Sherry and I are in the Orlando area this week celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary. We first came to Orlando in October, 1980 for our honeymoon and we’ve been coming back to Walt Disney World for the last 34 years.
People ask me why I come to Disney World so many times. Doesn’t it get old? Don’t you grow tired of it? Haven’t you seen everything you can see? Let me tell you a story.
A father took his two girls to an amusement park every Sunday afternoon after church. The amusement park sat on the coast in California. But, the father was not happy about his experience. The location was windy and dirty and wet. The attractions were seedy and broken down half the time. The grounds were unkept and weedy with trash blowing everywhere. The workers were, well let’s just say somewhat undesirable to be around children!
The father would sit on a rickety bench and watch his girls riding the carousel and he wish he could join them. And so, this father began to dream. After all dreaming was his business! What if there was an amusement park that was clean and bright with gorgeous landscaping. What if the workers were right out of a Hollywood movie — clean and costumed and playing the “role” of a kind, considerate person who would make you feel like you and you alone were the most important person in the world? What if the attractions were safe, high quality, and most importantly, allowed families to enjoy the attraction TOGETHER? And, what if the amusement park was every changing and improving over time so that families could return again and again and never get bored?
That father was Walt Disney and the rest of his story is history. He went back to his studios and quickly drew up a plan for such a park in the studio’s parking lot. By the time he was finished, as was his nature, he began to think bigger and bigger. Disney’s “folly” as it was called opened in July, 1955 as Disneyland and changed the world.
This is why Sherry and I continue to go back. It is a place that is clean, high quality, magical, and restive. Also, we have good friends in the area and we have always loved Florida in general.
We are here this week and this weekend. If you are in the Orlando area, Mark Sutton and I will be signing our book, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression” on Saturday, September 27 from 1 to 3 PM. Come see us! We’d love to meet you!
There is a scene in my play, “The Homecoming Tree” where a 13 year old boy cuts down a tree for Christmas and it falls on top of him. It knocks him out and he has a vision of his father from whom he has heard nothing since the bombing of Pearl Harbor ten days before. It is a moving and chilling scene in the midst of this play and it serves as a turning point in the boy’s life as he realizes he must put aside childish things and become a young man.
That incident is based on a true story. I wrote about my own experience cutting down a tree for Christmas at the age of 11 here. I have written well over 100 plays since 1989 and on reviewing these plays, I realize I have imbedded within these stories bits and pieces of my own life story. Characters emerged based on real people from my life experiences. Ideas and messages surfaced based on my own life lessons. Such is the life of a writer. Often, whether or not we realize it, we bring to our stories pieces of our life. Sometimes, this is conscious. Other times purely subconscious.
My wife does not like serious movies. She only goes to a movie that will make her laugh. Yesterday, she asked if we could go see “Saving Mr. Banks”. And so, I, my wife, and my daughter Casey found ourselves in a crowded theater on a Sunday evening expecting to watch a light hearted movie about Walt Disney and P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books.
We went through more than three wads of napkins. In fact, if we had brought a box of tissue with us, it would have been inadequate. I was totally unprepared for the story that played out on the screen. In short, it was depressing, uplifting, sorrowful, and joyful. I went through a dozen roller coaster moments. And, it was easily the most wonderful film I have seen in the last year.
“Saving Mr. Banks” focuses on P. L. Travers’ childhood and the influence of her father on her imagination and her life. From what I gather from the film and from reading about her, she was not a happy person. And, she was totally against Disney’s “Disneyfication” of her books. What makes the movie stand out is not Emma Thompson’s magnificent portrayal of Travers or Tom Hanks’ very serviceable portrayal of Walt Disney. Rather it is the growing realization by Travers of what her books are REALLY all about.
Now, this may sound strange to the non-writer. How can you write a book and not know what it is all about? How can you tell a story and not see all of the nuances, the sub-texts, the messages hidden within the story?
My first book, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” is a straight forward supernatural thriller about the influence of good and evil in our lives. It centers around demons and angels and the humans caught in the midst of this spiritual battle. I created a villain, a rich, manipulative corrupt businessmen, Robert Ketrick. I was stunned when a life long friend of mine read the book and commented, “I get what the book was all about. It was about greed and avarice. Your demons were metaphors for the way in which a love of money damages people.”
What? No, that was never my intent. My demons were not figurative. They were literal, real destructive beings in the book. They were NOT metaphors! However, if the story did have that message for this particular reader and it made him think about the destructive power of greed, then I did do some good with the book.
After seeing this movie, I stopped and asked myself if my first book was about greed after all. Did I subconsciously associate wealth with evil? Do I see rich people as inherently greedy, evil, manipulative, and demon possessed? Good question. Because, as a writer, all of my preconceived notions color every aspect of my writing. Perhaps I need to stop and examine my past and see if I was emotionally damaged by a wealthy person; if I felt betrayed because I grew up in poverty and was deprived as a child. Was that possible? The answer will wait for another blog post.
