Stories from the Park: I am an expert

For those of you who have never noticed, celebration buttons are a big deal in the Disney Parks.  There are buttons for birthdays, 1st visits, getting engaged, and getting married.  In Disneyland there are buttons for graduations, 1st haircuts, and anniversaries.  It should be no surprise then to realize that one of the first stops we made at the Magic Kingdom was City Hall to get the Princess and the Duchess their graduation buttons.  Sadly, they did not have specifically graduation buttons, but the cast member wrote ‘Graduation 2017’ on a generic Celebration button and we were on our way.  The down side of the sharpie edit it that it would rub off every day and have to be refreshed.

During one such refreshing, we go to talking with the cast member.  The Princess asked if he could add a layer of tape over the top of the button to keep the writing from rubbing off.  He was impressed with her problem solving skills and wanted to know what other tips and tricks we knew.  The conversation eventually got around to trip planning.  He was very impressed with my dining reservation skills, but what impressed him the most was the fact I got us FastPasses for Flights of Passage in Avatar land.  When I booked them, Pandora hadn’t even opened yet.  I explained that after reading the description of the two rides I guessed that (1) the line would be longer for the thrill ride, (2) it would be more fun, and (3) it would be the ride we wanted to experience more than once.  It happened to turn out that I was right on all three points.  The cast member thought I was brilliant and presented me the button above when he gave the girls theirs.  I was delighted.

I did not wear my button around the parks after that day.  I had to explain it to people frequently.  Interestingly, it was cast members who would ask me about it most often.  I felt like I had to tell the whole story to justify why I was wearing the button.  I couldn’t just smile and say, “It was a gift.  Isn’t it cool?”  I needed to explain that I wasn’t bragging or somehow putting myself above others.  I didn’t want people to get the wrong impression.  In retrospect though, I am a kind of Disney expert.  I am the person friends contact when they want to plan a trip.  I am person people ask when they have a question about Disney movies.  I have a new acquaintance who has a little girl and who wants to sit down with me to discuss how he can raise her to be strong and independent while still able to watch the Disney Princesses with all their historical flaws.  I write this blog.  By many standards, I am indeed a Disney expert but wearing that explicit label made me uncomfortable.

We are taught to be humble and unassuming.  But why?  Why shouldn’t we embrace our gifts and display them for everyone to see?  Why should recognizing our talents make us uncomfortable?    In fact how can people know that we have knowledge and skills that they can avail themselves of if we do not broadcast that fact?

“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket.  Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people so they can see the good things you do.” Matthew 5: 15-16

Claim your awesomeness!  Be an expert or an authority.  Be the smartest or most skilled person in a room.  Be the person that others know they can go to, rely on, and ask questions of.  Don’t be ashamed.  Be proud and use your knowledge and skills to benefit those around you.  Celebrate you.


No place for hate

I wrote last week about the value of diverse opinions and world views.  This weekend we saw in Charlottesville a manifestation of what happens in society when people do not believe that.  We saw a group of people who progressed from not believing that people’s view are valid to not believing that those people themselves are of worth.  Sadly, it is a short journey between those two opinions.

I do not understand the people who marched in Charlottesville.  The Southern Confederacy and the Nazis were wrong.  Full stop.  There is no debate here.  Both regimes were fundamentally based on the idea that there is a kind of person that doesn’t count as a person.  Both believe that white people have a genetic advantage that makes them better than others.  This is absurd and is based on nothing more than hate, fear, and control.

They are wrong.  I cannot begin to count the numbers of ways that they are wrong.  No matter what objective standard you want to use to evaluate their claims, they are wrong.  They are only right in their own minds so they falsely create the evidence that prove them right.  They justify, excuse, and outright lie to under gird their own position.  They create a narrative where they are the brave heroes fighting for truth and justice.  They are wrong.  They are, in fact, the villains of this piece.  The simple fact that Hollywood can still use Nazis as a storytelling crutch to easily identify villains should be a very large hint that THEY ARE WRONG!  How a white man can look at the society we live in and think, “I’m getting a raw deal here.” is beyond me.

Our society was created by white men, for white men.  Over the decades we have tried to break through those barriers and include women, people of colors, non-Christians, LGBTQ folks, and anyone else who isn’t a WASP man.  And when we compare where we are now to where were we a century ago it is better, it’s still not good.  The simple fact that we have to be reminded that Black Lives Matter shows how far we still have to go.  The fact that a college student caught with three joints gets a stricter prison sentence than one who rapes an unconscious woman shows how far we still have to go.
The fact that people are more concerned about who sits in the bathroom stall next to them than who sits in the White House shows us how far we still have to go.

