Friday, January 30, 2009


“But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,” (Acts 11:4)

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Boston area radio talk show host Larry Glick frequently spoke of trying to find, “the story behind the story”. Indeed, if you investigate there often IS a “story behind the story”. Such is the case with the decision of Acting Superintendent of Schools Gene Thayer to CLOSE the Framingham Public Schools this past THURSDAY as well as Wednesday. Even Wednesday’s decision by scores of Boston area School Superintendents to have no school brought criticisms from media figures such as Emily Rooney of WGBH. But Framingham was ALONE in calling off school for Thursday. Scores of municipalities announced one-hour and two-hour delayed openings early on Thursday morning, but only Framingham was listed as “Closed”.

Well, ALMOST “only Framingham”. There ARE private schools in Framingham such at Temple Beth Am nursery school, Wayland Academy, and Marian High School which take their cues from Framingham. My wife Mary Ann is the full-time Administrative Assistant at Marian High School. We were each shocked when the phone call came in from Marian’s principal that Marian was closed, but it was because Framingham was closed. (Most likely, Marian would otherwise have called for a “one hour delay”.) The principal asked my wife to put an announcement on the school’s voice mail system stating Marian was closed for the day because Framingham had closed. Mary Ann tried and tried to put on the message by remote access but was unable to so we drove on the very icy roads to Marian High and she recorded the message. Two teachers arrived while we were there expecting a normal workday and were shocked to find out the school was closed for the day. In fact, Marian High School had planned a special school assembly on Thursday with Teen Challenge Choir which had to be postponed.

It seemed Gene Thayer was being incredibly cautious on Thursday. But you can read the story behind the story in the MetroWest Daily News at:

The real reason Thayer called off school is that Thursday had been planned as one of Framingham Public School’s many (and I do mean MANY) “early release days” so teacher in-service training could take place. Let me tell you, Framingham has a slew of those Thursday half days! My experience is that every time you turn around Framingham Public Schools either have a day off or a half day! Thayer figured that since the kids would get out of school very early anyway, it would make no sense to have them arrive very late, leave very early and have like an hour of school! Had Marian High School KNOWN the reason for the Framingham closing, it’s likely they’d have had school on Thursday. I suspect that’s also true for Wayland Academy and Temple Beth Am.

Anyway, if you wonder what the deal was with Framingham’s “no school” on Thursday, that’s the story behind the story!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


“And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;” (Acts 17:26)

At this Tuesday night’s meeting of the Framingham Board of Selectmen, the Board took a formal position opposing Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s plan to expand into Framingham. More accurately, they took a formal position against Partners Health Care, the owner of Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Partners Health Care wants to buy the former CompUSA store, located on Route 30 not far from the Natick line and MassPike Exit 13. The goal of Partners Health Care is to convert this building into several OPERATING ROOMS! At this point, they are trying to get the usage of the property changed from “retail” to being a non-profit health care facility.

Somehow, I think if Newton-Wellesley wanted to have some sort of clinic and/or doctors’ offices there, they MIGHT have a shot at that. I do think the entire operating rooms thing seems kind of bizarre. All they’d need is a logo of The Three Stooges as Drs. Howard, Fine, and Howard in front of that facility on that retail strip to make things complete!

Seriously, MetroWest Medical Center which operates the (for-profit) nearby Framingham Union Hospital in downtown Framingham AND the nearby Leonard Morse Hospital in South Natick is strongly opposing Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s plan to expand into Framingham. MetroWest Medical argues that there would be a duplication of services and that ultimately this would reduce the number of patients treated at Framingham Union and Leonard Morse and mean jobs lost from each hospital. Partners Health Care argues there is no room for them to expand at the present Newton-Wellesley Hospital facility in Newton.

I know some will be surprised that a person like me who is usually on the “conservative” and “free market” side of things would OPPOSE Newton-Wellesley expanding into Framingham, but I do think Newton-Wellesley coming into Town is mostly a BAD idea. I DO think it would be bad for our existing hospitals, and that this could ultimately lead to their demise. Community hospitals all over the country are closing left and right or being “consolidated” into bigger Medical facilities in which USUALLY the actual services provided at the local community hospital’s original location are greatly reduced.

Check out the story at:

This time, the Framingham Board of Selectmen got it RIGHT!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

7 DAYS TILL DENNIS! (extra entry)

“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” (I Timothy 5:17)

Yes, there are 7 Days Till Dennis! No, I’m not talking about “Dennis the Menace”! For those who know Dennis Seler, I’m not talking about him, either.
I’m talking about Actor Dennis Cole who in character as the Apostle James, or as Jesus, or some other Biblical character is AMAZINGLY POWERFUL! For those who are yawning and thinking, “What’s this, some hokey, goofy two-bit Sunday School thing or something?” NO, it isn’t!

Actor Dennis Cole will be ministering (well, “performing” but I’m not sure if he likes that term) at our church, First Assembly of God of Framingham on Wednesday night, February 4 at 7:30.

I first saw Dennis “perform” in Webster, MA during the summer of 2007. The Assemblies of God church in Webster has a big outdoor festival every year called, “Webstock”. It’s at Webster Lake. (Yes, that lake with the ridiculously long Indian name, so I call it Webster Lake!) I went on that August afternoon. It was a fun day of swimming and games and a HUGE cookout, ALSO a water baptism service, AND Dennis Cole ministering in drama. I was SO impressed with this guy that I thought, “I’ve GOT to have him come to our church sometime.”

Dennis is based out of New Mexico. He’s originally from suburban New York City. He went to the same high school as Rick Amendola who was the pastor of the Webster church at the time, hence the connection. Dennis and I talked, and he ended up coming to our church for two services on a Sunday in October of 2007. Everybody LOVED him! He will be on Cape Cod next week and that’s how I booked him for a Wednesday night. Speaking of Cape Cod, I later learned that my friend Pastor Ed Delacoeur of Pocasset Baptist Church in Bourne has had Dennis ministering there on four different occasions and he was very well received, as well.

Please check out Dennis Cole’s website at

Whoever you are- Believer, Unbeliever, Gentile, Jew, Catholic, Protestant, WHATEVER- I encourage you to mark Wednesday, February 4 on your calendar and plan to be in attendance at First Assembly of God of Framingham that night. You can check out our website at

My e-mail address is at the right - feel free to contact me for more information.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


A few weeks ago, I wrote of Barack Obama's desire to DELAY the switchover to all Digital television broadcasting (and the end of all analog broadcast television). As we all know, the switchover is scheduled for Feb. 17, 2009. I JUST heard on the WRKO news that yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to delay this change until June 12, 2009. President Obama has already indicated he will sign this. It's up to the U.S. House of Representatives. IF they vote for the delay, the changeover will not happen until June 12.

Again, after ALL that hysteria about Feb. 17, it probably won't take place on Feb. 17 after all!


“For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 20:16)

NOTE: “...for he hasted...” would be better translated, “for he was hurrying”.

