My father grew up in Southern California. His parents continued to live there while I was growing up and we spent many days exploring the wonderful world of Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Knotts Berry Farm.
While Knotts and Universal had their perks-some amazing attractions that continue to give me fond memories-it was Disneyland that drew my attention every time I attended. If I am honest, we had a routine when we would arrive. We would wait at the gate, sun coming up into our eyes, anticipating the walk down Main Street, Mickey waving us into the park. And we would ultimately cruise pass the standard touristy tropes-pictures with characters, churros, etc- and we'd make our way directly to the Frontierland/Adventureland area of the park. Here, my brother Patrick and I would make a beeline for one of two rides.
The first was Pirates of the Caribbean *ahem* before Jack Sparrow, and the second was The Haunted Mansion. Both of these experiences offer a step out of time and into another world. While I loved Pirates, it was The Haunted Mansion that filled me with a sense of fright that I delighted in.
I've never enjoyed scary movies; suspenseful thrillers, yes, but scary Movies, no. The Haunted Mansion sat in that wonderful mix between imagination and intrigue. As a kid, I couldn't help but blend fantasy and reality. The initial welcome room with the paintings that stretch to the untimely deaths of those fated individuals caught in the mansion's gaze pierced my glee with a bewildered fear. But I was now along for the ride, and the only way out was through the mansion itself.
Through the stories of the dead and the classic songs of the singing statues, ride brings you to a moment near the end where it warns you: Beware of hitchhiking ghosts. You proceed to see three vagabonds, thumbs out and requesting transport back into the land of the living. While passing a mirror just before the ride returns to the platform, you see which ghost has "joined" you along the way.
*Cue Maniacal laughter.*
I was recently thinking of a trip I took to California in April of 2018, with my wife. We were at a conference and took an extra day to go to Disneyland and return to the childlike wonder the "Happiest Place on Earth" brings out of you.
True to form, I took us straight to The Haunted Mansion. It was everything I remembered. I giggled with delight as the room stretched, and the ride began. I was once again transported to a moment in time where my imagination bled out into reality. Couldn't this experience of imagination exist forever?
Then we passed the Hitchhiking Ghosts. And as we passed the mirror and I saw our bearded friend join us in our car, I started to think of the things we carry with us long after they've passed on. I've been carrying ghosts with me a long time; things that have held me back from returning to the land of the living, because I was stuck with the dead for so long.
It got me wondering about the passage in Romans 6: 8-11, where Paul writes,
"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
Paul writes a lot about being "dead to sin," at various points in the New Testament. I've always found it interesting that we can be creatures of habit, like children vying their favorite park rides, and so too we carry with us the things in our lives we ought to remember Christ has forgiven.
Our stories of life spark wonder and intrigue, they reflect pain and disappointment, and impose baggage and ghosts that we carry far too long into the freedom of forgiveness.
There is sentiment in the phrase "gone but not forgotten," and too our ghosts, hangups, setbacks, failures, and baggage should be gone but not forgotten. We remember these moments, we may even mourn these moments, but we do not live in them any longer.
It is when we embrace the freedom God has graciously offered us, we can begin to climb out of the grave and into the land of the living.
But beware of hitchhiking ghosts.