Over the holidays I saw a helicopter blow up, a water tower shot full of holes and the water pour out, a great white shark attack a tram car full of people, and a young man change from a 150 pound weakling to a 200 pound muscleman in a puff of smoke. I saw King Kong face to face, experienced an avalanche down a mountain side and was fired at by armored space soldiers.
A few days later, I went on a space flight, saw submarines embarking on a tour of the arctic, and climbed up a tree house with rooms and running water... but none of it was real. The helicopter was intact 20 minutes later. So was the water tower. The shark was polyester, King Kong was hydraulically operated, the avalanche an illusion, and so on. The tree even had plastic leaves - if you looked close.
You guessed it, we were at Universal Studios and Disneyland - where fantasy is made so real that it almost becomes reality. In fact, for most of the thousands that come, it is reality. The people, the hot dogs, Mickey Mouse, the rides, arcades, stores, lights, sights and smoke - how much more real could they be?
As I sat on a white fibreglass bench in the 2nd floor of the Star Tours building, I thought that in spite of the intricate technology needed to run the machinery, how much easier it is to control fantasy than real life. In Disney’s world, the good guys always win, the equipment rarely breaks down, and the heros live happily ever after.
But what about the real world? Two nights later we saw some of it. Several cars trying to occupy the same space at the same time left two children without parents. Unexpected low temperatures brought out a voucher program so the “homeless of San Fernando Valley” could find shelter in local motels. A man staggered alone along a deserted street on December 25, his Christmas “cheer” obviously liquid and cheerless. Streets were unpredictably lined with $300,000 homes beside neighborhoods of shacks made from boxes that once warmed refrigerators. Friends showed us their complex burglar alarm system - yet it was not enough... they plan to move to a less crime-riddled neighborhood in February.
The people who live in this kind of reality need their Disneyland. For most of them fantasy (or a bottle or chemicals) is the only escape they have. And Disneyland is fun... but eventually the lights are turned out, the gates closed, and everyone goes home... to a real world of tribulation.
I’ve tried fantasy, escaping life by losing myself in a book, or in my imagination, or in the wild wonderful world of amusements. Sometimes I need to “escape” to relax and be refreshed, but all too often I have done it to avoid reality standing before me saying, “What are you going to do about me?” Jesus said to His disciples what is almost an understatement: “In the world you will have tribulation.” That is reality. But then He added, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Jesus faced the worst possible reality. He left the glory of heaven to come to a sin-sick world where He was despised and rejected, spit on and crucified. Yet He conquered all that kind of reality could do to Him and rose from the dead. He is now seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, a far greater reality than the passing problems of this world.
Yet I live here, for now, and the reality of this life is tough. I don’t mind admitting I am weak and sometimes afraid of it. Nor can I always cope with many ordinary difficulties and obstacles, never mind life’s horrors. However, fantasy doesn’t solve anything. I need the reality of the Lord. I am thankful that He offers His overcoming power to me through faith in Him.
Because of Him, I can face the not-so-pleasant temporary realities too, even with a joyful heart. And because of Him, we enjoyed our vacation to California, not as an escape but because Jesus was with us supplying all our needs - whether we were on the freeways or riding merry-go-rounds.