The whole “time” thing IS cultural. If you’ve been to a third world country, especially sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean, you know that nobody is in a hurry there. If someone says, “I’ll see you at 8 o’clock in the morning,” they might show up at 8:30 and they might even show up at 9:30. Time is just no big deal. In most “western” countries, time IS a big deal. You may know that in the late 1800s, time was standardized due to railroads and the the importance of keeping to exact times on the train schedule (known as the “timetable”). Western culture has thus learned to run “on the clock”. Beginning around 1900, factories had exact time schedules, often regulated by a whistle blowing. Around that time, schools also got on exact time schedules with bells ringing to designate the beginning and ending of class periods.

I have taken a lot of “flack” through the years because I’m kind of a stickler about time. When I began as pastor of First Assembly of God of Framingham in the “ancient” days of 1987, the church was in the habit of arriving late for everything. I began drilling into them that I start on time. It took, TIME, but things got better. Now, for virtually every class, service, and meeting, I start on time and most people are present. Even so, there are always SOME people who arrive late. I am surprised that a few are chronically late, but I just try to deal with it. My first pastor in the Assemblies of God was Lloyd A. Westover. He’s dead. During the years he was my pastor in the 1970s he was probably in his 60s. He used to write “YOU’RE LATE!” in large letters on the chalkboard of his Sunday School class. As much as that’s tempting to do, I won’t go quite that far!

Another pastor I knew, “D.C.M.” (who is a reader of this blog) used to say, “If you’re not FIFTEEN MINUTES EARLY, YOU’RE LATE!” I actually tend to agree with that. Even so, these two pastors; actually, THREE if you count me, are NOT typical of most ministers when it comes to punctuality. It’s embarrassing, but I find that MOST pastors are HABITUALLY late for everything! This is true for “liberal” clergy (the Unitarians and such) as well as the theologically conservative evangelicals...for Catholics, for Jewish rabbis and cantors, nearly ALL clergy are habitually late. I think all of them should have had D.C.M. for a boss or Lloyd A. Westover for a might have straightened them out! Seriously, clergy are usually trying to multi-task to a ridiculous degree. They’ll take a phone call (on the church office phone) from a Board member or a talkative parishioner at 10 minutes before 12 when they have a meeting at Noon three miles across Town. Thus, the clergyperson arrives at the meeting at 12:35 profusely apologizing... although five colleagues arrived at the meeting just 2 minutes earlier!

I think whether you’re a clergyperson, a layperson, or just a person-person, you should be punctual! Sure, we all get that occasional flat tire or that toilet flooding the bathroom that makes us late. But tardiness should not become a chronic situation!

My father was constantly late. My mother used to say that her Dad called him, “The late Mr. Baril” because he was always late. Well, now he really IS “The late Mr. Baril” in the literal sense, but I hated that our family was always late for everything! My Dad never seemed to allow for TRAVEL time. If he had to be in Winthrop (just north of Boston) at 3 p.m., he’d leave Canton (a few miles south of Boston) at 2:55 and almost be surprised that he wasn’t in Winthrop until almost 4. He did that sort of thing all the time. When Mary Ann and I got married in 1982, my mother told him the wedding was at 1 so he’d be there by 2 which was the actual time of the ceremony!

Now, I know some of you were expecting a piece about President Obama as Time’s 2008 Man of the Year, and I’m sorry if I disappointed you. But if this piece motivates YOU to be ON TIME for appointments and commitments this year, I’ll consider YOU to be MY “Time Man (or Woman) of the Year for 2009!”

Monday, January 26, 2009


A couple of people have e-mailed me to let me know the MENU (should be near the upper left) on the church website at

does NOT appear for some reason when you go there on Microsoft Internet Explorer!

It DOES appear when you go there through Firefox or Safari.
Thus, IF you have not seen the menu when you've gone through the church website, the posting entitled "What'll Ya Have?" probably doesn't make sense.
I'm not sure why the menu would appear on Firefox and on Safari but NOT on Microsoft Internet Explorer and I hope somehow that can be corrected soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


“Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” (Acts 6:3)

I chose the title for this posting before I actually wrote the posting. Being a teetotaler, when I wrote, “What’ll ya have?” I was thinking of FOOD; picturing some short order cook saying something like, “You want the BISCUITS ‘n GRAVY, or you want the EGGS ‘n HASH? What’ll ya have?” I realize it also sounds like the question a bartender would ask in a “gin mill”!

“What’ll ya have?” is about, “What do you want?” “What CHOICE will you make?”

A friend did me a great favor this week, but has also caused me to once again rethink what I do with this blog.

I’ve never been a conventional pastor and so this has never been a conventional pastor’s blog. I’ve mentioned in the past that I HAVE gotten some criticism of this blog. Most of the criticism has come from highly committed evangelical Protestant Christians who thought I demeaned myself and my position by writing about how I really think and feel. Stuff that I like to relax and watch, “Malcolm in the Middle”. Or even worse, “The Three Stooges”. That I listen to talk radio and get a big kick out of Howie Carr. That I get mad when somebody cuts me off in traffic. That I don’t like Christians who are super-spiritual phonies any more than most agnostics like them. That I’m a fan of the T.V. show, “Lost”...though not as big a fan of “Lost” as my son is! That I love the New England Patriots.

“Pastors,” say my critics, and there have been enough of ‘em, “are not supposed to write things like that on their blogs.”

A pastor’s blog, in the mind of many devout Christians, is supposed to be a combination of an “Our Daily Bread” devotional piece and an inspirational story such as you’d read in “Guideposts” magazine. Now, SOME of my postings ARE like that. I’d say about one out of every eight or so is in that category. But there’s more to me than JUST writing devotional or inspirational pieces.

Interestingly enough, I’ve heard many POSITIVE comments about my blog from just average Joes and Janes who find my honesty and humanity refreshing.

My friend who did me the great favor is a Missionary named Kathy who is “home on furlough” to use a very Protestant missionary term. She’s REALLY good with website design and she took our church’s mediocre (well, AWFUL) website and made some MAJOR improvements in it. She did a great job. It’s found at

One feature she added was a link to click on entitled “The Pastor’s Blog”.

“Wow,” I thought, “is that GOOD or BAD?” Now that there’s a LINK to this blog from the CHURCH website, IS it appropriate if I complain that ABC ran a rerun of my favorite show or that my razor is not as good as it’s advertised to be?
IS it OK if I say I had a lousy day? Does each posting HAVE to be an inspiring devotional piece?

Some of you know that in this blog’s previous incarnation (on the old AOL Journals) I used to describe myself as “eccentric”. I really AM “eccentric” but I got so much heat for that description that I toned it down to “unconventional”. Now, I’m wondering again. Do I leave this as it is, or do I tailor it to make it more pleasing and acceptable to certain sensitive and easily offended Christians?

How about this blog? Do you like it? Do you dislike it? Do you think I should make changes with it? You can post a comment here or you can e-mail me at

What’ll ya have?

Thursday, January 22, 2009


“Behold, I shew you a mystery...” (from I Corinthians 15:51)
[that’s 1600s English, better written as, “Behold, I SHOW you a mystery...”]

It's amazing what you'll find yourself thinking about early in the morning!

