I took a few weeks off from the blog for some much needed vacation and some much needed focus on my dissertation. I spent vacation with my family at Disney World in Orlando Florida. We avoided Hurricane Matthew and had a wonderful time. As I was there, I was caught up in the magic and wonder of Disneyworld. I have been reading a lot about Walt Disney since being down there. He was a total genius.
I was inspired by the way Walt Disney and his company understood the centrality of story. Disney started out by going back to old stories and retelling them in a new way. We forget how forward thinking this was when Disney created Snow White. No one thought cartoons could do more than make you laugh. Disney thought they could make you cry and tell a story. Everything in Disney is about the stories or creating new stories.
Walt Disney understood symbol as a big part of story. He didn’t just create seven dwarves. He made them all quirky and unique. His stories were filled with symbols like poison apples and thimbles. Disney made money on merchandising before it was assumed you should do that. He understood that you wanted symbolic ways of remembering your stories.
When he built Disneyland, he insisted that the Sleeping Beauty’s castle be completed first. He wanted the park to be built around that symbol. Likewise, each park at Disneyworld has a central symbol that holds it all together—the Epcot Ball, the Magic Kingdom Castle, the Animal Kingdom Tree of Life, and the Hollywood Boulevard and the Great Move Ride in Hollywood Studios. The symbol is the anchor of the story.
Every aspect of each park or area is designed to help you experience the story. When Disney made Disneyland, theme parks were dirty and strange carnivals. Disney wanted to create a clean and wonderful place so that people could experience another world. They could go there and experience for themselves the stories that they loved like being a flying elephant or seeing Peter Pan. In Disney, you can live the stories and meet the characters that you love. Some of the experiences have even turned into movies or stories, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.
What holds it all together is a soundtrack. Everywhere you go in Disney you can hear songs that take you right back to the story. There are whole shows where you can sing along to your favorites. The soundtrack in the background holds the experience together.
This is also held together by the wonderful service of the employees. In Disneyworld they are called “cast members.” They are not just selling you food or organizing the strollers or putting you on the ride. They are part of the story that is being told. Disney employees are trained to see themselves that way and to play their parts well. I found them all to be kind and helpful. They switched out a toy that we had bought which came out of the package broken without any question. One cast member talked my youngest son into trying a ride that he had chickened out on, and it ended up being his favorite ride of the whole trip.
Story, symbol, experience, soundtrack, and service. This is a very Christian way to think. We are a faith based on a story. Unfortunately, the greatest story ever told if often the greatest story never told. We need to be more creative in telling that story. We have symbols like crosses, fish, and church buildings that help anchor the story. We have experiences like worship, Easter morning, Christmas Eve, and Communion, that help us make that story our story. It plops us down in the middle of this larger story. We have a great soundtrack of hymns and praise songs that can anchor us to the story. We should be people of service that play our part in the story of the world and help others with whatever they need.
We need to be a Disneyworld church.