by John Howard Farmer

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We still have a message worth hearing

On a morning decades past my wings were tired. I’d just flown south and north and east and west and on and on… You see, my bride Hazel and I had flown to Disney for her to attend a banking school. Hazel took me along to tote the bags and hoist the homeward-bound souvenirs back onto the plane.

We drove to Newport News, parked the car, then flew to Charlotte, N.C., and then Orlando, Fla.. To get home we only had to fly directly over the Chesapeake Bay and land in Philadelphia, transfer crafts, plod the halls and lobbies, muscle the luggage; then fly back to Newport News, rested from time away…

Disney is a place unashamedly associated with children. So long, in fact, that I once wore my Mickey hat (with ears) and sang along with early TV celebs such as Annette herself. “M I C, K E Y, M O U S E….”  fights for my musical history with “It’s a small world after all.” I suspicion that many of the grandparents I observed at Disney had similar stories of growing up with the Mouse himself.

For ages we have been privy to reading about, watching documentaries relative to and absorbing lectures, all of which decry the end of the American family. Me and my kind have also heaped guilt upon guilt because some of those families which have fallen amuck could possibly have been rescued had they only maintained a family connection to the gathered faithful.

I don’t want to argue the merits of any of this really. I just want to share what my observations of what a week in a family resort was like. It was fun. I am prejudiced: Disney equals fun!

The first thing I observed was that our kids are a lot smarter than my generation, at our comparable age. They are also more sophisticated. But there is a common thread across the ages. Kids still like to have fun.

A second observation realized is that most of the lads and lasses which I was privileged to observe were from two (or more) career families. Even a casual listener perked that just getting to Disney, as a family, was a hard negotiation. Over and over I could see behind the scenes that it was also a sacrifice for some who struggled just to be together. Families are busy.

Let me draw the net around my family units. Many of those who shared accommodations with us at the Disney Yacht Club Resort were multi-lingual and intergenerational. Groups that I would have labeled as minorities (and poor, “sad personal prejudice”) who tossed about money equal to the spending habits of the white-haired Caucasians gathered all about.

It goes without saying that families (parents and kids) also have way more money than did my family after World War II. Some families are affluent.

I awoke one morning, dressed and set off to find Mickey, Pluto, Goofy and the gang. Rounding the corner to the elevator I met an army of mid-eastern men in dark suits swarming about one wing of our floor. Checkpoints and signs warned that entry down particular corridors would be by “permission only.” Under the portico downstairs, adjacent to the lobby, was a fleet of stretch limousines. The word was out—somebody important was a guest. It turned out to be Arab royalty.

It was a testimony to sophistication that most of the guests could have cared less about such an important person. I remarked to Mrs. Farmer that royalty or not, at Disney, Mickey was the guy; sitting even higher than the Lion King. I was reminded that kids care little about title. Pooh and clan and various theme parks held sway enough that no human could surpass their importance.

The families I observed were extraordinarily polite. So was the staff of Disney Institute graduates that keep the place running. Kids and old folks alike who sat at meal tables next to me stopped their fun out of respect as we prayed over the food which we were about to eat. Supportive “Amens” wafted from around our area.

All in all that vacation away caused me to ask some questions of organized religion. Is the family really dead? Is that why some stopped attending church? Would it also be fair to ask whether or not that our churches are declining because we are failing to live up to the elevated intelligence of our constituents? Can the church open her doors and embarrassingly call the faithful to reschedule their busy lives? Could we do a better job of being the church by holding fast to that which we know to be holy and reaching out to families disenchanted with organizations? Business as of yesterday will not grow a community faithful.

Don’t get me wrong, I faithfully believe we still have a message worth hearing. But I do have to ask whether or not the vehicle on march toward heaven may not need to be piloted differently. This I know: God doesn’t need us to protect the status quo. He can do that. I suspicion, rather I know, that he wants us to find ways to attract those not in our pews. They need us. We need them. God waits.

Talk about it, pray about it…