January 31, 2021

Sunday in Paris

A not so sunny afternoon in Paris yielded a pretty nice photograph! Here's the truth about visiting the City of Lights- if you walk to take the Metro to a stop you don't know, exploring the side streets and rounding those unknown corners brings pleasant surprises. This is one of the best aspects of traveling through Europe. The rich history reveals itself in unexpected ways.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 29, 2021

All Aboard the Mark Twain Steamboat! Got your Ticket?

Yes, the ticket says "Steamboat Mark Twain", not the more familiar Mark Twain Riverboat we are all accustomed to. When this beautiful ship premiered on the Rivers of America, special tickets were sold. They are beautiful!

Frontierland and Disneyland as a whole was a celebration of the ideals of America. In this land, it was a look at life in the Wild West. Sure, it was a fairly sanitized version. But it had to be. No one wants to go to a theme park that celebrates difficulties. Perhaps that's one reason why Disney's America had limited appeal. But I digress.

For many years an evening cruise about the Mark Twain was the perfect was to end a day at the park. It became even more magical when New Orleans Square opened up. (I'd always hoped New Orleans Square would be built at another park where the docks for the steamboat would be on the river in that land- with a mint julep bar next door!) 

Most nights you could hear the Dixieland music from the ship as you sailed by. The cruise was long enough to be immersed in a different world as she sailed into the darkness. Imagine being blessed by being selected to be aboard when the late great Louis Armstrong and his band played on her decks! That's the kind of magic that can't be duplicated by an Imagineer!

(Image from Vintage Disneyland Tickets.)

January 27, 2021

Black Voices, Disneyland, and the Jungle Cruise

Black voices and representation matters. We as a country have been notorious about trying to remove that during our history. It's good we are fixing that even at the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom parks. Am I angry the white man is now on the bottom of the Jungle Cruise totem pole? No. I find it clever and humorous. 

But let's be honest, all voices matter. Everyone wants to be respected. With that said, the movement away from free speech and cancel culture is frightening. Why?

Unity does not mean uniformity. And if I disagree strongly with someone's opinion, I'll still fight for their right to share it. I'd rather know what people are thinking than not. This is one reason open discussion is important. Particularly on a social media platform where people routinely say things and use words they would never think of using face to face.

As we work this out together, I plead with you to exhibit kindness and generosity of spirit. Ask questions and seek to understand. It is a Biblical model after all- and it works!

January 25, 2021

First Splash Mountain, Now the Jungle Cruise

Of course, Disney's Jungle Cruise adventure was created with a 1950's American viewpoint. Disneyland is, after all, an American theme park created during that decade. Each country creates its attractions- be it theme park or museum - based on its individual world view. That said, it was time for some updates to the beloved original attraction- and it does stand to be more respectful of native peoples. Hopefully not at the cost of humor, however. Self-importance does not make for a fun attraction.

My main concern centers on the fact that recent revisionings of classic attractions, as well as those not so classic such as California Screamin', have brought less charm, less cohesiveness, and less of just about everything good to the affected attractions. The Jungle Cruise is just too well done and too iconic to screw up. Imagineer Marc Davis added just the right touch of humor to this Walt Disney masterpiece. And he left just enough premise to get the attraction going without guests having know the story top to bottom, beginning to end, as they ride. 

I like the idea of adding a skipper as an Audio-Animatronic but will the new story and vignettes be more like a new self referential version of California's Tropical Hideaway or Florida's Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen? I hope not. Whatever you do, Disney, don't fall into the trap like you did with Pirates of the Caribbean- just make it good this time!

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Space Mountain 1960's Edition

All original color! Retro styling! Vintage look! This piece of concept art for Walt Disney World's incredible Space Mountain by Imagineering's genius John Hench dazzles with 1960's goodness. (Zoom in close for all the details. You'll be surprised what you find.) Its addition to the Magic Kingdom not only changed the look of Tomorrowland, but it ushered in a whole new world of thrill rides for Disney parks. No longer could they rest on a combination of theater shows, slow moving boat rides, and even Audio-Animatronic laden adventures to appeal to guests. 

I won't tell it all in this post, but the beloved attraction has a very unique history and impact on the parks- all overt the world. Take a look at this blog's mega article here.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 24, 2021

A New Baby and Hope in Our Abortion Crisis

You're looking at our new granddaughter. She was born happy and healthy just a few hours ago- about 24 hours after I wrote the article below. Another one of God's precious miracles!
I should have been an aborted child. My Mom was 16 and pregnant; my father 18 and not wanting to be a father. Thank God, they chose life instead! (And after 60 plus years of marriage, they are one of the happiest couples I know.) So, abortion is a very personal matter for me.

