Saturday, November 14, 2020

ENOUGH!

"... Hear now, you house of David!  Is it not enough to try the patience of humans?  Will you try the patience of my God also?"  (from Isaiah 7:13 New International Version)

At the outset, I want to tell you how difficult it is for me to write and post this piece!  In fact, it's so stressful and difficult that I can't find the right words.  But it's something I just have to do!  The prophet Jeremiah essentially said at one point he wanted to just shut up and not do any more prophesying, but he said the word of the Lord was "like fire shut up in my bones" (see Jeremiah 20:9) and he just couldn't stop speaking.  I'm not saying this is "the word of the Lord" but this is something I feel so passionately that I'm almost weeping as I write.  I posted one word on my Facebook Timeline last Sunday:  "ENOUGH".  On Monday I posted:  "STILL: ENOUGH".  I don't think too many people "got" it!  On Tuesday I came across something as I was searching through the computer.  It affected me so much I had to post it.  Here it is:  " 'If you judge people, you have no time to love them.'  (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)".

To try to cut to the chase, this is a post supportive of President Donald Trump at this time.  I will say up front I fully buy the statement that there was major voter fraud in this election, and also that Joe Biden is not the President-Elect.  Maybe, just maybe Joe Biden will be the President-Elect in three or four weeks, and maybe just maybe he will be Inaugurated in January.  I don't know.  God knows.  But there needs to be a thorough investigation, recounts, legal challenges, court decisions, etc.  

Now, here's why I loved the Mother Teresa quote.  It's ironic that liberals (or is it "progressives"?) are supposedly all for "inclusion" and "diversity" and "questioning authority" and all that sort of thing, but when it comes to Donald Trump and when it comes to white evangelicals, especially white evangelical males, and especially white evangelical ordained ministers (like me!) there isn't any "inclusion" or "diversity" or "tolerance" or anything!  There is truly so much on my heart!  I scribbled down a bunch of notes this week.  Now, I'm trying to put them all together, and I think it's going to be just about impossible.  I seriously think if I had the time I could write at least a one hundred page book with all the notes and thoughts I have!  But, sorry, it's going to have to be on this post and if it's disjointed and confusing and doesn't flow well; as my friend Bill Lincoln would say, "Oh well!"

I feel like the Apostle Paul when he wrote the book of Second Corinthians.  He was also "all over the place" and he was on the one hand rather harsh, yet on the other hand worried about how he'd be received, and obviously emotionally and spiritually torn about what he was writing.  Many, many of my evangelical clergy colleagues never and I mean never talk about politics.  Neither I nor their church folks have any idea who they vote for, or where they stand politically.  They feel it's best that way.  And, maybe it is.  I have other evangelical clergy friends who are liberals (or is it "progressives"?).  That probably surprises you, because there's a whole stereotype about evangelical ministers being fanatical right-wing zealots.  Now, I do have many evangelical clergy colleagues who are conservative Republicans.  My openly liberal minister friends and my openly conservative minister friends are not shy to boldly proclaim their political beliefs, in or out of the pulpit.  At one time, circa thirty plus years ago, I was what could be called "a right-wing nut"!  I did have a "Pat Robertson For President" sign by the front door at my residence in 1988. It doesn't get much more "right wing" than that!  But over the past fifteen years particularly, I've not written or spoken much about politics.  I don't pastor a church anymore, but I do teach adult classes and preach publicly from time to time at the church where my wife and I are members.  There, I really don't say much about politics to anyone.  I don't want to be "a stumbling block" to others.  On the internet over the past few years I have only written five or six political pieces.  Some were critical of Donald Trump and some were positive about Donald Trump.  I think the best one of all is a blog post entitled, "DONALD TRUMP - GP/AJ" in which I tried to explain why people like Donald Trump and how his personality can best be understood.  That was the last blog piece I posted, on May 30, 2020.

Like many conservatives I listen to Rush Limbaugh, and I love the guy.  But I also devour National Public Radio every weekend.  I love "The Moth Radio Hour" (and I've actually been a speaker on "The Moth Radio Hour". )  I love "This American Life".  I love "Snap Judgment".  I love "Selected Shorts".  I listen to "The New Yorker Radio Hour".  It has a very progressive bias.  And one of my all time favorite National Public Radio shows is "On Being" with Krista Tippett.  I spend Sunday early mornings with Krista Tippett and her guests every week!  I also have theologically liberal and politically liberal clergy friends.  Don't have a heart attack, but some of them are gay.  Do I agree with them on "everything"?  OF COURSE NOT!  But I still consider them friends.

 I am so sick of the stereotyping of conservative white males.  I am so sick of the stereotyping of evangelical white male pastors!  Read Mother Teresa's quote again.  Do you see why I liked it?

 Yes, I could write a one hundred page book but I won't.  I am devastated by the hate and insensitivity and intolerance by the left wing folks on social media right now.  People like me do not deserve to be talked to like we're stupid and unwanted.

Ironically, I really didn't like Donald Trump when he entered the race four years ago.  I wrote a blog piece (which I later took down) in which I urged evangelicals to not vote for him.  I was grieved by the nasty things he said about John McCain and by his making fun of a disabled reporter.  I'm still grieved by those things.  BUT, when it came down to voting in November of 2016 there was absolutely no way I could vote for Hillary Clinton!  I voted for Trump in '16 and '20.  He hasn't been perfect, but overall, I think he's done a good job. As far as how he's handled COVID-19, although the media portrays him as some sort of sinister murderer from Transylvania, I think he's done a good job.  I may lose a lot of friends over this, but I would have handled COVID-19 about the same way were I the President, and I'm serious.