The point I’d like to make is the power of our past to drive and color the present expressions of our imagination and creativity. Our own personal demons; the ghosts of our past; the “messages” that programmed us as children are still there. I would like to think I have pushed them away into a corner of my mind. I would like to think I have healed. But, watching Travers as the childish innocence of Disneyland brought back painful memories of her father and his battle with substance abuse brought pain back into her life, I began to wonder.
All of us are Story. Every one of us is a story in and of itself. Elements of our Story are our backstory, our background, our past. And, those back looking elements will forever determine our future. The questions we must ask is if the future they bring about is a better one because we have grown and matured. Or, will it be a worse future because of our bitterness and anger. P. L. Travers’ books touched and moved millions of children and adults and continue to do so. If she had not suffered through the traumas of her childhood, there would never have been a Mary Poppins. But, it was obvious from this film and from other sources she was far from a happy person. I did a little research and she died at age 96. Here is a quote about her death: “According to her grandchildren, Travers died not loving anyone and nobody loving her.” How truly sad! To have brought so much happiness to the lives of millions and yet, to die “not loving anyone nobody loving her.”
Look in the mirror, I said in response to that quote. In my own life, the tragedies, the crises, the pains of my past life all serve to build on one another and with my joys, my triumphs, and the abundance of joy being a child of God brings me, these elements serve to produce more stories. I cannot forget the elderly woman who saw the tree scene mentioned above in its earliest version in a play called “The Night Gift”. In that play, an elderly man tells the story of being a boy who cut down a Christmas tree and learned his father had died at Pearl Harbor in a vision. I took that older man and wrote his childhood story for the play, “The Homecoming Tree”. But that little snippet from the earlier play touched the life a one woman. After the last performance of “The Night Gift” she came up to me and here is our conversation:
“Are you the person who wrote this play?’
“I want you to know my brother died at Pearl Harbor. And, I was so mad that he died, I’ve hated him all of my life. And, I blamed God for his death. Well, young man, tonight you gave me the opportunity to tell my brother goodbye. And, to make peace with God. Thank you!”
How could I have possibly known that one cold afternoon while trying to cut down a Christmas tree and almost getting hurt and possibly killed in the process, that incident in my life would one day become part of my Story. How could I have possible known that a painful memory could become a scene in a play or a book? How could I have possibly known that these painful memories would resonate with a total stranger; that the story from my life would intersect with a stranger’s story? How could I possibly imagine that my little snippet of a story would be the Answer to a life long prayer; a pleading for understand; a search for release from bitterness and anger? Like the greed metaphor, that was never my intention. But, it was God’s!
If you are creative in any sense of the word, you MUST go see “Saving Mr. Banks”. It is a powerful and amazing story. It has inspired me. It has uplifted me. It has given me such solace and peace for this tortured soul of a writer. It has made my puny efforts and my doubts fly away like a kite soaring up “where the air is clear”.
Go fly a kite! Go see this movie! And, then come home to the cloistered world of your life and tell your Story! And then see how God uses it to make this world a better place than you found it!
In my recent interviews, I talked about five things that we can do to avoid being sucked in to the digital world. For parents, number one applies. For EVERYONE, all five apply.
1 — Parents get involved in your kids’ lives. We are afraid of technology and, frankly, we don’t understand our kids’ fascination with all kinds of social media. So, we tend to pull back and nag. Instead, parents need to realize this digital world is NECESSARY for our kids in today’s world. They cannot separate from it completely. Once we get that, then we understand that we must help our kids learn how to control the digital world without letting the digital world control them. More on this later. Parents need to sit down and talk face to face with kids about WHY they want to play video games; WHAT is in the video games; WHEN it is inappropriate to play games hours on end; and HOW to walk away from it. Don’t use technology as a babysitter!!!! Remember, garbage in, garbage out. What kids put into their minds STAYS there and IDEAS have consequences! This is where the other four points come in!
2 — TURN IT OFF! Tech rules the world. Digital devices scream from all around us for our attention. We know they’re there, waiting with a very important message for us. So, take a technology fast. Start slowly. Break away for a few minutes a day and try to work up to an hour or so. Turn off the cell phone once you get home and be AT HOME! Leave the work at work! I love music, but take time to just think, meditate, and pray without music. For instance try driving to work with NOTHING turned on. Take your run, walk, or workout with no IPOD! You might hear something; see something; experience something brand new and life changing! I know! It make us nervous just thinking about it! And, that nervousness tells us something very important. We are controlled by our tech! Anything that controls our lives is our idol; our god. Become a tech atheist! Control the tech or it will control you! Check out this link: http://www.qideas.org/blog/do-you-need-a-technology-fast.aspx
3 — Be creative. Find a creative outlet. Do something creative. Art. Music. Photography. Write. Poetry. Crayons. Paint. Draw. Blog. Rearrange your office. Redecorate. Being creative utilizes different parts of your brain other than the parts utilizing tech. Immersion in our technical world burns out part of our brains and, let’s face it, in today’s culture the one thing that replenishes these chemicals, sleep is sadly lacking!
