In memory of the children, who love stories, and the educators, who tell stories, who lost their lives in Newtown, Connecticut, and in solidarity with those who grieve.
From my first book, published in 1988, I most often referred to the “commonwealth of God” rather than the “kingdom of God.” I did so not only to avoid the feudal, patriarchal, and hierarchical connotations of “kingdom,” but more importantly, to convey my perception of the realm of God as one in which we share a common spiritual wealth, equally citizens and inheritors as beloved daughters and sons of God. And I do not think of that commonwealth as exclusively Christian. I know that “commonwealth” may have negative connotations to some of those who think of the British Commonwealth, a product of colonialism, but I wanted a term with more gravitas than “realm” and didn’t sound made-up like “kindom.”
But when I say The Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer that Jesus Taught Us, I still say “Thy kingdom come.” That’s because I associate the term with fairy tales and storytelling and, truth be told, The Magic Kingdom—er, Disneyland.
A little backstory: I grew up in Southern California, and Disneyland was completed there when I was five years old. So I grew up going to Disneyland occasionally, watching The Mickey Mouse Club, and yearning to be home viewing The Wonderful World of Disney rather than attending our far less interesting Sunday evening worship service. Whereas other kids idolized athletes and actors, I idolized Walt Disney, drawn by his enormous creativity and willingness to experiment in disparate fields, but mostly by his ability to tell stories. As a child, I thought the world would end if Walt Disney died, and I still have the newspaper with the headline announcing his death when I was 16 years old, as you can see.
I once saw him at Disneyland showing a foreign dignitary around Frontierland near the paddle-wheel steamboat on the faux Mississippi River. My eyes widened in wonder seeing god a few feet away! And somewhere in storage, I have a photo of him taken that day.
Even in adulthood, I dreamed Disney had hired me as one of his Imagineers, though I wondered what he might do if he found out I was gay. Bob Thomas’s biography of him mentioned an occasion when a gay Disney employee had been arrested in a compromising situation and Disney was asked if he should be let go. “We all make mistakes,” Disney reportedly said, retaining the worker.
To me, the kingdom of heaven is THE magic kingdom, the originator of biblical and apocryphal tales of mystery, hope, and striving. And what better time of year to write of this than Christmas, when we are overwhelmed, not only with the magical stories of Jesus’ nativity, but all kinds of Christmas stories about Grinches and Scrooges, magical golden retrievers and Polar Expresses, The Bishop’s Wife and how, after all, It’s a Wonderful Life. Other than Jesus (of course!) the best thing about Christmas is that it has breathed life into so many wonderful stories, including our own.
I have a very progressive Christian friend who is admirable and smart, wise and insightful, compassionate and a justice advocate. She spends a lot of time demythologizing and deconstructing in a quasi-scientific intellectual and academic search for truth. When I told her about my as-yet-unpublished novels, I learned that she never reads fiction. And my eyes were opened. She doesn’t enjoy stories that are not true, thus her continual reductions and redactions of the biblical story; whereas I enjoy all well-told stories. Even the Hallmark channel can make me cry and rejoice.
Walt Disney said that the Magic Kingdom would never be finished as long as there was imagination left in the world. That’s exactly how I feel about the Kingdom of God, as long as there is spiritual imagination, it will never be complete.
P.S. Go see The Life of Pi. Or better yet, read the book! And Merry Christmas!
Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes. This ministry is entirely funded by your donations. Please click here to make a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you!
You may also want to read last year’s Christmas post, “Put Yourself in the Nativity Story.”