Lionel CW-80 vs vintage transformers

Lionel CW-80 vs vintage transformers

Someone asked me recently about the Lionel CW-80 and how it compares vs older transformers. That’s a fair question, and one that tends to stir up a lot of emotions on train forums. So I’ll try to present the pros and cons in a fair manner.

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Lionel Super O track

If there was ever a cult following in Lionel-dom, Lionel Super O track has it. Super O was Lionel’s answer to American Flyer 2-rail track. Invented in 1951, patented in 1954 and finally introduced in 1957, it featured numerous plastic ties with a molded-in woodgrain, a 36″ diameter, and a thin copper center rail.

The people who liked it really liked it. But a new track system wasn’t enough to turn around a company past its prime. Super O was discontinued in 1966, three years before Lionel Corporation got out of the train business altogether and began a 20-year swan song as an operator of toy stores. But that’s another story.
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How I fought the insurance company and lived to tell about it

My dad was a doctor. Dad told me on several occasions that if I ever came home and said I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor too, he’d lock me in my room for seven years. One of the reasons for this was because he hated dealing with insurance companies. I vividly remember going out to the mailbox one day and finding a letter addressed to Dr. Farquhar, with a very angry note written on the front of the envelope: PLS LET THE DR READ THE LTR. I asked what this was about, and Dad said insurance was refusing to pay for a patient’s treatment. He said it happened a lot.

Now I’m 33, and my insurance was refusing to pay for treatment my wife needed. The best-case scenario without her medication would have involved numerous hospitalizations. The worst-case scenario? Coma or stroke if a lot of things went wrong. If everything went wrong, death wasn’t out of the question.

Here’s what I did about it.This isn’t exactly how I wanted to tell everyone, but my wife is pregnant. She’s also diabetic, and diabetes and pregnancy aren’t exactly the best combination. It wasn’t long before she was complaining about nausea. That wasn’t anything new; she can get bad nausea at times even when not pregnant. We try to keep a decent supply of Emetrol (or a generic version) on hand because of it. But we didn’t know if it was safe for her to take that while pregnant, so I suggested she ask her doctor. The doctor put her on a generic version of Zofran, a powerful anti-nausea drug.

The difference was like night and day. Without the drug, she couldn’t be up and around for more than 3-4 hours at a time. With the drug, she could function almost normally.

But after a month, the party was over. The insurance company refused to pay for the drug any longer. The doctor protested, but to no avail. So the doctor prescribed alternative anti-nausea drugs.

None of them worked.

She started a rapid decline. Within days, she couldn’t keep food down. Four days after that, she couldn’t even keep water down. She went to the doctor, and her doctor sent her straight to the hospital where she was admitted and treated for dehydration and severe morning sickness (I don’t remember the medical term). They kept her in the hospital overnight.

When her doctor visited, I asked him what to do. He said insurance companies do this all the time.

"Let me get this straight. This guy with no education, who’s never seen her, knows better than you do what’s best for my wife?" I asked.

He said he sees this every day, and he’s sick of it.

"So do I need to look into getting a lawyer and suing this company for malpractice?" I asked. After all, there was at least one time when Dad said a patient needed one treatment, and a different doctor decided to do a different treatment and the patient died. The patient’s family, based on what Dad said, sued the other doctor for malpractice. If a doctor can be sued for practicing medicine badly, why can’t an insurance company be sued when it practices medicine badly?

He said if I did that I’d probably end up on CNN and he’d love to see the public pay that kind of attention to the insurance industry, but it wouldn’t help my wife any.

So I asked about buying the drug outright, without insurance. It was going to cost more than $400 a month. That’s outside of most budgets. I probably could have made it work, by making some cutbacks on food purchases, taking on some extra work, and if all else failed, borrowing some money, but it shouldn’t be necessary. This is why we get insurance in the first place–to cover these kinds of expenses.

So I looked into what it would cost to import the drug from Canada. The best price I found was $330–not much help.

I called my boss and told him what was going on, originally for no reason other than to provide justification for why I wouldn’t be at work the next day. But the more I told him, the more apparent it became that the situation offended him too–and not just because I was missing work over it. And that gave me an idea.

If the situation offended him, then it probably would offend the decision-makers at the company too. I decided I needed to talk to my boss and ask if I would be going over his head by talking to the higher-ups about the situation.

He gave me the OK, so I wrote a letter to my employer’s upper management. It wasn’t very long. In point by point fashion, I described my wife’s medical needs, what the doctor had done about it, what happened after the insurance company stopped paying for the drug, and what risks were involved with my wife not getting the treatment that she needed. I spelled it all out in lay terms. I also tried to be very matter-of-fact about it. They didn’t need my opinions on the matter–the facts spoke for themselves. Nobody would want their wife or daughter to have to go through what my wife was going through. And that was what I was counting on.

