Wednesday, October 19, 2005

All Aboard

Some of my earliest memories are of trains. When I was five years old I got my first electric train set for Christmas. It was a Tyco H.O. scale Santa Fe freight train. From that my dad and I began model railroading. Diesel was a “sin” to my father, so we turned half of our basement into a replica of a New York Central steam era layout. Several Hudson locomotives were featured on our design along with Pullman cars, hoppers, coal tenders. My dad, a master hobbyist, built most of the buildings and scenery from scratch. Even the couplers on the cars were changed from the stock issue to the spring loaded replicas of actual train couplers.

As a kid I remember my dad and I spending hours in the basement with my … his … OUR toy. In fact, on one family vacation we got my mother and sister to pit stop with us at Steam Town USA. They never quite shared our enthusiasm.

As I got older, I too, began modeling. I stuck to kits but became fairly proficient at it. My crowning achievement was when I finally convinced my dad to go diesel when I built a late 40’s reproduction of the New York Central 20th Century Limited with streamlined passenger cars and a shark nose diesel engine at the helm. But then it was off to college. Eventually, my dad packed up our layout into dozens of carefully protected boxes and put into storage.

After college I took a job as on a Christian radio station and eventually became the Program and Music Director. One of my duties was to host a 90 minute format on Saturday mornings that featured programs for children like Adventures in Odyssey , Children’s Bible Hour, and Your Story Hour.

They called it the Sonshine Express. After a few weeks I decided to really have some fun with the whole concept. I became Conductor Marty. The format was extended to three hours and I even had my own thirty minute program called Conductor Marty’s Clubhouse. It featured a cast of characters who introduced the lesson for the week in a 3 to 5 minute sketch and then Conductor Marty taught the lesson using 5 to 6 appropriate songs. I also read kid’s letters, did live give-a-ways, and even hosted area events at shopping malls and etc.

Well, when I became a full time pastor, Conductor Marty retired. When my son Ira turned 4 years old I bought him a train set for Christmas. It was a Tyco H.O. Santa Fe freight train set. Now, I had it mounted to a quarter inch piece of ply wood and permanently mounted the track, trestle, and bridge along with a couple of buildings and some artificial trees. My wife asked, “Where are we going to put that?” I explained how it was designed to slide under his bed. There. I had passed on model railroading to my son and my involvement was done or so I thought.

One afternoon I was pawing around a junk shop and found a box of old H.O. scale model buildings and other assorted goodies. All of a sudden I was 8 years old again in the family basement. I offered the guy $50 for the entire box and took my treasures home. I explained to my wife what an awesome deal I got but she just kept repeating, “$50? You spent $50 on that???” Women just don’t appreciate the finer things in life.

Soon I emptied my home office and turned into the train room. I told the boys “we” are going to build a model railroad layout. Ira later told my wife, “Dad took my train set.”

After a difficult period in my ministry I became totally absorbed that winter in late night model railroading. Long after the family went to bed I went to work building stores, factories, and everything my early circa early 60’s layout needed from the local movie house and corner drug store to a drive in hamburger joint. I spent hundreds of hours and money to build this little world. My wife didn’t seem to mind, though. I took my boys to hole in the wall hobby shops all over Albany and Schenectady. I was reliving one of my happiest childhood memories with my own sons. I've always been fascinated by trains and even portrayed a character involved with trains but I never had any real experience with trains.

When I travel I usually go by jet but recently I rode the rails of the American rail road. I was scheduled to speak at the East Coast Baptist Conference in Brooklyn, New York. I was not looking forward to NYC traffic and the four hour drive each way. Then lightning struck… Take A Train!

I booked a round trip ticket on Amtrak for less then the price of a tank of gas. Albany to Manhattan.

I arrived at the station just as my train was leaving! The next train was scheduled to leave within an hour so I wasn’t too panicked. Then it happened… DELAYS. The Conference began that night and I was the first speaker. I needed to be in Manhattan before rush hour to ensure that I could into Brooklyn on time. Well, Amtrak had other ideas. We finally left Albany four hours later. I was scheduled now to arrive in NYC at 6:05PM and the conference started at 7:00PM. It took me nearly six hours to go two hours. That’s what happens when the government takes over a business. If they can’t keep trains on schedule do we really want to trust them with health care?