When I woke up (early) on Tuesday, the first thing that came to my mind was a funeral I’d conducted exactly 8 years earlier, the day George W. Bush began his presidency. THAT was the funeral of a middle-aged woman named I will call "Kimberley". She was the older sister of a good friend of mine, and she'd had major substance abuse problems. Since that time, my friend has also had some drug problems. My understanding is that he’s off drugs now, but I don't hear a lot from him. I sent him a short e-mail on Tuesday to try to reconnect with him.

The "MYSTERY" part of this posting is the next thing that my mind was drawn to early Tuesday morning. Our church's photocopier lease is expiring in a few weeks and our copier sales rep., like all salesmen, is anxious for us to sign a new lease for a new copier. I dropped by the church facility on Monday afternoon to shovel the steps and walkways. (There are steps leading to every door - no the building is not handicapped accessible.) It stopped snowing on Monday before 6 a.m. There were NO footprints on any of the stairways when I arrived at the building. Just BEFORE I shoveled, I went into the building to check the phone answering machine, and I noticed a manilla folder had been dropped through the front door mail slot. It contained figures and legal stuff about leasing a new copier and was from our sales rep. He is NOT located near Framingham, but he'd obvioiusly dropped that by for me to look at.

On Monday night, I received an e-mail from the copier sales rep. saying he'd stopped by the church during the day on Monday and dropped that info. through the mail slot.

Tuesday morning, it HIT me: The stairs (at least 7 up to the landing where the mail slot is) had NOT been walked on! There were no footprints in the snow at all.

HOW did he get that stuff into the mail slot without making any footprints?

They say Barack Obama walks on water. Does that copier salesman “walk” through the air?!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (I Corinthians 13:11)

President Obama briefly referred to that verse (admittedly out of context) during today’s Inaugural address. Tonight on “Greater Boston” on Boston’s WGBH channel 2, the show’s host Emily Rooney stated (almost in an annoyed tone) that President Obama had said the Scripture speaks about “childish things”, and then Rooney added, “I never heard of anything about childish things in the Scripture.”

Commentator Callie Crossley quickly corrected her, mentioning the above verse.

Again, sounding somewhere between bored, sarcastic, and annoyed, Emily Rooney said, “Well I’m not a scholar of Scripture.”

AMEN, Emily Rooney. You’re not.

I like “Greater Boston:” and I generally like Emily Rooney. I agreed with her comment on tonight’s “Greater Boston” that the botched Oath of Office today was Chief Justice Roberts’ fault and NOT Barack Obama’s. But her comment about not knowing Scripture, and almost making it seem inappropriate that President Obama cited Scripture during his address REALLY OFFENDED ME.

(Note: I sent an e-mail to “Greater Boston” about this. Emily Rooney has never written me a reply to any of my e-mails - I’ve sent 3 or 4 others over the past 5 years, but perhaps this time I will hear from her.)

I’ve written on the blog before that I’ve noticed that many times BRILLIANT contestants on “Jeopardy” blow any “Bible” or “Scripture Quotes” or even “Religion” column of questions. We consider ourselves well educated, but we don’t even recognize that above Bible verse that’s recited at 75% of Christian wedding ceremonies. Like it or not, the Bible is a HUGE part of Western European culture and history. You might be AMAZED at how many of our expressions such as “fly in the ointment”, “powers that be” and even our WORD “talent” come DIRECTLY from the Bible.

Reader- if you’ve never studied the Bible, you OUGHT to. If you fear religious indoctrination, check out courses you can audit at local colleges. There are certainly courses such as, “The Bible as Literature” out there, which would be a good starting point. For that matter, go to a good secular bookstore and pick up a Bible and start reading through it. (I strongly recommend reading the New Testament FIRST.) You might be surprised at how much you’d learn and how interesting it would be.

Incidentally, Emily Rooney’s father is 90-year-old Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes”. Andy professes to be an atheist, but he’s very well read and I’m sure he could tell you where in the Bible that Barack Obama Bible reference is found!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


“And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.” (Numbers 12:3)

This week is a very important week, indeed!

On Monday, January 19, the United States of America observes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in honor of the great civil rights leader and minister of the 1950s and 1960s. Then, on Tuesday, January 20, Barack Obama will be Inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. Any Presidential Inauguration is important, but this one is PARTICULARLY important because it’s the Inauguration of the first President of African-American heritage. With those two very special days in mind, I preached my sermon on Sunday morning, January 18 from Numbers 12. The title of the sermon was, “Colored People”.

My title was deliberately sensational, but also deliberately had a double meaning. I took the sermon’s title from the name of a song by the Christian rock group DCTalk. DCTalk’s song, “Colored People” came out around thirteen years ago. At the time, my then middle-school-aged son was constantly listening to it. One day, as I drove him to school, I asked, “Jon, WHAT are they singing about... ‘COLORED PEOPLE’?!” Of course, I wondered if this was some sort of weird, racist song. Jon assured me it WASN’T and encouraged me to listen closely to the words. If you do an on-line search for “Colored People” by DCTalk, you’ll be able to listen to the song and also to read the lyrics. Sadly, the term, “Colored People” was usually used by whites in a derogatory way. It implied that African-Americans were somehow tainted, deficient, and substandard. People would make statements such as, “I think our new neighbors are COLORED!”, with the same tone of voice and attitude in which they’d say something like, “I think the milk in the refrigerator has spoiled!”.

I grew up hearing “colored” used that way. I also recall our family driving to Florida during the summer of 1965. I was greatly surprised to discover that in the South all gas stations had 3 bathroom doors, rather than the customary 2 doors in the North. I was used to doors which read, “Men” and “Women”. In the South, the bathroom doors read, “Men”, “Women”, and “Colored”. I realize this was AFTER the signing of the Civil Rights Act, but that summer we also visited SIlver Springs in Florida where you rode through the springs in glass bottom boats. The place was segregated. The whites rode in nice new boats and the “colored” rode in older boats.

When DCTalk sings about,”Colored People”, THEY sing about ALL human beings being, “colored people”; that is, tainted with sin and moral failure and needing a Savior. I carefully explained that during the introduction to my sermon.

The 12th Chapter of the Old Testament Book of Numbers is a FASCINATING chapter. Did you know Moses married a Black woman? He did! I’ve not been asked this question in many years, but in my early days in ministry, I’d sometimes be asked, “Is there a Bible verse that says it’s wrong for my kid to date a Black person?” My response usually floored the questioners: “No, but there’s a verse that says it’s RIGHT!” Then I’d tell them the story of Numbers chapter 12.

In Numbers chapter 12, Moses’ brother Aaron and sister Miriam spoke against him complaining that he had married an Ethiopian woman. Some commentaries speak of a, “Cushite” woman. Either way, it means a woman from sub-Saharan East Africa- a Black woman. Aaron and Miriam spoke and complained that they were also prophets and that Moses was no better than they were. (Certainly, the chapter implies that after he’d married the Black woman, they thought he was considerably WORSE than they were.) One commentary expressed the opinion that their main gripe was that Moses’ wife was from a foreign and inferior RELIGION. In context, I don’t think that’s the problem. I really think it’s the skin color. Ancient Hebrews were quite cognizant of the skin color issue between them and Black Africans. Jeremiah 13:23 asks, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots...”.