4 — Trade virtual community for REAL community. Imagine you are broken down on the side of the road in the middle of a raging storm. Who are you going to call to come help? Can your “friends” on Facebook living three states away be there within 30 minutes to give you a lift? I don’t think so. I don’t want to diminish virtual friends. My wife plays bridge online and she has made dozens of friends. But, there is no substitute for face time. And, I don’t mean the Apple program. The power of human interaction face to face is so important. We are seeing an entire generation of people who no longer have the important interpersonal social skills to communicate in person. They cannot handle contact. They lack the skills needed to build intimate, loving relationships. Men are waiting into their 30’s to get married because they can’t handle a relationship that demands more than a bright screen with pornography playing on it.
So, find real people in a real location. Go to a coffee shop. Go to the, yes I will say it, mall! Go to church. My wife made certain that the people she cared about online became part of our lives. There are a dozen women my wife met playing bridge and now they get together once a year for a week and play bridge. Two of those friends have become my wife’s best friends. We have visited one of her friends here in the states more than once and we have gotten to know her family and friends. Our REAL world is much larger and richer now. Another friend living in New Zealand came to the states this past spring to meet with some of the bridge ladies and she and my wife have become fast friends. We are visiting her and her family in New Zealand in the fall. Imagine this. I have always wanted to visit New Zealand. Now that my wife has made friends with someone in New Zealand, we not only get to visit, we get to see our friend’s world from her perspective and I cannot wait!!!! See the benefits of transferring your virtual world to your real world?
5 — Invest your time and energy in something that will last beyond your lifetime. In other words, take an eternal perspective. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion to use this tool. All it takes is for us to turn our attention away from ourselves for a season and on those around us in need. Charities. Homeless. Missions. Children. Mentoring. Take that creative process I mentioned earlier and use it for someone or something else. Years ago, a friend of mine was down and depressed. We wandered around that morning as I just simply spent some time with him. We ended up at a local art fair and a group of people were involved in completing an outside mosaic with broken tiles. We joined in. Now, my friend’s life is back on track and he is actively involved in his church, his community, and in local theater touching hundreds of lives every week. And, that mural? It’s still there for anyone to see, cheering people up every time they see it. And, our story? We’re making a book and a movie about that mural!
Take a cue from Walt Disney. When he built Disneyland he had one purpose: to create a “magical” world where families could spend time together. And Disney had a simple philosophy: “it will never be complete”. It will keep growing and changing and improving to touch families for generations to come. He looked far beyond his lifetime and that vision touches millions of families around the world every day!
First, let me say I want to thank everyone having me on their radio shows this week. I now have 11 interviews!
In one interview that will air sometime tonight, I talked quite a bit about the relationship between father and children. Here is one of the most powerful music videos I’ve seen in a while from one of my favorite singers and authors, Andrew Peterson.
Now, one more thing. My son sent me another interesting link about video game violence:
The author makes a very valid point. While violent video games do cause changes in behavior, it is the responsibility of the player to use common sense and moderation. Ideas have consequences and it is not the idea that carries out the consequences, it is the person acting on those ideas. And, yes, there are lots of non violent video games that can involve the entire family. This situation reminds of me of Walt Disney. He would take his two daughters out on Sunday afternoon to the carnivals along the shore in Los Angeles. Back then, these carnivals were dirty and trashy with the lowest common denominator human being working there and the rides were half broken and would not allow a father to enjoy them with his children. All Walt could do was watch. But, he saw an opportunity to change that dynamic. He imagined an “amusement” park where things were clean, employees were clean cut, motivated and engaged; and where the attractions provided something for the entire family to enjoy together. He created Disneyland and the rest is history.
Maybe we parents need to consider doing this with our kids. Enjoy some positive, fun video games together as an alternative to the violent ones. Encourage them to participate with the entire family, even if it is for just a short time. The video gaming industry is beginning to get this idea and if we, as consumers, encourage these kind of experiences, maybe we can have a positive impact on the future of our children!
Every Christmas I make sure and watch one of my favorite movies of all time, White Christmas. Yes, I love the song. Yes, I love the romantic angle. Yes, I love the story of loyalty to old friends. But the real reason this movie touches me is because of the relationship between General Waverly and his men. When the film opens, a tired, war weary group of men are trying to celebrate Christmas Eve on the German front. General Waverly is being sent back to the states. The men sing a song to “the old man”.