These angry white men want to go back to the days when they were the undisputed rulers of the universe.  Not because they are the best qualified, most educated, and highest skilled but because they deserve it because of their gender and the color of their skin.  The deck is already stacked in their favor, but that isn’t good enough.  They want everyone else out of the game entirely.  They, like the historic groups they take their names from, are the losers of history.  They will not win.  We will not let them.

Hate has no place here.  I am not afraid of people who are different.  I do not think that someone else receiving privilege takes away from mine.  I do not fear being replaced.  I believe that understanding and inclusion make us stronger not weaker.

Jesus told us to love our neighbor.  When asked to clarify who our neighbor was, he held up a person who was reviled and despised as the example of a good neighbor.  Our neighbor is the person least like us, the person we don’t want to love, the person who is hard to love.  Jesus calls us to love anyway.  Any time we act against that commandment we are acting against the gospel.  White supremacy is more than wrong, it is deeply sinful and goes against what Jesus said was the second greatest commandment in all the law.

No matter what these terrorists claim, they are wrong.  In the long story of history they will fail and the world will be better for it.

Stories from the Park: Taking it Slow

I am not the sort of person who naps.  I am not the sort of person who takes time out of my vacation to sit around and do nothing.  When I go to Walt Disney World, I want to do everything all day every day.  The guide books that recommend returning to the room for a rest in the middle of the day have always seemed foolish to me.  Why would anyone want to take time away from the parks to lay around a pool or nap?  You can do that anywhere.  I have always understood that people traveling with young children, older folks, or those  with physical or mental challenges need to make allowances.  Those who get up at 4:00 am to run a marathon also get a pass.  But to my thinking everyone else should come to the park to be at the park.  That’s what we have always done.  Until this last trip.

Previously, we had visited in January and October and had no difficulty dealing with the weather.  It was chilly in the mornings but basically pleasant the rest of the time.  We stayed in the parks from open to close leaving only for meal reservations  This year was different.  It was the first time we had been at WDW in the summer.  It was hot!  And even worse it was humid.  By 1:00 in the afternoon we were hot, tired, and miserable.  By Day 2 we were reorganizing our schedule to incorporate a trip back to the room to rest and change.  Not only did I nap on this vacation, I napped in the shade by the pool while the girls swam.  We would get cleaned up and head back to the parks for our dinner reservations cooler, happier, and prepared for the rest of the day.  In other words, I get it.  I understand why the guide books suggest this pattern.  It makes perfect sense.

It is very typical that we judge other people’s behavior based on out own experiences.  We assume that because we can do something, understand something, or be somewhere a certain way it must follow that everyone must have that exact same experience.  Of course, that is untrue.  We could even be standing next to someone at the exact same time at the exact same place and have an entirely difference experience.  Our impressions of events are colored by so many things.  Did we get enough sleep?  Are we dealing with stress? Are we physically well?  Do we want to be there?  There are any number of personal and cultural factors that impact how we experience any given event.  Any one of which can shift our perspective away from the perspective of the person standing next to us.  The trick is not just recognizing this, but acknowledging that differing experience does not invalidate the experience that someone else is having.

We forget in conversation that our view is not the only view.  The current trend of diminishing and minimizing someone’s concerns over language, inclusion, and sensitivity is a trend based in privilege.  Even though I might not need to nap during my vacation doesn’t mean napping isn’t a valid choice.  Similarly, just because something doesn’t offend me doesn’t mean it’s not offensive.  Someone speaking out against offensive language and policies doesn’t make them delicate or sensitive, it makes them brave.  It takes courage to challenge the status quo because people don’t like it when you do.  When we challenge was has always been acceptable, there is backlash.  It is frightening to be lone voice  It make us a target for anger, ridicule, and diminishing.  And, yes, I speak from experience on both sides of the offense.

What we need to be able to do is listen to others who try to tell us where damage is happening.  We also need to be courageous enough to speak out on behalf of ourselves and others.  Know that there is more than one way to experience any given event and that experiences other than our own have value and importance.  They can teach us and inform us.  They can help us and provide us wisdom if only we take the time to listen.

Stories from the Park: One of us

As I mentioned last time, I enjoy meeting characters and collecting autographs.  Not sure why.  I know that I am really meeting cast members, but there is something fun about playing pretend for a little while.  Plus there is the fun of finding someone new, collecting that hard to find autograph, or just beating the lines to get a popular character.  Every so often you get a special interaction with a character that makes your day.  I have had several of them over the years but this is the story of how I became a Guardian of the Galaxy.

