Monday, October 10, 2011

The Happiest Place On Earth

We spent Fall Break in Florida. First we spent Saturday night with my parents and had the privilege of attending church with them on Sunday, where, by the way, we were blessed to hear a wonderfully gospel-saturated sermon that I believe may be one of the clearest and most encouraging presentations of how the gospel, and how the gospel is not merely the starting or entry point but it is what we need for Kingdom living, that I have ever heard and which left me in tears and thanking God for His marvelous grace.  This thought, especially, hit home for me, that being a slave of Christ means knowing that the only Person who matters in the universe sees me and accepts me, not because of anything I have done or been or could do or be, but because of His sacrifice alone, and that eliminates the need for people-pleasing and seeking the approval of others. It frees me to live a life that honors Him in gratitude. It was a wonderful way to start our week. 
We spent the next couple of days at Walt Disney World. Let me just say, I liked WDW a whole lot better when I was younger. WDW today is, as I’m telling my kids, “Not your mother’s Disney World” anymore. As I’ve thought over our week, I think I’ve finally come to the bottom of what my problem was. I liked WDW better when we lived in Florida and had the FL Resident passes and could go for a day or an afternoon at a time and then go home. Several days staying in a resort hotel on Disney property, (actually we stayed at Shades of Green, which is the military resort there on Disney property but not a Disney-owned resort) surrounded by Disney follow-your-dream theology day in and day out for DAYS is too much for me. Yeah, I said, ‘theology.’ I’m probably about to make a bunch of people mad at me, because, well, you don’t diss The Mouse, right? 
Anywho....for the record, we had a good time overall. The kids had a blast, and Rachel, at 5-years-old, is probably just the right age to really enjoy the Disney experience the most of all of us. I think the best part of the week for me was watching the kids’ expressions and enjoyment. In all honesty, I think I actually enjoyed our day at Universal Studios more than the days at Disney. The boys really liked the Harry Potter stuff and the Hogwarts castle ride was really cool if you like the books. Universal isn’t as over-the-top as Disney, and therefore it is just more fun, in my opinion. Disney is just so intense nowadays it’s almost hard to enjoy it as much as you want to. Also, for the record, I am not saying it’s wrong to go to WDW and enjoy the Disney experience. What I’m exploring here is why I felt so much less thrilled with the Disney experience this time than in years past and trying to hash out the thoughts that have been bumping around in my brain since we came home. 
Part of what I don’t like as much about WDW these days is that it is not spontaneous like it used to be. I remember when you would wander the parks and run into the characters and say, “Hey, there’s Mickey, let’s get a picture!” and a line might spontaneously form there for a bit until Mickey or whoever had to move on to the next spot. Nowadays, there are set times and ‘character spots’ and the line to have pictures can take 30 minutes or more and there’s always a Disney employee ‘handler’ with the characters and professional photographer making sure you get just the perfect photos (for an exorbitant fee if you so choose to purchase them, too). And as for eating at the restaurants? Forget about it. Unless you make reservations months, nay, sometimes years in advance, be prepared to eat obscenely over-priced fast food at one of the non-reservation places. I told my husband one dinner time that it kind of made me sick to pay that much for food when none of the choices were even what any of us wanted. 
And you can’t even walk through the castle anymore. 
But all of that is just how it is and you pretty much know that going in to the Disney experience these days. Times change, you know, hard as that may be for those of us who cling to our nostalgia to accept.
What got me thinking, though, was the constant Disney indoctrination of the ‘Dreams Come True’ philosophy. That’s always been the Disney theme, no mistake, and on the surface it has some merit. It’s not a bad thing to find something you want to do, are good at doing, and to work hard to achieve it and to succeed. Innovation and creativity and perseverance are all admirable characteristics and desperately needed in our world. But as I watched the show on the castle stage that prevented us from walking through the castle, I was struck with the worldview it was espousing. Mickey and Minnie had the crowd worked up and chanting, “Dreams come true! Dreams come true! Dreams come true!” and just like that, the conflict resolved because we ‘believed’ so hard that dreams come true! The Disney philosophy is basically be nice and believe, really believe enough, in whatever you’re believing in and what you want will come true for you. It’s basically word-faith with the pseudo-Christian language stripped away. 
I was listening to Albert Mohler talking on his program a while ago about something called “Therapeutic Moralistic Deism” which a pretty good argument can be made is really the underlying faith system of most of America. Even people who think they are Christians, are really believing something much more shallow. Be nice, be ‘good’, live a ‘good’ life, follow your dreams, be all you can be, find your self-actualization, (it’s all about you!), rest in peace. But that is not all there is. That is not the gospel. It is, however, the very pervasive, subtle message that is in your face in our culture and which just about suffocated me at Disney this time around. 
And I think that’s what bothers me when I spend more than a day enclosed in the all-Disney, all the time way we were this past week. Disney sells an image. You should see all the little girls walking around whose parents have spent upwards of $200 dollars or more for a princess dress, nails, hair, makeup, shoes, tiara and who look like those monster baby beauty-pageant contestants. Rachel, of course, wanted to do that. We said, “That’s too much, too overdone.” And, that’s what it boils down to. Disney takes fun and imagination and pretend and goes WAY overboard.....all for a hefty price, too. I’m all for letting my little girl dress up and pretend and be girly and all that, but I will not let her walk around like a little diva thinking it’s all about her. We’re already having some issues there, no way am I going to intentionally feed her little sin nature, not even for a visit to Disney. We in our culture are so prone to take innocent little fun things and somehow make them an idol and go way overboard in the guise of loving our children, and Disney TOTALLY feeds that. Embarrassingly gluttonous spending orgies are all but expected. Materialistic consumerism to excess and beyond. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m kind of sickened by the whole ‘princess’ culture these days. I cannot stand the princess Bibles and stuff in the Christian bookstore. I fear we are raising a generation of girls who are so focused on outward beauty and so convinced they are little princesses that we will be sorry when we reap the narcissistic consequences as these girls grow up into self-centered girls with shallow ideas of beauty and womanhood. Just a little soapbox tangent for a moment there. Could probably write a whole blog post on that topic alone. Anyway, in the case of my own daughter I am constantly praying that we’ll be able to teach her that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised. 
A steady diet of fairy tales and Disney, as fun as they are, are counter to the truth. Like I said, I think a wise family can go to Disney and enjoy it, but my caution wise. You have to come home again. What Disney is selling is, ultimately, a lie. As long as you know that going in, you can enjoy the rides and leave the philosophy at the door. Problem is, I think an awful lot of people buy the philosophy hook-line-and-sinker. To be honest, I liked our day at Universal Studios Orlando better because it was less in-your-face and more just enjoying ourselves. You don’t so completely immerse in a worldview like you do at Disney, where the ‘cast-members’ are constantly preaching their message. Maybe I’ve just become jaded with the over-the-top feel at Disney, but it didn’t sit well with me this time around. 
Thing is, you can dream all you want and be wildly successful and achieve every single thing you’ve ever wanted to achieve and have the acclaim of millions, but if you neglect the one thing that really matters, if you miss the gospel, not one of those fulfilled dreams will ultimately matter. This life is not all there is. So, yes, work to achieve, but keep the Kingdom, the true Kingdom, in mind in all things and motivations. 
Lest anyone think I’m over-thinking again, which I am often told I do, Jesus addressed this when he said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Just something I’ve been thinking about.

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