Were you ever called to the Principal’s office as a kid? If so, it was likely a scary experience. Or, perhaps you’ve been, “called in on the carpet” in front of your boss. Well, in Numbers 12:4, GOD called Aaron, Miriam, and Moses to come into the Tabernacle and have a little conversation with Him. Once inside the Tabernacle, God really “lets Aaron and Miriam have it”, telling them that while He speaks to prophets (like them) in dreams and visions, He speaks to Moses FACE TO FACE. He asks them why they were not (then) afraid to speak against Moses. Miriam is THEN struck with leprosy! Literally, the Hebrew says, she became, “like snow”. The word “white” which gives the phrase, “white as snow” is not in the original Hebrew, but that phrase is certainly STRONGLY IMPLIED.
This winter we New Englanders have all had to deal with more than enough snow, and the WHITENESS of it is certainly one of the first things you think of when you think of snow.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Miriam spoke against a BLACK woman. What happened? Her skin became somehow sickly and deficient. The term “snow” may also mean is became rough and flaky. She spoke against a Black woman. She was now “white as snow”!

Why would Miriam (and Aaron) do such a thing? Why would they be so unkind and unfriendly? Why would they be so critical? Why would they be so rebellious? Why would they speak and act in such a racist manner? It’s because they, like all of mankind, were “colored people”- tainted by sin. Sadly, we probably all have stories from our past where we’ve thought badly of someone for some really unfair and unimportant reason. Even if you DON’T think you’ve ever behaved in a racist manner (and I find that hard to believe) there’s SOME area in which you have fallen short in life. We’re all imperfect.

Aaron pled for Moses to heal Miriam (as if Moses could!). Moses then pled for God to heal Miriam. Like all lepers, Miriam would have to live apart from the camp. God decreed that after seven days, Miriam would be healed and could rejoin the group, and that’s exactly what happened.

I did not vote for Barack Obama. It was not because of his race. There are many African-American men and women I’d gladly vote for! I had many serious problems with Barack Obama’s political views, most of which I considered too liberal. I also had some problems with his past associations with questionable people. I was admittedly very nervous about what kind of President Barack Obama would be. I must say, John McCain’s concession speech in November was encouraging and even somewhat reassuring to me. McCain stressed the important historical milestone that an African-American had been elected to the highest office in the land. As an American History buff, I do “get” the significance of this, and it is a milestone. I don’t expect to agree with all of Barack Obama’s actions as President, but I also didn’t agree with all of George W. Bush’s actions as President. I do understand that as a Christian, I am called to honor the President, and to pray for him and for his family. The Rev. George O. Wood, The General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God (like an archbishop in many denominations) has called upon all Assemblies of God constituents to pray for President-Elect Obama and his wife and children on the occasion of his Inauguration. Wood’s call to prayer is on video at

Yes, as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s pray for our President-Elect and his family, and while we will disagree over policies and procedures, let us never attack any person because of their race.

Friday, January 16, 2009


“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

There’s a middle-aged woman who attends our church that I will call June. June is on disability and lives in a modern apartment complex for the elderly and disabled. Each winter, June talks about how COLD her apartment is. It’s in a concrete building and it’s a corner apartment. June will describe the windows as becoming all frosted, and herself as being so cold that she snuggles under multiple quilts. She’s also said that she can turn the heat up to 70 or so, but it doesn’t seem to do any good.

Thursday, she called me with an interesting report. The apartment complex’s maintenance man came in to check that she had enough heat in her apartment. Due to the serious cold snap, and due to the fact that the building is full of elderly and disabled people, he wanted to make sure no one’s heat was malfunctioning. In June’s apartment, he discovered that she had pipes that were nearly freezing. Upon careful inspection, he discovered something important about June’s thermostat. Although residents of June’s building use large air conditioning units which are built into the wall for cooling in the summer, the thermostats are equipped with “Heat” and “Cool” switches. Such thermostats are usually used in buildings which are equipped with huge, commercial air conditioning units on the roof. Switching from “Heat” to “Cool” activates the roof A/C unit. In fact, it’s typical that such a thermostat will have a switch which has 3 settings: “Cool”, “Off” , and “Heat”. In a living situation such as June’s the “Cool” setting is a moot point. It doesn’t do anything. So, it’s like two “Off” settings and a “Heat” setting. June’s thermostat was set on the “Cool” setting (which was essentially an “Off” setting). Thus June’s apartment had the heat OFF. Any heat she WAS getting was filtering in from neighboring apartments!

When June would describe her apartment and how cold it was I’d always assumed the building was very poorly insulated and very poorly constructed. It never occurred to me that the heat would be off! I know you may be amazed that she didn’t notice the “Heat” switch and attempt to engage it, or at least that she never had a maintenance man check out why the heating was so poor. She has lived in that apartment for roughly sixteen years!

That story makes me think of the above Scripture. People constantly say things such as “as long as you’re SINCERE you’re all right with God”. It’s kind of like Linus with the Great Pumpkin and the whole, “nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see,” line that he uses in, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

The heat is on in June’s apartment! How’s your heat?

Thursday, January 15, 2009


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

A friend and I made arrangements to meet for lunch on Tuesday at Bickford's on Lincoln Street in Worcester. Upon arriving, the parking lot did not seem well plowed, and there was one car in the lot - his. A sign on the door indicated the restaurant had closed. This reminded me of a Saturday morning last February when Mary Ann and I had our tax appointment over in Foxboro. We planned to stop at Bickford's in Sharon on the way to our appointment. Likewise, we saw a parking lot with very few cars in it, and found a sign on the door saying the restaurant had closed. Bickford's in Sharon HAD been a big breakfast and family restaurant for that area for over forty years, so the closing sign came as quite a surprise. (I grew up only about 6 or 7 miles from that restaurant and our family went there many times when I was a kid.) In fact, I've heard that a number of the Bickford's restaurants have closed in recent years. Those which have remained opened typically have acquired liquor licenses and focus much more on lunch and dinner than on breakfast. That's been the case with the Framingham Bickford's which is now "Bickfords Grille" but has moved its nightly closing time from 10, to 9, to 8:30 and seldom has much of a crowd inside.

At our church, I sometimes will schedule a special night service featuring a guest speaker. After the service has ended, it's nice to be able to bring him to a restaurant nearby which has moderate prices and pretty good food. A few years ago, it was embarrassing on a Sunday night when I had such a guest speaker follow me to LaCantina on Waverley Street, Framingham. We got there at around 5 minutes after 9 and found out they wouldn't seat anyone after 9. I then had him follow me to Ruby Tuesday's on Route 9 and found out they'd serve us alcoholic drinks but that the kitchen closed at 9. Finally, we ended up at Bickford's but that was in the 10 0'clock closing days. The Ninety-Nine Restaurant (part of the New England chain) in Ashland (just over the Framingham line) ended up becoming a really nice fit for such situations. It was also a nice place to bring a friend for lunch if they'd dropped in to see me around Noon. I say "was" because I was shocked to learn yesterday that the Ashland Ninety-Nine Restaurant is closing by the end of this week!