At 6:03PM I jumped off the train and up the stairs into Penn Station. WOW! It was a whole universe unto itself. Since Penn Station is also attached to Madison Square Garden. The Rangers were in town for a hockey game. Without exaggerating there must have been 20,000 people moving through that station at that time! Everyone from commuters on their way home to hockey fans to people like me wandering around thinking, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!

The conference was being held at the International Baptist Church where Dr John Morgan is the pastor. IBC is also the home of International Bible College on Long Island. He sent two college young men to retrieve me from the station. There was one problem… how to find them. A game of cell phone scavenger hunt began and I was the prize. Jose asked me for a land mark to which I responded, “I’m standing next to a Hudson News Stand.” He said he saw it and was on his way. Several minutes later he called back and asked where I was. I told him I hadn’t moved. Turns out there are 400 HUDSON NEWS STANDS in Penn Station. Finally, after 15 minutes of “Can you see me now” we met up. Out to the street and in the car.

We had 30 minutes to make the 45 minute run into Brooklyn and they had just closed the Holland Tunnel on a Home Land Security warning. Every 10 minutes one of the associate pastors called to check on our progress. In between conversing with these college chauffeurs and praying for my life to be sparred as we raced cabs, dodged pedestrians, and took short cuts known only to true New Yorkers I did get to see Ground Zero. Unbelievable. Well, we made it to the church in 27 minutes flat! I had three minutes to catch my breath, meet Dr Morgan, and thank God for keeping safe before I had to speak. The meeting was packed and God met with us in a wonderful way.

The trip back to Manhattan was a bit calmer. One of the staff members took me across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. It was breath taking to see that city all lit up. We drove by the Empire State Building and Macy’s on 34th Street where Miracle on 34th Street was filmed. Then it was on to Times Square. It was 10PM but there were thousands of people everywhere. Finally, I arrived back at the Garden as the Rangers game was letting out. Now that I had time to get my bearings I made my way to the Amtrak section of Penn Station and went for the 10:45PM Empire Express back to Albany.

As I stated I’m used to airports and flying. I’m used to people of middle eastern descent sailing through security check points while I and elderly women get frisked and checked terrorist devices. Oh, well. But I was absolutely shocked that Amtrak does absolutely NO security checks whatsoever. Apparently they think terrorists aren’t interested in flying. As I thought about that while waiting for my train it hit me. What better attack then Penn Station especially on a night when the Knicks are in the Garden. That’s over 50,000 potential casualties. Maybe HLS should enact some security measures at America’s train stations.

You can imagine my general concern when two guys got on our train at 10:45PM with no tickets and no ID after we were underway! Finally they bought tickets over the phone but that still didn’t make me feel any safer.

I arrived in Albany at 1:50AM and home by dark thirty. All in all it was a long but very productive day. I guess Conductor Marty will stick to model railroading. Riding the rails may make wonderful and nostalgic lyrics to great Americana songs but flying is definitely for me.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Defending OR Extending

As a teenager in the early 1980's my mother enrolled me in a Christian school. At first this strange new world was a mystery to me but then I began to catch on. Soon I realized that even in a Christian environment there was "drama".

Some of you may remember that the TV show Dallas was the big prime time soap opera of that era. I used to kid with my friends that producers could get better ratings with a show like As The Pulpit Turns or All My Flock. It's sad but true that there is drama and, at times, even scandal in the House of God. Why? Because there are people there and people give into temptation, ignore God's Word, act carnal, give into the flesh, and a hundred other reasons.

Writing this will no doubt have me branded, yet again, as a defender of the indefensible but others with a discerning spirit will understand my heart. Dr. Bob Gray and his church in Texas are embroiled in a scandal. Admittedly I do not have all the facts in this case and neither do his critics on the Fundamentalist Fighting Forums. The bottom line is that there are accusations of sexual misconduct between former staff members of Longview Baptist Temple and some young ladies who attended the church and were enrolled in one of the schools operated by the church. One of the key figures is the former principal of the school that enrolled bus kids, Mr. Russell Hirner. Apparently Mr. Hirner engaged in sexual activities with some of the under age teenage female students of the school. It is my understanding that he has admitted to these charges and is serving time in prison.

Some of Dr Gray's critics contend that he did not act fast enough. In fact, they feel he knew about it but swept it under the rug until it became too big to hide.