If I'm unfriended and reviled and hated by many because of this, so be it!  I really don't hate anybody, but this is what I think and how I feel.  In 2000, we didn't know who won the election for weeks.  In a way it was easy for me that year because I voted for a Third Party candidate, so iI ryeally didn't care!  But as I recall the national attitude about who would be the ultimate winner, Gore or Bush, was kind of like "Whatever!"  Am I saying 2000 was "the good old days"?  Yes!  Nobody was off the wall with hate the way people are today! 

Joe Biden is not the President-Elect.  There has been serious fraud in this election.  Things need to be investigated and if necessary, a final legal decision will have to be rendered.  At that point, the country will "go with" whoever the winner is.  But for now, PLEASE... Can we be patient, quiet, and reasonable for a few weeks (and I'm mostly talking to liberals and Democrats)?  Can we just let the process be worked out?  And on both sides, can we stop acting like jerks?

Suggestion:  If you want to "fire" at me, at least give it twenty-four hours so it will be thoughtful and not merely reactive.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

DONALD TRUMP - GP/AJ

"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."  (Hebrews 4:12)

First of all:  Believe it or not this is not primarily intended to be a political piece.  In fact, it is not intended to be a political piece at all; but as soon as you mention Donald Trump, I guess you have to assume it will be at least somewhat political.  And secondly, maybe the timing of this is not the best.  I am posting it during the period of great controversy and anger about the killing of Mr. George Floyd by a police officer who was behaving in a very violent, cruel, and insane manner. The timing is coincidental; it has nothing to do with that terrible event.

I voted for Donald Trump. 

Since the day after Trump won in November of 2016, I've been asked directly or indirectly many times how a committed Christian like myself could possibly vote for Donald Trump?  I have a relative who has many times posted lines such as, "I have friends and family who voted for Donald Trump? Can you PLEASE tell me HOW you can support this sick and evil and demented and vile man???!!!"  She's the most dramatic, but in fact many of my Facebook friends over the past few years have asked that question or pretty much dared those of us to explain how we can be such dupes, fools, and hypocrites as to support this person?  I've thought about those questions, challenges, and dares many times and I have mentally thought about what I might write as a response.  I will spare you my tales of woe, but I have not had access to a desktop computer at home for over nine years.  When I do a blog post, I normally do it on a public library desktop computer.  Well, even when there wasn't a COVID-19 crisis, on Saturdays I was usually on the library computers writing handout materials for my Adult Sunday School class or doing lesson plans for my Adult Sunday School class.  Once in awhile I would try to make time to write a blog piece at the library.  The last one in early March was about my skepticism about all the COVID-19 news and warnings we were starting to hear.  You know how that all turned out!  Yeah, for the most part I was dead wrong on that one!  But this may well end up being the most controversial and alienating piece I've ever written on the blog!  (Incidentally, I'm writing on the desktop computer at my son and daughter's apartment.)  I thought a lot about this as I drove over here. "People are absolutely going to think I'm crazy when they read this,"  I thought,  "They'll say, 'He really HAS gone over the edge. There's no logic in what he says.  He's CRAZY!'"  And they might.  You might!  Nevertheless, I've been "sitting on this" for two or three years and today I'm "letting 'er rip!"

In order to understand how I view Donald Trump and specifically the Donald Trump PERSONALITY, you have to indulge me and hear all about Quinn Swarthmore.  Now, Quinn Swarthmore is not his real name.  I wish I could use his real name, but six years ago at the time Quinn Swarthmore died, I wrote a lengthy piece which was mostly a tribute to Quinn Swarthmore.  I did mention in the piece that at one point in his later life, Quinn Swarthmore was sentenced to a couple years in federal prison.  Within twenty-four hours, I heard from a very angry family member.  He insisted I take my piece down.  Frankly, I was shocked and hurt, and I could write a whole other piece about that sometime, but I did take it down.  But, this is why I have to give him a fake name.  And for people who know the real name of Quinn Swarthmore, if you want to comment about this post, please do not use his real name or real initials.  Quinn Swarthmore, or to be more accurate, The Rev. Quinn Swarthmore, was an admired Assemblies of God minister who had a very strong and charismatic manner and personality.  At first, I was just an ordinary person (who had graduated from Bible College) attending the church he pastored in Massachusetts.  After a couple of years, he brought me onto the pastoral staff of the church; I became Licensed and Ordained in the Assemblies of God, and married my wife Mary Ann.  Quinn Swarthmore was complicated.  He was both paradoxical and complicated.  In early 2016 I was attending a funeral service where I ran into the first wife of Quinn Swarthmore.  I will call her Melissa.  He was married to Melissa during the entire time I served as an assistant pastor under Swarthmore which was mid-1981 through the end of 1986.  (He divorced her five years later, remarried, and eventually divorced the second wife.)  I know it's not customary to laugh and kid around at a funeral service, but I spoke to Melissa prior to the actual service.  "You know who Donald Trump reminds me of?" I asked, chuckling in a silly manner, "Quinn Swarthmore!"  Melissa immediately burst out laughing and with a big smile said, "Yes, Quinn and Donald Trump are very much alike!"  

