POOR UNFORTUNATE SOULS
It’s a classic scene from the Disney hit “The Little Mermaid”. Ariel, the red-headed mermaid star of the show, desperately wants to become human so that she could connect with Prince Eric, her handsome earth-bound love interest. Despite warnings from her chaperon, the somewhat cranky Sebastian the crab, Ariel approaches the over-bearing villain in this story, a rather portly octopus named Ursula. For reasons that are not necessarily obvious, Ursula has the power to transform wishes into reality……for a price! Failure to meet the terms of this ill-advised deal results in more than just the loss of something of intrinsic value to the participant; if the terms are not met, the “poor unfortunate souls” are sentenced to an eternity as “worms” in Ursula’s garden.
The stark reality of the risk in this situation seems obvious, so you might ask why would anyone would agree to Ursula’s terms? She unapologetically demands extremely high stakes from those who seek her assistance. Yet, from the looks of her “garden”, it appears numerous individuals in this undersea world took her up on her exorbitant offer. Why?
I think Ursula provides the best answer to that question herself in the song she sings while trying to convince Ariel to sign on the dotted line.
Poor unfortunate souls, in pain, in need
This one longing to be thinner, that one wants to get the girl
And do I help them? Yes, indeed
Those poor unfortunate souls, So sad, so true
They come flocking to my cauldron, Crying, “Spells, Ursula, please!”
And I help them! Yes I do.
Now it’s happened once or twice someone couldn’t pay the price
And I’m afraid I had to rake ’em ‘cross the coals…..
Come on you poor unfortunate soul, Go ahead!
Make your choice!
It’s sad but true, If you want to cross the bridge, my sweet
You’ve got the pay the toll
Take a gulp and take a breath and go ahead and sign the scroll
You poor unfortunate soul
I know this is just a movie, but the truth behind this song seems to be shouting a warning to the culture we are currently living in. More and more it seems that people are willing to do almost anything to get what they want when they want it……no matter the cost. I’m not just speaking of the financial costs, though that certainly is a subject that is worthy of deeper consideration. But I am particularly thinking of the far greater price people are willing to risk to achieve their desired outcome. The risk factor of some of the “deals” we are making seem absolutely ludicrous, yet people all around us are entering into those agreements every day. It seems like we as a society have become so focused on the “new sparkly thingamabobs” that we have ignored the incredible price that is required to obtain them…to the detriment of us all.
Those who profit in one way or another from such ill-conceived pursuits must be laughing under the slick smiles they use to close their deals with such a short-sighted population. Mankind seems to be running headlong into one mess after another, all couched in the language of progress, convenience, and self-righteousness. In the Western world we’re literally drowning in materialism and political jousting. The onslaught of advertising on TV, radio, or countless social media apps has created a culture of “never having enough” where even the “latest and greatest” is outdated as soon as it comes out. Differences of opinions and political ideologies have led to the creation of a “us/them” outlook on virtually every social issue — with the “us” folks being right and the “them” folks always being wrong. We want our stuff and we want everyone to accept our point of view…..and, unfortunately, it seems like many of us will do almost anything to make that happen. No matter how you look at it, this is a bad deal destined to relegate us to a “garden of disillusionment”. How much are we willing to pay to get what we want and to bring others into full alignment with our own way of thinking? I think the price we are paying for such outcomes is way too high!!
I don’t think God ever intended us to have “everything we ever wanted”, at least not materially, or have everyone else always agree with us. Even those folks who are the most similar to us may have different thoughts, dreams and experiences that we do. People are crossing moral lines to enforce their opinions, to get the next promotion, or to cut an ethical corner. Those who disagree with our point of view are openly mocked, unduly criticized, and purposely attacked. Members of different races, different political parties, or even different churches can’t find it within themselves to act with grace, dignity and charity toward those on the “outside” of their little circle. We not only are making mountains out of molehills……we are paying an exorbitant price for the privilege of doing so. How much are we willing to give up to the Ursula’s of the world to see our side “win”, to get what we want, to obtain the elusive “thingamabob”.
In my personal opinion I think a lot of the mental health, social unrest, political turmoil, and violent outbreaks we are seeing in our culture have been unnecessarily fueled by this insatiable quest for more — more stuff, more freedom to do whatever we want when we want to do it, and more acceptance to color outside the lines of God’s moral boundaries. Those “thingamabobs” are all bright and shiny, and would seem to offer us that which we want the most. But the cost for obtaining those trinkets, unrestrained freedom, and absolution from moral responsibility is evidently beyond our comprehension. As we haphazardly sign on the dotted line there’s an Ursula somewhere singing “You poor unfortunate soul”.
“The Little Mermaid” may be just a lighthearted family movie, but the message of Ursula’s song should resonate with all of us. None of us can escape the reality of the culture around us, but we can decide how we will live in the midst of the chaos. Our friends, family, political parties, churches, social clubs, employers, or government authorities may try to push us in one direction or another, but we have to make our own choices. No amount of slick advertising, promotional campaigns, heated rhetoric, or peer pressure should sway the decisions we need to make within our culture to best represent who we truly want to be and the God we claim to serve.
. We may live in a secular culture that seems to be moving in the wrong direction, but there is hope even amidst all of the bad news that is dominating our headlines. The shiny “thingamabobs” will always be there with an Ursula somewhere behind the scenes trying to get us to take the bait. But we don’t have to respond. Anticipating such times Jesus prayed, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Let’s not be one of those “poor unfortunate souls” trading the invaluable resources of our time, talent and future for the changing whims of the culture around us. We can, should and must avoid the attractive sales presentations that cover up the true cost of the decisions we are being asked to make. Unlike Ariel, let’s keep our voice and use it to make a difference.