Encanto, Erbium and Spiritual Gifts

I can guarantee that you will not find on this planet an article that contains the three elements from this title.

By “Encanto,” I mean the popular Disney animated musical that takes place in Colombia. By “Erbium,” I mean the metallic element that’s part of the Rare Earth family. And by “spiritual gifts ...” well, you pastors, know what those are. So, how do these go together?

Let me start with Encanto. The featured star of the story is Mirabel, a teenage member of the Madrigal family. The family is famous, because each member has been gifted with a miraculous ability (like healing or super strength) to aid their small community. Everyone has a gift except Mirabel! And when her time has come to receive her special gift, the gifting ceremony fails and no gift comes. Yet despite this lack, Mirabel determines to be helpful to the family and community, keeping a positive frame of mind. But this all ends when the next family member, a young cousin, does receive a miraculous gift. And in the ensuing family portrait no one invited Mirabel in. Her disappointment is beautifully expressed in the song “Waiting for a Miracle.”

The rest of the movie follows her journey seeking that miracle. In the course of it, she finds that her gifted sisters were straining under the pressure of expectations that go along with their gifts. She sees that the family itself was under this strain, and it showed via the cracks in the family home. After a major breaking point in the family’s connections (and the house itself collapses), Mirabel is able to reconcile with Abuela (grandmother), the family’s leader. They have a broad family reconciliation, complete with a rebuilding of the broken family home.

I know all about concerns of watching Disney-type films with their emphasis on poor theology regarding the supernatural world. All scripts these days seem to call for super-powers. Where it’s difficult for Christian families is that Hollywood doesn’t feel comfortable putting God in their stories. Because of this, when prayers are used they aren’t usually directed to where we know there are answers. Instead, like with Encanto, they are directed towards some kind of “magical source.”

When you feel you can’t use God, what’s left? Anyway, I always “bleep out” that stuff in order to take in the common family issues that they do so well in highlighting. What I do is similar to what the Apostle Paul must have done when he read the works of Aratus and Epimenides. He found useful truths among the thorns of bad theology.

This idea of wanting to be useful, wanting to be gifted for the sake of the family and community is something that many can relate to. Just check out the comments on YouTube under Encanto’s family issues music, and there are scores of people who wept at the pertinent scenes. We all want to contribute, especially when others are already using their gifts.

Where does Erbium come in? Some of you know that I am an elements guy. I have a serious collection of God’s building blocks, and I find them all interesting in what their particular properties are. That is, I note the gifts God has given them. But Erbium?

Despite having “sisters” like Neodymium, which is a source of super magnets, Erbium has the regrettable title of being “the most useless element.” That is, everything Erbium can do, other elements do better. However, we’ve only been able to study pure Erbium for a few decades. We still don’t know all it can do. I use this story to share with teenagers who might think they aren’t as pretty, strong, smart, or whatever, as their classmates. It might simply be a matter of future discovery.

So, what about spiritual gifts? We can see them operating in others. Do all have them?

A recent series on spiritual gifts by Randy Roberts of the Loma Linda University Church points out that not everyone has “talents,” but the Holy Spirit has given spiritual gifts to all to build up the church. These are special capacities for service. Some are more upfront and visible.

What Mirabel didn’t realize until later was that by being helpful, supportive, caring, empathetic and encouraging, she was just “the gift that her family needed.” Her uncle Bruno told her that. But…”we don’t talk about Bruno!”


Stan Hudson

North Pacific Union Conference creation ministries director