Wednesday, June 23, 2021

What's Your Atmosphere?

 Dear Friends,

Walt Disney was a genius at creating an emotional environment in animated features. Using a palette of color, light, music and sound effects, he painted atmospheres for each scene that transformed “cartoons” into an art form. Disney was a master storyteller who knew that atmosphere can evoke emotions even better than words. Think of 101 Dalmatians – the original 1961 animated feature. Pongo and Perdita fall in love, get married and have a litter of fifteen Dalmatian puppies. Villainess Cruella De Vil (get it? her name is cruel devil) sends her henchmen to kidnap the puppies because she is going to make a fur coat out of them. In scenes with Pongo and Perdita and the puppies, the background colors are restful shades of brown and blues. Both mom and dad Dalmatians speak in gentle, caring tones. Soft, restful orchestral music fills the background and the sound effect of a crackling fire in the fireplace completes the atmosphere. It’s a place of quiet, warmth and love. It’s safe and inviting and we emotionally connect to this very human-like family of cute and cuddly dogs. 

Suddenly the scene changes. Cruella De Vil is frantically berating her henchmen. “YOU FOOLS!” she shrieks. Her huge mink coat swings wildly about her and her green, foul-smelling cigarette smoke follows her like an evil cloud. Background colors in scenes with Cruella De Vil are sharp and discordant with strong reds and purples or they are oppressive and nightmarish swirls of black and grey grunge. Her voice is shrill, strident and loud. Harsh, screeching music fills the background. Sound effects of cars skidding and doors slamming penetrate her scenes. Your pulse rate and respirations have noticeably increased. You are now feeling tense and on-edge.

As you watch 101 Dalmatians, your emotional response to the atmospheric sounds and images is being manipulated by Walt Disney, the master mood-maker. Pongo, Perdita and the puppies bring into each scene an atmosphere of love, warmth and caring. Cruella De Vil brings an on-screen atmosphere of danger, and the tension we feel from the rising adrenaline in our bodies is our normal and natural systemic response to peril. We are responding emotionally just as Walt knew we would !

When you walk into a room, what’s the atmosphere that you bring with you? What are the feelings you evoke in people when you enter a room? We’ve all known people who can set your teeth on edge just by walking into a room. They may not say a word but you feel their anger, tension and unhappiness. The atmosphere changes. When they come into the room notice the expressions on the faces of others. People feel the negative atmosphere and their physical reaction is often an automatic defensive response. Eyes narrow and people look down or away. Words are strained. There’s an under-current of tension that arrived with the person and that will leave with the person. Sometimes you’re not aware of the atmospheric changes in the room until the person has left and you feel a sense of relief. 

We thank God for all the people that we know who bring a smile to faces just by walking into the room. People are happy to see them. We are relaxed and comfortable in their presence. You just want to hug them. They have brought with them an atmosphere of God’s grace, peace and harmony that seems to linger in the room long after they’ve gone. 

The atmosphere that you and I bring into a room is not created by music, colors and sound effects. It’s created by our attitude. If you need to change your “atmosphere,” you don’t need the advice of Walt Disney. You need the advice from Paul: 

“Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:9-18 NLT

When we are living the Christian life and following Jesus, we are living in His presence. Then when we walk into a room, we bring His presence with us and “in His presence there is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11 And, that’s the atmosphere that is welcomed by all. Amen?

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