One of the most inspirational places in the world is…Disney World.
Why would I say such an awful thing? You’re thinking that maybe I have stopped thinking, that I should not have gone to Orlando in August, since my brain was obviously fried in the hot Florida sun, causing me to make such a ridiculous remark.
Or maybe you’re thinking that I was inspired in the way that G.K. Chesterton was inspired when he remarked of a certain American city (let’s just say it was New York, since it was) that it reminded him of hell… “Pleasantly, of course.” Hell is inspiring as a place to be avoided.
Or, you may think I have fallen under the spell of the Magic Kingdom with its idealization of Main Street, the coming to life of fantasy, the acting out of romantic adventures, the revisiting of a history that never was, and the pre-visiting of a future that never will be.
But even if those things are part of what attracts, they are also part of what detracts. What people find there is not what they’re looking for. It is anything but satisfying. Most everyone drag their feet out of the park, tired and exhausted and wondering reluctantly at what they just put themselves through. They don’t think too much about it because they return the next day to the next theme park. They line up like sheep. Where else will you stand in line for an hour to go on a ride that you pray will end quickly? Where else do you willingly accept the open assault on your wallet?
Is it because people of all races, creeds, and colors, and classes gather together peacefully—if catatonically—to enjoy something in common, and, as I say, in peace? Is it because they come as families? Is it because the variety of people who show up, fascinating folks in all shapes and sizes and choices of clothing, provide a better show than the one you’re paying for?
What is it that is so inspirational? I’d better have a good answer.
Let me start by saying that the reason I took my family to Wally World was that we happened to have attended the annual G.K. Chesterton conference which this year happened to be in Orlando. Everyone should go to a Chesterton Conference immediately before going to Disney World. A Chesterton conference is truly inspiring, bringing together a much smaller group of people from all over the country (and other countries) to consider the words and ideas of someone who thought profoundly and perceptively about everything and who always pointed to God. Missing in Disney World is almost any reference at all to religion. (There was, to be sure, a Bible in the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, but it was not something you can stop and read, and I think it was pasted in place, and you had to keep the line moving.) At the Chesterton conference, there were enough places to sit and there were no long lines. And it was cheaper. And the peace was not a still panic but profoundly restorative as we laughed and worshipped together. In Disney World, you wish there were less people there. At a Chesterton conference, you wish there were more.
But what do the two experiences have in common? What do G.K. Chesterton and Walt Disney have in common? They both knew the importance of fairy tales. The Ethics of Elfland. Fairy tales are always retold not because they never happened but because they always happen. Children love them because they have vivid imaginations and because they, as Chesterton says, “adore moralizing.” They love justice. They insist on resolution, on a happy ending, with the princess rescued and the dragon slayed.
Chesterton also knew that science was a toy, which is certainly what it is at Disney World. He knew that the future is never what it used to be, which is why it always being redesigned at Disney, while past remains more stable. And Gilbert and Walt both loved Main Street and loved the characters on the sidewalks even more than the cartoon animals who imitate them. Cats and dogs and mice and elephants are only amusing for their human qualities.
Disney World is an unreal place in every respect, so naturally I thought about reality. And that is the reason I was so inspired: everything made me think about reality.
I went on a ride that imitated flying, but I wasn’t flying. I went into a haunted house that wasn’t haunted. I climbed a tree that was made of concrete. (“Concrete” is a reference to the real.) At Epcot, I walked around the whole world in one afternoon. I even had the experience of putting on “Virtual Reality” goggles and seeing vivid images of things that weren’t there. Virtual is not virtuous, but the point is it wants to be good. Animation is not life, but it is life-like, and life is good. Creativity is a God-like quality, and we are God-like when we are creative, and we are acknowledging the Creator with every acknowledgement of creation. Imagination is the unique act of the creature made in the image of God. The other creatures cannot imagine anything; they cannot make images.
And while we can be awestruck by the image, we are never happy when we worship it. We are happy only when we worship the Maker of heaven and earth. And we experience the ultimate reality when we taste and see that the Lord is good. Disney World made me want to go to Mass.
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