August 29, 2008

Making a Difference in Montana

Helping folks has always been a hallmark of a true follower of Jesus. And the great thing is, there is no age limit in who can participate, no gender discrimination, no racial barriers. A group of teens and a few adults working with them, left from our church for a weeklong service project on one of the reservations in Montana. This was quite a different project from previous years at Juarez, Mexico, or serving meals all day at the Los Angeles Rescue Mission.

Playing with the kids and enjoying the beautiful creation was only part of the week. Painting and repairing houses and other tribal buildings was also part of serving the community. Our group worked with a wonderful service organization called Youth Works. This group encourages and organizes groups of teens to go make a practical difference in their world and the world around them.

Of course, as with anytime we work helping others, there are always moments we enjoy! Fun and work can go hand in hand. Or "hands in hands", as you can see below.




In the quiet and restful peace of the evening, our team had a chance to enjoy some time recharging their batteries through prayer, Bible study, and reflective worship music. They know God is the one who gives them strength!



In the New Testament, the book of James reminds us that faith without service to others is worthless. Of course, Jesus demonstrated this same principle. He always took care of people's needs as he ministered to their spiritual needs. Service should always accompany our words, and we should always look for opportunities to bless and encourage others with our words as we serve. It's passing on Jesus' heart. Loving people with practical truth. In other words, Christianity 101! 

(Pictures courtesy TK.)

Legends and Lore of Pirates of the Caribbean

From the incredible Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends. If you love concept art as I do, you have to get this book. Talk about Masters at Work! Wow- the background stories on the Imagineers, the parks, and the pieces of art you'll find are more than worth the price. This gruesome piece is part of an unrealized Marc Davis plan for the attraction. Get this book- you'll be glad you did.

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 28, 2008

Sleepy Italy

From a sidewalk cafe in Lucca, Italy. It would be easy to think that this was a set of a movie or at least some photo opportunity waiting for the gorgeous model to show up. No, just real life in a sleepy little town on a Sunday afternoon.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

August 27, 2008

That's the Book for Me


As we've been talking the last couple of weeks, the most common question I get concerns how to hear the voice of God and/or how to discern His will for our lives. For the serious Christian or anyone who believes in God, any discussion on hearing God's voice has to include the role of the Bible.

The Bible contains 66 books which were written by over 40 authors over the span of two thousand years. It is consistent in all its writing. In the Old Testament alone, there are more than 300 prophesies which point to the coming of the Messiah, the person who would save the world from their brokenness, their sin, and its consequences. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ, through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, fulfills all of them. Astounding!

Jesus affirms the scriptures, and the Bible confirms its own authority as a tool for direction. Paul, a Christ-follower and inspired author of many books of the Bible writes, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (From the second letter to Timothy, chapter 3.)

In considering questions of direction, anything that we are told, heard, or believe, must be in line with the teachings of the Bible, as this is the primary way we can hear God's direction. The Bible is truly His love letter to us, giving us direction in how to live, and it points us solely to Jesus Christ as God's perfect and only payment for our sin.

This Bible truth, along with a heart attitude that is the foundation of wanting to follow and obey what He says, is the beginning- and sometimes the conclusion- of hearing God's voice regarding any matter we place before Him. Sometimes, we desire additional confirmation and direction from God. This can also come from our own prayer, as God will speak to His children who seek Him; wisdom from wise counselors; and lastly circumstance. All four ways can reveal God's voice and will to us, but no voice truly from God will ever contradict what we find in the Bible.

We'll continue on next week about why we receive wise counsel as part of our decision making process. But in the meantime, let's be thankful we have God's wonderful love letter to us and that we can find so much about Him and how we are to live within its pages!

Leave This Epcot Legacy Behind

One of a few concept pieces for one of Disney's biggest and most miserable mistakes at Epcot. Now that the disrespectful wand has finally disappeared from the Studios, please do us a favor and get rid of this tombstone themed entrance to the park. Time to move on and leave this legacy behind.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 26, 2008

Notable and Quotable: Bono

"But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross."

