I’m goin’ to Disney World

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48 NIV

When I was a senior in college, I never would have imagined that a couple of 10-year-old kids would grow up to be two of my dearest friends. At the time, that would have just been weird. But let 35 or so years go by – during which time those kids get married and have a family and do all sorts of wonderful stuff – and now it doesn’t seem weird at all.

The “kids” I have in mind are Monday and Darin Cleghorn, dear friends from North Alabama and members of the church where I grew up. Prior to being the responsible grown people they are now, though, they were just like any other kids – well, sort of. When Monday was a youngster, she wrote and illustrated a story for me about a poisonous “snak.” (You know, silent “e” is such a waste of crayon when you’re 8…) And although I was not a witness to this, I understand that Darin stole a tractor once and took it for a joy ride. (Since he was just 2 at the time and wasn’t wearing anything but a diaper, no arrests were made.)

And now for the rest of the story…

At a Loss

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8 (NIV)

I remember standing on Main Street, U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort one night when I was about 15 years old. I had spent the day watching life-like robotic parrots and pirates sing, taken a simulated rocket trip to Mars, watched talented singer/dancers put on a spectacular show in front of the iconic Cinderella Castle singing every Disney song ever written, and watched Abraham Lincoln stand up and deliver a stirring speech. It was an unforgettable day.

As I stood there that night watching the glittering Main Street Electrical Parade and listening to its catchy musical soundtrack, I was struck with the realization that I had experienced something that day I couldn’t articulate at the time, something exemplified by the parade I was watching and listening to. While the bouncy and repetitive main melody played nonstop throughout the half-hour parade, never ending and never missing a beat, I noticed that, as every themed parade float wheeled into earshot, it overlaid its own unique tune, totally in sync with that main soundtrack, matching its rhythm precisely, beat-for-beat. As one float moved on another would turn the corner, broadcasting “Whistle While You Work” from the Seven Dwarfs float or “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the Pinocchio float. Float after float and tune after tune came and went, always in perfect synchronization with the main soundtrack.

It was one of those defining moments. After all, the Magic Kingdom wasn’t the rinky-dink county fair back home with its rickety Ferris wheel and merry-go-round; and the Main Street Electrical Parade wasn’t the tacky little homespun Christmas parade – this was something in a class by itself, a level of excellence and technology I had only imagined existed. I had never experienced anything quite like that in my 1970s small-town existence.

I left the park trying to get my arms around what I had seen and heard that day. I didn’t believe in actual magic, but if it existed, this was where it lived. Every time I set foot in the Magic Kingdom or see that parade, I’m transported back to that first visit 40+ years ago.

I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Later, when I was in college, I spent a couple of years writing, arranging, orchestrating, and choreographing some major pieces of choral music for my college show choir, the best in the Southeast – some of that music inspired by what I had seen at Disney. (I loved those years in college. I came into my own during that time and discovered musical and writing abilities I never knew I had. I also discovered I could dance, which was really astonishing for a Southern Baptist boy. I didn’t want to leave after I graduated. They had to take away my key to the music building and usher me off campus…just kidding.)

While a senior and then a graduate student there, I created four 15-20 minute musical extravaganzas, two with original theme songs I had written. My senior year we toured the Northeast, including a couple of nights in New York City. I’ll never forget performing one of those pieces, a quasi-patriotic medley about America, in Rockefeller Center Plaza. As we sang about “tall buildings that touch the sky” I glanced upward, surrounded by (at the time) the tallest buildings in the world, buildings that illustrated beautifully the song I had written.

Although I couldn’t say exactly why, I cried a little bit.

Again, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Several years later, I played Benjamin Franklin in a production of the musical, “1776.” The play was about the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, and portrayed such famous founding fathers as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and of course, Dr. Franklin.

