Going to Tomorrowland

By Ken Sloane

Tomorrowland. Courtesy Walt Disney Company © 2015

Memorial Day has come and gone, and the summer movies have arrived. The trailer for Disney’s film, “Tomorrowland” intrigued me. My initial thought was that it was probably a clever marketing ploy to build new life into a section of the Disney Theme Parks that was struggling to not look dated to tech-savvy kids. (Consider what the “Pirates” movie franchise did for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.) Watching the preview, I thought the movie might have some promise.

Driving to work the other morning, I listened on NPR to reviewer David Edelstein giving his reflections on the movie, directed by Brad Bird, and I realized there might be more to it than just another adventure ride. He begins his review:

“Much of Brad Bird's Disney sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland is terrific fun, but it's one of the strangest family movies I've seen: Bird's not just making a case for hope, he's making a furious, near-hysterical case against anti-hope.”

Without giving more details of the movie or of Edelstein’s lengthy review, I’ll just say that what drew me in was Edelstein’s references to a theme that has become so common in our culture: the future is something bleak and dismal, to be dreaded rather than anticipated. Think with me about how many images surround us that paint the future with a post-apocalyptic palette. You could fill a page listing references to recent movies alone that present a dying earth or decaying civilization (Mad Max, Interstellar, Matrix, Planet of the Apes, and on and on) as well as the popular shows like Walking Dead and others in the zombie genre. It made me wonder when was the last time I had seen a movie that portrayed a better future where people had come together to make life better for everyone, where technology made the world more livable, not less. My list was pretty short – Star Trek, in various configurations.

Have we become so mired down in the portrayal of a dismal, decaying future that we have accepted what Edelstein calls “anti-hope” as the norm, as the status quo?

Let’s bring it home to the church, in my case, The United Methodist Church. In the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing Pew Research that alerts us that the number of Christians is declining, and the group we call “the nones” (their response when asked their religion is “none”) is growing. Then last week, Don House (an economist who is also a faithful and committed United Methodist) shared his view that the UMC has about “15 years to turn things around” or we’ll be out of business. He observes the way we are closing churches, merging districts, and conferences: “What we are doing is disassembling our infrastructure faster than we are experiencing decline in the U.S.,” he said. “If this were a business model, I’d say you were gracefully closing your doors.”

So it makes me ask, “Are we the people of hope or the people of anti-hope?” Have we bought in to a Walking Dead mentality, or are we the Walking Resurrected? Are we still able to sing the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” when the words say “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? Is the hope still there?

At Discipleship Ministries, we believe the UMC needs a vision of HOPE, now more than ever. We think that hope rests in getting back to the core process of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We also think it’s important to share positive stories of disciple making so we can shape a vision of a brighter tomorrow!

If you have stories to share, we invite you post them at www.UMCHOPE.org or with the hashtag, #UMChope, and read what others have shared!