That's why I kind of think I understand Donald Trump; because Quinn Swarthmore and Donald Trump are very much alike!  There is so much I could write about this!  I could write thousands and thousands of words.  I could literally write a book about it.  (Maybe someday, I will write a book about it!)  Many people say that Donald Trump is a narcissist.  Maybe.  But I think it's actually much more complicated than that.  He and Quinn Swarthmore had the exact same personalities and behavior, and I do mean exact!  The first time I met Quinn Swarthmore, before I was attending the church he pastored, he struck me as a confident young lawyer who'd knock on your door and with a very forward, confident, and almost arrogant approach say, "I'm Quinn Swarthmore and I'm running for the Massachusetts State Senate!"  A politician.  That's how he struck me.  He also could have been imagined to be some sort of young executive in a growing high-tech company.  He did not strike me as acting like a minister or a pastor at all.  He was a captivating speaker in the pulpit, and a very motivational speaker.  Bluntly, his sermons were mostly very simplistic.  They weren't very deep.  I could frankly put together a much more scholarly and informative sermon.  But he was very entertaining and so upbeat and confident that his sermons made you feel good.  One time privately Quinn Swarthmore told me about the first time he sat down with his church board at the place he'd previously pastored in New Jersey.  A board member tried to be slightly intimidating to him.  Swarthmore said he got out of his chair, went right up to the board member, grabbed the board member's tie, and tightened the knot so hard against his adam's apple that he became very uncomfortable.  Swarthmore told the board member he was the pastor and how things were going to be from then on.  The board member backed off!  I saw that side of Quinn Swarthmore many times.  If someone became confrontational toward him, it was all over!  He'd think nothing of dressing that person down and insulting them to the point they'd slink out of the church facility and never come back.  Yes, that was one side of Quinn Swarthmore.  There was another side.  I've seen him care about and help so many hurting people.  If you were a single mother of several little kids on a limited income and you attended Quinn Swarthmore's church, you had it made.  If you needed the electric bill paid, it was paid.  If you needed a month's rent paid, it was paid.  If your kids needed new clothes and new shoes, money was no object, and it happened.  And, if you were being harassed by a cruel ex-husband, the ex could probably expect a visit from Quinn Swarthmore.  Five minutes after that little visit started, the ex would be humbly apologizing and promising to never cause a problem again; and pretty much that's how it would be.  Quinn Swarthmore cared deeply about suffering people in the Third World.  He made many missions trips to destitute countries.  He didn't just stay in nice hotels.  Usually he was out in remote areas living in very rough conditions and doing all he could to not only "tell them about Jesus" but offer practical help, much the way Franklin Graham does, albeit on a much smaller scale.


I owe a couple of things to Quinn Swarthmore.  First, I owe him my life.  In 2009, "the bottom fell out" in my life.  I was suicidal.  I was very unhealthy mentally and spiritually.  I put out an email message saying I was taking myself completely off the internet and pretty much just going to become a recluse who confided in and trusted no one.  Less than an hour later, I received a phone call from Quinn Swarthmore.  By that time he was in his late sixties.  He had served time in prison and in a halfway house.  He had worked a secular job for awhile but was in such poor health he had to retire. He lived in an apartment complex for the elderly.  The guy on the phone that day was not the bully choking a board member by the tie!  He was very tender.  He asked me what happened and what was wrong.  I poured out my heart to him that day.  He listened and spoke words of counsel to me that were better than you'd get from Dr. Phil or anyone else.  Yes, I consider that he saved my life.  And in a sense he saved my life way back in 1981, too.  I was out of Bible College, but I was mostly not working.  I'd get some crummy job that would last a week or two, then be unemployed for many weeks, then get another crummy job that would last a week or two.  I was teaching Adult Sunday School at Quinn Swarthmore's church.  But I was very much lacking in confidence.  I was around twenty-six years old.  I looked thirty, but inside, I felt like a scared sixteen-year-old.  I did terribly on job interviews.  Listen, I still do terribly on job interviews!  Unlike most people, I'm not afraid of public speaking.  But I'm terrified of one-on-one stuff.  Why do I tell you all this?  Well, let me tell you about a phone interview I had with a pastor in those days.  I bombed the,"Tell me a little about yourself" thing.  He actually said to me, as he totally rejected me, "I have to prove all things and hold fast that which is good!"  (For you Bible illiterates, that's a line from the Apostle Paul.)  In other words, he said, "You're a loser, pal!  Good bye!"  Quinn Swarthmore did something for me that no one else would have.  He hired me.  He did tell me some of the lay leadership did have some reservations about me.  He said he told them, "I don't think anybody's ever really given him a chance.  I think with a little coaching and direction he will do a good job."  It wasn't always easy!  I was called into his office and chewed out many times.  But less than six years after I started there I became the pastor of my own church.  I've given hundreds and hundreds of sermons, performed weddings and funerals, all kinds of "stuff".  It never would have happened if he hadn't believed in me.

Now, I did already tell you,  Quinn did commit a federal crime.  He did divorce his wife.  He did go to prison.  He did get his Ordination yanked.  The funny thing is, today I could bring twenty people who knew Quinn Swarthmore into a room and ask them to tell us what they thought of him.  Each of them would tell you graphically that he was a liar, a manipulator, in love with himself, egotistical, cruel, a poor excuse for a pastor, and a guy who did such damage to them they'll never fully recover.  Then, I could bring another twenty people into the same room.  They would tell you, the man who made the greatest difference in their lives was Quinn Swarthmore.  Some would say it's because of him they're on the mission field today.  Some would say it's because of him they're in the ministry today.  Some would say he helped them to find Jesus, to get off drugs and alcohol;  some would say because of him they came back to church after being away for many years, that he saved their marriage, that his counsel brought healing from depression and suicide- does that one sound familiar?  In other words, that Quinn Swarthmore was either the poorest excuse of a man you could ever imagine or the finest most caring man you could ever imagine.  Or was he both?

My title for this is DONALD TRUMP - GP/AJ.  I could just as easily have called it QUINN SWARTHMORE - GP/AJ.   What does GP/AJ stand for?   GP stands for Great Person.  AJ stands for Annoying Jerk.  

Was Quinn Swarthmore an annoying jerk?  Much of the time, absolutely yes!  Was Quinn Swarthmore a Great Person?  Much of the time, absolutely yes!  I don't know what a professional psychologist would say is the clinical name for this personality- so I'm calling it Great Person/Annoying Jerk!

