December 24, 2008

A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas

This time of year it would be customary (or at least pleasant) to read about those warm fuzzy moments surrounding the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To paraphrase a common saying, “This ain’t one of those moments.”

You see, everyone responds differently to the Good News.

Around the time of Jesus’ birth, the people who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding area knew that firsthand.

King Herod was fuming mad that the wise men had returned to their own country without returning to tell him the whereabouts of Jesus. Under the guise of wanting to worship him, Herod was relying on their information so he could kill the Christ Child. Herod was threatened and wanted no one else in control. When his original plan failed, every boy aged two and under was killed at the king’s command. What a huge price many paid because of one man’s ego, anger, and fear!

As Jesus grew up, and especially during his ministry, people responded with curiosity or disinterest or disdain in their own thoughts about him. Though time changes, human nature does not.

Today, people still respond the same way as Herod: the thought of giving up control of one’s own life to Someone Else will just not be done. So, Jesus is again responded to with curiosity, disinterest, or distain.

Maybe even worse, He can be put “in his place”, especially by us folks who are religious or may have a faint interest in being spiritual. This could be because of religious tradition or because we have become too familiar with Him. Either way, when this happens, Jesus risks becoming an icon for us, removed from personal relationship with the very people he died for! Jesus died for an intimate relationship with each one of us- not so that He could become a corporate figurehead.

To me, the baby Jesus I place in that crèche on the mantle is only a reminder of the man who died to give me eternal life and a living relationship with Him. This Christmas, I invite you to reconsider the Jesus who willingly gave up his life for you. All He asks in turn is that you give him your heart and control of your life. What a small price to pay!

December 23, 2008

December 22, 2008

It's Greek to Me

Yes, Virginia, you are looking at a model of the proposed Greek Resort for Walt Disney World. Looking closely, it is easy to see the influence the islands played on the design. There is much speculation on why this was never built. The suits, of course, never tell the real story. My hunch is that the Vacation Club took on a life of its own and the economy took a fall- and with it, all the best laid plans fell by the wayside. Very similar to what is going on down in Florida as we speak.

December 19, 2008

My Dear Nona...

It happened again. I dreamt of you, but this time I was older, and you were, too. Boy, I miss you. You were a sweet friend as well as an amazing, caring Grandma. It's nice to know you're with Jesus now; It's nice to know I'll see you again one day. Thanks- and rest in peace.

December 15, 2008

Disney's Animal Kingdom-A True Life Adventure (Part Two)

“Well, I think we’ve got the best animal facilities in the world. We’ve got the best keepers that are here, we’ve got an advisory board- that is a very impressive list- that helped us plan and develop this park. We really think we’ve done the right things for the animals in the overall basis.”

Al Weiss, President Walt Disney World Resort, at the Grand Opening

Disney's Animal Kingdom had to be different. With three parks already on their Florida property, this new park was purposely designed from the beginning to be unlike anything Disney had previously created. Was the theme powerful enough to draw guests to spend a fourth day at yet another park? It had to feel fresh. It couldn't look or feel like a zoo. Reaching a new audience would be a necessity, and it would be a benefit to deal a blow to another competitor. Disney's Animal Kingdom fit the profile. If built as created, its beauty would astound, its attractions thrill.

Once the park was completed, in order to communicate this place was something special, Disney’s advertising expects kicked it into high gear. First came a preview souvenir booklet (top), followed by some terrific print ads.

The cleverest ad produced played on the sense of mystery the park strove to create: a young explorer walking down one of Animal Kingdom’s paths, looks behind him as shadows of animals imaginary, extinct, and wild are cast over him, clearly telling prospective visitors that exciting animal encounters were the order of the day here.

Enticed by the advertising campaign, curious visitors at the entrance gates received the newest park’s handout. The “Adventurer’s Guide” gave a small hint of what was ahead.

Once visitors crossed the turnstiles, those expecting a traditional zoo environment or yet another version of Main Street were taken aback, finding a lush jungle instead. There was no icon to be seen, no ride vehicle or transportation system in sight, no vendor cart. Here’s a rare map from Disney News introducing what guests found opening day.

Looking inside the Adventurer’s Guide or at the Disney News map, and we find the park is a little short on attractions. The actual count is less than ten, but several others are there to pad the list: character greeting kiosks, the village of Harambe in Africa, and Discovery River apart from the boats that cruised it.

Rounding out the Animal Kingdom were a limited number of shops, mostly found in Safari Village. These are beautifully built with handcrafted carvings and stunning décor, and they surround a few small eateries. The merchandise offered included unique and park specific offerings, something Disney has seemed to forgotten about in most of their other parks- a very nice touch.

Back outside, the lush gardens, waterfalls, and meandering paths (including the famous “hidden” one), beg for exploration, filling more of the visitor’s day. Just what would the paying visitors think? After considing many incarnations of the park, settling on what was to be built and committing to it in concrete, there was no turning back. Park gates opened for the first time on April 22, 1998. What did guests find and how did they react?

Above, the original proposed Animal Kingdom centerpiece, a carousel!

