Disneyworld opens a new ride this month to replace the decades-old Splash Mountain attraction. The ride called, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, is promised to California’s Disneyland by end of the year.

For me, the ride can never match the magic I felt on my first visit to Disneyland decades ago. I’d come to the World of Mouse with my church youth group, led by our volunteer leader, James (JE) Newman.


As we waited for opening gates, JE suggested it might be a good time to voice a prayer of thanks.

I remember his prayer going something like this:


“Dear God, thank you for safe travel today and our wonderful youth group. But most of all thank you for putting Disneyland here just for us! Amen.”

It was a short prayer, but before any of us had time to blink, the other youth sponsor, Mrs. Obenshain, blurted her astonishment. “JE! Why would you say that? God didn’t make Disneyland. Mr. Disney did.”


Knowing JE as we did, we knew to expect a well-thought answer. JE was a Ford auto mechanic who had some practical ideas about God. He didn’t claim to know how this universe worked, but he could easily identify the things that did work.


“Sure he did!” JE insisted. “God created Mr. Disney’s mind, right?”

“Well, yes, but JE, honestly,” declared Mrs. O, “you can’t really conclude that …”


JE was undeterred. “If God made Mr. Disney’s mind, then God must have created the picture of Disneyland in his mind long before Mr. Disney could draw it, right?”

“But JE . . .” Mrs. O. was wavering.

“Look,” JE said in his Oklahoma twang, “don’t the Bible say, ‘All good things come from God?’”

Mrs. O. was slack-jawed, so JE continued. “And ain’t Disneyland a good thing?”

Deterred by logic too simple to be wrong, Mrs. O. simply muttered something like, “Well, I guess so.”

I remember JE’s theology largely because I’ve heard it from a lot of patients over the years. They spoke with assurance that God made a certain hospital just for them. Or they believed that God placed a certain doctor or medicine to specifically help them.

I once heard a father tell me how a surgeon was going to reach into the center of his 2-year-old daughter’s brain and pull out a tumor.

And this was his theology: “God put this surgeon here for my daughter.”

His declaration, like JE’s, sounded at first more self-centered than God-centered.

Yet maybe not.

What I found astounding about both men was how they relied on an innate understanding of the works of God. Neither had graduated from a theological or philosophical school, yet they easily identified “goodness” as one of the most important attributes of God.

The father didn’t need to be a philosopher to acknowledge his good fortune at finding such a talented surgeon. Neither did JE have to be a Bible professor to recognize that Disneyland might provide one of many tools he could use to mentor and instruct our youth group in God’s ways.

We often search far and wide to understand God. We read so much and attend every sort of lecture. Yet, I believe most of the time God continues to manifest his goodness in those people and things he’s placed directly in our paths.

In the end, Mrs. O. couldn’t refute JE’s theology.

Finally, she managed to mumble, “Do you have our tickets, JE?”

Her request signaled the end of the theological debate, and we rushed to get in line for Splash Mountain. For like JE, we all knew goodness when we saw it.

Syndicated columnist Chaplain Norris Burkes began his chaplain career with both the active-duty Air Force and the Air National Guard until his retirement in 2014. He later served as a board-certified healthcare chaplain at Sutter Memorial, Kaiser, Methodist and Mather VA hospitals and continues to work with area Hospice. His column is syndicated to more than 35 accredited news outlets. Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net.