My letter climbed up the corporate ladder and over to HR very quickly. Not long after that, the HR director had the insurance company’s representative on the phone. Before the day was over, my wife had her medicine, and by the next day, she had a case manager assigned to her.

I believe this is the only approach that would have worked, and this is why:

1. I have an acquaintance who once worked for an insurance company, in the IT shop. He told me the majority of insurance adjustors who make decisions about what the insurance company will and won’t pay for are frustrated people with minimal education (sometimes just a GED) and they get their jollies by overruling doctors. It’s a power trip, and it’s what gives their lives meaning. Calling up the 800 number on the back of the card and complaining doesn’t do any good because it just proves to them how much power they hold. And calling the number and treating whoever answers the phone to a profanity-laced tirade (or even just asking the person where he or she went to med school) really drives home how much power they hold.

2. I’m just one customer and I have no control. The insurance company doesn’t care if I leave, because all they lose is a bad customer. Remember, customers who pay into the system and don’t take anything back out cause profits to rise. Customers who take money out of the system cause profits to fall. And besides that, I have no say in where my company buys its insurance anyway. The only way for me to change insurance providers is to change jobs, and that’s not only impracticel, it’s also very difficult.

What I had to do was to take my case to the people who do make that decision, and appeal to them. Working from the assumption that none of them would want the same thing to happen to their wives and daughters, I just presented the facts and let them come to the conclusion that the insurance company would do the same thing to anyone else in that situation too–including them. After all, they’re covered under the same plan I am. And of course they wouldn’t want that. What I basically did was raise the stakes. The insurance company wouldn’t be sorry to see me go, but what insurance company wants to risk losing a whole company’s business?

3. I kept my cool. By my own admission, to call me a loose cannon is an understatement. If I don’t like something, everyone around me knows it. But I wasn’t going to make any friends by saying "You guys are idiots for choosing to buy insurance from [company x] because they’re trying to kill my wife and unborn child." My emotions and opinions were more likely to make them get mad at me, and I needed them to be mad at the insurance company, not me. So I trusted them to be reasonable, rational people and come to the same conclusion I would when presented with the same seven basic facts.

So that’s how I got an insurance company to let my wife have a drug they decided they didn’t want to pay for.

Should you edit your boss’ Wikipedia article?

The IP block associated with congressional offices has been banned off and on from editing Wikipedia, due to a large percentage of dubious edits that attempt to clean up a Congressperson’s image, or smear political opponents.

This has raised a question: Should people with vested interests edit articles?

Absolutely not. And lack of a foolproof way to keep them from doing that is one reason it’s not a reliable source.

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Umm, no, as a matter of fact everything isn\’t OK…

The site’s been down again. As far as I can tell it didn’t stay up for very long on Saturday, but by 8 PM last Saturday, my DSL connection was the least of my concerns.

I got the phone call nobody ever wants to get. My girlfriend’s father was in the hospital and wasn’t expected to live.

They patched him together long enough for his closest relatives to get there, but Jerry died at 12:45 Sunday morning.I’ve been there, done that before. Today just so happens to mark 10 years since my own father’s sudden death.

The rest of what I write may not make a lot of sense, but I hope it will be helpful.

If there is anything worse than losing the closest of your relatives, I don’t know what it is. By “closest of your relatives” I mean your mother, your father, a child, or a brother or sister, or your spouse.

As my girlfriend and I drove to the nearest polling place last night to cast provisional ballots, she observed that it was like the aftermath of a breakup: Everywhere she looked, she saw things that reminded her of her dad.

That’s true. In fact, when describing dealing with a death to others who’ve never lost someone that close, I’ve compared it to a breakup. But, as I compare a death with the last breakup I had–which messed me up pretty badly, and I’ve got the therapy bills to prove it–I see two differences. Maybe three.

Difference one: It’s a lot easier for something good to come of a breakup than from a death, from your selfish perspective. It takes some time and effort, but it is possible to convince yourself that with a world population of 12 billion, your chances of finding something better than that b-word who dumped you (or who you just dumped) are pretty good.

But with death, those things that annoy you about that person start to matter a lot less to you. There was only one Jerry. Just like there was only one Ralph (my dad). To her, Jerry will always be the best dad there ever was, faults and all. Just like to me, my dad will always be the best dad there ever was. The best doctor there ever was, too. I will go to my grave believing that my dad could have saved Jerry. The fact that my dad actually was very highly qualified to treat Jerry is a technicality. I would probably still believe Dad could have saved Jerry even if Dad had been a dermatologist.