Did you ever read the story of Samson in the Bible?  It's found in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.  People are always asking, "How can evangelical Christians be so stupid as to think God would call a profane, selfish, lustful, manipulative jerk to be the political and spiritual leader?"  Well, you will have to ask God that one, because in the Book of Judges, God called Samson who was profane, selfish, lustful, manipulative, and a jerk to be both the political and spiritual leader of the Israelites!  And I do think God called the profane and selfish and lustful and manipulative and jerky Donald Trump to be the President!  Remember the twenty and twenty I talked about for Quinn Swarthmore?  I guarantee it's the same. You could find twenty who really know Donald Trump who could not be any more negative about him, and you could find twenty who really know Donald Trump who could not be any more positive about him.

Yes, I've been thinking about this post for two or three years and today I have finally spit it out!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

JANIS C. AND JENNIE M. AND THE VIRUS SCARE

"...I am the Lord that healeth thee."  (from Exodus 15:16)

I spent several days this past week being quite depressed- well, to be more accurate, I was a mixture of exasperated, stunned, discouraged, surprised, and deeply saddened.  I guess it's understandable that if you mix all five of those "ingredients" together, you'll get one outcome:  depressed!  My depression was about the coronavirus.  (I am not even sure if I spelled the name of the virus correctly!)  Please don't misunderstand me.  It's not that I was so fearful I would become sick from this virus that I became depressed.  Rather, it's that so many people around the world are so obsessed over the news of this virus.  There's talk of closing the schools, closing businesses and offices, and just having everybody sealed up in their residences in a state of panic while they listen for instructions from Big Brother!  Yes, it seems a lot more like the fictional 1984 of Orwell's book than like the United States of America in the early twenty-first century!

It all got "ramped up" really fast!

Even the "Super Tuesday" primary election day seems like it was maybe three months ago.  The media overall has not handled this well.  Sensible talk-show host Dan Rea on Nightside on Boston's WBZ radio a few days ago said he's disturbed to hear announcers on C.N.N.  gleefully announcing, "We have three more cases of the coronavirus in America!"  On the matter of this virus, Rea truly lived up to his reputation as "The Voice of Reason".

Online, clergy are being asked, "What changes do you plan to make at your church because of the coronavirus?"  Some people are recommending cancelling church services, or at least enacting strong restrictions such as no Communion services, no coffee hours, no "greet one another" opportunities during the service, and of course cleaning the church facility as if it's a typhoid ward!  It's gotten me thinking that as much as I miss pastoring, I'm glad I'm not a pastor right now- because, other than perhaps being a bit more careful about cleaning, I'd probably make no changes to how I'd normally conduct church services and activities!

I was so happy that I almost started crying when Associate Pastor Janis Collette at Bread of Life Church in Westminster this morning opened the service by saying, "I know this probably isn't politically correct but why don't you hug someone or shake someone's hand this morning!"  The funny part is, I've never been very much for hugging or even much of a hand-shaker, and I've been teased for years about being reserved, standoffish, and even unfriendly; but after all the gloom and doom talk in the media this week, I've actually been wanting to be hugged at church!

I'm hesitant to write this next part, because I could easily be misunderstood and severely criticized, but here goes:  Sometime around fifteen years ago, I visited an older woman in the hospital twice who was very sick.  I don't know exactly what her diagnosis was, but she had some very serious and contagious virus.  She was in an isolation room.  There was a sign literally listing warnings about being in the room, being exposed to her, touching her, etc.  I won't use her last name, but just about anybody who lived in the Framingham, Massachusetts area twenty or thirty years ago will know who I mean when I state that it was Jennie M. who was a very prominent social conservative.  She wrote regular columns in the local newspaper.  She was featured from time to time on Boston area radio talk shows.  She was a particularly active and vocal opponent of abortion.  She was controversial.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s she'd actively attended First Assembly of God of Framingham where I'd pastored.  She later left our church and joined her husband at a large Roman Catholic church in Framingham.  Jennie's husband was in recovery and was active in the Knights of Columbus.  She felt she should honor her husband and "go back to the Catholic church" of her youth.  By the time I was visiting her in the hospital, her husband had passed away.  She told me she became very disappointed in the Catholic church and left it.  She lamented that she felt she really had no church to go to, although she loved God.  Jennie M. was viewed by the MetroWest community as this politically and socially fierce and scary person!  In reality she had a public image and a private life.  In her private life she was a quiet, humble, and reserved woman.  Despite those warnings in the hospital room, I twice went in to see her, talked to her, and laid hands on her and prayed for her.  She cautioned me that I should not do that.  But I saw a frightened, fragile, sick, hurting, and needy person, and I was only too glad to visit her and pray for her.  I never told anybody about those visits until now.  I never told my wife or my kids.  I did not want them to worry.  I never got sick, and they never got sick.  I know why I did not get sick.  The answer is:  God.  Obviously He wanted me to minister to Jennie M. and pray for her.  (She passed away several years after that.)

Now, please don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying I'm invincible!  In 1991, our whole family got terribly sick with the flu!  That was the worst flu I've ever had in my life and I hope to never  be that sick again!  Recently, in December 2019 and January 2020, I became very sick with a terrible cold.  My daughter Rachel got the same bad cold at the same time.  During that illness Rachel proclaimed, "This ain't no cold!" and I heartily agreed.  I was convinced we each had the flu.  I did not miss any days of work at my secular job.  (I know, I know, you can all scream at me!)  I did skip church one Sunday as I was just so sick!  About three weeks ago, I had my annual physical examination with my primary care physician.  I talked to him about this recent sickness and told him I was convinced it was the flu.  He told me it was not the flu but that this winter a severe cold was going around that typically lasted three to five weeks and was very debilitating.  That's what Rachel and I had.  So, no I'm not invincible!