Disney's WILD Animal Kingdom- that is until copyright issues got in the way!

The setting is spectacular and unique to all the Disney kingdoms. Just like the Earth it celebrates, this newest Florida gem was lovingly created and intelligently designed. Nothing was left to chance. Walking through the turnstiles, it is a fully immersive experience, its a wonder for the eyes, satisfying to the soul. The old saying "The Devil is in the Details" comes to mind, but let's not give him the credit for the magnificent work found in here.

The Oasis is an area in which the designers made up for items removed due to monetary constraints. The very hard working Imagineers produced a stateside park that hasn't seen this much elaborate theming since the original Disneyland. Between the hand carved details all around, lush landscaping, hidden animal grottoes, and various meandering paths to explore, many visitors could spend an entire day discovering unexpected delights. However, guests conditioned by decades of running for Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean – those wanting traditional Disney attractions- could be severely disappointed. Some were, and park management was quick to be told about missed expectations.

It is these guests that were focused on the shortcomings, many deeming this “new breed of Disney park” a half-day excursion charging a full-fare. Disney responded equally fast that this was a place to be savored, not a rushed experience. Both camps were right, yet since Disney understood that guests vote with their wallets- and their experiences were now shared worldwide via the internet- plans were immediately made to add to the park. Soon to come additions included attractions for the Asian section of the park not yet ready for opening day.

Proposed design for Asia.

Our Journey Begins...
Due to other obligations, it was about a year and a half after opening that I first saw Disney’s Animal Kingdom for myself. My wife and kids were curious and asked the obvious questions regarding a park that seemed to be the Disney version of a zoo. Having familiarized myself with the park from every form of promotional material I could get, I thought I was ready to go and “knew” the park. Was I ever wrong!

On our first journey to the newest kingdom, two erroneous design choices stood out. The majestic Tree of Life is truly a draw in itself, but the 3D film experience inside, although quite good, uses space that should contain an iconic, timeless attraction. Additionally, the tacky and very unnecessary Rain Forest Café takes up prime real estate at the park’s entrance, lending a stench of commercialism to an otherwise organic and visually appealing piece of land. This is a major mistake, akin to placing a prominent Home Town Buffet at the grand entrance of Main Street. However in the larger scheme of things, these are quite minor. This was a brand new Disney park after all and a marvelous one at that!

When looked at through a critic's eyes, although not immediately obvious, the final execution of Animal Kingdom reveals that there are many similarities with the quickly built Disney-MGM Studios. Both parks are light on attractions, a trend that continued in later years with Disney’s California Adventure and Paris’ Walt Disney Studios. Instead of a lengthy Backlot tour, guests at Animal Kingdom travel via safari truck through the quite realistic African savannah. Exhibits abound in each park. Animation and behind the scenes artifacts are on display at the Studios, while creatures of all sizes reside in the main lands of the Kingdom. Time-consuming theater presentations are plentiful, replacing the absent traditional Disney rides while accommodating large groups of guests. Noticeably lacking, however, are Disney’s trademark and lavish Audio-Animatronics adventures. These costly extravaganzas are relegated to one per park: The Great Movie Ride, and Countdown to Extinction, respectively.

Back to our visit. Entering the Oasis, we realized the place is designed for adventure as we found the multiple winding paths curving through a lush jungle filled with small creatures and colorful birds. Folks who choose not to rush through this section of the park may uncover a small waterfall cascading before a bridge, all hidden from view. In fact, I didn’t find this place until my 4th visit! Small caves contain unexpected animal exhibits, including fish. The scent of flowers and the distant sound of music filled the air.

I did not expect the impact this type of “Scene One” would have upon my view of the park. To experience this in person is to feel a combination of serenity and excitement, the desire to remain all day and the need to explore even further. Amidst the adrenaline rush, I never realized we would later be hit with an educational experience as well as a day of fun.

Above, the Proposed plan for Dinoland U.S.A.

Journeying beyond the gardens into an open pedestrian area and its small but colorful village, the Tree of Life transforms into a breathtaking piece of art upon closer inspection, as the hundreds of animal carvings found in its trunk and branches become evident. I couldn’t help but stand and stare at it or photograph this masterpiece all through the day from various angles. Even if it didn’t have the rather funny “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” show inside, the tree would become an instant favorite.

Photo from

Standing on a bridge looking at the Tree on one side and the Discovery River below, I was lost in a brand new faraway place. The park's clear shortcomings faded. Then it hit me: I hadn't been on a single attraction in over an hour, but I was thrilled with everything I saw. Couldn't wait to keep exploring the park. Yes, Disney had done it again.
This is the end of Part Two of this series.
(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company, photos by Mark Taft.)

Russia Back on the Boards?

Can it be? Could the long planned and often delayed Russian pavillion be coming soon? Only the suits know for sure. However, one thing is certain. Everyone knows World Showcase has gotten mighty stale, as it has been far too many years since the addition of a new nation. Guests to the park are noticing it, too. Sorry, Disney, lame redos of El Rio del Tiempo, and quick updates to a few films does not make a revitalized World Showcase.