A law firm has now entered the picture to represent the victims. According to some people neither LBT nor Dr. Gray have any insurance coverage for this kind situation meaning this will go to trial. If the church loses the lawsuit that is said to be worth several million dollars then it is extremely likely that LBT will lose all of its buildings and assets.

No one is arguing that molestation should go unpunished. Hirner is in jail where he belongs. Many churches have policies and proceedures in place to try and avoid these kinds of tragic incidents from happening. Some pastors have told me that when other organizations also have these safe guards in place BUT still have problems it makes one shudder.

My issue has to do with those former TBC students and critics of Dr Bob Gray who are actually rooting, cheering, and hoping for the destruction & down fall of the church and all of its ministries. Why? Is it because they feel that is the best way for the victims to be vindicated? NO. Their motives are as corrupt and vile as the actions of Russell Hirner. They simply hate Bob Gray. They hate what he preaches and how he preaches it. They hate his philosophy of ministry. They hate his views and opinions. They hate him. Period.

Oh, they will attempt to hide behind rhetoric and verses but in the end they hate Bob Gray. They have been waiting for this man they consider to be arrogant and psychologically abusive of people to fall and now they have an issue to run with. They preach Grace but live judgment and condemnation. They preach liberty but live in the captivity of hate and bitterness and unforgiveness.

I do not agree with everything Bob Gray preaches. I do not hold to all of his convictions and views and philosophies. There are things about his approach to the ministry that I would never do BUT I do not want to see his destruction nor that of the Longview Baptist Temple.

When a poster on the FFF named Martin Luther Hyles writes that he can't wait for Bob Gray to be dispatched to hell I don't hear any concern for the victims. I hear a bitter man spewing venom against someone he hates. When Jeri Massi, who has no direct connection to LBT whatsoever, spends a day trying to contact the attorney involved so she can get the low down for her blog article I see hatred in action. Funny, she will contend that she is concerned for the victims and hates the "legalistic" approach of fundamentalists like Gray as choking out God's Grace, yet she never tracks down stories of this kind of behavior in any other camp EXCEPT the Independent Fundamental Baptist camp. I see a hate filled woman with a bias agenda who tramples on the very concept of Grace she claims to defend.

Other FFF posters couldn't wait to pronounce judgment. They love to quote that the righteous are allowed to judge but yet they forget this... "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again...Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give and it shall be given unto you...for with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured unto you again." Luke 6:35-38

I am not defending the sin of a child molester. I am not defending poor judgment on the part of church administrators mishandling these kinds of situations. I am defending Bob Gray from those who are seeking his demise simply because they hate him. One graduate of TBC who pastors in Texas wrote on his blog that Dr. Gray has sowed to the wind through the years and will now reap the whirlwind. If that is true then it is God's business to tend to it and not his, not mine, and certainly not the scorners and haters who only wish to see judgment and damnation. According to the verses of Luke 6 if they are not careful they will get to see judgment and damnation ... their own.

So to the man, Bob Gray, that at times I have clashed with I offer my prayers and hope of God's mercy on this litigation he faces. After all, there by Grace of God go you or I. Let's try and remember that before we pass sentence and then cheer about it.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

At the Box Office

Most men are fairly simple and uncomplicated when it comes to their entertainment needs. They like to watch sports and action movies. An ultimate guys night is going out to a ball game and then grabbing a pizza and some hot wings on the way home to "dine" on as they watch the latest car chase-blow 'em up DVD from the video rental store or pay-per-view.

Action flicks don't require much of a plot but great special effects are a big plus. Just have a bad guy doing something bad and a larger then life hero who can put a stop to him even if it means leveling half the city to it and wah-lah you have satisfied the typical man's need for amusement. These good guys don't need permission or a vote from congress to nuke the evil dude off the planet. They just get results.... and usually get the beautiful woman who was thrown into the story to try and give the wives a reason for watching these movies with their husbands.

For many generations no one suited the description of an all American movie hero better than the Duke, John Wayne. Listen, Pilgrim, there was never any need for the Duke to be sensitive

or admit he'd made a mistake because he never made one. He was always right no matter what and he always got the job done. Those movies didn't contain any messages except good always triumphs over evil. There was no blurring or shades of gray. Everything was black and white ... right or wrong ... good guy or bad guy. America was great. Period.