I was in line to meet Star-Lord and Groot by myself, the royal court having decided that they needed to do some shopping.  In an unusual turn of events for me, I wasn’t actually talking to anyone.  I was sandwiched in between two larger groups who were all entertaining themselves.  Since I was a party of 1, I got to go into the greeting area with the larger group in front of me.

Being a veteran of these kinds of things, I got busy trying to watch the interactions without being too intrusive.  I noticed that I had a good view of Baby Groot and if I used by zoom function I could get a good photo while I waited without interfering with the people who were talking to Star-Lord.  I was kind of in my own little world a bit, not really paying attention.  As an added bonus, the Awesome Mixes were playing in the background.  Without really thinking about it, I started quietly singing along.  I may also have been grooving just a little.  Of course, this is the moment it became my turn and Star-Lord spotted me.

A moment that could have been embarrassing turned into something else.

“You know the song!” said Star-Lord. “Let’s dance right on over here.”  So I kept on singing and danced with Star-Lord over to Groot.  Baby Groot was very impressed.  (I could tell he told me, “I am Groot.”  So there you go.)  When we finished, Star-Lord informed me, “You sang the song.  You did the dance.  That makes you a Guardian of the Galaxy.”  We got a photo or two and I headed on my way.

So there you have it.  I am a Guardian.  I am not someone who laughed at for singing in public.  I am not someone who was hurried through a line because I was by myself.  I am important, included, and valuable.  We could all learn a little something from Star-Lord about welcoming, inclusion, and hospitality.  It doesn’t take much to become one of ‘us’.  It just takes someone reaching out a hand in welcome.

Or and invitation to dance.

Stories from the Park: Something Blue

I often have unexpected encounters during my time at the Disney Parks and my last trip was no exception to that.  It is unsurprising that one might have conversations with random strangers.  There is a lot of time spent in line waiting for things: rides, characters, buses, meals.  And when you wait for a while, you get to talking.  One of my conversations was with an autistic seven year old and her grandma.

We were waiting in line to meet Joy and Sadness from “Inside Out”.  The Princess and the Duchess were off gallivanting without me since they had other things to do.  The little girl noticed I was in line alone and mentioned (loudly) to her grandma that I needed to have a kid with me.  Grandma apologized.  I informed her that there was no need for an apology and explained to the little girl that my kid was big now, but I still liked getting autographs.  We then began to share the pages of our books with each other.  I had a lot more signatures than she did.  I explained that my book was from more than one trip to Disney.  Grandma informed me that hers was too, but they didn’t get a lot of signatures because it was hard for the little girl to wait in the lines.  They would get into short lines when they could, so their book was a little thin.  (Though the little girl had signed one of the pages herself.)

I noticed that the line we were in was a little long.  It wasn’t Anna & Elsa long, but we had been in line for about twenty minutes at this point and the little girl seemed to be doing fairly well.  Grandma told me that they had talked about how long the line would be and the little girl was committed to waiting because meeting the emotions was very important to her.

“Inside Out” had been a defining movie for the little girl.  Like most on the autism spectrum, she has a hard time identifying and responding appropriately to emotions, both in herself and others.  For her, having a face and definition for five emotions was a huge tool for coping.  The characters gave her an objective measurement for what she was feeling.  She could compare her emotions to the ones depicted in the movies.  Once she identified what she was feeling, her family could help her learn what an appropriate response should be.  They were also using the film to help her identify emotions in others.  She was learning to recognize when people were acting like the characters in the movie and learning how she was supposed to react to them.  Grandma could see the difference in the little girl in the time since they had watched the movie.  And while the little girl might not have been able to identify the difference the movie made in her life, the fact that she was willing to tough it through a long (for her) line to meet these characters speaks volumes.

I have written a couple of times about how meaningful I find “Inside Out”.  It tackled negative emotions in a positive way that was empowering for people who aren’t happy all the time.  It was amazing to me to hear how the film has also become a tool to teach emotional intelligence.

Too many people, not just those with neurological disorders have difficulty identifying their emotions.  Researchers have found that when people cannot correctly identify the emotion they are feeling they respond to situations in an inappropriate manner.  Men and boys especially default to anger instead of fear or sadness which causes them to lash out sometimes to the point of violence.  Being able to correctly identify what we are feeling helps us to deal with the causes and unravel the emotion in the right way.  The fact that a Disney/Pixar film is helping children with this process is a beautiful thing.

