite a bit there to argue about theologically, but the idea of thoroughly examining the gift inside the wrapping is one that we must take seriously. Latin beats are wonderful. Like my dear friend, one of the pastors who married Ang and I, also an Ecuadorian like me, joked at our wedding, “Spanish is heaven’s language.” There is just something about Latin beats that just grab you and won’t let go. Our music is catchy and reaches in deeply. I remember that long summer where it didn’t matter where I went, Despacito would be in the air: London, Barcelona, Paris, even Buffalo, NY! Hardly anybody knew what it said! Don’t try to go there and seek to understand what Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee managed to squeeze into those almost 5 minutes. It is just not good for your soul.
So, Come Back to Us, What About Bruno?
Miranda himself describes this song as “the family gossip song.” Everybody is in it, behind Abuelita’s back, that is. This song is the outworking of collaborative cover up. Everybody knows not to talk about Bruno, but they just cannot be quiet. The song starts when the clouds take over the pretension of ever present sunshine, when the nightmare is acknowledged, when the pressure to put on a good face to the outside world fails.
I don’t know how else to say it, but Bruno was right all along. Everything he saw came to pass, but he did not make these things come to pass. Bruno saw what others in their fear couldn’t as they sought to protect what mattered most to them. And it also mattered the most to Bruno. Otherwise, Bruno would not have gone on a self-imposed exile deep inside the walls of Casita. He quietly covered up the cracks and spent his life doing so amongst the rats. The family erased Bruno from existence. But, they actually didn’t. The mere mention of his name was enough to jumpstart this song. There was no peace, no shalom, in Casita. There was no love in Casita, despite the pretty flowers, the mighty works of apparent charity to the townspeople, the songs, and the excitement. The magic was fading long before the cracks were obvious. So was the love.
But It Is Such a Cute and Catchy Song
Let me paint with a different brush. Let’s pretend that Bruno is a member of a church led by an abusive pastor. Well, that doesn’t really require much pretending. We are plagued with allegations and confirmations of spiritual abuse throughout churches, parachurches, schools, homes. It is a mess!
Bruno ends up being abused by this pastor. To acknowledge Bruno’s existence, pain, and story requires the church to act. After all, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Actions have consequences. Abusive actions have catastrophic consequences.
If the church, like Abuelita, is telling the world outside that the magic is still strong, that there is nothing to see here, that they should have a strong drink and dance to music played in a piano that couldn’t even be pushed anymore by a languishing Luisa, cracking under the pressure to keep up with the appearances, well, is it a surprise to us that our churches have been effectively singing We Don’t Talk About Bruno, no, no, no as part of their corporate liturgies, so to speak, for quite some time now?
If we speak about Bruno, we have to acknowledge that there is sin inside of the church. We have to acknowledge that some have not repented of that sin, and that a hardheartedness is growing in the church because, if what ultimately matters to us is the appearance of godliness, e.g., to (1) not close our church, (2) not fire our pastor, (3) give an appearance to the world that all is well within when it isn’t, well, we need to reconsider our obedience to Christ’s calling.
We cannot, as Christ’s church just take a horrific situation, throw some good Latin beats to it, some nice chords, some good overlapping vocals, nice animation, timely comic relief. And there you go, we can keep pretending that Ichabod Bible Church is a healthy, growing, Great-Commission-advancing, missional, Reformed church, light of the world, salt of the earth, city on a hill.
Because it isn’t. The glory has departed. It is Ichabod.
And Where Is Bruno?
Some Brunos end up deconstructing. Some Brunos never open a Bible again. Some Brunos can’t trust anyone again. Some Brunos crack under the pressure. Some Brunos end up taking their own lives. Some Brunos fight. Some Brunos remember with nostalgia what seemed to be good times. Some Brunos do carve a little hiding place that allows them to be somewhat close and watch those loved ones who reject them. Some Brunos wait for the Lord, but not in that passive, let go and let God sort of fashion they were always taught by their abusers. Some Brunos do just that and regret it all the time. Some Brunos do just that and can’t yet regret it at this time. Some Brunos need sometime to get their bearings back. Some Brunos can’t get up and keep moving. Some Brunos live in sadness and darkness. Some Brunos end up chronicling the evils that affect the church. Some Brunos just have no idea what to do next. Some Brunos are suffering deeply and alone. Some Brunos are being told their suffering is a result of their exposing of the sin committed against them.
And meanwhile, the one thing they do very clearly hear from the church is: “We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, no.” Bruno wants to destroy us. Bruno hurt us. Bruno is bitter as all he speaks about is this. Bruno has a flair for the dramatic. Bruno is a gossiper. Bruno is a slanderer. We just don’t talk about Bruno.
If we talk about Bruno, we have to deal with the fact that Bruno is made in the image of God and is a human being. Someone we are called to love.
