Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Looking at the Magic Kingdom in a New Way

Outside of my Disney life, I am a youth minister, and I constantly look for ways that may bring my two worlds for a teaching standpoint. After seeing some friends talk about a new book called Faith and the Magic Kingdom I was interged and ordered and began to read. Randy Crane has made a wonderful work that gives Disneyland a great metaphor for the Christian life. 

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to communicate with Mr. Crane about his book, and here is the product of the conversation.  

Could you tell us about your ministry, and why you felt lead to go the direction that you have gone?
Like a lot of people, I grew up with Disney movies, and I lived just a few miles from Disneyland. (In fact, most of my childhood I could see the Disneyland fireworks each night.) But there was more to it than that. My Grandma lived with us for the last several years of her life, and I helped my parents take care of her. My Mom was sick several times as well, and I helped take care of her, too. I even quit my first job to be home so she could have major surgery without worrying about who was going to take care of Grandma. I had to grow up very fast and mature a lot faster than one would typically expect of a child.
Because I had the responsibility I did, I was a perfectionist. I expected a lot of myself, never wanted to let anyone down, and knew that in some parts of my life (especially the health of my family) there was no room for error. So my standard became 100% all the time. That ís a very exhausting way to grow up. Even though all that sounds tiring and stressful, and it was, it opened me up to connect with people on a more emotional and spiritual level.
Also, while growing up I loved the Bible. Even before I could read I knew the words of Jesus were in red, so I would take my Bible, open to pages with lots of red on them, and ask my mom, “Mommy, read what Jesus is saying to me.” I had my share of struggles and falling away growing up, but I came back in early high school, went to Bible College at Hope International University, and was pastor of a small church in Torrance, CA. I learned from that—which is a whole different story—that being a “formal” pastor is not for me, but I still felt called to preach and teach. Writing this book, and doing interviews related to it, is allowing me to continue to fulfill that calling in some rather creative and unique ways.

What made you think of making Disneyland a teaching point for Christianity?
As a young adult, Disneyland became the place where I could "recapture my childhood," reconnect with the emotional side of myself I'd buried, and escape in healthy ways. Going as often as I was, eventually there had to be more to a visit to Disneyland than "ride the rides, see the shows, meet the characters, repeat." So I started looking deeper—at the stories, the technology, and the "why's." As I did, I started to see connections all around me. Spiritual truth. Life lessons. Ways to help make people's lives better, and their life in Christ more vibrant, more meaningful, and more practical. But it does no good if I keep it to myself. I want it to be part of your visits, too. What we experience in every trip to Disneyland--whether we realize it or not--can have a significant impact on our lives.

When you got the idea of this book, what was the main goal?
Originally, I didn’t really know how much would even be there.So, when I had the chance to preach a sermon using this idea as the premise, I decided to just write as much as came to mind, and then if I had to add or trim a little I would. As it turned out, I cut 75% of the “off the top of my head” material, and still had a 50-minute sermon (and I was talking fast)! That’s when I realized I had something here, and should give more thought to the material itself, and what the goal should be for it.
The goal for the book became simply an extension of the goal for that first sermon: to introduce a new perspective on Disneyland, give people a greater appreciation for the details and stories, and use both of these to provide a mental, emotional, and spiritual “hook” so people can experience the truths of theChristian life in a way that they haven’t before. In this way, both Disneyland and our lives in Christ take on new depth, new meaning, and go from just something “nice”, “fun”, “or “interesting” to “transformative.”

How hard was it to make the connections you make in the book (Cast Members to the Christians, character meets to Christmas, Snow White's Grotto to God's Perspective)?
Honestly, most of them were not difficult at all. There were a very few cases where I felt like I was stretching for them a bit, but the majority felt very natural. Some of them even seemed very obvious as I was writing them. It was interesting to do my own proofread of the book before handing it over to my editor, because I was rereading some things I’d written up to 3 years earlier. As I did, there were some of these connections that as I read them I thought, “God was clearly in this work, because I remember writing this and I didn’t think much of it, but reading it now, it’s incredible. I’m not smart enough to have made this connection on my own!”