I can see being a bit more diligent about cleaning and disinfecting.  And, the advice about staying home if you're sick is wise; and again, it's true I wrongly went to work sick.  But I can't see shutting the country down and proclaiming a  George Orwell style 1984.  I'm going to be a little cautious and that's it.  A little cautious.  Those who get the coronavirus have at least a ninety-five percent chance of making a full recovery from it.  If  I get sick from it, I expect to make a full recovery.  But frankly, if I don't, I'm not all that worried about it.  I'm sixty-five-years old.  I've struggled financially for most of my life, including now, but I've known the Lord Jesus Christ as my Personal Savior and Lord for almost fifty years, and have been privileged  to serve as a Minister of the Gospel!  My friend Pastor John S. went home to be with the Lord a week ago.  If  I get that virus and die, then I'm going to be with the Lord in Heaven and I'll be more than fine.

To anyone who will listen I say:  Sure, use the disinfectants, and be a little more cautious than you'd normally be, but please don't go crazy over this coronavirus, and for Heaven's sake, don't stop having church services!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

RAUL RODRIGUEZ'S REVOLTING REALITY

"Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy."  (Proverbs 31:8-9 New King James Version)

Exactly one week ago today, I heard a true story on a radio broadcast that upset me to the core of my being.  I have no words to express the sadness and bewilderment I felt after hearing of Raul Rodriguez's plight.  His "revolting reality" (my words) has been going on for almost two years.  I am very surprised I knew nothing of it until February 15, 2020.

I will write the details below, but for better or for worse, I felt I needed to begin with what could be called a "Disclaimer".  Frankly, in this hostile and supercharged political environment, I'm writing this piece with fear and trembling.  I have many friends on the political left- some of them way over on the left.  And I have many friends on the political right- some of them way over on the right.  Many of you know I'm a registered Republican and generally I tend to flow much more right than left; but I refuse to live my life in isolation from those with whom I disagree with most of the time.  On the one hand, I voted for Donald Trump, and I expect to do so again in November.  On the other hand, I sometimes disagree with President Trump, and I listen to a lot of broadcasts on Public Radio.  Yes, most of what you'll hear on Public Radio has a definite liberal/progressive bias.  However, there are some really good programs on Public Radio, especially the storytelling programs.  And, some of you may know I've been a featured speaker on Public Radio's The Moth Radio Hour.  I don't consider Mr. Raul Rodriguez's story and problem a conservative issue or a liberal/progressive issue or a pro-Trump issue or an anti-Trump issue.  So, bluntly, I ask those of you who may become very upset at me for what I write here, please don't bother with hostile or condescending comments or emails because I won't pay any attention to them.

Public Radio's This American Life on the weekend of February 15-16 featured as its "Act 2" presentation the story of Raul Rodriguez which they entitled, "Nowhere Man".

Raul Rodriguez is of Mexican heritage.  He lives in south Texas, not far from the border.  He was raised by an Aunt in south Texas.  His parents live in Mexico.  As a child, he'd always hated living away from his parents, but it was explained to him that his mother had slipped into America to give birth to Raul so he could grow up as an American citizen and have a better life than she and her husband had.  He's in his early fifties.  He's a U.S. Navy veteran.  Mr. Rodriguez worked for many years as an Officer with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.  He had an exemplary record, both in the Navy and with Customs and Border Patrol.  Rodriguez actually was sent to Washington, DC at one point to be specially honored for exemplary service.  He was known as "strictly by the book" regarding those crossing the border and residing in the States illegally.  He even turned in a friend at one point.  I don't use profanity, so I won't write words most of his friends and coworkers would use to describe him, but he was very tough and didn't let anybody get away with anything.

One day in the Spring of 2018, a couple of V.I.P.s from Customs and Border Patrol showed up at the local office where he worked.  He was asked to come in and meet with them.  To his shock, he was asked to surrender his gun and badge and was walked out the door.  He could not understand what he could possibly have done to cause this to happen!  A couple of weeks later, he was called in to a special meeting with some men from the Customs and Border Patrol hierarchy.  They produced a Mexican birth certificate and stated it was Raul's birth certificate!  The date and year of birth was different from the date Raul had always known as his birthday.  But the paper contained his name and his parents' names.  Mr. Rodriguez had a proper U.S. birth certificate which said he was born in Brownsville, Texas.  He'd had that birth certificate for probably forty years or more.  There had to be some mistake.  Arrangements were made for Raul's father to be brought in from Mexico to explain what was going on.  Tearfully,  his father said the Mexican birth certificate was valid.  His Dad explained the whole story of Raul being born in America was false; that he and his wife had cooked the whole thing up to give Raul a better life.  Raul Rodriguez was shocked, devastated, confused, and deeply hurt.

His wife Anita is an American citizen.  Raul felt he could at least apply for a green card to become a legal alien.  That process took over a year for him, and he was turned down.  He has an attorney and his situation is going through the appeals process, but it's very possible this U.S. Navy veteran; this exemplary U.S. Border Patrol agent, will eventually be deported to Mexico.  Of course, Mexican drug cartel folks would just love to have the opportunity to kill a former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer- so deporting him could actually be very dangerous and even fatal.

Raul Rodriguez is literally a man without a country.

I've asked myself why I identify so much with Raul Rodriguez.  Why my heart aches for him?  Ten years ago this month, I was informed by my superiors that the little struggling church I was pastoring was closing and that I needed to step out of the ministry because I was emotionally and spiritually unhealthy.  (They weren't wrong.  I was emotionally and spiritually unhealthy.  The church had declined to the point that by early 2010 only about fifteen were showing up on Sunday mornings and some weeks it wasn't even that many.)   I was pretty well-known and pretty well thought of by a lot of people in Framingham, Massachusetts where I pastored.  I wrote guest columns for the local newspaper.  Twenty years ago, I was prominently featured on the local Christian radio station.  Suddenly, everything fell apart.  It's all way too personal to write about.  There are family members and friends who'd be upset if I wrote any more than that- so I won't.  I haven't pastored since them.  I've worked frustrating low paying jobs.  In the early days of my own "revolting reality" I was suicidal and under a psychiatrist's care.  Thank God, today I'm much happier and much healthier than I was in 2010.  I teach an Adult class at Bread of Life Church where Mary Ann and I worship.  I have a lot of good friends, and I feel in my own way, I contribute much to the cause of the Kingdom of God.  But that pain and loss experience never really goes away.  It's made me hyper-sensitive to a guy like Raul Rodriguez.  Twenty years ago, his story might have made no impact on me at all.  For the past week, I've thought about it constantly.