My oldest daughter and her husband were told by doctors their second son would have Dandy Walker Syndrome, would never have a normal and healthy life, and they should abort him. Up until a month before his birth, all signs showed the doctors were correct in the diagnosis, but they insisted on supporting his life. Wouldn't you know, he was born totally healthy. Amazing.

I've heard some well meaning but misguided folks say until the adoption crisis is figured out, abortion is the best option. Imagine if we did that with COVID-19. Until we can conquer it, all senior citizens should be euthanized. Lunacy.

Check out this book, The Case for Life, a scientific study that proves live begins at conception.

Post abortion, I do know some women who have chosen to let God do a great work in them, and even though they never forget their choice, they have found forgiveness and freedom. Isn't that just like Him? That's the God I choose to serve. We're all broken in some way, and we all have done things we know are not right. A couple of women in my extended family have had abortions. And their lives have been filled with a sadness they never really get rid of until they looked to God. 

The other ironic thing about all this- it's hard for us to admit there really is a child in that womb. So, we justify it away and think our decision will affect no one else- but it always does. On one hand, we teach our kids that each one is special and of value, and on the other, we teach them that prenatal life is just a blob. Does anyone else see this as a strange thing?

I am always pleasantly surprised when a pro-abortion advocate gets pregnant and then, within a few weeks of pregnancy, sees their child via medical technology. It's hard to deny that really is an active little one made in the image of God. 

The heart of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, was strictly out of love. It covers all sins and each is equal. Even this one which grieves me the most.

January 22, 2021

From Herb Alpert to Karen and Richard Carpenter

Although music industry executives thought he was crazy, Herb Alpert gave Karen and Richard Carpenter the chance to record on A&M Records, and he remained a friend and personal fan of the duo ever since. Carpenters first disc Offering (later retitled Ticket to Ride after their single 45 remake of the Beatles song) was not a moneymaker. That didn't deter Herb, who was sure something special was there. he was right. The next single was (They Long to Be) Close to You, a number one smash on the Billboard charts. And the rest is history.

In November of 1973, A&M released The Singles 1969-1973, a true greatest hits records chocked full of surprises as it presented nine gold records as part of the collection. In celebrating their accomplishments, Herb took out this nice introductory ad. The text reads, "When you know a good song...when you can write a good song...and when you have talent, watch out- 'cause it can go on forever. Love you Richard & Karen and congratulations. Herb Alpert".

How we wish it did go on forever, and yet it does! Karen may have passed, but the music lives on. Richard's latest masterstroke is his reworking of their beloved songs with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. May there be more to come.


This post is just one of many on the blog. Rare photos, an article on The Night I Met Karen Carpenter, and more can be found here. Below is the list of my initial reviews of the Carpenters albums and then my "Revisited /Fresh Look" reviews a decade later. On these, I'm recently completed The Singles 1969-1973. The next is Live in Japan, and it's coming in next month.

My Initial Reviews of the albums:

January 21, 2021

Lessons Learned from Presidents Biden and Trump

President Joe Biden gave one classy, and hopefully honest and heartfelt inaugural address. It was full of the proper decorum necessary to be President of the United States, and it showed respect to the office he now holds. Something that was missing from the Trump presidency. If Biden can truly accomplish what he has said yesterday, there's reason to be hopeful. I've learned some lessons over the last few weeks, but the application of them may surprise you.

I will not vote for Donald Trump or support his new third party. His actions in the last several months threatening our democracy will not be supported or tolerated by me. 

Freedom of speech must be sustained. It was disheartening at best to see Big Tech show their might by pulling communication channels of those they disagree with. I'd rather know what groups of people are thinking then have that hidden from me. Let me make my own mind up. Do not filter my media or news. Sadly, not a single prominent Democrat spoke up in disagreement with this move by Big Tech. This inaction does not communicate a desire for us to live in diversity but instead clearly diactates we must live in uniformity. The very opposite of what President Biden has just told us.

I am happy to see that the glass ceiling for women and women of color has been broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. She is the just wrong woman for the job. I am happy for the breakthrough as I was with the election of President Obama for the same reason. Her election communicates to the women of this world they are valued and any job is available to the most qualified person. But like him, she is the wrong person for the job. 