My understanding is that breakfast and family type restaturants are being particularly hard hit by this economy. There are obvious demographic reasons why breakfast and family type restaurants tend to do better in places like the Bible belt than than do in greater Boston. Even so, it's a shame to keep losing my options on family type restaurants in the south Framingham area especially for dining during the 9-11 p.m. hours. I would LOVE to have a Denny's come into the Framingham-Natick area. (My friend Gary and I ended up at Denny's in Worcester when we discovered the closed Bickford's) I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for a Denny's to open up, however. Well, come to think of it, the last time I was in Springfield, Missouri, I drove by Denny's which had been a huge hangout for college students in the 1970s. I'd eaten there on some of my trips out there during this decade, but even there in the Bible belt, the sign had been removed, and there was a sign on the door saying that particular Denny's had closed!

Is there a Howard Johnson's anywhere? We had a great Howard Johnson's in Canton when I was growing up there and that building is now a large Dunkin Donuts. No, I know, there are no more Howard Johnson restaurants anymore! These breakfast/family chain restaurants....more and more they're biting the dust...

Monday, January 12, 2009


“But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” (I Corinthians 14:38)

First of all, this posting will be of interest to people who live and work in and near Framingham, Massachusetts. If that’s NOT you, you’ll probably be bored with it, (like watching the home movies of a family you’re completely unfamiliar with) but you MAY want to read it anyway!

I belong to a group called, “Framingham Downtown Renaissance” which is a group of Framingham civic and business leaders who are concerned about the revitalization and improvement of downtown Framingham and its environs. I used to belong to a similar group in the 1990s called “Downtown Solutions” although this group tends to attract more people who would be called “heavy hitters” in the business and civic world. (“Downtown Solutions” had some of them as well, but also had a number of ordinary folk.) Please don’t think I’m calling myself a “heavy hitter”. I’m NOT a “heavy hitter”. Sometimes when I attend “Framingham Downtown Renaissance” meetings (“F.D.R.” for short) I feel pretty intimidated by at least half of them. I attend because as a downtown pastor who is also a resident of Framingham’s southside, I do feel I have a big stake in what happens in and around downtown Framingham, and so I feel I’m entitled to a place at the table.

As I recall, I began attending “F.D.R.” in early 2006. I felt a little strange going to last Thursday’s “F.D.R.” meeting because I hadn’t been present at an “F.D.R.” meeting in at least 6 months and so I felt pretty out of the loop. Even so, there was a first-time attender last week who was a very nice guy that I’d guess was in his 60s. His first name was George. At one point, George commented on his vision for downtown, especially for the Fabric Place property. The Fabric Place was a big downtown store (selling fabric, sewing supplies, etc.) for many, many years. Its closing as of December 31 has been devastating to those who care about downtown Framingham. The Fabric Place brought loads of middle and upper middle class suburban women (well, mostly women) into the downtown every day.

George began sharing his dreams for the Fabric Place property, and his hopes and dreams were interesting, but one line stood out to me: “We don’t want a Wal-Mart going in there!”

I honestly didn’t have the guts to say, “Why NOT?!”

Frankly, Wal-Mart would never purchase that property. It’s too small for a Wal-Mart. They’d need at LEAST twice the land, and probably three times the land on which to construct a store and its parking lot. And, with a prospering Wal- Mart already in existence in Framingham just a couple of miles away, they’d never locate another one SO close to it. (Well, in Midwestern cities like Springfield, Missouri, Wal-Marts are literally all over the place the way Dunkin Donuts are here, but that’s the midwest!) Even so, IF it were possible to have a Wal-Mart in downtown Framingham, I’d say, “Bring it on!”

In fact, there was a Vermont city about fifteen years ago to which a Wal-Mart wanted to locate. The city fathers INSISTED they locate in or near the downtown so as not to drive all the life and business out of the downtown, and Wal-Mart did just that!

Downtown Framingham desperately needs some kind of “anchor stores” to attract middle class and upper middle class suburbanites from northside Framingham and other MetroWest suburbs. I grew up in Canton, Massachusetts. Now, in SOME ways Canton and Framingham are different demographically, but there ARE some similarities. Area-wise, Canton and Framingham are almost exactly the same size, although Framingham’s population is three times the size of Canton’s. Canton DOES have some poor and minority residents, but it’s a far lower percentage of the total population than you’d find in Framingham. Even so, both have downtowns that are actually located in the far south areas of town, away from what were the original “town centers”. The original Canton Center from the colonial era is near the intersection of Pleasant and Washington Streets, in the geographic center of town. It’s now called “Canton Corner”. What was “South Canton” became downtown Canton when the railroad came through in the nineteenth century. Sound familiar? The original Framingham Center was in the geographic center of Framingham near the State College. It’s now called “Framingham Centre” (with the British way of spelling centre) and what was originally South Framingham became downtown Framingham when the railroad went through. By the 1980s, downtown Canton was looking pretty “seedy”. Today, downtown Canton, having recently undergone major streetscape work, looks FANTASTIC and is a thriving downtown area. AND, it has an anchor store- A large Walgreen’s. The Walgreen’s is in a shopping plaza which is located right smack in the middle of downtown Canton. The plaza was built in the late 1960s, originally for an A & P Supermarket and a few strip mall stores. After the A & P closed, there were several independent markets which ultimately could not survive there. Today, that Walgreen’s in the old but remodeled A & P building is THRIVING. In the same plaza is a busy Chinese restaurant and a busy pizza and sandwich restaurant. (Yeah, it’s a popular take-out place, but it’s also a “sit down” restaurant.) Near that plaza are specialty shops, banks, insurance agencies, convenience stores, etc.

It’s too bad the new southside Walgreen’s (where the Long auto dealership used to be) is just a little bit too far west to really be considered “downtown”. If it were just a half mile further east, it would have done a lot to help downtown Framingham. So, that’s just my 2 cents, but really, would a Wal-Mart in downtown Framingham be that bad?

Saturday, January 10, 2009


"...let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." (From James 5:12)

Most of us have had our fill of all the television spots and various other public service announcements warning of the end of all analog television broadcasting on February 17, 2009. In fact, one of my earliest postings on this blog (in its early AOL Journal days in 2006) was a piece about this issue, warning that "television ends" in February 2009.

My son Jon has (in his unique style and fashion) strongly and emphatically stated for months that "It WON'T happen!" or "It's NOT going to happen!" Even so, he DOES have a digital converter for his bedroom T.V. as I do for my bedroom set, as well. (We have cable in the living room. I know, I know, that's a lot of T.V. sets, but what can I say?)

The bottom line is, Jon may be right about it "not going to happen" on February 17. I was stunned to read a small piece about this in the Saturday, January 10, 2009 MetroWest Daily News. The small piece stated that the incoming Barack Obama administration wants to DELAY the switchover as does Vermont's Independent socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.

You can read about this on Sanders' website at:

Can you imagine if AFTER ALL THAT HYPE the switchover does not happen on February 17?!
IF it doesn't happen on February 17, how many people will ever take seriously any communications from the Federal government?