Difference two: Usually there is some choice involved with breakups. A couple of days, or maybe a week before my last messy breakup, I told a number of people that I needed to break up with her. When the time for the breakup conversation came, I had a list of conditions I wanted to present in order for the relationship to continue. As it turned out, I didn’t present that list because she broke up with me first.

Death is different. When that person’s time comes, there is no room for bargaining. Jerry was a classic example of that. When Jerry died, he had nothing left. There were at least three things that were racing to kill him. What had worked against the North Vietnamese and what had worked against his wounds and physical handicap and what had worked against his cancer didn’t matter anymore. Jerry was fighting to the end though. As he died, I looked down at his hands. They were clenched into a fist.

Difference 3: Death is permanent. With a breakup, there’s always hope, however remote, that it can be worked out and things can be every bit as good as they ever were, or maybe better. Or, to again overuse the example of my last relationship, if it can’t be worked out, you can go find someone a whole lot better who’ll make you forget about that old b-word.

Death doesn’t offer that.

So, since one’s previous experience with the end of a romantic relationship only inadequately prepares one to deal with death, how does one deal with it?

I have some ideas.

Grieve. I can’t tell you how to grieve. I asked a lot of people once how. They said, “Grieve.” Thanks a bunch. I once paid $1,400 for that answer. Hopefully you’re paying a lot less than that for the ability to read this. I’ll see if I can do better than that answer. Don’t stuff your emotions. Let them out. If they don’t come out in tears and screams and other stuff like that, they’re going to come out in other harmful and self-defeating ways that will poison your relationships and the rest of your life. So whatever it is that your body wants to do when you think about that person, let it, and the sooner the better. If a week has passed and you haven’t cried once, or maybe only once, you’ve got a world of hurt ahead of you. I know because I’ve been there. This is no time to be macho.

Take care of unfinished business. One of the things the Methodist minister who performed Jerry’s ceremony stressed the most was to bury the things about him that weren’t all they could be with him. Carry the good with you everywhere, but bury that bad stuff. I know for me, one of the things that finally helped was to role-play, so I could finally say those things I wanted to say to my dad but never got the chance.

Remember. Talking about the person helps. Tell those stories, and you might even want to go so far as to write them down. One of the reasons I got into genealogy was to preserve the memory of my dad and what made him the way he was. I only know the basics about his grandparents, but it’s something.

Find the things you both enjoyed and continue to enjoy them. Probably my best childhood memory of my dad and me was setting up and playing with his Lionel electric trains. My dad wasn’t a railroad buff in the traditional sense and I’m not either, but those trains were something we enjoyed together in 1986, and that’s the main reason they’re something I enjoy now. You’ll find things like that too. You’ll find some of them right away. Others will take years. That’s OK.

Honor. This is the one place where I’ll get Biblical. In Genesis, God said (I’m paraphrasing), “Honor your father and mother, so that it may go well with you and you will live a long time on the earth.” We all have our own ways of honoring our loved ones, but one of the best ways is to take that person’s qualities and not only emulate them–that is, make them our qualities as well–but to pass them on.

Take care of yourself. In some cases, it will be clear that some of the person’s personal habits contributed to an early death. I don’t think I need to say that smoking provides zero benefit and does a lot of harm to your body. The same goes for drinking excessively. And it’s very clear that some aspects of diet cause things like heart attacks and cancer. Some families are very prone to these things anyway, but while we can’t control our genetics, we can control our diet. So eat healthier than your departed loved one did, and the next time you see your doctor, mention what you know of your family’s medical history so that your doctor has some clue what to be watching for.

Learn from your loved one’s mistakes. I’ve already mentioned things like diet, drinking and smoking, but most people made other mistakes in life too. If you think about it, you’ll see what that person’s other mistakes were. Don’t copy those mistakes. Make your own. (You’ll have to work at that first part. You won’t have to work at the second.)

Love can mend your life but love can break your heart

I’m sending out an S.O.S. to the world.
–The Police
I can’t quite go into the detail that I would like to go into. I don’t feel like I’m being true to myself because I’ve always been completely open on this site, writing without regard to much of anything other than what I feel like writing.

Well, for the past 7 months that’s been different, since I’ve had a close personal relationship with a girl. I don’t want to air our dirty laundry in public. She’s never expressed any interest in my writing, but I know some people close to her sometimes read here. I’ve mentioned her a few times, I don’t think ever by name, and never with much explicit detail.

