Men's Conference, 2019...The Swan Song

     The month of May always brings with it two momentous events: my birthday (May 5) and the annual Men's Conference of the South Texas District of the United Pentecostal Church, United. Held in San Antonio around the first weekend of the month, the conference is a gathering where men of like-minded faith can get together and share a common spirit, gain strength and encouragement, and renew a commitment to God.  I have written previously of high moments (See https://bobdowning.blogspot.com/2015/05/mens-conference-2015.html ) and low  moments (See https://bobdowning.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-concert.html ) in the conferences, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, so it was with anticipation that we group of old veterans headed west toward the Promised Land again on Friday, May 3.
    As usual, and for the fourth time in the last seven years, it was Brothers Jerry Steward, John Cook, and me in Brother John’s venerable Honda Pilot…and as usual, we left Houston after having breakfast at our favorite Denny’s Restaurant…the Denny’s where we have enjoyed breakfast every Friday for the last five years.  The place where, when we walk in the door, the coffee is already at our favorite table, waiting for our first sip.  They take care of us; they should…we tip pretty well.
    Unfortunately, we were missing Brother Prentiss Smith, John’s father-in-law, who backed out at the last minute for undisclosed reasons.  I’ve said it before…it’s always good when you’re in the company of Brother Smith because he is a man of such impeccable character that some of his respectability sort of rubs off on common old church members like me.  However, this past year Brother Jerry Stewart was chosen as a certified board member of Bethel Tabernacle, and, with John Cook already being a board member, I am still surrounded by Men of Impeccable Character…I couldn’t sin even if I wanted to.
    Anyway, we left Denny’s under threatening skies which opened up as we headed west on Interstate 10.  From Katy to Columbus, it was heavy rain and dark clouds, but as we sailed by Columbus, the weather began to lighten and we made an uneventful trip to our destination, The Drury Hotel at I-10 and Loop 1604 in Northwest San Antonio, arriving around 4:00 p.m.  Jerry and I shared a room, and John was left out in the cold, all alone.  He had to wing it alone in his room because his father-in-law had backed out.  I offered to get an extra bed in our room, but he declined…probably because I had told him Jerry snored like a freight train…or at least, someone in our room does.
    Drury offers free evening and morning buffets, so downstairs we went after the obligatory naps for some tacos and salad.  They were not five-star tacos, but they were sufficient for the moment.  While we three were dining, Pastor David Fauss came in and joined us for a bit of conversation.  In his new position as Superintendent of the South Texas District, he was constantly being tapped on the shoulder by passersbys who wanted to say hello.  Such is the price of fame and responsibility.
    Brother Fauss is the newly elected superintendent of the newly formed South Texas District.  Actually, the name is the same as before, but where the South Texas District once ranged from Beaumont to Brownsville, it has now been split roughly on a line from Austin to San Antonio into the South Central District (San Antonio to Brownsville) and South Texas District (east of that line to the Louisiana border.)  I can’t give you the exact boundaries because no one knows what they are; the boundaries have never been published, documented, or publicized.  The UPCI, from its national headquarters to the local church organization, is highly secretive.  If you read Pentecostal Life, the official publication of the UPCI, you will read wonderful inspiring sermons and testimonies, but very little about the administration of the organization.  The local and state districts carry on that policy.  The original South Texas District, which split from the original Texas District, has now been split into the aforementioned two districts, and rumors have abounded as to the reasons for the action.  Nowhere can you read or hear of the new boundaries or the reasoning for the divide.  The pattern of non-information is carried to the local churches.
     About 7:30 p.m., the lights of The Hope Church, Rev. Scoggins, Pastor, dimmed and the service began…or rather, the show began.  There was suddenly a cacophony of rolling drums, blinking lights, wailing keyboards, and blasting voices, accompanied by flashing psychedelic images on two large screens.  Someone needs to watch the Michael Caine movie The Ipcress File (1965).  In that movie, those same procedures were used as torture for captured prisoners in an attempt to break down their resistance to questioning. It was standard questioning procedure during the Cold War period of the fifties and sixties.  To complement the entertainment, there was also the obligatory lead singer yelling at the top of his/her voice.  We also received a heavy dose of good old Christian rap (that is an oxymoron, my friends).  However, I am not going to dwell on this negative aspect of the conference; I have made my opinion known before (see above blog “The Concert,”) but I will make this one statement and use a term I have heard two ministers use recently; albeit, they were using it in reference to the world. Pentecostal music has gone to hell in a handbasket.  The music may bring in people, but it destroys the spirit and cheapens the church experience.  ‘Nuf sed.
     We were blessed to have as our main speaker, Brother Stan Gleason, who is the Assistant General Superintendent of the UPCI, Western Division.  He preached an outstanding sermon concerning the role of men in the church and the responsibilities we have as men to represent Christ and the church.  It was powerful, positive, and inspiring, and most of us wound up somewhere around the altars reconsecrating ourselves to the work of God after the sermon.
    There is an unwritten rule amongst Pentecostals…after church…we go eat.  Fortunately, in the Drury Hotel complex is an Applebee’s, and that was and is our usual stopping place after service.  By that time, we had other great friends join us, Brothers Melvin Hogan and his son and Carl Boothe…who is more than a brother. Brother Boothe is a minister and leader/teacher of our Senior Bible Class at Bethel Tabernacle.  We had a great visit at Applebee’s, and it was after midnight before we left the restaurant, primarily because Brother Hogan can eat more…and slower…than any person I have seen recently.  But it was OK.
     The next morning, bright and fairly early, we were downstairs for the Drury breakfast which was full course and pretty tasty.  We made it to the church about 9:00, and, thankfully, the weather had brightened considerably after yesterday’s rain and storms.  Revs. Donnie Huslage and Roger Blackburn preached briefly but eloquently on the subject “Men at the Gate.”  Then it was time again for Brother Gleason.
    Brother Gleason’s sermon that morning was worth the $50.00 price of the conference.  His subject was “Be Famous with your Family!”  His most noteworthy statement to our group of men was,” If you have to choose between saving your church or saving your family…save your family.”   He used examples of ministers who are so wrapped up in building churches, they neglect their own families, and men who try hard to provide for their families, yet they forget their families’ spiritual welfare.  “Do not be afraid,” he said, “to say ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry.’”  The sermon created some serious soul-searching and re-committing among many listeners.