December 13, 2008

Significance of the One

Tomorrow, will be the third Sunday in the celebration of Advent, a time of preparation of our hearts to commemorate the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Not growing up with church as part of my life, let alone anything spiritual, I never really understood much of the celebrations- besides Christmas and Easter, of course. So when I was asked to speak about this third Sunday, and talk about the shepherds, I was a bit hesitant.

Rereading the account from Luke chapter 2, gave me some fresh perspective. In it, Joseph and Mary had gone back to Bethlehem to honor Caesar Augustus' decree that every citizen take part in a census. Since the local hostel was full, they took refuge in a shelter for the animals, and it was there Jesus came into the world He created.

The shepherds nearby on the hills were doing their job, and it was a lonely job. Usually this job was reserved for those unskilled in other areas or for those who were young teens. These guys were not the most important or significant folks around. In fact, by nature of their occupation, they were on the outskirts of community life.

In the darkest of night, an angel appears to these ordinary people. God's glory is manifested by great light, scaring them. And the angel proclaims "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger."

At this point, just as they may having been adjusting to the fact an angel appeared to them , an entire company of angels appears praising God, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Off the shepherds go to find the Christ child.

Heres' the cool part: These ordinary folk were chosen by God to see the most important event since the creation of the world. God Himself deemed these guys of value. This single act on God's part reflects His Heart toward the Significance of the One:
  • The One Hurting
  • The One Unpopular
  • The One Forgotten
  • The One Outcast
  • The One Broken Hearted
  • The One Lonely
  • The One Needing Hope
  • The One Unimportant
  • The One Sinful
The shepherds were given a great honor- they were witnesses to the announcement of the coming of the Greatest Shepherd of All. Jesus had come- and during his life, He brought his Message of love, life, and hope to everyone from the lowly prostitute to the highest authorities in the land. And it was a message that is still shared today by common men and women, one person at a time.

December 10, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posting these last few days! Work has been an all encompassing situation. Stay tuned for updates in the next few days. I do have some fun things planned!

December 5, 2008


Still skeptical? I mean, if you need further proof that Disneyland Paris is the most beautiful magic kingdom ever created, go to the great site!
Or just click on the beautiful photo above for a quick taste.

December 2, 2008

Shanghai Surprise

News Flash! Both Screamscape and Disney and More are reporting Disneyland Shanghai is a go. Click the links to get to the story!

Perseverence and Perspective

Have you ever wanted to give up? I know I have- many times. Even many times this week. Not the faith but the battle of living righteously.

Let’s face the facts: Becoming a believer can be easy, but living out the Christian life is hard work. We know what is right, and then we have choices to make. And let’s be honest while we are talking. Sin is fun- at least at the start. So, if you are like me, living the selfish life seems far more appealing than living the God-centered one. Thankfully, my spirit has been renewed and my mind is following behind it! This Christian walk really is a day by day thing.

The first couple of verses in II Corinthians 4 ring my bell:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.”
Paul hits the issue dead on. We have renounced secret and shameful ways. Sometimes they still allure us, don’t they? It would be too easy to fall back into them and then justify our actions using a slight twisting of the Word here or there. Or even presuming upon God’s forgiveness just so we could do what our sinful nature wants. Instead, let’s hold strong and keep a godly perspective.

Thankfully, we are not alone in this battle to live a godly life. We have the Holy Spirit in us, giving us strength and direction to succeed and forgiveness when we fall. And we have other believers in our lives to encourage us and hold us accountable. Christianity was never meant to be lived out alone!

Verses 16-18 of the same chapter help us see this struggle as God does:

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Let’s not try to do this alone. We can choose to lock arms and support each other as we walk out our faith. Have you found someone you trust enough to be honest with? We need other believers to help us work this out, to gain the victory, to leave our sin behind us.

There you have it. Let’s persevere in righteousness and keep a godly perspective. Together.

December 1, 2008

Raising the Banner

After the recent and successful reopening of Sleeping's Beauty's Castle walk through, is there any doubt Disneyland is the park to emulate in the United States?

This single park contains the ultimate stateside versions of most all the "E" Ticket attractions plus many unique ones as well. When you measure in the charm factor, only Disneyland Paris comes close. Epcot is majestic, Tokyo Disney Sea amazing, and Disney's Animal Kingdom enthralling, but only Disneyland in California has the indescribable flavor of Walt himself.

Sure, Tomorrowland needs a little bit of vision beyond its current incarnation, and yes, California Adventure is still a mess of a second resort gate, but the original Magic Kingdom, remains the best of all!

Perhaps the reopening of the castle is the beginning of a renaissance at the park. Could a return of the Peoplemover be next? Maybe the Skyway? Perhaps a grand new adventure in Frontierland? No one knows. But one thing seems certain in this post-Pressler era, something wonderful is happening at the original and the best Magic Kingdom!