August 25, 2008

Haunted Mansion's Disquieting Metamorphosis

Regardless of its location or variation on the theme, The Haunted Mansion remains one of Disney Imagineering's greatest, most enduring achievements. Everything about it creates an unforgetable experience for the guest. The stately mansion sets the stage. Once inside the foyer and moving beyond, the infamous stretching room awaits. What happens here may set the tone for the experience to come, but the Great Hall heightens the anticipation for what lies ahead.

Above is a piece of concept art seldom seen in such a large size, depicting many differences from what was finally, ahem, executed. This is clearly a more sinister take on the room than what was built. Take particular note of the ceiling, the paintings, the art objects, the armour, the carpeting, and especially what lies at the end of the hall. A disquieting metamorphosis indeed.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 22, 2008

Reading Between the Lines

Just caught the 2009 version of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. As he has done with the past few additions, Jim Hill shares his insights and predictions. Among them, a Lone Ranger series of additions for Big Thunder Mountain, the obvious Little Mermaid for Magic Kingdom, a Kim Possible type, National Treasure themed game for Liberty Square, his long-standing rumor of a Russian pavillion for World Showcase, minor changes for the Studios- and absolutely nothing mentioned for Animal Kingdom. Time will tell, kemo sabe.

(Come back Monday for a piece of rare concept art for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion!)

Charleston's Angels

From "Angles" to "Angels"... Nice little photo from our recent trip to Charleston and Hilton Head Island (where we visited Disney's Vacation Club). Will probably post more soon- once I get through them! Charleston is a gorgeous and gracious town filled with everything I loved about New Orleans without the racy undertone. Just beautiful and worth a return visit!

August 21, 2008

Under Construction?

According to two great sites, LaughingPlace and Disney and More, the Disneyland Paris Resort will see Phase Two of the buildout that started with the Studios Park and the addition of Crush's Coaster, Cars Race Rally, and Tower of Terror.

Much is said about the additions to the Studios- and it needs it the most to bring it up to a full day, Disney experience. A trackless Ratatouille dark ride heads the list. What about the beautiful original park? Unfortunately, no one is saying much. Too bad, as this is the most gorgeous Magic Kingdom ever!

Love's Lines, Angles, and Rhymes

Just a bit of a musical trivia question today: Which pop music artist has the voice of an angel and the elegance and grace of the greatest 1940's songstresses? Her awards as a group member, solo artist, and as a duet partner resulted in Top Ten hits on a variety of charts and a handful of Grammys. The answer is Marilyn McCoo.

A founding member of the originally named The Versatiles, this part of the 5th Dimension possesses a voice clearer and still more beautiful than the early- in- her- career Whitney Houston. From Up, Up and Away to Wedding Bell Blues, Last Night I Didn't Get to Sleep at All, to her solo album The Me Nobody Knows, her voice, her heart and her soul flows, lifting, encouraging, and sometimes challenging the listener. Her Christmas album, "White Christmas" is a masterful blend of contemporary "light" jazz, pop and soul. A treat.

Many years back, my family and I were able to see Marilyn perform live in downtown Denver. It was clear that what we heard on record was not the result of studio trickery to enhance her voice. She sparkled! Ms. McCoo charmed the audience with warm stories and humility, and then she won us over by her versatility.

Although she is primarily known for her 70s hits, Marilyn's career is still in full swing. She and husband Billy Davis Jr. have recorded a new album, The Many Faces of Love. You can check out their website here. You'll be glad you did.

August 20, 2008

The Battle Rages On


There is a battle going on for your mind, your thoughts, and what you think will have a major impact on your actions. Where does the battle present itself? In ways like this:

When we fail miserably, how do we view ourselves?


What do we choose to think of others?


When we believe we have no value, that there is no hope, that things cannot change.


In conflict, will we run or face it head on, trying to bring things to resolution?


Do we feel abandoned by God or doubt His goodness or His care for us?


And a million things just like these- there is always a battle.