Well, the government is not ALL wrong about it. Boston area viewers know that Boston's FOX channel 25 has stopped all analog broadcasting already. Will others follow after February 17? Is Jon Baril right about "It WON'T happen!" I guess we will all have to "stay tuned" won't we?

Friday, January 9, 2009


“And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.” (Matthew 26:73)

That verse is from “King James English” of hundreds of years ago; the last part would best be understood as, “your speech betrays you”, or “the way you talk betrays where you are from”.

When I was in Bible College, my father had sent me a “letter” on cassette tape. My friend Ed Duddy, upon hearing the tape burst out laughing and said, “HE talks FUNNY!!” In the Missouri Ozarks, my father’s harsh Boston accent DID sound funny!

For some reason, I’m thinking of many of the unusual speech patterns and pronunciations that some people have. I heard a nice, well educated guy speaking this week, who was using the word, “vulnerable”, but he kept pronouncing it, “vunnerable”. I hear that a lot: “vunnerable”. Maybe people are thinking of the word “venerable”, but there’s no such word as “vunnerable”. Indeed, when they use the word “vunnerable” they put themselves in a VULNERABLE position!

Some people can’t say “specific”. I knew a woman many years ago who always pronounced “specific” as “pacific”. She’d say, “I have a pacific proposal to make.” “Pacific” means “peaceful”. I think it was Balboa who named the Pacific ocean, and boy did HE choose the wrong name! (That’s kind of like the guy who named a huge ice island, “Greenland”!)

My mother could NOT say the word ,“breakfast”. She always pronounced it, “Brikefust”, with the emphasis on BRIKE. She’d ask, “What do you want for your BRIKE-fust?” Her Dad was a French Canadian and her Mom was a Scottish Canadian. I wonder if one of THEM mispronounced “breakfast” and so it just stuck with her. My father could not say the word “film”. He always pronounced it as “fill - um”. Dad also could not pronounce “theater”. He always said, “thee-ETTA”. “Who wants to go to a thee-ETTA and see a fill - um?” he’d ask. Each of his parents spoke French as their first language, and I also wonder if they mispronounced “film” and “theater” and he just picked the habit up.

I know a guy who often speaks against what he calls, “homo sex YO ality”. He also uses the word “judge-a-mental.”
“I don’t mean to be judge-a-mental, but I’m against homo sex YO ality!” he will boldly proclaim.
My son and I can’t stand when people mispronounce the word “coupon”. Many people say “Q - pon” instead of “KOO - pon”. If we had our way, you’d need a special coupon to use the word “Q - pon”!

There ARE some word combinations which are just plain difficult for some of us to pronounce. For instance, I have difficulty saying the phrase, “special message”. In preaching, sometimes I’ve stood up in the pulpit and attempted to announce, “I have a special message to give today,” except it comes out something like, “I have a SCHPESSSHHHUULLLMEHSHSCHHUGE to deliver” and I really sound like I have some kind of mental deficiency. I actually now AVOID the phrase “special message” because I seem to have such a tough time pronouncing it! Similarly, this week, a friend was telling me about a new “Bed & Breakfast” which he kept calling a “Bread and Breakfast”. Even though he kept knowing he was saying “Bread and Breakfast”, he’d still keep correcting it and he’d say “Bread and Breakfast”! It came out something like, “Did you know (so-in-so) is opening up a new Bread and Breakfast?....I mean a Bread and Breakfast...and it’s a great opportunity to spend a couple of days at a Bread and Breakfast...”

I know Pat Robertson is a controversial televangelist and most people either love him or hate him, but whichever it is, something that cracked me up about 25 years ago is when he had a whole pile of prayer requests on a table during his 700 Club broadcast. Along with co-host Ben Kinchloe, Pat earnestly began praying aloud for the prayer requests. I am sure Pat INTENDED to say, “Father, we know nothing is impossible for you...”
Instead, Pat began, “Father, we know NOTHING is possible for you!”
He continued on praying, not realizing what he’d said!

Here in New England we find it strange the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, pronounces Massachusetts as “Mass -a - TOO - sets”. It’s not unique to him. Most people in the southeastern United States say, “Mass -a - TOO - sets”. But we drive people in the Pacific Northwest crazy when we say, “Ore-a-GONE”. Ore-a-GONE? Where did it go? They say, “OreGUN”.

We say “MissourEEE”; some below the Mason-Dixon line say, “Missour-AH”.
Of course, it actually ends with the letter “i”.

My friend Martin from Kentucky says I “talk Yankee”. I say he “talks Hillbilly”.

I guess writing this has made me very “vunerable”!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

There are some job situations in which “YOU CAN’T WIN!” One of the classics is being a Superintendent of Schools and having to make the “call” on a questionable weather day. If you make the correct call, you are treated like Steve Gostowski kicking a field goal to win a tied game. If you make an incorrect call, you are treated, well, like a total fool.

The weather forecast for eastern and central Massachusetts on Tuesday was calling for pretty bad weather for Wednesday morning. Initially, it was calling for quite a bit of snow, followed by sleet, followed by freezing rain, and then followed by lots of “regular” rain. When I woke up around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, we’d had about a half inch of snow and it was sleeting like crazy. Had I been the Superintendent of Schools for Framingham, I’d have “called” a two hour delay.
In fact, many school systems in this area had one hour and two hour delays (including Ashland and Natick) and many school systems closed school entirely (including Wellesley, Marlboro, and Southboro). My wife works for Marian (Catholic) High School in Framingham. I was really happy that she got a phone call saying there would be NO SCHOOL for Marian High for Wednesday. (I really didn’t want to have to get out scraping down the driveway at 5:30. My wife is the school’s Administrative Assistant and she leaves for work at ten minutes before 6!) I was also astounded that Framingham HAD SCHOOL ON WEDNESDAY ON THE REGULAR SCHEDULE!

Even though the Marian decision was convenient for me and made Mary Ann ecstatically happy, I can now as a Thursday morning Quarterback proclaim that both Marian and Framingham made the wrong decisions. The correct decision was that both SHOULD have proclaimed two hour delays for Wednesday. Driving was HORRIBLE before 9:30 a.m., but after that on most main roads, it really wasn’t bad at all. Everybody needed at least an extra hour to clean off their driveways, clean off their cars (if kept outside), and allow extra time for the drive to school.

I sort of felt like a baby, but I called off church for Wednesday night. For you non-evangelicals out there, Wednesday night is BIG in most evangelical churches. Most “Bible believing churches” have either a service or a prayer meeting or SOME sort of activities on Wednesday night. (We have a prayer meeting.) I noticed as I watched the channel 5 news in the early evening that a LOT of Assemblies of God, Baptist, and Nazarene churches had called off church for Wednesday night, so I no longer felt like such a baby!

That gets me to when I feel almost exactly like a Superintendent of Schools- when a major snowstorm is forecast for Saturday night and Sunday morning. Well, guess what? At this time, a major snowstorm is forecast for Saturday night and Sunday morning! If you HAVE church, 70% of the people don’t show up and people are angry that you had church. If you DON’T have church, there are always a few people (well 30% !!) who think you’re a wimp and are disappointed. So, this Sunday we’ll see how the Thursday morning quarterback does!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.” (Romans 5:7)

God bless Jerry Sherman! I don’t know him. I don’t think I have ever met him. But he wrote a Letter to the Editor to the MetroWest Daily News (Tuesday, January 6, 2009) about the DANGEROUS pedestrian crossing at Routes 126 and 135 in downtown Framingham.