Any politician who is bound to an organization founded to eliminate Black people through abortion is not worthy of my vote. Ever. Period. Yes, that is founder Margaret Sanger's Planned Parenthood. The sanctity of life is foundational in serving a God who loves the people he created. I heard a very misguided Christian tell me that until the adoption crisis can be fixed, abortion is the only viable option. That's humanism leading the way. Our call as believers is to trust God and be obedient, leaving the results up to Him. Imagine if we as a nation decided COVID-19 cannot be conquered easily, so until we could, it's best to euthanize the elderly and those most likely to be impacted. After all, that would follow the same pattern of thinking. Choosing extremist California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead Health and Human Services is not a good beginning to building bridges of unity. Pure and simple, until the Democratic Party puts to death their marriage to abortion, they will not win the votes of the majority of conservative, Bible believing Christians.  

That said, the church must step up its game and put into greater action what they say they believe. We as Christians have done much good in the world feeding the poor, building hospital and wells, and creating agencies that support adoption of orphans. There's more work to do. It's one thing to have the Biblical beliefs and even teach them. It's another to do something with them. For too long, only a few of us have served the underprivileged and bettered their lives and also shared the good news of Jesus. It's not an either or. They both go together. Too many of us have sat on the sidelines and let the government do our work. Look where it got us. The poor, the widow, the immigrant all need to be cared for. All the helpless do. And who is more vulnerable than those in the womb who have no voice?

I do want to see better guidelines and a more open inviting country when it comes to immigration. All are welcome, but come in legally. If you don't, do not expect to be treated with the benefits that come from citizenship. But regardless, do expect to be treated with respect.

Respect is a basic human right because all of us are created in the image of God, although not all choose to acknowledge Him or live by His standards. This is why Jesus came to earth to die in place of a broken people He loves. One by one. Freedom of religion and the ability to worship and live life in a manner that supports individual spiritual beliefs is paramount to a healthy society. 

There's much more to say, but this will suffice for now. As with all presidents, I will pray for my country's current leader. He is my president, but like all politicians and all humans- including you and I- he is imperfect, broken, and has areas of being misguided. As with those before him, God has allowed this president to be in power for His purposes be it correction or blessing or a mixture of both. Let's discover what they are and seek God's heart and will in all matters.

January 19, 2021

My Favorite Disney Park Photos: A Stunning Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris may just be the most beautiful castle park in Disney's kingdoms! I submit to you this photograph from our first visit to the Parisian theme park. You are looking at Discoveryland, the French park's version of Tomorrowland. Themed to Jules Verne and the great  visionaries of the past, it has the best vision of Space Mountain you'll find among an eclectic array of attractions. But I've written on that many times...

Do you see shades of Imagineer Tony Baxter's sadly aborted Disneyland project, Discovery Bay here? I sure do! Many of the concepts for that expansion made their way into this park. This place really is The Theme Park as Art! Frontierland is best realized here, Fantasyland seems even more magical, and Adventureland boasts the most unique themes ever. The opening act of Main Street U.S.A. stuns with the most elaborate version ever, making Florida's Magic Kingdom's already lovely street seem somewhat lacking in charm by comparison. Have to see it for yourself.

Let me say this photo is 100% unretouched! It was a gorgeous summer day in France, flowers blooming and a sky as blue as could be. Having seen this park in three different seasons over a couple of decades, from a photographer's eye, this trip was hard to beat. (I know there's a trip report or two somewhere on the blog!)

Just as Disneyland Paris has a connection to Discovery Bay, did you know Discovery Bay also has a connection to EPCOT Center's original and amazing Journey Into Imagination? Check this out!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 18, 2021

The Challenge of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists … Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”
                                                                        Martin Luther King Jr.

January 15, 2021

Design Detail: Kali River Rapids

Per square inch, Disney's Animal Kingdom probably has more design detail than the other three parks at Walt Disney World. The cut rate version of Tiger River Run aka Kali River Rapids is no exception.

Few would argue that the attraction has as much detail as the queue- which is a shame because the ride as is - even if truncated - is still fun. While you're waiting to get drenched, take a look at the office of the manager. Each of the rafts has a specific name and status.

Look closer and you'll find poor Manaslu Slammer at the very bottom of the list. It's poor crew and passengers were "due back yesterday". Perhaps that's why those working in the main office had "Gone to Temple, Return Soon". It's a situation that could be needing prayer!