    Shortly after noon, John Cook headed the Pilot back eastward toward Houston.  We had one more obligatory stop to make: at Chili’s in Seguin, Texas.  The food is good, and we were ready to eat, but it’s the chocolate volcano dessert which made me want to make the stop.  If you’ve never had a “chocolate volcano,” it’s a big chunk of fudgy chocolate cake (hot) with a great scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Chili’s chocolate volcano is huge and comes with 3-4 spoons, depending on the number of participants.  Sadly, another memory has been tarnished a bit.  This time the cake was not very fudgy…more like a regular lightweight chocolate cake.  It was OK, but you didn’t get the usual chocolate overload with each bite.
    After one more brief stop for fuel, John delivered Jerry and me to our respective homes about 5:00 and another enjoyable conference was in the books.  Next year, the two now-separate districts will each offer its own men’s conference, so whether we ever return to the Drury Inn or San Antonio is unknown at this time.  Personally, I enjoy the trip traveling with my good friends nearly as much as I enjoy the conference itself.  The idea of driving across Houston to a conference is not as appealing.  We’ll see.

A Voice from the Past...Rev. V.A. Guidroz



 
    A few days ago, Shirley and I were enjoying some reminiscing and visiting with our good friends, Reverend Ronny and Jerry Guidroz.  Actually, they are more than just friends.  Shirley and Jerry are stepsisters which I guess makes Ronny and me stepbrothers-in-law.  We have all basically grown up together. (Read Featured Post “Ronny and Jerry, 65 Years Later” to the left of this blog.)  In our visiting on this particular day, Ronny
Rev. V. A. Guidroz
mentioned he had several old reel to reel tapes of his dad, Rev. V.A. Guidroz, preaching many of his memorable sermons.  Two tapes that he presently had with him were two morning devotional services that Brother Guidroz had conducted in August, 1961, at the Texas District Camp Meeting of the United Pentecostal Church in Lufkin Texas.  Even in those early years, Brother Guidroz was known for his powerful morning devotionals. 

    Ronny expressed a wish that he could find someone to update those tapes to a CD, and, since I happen to have that skill and computer capabilities, I quickly volunteered to take on the task.  For the next couple of days, in the quiet of my den sitting at my computer with Brother Guidroz’s tapes running, I listened to a voice from the past.

    Reverend V.A. Guidroz was the pastor of my childhood.  My parents joined Peace Tabernacle in 1950 and Brother Guidroz became our family’s spiritual leader.  (See “In Memory of Pastor V. A. Guidroz”  https://www.bobdowning.blogspot.com/2010/07/in-memory-of-pastor-va-guidroz.htmlHis influence on my parents and us kids was immense, because those were the days when pastors took an intense interest in the spiritual well-being of their church members, and in turn the church members actually listened to their pastors and followed their guidance. 

    The two tapes I converted were the Thursday and Friday morning devotionals of the camp meeting.  In 1961, the main tabernacle of the camp meeting was a round-roofed large structure capable of sitting approximately two thousand people, By today’s standards, it was rustic: no air conditioning, NO WALLS except front and rear of the building, sawdust floor, and wood plank seating.  During times of shouting and excited praising, a light cloud of fine sawdust would rise up from the floor.  At the end of night services in those days, if you didn’t have a light coating of dust on your clothing and a little sweat to match, you must have been sitting quietly.  This was old time camp meeting.  People stayed on the camp grounds in tents, campers, cabins (upper class!) and even in backs of cars and carrying a web-shaped fan to give one a little breeze in the stifling day-time heat was the order of the day.  Restrooms were small buildings a fair walk away from the tabernacle.  And yet no one complained…contemporary Christians would probably refuse to attend such primitive facilities.

    Brother Guidroz’s morning devotions at camp began at 6:30, so it took hardy souls to even make the services.  However, even at that early hour, several hundred saints (members) would be gathered.  As I listened to the tapes, it was brought to me so forcefully how our churches, and in particular the United Pentecostal Church in general, have changed over the last 55+ years.  Please be aware, this blog is not going to be a rant concerning how the church has lost its direction or how I feel about the music: I have made my opinions concerning such subjects in other blogs.  I will simply describe what I heard and felt on the tapes and you can draw your own conclusions.

 
L-R: Revs. Ron Guidroz, Steve Galloway, Milton Ford, V.A. Guidroz, Lloyd Moreau
  
I was struck by the simplicity of each service. Brother Guidroz was the only speaker for the entire nearly hour and a half.  He led the prayers, led the singing, taught the lesson, and preached the sermon.  Behind him, furnishing the music, was an organist…that was it.  No “praise” singers, no song leader, no other musicians at all.  A couple of days after I converted the first tape, I called Ronny to tell him how I had enjoyed the devotional, and he told me that the person on the organ was none other than my future mother-in-law, Anniedeen Creel.  At that time she was Sister Anniedeen Bateman, another member of our Peace Tabernacle church in Baytown, Texas.  In the mid fifties she had attempted to teach me how to play the piano, but she gave up after a year or so when I discovered the guitar.