We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go
Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe
We’ll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay
Long as he stays away from the battle’s fray
Because we love him, we love him
Especially when he keeps us on the ball
And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call
With the grandest son of a soldier of them all!
It is hard for us to understand this kind of devotion in today’s jaded, cynical world. A group of men so tightly devoted to each other they would tell their leader they “love” him? Unthinkable!
Why did they love General Waverly so? What characteristics of his leadership inspired this kind of devotion? A key to understanding the answer to this question can be found in the following dialogue. Bob Wallace, played by Bing Crosby and Phil Davis, played by Danny Kaye have arrived at the General’s inn in Vermont and watch as the man once a commander is now cleaning kitchen floors. This is what they said:
Bob Wallace: We ate, and then he ate. We slept, then he slept.
Phil Davis: Yeah, then he woke up and nobody slept for forty-eight hours.
One of my favorite photographs shows Walt Disney walking through Snow White’s castle in a very early Disneyland. Walt was famous for his “management by walking around” philosophy. He would pop up unannounced and ride the rides; watch the shows; listen to the musicians. Yes, he was a stickler for quality but more than anything, he wanted to be a part of his creation. He would wander the hallways of the animation studio after the animators left for the day and dig through their trash to find new ideas. He really believed in his animators. And, his expectations were very tight and rigid, but inside he cared about his employees; he loved them. There were many times he would take an employee who was in trouble and pay his salary while he dried out in what we would call today “rehab”. In fact, when his animators joined the union, Walt was devastated. He considered them a part of his family and the decision to join the union was akin to saying they didn’t appreciate his tender care.
I’ve been writing blogs the past few days about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m trying to focus on his teachings and put aside, for now, his claims to be the Messiah. His teachings are universal and transcend anyone’s religion. And, in the history of mankind no one has changed the world than this one man and his 12 followers. What did Jesus do that inspired these simple men to go out and literally turn the world upside down?
Many books have been written about Jesus’ “leadership” style but I believe it comes down to a simple act that typified Jesus’ approach to assuring these men would indeed change the world.
It is the night of his betrayal and Jesus and his disciples are gathered in a room to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread prior to the Passover. It is a somber and moving dinner filled with meaning and remembrance of the passing over the children of Israel by the angel of death while they were slaves in Eqypt. Imagine the men talking among themselves; eager to take their place at the right hand of this new king who would soon overthrow the tyranny of the Romans. They are excited; filled with hubris and arrogance; over confident after Jesus’ reception by the people of Jerusalem. Suddenly, the door to the other room opens. Standing in the doorway is Jesus. He has taken off his robe and wrapped a towel around his bare waist. His chest glistens with sweat and his eyes are filled with a haunting passion. He holds a wooden bowl filled with tepid water. As the disciples watch in utter amazement, this man; this king; this ruler of all of mankind kneels before the first of his disciples and begins to wash the man’s nasty, dirty feet.
Shocked and stunned they whisper among themselves as their leader takes their feet, dipping them into the warm water and washes away the dirt. Their king is kneeling before THEM! The world has turned upside down.
This stunning development was just the beginning of a huge paradigm shift for these men. Later, anticipating a board room meeting in which each man would receive his marching orders and his assignment in the new hierarchy Jesus shocks them again with these words:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Stop here for a moment and really hear those words. Jesus is talking about love? Not conquest or battle strategy or corporate intrigue. He has become a servant to his men and now he speaks of love! How has he loved these men? Listen to his next words:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
There is an awful lot love mentioned in this section. The word here is a Greek word, agape meaning “the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.”
In fact, the original Greek word, agapao, has taken on this meaning through its use by Jesus of Nazareth and his followers. There are some interesting words in the above definition such as “the love of one’s fellow man” and “unconditional, self-sacrificing”. I could go on but lets stop right here for now. Let’s look at what Jesus of Nazareth is telling us about his concept of being a “king” or a “leader”. Simply, put Jesus of Nazareth is teaching us:
You cannot be an effective leader until you know how to follow.
You cannot ask someone to serve you until you know what it is like to serve someone.
Loyalty is freely given and cannot be demanded.
The truest form of “friendship” is based on “agape” love.
Jesus of Nazareth redefined love as unconditional and self-sacrificial love for his fellow man; his friends.
As this season approaches, no matter what your worldview; no matter if you believe in God or not; these simple teachings of Jesus of Nazareth carry profound implications for us today. If we are to be the kind of leader that changes the world; the kind of leader that results in “love” from our “followers”; the kind of leader that inspires the kind of creativity and self sacrifice we see in the above two modern examples then we must first understand that the highest place to lead from is often at the feet of those we serve!