I don't know what can be done to help Raul Rodriguez.  But I will say bluntly that what he's going through is not right and something's got to be done!

I'm asking you to post the link to this blog post on your own social media and perhaps to even email the link to some close friends.  I believe that if a lot of us do that, eventually someone who can genuinely help Raul Rodriguez will step up and become involved.

To read about Raul Rodriguez's situation in The Atlantic Monthly magazine, go to the link below:
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/02/a-former-border-agent-at-risk-of-deportation/606418

To hear the podcast on This American Life, go to the link below:
https://www.thisamericanlife.org/694/get-back-to-where-you-once-belonged/act-two-3

Sunday, February 9, 2020

SHOULD RUSH LIMBAUGH HAVE RECEIVED THAT PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL?

"Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all."  (Proverbs 28:5 New King James Version)

Last Monday afternoon (February 3, 2020) I saw a post that a Facebook friend had shared;  it indicated that Rush Limbaugh announced he has Stage 4 lung cancer.  That news stunned and saddened me.  A couple of hours later I saw a post on Facebook from Franklin Graham saying he'd be praying for Rush and inviting people to post comments.  Thousands of comments had already been posted.  I posted one quick comment:  "Praying for Rush".

The news of Rush Limbaugh's cancer brought back a flood of memories.  Although his national radio program began in August of 1988 I believe it began to be broadcast in the Boston area somewhere around 1990 or 1991.  His radio program in those days (in my opinion) was much better than it is today.  It was different.  It was entertaining.  It was funny.  And it was addictive.  I'd never heard of a radio talk show that played music until I listened to Rush.  There were a bunch of "update theme songs".  There was the "Animal Rights Update - Born Free";  there was the "Condom Update - Up, Up, and Away";  there was the "Peace Update - Una Paloma Blanca";  and there was the "Homeless Update - Ain't Got No Home"Ain't Got No Home was done by Clarence "Frogman" Henry.  My kids were little in those days, and they loved "Ain't Got No Home" and would happily sing along. They also got excited (as did I) when we heard the sound of The Pretenders' My City Was Gone which was the opening music of the show each day.  I know this will sound "off the wall" to a lot of you, but those days of the early 1990s were, to borrow a line from Charles Dickens, "The best of times and the worst of times."  I cherish those days when my kids were all well under age 12 - cute little kids who liked to have fun.  I also cringe when I think of how bad things were financially for us in those days.  In the pre-1994 years, we were a one car family.  Our family finances were, well, terrible!  I remember the constant financial struggles and a lot of fear and depression, honestly.  Yes, we were Christians.  Yes, we did pray.  Yes, we did read the Bible. And, yes, the Lord saw us through those days, but they were extremely difficult!  I am a huge radio listener, and I'll tell you frankly that Rush Limbaugh in the afternoon and Larry Glick late at night over the airwaves put smiles on my face and comfort in my heart on many days that I was sad and scared.

Last Monday night, WBZ's Dan Rea on his Nightside program said he was sad that so many folks had already posted very hateful and cruel things about Rush Limbaugh and his diagnosis on social media.  I hadn't seen any of it at that point, but I sure did see a lot of negative posts over the next few days.  One post included probably about fifteen audio and visual clips of Rush Limbaugh through the years saying some very controversial, and in some cases, very cruel and inappropriate things.  Honestly, some of 'em weren't really too bad, but some of 'em were!  And there were written quotes.  One written quote had him saying something to the effect that there is absolutely no evidence smoking causes lung cancer.  And, there was a lot of cruel hatred in the responses to that one.

Wow.

Now, here's how I see that stuff.  Rush has been doing the national show since 1988.  He is bombastic.  He can be controversial.  He likes to get things stirred up.  And in doing so, did he say some things he probably shouldn't have?  Yeah.  But here's where I relate.  During my years of pastoring I preached hundreds of sermons, almost all of which were taped.  (Most of them are on cassette tapes, but if you can get hold of a cassette player you can still listen.)  And, I wrote a number of  Letters to the Editor to a few newspapers and wrote a number of guest columns for the MetroWest Daily News.  And I've been writing this blog since 2006.  Have I ever said anything during a sermon which was inappropriate and could even be considered hateful, insensitive or improper?  Yes.  And what about similar things in my writing to the newspapers and on the blog?  Yes.  Frankly, would I want some enemies parading all that stuff around in an arrogant manner and claiming this is who and what Bob Baril is all about?  I absolutely would not want that, nor do I think it would be fair or reasonable.

It's easy to kick someone when they're down!  Many of you know I pastored a church which closed ten years ago, and that I nearly had a complete mental breakdown and was under a psychiatrist's care.  I had to take low paying jobs which a lot of people probably would have said were "beneath" me.  I remember one day around 2011 or 2012 that I was handing out leaflets near the entrance of a big box store in Framingham. (The flyers were for the store's Optical Dept.)  One well known very liberal female political activist in the community confronted me and verbally let me have it.  She told me I had lost that pastorate and my stature in the community and was reduced to handing out flyers in a big box store because it just proved what a bad and pathetic excuse for a human being I was.  Can you imagine how I felt after that?  Well, it stays with you and you don't ever want to kick someone when they're down.

There's so much more I could say about Rush.  When he was a very young man, he experienced a number of personal failures.  Yet, he became very famous and a millionaire several times over.  He became an inspiration to a number of marginalized people, including me.  And, he became an inspiration to a number of people in "blue states" who are often the only conservative on their job or in their family or in their social group.  He made those people feel like they weren't jerks, nor were they bad and pathetic excuses for human beings, but that they mattered and their opinions mattered.  My father-in-law and I are very different people and don't have much in common.  But we finally bonded many years ago over (you guessed it) Rush Limbaugh!  Just the fact that it brought me closer to my father-in-law "Don" meant a lot to him and to me.