Animal Kingdom has one of the most fascinating stories of all the Disney stateside parks. If you'd like to dig into it, my eight chapter history is full of concept art (including that of Tiger River Run), photos of each of our trips, and one interesting story after another. It all begins here:

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)


January 14, 2021

A Wintry Day in Paris

For one of the world's most beautiful cities, it is also surprising that Paris can be one of the most grey ones as well. When I took this photo, about 8 years ago, it was with an eye for composition. We were high above it all on the rooftop of a department store, and I couldn't help but take multiple photos from every angle possible. When we returned home from our trip to France, I was shocked by the tones. Yet, in a large size as with my photos from the top towers of Notre-Dame, there was a certain charm that couldn't be overshadowed by the dreary skies. Lots of stories from the City of Lights. If you want to read about our adventures there, check out An American in Paris. Four parts, including yes, a great day at Disneyland Paris.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 12, 2021

Nice View of Remy's Ratatouille Adventure

Leave it to those wonderful folks at WDWMagic to bring me one of my favorite photos of the progress of Remy's Ratatouille Adventure! The direction the suits are taking Epcot may not be my favorite, but so far, this entrance to the new addition in France's pavilion gives me a small glimmer of hope. The detail looks like something you'd actually see in Paris. World Showcase is perhaps my favorite spot in all of Walt Disney World. I hope the suits and Imagineers work together to keep some integrity to the original vision.

(Photograph copyright WDWMagic.)

January 11, 2021

10 Reasons to Go to Disney World Now

Having just written 10 Reasons to Avoid Disney Word, I'd now like to offer counter points as to why now is the perfect time to go to Walt Disney World. You may not agree, but at least, it will be food for thought that may make you change your mind.

1-  Lower Crowds.  At the current 35% estimated capacity of "normal" times, this could be a perfect time to go! Having had the experience of being there during a storm season and pending hurricane, it was delightful to be able to walk onto an attraction with little or no wait. Imagine three rides in a row on 7 Dwarfs Mine Train. Yes, it is possible. Read more here.

2- Scheduling Your Trip is Less Difficult. If having a park reservation and ticket is all you really want to think about, you can get away with that. There's no Fast Pass Reservations to worry about. Even advanced dining reservations (pre-booking) for restaurants may not be necessary. Just walk up to whatever looks good. You might be able to risk it now. 

3- Rise of the Resistance. With lower numbers of guests, your chances of getting on Disney World's hot new ticket may actually increase.  (Or maybe not since the parks have shorter hours.) The same could be said for Slinky Dog Dash or Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. Or Flight of Passage or...

4- Shorter Park Hours. Ever have a trip where it seems like all you did was go to the parks? Even if you have other intentions, it's all too easy to spend the entire day making sure you get on those must do attractions. Perhaps with shorter hours you can now get up later or have the excuse for taking the evening to go to the pool at the resort, explore the grounds, or get a good night's sleep before doing rope drop the next morning.

5- It Can Cost Less. Since there are now lines everywhere to get into stores, buying merchandise you really don't need may not be as desirable as in older days. Is it worth a 15 minute wait in yet another line to but some mass produced cheaply made product that comes from China? Maybe not. Are there fewer table service locations available? You may save money my eating at counter service locations instead.

When it comes to dining in Mexico,
better food is (unfortunately)
found outside the pyramid!

6- Epcot is Under Construction. Before all those new attractions open, perhaps being in the park is a good thing. If you go during a "Taste of" festival instead of the full-bore ones, there might be fewer booths, but there's also easier choices with less options and less people. Chances are, there will be a festival when you visit. (Isn't that what this park is really about now?) Plan it right, and you'll get on the new Remy's Ratatouille Adventure before the official opening and all the crowds arrive.

Jack Sparrow welcomes in 2021!

7- Spontaneous Character Interactions. If standing in line for a character meet and greet is not for you, a "Character Cavalcade" or casual remote distanced character viewing may be just the thing. This can significantly lower the frustration level for adults with kids in tow. (Got this photo on Tuesday from my sources.)

8- COVID Stress. Sometimes, enough is enough, and we need a break from the real world for our sanity's sake. Being cooped up comes with a downside that few will honestly talk about. A Disney vacation can give you and your family some fun.  I support being safe and doing it wisely for the benefit of others, but no one can tell you what's best for you family. Especially not government officials that don't even practice what they mandate.

9- Stay Off Site. From the loss of resort perks, everything from no Extra Magic Hours, Mickey's Now Less Magical Express, and more, the fewer resort extras may mean this is the time to financially downgrade to an equally great off-site property. If you've been breaking the bank to take your family because your hotel accommodations have to be on property, this could be the year to start a new tradition! 