Before you yawn and turn your computer off: This is a big deal to me. I’m on foot crossing that intersection probably at least ten times per week...sometimes more than that. It’s VERY dangerous. At night, it is terrifying!

The intersection HAD pedestrian lights which would stop traffic in all directions. A couple of months ago, the pedestrian crossings were reconfigured so you can ONLY shut down the cars going straight ahead at the crosswalk you’re in. Cars are still rapidly moving through the intersection, turning, etc. Many of us have nearly been hit several times.

In my opinion, there WILL be a pedestrian death at that intersection unless something is done about it. The death will probably be within the next year; maybe sooner. I’ve actually e-mailed someone I know in the Framingham Planning Dept. asking them to please read Sherman’s letter and pass it on to whoever is most responsible for that intersection.

Please check out-

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


“When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” (Matthew 2:9)

Today is January 6. That may not mean anything to you, but January 6 is an important day on the liturgical calendar. For “liturgical churches” (those who follow a formally prescribed church calendar of readings, practices, traditions, and rituals) January 6 is the “Feast of the Epiphany”. The Epiphany is the day that the Magi (often called “The Three Wise Men”) arrived to see the young child Jesus and to worship him as the Son of God. It is also called, “Little Christmas”. For many Hispanics, Epiphany is a bigger holiday than Christmas Day, itself. It is the day presents are opened, and the Christmas tree and other Christmas trappings are not disposed of or put away until after January 6. Christmas wreaths, ribbons, etc. always remain on display in Roman Catholic churches, for instance, until after January 6. (January 6 is the Twelfth Day of Christmas from the famous song.)

The Assemblies of God, like the Baptists, Congregationalists, and other “low church” Protestant groups is NOT particularly liturgical and usually DOESN’T celebrate Epiphany. Nevertheless, I thought I’d call attention to it today. I looked up “Epiphany” in the dictionary. It means “a divine manifestation”. In fact, the Online Etymology Dictionary says this: “.1310, ‘festival of the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles’ (celebrated Jan. 6; usually with a capital -E-), from O.Fr. epiphanie, from L.L. epiphania, neut. pl. (taken as fem. sing.), from Gk. epiphaneia ‘manifestation, striking appearance’ (in N.T., advent or manifestation of Christ), from epiphanes ‘manifest, conspicuous,’ from epiphainein ‘to manifest, display,’ from epi- ‘on, to’ + phainein ‘to show.’ Of divine beings other than Christ, first recorded c.1667; general literary sense appeared 1840, first in De Quincey.”

I realize that is probably more than you cared to know about “Epiphany”! Even so, the word IS sometimes used to describe some great life changing event such as, “After the asthma attack, Harry had an epiphany that he must give up cigarettes, and he never smoked again.” or “Upon learning of the fate of the Tsunami victims, wealthy Mrs. Jones experienced an epiphany and donated a million dollars to the Red Cross.”

I’m Pentecostal. We believe in dramatic, divine manifestations, healings, miracles, etc. One unfortunate fact about we Pentecostals is that sometimes we place SO much emphasis on the mystical and miraculous that we forget to look for God in the ORDINARY things of life. If you DO look for God in the ordinary things of life, you’ll be amazed and what He will reveal to you. Many years ago when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to work in a textile mill during the summers. During the summer of 1975, I was the janitor. Well, actually, I was the fill-in janitor. The real janitor had a heart attack and was out of work for almost three months. I would walk through the entire mill in the course of my days. Every day I’d see a woman of around 45 doing hard and repetitive factory work in one of the departments. She was foreign born. She was German. She had experienced World War 2 in Germany and had married an American G.I. One day the Lord strongly impressed me to bring a helpful little booklet in for that woman. I just KNEW I was to do that. Upon coming to her department that day, I stopped and handed it to her. She filled up with tears and asked, “How did you know that I was so unhappy?” I didn’t. But God did. I don’t know exactly how that booklet touched that woman’s life, BUT IT DID. That summer there was also a guy from the mill around the age that I am now who had a heart attack. I sent him a card and wrote him a little note. When the guy returned to the mill, he sat and talked to me for awhile in the cafeteria. He was truly moved by my card.

We’re all in such a hurry. I toned that down. I’m going to write what I originally intended to write: We’re all in such a stupid hurry. It amazes me how TENSE people are. I’ve noticed lately in driving that I can be doing 5 miles over the speed limit, but cars are still right on my bumper! As soon as they can, they’ll zoom past me like I’m standing still, then, predictably, they’ll drive right through a red light, and practically attach their car to ANOTHER motorist’s rear bumper! Yeah, such a stupid hurry!

How much do people even THINK about God and eternity? Honestly, I think most people are like Michael Dukakis. Back in 1988 when he was running for President, he was once asked if he thinks about dying. He replied, “No, I never think about it.” That amazed me, but I guess it shouldn’t have. I’ve come to realize that MANY people never think about God and eternity.

I guess I’m wandering off the subject. Back to Epiphany: Here’s a challenge for you- regardless of where you stand with God and the things of God, PRAY - step out and ask God to use you today to make a difference in the life of someone He will bring across your path today... to be used to bring some sort of an epiphany to that person. I’m honestly going to do that today. I think it will be great to have some epiphanies on Epiphany! Let’s see what God will do today...

Saturday, January 3, 2009


“...and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.” (I Kings 6:10)

Boy does cedar smell nice! My mother had a cedar chest. In the cedar chest she kept quilts and afghans and sweaters, and even some of our baby clothes. I have some small cedar blocks that I have placed in my own dresser, in the drawers where I store clothing. Many evergreen trees have a nice scent. Balsam fir has that classic New England Christmas tree smell!

There is one month in which I particularly think about PINE, pine needles and a pine tree smell. You’re probably thinking, “It’s DECEMBER, right?!” Actually, it’s not December - it’s January! In a number of postings I’ve mentioned that while I like some aspects of Christmas, there are some aspects of it that I don’t particularly like. When I was a kid, I LOVED the decorating! I was usually the person to climb up into the crawl space and bring down all the boxes marked “XMAS”. When I was in elementary school, we got real trees. Somewhere around 8th Grade, my Dad bought a fake tree. It was green - not one of those silver/aluminum ones, but it was kind of weird in that it was placed in a stand that rotated and played music. I loved all the decorating. It didn’t matter how long it took. It was a blast. I do remember that one year when we had a real tree, my brother Eddie knocked the tree over! After that incident, my very cautious and practical father always secured the real trees with twine tacked to the wall!

I remember my mother in her late 40s and early 50s complaining that Christmas was SO much work and responsibility and really didn’t seem worth the effort. I thought she was NUTS! Then I got into my own late 40s and early 50s, and, I kind of see her point. Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve followed the blog over the past month or so, you know this was actually the best Christmas I’ve had in over ten years! I’m often kind of melancholy at Christmas time. This year, I really enjoyed myself and was glad for the holiday. But even this year, there IS that one bummer which even those who fanatically LOVE Christmas happen to dislike...having to take everything down, including the tree.