    The Thursday service began with a timeless hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Brother Guidroz was not a singer, but he led the song and set the tone for the service.  His words thereafter created a spirit of deep worship as he discussed “Your Desert Place.”  He spoke as befitting his position as the District Superintendent of the Texas District.  He encouraged, cajoled, admonished, and advised saints, sinners, preachers, and pastors in his audience.  He, as many ministers of the day, did not mince words; he was direct and clear in his admonishments.  A noteworthy quote to the ministers: “Do not spend all your time preaching to those who will not listen…preach and be a pastor those who will.” 

     Brother Guidroz was representative of many ministers of those days.  With limited education and no finances, he began preaching at an early age because he felt God’s calling on his life.  He did not go to Bible college to get his license to preach, nor did he have a license bestowed on him because he had church influence.  He and Sister Guidroz traveled and preached with only their faith in God to depend on.  He told of the time during the depression days when he preached for weeks in an area where the people told him up front they had no money, but he felt the need to be there.  Early ministers were determined to spread the gospel, not amass a financial estate.  In 1959, when Brother Guidroz resigned his church in Baytown to become full time district superintendent, he walked away from a church he had spent over twenty-five years building up from scratch…no financial compensation, no retaining a financial interest…he left it all.

 
Peace Tabernacle, 1956
  
As the audience sat and listened, there were moments during the sermons when Brother Guidroz would call everyone to worship, and a chorus of hundreds of voices would rise up in a season of prayer.  There were no calls to “give God a handclap of praise” as is so prevalent today because it was not done.  In those days, applause was what you gave performers and actors; it was not in the church.  Oh, there was handclapping during singing and when praying, but not applause.  Applause became prevalent first via the television preachers whose studio audiences were encouraged to applaud every singer and every time the televangelist said something profound.  When Shirley and I moved back to Texas in 1991, we were surprised to see the practice had infiltrated even Pentecostal churches.

    After over an hour of ministering, the audience had moved into a deep worshipful period, and Brother Guidroz invited those who desired to come to the front and pray.  The sound of a great number of people praying lasted several minutes…no screaming, no yelling, no singing, no blasting drums or music…just deep, powerful prayer.  By this time, I was praying with tears in my eyes right along with the folks on the tape.  It was the type of prayer that is rarely heard in churches today.        (Read “An Unusual Church Service” https://www.bobdowning.blogspot.com/2014/02/an-unusual-church-service.html) 

     After listening to the two devotionals three times apiece, I was a little nostalgic for those uncomplicated days of yesteryear.   Things were simpler then.  Life was simpler and even trying to live a Christian life was simpler.  A pastor told you how to live based on his following the scriptures, and saints believed and followed willingly without challenging every detail.  We put faith in our leaders and faith in God.  And we were happier.

   