10- You Want to Go. Only you know when is the best time for your family. Trust your gut instincts after doing a bit of investigation. Go and have fun! There's few places like the World!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

January 10, 2021

Sunday in Kyoto

It's a peaceful morning in Kyoto, Japan. I remember it as being one of the most beautiful locations in my travels to the nation years ago. The simple but well designed traditional elements, narrow streets without cars, and a general sense of order allows guests to focus on the serenity of the region. This is what an expansion of Japan's World Showcase pavilion at Epcot should be! Do you want to see what was once planned? It's a lot more than you might imagine. Go here.

(Photo by Rachel Davies.)

January 7, 2021

Why Disney Needs to Keep the Hall of Presidents Open

With respectful disagreement to both Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider and Josh Young of Theme Park University, the tragic and disappointing events of yesterday in Washington D.C. are exactly the reasons why the Hall of Presidents attraction at Walt Disney World needs to remain open. 

Our nation, our Republic, has been preserved. Democracy works. President Elect Joe Biden was not my choice, but I respect the results.  

As for what happened yesterday, it was deplorable. These were fringe activists and do not represent the Republican Party just as Antifa and left-wing extremists do not represent the Democratic Party. They should be punished to the full extent of the law.

The Hall of Presidents and the American Adventure stand as testimonies of the perseverance of  American people and the triumph of democracy in the face of conflict of all types. Their removal would be "cancel culture" and exactly opposite of what needs to be done. 

Let the show change back to Abraham Lincoln speaking after the role call. Removing all but one president would also remove Barack Obama from the attraction. Black American youth need to be reminded it is possible for those of any race to rightfully earn the top spot in American government. 

We cannot reward extremists by destroying something that so well represents who we are. 

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

Grease is the Word. This was Not.

Proof positive that some ideas on paper look good but should never be acted upon. In the music world in 1978, putting together a movie with Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, and a whole slew of pop music stars to celebrate work of the Beatles doesn't sound so bad. Toss in soundtrack that includes one of the best tracks ever cut by Earth, Wind, and Fire and you're sure to have a smash, right? Wrong. 

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - the movie and the album- were a creative flop and garnered little financial success. Grease was the word due to the chemistry of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. But this was a mistake on too many levels, artwork aside.

It was all a crazy move- but it is absolutely nothing compared to the actions and reactions to the presidential election and what currently is happening in Washington D.C. and our country. Lord, help us!

January 6, 2021

America Gone Crazy

Starting with President Donald Trump, it's time for America to grow up. Stop the violence. Say what you will, but violence accomplishes nothing. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right. Our great democracy was founded on godly principles. We have moved so far from what God intended. We are seeing the fruit of that. It's time to look within and act with humility before God. We are sinners, and the current state of Washington D.C. and our nation prove it. Human life is sacred. But when a nation chooses to kill its unborn children, kill its elderly, and lynch and enslave and degrade those because of their skin color- and that's just the beginning- we've lost our sense of decency and humanity and purpose. Is it any wonder why we find violence acceptable? We've become animals. I'm disgusted, and you should be as well. Can President Elect Joe Biden and company bring real unity to a nation gone mad? I doubt it. Neither could Barack Obama. It must be a work from God- and we must each look inside first... and repent before God.

Sunset on Disney's Seven Seas Lagoon

When it comes to the old debate of "Which is Better- Disneyland or Walt Disney World?" there's one point made by East Coasters that no one on the West can argue with: The abundance of water on the Florida property and those gorgeous sunsets that shimmer on it give the point to the World. As we were taking a launch across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom on our way to the Polynesian for the evening luau, this was our view. That's the Grand Floridian on the right. Few things are more beautiful than water and sky together, proving once again, that the Greatest Imagineer, the Almighty God, has created something the best of Imagineers cannot duplicate.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 5, 2021

Live from the Magic Kingdom

According to my sources, it's a warm and beautiful night at the Magic Kingdom! After a seemingly perfect day, it's off to bed to get ready for Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the morning!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 4, 2021

10 Reasons to Avoid Disney World

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? I want to go as much as anyone, but here are 10 Reasons not to! Disney's magical world in Orlando, Florida has much to offer- or does it?

1-  Rise of the Resistance.  Disney World's most coveted, hardest to ride new attraction is still a mess! Not just the most wanted ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios but resort wide. Capacity may be much better than it was the first several months of operation, but having to book a reservation at 7am the day you want to ride is just ridiculous. I can almost guarantee the first generation Imagineers - and even many second generation ones would be/are embarrassed by this mess. Great, ambitious ride but extremely low capacity and high unreliability. What were they thinking?

