In Praise of Paper Bag Princess, Belle and Mrs. Potts

The theatrical sound track to raising our two daughters was ‘Beauty and the Beast’.  The 1991 animated Disney film was the movie of choice on our VHS tape deck.   When I close my eyes I  see our daughters seated at their child size arts and crafts table painting and pasting, while Lumiere and Cogsworth playfully bicker from the screen.

The sweetness of the movie features a strong, book reading heroine named Belle who saves the Beast from prison.   A prison created by his own selfish spirit.  Only if the Beast can learn to love and be freely loved in return can the spell of an enchantress be broken.

This weekend a new live action adaptation of this classic animated movie opened. Starring Emma Watson as Belle.  Always a challenge to attempt a retelling of a classic tale this cast pulls it off.

Belle’s father, played by Kevin Kline is asked by his daughter to describe her mother, who died when Belle was an infant.  Her father replies: ‘She was fearless.  Absolutely fearless’.   This is the attribute that Disney emphasizes for the heroine Belle.

In raising our daughters we looked for strong, feminist role models in popular culture.   We knew that such role models would help to fire the imagination of our girls as they grew.   A helpful librarian introduced us to ‘The Paper Bag Princess’, a self sufficient girl who doesn’t wait for the prince to rescue her from the dragon.

In like manner Belle  is an independent heroine who defies the expectations of her village to conform.  She is a fearless in rescuing her father from the Beast’s prison and ultimately her courage and compassion frees the Beast from a prison of his own  making.

This weekend my wife and I went to see the new Beauty and the Beast with our youngest daughter now 22.   That same evening our eldest daughter age 25 went to see the film on the west coast with her friends.  We all agreed we loved it.

It was a pleasure to hear the familiar songs.  Angela Lansbury the Mrs. Potts that helped raise countless children, was replaced by the voice of Emma Thompson.  Both actors brought the same kindness and protective mama vibe to their role.

Adding to the experience 20 plus  years later was seeing the intelligent, compassionate, fearless women that our daughters have become.  Its comforting to know that Belle and Mrs. Potts whose story line and sound track were part of our daughters childhood, will continue to entertain and encourage a new generation to love books, to be fearless and kind.


Stories from the March: We Belong to One Another

The Women’s March on the day following President Trump’s Inauguration was a grassroots movement that brought millions into the streets (in cities across the nation and world).  Each person who marched has their own story. 

This is the second of two ‘guest blog’ installments by my friend and pastoral colleague, Julie Flowers In the week since the March, President Trump has already written a flurry of executive orders and signaled plans for new laws.  Changes that I believe will erode our core values as a nation. 

Democracy is a fragile enterprise and requires that each generation give voice to and protect those core values that define who we want to be.  I invite you to read Julie’s story, reflect on what you hold dear and get involved.  

Installment 2: In Which We March

(Intersectionality, Connection, Anti-Racism, Feminism, and a Moment That Could be a Movement)

 We followed the crush of people up the stairs and out of the Metro station, stepping out into the overcast Washington, D.C. morning. Elisabeth and I paused, trying to get our bearings. There were people everywhere. There were street vendors calling to us, selling hats, shirts, and buttons; there were crowds moving in a throng toward the National Mall; there were Women’s March volunteers in orange mesh vests, answering questions and pointing the way toward where the marchers were gathering: down toward the Mall, past the vast island of port-a-potties, a chanting, cheering, sign-holding crowded that already, even at this early morning hour, stretched for city blocks. Taking it all in, Elisabeth and I set out toward the Mall, as chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” echoed just beyond us.


We made our way, merging into the crowd we had seen in the distance. Now we were not outsiders looking in – we were one with this mass of people, closely packed into the streets. The crowd was mostly women, although there were certainly a large number of men – of all ages, all races, and with varied stories. Some were there in wheelchairs. Others walked with a walker or a cane. Some clutched the hands of young children or wore babies in carriers, securely strapped to their bodies. And we were a part of it.

All around us, we saw signs – “Look at that one!” we would call out to one another, as we noticed a favorite. We took pictures. Everyone was talking, strangers in the crowd becoming friends, even if only for those few moments. We were united in a common cause – resisting hate and standing up for women, for our POC sisters and brothers, for immigrants, for Muslims, for the environment, for education, for freedom.