I know that sounds yawn-inducing, but the members of the Continental Congress, as I said in my role as Benjamin Franklin, were “not demigods” as we often think of them today; they were just guys – and most of the time, rowdy guys who just liked to drink rum and fight. This lent itself to a rollicking and often hysterical reenactment of a pivotal moment in our country’s history. (Of course, it transcended all that testosterone and was elevated to the sublime when, one-by-one, they all signed the Declaration document during the final scene as the music swelled and the sound of the liberty bell rang out through the theatre. Gives me chills thinking about it.)

I had the best part in the show. (Don’t tell the guys who played Adams and Jefferson I said that.) As Ben Franklin, I had the whole bald head and fringe of hair (two hours in makeup) and limped about the stage with a walking stick as though I had gout. (Something the real Franklin suffered from.) I perfected the (temporary) loss of my rural southern accent and spoke in what I imagined was an 18th century manner. I also had all the funny lines and sang about making the turkey our national bird and danced with Thomas Jefferson’s wife in a hoop skirt. (She was wearing the hoop skirt, not me.) I became Benjamin Franklin for the run of the show and had a grand time doing it.

I’ve done a lot of theatrical productions, but that was by far my favorite. It was like I was made for that part. I could have been one of those people like Carol Channing, who spent the rest of her life starring in productions of “Hello, Dolly!”, a role she made famous. Give me a walking stick, a bald wig, and an orchestra in the pit and I could be playing Franklin to this day. I hated to see it end.

I definitely thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

There have been other times like that…

  • Singing the moving and emotional Verdi Requiem with a massive choir and symphony orchestra.
  • Standing above the clouds at 10,000 feet at sunrise and looking down into the alien landscape of the Haleakala volcano crater on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
  • Attending a lavish banquet for recipients of the highest honor awarded by my company and listening to guest speakers like the legendary Julie Andrews and Sidney Poitier.

…and each time I felt as though I had reached some sort of pinnacle moment; each time I just wanted to revel in that moment, to sear it onto my brain so I would never forget it; each time, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And each time…

…I was wrong.

When Philippians 3:8 rose to the top of my memory verse stack recently and I began studying it – even after reading it many times before – the Lord suddenly put Paul’s words into perspective for me. Paul said:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul considered himself to be the quintessential Jew – a “Hebrew of Hebrews” from one of the best tribes of Israel, faultless in his observance of Jewish law. But once Jesus took control of his life, all that changed; none of those things held the same importance anymore. After his conversion, he realized that, compared to knowing Jesus, all the things he had prized – his “blue-blood” Jewish pedigree, his obedience to the law, his reputation among the Jewish elite – were, in his estimation, no better than human waste.

Not that there is anything wrong with cherished memories and moments that shape who we are; after all, God is the author of every moment. But for me, singing and making jazz hands don’t compare with knowing Jesus. Having a leading role in a play? That either. (Even a really cool play where you get to wear a Ben Franklin wig and scold John Adams.) Of course, Disney is really awesome, but – again, no comparison. Compared to knowing Jesus, nothing else is even in the same universe – not even writing about Him in a blog.

Although Paul is not saying I have to give up the highlights of my life to know Jesus, writing this has made me wonder – could I? Is He that important to me? Would I give it all up – memories, music, family, friends, comfort – if that’s what it took to know Jesus fully and completely?

While I’ve never felt His plan was to leave me destitute, He wants me to be willing to give Him all that I have, to prize Him above everything else – and not just my spare time or whatever I have leftover in my checking account or just an hour or two in church each Sunday. He’s worthy of every part of me – even my life – and expects me to understand that. He expects all of His followers to understand that.

Though it’s not likely any of us will ever be required to physically die as a follower of Jesus, we should be willing to symbolically die to our own wants and needs, to give up our homes, our families and friends, our pleasurable pastimes, or our bank accounts, if that’s what it takes to know Him fully and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So back to my question: Would I be willing to give it all up to experience the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”?

Based on my experience these past five years with being His follower, plus the relationship God has nurtured and developed with me, and the always-present Holy Spirit with His divine council and comfort, how could I answer any way but, “Yes – take it all. You’re all I want.”

Because when I surrendered my life to Him and finally knew Him – really knew Him – I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And for the first time ever… I was right.