November 28, 2008

Brilliant Westcot

Westcot. Just the mention of it tends to put west coast Disney fans into turmoil. This was the worthy second gate, not the disjointed and cheap California Adventure. Although we cannot turn back the clock and neither can Disney, we can appreciate some of the rare but beautiful pieces of art created for the project. Here is one that is rarely seen, an evening view of the park with its icon brilliantly lit in the evening sky.

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company)

November 27, 2008

Very Thankful!

The phrase “Give thanks to the Lord” appears 22 times in the Old Testament. Even though it is not a commandment in the “Big 10” sense, there can be no denying that God intends his people to have thankful hearts.

So many times I go through my life with the Lord asking of Him and asking of Him again. How rarely I stop and give thanks! What’s worse is I normally don’t even think I have made God my spiritual genie in a bottle. I pray for serious stuff- that this person or that person would start to have an intimate relationship with Jesus, that He would bless a particular ministry event, or protect my family, or help me resist temptation to sin- all good and important stuff, indeed. (And ok, if you must know, occasionally some frivolous things, too.) But I am still asking something of Him. I do stop to thank Him when what I have prayed for happens. Yet that is like speaking your appreciation to your earthly father for a gift he has given vs. hugging him and telling him you love him- just because. (Personal note: Hi Dad! I do love you, and thanks for all your love and support.)

When I stop to say thanks to God and tell Him I love him, then my eyes are off myself and the cares of the world. I focus on who He is, how good He is, and bless Him for what He has done. When I seriously consider these things, my heart is overwhelmed with love and gratitude and joy. Suddenly, all my worries and concerns fall into their proper place - all is well with my soul.

Song of Songs paints a beautiful picture of the Lover (Jesus) pursuing His Beloved (Us!). The heart of the Living God longs for us- and He is blessed when we speak of our love, thanks, and adoration for Him. Isn’t that the very least of what He deserves?

November 26, 2008

Where Has All the Magic Gone?

David Copperfield and The Walt Disney Company had great plans in the 1990s. A showcase for his magic and special effects would have been a great addition to the Disney-MGM Studios, but it was not to be. The latest misfire seemed to be one more disappointment and reminder to fans that this park was quickly losing its focus.

Although there would be some new projects to bring life to the Studios, including Fantasmic and Rock 'N' Roller Coaster, the executives and designers were struggling to find a new and workable direction. Bringing television filming and live productions to Florida was something that just wasn't happening for the company. The Tram Tour drew fewer and fewer numbers as Catastrophe Canyon became the only true standout in an otherwise boring attraction. The Great Movie Ride was in dire need of revamping. It was not pretty.

In the last decade, this park has survived due to the sheer power of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, but that is about to finally change. The magic would arrive in the form of a lamp, and the renaissance would begin.

November 25, 2008

Carpenters Live in Japan: The Leaders of the Pack

Due to a series of unexpected and very positive changes in my father's career, on Christmas Day in 1975 we found ourselves in Hawaii for a couple of weeks. I was instantly enchanted by the tropical climate, the lush vegetation and mixture of West Coast, Hawaiian and Asian cultures.

During an afternoon trip to the beautiful outdoor Ala Moana Mall in Honolulu, I wandered into a local record store and browsed through the bins. Of course, my first stop was the divider labeled "Carpenters". Although I was not expecting to find anything, I actually uncovered paydirt. "Live In Japan" was staring me in the face. I quickly grabbed it, and my heart raced with excitement as I took it to the cashier. Of course, being these were the days of LPs, it had to sit in our hotel room for another two weeks until I could get home.

The cover of this two record set was a beautiful photograph of the duo, Richard at the piano with Karen singing into the microphone with her eyes closed. It was a very contemporary looking shot, clean and crisp. The predominately black background perfectly set up a red Carpenters logo.

Removing the first record and placing it on the stereo, I didn't know what to expect. There was a bit of a sound check, some rumblings of the audience, then an introduction "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Carpenters". The beginning notes of "Superstar" came through the speakers. Here was a real moment of truth- what would she sound like live? Was her voice a trick of the studio? No, it wasn't, not at all.

It was marvelous. Rich, deeply emotive and self-assured, Karen gently but powerfully handled one of their more difficult songs with ease. Just as on The Singles album, this song led to Rainy Days and Mondays and then Goodbye to Love. Tony Peluso's powerful guitar solo was absolutely trendsetting in the studio, but it was almost explosive live. There was a rawness about the live recording that intrigued me. The production was clean sounding, the arrangements well done and the vocals almost a perfect match for their studio versions, yet it felt very organic and natural at the same time.

The crowd responded enthusiastically to a very cute countrified "Top of the World". This was followed by a song I never really understood Richard's love for: Mr. Guder. Yes, very impressive flute solo and vocals but certainly not anywhere my Top Ten list of songs they should be performing live at this point in their career. Where was "Baby It's You" or "This Masquerade" or "Let Me Be the One"? Thankfully, "Close to You" came next, followed by a few more hits. Karen then gave an intimate reading of "Hurting Each Other", ending record number one.

