Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

Look Again

This week I am remembering a vacation of decades ago. My wings were tired. We’d just flown south and north and east and west and on and on…You see, my bride and I flew 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; then fly back to Newport News.

Disney is a place long 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. I suspicion that many of the grandparents I observed at Disney had similar stories of growing up with the Mouse himself.

For the better part of the last decades I have been privy, as have you, to reading about, watching documentaries relative 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.

The first thing I learned was that today’s 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 Yacht Club Resort were multilingual and intergenerational. Groups that I would have labeled as minorities (and poor—“personal prejudice”) tossed about money equal to the spending habits of the senior white-haired Caucasians sitting about.

It goes without saying that families (parents and kids) also have far more money than did my family after World War II. Some families are indeed 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 was 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 near-eastern royalty.

It is 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 the Disney Institute graduates that keep the place running. Kids and old folks alike that 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.

All in all my vacation away caused me to ask some questions of organized religion. Is the family really dead? Is that why some stopped coming to 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 simply 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 of tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe we 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, I know, that he wants us to find ways to attract those not in our pews (present coronavirus issues notwithstanding). They need us. We need them. God awaits.