I see this all the time in me as well as in others. When we are passionate people, sometimes our thoughts and feelings have a huge impact on what we choose to do. The choice, the battle, the decision, is to believe that God is in control. What He says about us is true, not our feelings- and then we have to choose humble submission to Him.

Choosing to submit to the truth will result in our growth and moving past a long time stumbling block, pain or unforgiveness which has held us captive.

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."(From the Book of 2 Corinthians, chapter 10:5)

The good thing is Jesus promises us peace in the midst of our lives, but only if we place our trust in Him. He is Truth- and also, thankfully, our comfort. The reality is peace can be found no other way.

Disney's Coronado Springs Resort

Who knew Disney World's Coronado Springs Resort could be so beautiful? Webmaster Mario not only shares all the details, but he is a wonderful photographer as well. Check out this link: Coronado Springs Resort for all you'd ever want to know on this "Moderate"-ly rated resort.

August 19, 2008

Dinosaur Excavation

Here's a great piece of concept art from the amazing "Tales from the Laughing Place".

(You really need to subscribe to this!) The infamous Animal Kingdom coaster that was originally planned for Dinoland U.S.A.? Well, that is what you are looking at. Looks like a fun angle about a dinosaur dig. This rockin' coaster didn't make the opening day line-up. Will it ever? There's still space for it as far as I can tell...

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company)


Humility First


Last week, I shared about one of the most common questions I get, "How do I hear God's voice?" Briefly recapping the four-fold answer: 1- From the Bible; 2-Personal Prayer; 3-Wise Counsel from Others; 4- Circumstances. All four should intersect but, it really begins with attitude. Let's start by taking a brief look at the need for humility.

Humility and a willingness to admit a need for direction from God remains a prerequisite to hearing His voice when we seek Him out. Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden, our pride builds a wall, keeping us separate from a creator who desires relationship. Yet, we are not without hope. God makes a promise to us that if we seek Him out, He will not turn away from us. In fact, in the book of John, Jesus says "...whoever comes to me I will never drive away."

Many of Jesus' words sting when we read them. The stinging comes from God telling it like it is, bringing us the truth about our nature and His character and standards, thereby cutting through all our reasoning and excuses as to why we don't come to Him. Unfortunately, our resistance also keeps us from His blessings and His life-giving sacrifice!

The religious leaders of Jesus' day were infuriated by him equating himself with God, yet verse upon verse, chapter upon chapter of the Bible shows this to be the truth. In fact, Jesus rebukes the religious leaders who would rather read and study about God instead of encountering Him personally. "You dilegently study the Scriptures because by them you think you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." Don't misunderstand. The study of the Bible is very important, but if our study of it consumes us and keeps us from an imtimate relationship with God, we've missed the entire point of the book! Isn't this like our culture today? We enjoy philosophizing and love finding the newest leader to follow, the latest self-help guru, the hottest book and trend? We're always learning, but how often are we able to acknowledge the truth- and then choose to live by it.

As you can tell, humility to seek God is the foundational step to hearing His voice. Thankfully, we don't just seek God, He chases after us as well. Jesus' words bring encouragement to us. "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him, and he with me." It's our choice, but He is there. Next time, we'll briefly cover the primary means of hearing God, how we can hear God's voice through the Bible.

August 18, 2008

The Beast's New Burden

Robby Benson, the voice of Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast", has chosen to take on an epic character for his next film: Billy Graham. Check out this link to discover the behind the scenes material in the making of this sure to be fascinating film.

Crowning Jewel of the Disneyland Resort

Hands down, New Orleans Square is the best themed land at Disneyland. Even better in years past, when all its shops offered unique merchandise and its restaurants a true taste of The Big Easy. Just take a look of this map from the mid 70s.

With two world famous attractions in Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, the Mark Twain Riverboat (though technically from Frontierland) rounding the Rivers of America, and a variety of great live jazz, this segment of the park still remains the crowning jewel of the entire Disneyland Resort. Want a World Showcase experience on the West Coast? This is the place to go.