Now, I know there have been some great humanitarians and real "heavy hitters" who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the past.  Is Rush Limbaugh on their level?  I don't know.  But I do know President Trump thinks he is and wanted to honor Rush.  I know many people will not agree with me, but Trump's reasoning is good enough for me.

The New Testament teaches we are to love our enemies and pray for them.  Check it out.  It does.  Now, I suppose a lot of you will say, "Well, Rush didn't love his enemies and he didn't pray for his enemies so why should I do that for him?!"  The answer is that number one, you really don't know if Rush did or didn't love and pray for his enemies.  But, number two, even if he didn't, you're still to do it because Jesus said to do it!  And even if Rush didn't deserve that award and even if he's a so-in-so (I don't think he is, but even if I'm wrong) there's no doubt Rush was touched and moved by receiving that medal and touched and moved by the fact that he has cancer and may not make it.  I hope and pray he does live but he may not.  But I believe Rush will think about all this stuff, and will go on to be an even better person.

I didn't like losing my position, and being disgraced.  I hated passing out leaflets and being told what a failure and a nothing I was.  But all of that stuff (and I hate to admit this) made me a better person.

You disagree?  Well read that verse from Proverbs 28 that I quoted above- read it again - and think about it.  Amen.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

DON IMUS' DEATH - "AWFUL NEWS"

"A time to be born, and a time to die; ..."  (from Ecclesiastes 3:2)

I heard the news last night (December 27, 2019) that retired radio personality Don Imus had died at a College Station, Texas hospital earlier in the day.  I may be taking a risk in admitting this, but I was a regular listener to the Imus in the Morning radio show for many years and a fan of Don Imus and his cast of characters who joined him every weekday morning.  I remember the first time I listened to Imus in the Morning.  It was in the late summer of 1999.  Boston's "Smooth Jazz 96.9" at that time was in the transitional phase of completely changing its format and call letters to becoming a 24/7 FM Talk station.  (And, seven years ago, they changed formats again, this time becoming a music station that caters to the taste of young adults.)  The very first talk program 96.9 introduced was Imus in the Morning (which originated at WFAN in New York City and was syndicated to stations all over the country).  On that late summer day, I was driving my daughter Amy to a medical procedure at Faulker Hospital in Boston's Jamaica Plain section.  I'm not sure why I turned it on, but I became a pretty regular listener over the next eight years.

Don Imus, like many radio personalities had a certain schtick.  He usually dressed like a cowboy.  (I know that because the show could also be watched on C-SPAN television.)  He was surly and rude; always sounding annoyed and irritated.  There was a lot of banter with several other guys on the program.  You couldn't listen to Imus without hearing the word "awful" used by him (and by his colleagues) a couple dozen times each morning.  That new restaurant Imus tried was "awful".  That Giants football game was "awful".  The State of the Union address was "awful".  A popular Top 40 hit song was "awful".  You get the point.  Another word commonly used by the Imus gang, and always stated slowly, was "Nobody".  Who liked that concert last night?  "Nobody".  Who liked the front page story in the New York News?  "Nobody".  Who watches Public Television?  "Nobody".  Again, you get the point.  So, why did so many people listen, and why was Imus in the Morning almost addictive?

One reason is: Variety.  It wasn't just a group of macho middle-aged (and old) men chatting and fooling around and acting like a bunch of kids in a Junior High cafeteria.  There were great guest interviews.  Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was a regular on the program, and her interviews were actually quite "highbrow" and cerebral at times.  During such interviews, it was obvious that Don Imus was really very intelligent and well-read.  Senator John McCain was also a regular guest on Imus in the Morning, and his interviews were as good as anything you'd see on 60 Minutes.  I've even heard former President George H.W. Bush on the show!  Don Imus loved country music and played quite a bit of country music on the program.  I was introduced to a number of country artists and groups and their songs, and to my surprise, I started liking and listening to a lot of that music!  Don Imus had causes he cared about.  He was very passionate about helping kids with cancer and their families as well as helping families who'd gone through the horror of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

I enjoyed Charles McCord, the newsman on the show.  Charles is a born-again Christian, and is originally from Springfield, Missouri.  Many of you know I went to Bible College in Springfield, Missouri and my daughter Amy not only graduated from Evangel University there, but she and my son-in-law David and their kids lived there for a number of years.  So, I always felt I had a lot in common with Charles.  He took a lot of teasing and comments about his Christian faith, Bible study, etc.  But Charles, for better or for worse, did not "turn the other cheek".  They really razzed him on occasions, and he gave it right back to them!  As crazy as this may sound, I think Charles may have unwittingly been an inspiration and encouragement to a lot of Christian men who listened.  They were often going into work environments where loving and serving Jesus Christ and reading your Bible were considered foolish, not manly, and something to be ridiculed.  I suspect there were guys who gained courage to stand up for Christ in their work environment by listening to Charles McCord on Imus in the Morning.

Don Imus and Imus in the Morning went through quite a crisis in 2007.  Imus was fired for making horribly racist comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.  In fact, sidekick Bernie had made the remarks, but Imus enthusiastically laughed and repeated his words.  I was listening at the time, and I immediately turned the radio off!  It was disgusting.  I was not surprised he was fired.  But about nine months later, as I recall, the show returned, this time originating from New York's WABC and featured on a smaller network of stations around the country.  Locally at that time it was on AM 790 from Rhode Island.  The audio reception wasn't quite as good but I'd still tune in from time-to-time.