Where there attractions that you wanted to add but didn't make a connection?
There were a few towards the end that I had overlooked or that were more difficult. In one case, I realized I hadn’t written anything about the motorized Main Street vehicles. I struggled with that one for a while, and figured if I could at least come up with something (since these were 3 of only 11 things I hadn’t written about yet out of over 100), then I’d just group them together and let it go. But what God gave me for them ended up being so extensive, that I broke them back out into 3 individual entries. When all was said and done there isn’t a single attraction currently in the park that doesn’t have at least one thing written about it—and some have more than one!

Was there a very loose connection that you wish would you could have made stronger?
I don’t think I have any “very loose” connections (though some readers may disagree!), but there are a couple that aren’t as tight as I would have liked, or that I had to work too hard to connect. The one that comes to mind right away is with City Hall. I believe the truth illustrated, about the importance of boldly and in faith making direct requests of God, is very important, but it’s also easy to abuse the idea like “health and wealth” preachers do.  So I worked very hard to communicate the lessons while cautioning against misusing it, and I think it weakened it because of trying to do both at once.

In the first chapter you talk about a Cast member autograph book, could you tell us a little bit about what happened for this idea to come up? And what is one of the more memorable moment you've had because of a cast member?
As I recall, this was my wife, Faye’s, idea. When we bought our character autograph books several years ago, she suggested that maybe we should get one for Cast Members, too. After all, we’d had many times where Cast Members really made a moment special for us, or even just did their job, and a simple “thank you” or a note at Guest Relations didn’t seem to be enough. Besides, that wouldn’t give us much of a way to remember them ourselves. So we have made a habit to bring both books with us to the parks, and have had Cast Members and performers autograph it.
We’ve had so many memorable moments, big and small,because of Cast Members, but without questions one of the best was when Faye and I took my parents to Disneyland for their 40th anniversary. I had arranged it in advance with Disneyland’s Magical Moments department, and so on we were met by Neil, who until meeting him we only knew as “Magic 1.” He took us on a ride in the front cab of the Monorail and a private ride (including being taken to the front of the line) on Storybook Land Canal Boats. Of course, no Disneyland Magical Moment is complete without meeting “The Big Cheese” himself, Mickey Mouse, so Neil handed us off to Michael, who made that happen for us, including being taken in the back way and again bypassing the line. The next day, we got a private ride in the Lilly Belle, the Disneyland Railroad’s Parlour Car.
All of this is very unusual, but it was all arranged and carried out by Cast Members to celebrate my parents’ anniversary, and because I knew there was a good chance this would be their last trip to Disneyland due to my mom’s health. As it turns out, I was correct; she passed away in April of last year.

You compared being at Disneyland, but not in Disneyland to not being fully committed to Christ. I love the analogy, could you expand on this idea a little?
It’s so easy for us, just because we’re human, to try to do the least required to accomplish something unless we have a compelling reason to do more. When I go to Disneyland, I’ve paid for admission and there are things I want to see, do, and experience that I simply cannot do from just inside the turnstiles. I have several compelling reasons to move farther in, to do more than the minimum required to technically say I’ve been at Disneyland.
When it comes to being a Christian, there are some fairly simple things required to legitimately say we “qualify.” Repent. Confess. Believe. Receive. Depending on your particular tradition you may add a couple items to that list, but probably not much. And yet there’s so much more to being a Christian—so much to do, experience, and share. So much joy…and sacrifice. When Jesus said He came to give us both eternal life and abundant life, if we settle for the least we can do, we settle for much less than He has to offer, and we miss so much of Him.