Mickeyland 2018



      I have never been a great fan of the Disney amusement parks.  DisneyLand in California and DisneyWorld in Florida seemed to me to be meccas for children and restless parents, but as a destination for grown adults, the idea of taking a ride in a teacup with TinkerBell flitting about did not appeal to me at all.  Not to mention, Disney has received a lot of press in recent years as to its social inclusiveness and open acceptance of various alternative lifestyles which to me smacked too much of political correctness.  In short, Disney was a place for kids.  Throughout the years of our children growing up, we lived the majority of the time in Wyoming, many miles away from the Disney havens and not quite under the influence of Disney’s powerful advertising arm which has gained considerable reach in the last couple of decades.  
     Several years ago, however, my children, Bobby and Kimberly, as they reached adulthood and began to explore on their own, fell, as many unsuspecting souls have, under the influence of Disney.  Bobby, wife Shanna, and grandkids have now made pilgrimages to DisneyWorld regularly scheduled events to the point of owning property with Disney Vacation Club.  Our grandson, Ryan, having escaped the bonds of college and graduated, is now a “cast member” with DisneyWorld, Orlando, having moved there in September and now plays the part of a seasoned veteran of the Disney machine.  Granddaughter Brooke is probably not too far behind.  Currently a student at the University of North Carolina School of Arts, she is studying all things artsy with a major in prop design and creation...with an eye toward using her new-found skills and talents in entertainment productions with Disney in a couple of years.  Naturally, with two kids now generally living on the east coast of the United States, Bobby and Shanna have kept the airlines busy scheduling trips to check on their kids.  And once Brooke makes The Big Leap from student at UNCSA to production designer at Disney...can Mom and Dad migrating to Orlando be far behind?   I fear not.
     Our daughter Kimberly has not been immune to this Disney fever, either, and, though she is fairly grounded in her work with Memorial Hermann Hospital System in Houston, has also been captured by the spirit of Disney and has made several trips with Bobby and family to DisneyWorld in Orlando and (with some of the Wyoming Creel clan) to DisneyLand in Los Angeles.  Apparently Disney mania is a contagious disease.
    Which brings me to a more (to me) affecting reality.  My lovely children have managed to sweep even my beloved wife into the smothering influence of Disney, and now she, too, has made several trips with the kids to Disney.  I have resisted an incredible amount of family pressure to accompany everyone to their favorite Disney destination primarily because I just didn’t feel it would appeal to me.  Forgive me for admitting this, but I don’t spend money for something I don’t think I’ll enjoy unless it’s required by law or financial obligation.  Show me a cool car and give me a good price, and I’ll crumble like a stack of cards, but a trip to Disney?  No thanks.
      Until now.   I guess because I’m getting up there in years and therefore putting an (even) greater value on family relationships and times spent together, when the moment came around this year for the family to schedule a December trip to Disney, I, in a moment of extreme weakness, agreed to tag along.  Once the looks of shock faded from family members’ faces, all assured me that I would “enjoy it to the max."  I showed  some enthusiasm for the sake of my family, but I was mostly just resigned to the task rather than excited about it.  So preparations began.
     The family had been gearing up for the trip for several months, and one way of preparing for Disney was giving each other Disney Gift Cards for birthdays and whatever other day that required some sort of gift.  Strangely enough, I had been receiving gift cards on my birthday, also, even though I had not yet committed to go.  This was apparently due to the expectation that I would crumble under the pressure to go.  It worked.   So, on December 1, in the wee hours of the morning, Shirley, Kim, and I aimed the car for Houston Intercontinental to catch the 7:30 a.m. flight to Orlando.  We were scheduled to meet Bobby and Shanna in Orlando where they had arrived a day or so earlier.
     One has only to take one flight in a present-day commercial aircraft to see how much discomfort a human is willing endure just to get from one place to another in the shortest possible time.  There is a definite similarity to cattle being led through a pen to slaughter and people being led down a path to board an aircraft.  The de-humanization process begins with the lack of human contact, what with all ticketing and luggage checking being done by computer.  Next comes the personal invasion via x-ray, the ray gun metal detector and inevitable pat-down....and only if you pass those checks will you avoid the dreaded strip search.
     I have a metal hip, so I always ring the bell through the metal detector, but with an explanation, I usually can skate on through.  This time I forgot one thing.  I usually carry a small, cloth money bag around my neck in which I carry my cash and credit cards.  I’ve carried this bag since our first trip to Hawaii in 1998 with never a problem.  This time, however, I placed my cards in one of those metallic envelopes which allegedly protect your cards from these electronic scanners that bad guys can use sometimes to get your personal data.  The metallic envelope tripped the sensor and I was set aside for further examination.  The examiner pointed at the tell-tale envelope on the x-ray screen and asked, “What’s that?”  I explained.  He asked to be shown.  I showed.  I had to unbutton my shirt and reach inside to get the bag, and I could tell he thought I was reaching for a 45 or something.  He asked what was inside the bag.  I opened the bag...nothing but money and cards.  He waved me on.
     At the same time, I suddenly realized that I may have lost my wife, since when they check her bag, they found a knife!  The guy held it up like it was a grenade, and Shirley started muttering, “I didn’t know that was in there.”  Anyway, the weapon was confiscated, she was x-rayed.  Apparently deemed harmless, she was allowed to pass.
     We made our way to the gate to await boarding.  We were flying Spirit Airline, which is a no-frills, bottom dollar, we-promise-to-get-you-there-alive-but hungry airline.  As a result, we didn’t expect much, and we weren’t disappointed.  Modern aircraft have squeezed personal space down to the bare minimum to haul as many people as possible.  Even the seats are molded plastic with padding about a half inch thick and custom designed to be as uncomfortable as possible.        
      However, off we went into the wild blue yonder right on schedule and a couple of uneventful hours later after only a couple of leg cramps, we landed in Orlando. The process began in reverse at that point with disembarking, trekking to baggage claim to wait for our luggage, and finding our ride.  Fortunately, Bobby and Shanna were there, and we loaded up in their rented Chrysler van and off we went.
      Our condo was not available until 4:00 p.m., so we made a quick stop at a place called Five Guys Restaurant...apparently famous for their hamburgers.  Their hamburgers were good, but they are not in the league of Whataburger.  Not that I would know...I ordered a veggie-burger which was crammed with assorted... vegetables.  Pretty tasty.  Apparently, they are famous for their loads of French fries, also, but their delivery and presentation left a lot to be desired.  The big bucket of fries was dumped upside down with the burgers in a brown paper bag which became soaked with grease from the fries.  I’m not a fan of McDonald’s, but Five Guys needs to check out McDonald’s fries.
    Anyway, it was the Grand Beach Resort that was to be our new home for the next week or so, and we were finally able to get moved in about 4:00.  Shirley and I also picked up our electric scooters at the resort where they had been delivered for us to use for the week.  I was a little embarrassed about getting on a scooter (Ain’t nothing wrong with me!), but after a week’s use, I can tell you it was the best investment we made on our trip; we could not have done Disney without them...to walk 7-10 miles per day is not uncommon at Disney.  
    After unpacking and settling in, of course, it was straight to our new playland.  We wound up at the Polynesian Village where we listened to Hawai’ian music by a guy with a ukulele and a nice voice; he surprisingly actually sang a couple of songs in Hawai’ian.  It was not long thereafter that the evening fireworks began, and we all marveled at the colorful explosions and thundering sounds.
     Sunday, December 2.   My kids believe in getting the full Disney experience, so it was up early and to the park by opening bell.  Today we wandered around Epcot, which is heavy into nature preserving and ecology.  We toured the aquarium and discovered the magic of the seas and “Living with the Land,” a display of sophisticated crop and plant growing methods which conserve water and the land.  It was interesting that tons of plants which are used in food preparation throughout the park are grown on site through these ecologically sound principles.  “Finding Nemo” was an entertaining human presentation of the famous cartoon movie, but it was the presentation “Soaring” which was fascinating a well as amazing.  Placed in a hang glider styled seat with a 180-degree screen in from of us, we were transported to the African savanna and flew over a herd of elephants, to the Arctic to sail over polar bears, and to Paris, France, to sail around the Eiffel Tower. It was an incredible visual experience.
     Compared to “Soaring,” “Mission Space” was a visceral, challenging flight on a new shuttle spacecraft as we experienced a rocket launch with all the accompanying g-forces, then the near-weightlessness sensation of space travel as we crossed continents in mere seconds, and then the simulated landing with a malfunctioning spacecraft which we had to manually “land.”  It was most exciting....and it was the “less stressful ride.”  We will take a flight to Mars later in the week which is promised to be “more stressful.”
     Monday, December 3.   To the Animal Kingdom today with an early stop at The Wave, a breakfast buffet with every breakfast item known to man plus a few extra.  Buffets are not for the diet conscious, but I had already resigned myself to the policy of “eat, drink, and be merry” for this trip, so I loaded up with all the requirements for a heavy breakfast.  A few minutes later was wishing I had not eaten so much as we boarded “Expedition Everest,” a wild roller coaster ride allegedly down the face of Mt. Everest.  Supposedly, we experience several g’s of force as we hurtled around corners.  It was a wild, fun ride.  
     We wobbled away from the roller coasters to a more sedate tour...a Kilimanjaro Safari adventure where we were loaded onto safari-styled trucks and driven into the African hinterland to see all the great large animals in their natural habitat.  Rhinos, giraffes, lions, wildebeests, ostriches, every wild creature was there practically for the touching.  It was quite impressive and much more realistic than seeing the creatures in a zoo.
     Next was fanciful fantasy as we entered the world of “Pandora-The World of the Avatar” ...the blue dude who had a movie made about him.  One neat characteristic that Avatars have is they can ride on the backs of banshees, a sort of archaeopteryx, the prehistoric dinosaur which could allegedly fly.  Sure enough, we threw our legs over these banshees and off we went in the air, making all sorts of dips, dives, loop-de-loops, and swoops, all the while holding on for dear life.  We could even feel the banshees breathing between our legs as they exhaled and inhaled.  Fantastically realistic.
     By dark, we were ready for food, so barbecue was as good as any...although it wasn’t Texas BBQ.  Then we decided to waddle over to Ghirardelli’s for some ice cream and there the skies opened up just as we were sitting down with our loads of ice cream.  We were under an outside umbrella and table which offered no protection because it was REALLY raining and blowing.  As a result, we were soaked and decided it was time to head to the barn.  Not to mention the temperature had dropped to the lower fifties, and it was quite cool.  It was a damp, miserable ride home.... but still a good day.  