August 15, 2008

Design Detail: Discoveryland

If you love eye candy, Disneyland Paris is just full of the stuff! Here is the marque sign for Discoveryland, a European version of Tomorrowland with a Jules Verne flair. The detail in the entire park sparkles, but in Discoveryland, old favorites like Space Mountain, Autopia, and Star Tours take on a whole new look. Want more of what you see here? Check out my Disneyland Paris photos from my March 2007 trip report. Want more than that? Do yourself a huge favor, if you are a major Disney fan, and head off to Europe to see the park yourself.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

August 14, 2008

Still a Gem!

Here's a wonderful old photo of my French Canadian grandmother. She was beautiful then, and even today at 90, she is still beautiful. There was always that glimmer, that sparkle in her eyes. Full of life and full of laughter.

I spent many wonderful summers with her. We would talk, bake, play cards, and sit on her porch swing drinking lemonade. She made chores fun. She knew me well and knew what I loved. Memere never had much in material goods or wanted much for herself, but she gave away what she had and did it with a joyful heart. Each year when I was a youngster, she would wrap up a Disneyland ticket book as my Christmas gift. It was a sacrifice, but she knew it would put a smile on my face, so it put a smile in her heart.

We still talk on the telephone and visit in person as much as we can. We're a thousand miles apart now, but I can hear the life and laughter in her voice. If I really want to watch her light up, we talk about our love for Jesus. He is the One who puts the sparkle in her eye and the love in her heart. My grandmother is a wonderful, godly woman. "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." (Psalm 31:30). Love you, Memere. I really do.

Last of It's Kind...For Now

Not exactly the perfect "spectaular journey" as advertized, but certainly the last good Audio-Animatronics filled "E" Ticket since any of the attractions found at the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982.

Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989 to some of the same mixed reviews as Animal Kindgom almost a decade later: no enough to do, too many shows, not enough rides. The Great Movie Ride was the lone standout. Guests expected Disney to use its robotic wizardry somewhere in the park. Here, its use with the combination of different art forms and how its story was told was unprecedented at the time.

Unfortunately, it would be the last AA filled attraction for the American parks, as Disney chose to increasingly rely on film, stage, and steel for new adventures. It's been a long, dry spell for these kind of old school presentations, but I'd say theme park history is made with them. Pirates of The Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion still thrill after decades, and Journey Into Imagination was destroyed before its voyage was ready to be over. Can't believe anyone will be celebrating fifty years of Kali River Rapids!

It is not time to let this classic style of attraction die out on American soil. Not if Disney desires to draw from the pocketbooks of an aging population who will, one day, grow too old for the thrills of Mission Space or Expedition Everest.

In my opinion, almost 20 years later, Disney's Hollywood Studios still earns the initial criticism it received at opening- and the Great Movie Ride badly needs an update as well. Maybe a little mermaid at the Magic Kingdom will usher in a new era of great attractions- and prompt the folks at Disney to unleash some new spectacular adventures for a studio park that has lost its way.

August 13, 2008

Carpenters: A Song for All of Us

With the release of the Tan album, I was a fan for life. Really more of a fanatic. Anticipating every release, watching the record stores, and following the charts became a very fun little hobby for this young teen who grew up in Orange County, California, just south of the duo's Downey home. With radio stations K-Earth 101 and 93 KHJ in Los Angeles, there was always a Carpenters song playing.

Discovering that records were recently joined by 8-Track tapes, I knew the music was now portable- and constantly requested, as my Mom graciously carted me around town in her convertible, which happened to be blessed with the latest sound system. Nothing like cruising Pacific Coast Highway and listening to my favorite artists. (Or heading off to Disneyland- and that love for Disneyland was something I discovered I had in common with my favorite female vocalist!) I couldn't wait for more music, and the Carpenters forthcoming 1972 album only fed my growing fanaticism.

The ad for the new single.