The boiler of the steam engine was a big topic in chapter 3, and the comparison to our lives, why was this a huge topic, and why the steam engine and not let's say the garbage cans?
The steam engines are relatively big and dramatic. The sound of the blowdown is unmistakable. And the parallels are so strong. Throwing your trash away in the garbage cans and not carrying it around with you or throwing it on the ground so others have to deal with it is basically the same idea as the trains’ blowdowns and clearing the “junk” out of our hearts, but it’s not as memorable.
Come to think of it, though, the position and quantity of trash cans in the park is pretty important, and goes back to specific direction from Walt Disney himself, so I probably should write something about it. Thanks for the spark!

The topic of asking the right questions came up, what would be the best questions to ask Cast Members while in the park to make your experience better?
It really depends on where you are. In restaurants, if there’s a dish you really enjoyed, ask for the recipe. If it’s before you’ve eaten, ask what our server would suggest, or what their favorite dish is. Almost anywhere, ask a Cast member about Disneyland history from their perspective—maybe a favorite story or bit of trivia they’ve heard. But this may be the best one: say, “I really want to make my experience here in the park extra-special today. What do you suggest?”

As a Christian who loves Disney, has there ever been a thought of not supporting them because of differences in religious views? Why?
Honestly, not really, for a couple of reasons. First, Disney is a company, not an individual, and it is answerable to its shareholders. Its job is to make quality products and earn money, but it can’t by definition be religious—though it can support or oppose specific religious principles. Second, virtually everything they do that could be considered anti-Christian is either misinterpreted or overblown, or there is something that at least offsets it.
To give one example, many Christians don’t support Disney because they allow Gay Days, an unofficial event. Now, in recent years they’ve been doing more to support and encourage it, which as a company I consider completely reasonable. On the other hand, Walt Disney World hosts Night of Joy. This is both a Christian music festival and an official event. And there are many contrasts like that.
So, instead of not supporting it. I prefer to strongly support the parts that are positive, agreeable, and uplifting. The more we support those “excellent or praiseworthy” products and services, the more they will do those because they’re making money that way, which is exactly what they should be doing.

You mentioned the Nights of Joy in Walt Disney World, have you ever been? It gets some negative publicity from some blogs and podcast (I personally love it), what is your opinion of the event?
I've never been to Night of Joy, but I've been to similar events at other parks in Southern California, and I've been told a lot about it by people who have been. Honestly, this may alienate some people, but I think those who complain about it (at least those who are Christians who complain about it) are just looking for something to gripe about, and Disney will simply never make them happy. I think it's a great event, Disney really promotes it well, and it is clearly and unabashedly Christian. I hope they keep it going for many years to come.

Chapter 5, you start off by talking about knowing the history of something, in Frontierland in the case of your book. As a Disney fan, can't it be hard to overlook the past to appreciate what's in front of us, and as a Christian, isn't it hard to remember the past to remember what was sacrificed? Is there a "perfect balance"?
It can be difficult, sure. It’s nearly always easier to emphasize what’s in front of us at the expense of the past (or the future). The exception to that is if the present is very difficult, we tend to want to obscure the present and live in the past or future instead.
That said, the past informs the present because “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Lessons learned from the past give us direction, insights, and warnings for what we do today. As Rafiki said in The Lion King. “Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either runfrom it, or... learn from it.” And the future, where we’re going and why, informs the present because it helps us to prioritize. There’s no way to do everything we could possibly do, so knowing what our goals are, the people we’re trying to be and the dreams we want to see realized, tell us how to invest the 24 hours we have each day.
Is there a “perfect balance”? Yes, I think so. But it’s not a static state—it’s dynamic, changing based on a wide variety of factors. It’s not one-size-fits-all. This is where regular time with God is so important. Ask Him to remind you of the lessons from the past—things to learn from and ways He’s been faithful. Ask Him to help you live today in the light of that past and the future He has in store for you, as you grow up in Him.