    Tuesday, December 4.   The Magic Kingdom beckoned today, and Cinderella’s castle is the dominate sight as one enters the park.  As one approaches Cinderella’s castle, one gets to walk down Main Street, U.S.A., which apparently is a re-creation of what Walt Disney envisioned his childhood home to be.  Like all things Disney, it was extremely authentic and a throwback to the times when men wore straw hats and women long dresses.  Very becoming and nostalgic.
    Magic Kingdom has two roller coaster rides, “Space Mountain” and “Big Thunder.”  We rode “Space Mountain” today and enjoyed every wild, totally-in-the-dark minute of it.  Following, we took Buzz Lightyear’s advice and took a few laser shots at various alien targets.  I am not yet an expert with
a laser.  Splash Mountain is what it sounds like...a wet ride inside a log-styled boat on a roller coaster styled waterway.  We were then mesmerized by “Br’er Rabbit’s Song of the South”...which we understand now is somewhat politically incorrect.  But then...what isn't?
    The evening was spent at the Yachtsman’s Restaurant in the upscale Yacht Club.   Splendid food, splendid service.  If you have to ask what it cost, you probably can’t afford it (we couldn't, and still went).  I can give you a clue: the tip was $90.00.  And that was after we had been blessed in that with Ryan being a Disney employee, we got a hefty discount.  Anyway, Denny's it was not.  Interesting side note here: our waiter was a mature gentleman who in passing conversation stated he had been with Disney for 29 years.  He had been chatting with Ryan and learned of Ryan's recent employment with Disney.  He said he came to Disney under the same circumstances: fresh out of college with great ambitions but found a home with Disney and never left.  It seemed to encourage Ryan and maybe even Mom and Dad.  Who knows what the future will hold for our grandson?  We also wandered through the Beach Club where we saw a beautiful carousel of fanciful horses...all of which was made up of white and black chocolate and gingerbread.            
     We still had time to go by Beaches and Cream, the place where Ryan works.  We were able to meet a fellow employee of Ryan’s named Janet who apparently has taken Ryan under her motherly wing to the point of inviting him to her family’s Thanksgiving Day dinner at her home.  Apparently, she has a son who is in school in Texas.  She hit it off with Bobby and Shanna and seemed a very pleasant type person.
     Wednesday, December 5.  Today it was the Epcot Center...the shiny, futuristic ball in the middle of the park.  We went into the innards of this contemporary building to experience “Spaceship Earth,” where we saw the technological evolution of us human creatures from the Stone Age to our contemporary time.  Very entertaining. 
    One of the more entertaining experiences for me was the “Test Track, Presented by Chevrolet.”  You were able to create your own custom vehicle on a computer by designing its performance, handling, and efficiency characteristics, and then getting into a car which performed on a track based on the characteristics you designed into it.  The neat part was the performance of your car was compared to the performance of all the other people’s designed cars as we all raced around the track.   My car won, hands down.  On the track my ride literally accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and my time around the track was the quickest.  Basically, all I did was design a 2018 Corvette, so it wasn’t any creative genius on my part.
     Having taken the allegedly intense “Mission Space-Shuttle Flight” on Monday, we opted to take the more intense simulated “Mission Space-Mars Landing” today.  It is incredible how the sensations of acceleration, weightlessness, and maneuvering can be duplicated in an electronic setting to the point it was amazingly realistic.  You’ll be glad to know we landed on Mars with no problems, although we did have the obligatory autopilot failure and were forced to control the landing manually.
    Around Epcot are areas that are dedicated to ten different countries.  Why these particular countries were chosen, I do not know, but in each area, the country is recreated in architecture, sounds, and even people.  Grandson Ryan told us that in each of the areas, students from each area home country are exchanged to the United States for a period of eighteen month to work in the park.  Our trip this afternoon was to France, and standing along the main street, you would swear you were in Paris, France.  The sights, sounds, smells were decidedly French...to the point of looking up and seeing the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  We ate at the Chefs de France, and the waitstaff was all decidedly French; the menu was in French, and the food was beautifully French.  In “The American Adventure” area we were able to hear The Voices of Liberty, a ten person ensemble dressed as Dickens Carolers sing the traditional Christmas carols of the season.  They sang a cappella with beautiful harmony.
    One of the most impressive events took place next...the “Candlelight Processional.”  This was a Christmas Cantata which could have been presented in any Pentecostal church in America...except our churches now reject anything tradition and instead choose shallow, contemporary spiritual musicals.  Excuse me, I digressed.  A 50-piece orchestra and a huge choir sang the beautiful and timeless songs of Christmas along with a narrator who told the Christmas story from the New Testament.  It was beautiful and very moving.
    Thursday, December 6.   Back to the Animal Kingdom today to again ride “Expedition Everest,” the wild roller coaster down the sides of Mt. Everest all the while trying to avoid the clutches of the dreaded Yeti.  A really great ride.  Fortunately, the Kilimanjaro Safari, which we took on Monday, was nearby, and we took that ride again, also.  It is really a quite impressive display of wild animals in their natural habitats.  Next, the “Na’vi River Expedition” was a river cruise into a bioluminescent rain forest in search of the Na’vi Shaman of Song.  Very mystical and impressive.  On a lighter side, “The Festival of the Lion King” was a musical extravaganza of pageantry and puppetry.  Little kids loved it.  We closed out the day at the Dolphin Hotel in the Don Shula Steakhouse, owned by the famous Miami Dolphin coach whose NFL team went undefeated in 1972 while winning the Super Bowl.  Naturally, being rebellious, we had seafood extraordinaire.  As we sat down at our table, there was a regulation NFL football on a kicking tee in the middle of the table.  I was hoping it was a free sample, but it was soon whisked away by the waiter.
    Friday, December 7.  Back to the Magic Kingdom this morning for coffee and pastries.  We decided to do the Buzz Lightyear laser ride again.  I thought I had figured out the way to aim my laser gun, but apparently, I’m not cut out to be a space cadet.   My partner, Grandson Ryan, maxed out his score about halfway through the ride while I was still trying to see where I was aiming.  Next was the “Carousel of Progress,” a show of changing vignettes displaying the progress of technology within the American home.  “Space Mountain” was a repeat of our Tuesday ride, whereas "Monsters, Inc." was a laugh a minute as the creatures of Monsters, Inc. interacted with the audience. "Under the Sea—Journey of the Little Mermaid" was a splashy underwater musical. 
    The incredible technology of modern animatronics was on full display in The Hall of Presidents, where we saw every president of the United States from Washington to Trump standing before us in life-like poses. We heard Abraham Lincoln recite the Gettysburg Address, and John Kennedy give his famous “Ask Not” speech.  Several other presidents spoke to the audience in lifelike presentations.  At the end, our current president, Donald Trump, spoke with amazing realism and eloquence about the American spirit and tradition. Though it sounded and looked like The Donald, I knew immediately it was fake… Donald Trump does not do eloquent speeches without a teleprompter.
    The highlight of the afternoon was the Disney character parade down Main Street, U.S.A.  The we saw Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Cinderella, et al in their radiant glory in fairy-tale boats waving to us common creatures.  It was magical (swoon). The last ride of the day was “It’s a Small World,” a boat tour around the globe.
     Saturday, December 8.   Moved out of our Grand beach Resort unit this morning.  Shirley and I abandoned our scooters there for the scooter company to pick up, so we were reduced to walking like normal folks.  Fortunately, the day’s schedule was less grueling so we managed.  To the Fort Wilderness Lodge and their Trail’s End Restaurant for breakfast.  Again, the menu was unlimited, and you could eat until you couldn’t.  Disney is not a place for light eaters to visit.  There we ran into another waiter similar to the previous 29-year veteran at The Yachtsman Restaurant, except this fellow had been at Disney for forty years.  Apparently, Disney has very loyal employees. The restaurant is on the banks of Bay Lake, one of the large lakes on Disney property.  There are shuttle boats which carry visitors around to the various resorts, so we decided to take a lake tour and just make the round, coming back to the place where we boarded.  It was a pleasant boat ride, the weather was mild, and the ride was smooth.
   Time to check into our new lodge, this time the Kidani Village section of the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The lodge, located on the edge of a wildlife sanctuary, is a very unique place…where else can you sit on your deck and watch giraffes, warthogs, exotic birds, wildebeests, various African species of deer and other unknown creatures wander by?   After the sun goes down and while sitting in the darkness on the balcony, one can hear the sounds of the jungle and imagine being on an exotic safari in some far-off place.  Our dinner was at the Mara, a restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.   Sandwiches and the like…good food, good atmosphere, good family, good times.
      Sunday, December 9.  It was a short stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge since we were flying back home this afternoon.  We went to the Boma, a restaurant at the Jambo House for breakfast.  Afterward, we decided to just chill in a lounge area there overlooking the wildlife preserve, watching the exotica as they foraged for food in the preserve.  Suddenly Shanna comes up and excitedly says, “Mickey’s here!”  Around Disney there’s only one “Mickey,” so we all rushed out to a foyer area, and, sure enough, there was Mickey Mouse…and Donald Duck!  How grown, seventy-five-year-old adults can get excited about seeing cartoon characters in the flesh (sort of) is hard to fathom, but it was kind of cool.  They were hugging little kids and being photographed, and we all got in line and had our family photo taken with our childhood heroes.  I’m not sure if it was the high point of our trip, but it was memorable, anyway.  After high fives and hugs (I even hugged the rat…I mean mouse), we said our goodbyes and Mickey and Donald went on their merry ways, leaving happiness and memories in their wakes. 
    We said our final goodbyes to the creatures of the wildlife preserve and drove to the Contemporary Resort for a bit of last-minute shopping.  Several of the family are into collecting Disney pins, and there they shopped for pins and exchanged a few.   Eventually, it was time to head for the Orlando International Airport for our evening flight home.  The flight home was crowded, but uneventful.  I’ve already described what flying is like these days, so I won’t repeat the experience.  We landed in Houston shortly after 10:00 p.m.  A quick ride to our car, and a short drive home.
     This being my first trip, I mentioned in the beginning that I was a little skeptical of visiting Disney, but now having seen the place first hand I have a few observations:

