The first time we took a family trip to Disneyland it was the end of October and we happened to be there on Halloween. Now this was before Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the park was open to all ticket holders all evening. And so we found ourselves in the line into the park on Halloween evening with a large group of people. Now there were costumes everywhere in all shapes and sizes. Our own little Princess had abandoned her costume and we were returning in regular clothes. Just behind us was a group of young adults all in costumes. Now these were not off the rack costumes. These young people had gone to a great deal of time and effort to create authentic Disney character costumes for the evening. We were impressed, not just with their obvious attention to detail, but by the fact that these young people had chosen to spend Halloween night at Disneyland rather than in some more, shall we say ‘edgier’ venue. As we moved toward the gate a cast member came up to the group behind us and pulled them out of line. Apparently the young lady dressed as Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas was ‘too authentic’ and was not going to be allowed into the park.
She was told that her costume was too good. The management was worried that she would be mistaken for a cast member by other guests. Since she was not a cast member and Disney had no authority over her, she was not bound by the code of behavior that characters had to follow. Therefore, she could not enter the park the way she was dressed. She was welcome to come back in plain clothes or in a different costume but they would not let her in as Sally. I was very sad for her. I understood the reasons that the cast member explained, but it bothered me and still bothers me all these years later.
People love Disney movies and their characters and want to spend an evening pretending to be those characters. There is nothing wrong with that, but Disney needs to control the people in their parks who look like characters. The young Sally lookalike could have behaved inappropriately in the park. She could have been mean to small children. She could have used inappropriate language. She could have done any number of things that would have offended parents and disillusioned children. Alternatively she could have done none of these things. She could have been gracious and accommodating. She could have taken time to pose for pictures with families. She could have signed autograph books. We will never know. She wasn’t allowed in.
It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I have to believe that when people imitate others it is about more than how they look. We teach our young people. We guide them. We (hopefully) inspire them to take what they have learned and do more with it. How often do we then bind their creativity by not trusting them to make the right choices? How often do we need to control them so much that we don’t let them express themselves in their own way? If they have truly learned what we have taught them they will imitate us in the deep and important things like faith, morality, and behavior even if their expression of those things is foreign to us. We want them to take leadership and teach the lesson that we have taught them, but only if they do it the same way we did. We are afraid that if we give them their freedom they will do something that we don’t approve of or something that will embarrass us. So we keep them out, keep them quiet, and don’t trust that they will imitate us in all the ways that matter.
The Church likes to control things, much like the management of the Disney Parks. However, change and growth comes from people trying new ways of explaining old stories, differing expressions of similar faith, or creative methods of communicating the message of the Gospel. Sometimes those of us in power and leadership roles need to step back, trust that our young people have learned all that we have taught them, and let them in.