Which land or attraction was your favorite and easiest to make the religious connections with?
It's a close race there between Main Street U.S.A. and Fantasyland. I really like the others too, but these were the easiest. Main Street has such a rich level of depth and detail to it, and so many pieces that are crucial to setting the stage for your Disneyland adventure, but they get overlooked or taken for granted. It was fun to draw as many of those out as I could. Fantasyland is full of stories, archetypes, and myths that are part of our collective experiences and for most of us go back before we can remember. These stories are a part of us. As a result, it was easy to key in on them and draw those out--especially since most were meant to give some kind of lesson or moral anyway.

You mention a lot of past rides in your book, where there any that you wanted to bring in, but didn't because of readers potentially not know anything about the ride? 
There are a lot of past rides I'd love to write about. I limited the main content of the book to current (as of the date of publication) attractions, but you're right, I don talk about the history of what was there quite often. I didn't leave any out that I wanted to include because readers may not be familiar with them. I chose instead to explain and describe them. That said, I'm considering a "Yesterland" (to borrow Werner Weiss's title) version of the book that focuses exclusively on former attractions.

You mention the official events Disney puts on like Night of Joy, in an answer, but I don't remember you mentioning the special events in the book. Was that something you just didn't feel lead to discuss? 
You're absolutely correct. Very observant of you! I did intentionally leave special and season events out, even leaving out season overlays of attractions. To the extent it was possible, I tired to make sure that the vast majority of guests visiting the park, regardless of the time of year, would be able to see and experience what I'd written about. 

This past Christmas, Disney took out the "One Solitary Life" monologue in the Candlelight Processional due to timing and flow. This brought and up roar in some christian sites saying that Disney actually saw it as too religious, what is your thoughts on that cut?
I think people need to settle down a little bit. They cut a poem--a very good poem, but still just a poem. If Disney wanted to cut something from it because they thought it was "too religious," they could easily have cut some of the actual Scripture, which they didn't do. Having seen Candlelight Processional both with and without "One Solitary Life," I think it does flow at least a bit better without it. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the poem and I would have been happy if they'd included it still, but I don't think the removal is quite as big a deal as people are making it out to be. 

I suspect some people are upset because the poem takes the "old" historical story and gives it some context as to why it matter to people today. It certainly can do that for some, and I don't disagree with those people. However, what (or, really, Who) gives meaning and application to Scripture and actually transforms their heart is the Holy Spirit, speaking mainly through the Word of God in the Bible. Can He use a poem? Sure. But he doesn't have to. The Bible is what penetrates people's hearts and brings them to repentance, not "One Solitary Life" or any other poem. Disney cut something from Candlelight, but left intact that which is most critical and essential--the Christmas story as told in the Bible itself.

You have a podcast, Stories of the Magic, what sets you apart from the other podcast, and why did you go the way you went instead of the more traditional Disney style podcast? 
I think there are a couple of things that in combination set Stories of the Magic (http://storiesofthemagic.com) apart from other Disney podcasts. For one, it's not limited to a specific area of the company. I've interviewed front-line Cast Members, company executives,  voice actors, singers, Imagineers, and more. As long as they've done something for Disney, they're fair game. Second, it's very positive and family-friendly, while not being all rose-colored glasses. We don't pretend Disney is perfect or never makes mistakes, but we try to acknowledge those as they come up and then move on as quickly as possible. Finally, it's all exclusively interviews--not just a segment of each episode, but essentially the whole thing. I have my opinions about Disney, but so does almost everyone else, and I didn't feel the need to add my voice to the cacophony. Instead, I am focusing on one of the things I do best: giving a voice and a platform to other people. In this case, it's not those who have opinions about Disney (though all of my guests surely do), but those who have been a part of the magic and are proud of that fact. 

Should we be looking for a Faith and the California Adventure in the future?
Possibly. I wouldn't rule it out. It's more difficult to write that one, though, because there isn't the level of detail, story, and history that Disneyland park has. It may come some day, but it's definitely got some other projects ahead of it.

Thank you so much Mr. Crane for your time. we look forward to your future work. 

If you would like to purchase Mr. Crane's book, Faith and the Magic Kingdom  you can do so here.  And his podcast, Stories of the Magic, can be found here!

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