2- Scheduling Your Trip is Even More Difficult. As if planning a trip to Walt Disney World wasn't hard enough, now you have to book park reservations along with planning out everything else. I understand but no. Just no.

3- Limited Resort Options. Spring Break at the Polynesian Village Resort? Not open. You get the point. Choices are fewer and this makes reservation scheduling even more difficult. Besides, many of us love planning a resort only day to explore one after another. Now, that's not easy and maybe impossible to do.  

4- Cancelled Theater Shows. Legend of the Lion King and Finding Nemo the Musical are only two of the cancelled ones. If you love these kind of attractions (and I don't personally aside from these two in Animal Kingdom), this may not be the best time to go. Particularly to the Studios and Animal Kingdom where these kind of performances feel as if they outnumber real attractions. I guess the same could be said for the reduced number of live performances in the streets of World Showcase. 

5- Higher Prices. Disney suits have to make up for fewer guests somewhere. Look around and check into the prices for your favorite snacks or merchandise or other activities. You'll be surprised- but it won't be pleasant. And I'd bet prices will not return to previous levels. Do they ever? No.

Yes, that is Tower of Terror behind the Morocco showcase.
Has thoughtful design gone out the window?
You'd think so by viewing the back of the France pavilion
from the Disney Skyliner!

6- Epcot Changes. Sure, the attractions are open, but one of the best and unnoticed aspects until it's gone with a Walt Disney World vacation is the atmosphere. Constructions walls abound. With the delay of Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind and at least one more year of work on Communicore (R.I.P.), waiting is sure to pay off. Just as noteworthy is the loss of cast members from the countries of World Showcase. Part of the fun is interacting with them and the charm and memories they bring. Clearly a lesser experience now more than ever.

7- Reduced Park Hours. This is just an insult. In addition to making Disney Springs even more crowded in the evening, if you go, you'll be paying the same amount for less time than ever in the parks. You may be thinking, "Fine- but I go there for more than the parks." That's well and good, but then consider there are probably great resorts closer to your home if you want to spend a couple of days relaxing. What makes Disney unique are their parks. They are the backbone of it all.

8- Wearing A Mask All Day. While I fully understand and support doing so for the sake of those around me who may be compromised, do you really want to do this? Do you really want photos of your family's perhaps once in a lifetime trip where all you can see are Little Jimmy's eyes and Teen aged Susan's over glittered Mickey Ears but not their smiles? Yuck.

9- Perks No Longer. What used to make staying on the property worth it is disappearing bit by bit. From the loss of significant Extra Magic Hours, free Magic Bands and Luggage Tags, and full Mickey's Magical Express, the loss of resort perks is astounding. The true peak of great Disney service was around 1989 after the opening of a third park and the Grand Floridian Resort. Truth is, it's gone steadily down hill ever since. 

10- Character Interactions and Evening Entertainment. Standing in line for a princess or a rubberhead is not for everyone, but for those with small children in their group, it can be the highlight of a trip to the World. No firework shows / evening entertainment? Unforgivable- but just another reason to keep the parks closing early.

So, these are the 10 Reasons to Avoid Walt Disney World. Will I write an article arguing the opposite? Perhaps. If I can think of that many!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

January 3, 2021

Wisdom from a Frog

Disney concept art speaks volumes about the care and quality of the work that goes into designing new attractions for the parks. These images for the smallest of Jungle Cruise animals is no exception. Did you know frogs can teach us a lot? As you'll see in the image below, along with a quote from the scriptures...

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21.)

Resting peacefully in a pot of water
slowly coming to a boil.
What can we learn from this?

The image at the top is from master Imagineer Marc Davis for the Jungle Cruise, the newest controversial Disney theme park attraction.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 2, 2021

Expect the Unexpected!

The year 2020 was very unique to say the least! If we learned anything this year, it was this: Expect the Unexpected! This is really nothing new. History teaches us that once we think we have everything figured out, something unexpected happens. You can go as far back in human history and see this. 

Back in the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, God's people encountered a God who acted in unexpected ways: Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Hagar, Solomon, Saul- the list goes on and on…These were imperfect people encountering a righteous, perfect, and loving God. But it wasn't who they expected him to be. Our God has a long history of doing what He wants, when He wants and involving the people He wants. Rarely if ever does this look like what man expects! Especially, sometimes, the religious man, those who think of themselves as spiritual, or those who think they know everything.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, you can just imagine his new disciples  Peter, Andrew, and James and John talking to the new recruits: They probably said, “Expect the Unexpected”, and they wouldn’t be wrong! Jesus’ words and actions were often unexpected- even unwanted. And his questions were piercing! 

