Loving Judgement: A Disney Christmas
With family in other countries, we often have gifts mailed to redeem locally. One of these brought us to Disney Walk last night to redeem a certificate for Christmas cheer. If you’ve never been there, Downtown Disney is quite a sight. It is a giant SUV of a mall done up in bright colors, live music and mouse ears to create a sense of intimacy and wonder. It really should be banal, but the lights and live performers try to hide the committee of corporate negotiations that inhabit the place.
In all, it was great fun getting our gift, one of those cheerful and connected times you hope for as a parent, full of talk and play. The park (is it a park or a mall?) was something to behold that night, everything unified by the Disney brand. Specifically, Mickey’s ears. From the moment you park under the gaze of a popular Disney character (we were in Lilo’s aisle) to the shape of the foods everything is marked Disney, everything has mouse ears. Everything: Haute couture, Harley Davidson – the piercing moment for me was seeing my punk youth die as the Vandals playing for Mickey at the House of Blues. – the Vandals! You can get nice Fossil watches, remote control cars, clothes, food, watch sports. With apologies to Henry Ford, You can have anything you want, as long as it’s Mickey.
By night’s end it was claustrophobic. Amidst all the festive lights, you are presented with the illusion of choice, but there is really no choice at all. Without the ability to choose out of Mickey’s presence, there is really nothing to be decided. Silk dresses, Living room art or Marshmallow cookies- it’s all Mickey. Your life: -by Mickey. You can’t get away from him.
It’s an interesting lesson in freedom. Without the ability to say no, there really is no choice. You simply consume it. Sometimes pin collectors walk by festooned with pounds of enameled brass Disney pins and you can nurse a moment of private satisfaction; “Now those people are crazy. Why would you do that?” But the joke’s on you. You are laughing at your own captivity.
In the cold air I found myself thinking of some conversations I’ve had recently about raising children. We talk a lot about enrichment, but I think we just mean keep ‘em busy. Soccer three days a week, piano lessons one, homework every night, a recital, another sport, another dance class, art, a language class; the rat race is a sprint! I’ve begun to feel like we pawn our children off to a system perfectly designed to keep us busy and raise successful upper middle class children who can put their children through the same soulless rush. We perfectly groom people to live in cubicles and file forms while wondering what the point of it all is. You can have any life you choose as long as it’s this one.
And I found myself pondering the evangelical fervor thriving in the suburbs of Orange County around Disney. You can choose any faith you want here, as long as it’s Evangelical. Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing – undoubtedly faith in Christ is life- until you realize that content has long since jumped the shark. Though His name is dropped, it’s not about Jesus, it’s about culture. Nobody is actually loved more. The deaf do not hear, the hungry are not fed, no jobs are created and no weeping with the weepers seems to happen, but that ridiculous “Christmas Shoes” song sure sounds good in the SUV. (You’ll have to excuse my inner Grinch. My “soul is an appalling dump-heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled-up in tangled-up knots.”)
But in the meantime there is a funny film that clings to the masses of us Christians who claim to live outside the Christian bubble. You can listen to any music you want, as long as its Christian, read any book you want as long as it’s Christian, have lots of friends as long as they’re Christian, use any language you like as long as it’s Christian, use any science you need, as long as it’s Christian, be anyone you want, as long as you are Christian. With so much “Christian” around, we don’t seem to need him at all.
The night gave me a healthy respect for judgment. I wonder if we need it. I don’t mean “sinners in the hands of an angry God” judgment, judgment that slakes God’s thirst for blood. I mean the kind of judgment that exposes our imprisonment, highlights how sad and impotent we are at truly living; how far we have fallen short of the Glory of God revealed at Christmastime. God says “yes” to humanity, but mysteriously, we only hear it after hearing the “no.”
We need that judgment.
No, we don’t need another judgmental person in our lives, but we need the cross, someone to hang a “condemned dwelling” on the ways we house our lives. How else will we get out safe? We need someone to say “no” so we are not suffocated by our own desires, a final and ultimate “No” spoken against our natural enslavement. Life must be more than impossibly expensive gift bags and restaurants. The powers are supposed to be stripped from their perches, Mouse ears impotent.
And this is the trick of it all to me: it feels like dying, but it is actually life. Letting go of the Christmas expectations, the materialism, the “should” and the fears means living Christmas differently. Somehow. Not entirely sure how- more time with family, more time with the poor in the city. We don’t need more brands to console us. It hurts to be set free, shocked awake from utopian denial into bracing truth; cold air on a baby’s butt that brings a sharp cry and then, at last milk. We’re still battling the power of Disney mice, but we’ve begun to hem it in this year, limit it so it can actually be a gift. We have no choice.