Clutching a fistful of pocket change and a full ticket book, I remember running into the “Magic Kingdom” as a kid. Yeah, it was 1970 and, yes, I’m old but give me a break…everyone who is a bit “younger” should let “old people” have their little walk down memory lane. OK? The “Ticket Book” for Disneyland was full of tickets with letters on them; the higher up the alphabet, the more exciting, imaginative and awe-inspiring the ride. I remember hounding my grandfather for his “E” tickets. I would promise him the world…take out the trash all summer, mow the lawn, walk the dog, wash the dishes…whatever it took to get more of those coveted “E” ticket rides. “D” rides were good on most days, but those “E’s”.
Disneyland for most of my life had always been a place of imagination and fascination. From the very beginning of the park’s inception, Uncle Walt desired to make Disneyland a place where magic occurred on a regular basis. Disneyland was supposed to be a place where not only a kid, but also an adult was “encapsulated” in a world of fantasy that emitted the sense of awe and wonder in the heart of the visitor. I have to admit, I took the bait. I loved going to Disneyland. Even when my family moved to California in 1971, I made my way back time and again to see things that were only in the creative mind’s eye. Even when the “all park pass” replaced the “E, D, C, B, and A” tickets, Disneyland was still the place to go for a dose of ingenuity. It was not only fun but also exciting to be engulfed in somewhat of a mythological world. Inanimate objects moved and appeared life-like. Robots didn’t look like the metal contraptions that scientists thought they would look like in the early days of robotic technology. These “characters” moved and spoke and even looked like people. I remember the chill that went up my spine (even when I was in my 20’s) when Abe Lincoln would stand and recite part of the Gettysburg Address. I remember having a blast seeing pirates magically chase women and appear drunk with pigs. They all moved! They were my heros…er, the technological geniuses behind my fantasy were my heroes. It was cutting edge at the time. And I looked forward to going year after year because it was a place where I thought, “hey, if they can do this, imagine what we can possibly do in the future”. I wondered at the time how the Disney “family” was going to keep up with the future…but even as new rides were rolled out, the sense of wonder and awe stayed the same. There was hope for fantasy and magic.
Match that up with a recent trip to Disneyland that I took with my wife. For a few years, we were season pass holders…more for the date night strolls down Main Street for people watching purposes than for the excitement and instigation of wonder. The Disney “family” has transformed into the Disney Corporation. Profits are now what run the Park. I can’t remember a new technology or an “attraction” that is really anything that ventures close to something we might call “cutting edge”. Things called “Memories” and “Money” have replaced “Creativity” and “Wonder”. No, I’m not some old scrooge getting cynical about a treasure of Americana. Rather, I’m simply pointing out that keeping “guests” engaged in a new world…challenging people’s imagination and fantasies…being the purveyors of “Imagineering” seems to no longer be what drives the Disney engine. Walk Tomorrowland sometime…there’s nothing there! They closed the best ride in the park, Space Mountain, to make “improvements”. There’s nothing “Tomorrow” about Tomorrowland. The Starwars ride you can get at any video arcade or miniature golf park. 3-D movies…been there, done that. Going around in circles on a “rocket”…I put my granddaughters on those types of rides all the time. That’s it! Even California Adventure is a rehashing of the old…nothing that spurs the sedimentary heart and mind. This article has nothing to do with cynicism; it has all to do with just calling a spade a spade.
You know, the Church isn’t much different. Creativity, Imagineering, wonder, awe and excitement are often replaced by the “bottom line”…memories and money. The status quo needs their memories. In fact, the Church is addicted to memories…an addiction that prevents many in its hallowed walls to be in denial about the real world and internally “satisfied” with the lack of spiritual engagement and impact on a world that is desperately looking for a “big story” filled with wonder and awe. I remember going to the student ministry group that eventually was instrumental in “reintroducing” me to God. There was something in those meetings that moved me. Awe, wonder, astonishment, ingenuity…the leaders took a “meta-narrative”…a story that was bigger than the universe…something that by its very nature was exciting and compelling beyond belief and presented it in a manner that engaged my life. Over the years, I was told that approach was something that was purely for “high school kids”. Someone, in fact, many “some ones” told me without reservation and with a pasty smile on their face that I would get “over” that approach and come to appreciate the “old” ways. And you know what? I did appreciate the “old” ways. They are worth appreciating but not living on as a steady diet. My experience of the church became like my experience at Disneyland over recent years…something that I did to remember what it felt like to really love and be passionate about God. Risk in the churches I attended was constantly put through the “memory” and “money” filter. Either we “couldn’t afford it” or “couldn’t do it” for some unknown, unspecified, unspoken, unquestioned reason. Over the years, a trip through the pews and sanctuaries of the churches I was a part of felt like a trip to the old “Country Bear Jamboree”…I knew every line, all the jokes, all the inside workings of the attraction…overtime, it all became just one big act to get me to remember and to give to support the memory.
Ministry and Christ-following in Community should be something that sets a heart on fire. Participating in the greatest story and endeavor in the history of humanity include more than saying a bunch of things that people have said and sung for centuries. I’m looking for wonder. I’m looking for a group of Christ-followers who are spiritual “imagineers”…looking to use earthly tools to construct a taste of the Kingdom. I want to have a “fistful” of excitement when I urge a friend to come and join me as a bunch of people get together to play with wonder. As much as we have tried to analyze and exegete the Church, you think we would get it right. But that’s been part of the problem! Exegeting the movement of the Holy Spirit is exactly what we should NOT be about. Exegeting is a science…it borders on something that smacks of a material, natural world…not the supernatural. Trying to comprehensively understand a phenomenon leads only to the science of “copying”. And there’s a major problem with that…copying what God is doing that is exciting in one place is like Knott’s Berry Farm attempting to copy the Matterhorn. It’s outrageous! Why not just “put up a sail” of openness and willingness to be led by the Lord and simply see where He will lead. I know that sounds “mysterious”…but it should sound that way. I know of church plants within certain denominations that only happen when a measurable group of denominational adherents agree to form an institution based around the workings of a constitution that has as a part of it a built in structure, polity, financial structure and religious practice. In that model of church planting, all you add are the memories and money and, wonder of wonders, a church comes into existence. No wonder (pun?) the church as a whole is losing its grasp in this culture. I guess inspiration, wonder and the leading of the Spirit have to take second place to “memories and money”.
The church today needs people to take the risk of being on the edge! Little gatherings of believers who are passionate about a risen Savior and Lord need to expose themselves to the danger of newness in order to engage people in the wonder of God. When I was leading a church in Utah, I remember many people coming from the “predominant religion” in the state and finding in the worship experience something they had never experienced before. I remember people leaving wondering, “What was that?” It was then we were able to point to the “wind of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”…a wind that blows and you have no idea from whence it comes (cf John 3). The Church needs that again. No more “memories and money”. No more denial of what is really happening. As far as I’m concerned, Disneyland can close until they regain the mission they once had. As far as I’m concerned, let’s close as many churches as possible until we start to regain the passion that kindled the fires of heart of people who turned the world upside down centuries ago…let’s close as many churches as possible until we see the Spirit of God ignite a new fire which leads wandering hearts and lives into heavenly wonder, imagination and awe.