Something happened, there in that place. For those moments, in that unique time, in a crowd that could have been pushy and angry with one another, annoyed at being packed in too tight and too close, annoyed at being hungry and thirsty and tired, the opposite happened. People saw one another. People worked together to make sure a wheelchair could easily pass through. Young people stopped to help older people down a curb or over a low fence. A middle-aged woman led a young woman who looked faint out of the tightest part of the crowd by the hand. They had only met moments before when the older woman noticed the younger one was struggling, and now, in this place, they were friends – and more than that – they belonged to one another.

There was an attention to and a care for the mutual well-being of those in that crowd. I saw people look one another in the eye. I heard people offer words of care, kindness, and support. I saw countless people in one area open bags and produce a wide array of snacks for a little boy who was hungry.

Lilla Watson, an Indigenous woman and artist from Australia, said:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

In those moments, crowded together there on the National Mall, spilling over onto city street upon city street, there was the spark of the realization that our liberation is, indeed, bound up with one another. We were a sea of stories; a sea of backgrounds; a sea of experiences, and we could not – and we cannot – rise without one another.

Feminism – and make no mistake, the feminist movement has room for women and men – must be an intersectional endeavor if we truly want to bring about our shared liberation. Intersectionality, a term first coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw is a means to express the reality that women experience oppression in varying configurations and degrees of intensity.

There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism. For example, black women face both sexism and racism as they navigate their day-to-day lives. Or a black lesbian woman faces racism, sexism, and homophobia. Intersectionality is the term given to acknowledging those layers and unique lived experiences of women.

To forge a way forward, to truly resist the hateful rhetoric and damaging and dangerous actions of Donald Trump’s administration, we must acknowledge that our liberation is bound up in one another’s. As a white woman, too, I am committed to acknowledging and checking the privilege that the system affords me for nothing more than the color of the skin into which I was born, and to inviting the voices and the experiences and the leadership of my sisters of color to come forward. Women and men of color in this nation have been fighting and marching and chanting and organizing against a system that oppresses and disenfranchises them for hundreds of years.


For many of us, waking up in despair on November 9th and all that has unfolded since, has been but a small taste of what it’s been like to stand in their shoes in this nation. Respect for their voices, their experiences, and their struggle is imperative if we wish to move ahead and win liberation against tyranny and hate for all of us. If we wish to move ahead and save our planet. If we wish to move ahead and protect women’s rights to make choices about their own bodies. If we wish to move ahead and fight for equal rights and dignity and justice for all people.

Our liberation is bound up with each other. Divided, we will fall. There is no question.

The women’s marches – not only in Washington, D.C. but all across the nation and around the world – were a moment. But there is, within that moment, the power and the potential to unleash a movement. A beautiful, powerful, intersectional, anti-racist, feminist, justice-seeking, movement.

The chants of the march echo still in my ears: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

May it be so.

If you want to read more about feminism, intersectionality, and the Women’s March, here are a few resources (not intended to exhaustive in any way!) to get you started:

In Praise of Paper Bag Princess

My daughter recently sent me a list of The Best Feminist Picture Books: She prefaced this by saying, ‘this made me think of you’.

Twenty-three years ago my wife and I had our first child, a daughter. As a dad it was important to me that the stories we read didn’t follow the standard formula of the handsome prince saving the girl in the tower.

As a new dad I asked our local librarian to recommend books where the girl was the hero. She said there weren’t many books like that but a new book had crossed her desk ‘The Paper Bag Princess’.

Paper Bag Princess

The Paper Bag Princess is the story of a princess who’s had enough of waiting for her knight in shining armor, she takes off and vanquishes the dragon and then decides the prince (whom she rescued), is not worth her valuable time after he makes a rude comment about her appearance.

I thought, ‘this is the kind of book I want to read to my daughter!’ One of the qualities that attracted me to my wife is that she is a smart, strong, independent woman. In raising our daughters (another daughter would follow a few years later), our goal was to raise strong, adventurous, socially conscious young women. The Paper Bag Princess was a good place to start.

Twenty three years later our two daughters are launched. One is living and working in Los Angeles as she pursues her passion and the other is studying for a semester in Ireland with adventures ahead. Both are setting their own course and inspire me.

We continue to live in an a world that is too often sexist and misogynistic. Yet we’ve made progress in the last twenty years. In a recent listing of The Best Feminist Picture Books, there are many more books to inspire girls and boys to follow their dreams.