Record Two: The Oldies are so much fun! Wisely, Richard decided to let the band stretch a bit and not perform a note for note duplicate of Now and Then. Starting off with "Little Honda", Richard's vocals just shine! It was easy to tell the band is having a great time during this segment of the concert. Karen brought the seriousness of "End of the World" and the sweetness of "Johnny Angel" as expected, but she counters it with very playful takes on "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Leader of the Pack". Their touring pal, comedian Pete Henderson adds more fun with his lead vocals on various other hits of the era. Surprisingly, the standout track is Richard's: "Daddy's Home", proving once more he needed to take more turns in front of the lead microphone. The Oldies set on the disc remains a reminder of our duo's versatility.

The closing side of the package begins with Karen's bilingual take on "Sing", including the Kyoto Children' Choir. She handles the Japanese- and the child performers- so well, it is difficult to remember how hard the language can be. Ending the concert, the band continues with the beautiful "Sometimes", the duo's signature "We've Only Just Begun" and the encore "For All We Know", each peformed flawlessly. The crowd appropriately shows its appreciation for their efforts.

Replacing the discs in their jacket, I was now determined to see the Carpenters live. After hearing Karen beyond the studio recordings, I was fully convinced she was the finest vocalist in American music. I couldn't wait for the next onslaught of Carpenters radio hits and concerts.

Karen with boyfriend Terry Ellis in 1974.

Capturing their sold out tour, this recorded concert is a bit brief at a little over an hour, but it includes most all the hits. It also set the stage for the next part of Karen and Richard's career- a time of rest and a time of focus on their personal lives. Having accomplished so much at such a young age, they do a bit of reflecting on their long term personal and career goals. What comes next is considered to be their musical masterpiece by many fans, but it comes at a very high price.
2021 Note: This is part of a continuing series of posts on the albums of Karen and Richard Carpenter. There are also numerous stand alone posts highlights different aspects of their career, recordings, and life. 

Below is the list of my initial reviews and then my "Revisited /Fresh Look" reviews a decade later. 

My Initial Reviews of the albums:

November 24, 2008

A Post Just for Married Men

I have your attention now, don’t I?

I must admit, I think about sex often. I bet you do, too. Sometimes, I wonder if that is godly. I love that private time with my wife. Then I realize God created and blesses marital sex, and He calls it good. In the New Testament, Paul exhorts believers to remember that in marriage, the body of the husband also belongs to his wife, and the wife’s body also belongs to her husband (I Corinthians 7:3-4). I like that. Sounds like an abundance of love on command.

As with most things, Scripture challenges us with another level of application- the commandment to love our wives. Reading I Corinthians 13 reminded me that Biblical love is an action, not just a feeling. One section hit me square between the eyes: “Love… is not self-seeking” (vs. 5).

(I just wanted to say it again to make sure I didn’t lose you for this next part!)

How many times I am selfish and self-seeking all day long! It’s a matter of what I want when I want it. Especially when I get home from the demands of the day. Occasionally, glimpses of change shine through. Maybe it is the same for you.

Our attention seems to be naturally tuned in to our careers, our pleasure, and our recreation. The culture we live in also reinforces our sin nature. You know- be all that you can be; go for the gusto; win at all costs; be the master of your universe; ad nauseum. Everything from computers to sports, captivates our hearts and occupies our time. We willingly spend our lives pursuing recognition, more money, more toys, and better bodies.

So what about loving our wives and giving ourselves up for them? (Ephesians 5). That is part of this marriage thing. We are called to love and serve our wives- to lay our lives down for them. What speaks sacrificial love to your wife? It is a dinner out, kind words, a cup of coffee and conversation, letting her have a night out while you watch the kids, or taking her to that “chick flick” she’s dying to see? The answers are endless, but only you know what those things are that speak of your preference for her over yourself and what you want.

Want more and better sex? Learn to love on your wife. Use your body, your whole body, to love her. Use your ears to listen to her about her day; your mouth to praise and encourage her; your hands to help her; your heart to understand how she feels; your feet to take her places she enjoys. Use your mind to choose her, instead of doing what just pleases you.

Put her above all others. Then she will be free to be who she really is- the woman of your dreams, the love of your life, the one you married. And your heart will be free to enjoy her. Lastly, seek the Lord with all you’ve got. Nothing is more attractive to a godly wife than a man who loves his Lord. A bulging wallet or bulging biceps can’t even come close.

It’s a wonderful thing that God desires to make even better by laying down our lives for our wives. Don’t just believe me about what I’ve written- ask your wife.

November 21, 2008

Amazing Mont St. Michel

Certainly one of the most photographed icons in all of France! During our first trip to Europe in 1998, this was one of the places I couldn't wait to see. The beautiful little village that surrounds the abbey recalls times gone by and a way of life now just a slice of history. If ever you visit the Normandy region, make sure you stop here- and check out the lovely small hotel in town. Mont St. Michel is one of a kind.