Follow along with me and read the New Testament book of Mark, verses 8:27-30: 

"27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. (That's the northern part of Israel by the Jordan river.) And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 

28 and they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”  

29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”  

30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him."

I'm going to go through these 11 verses until the end of the chapter, and by doing so, we'll see Jesus challenges us by asking 3 important questions.

Jesus' primary question, Question #1  -  “Who Am I to You?”     

This may be the most important question of all time. We all have to decide for ourselves who Jesus is. It's so surprise to readers of this blog that I believe Jesus is the Creator God made man, uncreated by any other and subject to no one, the one and only perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. He's eternal, holy, righteous, and fully worthy of our love, trust, and obedience. But each person has to decide that for themselves.

By this part of the disciples' journey with Him, they have seen Jesus miraculously feed the 5 Thousand, walk on water, cast out demons, heal leapers and paralytics, and raise the dead! This is a pretty impressive resume, I'd say! All these actions gave credibility to his message that He alone is The Way, the Truth and The Life- and that no one would enter Heaven any other way than by relationship with Him. 

They’ve lived with Jesus, watched him closely. Supposed messiahs have come and gone. Was he the real deal? They would soon discover the answer for themselves- well, at least Eleven of them would.

So, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” Everyone jumps in with answers (John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet). But then Jesus gets more specific - “But who do you say that I am?” It gets quiet, but Peter speaks up:  he responds correctly- “You are the Christ!”  

“You are the Christ", Christ means the “Anointed One” -the Greek word for the Hebrew term "Messiah". Peter's confession equates Jesus with the Heavenly Father, God in the flesh. We all have to figure this out for ourselves. We will have to give an answer and an account of our lives. 

 Let’s keep reading. Go to the next few verses,  Mark 8:31-33. 

31 and he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.   

32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 

33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of god, but on the things of man.”

Jesus’ probing question, Question #2  - 

“Where is Your Focus- My Plans or Yours?

The heart of the question means are we focused on God's eternal kingdom or the one of earth that will pass away?    

Gotta love Peter! He's bold, passionate, unstoppable- even fearless! A “Let’s get things done” kind of guy who takes the bull by the horns. Constantly pushing the envelope. Always putting something to the test. He knows what’s right and knows what to do and how to do it in every situation. 

First, he’s the rock star student by answering Jesus correctly when everyone else was silent. But then, he gets full of himself and shoots off his mouth. This time, Peter is dead wrong!  Peter could not accept was God was doing and how he did it! Peter challenged the very God he just acknowledged as to the wisdom of his plan?!! 

He didn’t ask questions for clarity.  He just told the creator God of the Universe “NO!” Stupid, ballsy, or just human?

At his core, Peter was a humanist that has encountered the Living God and had to change the way he thinks and lives!    

I’m just like Peter sometimes! Aren’t you?  

Jesus’ response to Peter is also pretty unexpected! There were important lessons his disciples needed to hear. Very important lessons that would serve them well as they carried out Jesus' mission once He ascended back to Heaven before returning one day in the future:   

God’s ways are not man’s ways.   (Isaiah 55:8)

Followers of God will not always understand what He allows!

Learning this quickly would serve them well because their word was about to be rocked. They would soon be sent out without Jesus to do the same things Jesus did. Then, they would watch him die on the cross, paying the penalty of a criminal, before watching Jesus be raised from the dead, proving He was God. 

For all of them but John the Beloved, their lives would also end early and violently because of their faith in Jesus. The Disciples were called to trust Him regardless of the circumstances! We who love Jesus and follow Him have the same choice to make. We either trust him or we don’t. It’s that simple!

The events of 2020 were totally unexpected! If you’re like me, it was a season of intense investigation as to what motivates us and what we’re made of; a season of revealing idols in our lives. (Sometimes we are our own idol!) It was also a season of purification as God reveals sin in our lives.

Ultimately, it was a season of renewing His purposes for us personally and for the churches that following His Great Commandment and Great Commission. What do His questions mean for the local church?

Maybe God is hitting the “reset button” on the church!

My hunch is that the American church will end up looking more like the Persecuted church. This means the governments hate them, try to eliminate or nominalize believers, and that citizens are free to maim, persecute, and kill them. It also means they have hope, please God by proclaiming Him regardless of their troubles, have the closest of community, see the miraculous, and live the kind of life that brings eternal rewards. It may be easy to see where they are poor, but can you see where they are rich? I can!

There's that option or the local church ends up looking like the world- A Social Club who thinks and acts and lives from a humanistic mindset. Pleasure is all that matters because today is all that matters. There's no eternity, but there's also no hope.