Don Imus was truly an enigma.  It may well shock you that one of his favorite people in all the world was Evangelist Billy Graham!  He often mentioned Billy Graham and always spoke well of him.  Shortly after Billy Graham's death in February 2018, Don Imus devoted a whole broadcast to memorializing him.

Don Imus had a brother Fred Imus who passed away a number of years ago.  In my early days of listening, Fred would call the show and he and Don would chat.  I have often told this joke that Fred told Don one morning:  A pair of jumper cables walked into a bar and sat down.  The bartender said to the jumper cables, "I don't mind you being in here, but just don't try to start something!"

I hope nobody thinks I'm "trying to start something" here.  I just wanted to share these thoughts about Don Imus and Imus in the Morning,  and I offer my condolences to Don's widow Deidre, his family, and all his friends.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

WALKING IN GOD'S WISDOM

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."  (James 3:17)

Early on this cold Saturday morning,  I sat at a small window table at Panera Bread in Walpole, Massachusetts; enjoyed a tasty breakfast, and spent a truly rich time reading Proverbs chapter eight and thinking about it.  Proverbs chapter eight is all about God's wisdom.  I've read Proverbs chapter eight a number of times before, but when you allow yourself to really "soak" in it and to think deeply about it, it's definitely profound and important stuff!  

There's a couple named Steve and Nancy who began attending Bread of Life Church in Westminster (where my wife and I fellowship) just a few months ago.  They've taken quite a liking to me.  I must say, though, I was very humbled when Steve told me he and his wife were coming to my Adult Sunday School Class because (as Steve put it), "I really sense you have a lot of wisdom."  Wow.  I was humbled because throughout my life and ministry "having a lot of wisdom" is something I have not been known for.  In fact, it's been just the opposite!  My late father loved me, but I know at times he thought I was very idealistic, very naive, and very foolish.  I've had colleagues and superiors in ministry, as well as members of the churches where I served, who would have heartily agreed with my father.  And, most of the time, they weren't wrong!  My nature is to be very emotional, very opinionated, very outspoken even to the point of sometimes lacking a filter, and yes having a tendency to be idealistic and naive.  Thus, I pondered Steve's assessment of me.  It made me feel really sober and accountable to God as I taught Sunday School this fall- wanting to genuinely "get it right"- wanting to honor God and make sure I was not just grandstanding.  I hope this isn't egotistical, but I absolutely believe I did get it right.

I began writing this blog in 2006.  If you go back and look at a lot of the posts from 2006 through maybe 2011 or 2012, many (but not all of them) do present a guy who is very emotional, very opinionated, very outspoken even to the point of sometimes lacking a filter, and yes having a tendency to be idealistic and naive.  I was devastated when the little church I'd pastored closed, and I was devastated that (frankly) a number of people didn't seem to think all that well of me at the time.  But as I read Proverbs eight today, I realized that what's come in my own life from over nine years of radical deprivation, change, and humility is (and I'm taking a deep breath as I write this) some godly wisdom.  Have I "arrived"?  Not at all.  Do I still "mess up"?  I absolutely do.  But I'm now at a vantage point where I can see some progress being made in my Christian life.  I struggle with "God, why didn't this happen twenty years ago?  I'm getting to be too old.  In less than five years I'll be seventy!"  But I also know I have to trust that God knows what He is doing.  Joseph was one of the wisest people in the Old Testament.  He became the number two man in all of Egypt- only Pharaoh was above him.  He also was the smart mouthed seventeen-year-old kid who bragged to his family that he had a dream that all of them were bowing down to him and that he was more important than all of them.  (Not a lot of wisdom, there, Joseph!)  And there's Moses- who became God's great leader in the Exodus.  Yeah, he's the hot-headed forty-year old who went out and murdered an Egyptian and thought everybody would rally and they'd have a revolution.  No, he didn't show a lot of wisdom there, either; but by the time God called him to paradise, he was a genuinely wise man.

I have greatly striven to not post "political stuff" online.  It's not that I don't have political thoughts or opinions.  I do.  But I'm genuinely so sad about the lack of God's wisdom in our country and our world today!  I voted for Donald Trump and unless he does get thrown out of that office, I will probably vote for him again next November.  I agree with about eighty percent of what he's doing as far as policies and philosophy.  But as far as wisdom?  I deeply appreciate his support for the state of Israel and for Jerusalem being the capital of Israel.  I deeply appreciate his support for religious liberty around the world.  But to have that conversation on a recorded line with the leader of Ukraine about Biden's son?  No wisdom there.  And for the Democrats to waste all kinds of precious time and energy with the committee hearings about a possible Impeachment which (as of this writing) looks as if it's going to happen in early 2020- what a colossal lack of wisdom.  There will be an election next November.  If Trump is really as bad as they say he is, he won't get reelected.  I must add how bad I feel when Facebook friends of mine post about what a "dupe" and stooge and fool they think Vice-President Mike Pence is.  Then, you have to think I'm also a "dupe", a stooge, and a fool.  I for one am so thankful to have one guy in there that I believe the overwhelming majority of the time is walking in godly wisdom!  Mike Pence is not flashy nor sensational.  I doubt Mike Pence could ever get elected President in his own right, and that's such a shame.

Now before my friends on the right and my friends on the left come unglued I'll say that if I do get "in your face" comments from you over the next couple of days, I'll definitely know you're not walking in godly wisdom.  Please don't take that as an insult.  Remember, I've admitted on this post that I have spent most of my Christian life and most of my ministry not walking in godly wisdom, and I know I'm not 100% there yet!

Just saying'

I'm sixty-five and I wish I "got this" a whole lot sooner - decades ago!

Most modern Americans have no time to read God's Word, nor study it, nor meditate upon it.  The result is we're certainly not practicing it!  What an indictment.  But if we would do just that, our country and our world would be changed for the better.

I challenge you, read Proverbs chapter eight.  And think about it.  And when you're through with that, maybe check out the Book of James in the New Testament!