November 20, 2008

Hero Survives

Something remarkable for today...
For all you horse lovers out there- Here's a wonderful story from the Crystal Peaks Ranch: Hero

November 19, 2008

Gems of Epcot - China

Epcot remains our favorite Disney park in Florida. It certainly isn't as spectacular or fresh as it was in the early years, but it is still quite the crowd pleaser. The simple charms of World Showcase may begin with Mexico on one side and Canada on the other. The Eiffel Tower may beckon from across the lagoon with its extremely seductive personality, beautiful buildings, and tempting treats.

However, one of the most beautiful and serene pavillions continues to be China. The 360 degree film continues to impress me, making me long for a trip to the Great Wall and other delights. The architecture is a once stunning and subtle. The people quiet and gentle, the gardens intriguing (and unfortunately, the food very average). With each visit to the park, I increasingly appreciate and understand what the Imagineers have accomplished. It is the essence of China that is captured here- in a quiet corner of the World far removed from the Disney crowds- and from the oppressive politics of a real country still discovering how best to serve its citizens.
(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 18, 2008

The Little Park That Could?

Maybe I called it too soon on this one.

The recent additions to Paris' Walt Disney Studios have successfully brought in the crowds. Crush's Coaster and Cars Race Rally began something good that culminated with the relatively recent opening of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The former two attractions brought much charm and a family focus to a rather dismal area of the park. The latter attraction and the surrounding area is heavy on the theming and strongly executed, something this park was poorly lacking.

From most accounts, guests seem to be spending more time here. That's a good thing. With response so positive, more elaborate plans are ready to be approved. This expansion and enhancement proves what Imagineering can do to take a bare bones park and turn it into one that feels like it belongs in the Disney family. Could even be a model for what the Imagineers hope to accomplish with the also quickly and cheaply built California Adventure. I guess I've learned an important lesson: Never underestimate the underdog!

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company)

November 17, 2008

Taking Risks

As I sat in the emergency room waiting for the doctor to sew up my hand, my friend Mike and I had to laugh. Six stitches across my thumb due to one false move in cutting a metal stud for my basement! I always knew I wasn’t born a construction worker. I didn’t need this reminder. Yet God called had me out of my comfort zone once again to be involved in this project at a level I was unskilled in. Interestingly enough, prior to cutting the first metal stud, I stopped and prayed for God’s safety and protection. I am afraid of sharp objects and don’t do well with them. (I don’t even shave all that great!) What happened? The result of taking a risk.

The Biblical teachings on living an abundant life are having an impact on me. God has been speaking to me about risk-taking being part of living a faith-filled life. I am trying to figure out how that applies to me. Being obedient to what we know God to be telling is integrity.

The entire Bible is filled with accounts of risk takers for God. In the book of Acts, (chapter 20:7-12,) Paul is once again used dramatically. While listening to him preach a very lengthy sermon, a young man named Eutychus dozed off around midnight and fell down. Other than embarrassment, this usually wouldn’t be too much of an issue. Except Eutychus was sitting in a window on the third story. His friends pronounce him dead. Paul rushes to the ground, throws his arms around Eutychus and tells everyone present that he is alive- which is now true thanks to God, and to Paul’s obedience. In being so bold, Paul took a great risk that he heard God correctly. Certainly, Paul was a gifted speaker, but imagine how those listening even more so considered the truth of his words after this resurrection! (And like some preachers, Paul then continued talking until daylight!) Point being, Paul’s risk brought God glory. Not only were people more willing to believe, you can bet Paul’s own faith was deepened.

Not every risk brings such spectacular results. What about my hand? Hadn’t I prayed for safety? God was faithful to me. No cut tendons, no nerve damage, no loss of mobility. But no one was raised from the dead, either. The truth is that sometimes risk brings results we didn’t plan for- tough circumstances or even anger from others. (Overseas missionaries get this all the time!) What did I learn or accomplish? Haven’t a clue. But this I do know: when God leads, I would rather risk then let my fear keep me from obedience. To me, that is the biggest part of living an abundant life-obedience.

What about you? What does risk taking look like in your life? Are you listening or watching for God to challenge you in a new way? What would obedience bring?

Can you live with the chance of failure? Can you make that leap of faith? Ask God to lead you and give you the strength to jump. You can be sure the abundant life is what He has waiting for you.

November 14, 2008

Dumbing Down the Resort

In one of the more foolish moves made by Disney management for the Florida resort, the green light was given for the Pop Century Resort. The concept art shown above may look appealing, but the final result is guilty of bringing the property to an all time low. It is the kind of project that would have fit perfectly with California Adventure at its opening!

Thankfully, an additional section of the motel complex was left unfinished. If Disney were truly wise, wanting to show a bit of class and a proving a commitment to return to the glory days of old, they would bulldoze the leftovers and let the land return to its original state. This would signal an intelligent shift had taken place. It is certainly not asking too much.

November 13, 2008

Man of Fine Character

Husband, professor, son, brother, man. That's my son! What a fine young man he is. On this his 25th birthday, I want to thank him for being who he is. A thoughtful and considerate human being, a scholar, a man of faith and one of good character. What more could a Dad ask for- either heavenly or earthly? Happy birthday, and here is to many more years ahead. With love, from your Dad.