·         Considering that Disney has thirty million visitors per year, I was impressed with the cleanliness and neatness of the place.  There is not a blade of grass out of place and only very seldom do you see a speck of trash on the ground.  Everything from restrooms to restaurants is spotlessly clean. 
·         The technology at Disney is incredible.  With wristbands which allowed you to enter the park, open your hotel door, add photos, make purchases, and access FastPass selections, you wonder how the place operated before computers.  Along with your smart phone, everything was done instantly and easily.   The rides, be it a trip to Mars or a runaway rollercoaster down Mount Everest, or a hang glider flight over the African savanna were so realistic you felt you were experiencing the real event.   
·         We were at Disney during the height of the Christmas/Holiday season, and I was very favorably impressed with the Christmas music that was played or sung in every area of the park…it was actually Christian Christmas music with the traditional carols we have sung for decades.  There was no avoidance of the words associated with the Christmas story in the New Testament.  I mentioned earlier of the narrator at the Candlelight Processional telling the Christmas story straight out of Matthew and Luke.  I expected Disney to be more politically correct and innocuous in its holiday music choices.  I was pleasantly surprised.
·         Disney’s primary market is middle-class to upper class white America.  In eight days of wandering around Disney, I would venture that 95% of the people I crossed paths with were white, with the next most populous group Asian.  I heard many languages spoken, and it was clear that there were many international visitors, but the dominate ethnicity was Caucasian.
·         Speaking of people, be prepared to work your way through hordes of people whenever you are within the park (remember, 30,000,000 visitors per year.)  You NEVER get away from the crowds, whether waiting in line, walking down a path, or eating at a restaurant…it is crowded everywhere.  Shirley and I learned how to whip through the crowd riding our scooters, but even then, we had those other crazy scooter drivers to watch out for. 
·         Disney is not the tourist destination for the budget conscious.  EVERYTHING is horrendously priced…from $15.00 milkshakes to a 24 ounce porterhouse steak ($132.50).  I realize that I am probably showing my age when I gripe about prices, but when I consider the price of daily Disney park tickets and the prices for everything within the park, it seems strange that they still charge you $25-$50 per day just to park your car so you can come inside the park and spend the rest of your money.  The high pricing also spills out to the surrounding facilities outside the park.  If you decide to beat the system and stay at Motel 6, be prepared to pay $100 per night for the room that Tom Boudette says rents for $49 anywhere else in the country. But again, it may be a generational problem. I just haven’t adjusted to current entertainment pricing.
    In conclusion, I have this recommendation: everyone needs to visit Walt Disney World at least once in his/her lifetime.  It is a totally unique place: forty square miles of technologically advanced, highly entertaining, ecologically responsible, Earth friendly, environmentally safe, family friendly, unforgettable experiences.  I am glad I was able to share the experience with my beloved family. When’s the next trip, kids?