On Monday, she was ready to break up with me. On Tuesday, I had my mind made up that I was going to break up with her. Then at the 11th hour, after praying about it, I had an epiphany that made me change my mind and want to give things one last chance.

For most of Tuesday night, I was happy that there was a glimmer of hope for us. But during our two-hour conversation, she admitted to something I’ve long suspected. She implied–I don’t think she said it outright–that it was a one-time event. Right now I’m thinking more about that than about the good things, so the pendulum has swung to the other side. It does that a lot lately.

But I love that girl. I love her more than anything else in this world, and I don’t give a rat’s red behind what anyone else thinks about that. I do care who knows it. I want everyone to know it. And it hurts when I think that those feelings might not be mutual anymore. Well, I know from that thing that she admitted to that those feelings aren’t mutual all the time.

There was a time when she told me she’d never met another guy like me. A little over a month ago, she gave me a card that said she wondered what she’d ever done to deserve someone as wonderful as me.

I’ve made myself out to be a martyr here. That’s wrong. I’ve screwed up too. But I will say this and I’ll take it to my grave: Everything I did was out of motivation to fix what I already knew was broken, and out of desperation of knowing nothing else would work. But, like some War of the Roses general whose name I can’t recall once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I wept bitterly when I got home from work Tuesday night. I’ve cried a lot the past three days or so. I can go a couple of years without shedding a tear. But one of my mentors once told me my biggest problem is that I’m not willing to grieve. So when I need to grieve, grieve. So I have been. Not every time I cried was about her. I miss my dad. I’d love to hear his thoughts on a lot of the stuff that’s going on right now. I wouldn’t let him make any decisions for me, but there are times when Dad’s advice is what you want more than anything else in the world. I have to live without. He died in 1994, aged 51. I was 19. We only talked about women five or six times, so I don’t even have the benefit of playing through old tapes in my head to try to mine for his wisdom and experience in this case. And that hurts.

She doesn’t like it when I cry. Men look pathetic when they cry, she says. I think she’s full of crap. Norman Schwarzkopf cried on national TV when Barbara Walters interviewed him. She told him real men don’t cry. He said yes they do. I think Gen. Schwarzkopf qualifies as a real man.

I’m not going to bottle things up inside so they can eat me up just because she’s decided that real men cry twice in their lives and I’ve more than used up my quota over the course of a week. Like I said, I can go years without crying. If she doesn’t like it that I have strong feelings and emotions about her, well, that’s her problem. There are plenty of girls who would love to have a guy cry about them just once in their lives.

Actually, I hear there are plenty of girls who would love to have a guy who prefers church to bars, who treat them like royalty, who set out to make their dreams come true when they’re willing to share them, who misses them when away, and who more often than not picks up the phone on the second ring when they call and is almost always excited to talk to them, even though it doesn’t quite always show.

I’ve always had a hard time finding those girls, but supposedly there are 169 singles in my church. One of those is me. Experience tells me the majority of the rest are women. I felt guilty on Sunday when I started looking. There was one in the row right behind me, about five or six seats to my left. And there was one sitting front row center. All I did was look. I shouldn’t feel guilty. But I do.

I don’t want just any girl. Even if I met her in the perfect place, which, as far as I’m concerned, is church. I’ve been praying for a faithful Christian wife off and on since I got interested in girls. So I guess that would mean since about 1987. The girl I really want is the one I’ve already got.

An hour ago I woke up, glad that I’d put her picture away sometime on Tuesday, because I didn’t want to look at her. Not even a likeness of her.

But now that I’ve thought about the things we’ve been through, and how much I’ve invested in her, not just emotionally but monetarily, I know I don’t want to give up on her just yet.

But if she gives up on me, that girl who was sitting front-row center will be there next Sunday. She’s there more Sundays out of the year than our pastor is. I actually got up the nerve to talk to her a couple of times. The last time was a year ago. I think most guys are intimidated by her. She is, after all, everything you’re supposed to look for and then some.

But I can make a case that so is the girl I’ve been seeing.

We’ll see how I’m feeling at a reasonable hour.

My well-dressed visitors

One evening early in March–the first really nice day of the year, as I recall–my doorbell rang. My girlfriend was coming over that night, but I didn’t expect her for another 45 minutes or so. I looked out the window and saw two guys in their early 20s, wearing black dress pants, white shirts, ties, and engraved nametags.
I knew instantly who they were representing. I debated whether I should answer the door, but I figured it would be better for them to come in and talk to me than to go knock on my neighbor’s door. My neighbor already has a church and doesn’t need another one, and I really didn’t want these guys trying to convince him otherwise. (For the record, my neighbor’s church isn’t my church and it’s not the same denomination as mine. I just want you to know that.)