November 12, 2008

Running a Successful Race

In the last couple of years, running on the treadmill has become a regular form of exercise for me. Whether it is due to my own sense of clumsiness or desperation, I always stop and pray as I first get on it. “Lord, protect me, and help me finish the race and finish well.” I pray as I run, putting to the Lord the burdens I carry. All this running gives me plenty of time to think about my life and where I am.

Even though I can see my body changing over time, I cannot physically see how my spirit is changing and growing. But by my actions, I can gauge who I am becoming.

My words reflect what I have been taking in: the TV shows and movies I watch, the books read, the music heard. My priorities and values mirror the company I keep- another good reason to continue in fellowship- and the attitudes of my heart reflect how I’ve used my time. I am taking on the image of my influences- whether I like it or not.

If I am going to finish my race well, I need to deliberately choose who and what is molding me. This goes way beyond accountability. We’re not only talking accountability, but also receiving wise counsel, vulnerability with the Lord, and making right choices that please Him.

Who and what are molding you?

Look back at this recent season of time. Are old sin patterns slipping back in or are you finding increasing victory? That’s a good indicator of where you are spiritually and who you are becoming. Are your choices and priorities reflecting a desire to become more like your Lord Jesus or do they reflect other things in your heart? Put another way- is there anything crowding out your relationship with Jesus? Chances are, if you are too busy or too tired, something’s gotta go. If nothing changes, it is only a matter of time before the walls come crashing down.

We serve a jealous God who wants intimacy with us. He prizes his relationship with you. Keep pressing in and don’t give in. Call out for help to God. He will hear you. He wants to see you make it and finish the race well. That means finish the race looking like Jesus.

November 11, 2008

Energize Us

In my collection of Disney memorabilia, I have a special appreciation for the pieces related to EPCOT Center. Why? Never again would anything this special be attempted. At its opening in 1982, this amazing, one-of-a-kind park was at once future oriented, optimistic, and sweetly charming. EPCOT Center represented everything wonderful that could be accomplished by the Imagineers without an animated character in sight! Discovery, wonder, and exploration of realms real and yet to be found awaited each visitor.

This concept from a corporate preview booklet shows the main entrance of the Universe of Energy attraction in Future World. Long before Hollywood celebrities invaded Disney's theme park attractions, this groundbreaking pavillion combined a surprising new way to transport guests into the story and then told it through a creative use of film, music, and animatronics.

My last visit to Energy revealed this pavillion needs a bit of an overhaul. Animatronics didn't work, sets seemed stale, and the main characters are past their prime. Hopefully, it is on the list of projects to revitalize Epcot. This great attraction deserves some attention without being turned into just another thrill ride or one more animated film promotion.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 10, 2008

Discovery Bay Resurfaces

The infamous Discovery Bay was a pet project of Imagineer extraordinaire Tony Baxter. Recalling a turn of the century San Francisco Bay era, the centerpiece was to be the magnificent Island at the Top of the World attraction. It was not to be. The movie on which the key attraction was based became a relative flop at the theaters causing Disney executives to bring the project to a halt, effectively putting an end to the ambitious Disneyland addition and boat ride.

At Disney, however, as many great stories and attractions survive are as killed, but many return in another manner. A decade and half later, Baxter revived part of the project as part of Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland. A brilliant move and a beautiful and unique addition to the European masterpiece.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 7, 2008

One Busy Guy

According to our friends over at E-Train Station, Mr. Elliott Yamin has alot on his plate these days. In Japan, his album is finally out and doing great-the disc includes a new song Home, (not the Michael Buble' megahit). His souped up Christmas album My Kind of Holiday will soon be easy to find. Last and certainly not least, the man's cutting a new album due for Spring 2009 release. Of course his fans have wish list favories, and I am not an exception. My choice? A studio version of "A House is Not a Home", the old Burt Bacharach/Luther Vandross classic.

November 6, 2008

Pressing On

Maybe it is just an “occupational hazard”. Or maybe its just the way life is at the moment. Regardless, it seems as if I’m hearing that many of us are currently overwhelmed by the circumstances of life. Does it seem that your situation is more than you can bear? Do fear and worry consume you when you think about the problem or the future? Certainly, you are not alone. The saints and heroes of the Old Testament had to deal with the same stuff.

Look at Joshua. He was eventually appointed the commander of Moses, and then was later designated his successor. And what a charge he had! Lead an unruly people whose hearts tended to stray from the Lord, and conquer the strong enemies of the land. No small task. Amazingly, the following admonition is repeated throughout the book of Joshua:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:8-9)

This theme of trusting God in the face of fear is repeated throughout the book for a reason. Joshua struggled with fear, yet he was the man God called to do the work that needed to be done. We are in the same position today.

Let’s face it. Life can be really hard at times. In the middle of a difficult season, it is very easy to forget God’s promises to us or even that He cares about us. Yet, that does not take away from the fact that our Lord has given each of us something to do; something that in the process will be used to conform us to the image of Christ. Certainly, Jesus promised to always be with us, even to the end. We must take him at his word. The only other choice leads to a life of unrest in the deep places of our hearts.