If I were passing out the rewards at the judgment seat of Christ (and boy is THAT a crazy fantasy??!!) there’d be a special reward for those who work hard in putting away the Christmas things. It’s one thing to do all the decorating. The cleanup and putting everything away which happens just 3 or 4 or MAYBE 5 weeks later can be a real letdown. Loads of people want to DECORATE for Christmas on December 2. Not too many are on hand for the cleanup on January 2 or 7 or whenever you clean the stuff up. I’m grateful that my son Jon took all the ornaments and lights off the tree. Every first week of January, I pick up the tree that I purchased just a month or so earlier, and I carry it out to the street. (Honestly, I’m ready for a fake tree, but my young adult “kids” still want a real one!) Every year I go through something that most Jewish people don’t have to worry about: all that mess of pine needles EVERYWHERE. Last year and this year have been the WORST years for pine needles all over the place! Some years, I’m still finding and cleaning up pine needles around the floor and heating grates and baseboard as late as April. In extreme years, I’m still finding pine needles around the house in July. I can tell this is going to be a pine needles in July year!

Maybe some of you Christmas tree experts can tell me how to get the Christmas tree to DRINK. I know a “fresh cut” is the key thing. We used to get the tree, then I’d saw a few inches off the bottom when we got home. When Rachel got old enough, SHE’D saw it, and she did a better job than I did. THOSE trees DRANK. I’d be filling up the stand with water constantly. The past few years and especially the past two, the trees did not drink at all. Now, the Higgins Family Christmas Tree place in Ashland gives the tree a “fresh cut” when you buy it, but I wonder if the twenty minutes or so from the time they cut the bottom to the time I get it into the stand at home is too long. Does some sap coating form and seal the bottom? I had a whole stand full of water to dump tonight. I’d like to avoid all this next year. (I know, I know, buy the fake tree!)

About fourteen years ago when my kids were in elementary school we took them on vacation one summer to Maine. Rachel and Amy’s friend Erika came along with us. One day driving through York County, Maine, we were talking and playing games, and I asked the kids a multiple choice question. It was this: Maine is known as: a) the pine tree state b) the lobster state c) the junk car state

Immediately Erika piped up with “c) the junk car state”! I guess she’d seen enough ‘59 Chevy Bel-Airs and ‘64 Dodge Polaras up on blocks at the sides of the road to come to that conclusion! Of course I announced that the answer was “a) the pine tree state”!

Well, right now I’m in “the pine needle state” and it’s in my home in Framingham!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


“Are thy days as the days of man? are thy years as man’s days,” (Job 10:5)

To some people a year is just a four digit number on a piece of paper and nothing more than that. I’ve always been one of those mystical types who somehow deep down in my soul really FEELS something about the turning of the calendar from one year to another. When I “hit” January 1 of a new year (as well as when I have my birthday every September 19) there’s that sense that, “Wow, I can’t believe I made it to this point!” It doesn’t seem possible that we’ve made it to 2009! It also doesn’t seem possible that 2008 is over!

Frank Sinatra sang that famous song with the refrain, “It Was a Very Good Year”. Conversely, at the end of the year 1992, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom dramatically pronouced that 1992 had been an, “Annus Horribulous”, that is, a horrible year. (That year one of the royal family’s castles had burned down, and they’d experienced an unusual number of difficulties and tragedies.) My mother was the type who almost superstitiously believed in “good years” and “bad years”. If she was in a “bad year” she couldn’t wait for it to end, and if she was having (what was very rare for her) a “good year”, she feared its ending.

My life experience is that all years contain both good and bad events. I think there are very few years of my life that I could honestly label as particularly “good” or “bad”. In July of 1983, my brother Eddie (unexpectedly) DIED. He was only 27, and it was a terrible time for my family. Also, in July of 1983, my son Jon was born. That was a very joyous occasion! Was 1983 a good year or a bad year? It all depends on how you look at it.

I will say that a lot of (somewhat) extreme things happened in my life in 2008. My daughter Amy was married in March in Springfield, Missouri. There was a wedding and a small reception there, and a week later a big (by Bob Baril standards) reception here in Massachusetts. Amy was born on Mothers’ Day of 1985. I can still see her as an infant and as a toddler. The reality that she’s married and a nurse makes me feel very old! The weekend of Amy’s Massachusetts reception was also Easter weekend. That felt so WEIRD. Easter of 2008 was the EARLIEST it had been in something like 100 years, and in fact it won’t take place THAT early in a year again for over 100 more years!

I get unusually sentimental about the cars I drive and own, and some of you remember that I was kind of emotional junking “Whitey”, the 1993 Oldsmobile our family owned for over ten years. It was fun, though, to replace “Whitey” with a 2000 Saturn sedan which is mainly used by my daughter Rachel. I also get very sentimental about two events every year, the Boston Marathon in April, and the Natick Fourth of July parade every Summer. Many of you will remember my posting from July about the homeowner who was rude to my daughter and me and who somewhat “rained on our parade” this past July.

My wife turned 50 in September, so 2008 was a milestone year for her. It’s a little difficult to write this next part because it makes me both sad and angry, but of all the people who were invited to her very special 50th birthday event, MANY did not attend AND did not “R.S.V.P.”! As nice as her 50th birthday was, THAT really put a damper on it. We all get so busy- but these social graces....responding to invitations, communicating, etc., which were SO common 25 or more years ago are rapidly “going by the boards”. I hope that in 2009 you will be sensitive to invitations of people’s special events; and I guess that’s all I’m going to say about that one!

I really have to be careful about this and I can’t say too much about it, but I had a member of my extended family become incredibly angry with me this year, and now that person will not speak to me or communicate with me in any way. It’s deeply painful to me. (Yes, I’ve tried and tried to reach out to this person, and right now I don’t think there is anything else I can do.) One mutual friend of ours even said to me, “I don’t understand this because I DON’T COME FROM A FAMILY LIKE THIS. WE ALL GET ALONG.” I know that person was trying to make me feel better. Instead they made me feel like my family was The Munsters, only 100 times worse. There were also a number of other problems in various personal relationships. I suspect those people with whom I did have problems would appreciate me just leaving that stuff alone and not going into any details; and I’ve decided that in the spirit of forgiveness and “moving on” I’m NOT going to say any more about those relational issues! They’re past- let’s leave ‘em there!

Many of you know that the church I pastor is very small and is struggling in a number of ways. Several people left our church in 2008 and that was painful for me. Several others joined the church in 2008 and that was joyful for me. Our Sunday attendance is down compared to a year ago. Our midweek attendance (and general morale in the church) is a bit “up” compared to a year ago.

So, was ‘08 a good year for me or was it a bad year? It was both, and I think you can understand in reading this why I say it was a year of “a lot of extreme things happening in my life”.

Well, those are my reflections about 2008 ending. Whether 2009 is going to be a “good” year or a “bad” year, or more likely just a regular old year like most of them, I’m looking forward to the year ahead, and I hope you are, too!