I'm getting to the age where I'm starting to want children. Alright, I desperately want children. But with children comes the responsibility to instill morals, and often, religious beliefs. And that's where it gets tricky for me.
I was baptized, confirmed. I was an altar server, a lector, went to a Catholic university. But none of it ever really clicked. Not way down deep.
There are lessons to be learned in church, of this I'm sure. But the implementation of that morality has always left me dry. In the evolution of my own faith, I've found the Church to be less "come as you are" and more "come, we'll make you in Our Image".
So yes, I've felt rejected by the Church. I've felt cast aside, less than. The force yielded by an institution with that much power is immeasurable. We've seen it over time. But instead of focusing on love and inclusion, well, let's just say that other decisions have been made along the way. Taking wet clay and shaping it into an instrument used to divide and conquer is not simply inappropriate, it's unspeakably corrupt.
God will accept you, but only if you look a certain way, love a certain person, and make certain choices? The Church doesn't tell us to be like Him, but rather, to be like It. But even then, the instructions are to do as the Church says, not as It does.
It would make sense, then, that a person feeling pushed out by religion would reach tenuous hands into the world, looking for happiness and an acceptance not found on Sundays. I believe in the power of congregation, without reservation. And, if it takes the suspension of disbelief, faith, as it were, to lead us to happiness and salvation, why not go all the way with it?
If you can put your stock in storytelling that involves men swallowed by whales and the resurrection of the dead, then is it ridiculous to think that maybe the stories of Jonah and Lazarus don't differ incredibly from that of Pinocchio, and Tinkerbell?
I married an English teacher. I have learned the importance and responsibility of a well-written character. Characters teach us through their stories. They allow us to learn important lessons, they further the narrative; in a writer's classroom, it's the characters who teach us what we need to know.
I've always loved good storytelling. Like almost all kids, I was fascinated with Disney. I went through two VHS copies of Fantasia, having rewound the first copy so excessively that I had worn it out. I didn't necessarily take any grand life lessons away from the dancing hippos and troublemaking brooms, but I did develop a passion for classical music that transcended childhood and saw me perform with a symphony orchestra for multiple seasons.
Safe to say, Disney got its hooks in me.
Over the years, I've seen the movies, I've owned the toys. The Disney Universe is huge, expansive, full.
Disney has created a world where everyone is valued. Whether you're a tiny green cricket, a giant who wrecks buildings, or a tiny adventurous clownfish, there is a place at Disney's table for every person, every creature under the sun. Or sea.
I'm a grown-up now. People tell me that these stories are written for children. I'm not supposed to connect or identify with crickets and fish. The strength of Disney storytelling is that these characters reach into the hearts of those who have felt abandoned, or alone. We have all been the outcast at various times in our lives, these stories ring true for millions of people.
There are fantastic stories, sure, that are unbelievable, wondrous, captivating. Magical, even.
And the great thing about these silly little stories is that they never pretend not to be silly. They are fun, they are light. But they can still teach us.
When I hear about the feelings people get from going to church, they are immediately familiar. They are the same feelings that I get when I go to a Disney park. I feel like I'm a part of something, like there's a loving and accepting community around me, in which I am safe, I am home.
I leave Disney parks wanting to take those feelings out into the world, to share them with others. I find myself saying "thank you" more frequently, smiling at people, feeling compassion for the underdog and underserved. I treat people the way I was treated.
And there, inside Disney's walls, the words "I love you" are never followed by the word "unless".
Disney is a place where all are welcome, valued, and loved, regardless of anything else; there is a simplicity and purity in that, which I find profound. Disney's Mickey isn't jealous, he doesn't tell us what to do. No commandments, no fire, no brimstone. Remember, Mickey Mouse only flooded the world accidentally.
Disney doesn't shield children from the concept of evil, doesn't disguise the fact that there's ugliness in the world. But it does an effective job of teaching us that, at the end of the day, there is more good in the world than bad.
And so, in a world full of mythologies, it's difficult to see the harm in wanting to live in accordance with a doctrine that doesn't command or preach, but simply exists to foster love and respect and appreciation, to cultivate a feeling of value and strength inside of us. Sometimes we are enough.
There is a castle that can be just for you, to which you can return time and time again, finding new experiences that grow and evolve with age and time.
You can dream, and imagine. And that's not bad, or dangerous. It's encouraged.
There is a Mouse who will love you, who will always welcome you into his Magic Kingdom. And through your love, and yes, your faith, his goodness will always triumph against the forces of evil in the world.
I'm almost 30. I'm a Disney guy, and the more I come to understand what that means, the more certain I am that this is the way in which I want to live. I'm holding onto a morality learned in childhood, chosen in adulthood, and refined through experience.
I think Walt Disney got it just right: "Faith I have, in myself, in humanity... but wide awake, not blind faith, moves me. My operations are based on experience, thoughtful observation and warm fellowship with my neighbors at home and around the world."
Humanity, faith, fellowship, neighbors? Someone who will love you all the time, regardless of who you are, what you sound like, what you look like, who you love, or where you're from? I think we have taught and do teach our children far worse than that, all the time.
Consider me a believer, then. When the chips are down, I'll pick the Mouse, every time.
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