As the 1970's approached America was embroiled not only in Vietnam but also the Cultural Revolution. Young people were now openly questioning and defying the "establishment." In 1971 Clint Eastwood brought a new kind hero to the screen in Dirty Harry. As the character of San Francisco homicide inspector Harry Callahan, Eastwood introduced to us to flawed hero. No longer was the hero always right. No longer was the hero without any vices of his own. No longer was the hero a role model. Callahan was not only fighting criminals but a liberal, ineffective judicial system that gave rights to criminals and penalized the police officer. This new kind of grittier and close to life realism rallied audiences from coast-to-coast.

The formula was still there.... good guys vs bad guys BUT sometimes the good guys did bad things to catch the bad guys.

For the most these action movies drew male audiences who were fed up with political correctness, non traditional diverse values being spun as normal, and a system that talked but didn't act. Even liberal commentators like Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball said how much he liked watching John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris, Arnold, and Bruce Willis despite the fact the themes of their movies were very conservative.

Apparently other liberals were not as "opened minded" as Matthews. After decades of trying to cram political correctness and tolerance at us in "serious" dramatic movies... they changed tactics. They realized that movies like Making Love in 1982 were not the best suited venues to sell America on homosexual acceptance. What did they do?

Give the American male audience the liberal agenda in an action movie!

Enter new action stars like Steven Seagal, a practicing Buddhist and martial arts expert, to punch home the message. The movies started out on easily accepted plot lines... Above the Law where a good cop is chased by not so good cops but everyone is a "little" dirty. Blurring...

The Patriot took on those gun toting, flag saluting, Bible thumping militia nuts that were going to over throw America.

In the Under Siege series Seagal plays Naval officer Casey Ryback who must kill a CIA agent turned traitor in the first movie played by Tommy Lee Jones. When Jones tells Ryback we've been lied to by our government Casey responds, "we both serve the same sick master and he's ungrateful." In the sequel he must kill Travis Dane, the creator and inventor of the Star Wars missile defense system, who has decided to sell this weaponry to the highest bidder after he blows up a Chinese chemical plant.

Both bad guys were actually trained by the US Government until there "usefulness" was no longer needed. The subtle messages of those movies... America creates it's own problems. Sounds like the spin of the media today on why we should withdraw from Iraq. Afterall, we created these dictators and now we're sending innocent young boys to die in George Bush's war.

Most action audiences would miss the changing themes. The special effects are getting better, the plots grittier, and bad guys are still being killed.

Gangsta rapper turned movie star, Ice Cube, has now added his name and influence to the list. After appearing in Boyz in the Hood about gang life in L.A. and the comedies of Barbershop and Are We There Yet?, the Cube melted into the role of Darius Stone for the sequel XXX:State of the Union. Samuel L. Jackson recruits this thrill seeking convict to be the next xXx agent.

His mission: save the US Government from a deadly conspiracy.

Who is the bad guy this time? Five star general and Secretary of Defense George Deckert (played by William Dafoe).

It seems the President wants to lead the world in peace by disarming and reducing the size of the military (one of those quaint but misguided liberal ideas that somehow bad people who hate America will love us if we disarm and surrender). The Secretary of Defense will not allow the President to disarm so he must be stopped. Enter xXx to stop Deckert. Plenty of action, fast cars, and even part of the Capitol of Dome gets blown up while the liberal message quietly begins to make its move... the bad guy is now the pro American conservative who has national security and sovereignty at heart.

Whether it's Will Smith's sci-fi movie Independence Day that plays out like the dated song, "we are the world... we are the children..." where all the governments work together and declare the 4th of July Independence Day for the World (nice erosion of our own national sovereignty there) or the next Matt Damon "Jason Bourne" movie.... the tide is turning. Liberals are slowly but steadily taking the last line of conservative expression in the entertainment field: the action movie.

As the Kevin Costner's make throw back movies like Open Range which clearly depict right vs wrong and good vs. bad... Hollywood will thrive on the multi dimensional character who may save the day but is just as bad as the guy he killed. Now that the Kurt Russells and other conservative actors find other avenues of expression rather than the Big Screen we even see icons like Clint Eastwood making liberal leaning theme movies like Million Dollar Baby which depicts the positive side of suicide.

Where are ya when we need ya, Duke?