HDH...What?


    In the annals of history, the last fifty years will be noted as a tumultuous time in politics and society.  A half century ago in the political world, disagreements were common, but civility toward one’s political adversary was still evident.  In society, gender identification was a fairly easy task with little room for controversy.  Marriage vows were still taken somewhat seriously, and although there were sprinkles of divorces here and there, marriage between a man and a woman was still the modus operandi for most up and coming young adults.  Students were able to bicycle to school and make it through an entire day without hearing a single gunshot or fearing for their lives, and teachers could teach, knowing that their authority over their classrooms was absolute.  Even in the religious church world, one could drive down a street and instantly recognize the various denominations by the signs displayed in front of each church…”Southern Baptist,” “First Presbyterian,” St. Paul’s Catholic,” and yes, even “West Side United Pentecostal Church” to name a few examples.

     But, as in society where we witnessed an upheaval of social constraints all under the guise of independence, the same phenomenon affected the church world also, and churches and pastors began to chaff under the authoritarian control of a central organization.  In my experience with pentecostal churches, I can remember ministers saying that they did not want to have someone “up yonder” telling us folks “down here” what to do.  The result of all this upheaval was the creation of independent local churches unaccountable for any of their actions and with only the thinnest of connections to any national organization.  Where once there were church boards who worked with district boards who worked with national boards to insure a conformity and unity of spirit throughout the brotherhood, pastors assumed control of the local assemblies with no oversight from any organization and unaccountable for church finances or spiritual direction.