So, what shall it be? Drop back or press forward. Let's grab our friends, lock arms together, pray for and encourage one another. Remind your friends of God’s promises and His faithfulness to us. Let’s stay strong and not give up, doing what He has put before us for His glory and His honor.

November 5, 2008

Sleeping Beauty Awakening Soon

Coming back to a Disney theme park near you- if you live in Anaheim, that is. The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Thru was one great little addition to the park. Certainly not an "E" ticket and not something to plan a visit for, it is one of the quiet, understated gems that give Disneyland the charm that is lacking in Florida's Magic Kingdom. It's return is more than welcome. Maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of restoring all those wonderful "hidden" attractions that kept Walt's touch in the original Kingdom. We can only hope. It's in the hands of Imagineer Tony Baxter, so I'm betting it turns out great.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Promises, Promises

Well, Mr. President-elect, congratulations. You have succeeded in winning the confidence of the majority of voting Americans. Like each man before you, the job will be overwhelming and require your strenuous commitment. You have made many promises, and now is the time to watch what happens.

You have referred to yourself as a man of faith. Good- you will need God. You'll need Him more than any party's platform. There is much work to do in rebuilding America after campaigns that have run far too long and been far too nasty. And like each president before you, you will have my prayers. I promise.

November 4, 2008

Wisdom from Mr. Lincoln

President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address contains insights that are just as valid today as it was in 1865. Our current circumstances are very different but his wisdom eternal.

At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it--all sought to avert it. While the inaugeral [sic] address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissole [sic] the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether"

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

November 3, 2008

Another Year, Another Election

Ambition. Greed. Pride. All these elements are found in any Presidential election and in various amounts within the candidates themselves. It’s no different this time.

Before anyone assumes I am throwing stones, be assured I’m not. This is the human condition. I find these in me, and if you look deep enough, you’ll find them in you as well. Let’s be honest: it’s ugly in there. It gets even worse when we mix all this and do it in the name of God or use Him to promote our agendas. This too, is the nature of politics and our human sinful nature.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” These words from the great apostle Paul are a good reminder for keeping our focus on God and His ways as we live in a world governed by imperfect men and women who are trying the best they can to do what they think is right.

Come Wednesday morning, regardless of who wins the election, I will support this President with my prayers. He will be my President even if I did not support him with my vote. Both men have invoked God and expressed belief in Jesus as their foundation. May it truly be so as one of them moves into a very tough job.

Polynesian Village Plans

All this talk of Disney building at the Ko O'lina resort area got me thinking about Disney's original hotel plans for Florida. The Contemporary Resort was first named "Tempo Bay", with the second planned resort, the "Polynesian Village" forming the first two resorts to be built. This seldom seen piece of art shows a high-rise project instead of the warmer, lower, more island friendly feel of what the public found on the property in 1971.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 31, 2008

Scared Silly at Alien Encounter

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Depending on your point of view, this was either one great Walt Disney World attraction or one that never belonged in a Disney park. Count me among the former. Happily.

Arriving at the Magic Kingdom park one early evening in 1999, I could not wait to get to the New Tomorrowland. I was not disappointed. The visuals were staggeringly beautiful, especially after dark when the neon lighting appeared. Here was the Tomorowland I could get excited about after watching the original in California deteriorate before my eyes.

Having just been to Paris the year before, I was curious to see the American version of Le Visionarium. Very glad to have it on our turf. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority was present and accounted for- in my book a staple of great Tomorroland design. Space Mountain loomed in the near distance, and our entire family had our eyes on another great journey to outer space. Yet it was this small theater show that I was most looking forward to experiencing.

Hearing the many stories of families with young children traumatized from the attraction, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew I had to discover the horrifying truth for myself. Wandering inside the building, the more serious, some would say ominous, tone of the attraction was quite a surprise. The upcoming theater experience was only intensified by the eerie music coming from the speakers.

My wife and I gave our kids the big pep talk, particularly preparing our youngest (nine years old at the time) for a thrill on par with the Haunted Mansion- but a little more "up close and personal". We seated him between both of us and held his hands while his teenage siblings sat on both sides of us. The lights dimmed- and the thrills began.

Sitting in the soon darkened theater, every move of the alien brought shrieks- shrieks of laughter that is. Even our nine year old found it great fun. Who ever thought (implied) blood and gore could be so much fun?!? As we exited the show, we couldn't stop talking about it. We spent the rest of our evening in a fairly empty Magic Kingdom, hitting the Florida mountain range and a quick trip with the Pirates. It was a great night under the stars, full of the magic Disney promises.

Expecting Alien Encounter to be around for a long time, we never took another ride. Wish we had as it closed a mere eight years after its premier. Yes, it was a shock for us. Disney, especially in Florida, left its attractions up for years with replacement or rehabilitation. But it was gone, now only to be enjoyed on You Tube.
So, here it is- scary yourself silly! ExtraTerrorestrial Alien Encounter

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)