The New Testament church was not only known for caring for each other but for setting the world on fire with the good news! For eight full chapters of the Book of Acts (what happens after Jesus ascends into Heaven) and before the Apostle Paul’s conversion, God used normal people like you and I to spread the Gospel message, and bring God glory by healing the sick, and doing the work of the kingdom. The truth of mans' sin and of eternal judgment was never ignored. In fact, those truths pointed to the need for Jesus... which brought great joy to those who believed.

Did you know “Ekklesia”- the Greek word for church- means “the Called Out Ones”? That term is used in Matthew 16:18. Are we called out by God? Yes, as believers in Jesus, we absolutely are! This means we are called to be different than the world in order to reach it.

What else should 2020 teach us? God’s kingdom and purposes are never thwarted by problems or what looks like defeat. They are proven true and powerful through them!  

If you’ve been a believer for long, looking at your life should prove that! You should see times where God has allowed something horrible to happen, but if nothing else, it's taught you to rely on Him and trust Him. As it has many times for me, the worst things that have happened have also brought blessings and great understanding years later. You just have to be patient!We may not always understand the answer to the question of "Why?" but we learn we can always trust our God who is eternally loving and good all the time.

In the midst of a year like 2020 ands the coronavirus, civil unrest, wars, and social injustice, God is still on the throne and his ways are right and pure and honorableThink of the crucifixion. Jesus’ death was attributed to the wickedness of men but helped complete the purposes of God. This season in our history is no different!

So, first Jesus asks, “Who Am I to You?”.  Then he asks, ““Where is your focus- my plans or yours? The eternal kingdom or the one that will pass away?”  What's his last compelling question in this chapter of Mark? Let’s read the last four verses.      

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 

35 for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 

36 for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 

37 for what can a man give in return for his soul? 

38 for whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Jesus’ provisional question , Question #3  -    

“Will You Follow Where I Lead You?”   

There’s no middle ground here. We will or we won’t.

For all the unexpected words and actions of Jesus, this is what we can expect:

Judgment is coming - our individual sin makes us guilty before God

His love caused the Father to send the Son to die in our place 

We can have eternal life and forgiveness of sin through Him and by no other way

He promises He will not turn you away if you come to him! (John 6:37)

But Jesus has expectations of those who are his:

(Remember, we’re not earning our salvation- these words and actions are an expression of our gratefulness and our new life.)

What does Jesus expect of those of follow him?    

To remain in love with him

To be faithful, to be true to his Word, to trust He is in control 

To persevere, enduring hardship

To be His messengers, his hands and feet and mouth to a dying world! Treating people as He would

We will not always understand what God asks us to do! It could be risky, it may not make sense, someone will be upset or it’s not the way things have been done in the past. It's a small price we have to pay.

This isn’t just about the Great Commandment to love and the Great Commission to go out and share the Good News! A vibrant walk with Jesus is an ongoing journey-  

Remember the focus is on Him and what he’s doing- not us! We are not to be a people that waits until the end of our life to ask “What would most please Jesus, what does God want of me? Am I furthering His kingdom or what would most bring God glory?”  That said, Jesus does call us to die!

John 12:24  says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “  Since, we all have to die anyway,  let’s bear fruit that pleases our God!

The events of 2020 were not a disruption of God’s plan. They were part of it! In 2021 it’s time to move forward!    

We just celebrated Jesus birth, His name Immanuel- “God with us”- and He still is with us! Be encouraged! This may be the biggest battle for our minds that this generation will face. God is always at work. He still is!

So friends, be encouraged- He’s with us, He’ll never leave and his power is in us and available to all who are his. Remember we have our church family- we’re not doing this alone!

Those who crucified Jesus didn’t expect him to be resurrected- but He was! Those who don’t know him don’t expect him to return- but He will! No one will escape the coming judgment. Every life will be evaluated. Do you know Him? 

Peter acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, argued with the crucifixion, failed so miserably, and denied Jesus three times. He didn’t expect to be reinstated (or even have his feet washed). But God’s love was so deep, human failings didn’t deter Him! Happily, we are in the same grip of His love! Go forth!

 (Images from Crello.)

January 1, 2021

A Fresh New Year

Years go by. Some good, some not so good. But one thing is certain- I always love New Years and the fresh opportunity to start a brand new season. It's full of possibilities and new ideas.

For you and your family, may it be a year of blessing and joy!

"May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness— an abundance of grain and new wine." Genesis 27:28.