Talking about Bruno (and not just gossip about Bruno saying he is a gossip) would require us to surrender before the Lord, acknowledge our corruption, and cry out for mercy. It would require us to look at Bruno in the eye, clearly acknowledge what we have done, what we have not done, what we have done half-heartedly. It would require us to listen to Bruno and not overpower him with the narrative we would prefer to hear. Doing so would require us to repent. And repentance of this kind is costly.
Does Bruno have things he must repent of? Absolutely. But we are experts at only blaming the abused and protecting the abuser. That’s the sad reality at Ichabod Bible Church.
Everybody pretends they are better off without Bruno.
But there is a whole town watching Casita collapse in the meantime, and they will be best served by being told the truth, by watching true repentance and reconciliation take place before their eyes. In times of canceling one another, we are hungry for redemption. And our present cultural norms don’t make room for redemption. After all, how in the world did Casita get rebuilt, folks? How can anyone truly come to be saved these days if they don’t see examples of redemption, real redemption, not false grace?
One of my favorite analogies from Scripture about the church comes from Peter. He describes the church as “living stones” that “are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The ending we know is true is far better than Encanto‘s: the townspeople don’t just come to repair the house. As they come to the Lord in true repentance, they become the spiritual house. After all, the same Peter reminds us that “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17a). Everything truly does work together for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
We cannot ignore the Great Commission impact of being truthful and humble about our sin.
I think if we haven’t acknowledged it yet, we are just being dense or hardhearted. Or perhaps just a little naive or distracted. After all, the music is pretty good. But every time we push Bruno aside, we ostracize him from the very community that Christ died to redeem. We leave Bruno hopeless, excluded from the only place where Justice is supposedly magnified. We leave the adopted Bruno thinking he is alone, that his Father has left him behind. We leave Bruno hiding, ashamed, believing lies about himself and his identity. We leave Bruno doubting the Word of God, the true word of prophecy. We leave him. And we move on. We replace the floors, we paint the walls, we platform our guy, we convince ourselves that we are right, we talk ourselves into thinking that Bruno is just nuts, a tool of the devil, snared by the devil, if not the devil himself.
Is that what God calls us to do? To complain that our dirty laundry gets aired while completely ignoring the putrid smell coming out of the hamper? This doesn’t require Febreze to cover up the smell. It requires to actually wash the laundry, to clean the source of the foul smell. And for that we have the blood of the Lamb who was slain for it all.
Is that the witness that we are to give to the town outside of the walls of the church? We get on these militant campaigns about love, but we don’t really love our Brunos.
The people outside our walls are watching. They always have been watching. They act like they don’t want what we have, but they do. We shouldn’t be surprised that they are not enticed by our invitations when they see what is lacking inside.
Let’s be frank, own our junk, confess our sin thoroughly and sincerely. Let’s display humility that images Christ to the watching world. Let’s obliterate “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from our churches’ practical liturgies.
Every time we act as if nothing happened, we make the problem worse.
And there is no amount of singing and dancing, mesmerizing distractions, and major chords that can pierce through the darkness and point to the ascended, resurrected, crucified Messiah. For that, we need the Word of God, not edited, not adulterated, not slanted.
When we don’t talk about Bruno, let’s not beat around the bush anymore, we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:25). And from there, we are on the fast lane, singing and dancing along to denying the Name by which all must be saved: “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Today, we don’t even need to be threatened into silence. We just remain quiet on our own.
My thanks to Disney and Lin-Manuel Miranda for this wonderful opportunity to reflect about our need for Christ. And yet, I also leave certainly aware that I might just be Bruno here, effectively making your fish die, turning your excitement about this movie into a discussion about spiritual abuse. Well, Bruno actually didn’t make the bad things happen. He was given sight to see them. But we can almost get ourselves into portraying him as the bad guy, as the one that brings the misfortune upon the family. This is a dangerous narrative, all too common–we focus on Bruno and blame him for the rightful consequences of the sin of those who abused Bruno. So, yes, I might have turned a happy hour and half of your life into a difficult discussion. But, if we really piece the magical green puzzle plates together, this is what it shows. We would rather pretend our house has no cracks and the magic is still strong. We truly are Abuelita. And that’s not very Christlike.
Yet also, I don’t want to be harsh to my dear brothers and sisters that are singing this song and quite happily. I am thankful for you. I am thankful that you have not had to face darkness like Bruno’s. Perhaps you have, and you have been healed by our Maker in a truly marvelous and complete way, and for that I am also thankful. Yet, one thing I see time and time again is that in our graciousness and kindness, we end up setting ourselves up for wolves to enter our flock and really harm us. So, if nothing else, just be aware. There are ways in which we can predispose ourselves to be complicit in systems that obliterate Brunos.