"Map of Utopia," woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein, for Thomas More's Utopia, 1518.
Walt Disney with his plan for Epcot
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
That's not to say, of course, that these words do not beg other questions, like why are so many things NOT beautiful, why are some men (or women) so much more interested in great and transcendent things than others, and why oh why would God give mankind desires they could not figure out how to satisfy? These are big questions and worthy ones, for which the Bible has answers, but today I'm focusing on the Desire, the eternity in our hearts, and I double dare you to think deeply about it: I bet you have felt it.
I have most certainly felt it, but I felt it through another's eyes this last week, namely, Walt Disney's, as my family has just returned from The Happiest Place on Earth. We piled into our boat-of-a-car at 4 am CST, we sang, we counted license plates, we ate processed junk, we read, we watched movies, we rolled into our condo at 9:30 pm EST, we unpacked and planned and slept and rose and readied ourselves and drove and rode some more, and we were there. The Magic Kingdom.
I was born in Florida, and though my family moved away when I was young, we had grandparents, aunts and uncles to visit there each year (often with season passes), and so Disney was a part of my upbringing. It always seemed like a rite of passage, bringing our children there (although a super-expensive one and therefore rather low on the priority list). When Adam's summer work conference was scheduled for Miami Beach, however, and we realized we'd be driving right through Orlando to get there, and the kids were all now old enough to remember and appreciate and actually survive the experience, well, it happened.
What we found was amazing, an experience for all five senses and a few more besides. First you see the vastness and the beauty of the parks, the orderliness, the friendliness, and the colors. You hear people singing to you songs of welcome and cheer, and watch them dance (in the heat and humidity, this is some welcome!). You hear the bells and the rumbles of the rides and the chatter of the crowds, and so much music, everywhere. You smell food, and the clean smell of water in the air, and you smell your own sweaty self, but you ignore this. You feel the heat, the humidity, and then the blasts of air conditioning coming out of every building, and sprinkles of water coming from misters and water features, and you feel yourself flying, coasting, climbing, falling, and through it all being held by safe vehicles carefully tested by engineers. You taste delight--for my husband, one of those giant roasted turkey legs, and for me a double ice cream cone, so drippy and yet so glorious in the heat.
You see animatronic Everything, lifelike and wondrous; all around are marvels of human ingenuity. You watch light shows and electrical parades and then a magnificent fireworks display perfectly timed to music that makes your heart do things. (I kid you not, when the show was over we walked by a group of bawling teens in matching t-shirts, and I nudged my family...choir kids, I said.) You leave the park with teeming masses, but somehow in groups perfectly timed between the monorail and the parking shuttle and the parking lots so that no one crowds, bumps, or gets grumpy. How many plans have to work just so for all of this to happen? Above all the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile experiences, the sense one gets, if one has any sense at all, is wonder.
We spent two days in this Magic Kingdom and one at Animal Kingdom, also mind-boggling and inspiring in its way. Living in this context, things started to come together: all the movies, the songs, the rides, the talks, the displays, all of it. Disney isn't just a big franchise--this isn't all JUST about merchandising and sales. This is about a perfect world and how to make it. The eternity in Walt Disney's heart told him that a perfect world was possible, and he could taste the glory. You can see it all around his parks.
"It's a Small World after All:" come together. Fantasyland; dream. Tomorrowland: create and innovate. Adventureland: take risks. Animal Kingdom: educate, protect, conserve. Cinderella: No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true. Walt Disney: All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. I don't believe Walt Disney would like the term Utopia, because Utopia translates to "Noplace," and refers to an impossible dream, while in his mind, all these good things are possible, someday, with hard work, community, innovation, creativity, and a die-hard faith in those dreams.
Despite the glaring worldview differences between Walt and me, I got choked up on that old ride with that super-catchy song. Well, it IS a small world after all; don't judge. See, you float through room after room that represent the countries of the world, and in each room there are children--dolls--dressed in their national garb and singing in their own languages, "It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, it's a world of hopes, and a world of fears. There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware it's a small world after all." And you hear this tune until it has quite possibly bored a new synapse pathway in your brain, and then you float into the final room, quite large, filled with doll-children all in white. You look and listen more closely and see that they are still wearing distinctive clothing representing their countries, still singing in their own languages, but all are together and all are in white. It made me think of heaven, with saints from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation worshiping God in perfect unity, and even though I knew that wasn't the perfect world Disney had in mind, I worshiped, because I know that it IS the perfect world God has in mind.
Yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. This is the sad (read tragic) thing about secular humanism. It grasps for greatness but rejects the Ultimate Cause of all things Great. For those who love Christ, we know what that longing in our hearts is and who put it there, and we keep it before our eyes, in our minds, on our lips: eternity. It changes how we live. Come together, yes! For the sake of Christ, who gives genuine community forever and for eternally glorious purposes. Dream, yes! With a holy view of what is worth dreaming about. Create and innovate, yes! Recognizing that we bear the image of the infinitely Creative One, do this with gratitude and worship, and with a focus on His kingdom. Take risks, yes! Be willing to lose temporal comforts for eternal ones, but never the other way around. Educate because we want to use our minds to His glory, protect and conserve because He has made us stewards of His good creation, and keep on believing HIM, above all else, because He is the only one who can always bring about His desired outcome (and He has told us all about the outcome in His Word). Faith in anything, through anyone but Jesus Christ, He tells us, is a foundation of sand.
A few days in Disney World made me laugh, squeal, sigh, wonder, and generally enjoy myself with my family; it made me worship and (as you see) philosophize. But places like Disney must be taken in small doses, I think, to keep a healthy perspective as a believer. How easy it is to wish for the perfect world now and take this offering on its own humanistic and fleeting terms, trading in the delights of eternity for The Happiest Place on Earth.