Emotions are important.  All of them, not just the ‘good’ ones.  Anything we can use as a tool to teach this to our children or ourselves is worthwhile and important.  The fact that “Inside Out” is easy to understand and has identifiable icons of basic emotions makes it an accessible tool for a lot of people.

I stood in line to see Joy and Sadness because I like to get autographs.  For others, meeting them was a moment that acknowledges how far they’ve come and how important those two characters have been in their lives.  I was blessed to be a small part of that experience for someone else.



Stories from the Park: Something Borrowed

I had a unique experience on this last trip to Walt Disney World.  I got to ride something for the last time.  That in itself is not that unique.  What made it special is that I actually knew that I was going to be riding it for the last time and did so quite intentionally.  I am referring, of course to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Some of this is speculation on my part.  I do not know for a fact that this ride is going away.  What I do know is this.  Disney does not own The Twilight Zone.  They pay a licensing fee to use the name, clips, and images in the ride.  When the licensing agreement expired for the Disneyland ride, they did not renew it but changed the overlay of the ride to a Disney owned property for Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout!  There have been no plans announced to do the same at Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, but it would seem strange to me that Disney will not make a similar change when that licensing agreement runs out.  Therefore, when we rode the Tower this year it was with the expectation that it was our last time to experience the ride in its current configuration.

It is a little bit sad to be losing this ride.  We have stories involving the queue and The Princess when she was just big enough to ride it.  I personally find it the scariest ride in the resort.  It freaks me out every time I ride it.  It is the only ride that does so.  Haunted Mansion is fun.  Snow White’s Scary Adventure is cheesy.  Both Dinosaur and Indiana Jones lose their scare factor after the first time through.  But every time I get to the top of the elevator in Tower of Terror I am completely freaked out.  I will miss that.

Sadly, though, things that are borrowed have to be given back.  It makes little sense for Disney to pay to license a property when they have so many of their own to choose from.  Slowly but surely, I think that Disney will be letting go of all those extraneous add-ons and will replace them with their own.  I understand it, but I will miss some of them.  At least we had a chance to say goodbye to this one.

Stories from the Park: Something new

Last time I talked about the old rides we experienced at Walt Disney World.  This time I would like to talk about the new ones.  These are rides that were new to us as well as opening recently.

The first was the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  This was a ride The Princess and I were really looking forward to.  It opened a mere month after our previous trip to the Magic Kingdom and we were very disappointed that we could see it, but not get to experience it.  It was the first FastPass we booked and I made sure that we had another one for later in the week.  For those of you unfamiliar with the ride, it is the newest roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom.  It feels a little like it should be one of the ‘mountains’ of the park but I do not believe it is officially.  The new technology that is the ‘wow factor’ is that the cars are free swinging during the ride.  As we travel around corners, the mine cars will tip from side to side.  We were very disappointed.  The ride is short compared to the other coasters.  It is only three minutes long and the last part of the ride you are moving slowly through a tableau of the Dwarfs singing “Heigh Ho”.  As for the new, free swinging technology; we didn’t notice it.  We only rode it once and traded in our second FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Our other new rides were still VERY new, only about a month old when we were there.  We got to experience both the rides in the new Pandora section of Animal Kingdom.  The two rides are very different.  We were only able to get a Fastpass for one of the two, fortunately I guessed correctly which one we wanted.  Na’vi River Journey is a slow boat ride through the jungle of Pandora.  It is pleasant and the upgraded animatronic effects are amazing.  The wait time averages about an hour and a half and as beautiful as the ride is, it is definitely not worth that kind of wait time.  It is essentially Small World with better scenery and less singable music.

The star of our whole trip was Avatar Flight of Passage.  This ride is one that redefines the ride experience.  The technology is similar to the technology in Soarin’ but the experience is upgraded to be both 3D and single rider.  It was by far the best ride in any park hands down.  We only got to ride it twice, but it was worth every minute spent in line.  Every part of the ride was amazing from the fully immersive visual effects right down to the fact that you could feel your banshee breathing as you rode it.  This is the level we expect from the Disney imagineers.

It’s a hard thing when you try something new and are disappointed.  We want something new to be different, better, and exciting.  Sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes it is just more of the same old things wrapped up in a new package.  Churches are very good at this.  We change the signs, change the name, add a different style of music and then claim that we are doing something new.  Radical creativity and paradigm shifting ministry are rare and remarkable.  Most of us however, just make minor tweaks to what we are currently doing and present it as something different.  The problem is people notice.  They will notice our lack of creativity and be disappointed in what we offer.  We need to be bold in our changes or honest in our status quo.  Anything else just leads to frustration, not only for us but for those who are expecting more from us.