Adventureland: Challenges and Companions on the Adventure
This has been a very interesting week or so. My Mom (pictured above) was taken to the hospital Monday of last week with acute kidney failure, along with some other health issues. She lives 1,800 miles away, so it was very difficult for my wife, Faye, and me to be so far away and unable to really do anything other than call and talk to her a couple of times… and pray. We were very grateful, of course, that my Dad and Aunt (her husband and her sister) were there with her. At the same time, I had a coworker ask how I was doing one morning, listen to me, and give me a hug and some words of encouragement. For that, I am very grateful, more than she may realize, as it was exactly what I needed at that moment. Thankfully, I can report that my Mom came home from the hospital a day earlier than the doctors had originally anticipated, and she is healing very well.
Then, Faye and I spent this past weekend in San Diego, CA with some good friends—who are now even better friends thanks to the time spent with them. We were up late every night talking, laughing, and playing games. We spent our days exploring familiar San Diego sights, as well as visiting a new church. This isn’t to say that it was all fun and games, of course. We had some room problems with where we were staying, and even fixing the problem had it’s share of struggles. There were some emotional times, as well, and while many of our conversations were light and fun, several were serious and in depth.
As I reflected on the weekend, I realized again the importance and value of companions, of friends and family to share in our adventures. And that, of course, took me to Adventureland at Disneyland. Two things stand out to me in this context about Adventureland, specifically the attractions based on stories (i.e. Aladdin’s Oasis, The Indiana Jones Adventure, and the tree house—first Swiss Family Robinson and currently Tarzan). First, all of the stories begin with some kind of tragedy, disaster, or difficult situation. Second, the progress from peril or challenge to resolution hinges on the companions along the journey. More than any other land, with the possible exception of Fantasyland, this land highlights both the reality of the difficulties of life, as well as the role of companions in our journey.
- The story of Aladdin starts with him being alone, an orphan scavenging and stealing what he needed to in order to survive. His journey towards redemption begins when he meets the Genie and the Magic Carpet, and kicks into high gear when Jasmine becomes an important part of his group of companions. He started his journey alone, and ended with people he cared about—and who cared about him.
- The Indiana Jones Adventure is its own self-contained story, not directly tied into any movie. However, we know it is set in 1935, right around the same time as The Temple of Doom movie, before Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade. As far as he knows at this time, his father is dead, but he does have friends in Sallah and Dr. Marcus Brody, among others. In this attraction, Indy is lost in the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. part of the purpose the tours that are conducted serve is to try to locate and rescue Dr. Jones. He is alone, but his friends are seeking to locate and rescue him.
- The Swiss Family Treehouse is obviously based on the Swiss Family Robinson movie. One of the themes of this film is the importance of family sticking together and working together to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
- Tarzan’s Treehouse, which replaced the Swiss Family Treehouse, tells the story of Tarzan. Tarzan’s parents were killed when he was a baby, and he was raised by Kala, a gorilla whose own son was killed and eaten by the same vicious leopardess. The bulk of the story takes place when Tarzan is an adult, and has been isolated from humans. The companionship he first experiences is partially pure, but some characters have ulterior motives (which is always a risk when we form relationships). Still, Tarzan’s non-human companions serve important roles as friends, guides, and even protectors, and ultimately Jane joins his group of companions as well.
Adventures must have challenges, otherwise they’re not adventures. There’s nothing that says we will enjoy every step of all our adventures, but we’re neither expected to nor required to. David says in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”. That doesn’t sound like fun—in fact, it sounds miserable, depressing, and frightening—but it’s part of the journey, part of the adventure. Without the valley of the shadow of death, would David have learned to trust God, and to follow wherever the path may lead? But life is contrasts. There are challenges, but there are highs, too. Days, or even just moments, that we wouldn’t trade for anything. The adventure of life consists of both, and everything in between, and Adventureland is our reminder of that.
It’s also our illustration of the importance of companions—friends and family that are there to help us on our journey. To challenge us, encourage us, inspire us, push us to accept challenges and risks (or to caution us so we don’t take stupid risks), even rebuke us when necessary. The song For Good from the musical Wicked sums this up so well. Here are just a few lines from that song:
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you:
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend:
Because I knew you:
I have been changed for good
Why are there so many companion stories? Well, one reason is that we were created for companionship, and so stories like these resonate with us. The Bible emphasizes the importance for companionship, community, and fellowship, and the closer a story relates thematically to the Ultimate Story, the more significant and impactful they are to us. In our darkest times, we often need people, to be with us, to pray for us, to listen to us, to help us, or even to rescue us. God provides these people. It can be hard to seek them out, or to be open to them, but the progress in our adventures from darkness to light, from fear to confidence, from despair to hope, from grief to joy, frequently comes through our companions.
The first thing that God called “not good” was a lack of companionship. “It is not good for the man to be alone….” Jumping far ahead, during the dark days between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and between His ascension and Pentecost, His disciples were together (see John 20:19, Acts 2:1). Jesus Himself said that “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). At the end of his life, Paul’s desire was for people to be with him and for them to know he cared (see 2 Timothy 4:9-22).
I have been truly blessed. I have the coworker and the friends I mentioned earlier. Of course, I have Faye, and my parents, my Aunt, and other family (in particular my cousins and my “adopted” sisters that I love very much), as well as my best-friend/cater-cousin, Andy. He lives 1,200 miles away and there are times I would give my right arm (and often various other extremities) to be able to see him more often, but I am still grateful for our relationship, and that we have Facebook and email for those times between visits. In His wisdom, God has given them to me—and me to them—for us to share our adventures together.
I was reminded over the last week or so of both the fun and the frightening adventures that make up our lives. From now on, as I walk though Adventureland, I will be reminded of my companions, and will be thankful for them. I will also be reminded that others are counting on me to be one of their companions.
I pray that you have companions on your journey, as well, that you will be reminded to thank God for them, and that you will be a companion for others. If you don’t, I pray God will bring them into your life, and that you will be open to receive them.