An early first single, Hurting Each Other, was another powerful hit, zooming up the pop charts and building anticipation for a new album release. In some ways similar to Baby It's You, this song showcased Karen's vocal range from almost a whisper to just short of her belting it out. Richard's sparse arrangement was excellent, and the use of their overdubbed background vocals provided the necessary drama, creating another must-have record.
Unfortunately, fans had to wait many months for the follow-up disc, and the new single It's Going to Take Some Time, was not the hit the duo or the label hoped it would be. The very pleasant Carole King tune with a lilting flute solo was not up to par with previous releases, and it fell short of the Top Ten, the first single to do so since their initial outing on the charts. For a few months, pop radio took a break from playing the Carpenters.


Billboard magazine ad for the album.

The new disc, however, was full of terrific material. The title song and Road Ode, in particular, gave listeners a glimpse at a maturing and somewhat weary brother and sister. The album also included the flip side of the Superstar single, Bless the Beasts and Children, a popular movie tune which had charted on its radio play alone. The great Leon Russell composition, A Song for You was a masterful piece, and it hinted that Richard knew well in advance the legacy his sister would leave in the music world. (In hindsight, I only wish they had recorded more Russell tunes. Bluebird by Helen Reddy would have been a great choice. Love that song!)
With It's Going to Take Some Time, Karen and Richard were disappointed by the response and the broken string of hits, but they marched on. Thankfully, there was a wealth of strong choices for another single, and the next one was an epic- original and controversial. Goodbye to Love was Richard's coming of age as a composer.

As an artist, arranger, and producer, he had already excelled. Now Richard would finally be recognized for the strong writer he was. As always, Karen sounded terrific. This time, however, it was an amazing fuzz guitar solo that took center stage and made both long time fans and detractors take notice.

"Power ballads" as songs like this came to be called, became radio staples in the years following Goodbye to Love, but the trend began with Richard insisting on a burning but melodic rock guitar centerpiece for his first single release as songwriter. The guitarist, Tony Peluso, was reluctant at first but eventually proud of the result.

I was instantly mermerized by the song. Highly melancholy and bittersweet, the song played with my feelings. The line began to be blurred between me viewing Karen as artist and Karen telling her autobiography through her music. The fact John Bettis knew what lyrics to write for her (and they sounded so authentic), only played into my sympathy for her. Maybe it was foretelling of what was to come a decade later. Either way, it was the beginning of me being interested in Karen and Richard as human beings, caring about their lives.

Back to the record. At the time of its release, fans were split into two main camps, either embracing or rejecting this infusion of electrical power into the duo's previously mellow sound. Richard's daring arrangement paid off, and Goodbye to Love brought them back into the Top Ten. A tour de force.

The studio version of the song was and is still powerful- especially when heard through a good set of headphones. When done live in concert, it was at once jarring compared to the rest of the evening's music, yet fit perfectly and remained a performance staple. Years later, I began to wonder if this song was Richard's response to the rock world, either making peace or proving he could win the game playing on their turf. The single had the desired effect, and A Song For You continued to sell well, even though this would be the last single from the album for the time being.

Looking only at the recordings fully completed during Karen's shortened lifetime, The Singles 1969 - 1973 divides their output neatly in half. That greatest hits compilation was still a year and a half away when A Song for You was released. However, the disc eventually became a hits album of its own and ranks as the strongest release during the first half of their career. That is saying quite a bit given Karen and Richard's consistently good track record both in terms of sales and artistry.

Four albums into their career, Karen and Richard were going strong and still in demand, but things would not stay this way for long. However, none of us knew what was waiting in the years ahead and only anticipated good times and chart hits with no end in sight.

August 12, 2008

Common Question

Often, as a follower of Jesus, the most common question I get is "How do I hear what God's will is for me?" Pretty valid and important question, if you ask me. The answer is actually very simple.

The beginning of hearing the answer starts with a preparation of the heart, the willingness to have an open heart to what He wants to say. Once the heart attitude is right, discerning what God is speaking comes from four sources: The first is the Bible. The second source is Prayer. Next is the counsel of wise people. Lastly, circumstance can be a source as well. There should be a commonality of themes and answers as we seek God, but each of the last three sources will always be in full agreement with what can be found in God's Written Word.