     Over the last fifty years, my wife and I have lived in several states and attended many pentecostal churches…and to me, “pentecostal” means the organization with the nomenclature “United Pentecostal Church, International.”  In those early years when we visited a new church, the new assembly was readily recognizable as a pentecostal church by the spirit prevalent in the service, the message the minister delivered, and the actions and dress of the members.  The music was always the readily recognizable songs of Zion which had been sung for decades.

     But no more. The UPC has embraced contemporary church programs with the enthusiasm of a dog with a fresh bone, and as a result services have become concerts of musical entertainment and sermons designed to excite rather than inspire.  Churches are embarrassed to put the word “Pentecostal” in their names, choosing silly generic monikers like “The Happy Place.”  For a true Christian to live the proper life today, he/she will have to be determined to live it on his/her own; there will be little help from the church.

     The latest bright idea to come down the pentecostal pike is an idea which has been in most other denominations for years…the elimination of Sunday night services.   There was a time when the Sunday morning service was primarily for the regular worshipper and the evening service more evangelical, but the coin has flipped in the last few years with the morning service being the one geared to visitors and the evening service for the old regulars.  Now the evening service is gone, so a major source of spiritual food has been taken away from the faithful member.

     I find it interesting that when a church decides to eliminate the night service, it is made clear to the members, “That doesn’t mean you should reduce your tithing and offerings.”  Translation:  “We are reducing our spiritual services to you by 33%, but we still want our full pay.”

     At our church Sunday night service was cancelled under the guise of “House to House,” or “H2H” for an acronym.  Using the scripture in the New Testament which referred to the early church going from house to house to worship, that’s what we were supposed to do.  Apparently, the fact that the early church had no building in which to worship while we have a beautiful edifice apparently had no bearing on the decision.  The underlying instruction was that there would be no central church service; we were supposed to go have our own service at somebody’s house instead.

     The problem is, you see, my wife and I are in a group which in today’s church is largely ignored…the senior citizen crowd.  I will always remember sitting next to two up-and-coming, go-get-them pastors and hearing one say to the other, “Everything in our church is geared to the 18-25 year old.  That’s where you get church growth.”  The problem with that is the senior group constitutes probably the most faithful tithes-givers and most faithful attendees, and yet our preferences are largely ignored.  We have enjoyed Sunday night service for fifty-plus years for the spiritual strength it gives us, and getting together in a small group on Sunday night and re-hashing the morning sermon hardly takes the place of a full-blown church experience. 

   But there has been a positive outcome to this terrible dilemma.  Although I have not run across one senior person in our church who is in favor of “H2H,” we who have been relegated to insignificance have decided to meet on our own…at a much more convenient assembly point than one’s homes.  After all, at a home, someone has to be the host...serve snacks, lead the service, and clean the house.  We have chosen our assembly point to be none other than Denny’s Restaurant…yes, America’s Diner.  Rather than “H2H” we have dubbed our party “HDH"...i.e...“Home to Denny’s to Home.” 

    It was a natural decision, since on Friday mornings for the last four years or so, a bunch of us old church guys have been meeting at Denny’s to fellowship and talk about God, guns, and butter.  It has been a tremendous boost to a sense of camaraderie amongst the brethren, and it is one item on my weekly schedule I do not miss unless absolutely necessary.  I love those men; they build my faith.
    So now, about 6:00 p.m. every Sunday, three to five couples gather at our HDH and enjoy a solid two hours of seriousness, laughter, jokes, jabs, prayer, and discussion.

We have a cross section of faithful members who attend our HDH:

(Please note: at this point the following names have been changed to protect the innocent…and maybe some of the guilty…from any repercussions, vindictiveness, or outright jealousy which those who know better may toss our way.)

·        Adolf…Probably the most faithful man in existence to our church who is also so conservative he’s ready to go to war every time he hears a drum.  Can identify the weapon (and probably has one) the feds used to shoot Bonnie and Clyde.  He likes to gamble and then claim, “It ain’t in the Bible!”

·        Maria…His lovely wife who has never raised her voice since she was in the fourth grade and she got a “B” on a test when she was expecting an “A.”  “A soft answer turneth away wrath” says the scriptures…and also makes her husband toe the line.

·        Marvin…comes to breakfast and HDH armed with snake oil, air cleaners, beneficiary forms, and pens.  Never say “OK” to him…you will have bought something.  It’s also good if you know sign language.

·        Gertie…his wife…amazingly outspoken and opinionated.  It is clear that she must be brilliant, because I agree with everything she says…almost.  She’s been known to split a dinner with a stranger in order to save a dollar.

·        Bobo…Has read far more than his capacity to retain.  Has had more profound truths revealed to him than Moses and Abraham combined.  Truly an apostle of doctrine…we’re just not sure which doctrine yet.  Listens closely to a still, small voice…who usually does the driving.

·        Wanda…The afore-mentioned still, small voice.  Queen of her chicken house in which her rooster steps quietly.  Has a tendency to walk up to you and say, “You need someone to lance that?  Call my office.”

·        John…Built like a tank and just as difficult to crack.  Last seen smiling on January 14, 2002.  Solid, dependable, and predictable…I would want him next to me in a firefight.

·        Louise…John’s far more active other half.  Must have a heart of gold, because if you tell her a sad story, you get free rides to church for life.  Want to go shopping?…give her a call.  The taxi will be on its way.

There are others who occasionally wander in to our circle, but these are the faithful participants.  Each in his/her own way contribute to the friendship and brotherhood which we all feel for each other.  Each has a story to tell and has a track record of church faithfulness and adherence to church principles and standards which the shallow, converted-to-the-beat-of-a-deafening-drum contemporary “Christian” will never understand.  I am proud to be in the group.

(By the way…my name is Alfred.)