They came in and they told me who they were representing. Then they proceeded to tell me that everything I know is wrong. I’ve been told that before. I think the first time was at a U2 concert, but I don’t think they really meant it. At least they didn’t mean everything. I heard it again at college, but their main motivation was to teach me how to think.

They told me a story about a prophet. When this prophet was about their age, he didn’t know what church to go to. So God the Father–this is important–and Jesus Christ appeared to him. They told him a couple of things, and the result of this was the church that the two of them represent.

There’s only one problem with that story. There’s another prophet named Moses. You’ve probably heard of him. He’s the one God handed the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. He also wrote the first five books of the Bible. Among prophets, Moses is in an elite class. When Jesus was transfigured in front of three of his disciples, two prophets also showed up. Those prophets were Moses and Elijah. To those three disciples, who were Jewish, the presence of Moses and Elijah and their submission to him indicated that Jesus was something special.

Well, one of the big reasons that Moses is something special is because he saw God. Once. Only he didn’t get to see God the Father’s face, because it would have killed him. (See Exodus 33:19-23.)

St. Paul was in an elite class of apostles. (According to these two guys, St. Paul was sort of a prophet. Remember the “sort of.”) St. Paul was on his way to Damascus to kill some people (see Acts 9:1-22) when he got interrupted. He got blinded by a light, then he looked up in the sky and saw Jesus. Jesus gave him a talking-to, then Paul went and changed the world.

When God shows up visibly to people, things change. It doesn’t happen very often, so when someone comes along saying he’s seen God, people tend to follow.

But the problem with the story these two guys told me is that it doesn’t mesh up. Moses couldn’t see God’s face because it would have killed him. Paul’s story meshes up with Moses’, because Paul didn’t see God the Father. He saw Jesus. But their prophet saw God the Father.

I pointed out this discrepancy to them. When they left that night, one of them handed me a piece of paper with the verse Acts 7:55 written on it. That’s the story of Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. It says so. So how does that mesh up with the story of Moses and Paul? Five verses later, Stephen was dead.

These two guys put a lot of emphasis on their prophet’s testimony and on their own experience and feelings. I resented their implication that I’d never had an experience with the Holy Ghost. I resented them coming right out and telling me my baptism was invalid. It annoyed me when they told me that neither one of them had read much of the Bible, and they continued to talk down to me even after I told them I had read the Bible in its entirety. On a subsequent visit, one of them told me he very rarely read the Bible because he didn’t like it, but this other book they wanted me to read… He loved that book. That made sense to me though. Americans are very do-it oriented. Give an American male a list of things to do to be successful, and he’ll probably do them. He’ll probably thank you for it. Even if the list is 613 items long. There’s a reason why the self-help section in American bookstores is so big. The book these guys wanted me to read is well-suited for an American audience. While the Bible likes to talk about the things God did for us, this book is full of ideas about things we can do for God.

But the most important thing about that book is the experience and feelings you get when you read it. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience and feelings reading the Bible.

When I was about the same age as these two guys, I began the process of reading the Bible cover to cover. I was questioning everything I knew and everything that had ever happened to me, and that book and what I perceived as the misuse of that book was at the center of those questions. So I read it, looking for answers. I prayed at the same time too. I asked God where I should be going to church, because I didn’t know. He told me where I should go. Not because it was where I wanted to go–I didn’t want to be Lutheran–and not because the LCMS is right about absolutely everything, because they aren’t. When it comes to understanding the needs of a guy in his 20s and resources to help them, the LCMS has a whole lot of nothing. But the LCMS’s specialty is its teachings on grace and forgiveness, which was what I needed more than anything. God knew it, and I know it now, and I needed that message so desperately that I would have listened to the pastor talk through an electric fan if that was what he wanted to do. I returned to the denomination of my youth about a month after I finished the Bible.

These guys talked a lot about feelings. Sure, it was an emotional time. And while you should pay attention to feelings, you also should remember that feelings aren’t infallible. Our emotions can be 100% wrong and totally detached from reality. There are plenty of moments in just about any relationship of a romantic nature can illustrate that vividly.