Of course, hearing what God is saying is only one part, being obedient to Him is the appropriate follow up response. In the weeks ahead, I will go into each segment of the "How To"s in more detail. It's great to love and serve a God who desires to be intimately involved with the details of our lives because of His great and enduring love for us. He is the One we can trust and lean on when everyone else walks away. Thank you, God!

August 11, 2008

Disney's Private Carolina Island

Last month, thanks to a recent promotion with our cel phone company and some free hotel space, my wife and I were able to get away for a few days to Charleston and Hilton Head, South Carolina.


Being quite aware of the Walt Disney Company's Vacation Club offerings, I was curious to check out their timeshare property at Hilton Head Island, so we spent about an hour stopping to take photos and ask some questions. When we saw the small Bambi and Thumper topiary (actually fake topiary) and the "Year of a Million Dreams" banner, we knew we were at the right place. We checked in at the registration desk upstairs at the main building. It is a very small area with a tiny lobby and slightly larger library/den. Our hostess was nice enough to provide a map to the island and the property, a copy of the latest newsletter, and the offer to explore without being escorted- the nicest surprise of all.


Hilton Head Island is comprised of mostly resort properties with just about every piece of beachfront property developed. Large, well-known companies specialize in providing amenities associated with any luxury resort: golf, tennis, spas, pools, restaurants, shopping. Disney is no exception, although their roster falls short in comparison. Walking the Disney grounds, it became very clear that the property was pleasant and well maintained but not nearly as nice as many of the surrounding resorts.


The biggest difference: although it may not be immediately obvious to a reader of the promotional materials provided, the primary piece of property, the one where the vacation homes are located, is not beachfront or even across the street from it! In fact, although the Disney resort is on (its own) Longview Island in Shelter Cove Harbour, the complex sits in Broad Creek and its marsh.


Sure, it is beautiful to look at with the area's live oaks and pines, but where's the swimming beach? Follow that 1.5 mile bike path between the main lodging area to Disney's Beach House on the sand. The path runs under Highway 287. To be fair, a shuttle service is available, but at Vacation Club pricing, beachfront should be the order of the day.

Replacing the beach for 31 main buildings of accommodations are one medium-sized but well themed pool and a horseshoe pit with a nearby snack bar and small shop. No tennis or golf. I was expecting something as nice as the Wilderness Lodge or at least the Sarasota Springs Resort in Florida. Instead, everything here was very low key with nothing grand to be found.


We did find the usual and expected nice touches of theme, found here particularly in the signage. (Although a sign referencing "Michael and Michael" now seems to poke a bit of fun at Eisner's grand plans with Mr. Ovitz.) The vacation home buildings were very well done. The gardens were nice but not much more than adequate. A bit of character merchandise and a small collection of pins could be purchased in the shop, and Walt Disney World Resort paper cups were used in the snack shops. Cast members were friendly, smiling quite a bit, enjoying conversation with the guests.




After our walk around, we drove to the Beach House and were slightly more impressed. The main house was well appointed in a nautical theme. The outdoor pool was of decent size with a fountain play area sporting a beach ball theme. A small snack shop and a deck side bar rounded out the offerings with promises of a weekly shrimp roast. The sand was before us but mostly hidden by lots of trees affording privacy to members.






We spoke with a vacation club member who, with a slight smile and sigh, told us it was difficult but not impossible to use his vacation club points to get here due to the popularity of Hilton Head, but he much preferred Disney's Vero Beach resort. I can only hope that property is beachfront. I am sure that once word gets out that Disney's Hilton Head Island resort is not on the sand and has no golf or tennis, it will be much easier to book time there.

To sum it up, this was one of the first times we were glad not to be "on the property". In a strange way, I was happy to discover that our longtime decision not to purchase was a wise one, leaving our options open for staying at a variety of destinations. However, if Disney's Ko Olina turns out terrific, we may have to reconsider! 


(Most photos copyright Mark Taft. Couple of photos copyright The Walt Disney Company.)