Thursday, February 7, 2013

Disney Magic

We all need a little magic in our lives, especially in the dead of winter when all seems still and gray.  I recently had the joy of escaping cold and snowy Virginia for five days to attend a ministers' conference on Creativity in warm and sunny Winter Park, Florida.  We were inspired with workshops on storytelling, multi-sensory preaching, brainstorming, and worship planning.  But perhaps the biggest draw was the prospect of a day spent at Walt Disney World.

I hadn't been to the Magic Kingdom since I was 5 or 6 (30 years ago!) but it was amazing how the memories came flooding back: the monorail ride into the park, the entrance gates, the view of Cinderella's castle from Main Street, and "climbing" up the Swiss Family Robinson's treehouse.  The sounds of "It's a small world" and the smells of the food were sensory triggers taking me back to my childhood.  I stood in wonder taking it in, much like I must have done as a child.  It's amazing how a place built to entertain children can still seem magical to a cynical adult.

I'm not a stranger to the magnetic pull of Disney.  My family took a cruise on the Disney Dream two years ago and it remains an all-time favorite memory.  I left feeling like I had been brainwashed, but in the best possible way.  While I'm normally pretty frugal and the thought of spending so much on a trip seemed frivolous at best (and perhaps irresponsible as the money could have been used for much higher purposes), by the time we left, I felt that we had gained much more than we paid for.  We were pampered and entertained, and had the luxury of enjoying family time, couple time, and personal alone time.  We didn't have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or even bills (as all of our charges were added to our account with a swipe of our room key, no need to even see the escalating expenses...hmmm, maybe that's not so good).  Although I worried that our kids would be spoiled by everyone calling them "prince" and "princess" and catering to their every need, to my surprise, they were able to relax and enjoy the vacation, becoming less high maintenance.  Although it seemed corny at first, I came to believe the sincerity the "cast members'" (Disney's word for employees) phrase, "Have a magical day!"  By the end, I was sold (literally) on their amazing customer ("guest") service and their business model.  I started devouring blogs and books about Disney culture, and that is where I ultimately decided to attend the Creativity conference as folks connected with Disney would be leading some of the presentations.

In our workshops, we learned about Disney's "Blue Sky Thinking" brainstorming process.  What would you do if there were no limits (time, money, skills, resources)?  Anything goes in the initial stages.  We learned how they inspire creativity in one another through collaboration and utilizing each other's differing skills.  Discussing how their use of story is incorporated into everything, from the park's entrance to the closing show, I thought about the importance of story in our lives.  In understanding their priorities (safety, courtesy, show, and that order), I reflected on the values that guide my work and mission.  We discussed the questions "What can the church learn from Disney?" and "What can Disney learn from the church?" and realized we had more examples for the former than the latter.

As I explored the new Fantasyland and watched the "Wishes" fireworks spectacular at the closing, I kept wondering, "How do they do that?!" until I finally allowed myself just to get lost in the mystery and beauty.  And then it hit me what Disney can learn from the church.  We have the ultimate story of Mystery and Beauty--the story of eternal Love and redemption.  It is not a fairy tale; it is much better than that.  Fairy tales may be about "happily ever after" and if "you dream it, you can be it", but the Truth of God's story is that even in the broken messiness of real life, we can find peace and contentment.  We're not guaranteed a happy ending in this life, but we are given the responsibility and authority to work towards bringing about the kingdom of God.  And that's way bigger than the mouse's Magic Kingdom.

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