Four years after I returned to the church body of my youth, I went on a mission trip to a very impoverished part of Florida. I saw the life of one of the teenagers in my small group completely change over the course of a couple of days. If God the Holy Ghost didn’t have a hold on him, then I don’t know who it was. That same week, five or six of us had finished up our task for the afternoon, so we went walking. We came upon a church, and it had become our habit that week to pray for the churches in the area. The prayers were pretty simple and generic: That the area churches would reach out to the community, and that they would have the desire and the ability to meet the needs of the people around them. After we finished, our pastor looked up and saw an elderly woman standing on a second-floor balcony across the street from us. “Are you watching us?” he asked playfully. “Yes I am, sir,” she said, humbly but without any shame or nervousness or timidity in her voice. Pastor asked if he could send a few of us up to her to pray for her. “I’d like that very much, sir,” she said. So I grabbed three guys and we walked up to her apartment. We talked to her for a few minutes, prayed with her for a few more minutes, then talked for a while again. The last thing she said to us is probably something I’ll never forget: “I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit outside when your group walked up to that church, and I just had to step outside and see what was going on out there.”

When my two visitors told me the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is beyond description, I had to agree with them. And I’m sure that the Holy Ghost is working on them, trying to show them the way to truth, and I’m sure they feel that work in their lives. But they have it backwards. To them, the Holy Ghost is their reward for doing the right thing once. To use a baseball analogy, the Holy Ghost is a World Series trophy to them. That’s wrong. Yes, the Holy Ghost is there after you’ve gotten right with God, but only because He was already there. The Holy Ghost isn’t a World Series trophy. The Holy Ghost is the leadoff batter on opening day, and His work never ends until our final breath and the final beat of our heart.

These guys have a lot of things backwards, but I could never convince them to even think about any of that stuff. They’re constantly talking about proving things to God. The only thing we can ever prove to God is our inadequacy, but even that isn’t really proving anything. How can you prove anything to an all-knowing being? Of course, I’m not sure that their god is an all-knowing being.

They never encouraged me to read the Bible. They wanted me to read their book and pray about it. But they wanted a very specific prayer: Pray to know that their book is true. The problem is that when you pray a prayer like that, God may say no, but since you prayed for a yes answer, if some other being comes along posing as God and says yes, that’s the one you’ll listen to.

Truth be told, the ethics of their book aren’t bad. Their book reads much like the books Protestants call the Apocrypha: the books between the Old Testament and New Testament that Catholics and Episcopals accept but Calvinist and Lutheran denominations don’t. If the church these guys represent only believed and taught what was in the Bible and this other book, they’d still be a fringe group but mainline Christianity would have far fewer problems with them.

On the Saturday before Easter, they paid me a visit again. My friend Matt, who’s working on his Master’s of Divinity, happened to be over. They talked to me some more about why my baptism was invalid and theirs is valid: The authority to baptize died with the apostles and wasn’t restored until the 19th century, they said. After a half hour or so of miscommunication, Matt asked me if he could ask a question. I said certainly.

He had them turn to a second book they use–one that I was aware of but didn’t have a copy of–and read a passage from it. That passage stated that the Apostle John never died. (Matt later told me that that belief is a misinterpretation of John 21:20-22. Interestingly, John 21:23 specifically warns against just this interpretation.) But Matt went with their interpretation. Is it true that John never died? Yes, they said. Then the authority to baptize, which disappeared with the death of all the disciples, never left this earth.

The younger of the two was visibly taken aback. The older of the two struggled for a minute, then regained his composure somewhat and changed the subject.

The discussion quickly turned to the Nicene Creed and never veered back to this contradiction. But that very neatly illustrates a problem.

Whenever the Bible appears to contradict itself, it’s due to misinterpretation. Since English is a terribly imprecise language, often the problem comes down to word choice, and reading the verses in question in more than one translation (if you can’t read Biblical Greek and Hebrew) will resolve the issue. Or, often the problem is due to taking verses out of context. Re-read the offending verses in context and in light of similar verses, and the conflict resolves. Biblical prophets do not contradict themselves or one another because they were repeating the words of God, who doesn’t contradict Himself.

Statements such as “The Apostle John never died” are not the words of a prophet. They are the words of someone who didn’t read John 21:23. (Church tradition states that John died in Ephesus around the year 100 AD, at the age of about 94.)

In an early conversation, they told me that God used prophets in the Old Testament to bring people back after they became wicked. They then asked if it doesn’t make sense for there to be a living prophet today. I said no. They were taken aback; I’m certain that usually they get the opposite answer.

I held up my well-worn NIV Bible, then I said something like this: This is a book about relationships and sin. It took several centuries to write. There isn’t a single relationship problem that exists now that didn’t exist then and isn’t mentioned somewhere in here. And sin hasn’t changed. We’d mastered sin by the time this was written. Our need for God hasn’t changed, and what we have to do to be right with God hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed since this book was finished is our technology. God’s given us our answers; He doesn’t need to add anything else to it.

I’ve read books written by people who claim to have the gift of prophecy. But their revelations from God mostly affect them and the people directly around them, and they make no other claims about the messages they receive. They’re also incredibly short. And, most importantly, they don’t contradict scripture. In fact, many of them are simply restatements of scripture.

But when I’ve run across someone claiming infallibility, it usually hasn’t taken long for them to say things that do contradict scripture, such as that statement about the Apostle John. Verses such as Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and 2 Peter 3:16 have harsh words about these kinds of people.

Before they left angrily, one of them asked Matt what his motive was. Their motive, they said, was the truth. Matt said his motive was the truth. Have you read it?, one of them asked, holding up his secondary book. Matt said he had, and he was in the process of reading it cover to cover now. They each agreed that the other needed to find the truth (the less experienced of the two visitors didn’t say much and left looking shellshocked)and that was the end of it.

I see two major problems. The first is the assertion that the Bible isn’t enough. That opens the door to all sorts of crazy things. The second problem, just as bad, is the overemphasis on self and de-emphasis of God. Virtually every sentence they said began with the words, “You need to” or “We need to.” But it’s God working in us that enables us to do things. And in my experience, often when God’s working in us, we don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing, and it’s only after the fact that it makes sense. That doesn’t happen when your motive is to prove something to God though.

It’s been a couple of weeks now, and they haven’t called me or stopped by. I hope some of the truth has sunk in. But it usually takes a while.

The best week of my life revisited

Well, I got word this week that my first video of significant length landed on the desk of the founder of Adventures in Missions. And he liked it.
It made its St. Louis debut the Sunday before last. I think it did its job. The subject was my church’s June mission trip to Belle Glade, and a number of the people who were there cried.

“God, send us some signs or something,” prayed the 15-year-old son of Christian author Tim Wesemann, about 30 seconds into the video.

Sign? You got it. A kid named Matthew set off an alarm in room 229 in the church where we spent our first night. So, for what seemed like an eternity, the PA system bellowed, “2-2-9.” And it beeped a lot too.

The minute he prayed and asked for forgiveness, it stopped. Things like that happened a lot that week.

That afternoon, someone looked up Matthew 22:9.

That became our theme. Which reminds me: We need to make t-shirts.

About halfway through, the words, “Wednesday, June 19, 2002: A night to remember” flashed up, simple white letters on a black screen. One of the girls turned back to me. “You got that on tape!?” I nodded. I shot at least three hours of tape that night. She reached back and squeezed my hand.

Let me tell you something about Wednesday night. I don’t know everything that was going through everyone’s minds that night, but by Wednesday, most of our kids (28 in all, I think) had been to the gates of hell and back. They were seeing the desperate situation the people in Belle Glade were living in, and although we’re middle-class white guys and gals from south suburban St. Louis, we live in luxury compared to any of them. We live in nice houses, drive nice cars, and get to eat pretty much anything we want, whenever we want. We don’t have to worry about any of our basic needs.

In Belle Glade, “affordable housing” often means four concrete walls, a concrete floor and roof, some kind of bed, and a 110-volt outlet to plug a hotplate into. A sink is a luxury. A lot of “discount” stores selling low-quality food abound. The food is affordable but not worth the prices they’re forced to pay for it. Blaxploitation at its finest. It’s pretty sickening.

And on Tuesday, there was an incident. One of the kids from our downtown VBS, an eight-year-old, got into a fight with a 13-year-old. The eight-year-old was everyone’s favorite. His was probably the saddest story we’d heard down there. But there was something else about him too. I had limited contact with him (I worked the other VBS) but I can attest to it. He drove me nuts most of the time. But I liked him.

Well, the angel they’d seen that morning flashed his other side. At one point, he had a big rock that he was ready to throw at the 13-year-old–a big-enough rock that if he beaned him with it with enough velocity, it’d do some permanent damage. And the fire in his eyes suggested he was more than willing–if not able–to do just that.

Being an adult, I’ve seen people who have such polar extremes. Not everyone in their early teens has yet–and let’s face it, Oakville, Missouri is pretty sheltered. Seeing two people willing to fight, perhaps to the death, over something that warranted at most a minor scuffle represented a major loss of innocence, especially for the girls.

And the adults from the neighborhood wanted to just let the two kids fight it out and call the police when it ended. One of our adults intervened, broke up the fight, and seperated the two, and a group of people talked to each of them. We didn’t have any more problems of that sort with those two for the rest of the week.

On Wednesday, a couple of teenagers hopped onto the roof where we were holding our other VBS. They threw off a soccer ball and football that had been thrown up there. One of them also picked up a five-pound iron weight, attached to a belt–a crude gang weapon–that was up there. A number of kids were playing in front of the building. He pitched the weight off the top of the roof. He probably wasn’t thinking. And he probably didn’t care, to be honest. The weight came down off the 12-foot roof (he’d probably pitched it up a bit higher, so it may have fallen 18, even 20 feet) and hit a little girl on the head. It bounced off, like a rubber ball. She wasn’t hurt at all. She was scared because she didn’t know what happened, and because our kids were terrified–you know how kids are, they get scared when adults think there’s supposed to be something terribly wrong–but completely unharmed.

Those were just the major events of Tuesday and Wednesday. Enough other things happened both days to fill a book each.

End long digression. Wednesday night was a crescendo. Georgia-based worship leader Joey Nicholson was singing songs and leading us in worship, and his song selections seemed especially poignant that night. Emotions were running high and our kids were exhausted. Our kids were crying, hugging each other, encouraging each other… The total opposite of the all-too-common cold and impersonal church service. At some point, one of the boys in my subgroup–Matthew, he of 2-2-9 and a source of a lot of gray hair for me, prior to that day–walked up to the stage and knelt down to pray. And he stayed there. The rest of the kids stayed pretty much where they were, singing, crying, hugging, consoling, for about two songs. He was still up there alone, praying and it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to budge. Our pastor tried to inconspicuously walk up there. Well, that didn’t exactly work. He walked up, put his hand on his shoulder, and knelt down next to him, talking to him and praying with him. The next thing I knew, all 28 of our kids were up there with them. By the time I knew what was going on, I was one of about five adults still standing. We didn’t waste much time joining them. I ran my handheld camera as I walked up and knelt down, but then I turned it off. What was going on up there was between each of us and God. I wasn’t going to invade that.

We were up there for about an hour, praying for each other.

It was a Lutheran altar call, I guess. No decisions for Christ there–Lutherans believe that’s pointless, because it’s God who empowers us to come to Him–but there were plenty of people talking to God about what their present life looked like and asking God what He wanted them to be doing with it, instead of what they were currently doing with it.

With all due respect to Promise Keepers, 10 PK rallies can’t match the intensity of those few hours that night for the 43-or-so people who were there. Yeah, it was that significant.

That was the self-indulgent memories portion. My gift to those who went, pure and simple. The remaining 19 minutes were about the various ministries we participated in while in Belle Glade. I’ll make no bones about it–it was a propaganda piece. The group that organized our trip had been talking about pulling out of Belle Glade, making our trip the last one there. After seeing so many lives transformed, I wanted to convince them not to do that.

They’ve told us their plans to pull out are history. Mission #1 accomplished.

There were 38 of us who went on the trip, but according to LCMS records, our congregation has 1380 members. Obviously it’s not realistic to send 1,380 people, but a congregation our size can send more than 38. I wanted to make the people who didn’t go jealous, so they’d want to go next year.

Time will tell if that works. Right now it looks like it will.

And I had a fourth objective too. There are lots of churches in Belle Glade. Most of the churches we came in contact with weren’t doing much outreach. I don’t know why that is, and I’m not going to speculate. But here’s what happened: 38 white guys and gals from St. Louis came in for a week. They didn’t have a clue what they were doing. But every ministry we touched caught fire. By the end of the week, every time a group of us walked down the street, someone stopped them. “Where are you from?” And when we’d answer, “St. Louis,” the people would say, “We’ve heard about you.” Then they’d tell us what we’d been doing. Then they’d thank us.

So the question in my mind was, if 38 St. Louisans can come down and spend a week and lots of great things happen, what can the churches that are down there do the other 51 weeks out of the year?

To my knowledge, the video’s been shown at two different churches, one in Belle Glade and one in Wellington, an affluent community a half hour away.

I hope they’re insanely jealous too.

Not that any of that was going through my mind as I watched. No. I was noticing how the audio needed to be normalized, and how a few of the shots desperately needed either to have been shot on a tripod or a healthy dose of post-production image stabilization, and how awful the lighting was and how nice it would have been to be able to do some post-production color correction.

Powerful? Sure. Worthy of winning a Telly? No way.

But the media director at church just told me to win a Telly. She didn’t tell me when. So there’s always next year.

But if we go back next year and I make a video about it and we win a Telly, I’ll betcha the Telly still isn’t the highlight of my year.

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