Friday, December 31, 2010

CLAIRE

[ Note: I’m very pleased that this post was also printed as a column in the Dec. 31, 2010 MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA) ]

“Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)

“Claire” (well, literally “Clair”) was the title of a Gilbert O’Sullivan hit song from the early 1970s. Claire is also the name of a dear lady I’ve known for twenty-four years. I’ve enjoyed the “2010 MetroWest Persons of Distinction” series that has been running in the print editions of the MetroWest Daily News over the past few weeks. Claire would never make such a list as she is one who shuns the limelight and is happiest serving in the background; but in my humble opinion, Claire Post Grimes is absolutely worthy of the title, “2010 MetroWest Person of Distinction”.

My first contact with Claire was by phone in the autumn of 1986. She asked me to come and speak at First Assembly of God of Framingham. I was on the pastoral staff of a church in Walpole at the time. The little Framingham church was without a pastor and Claire, an active church member, was lining up fill-in speakers for the services. I did come and speak. One thing led to another and a few weeks later I was meeting with the church’s pulpit committee. Not long after that I “candidated” for the church’s pastorate and was voted in as pastor.

Upon moving into Framingham, I discovered Claire was truly an amazing woman. She’d only been a born-again Christian for about five years at that time, having previously been a devout Roman Catholic. Claire served on the church’s Board, and volunteered as the church’s secretary. She was present for every activity at church. A person who eschewed tardiness, Claire was always the first person to arrive for any service or meeting. Claire’s husband Jack, an M.I.T. graduate and very intelligent man was not much of a churchgoer, but he was supportive of Claire’s commitment to God and to the church. She once described Jack as “having all of the fruit of the Holy Spirit without the Holy Spirit”...and while I realize that statement is theologically incorrect, I understood what she meant. Both Claire and Jack are kind, warm, hardworking, and generous people.

Claire and Jack are now each in their early eighties. She doesn’t like notoriety, and she’ll probably be unhappy I wrote this, but it’s all the kind of things I’d say at her funeral. As my friend Dave Milley often says, “Send the flowers when people are still alive!” So, this is a way of “sending flowers” to and for Claire. The Grimes are a family of modest means who live in a small 1950s ranch style house. Despite the modesty, when the church would be in a financial crisis, again and again there’d be a generous check from them. When there was any kind of work to be done at the church, you could count on Claire to do it. For the past eleven years or so, she did almost all of the regular cleaning of the church...vacuuming, cleaning the toilets, and even supplying the bathroom paper products. At times, I felt guilty about Claire doing all that cleaning, but she would insist that she wanted to do it.

When you’re in close proximity to people in some of the worst of times, that can take its toll on relationships. My elderly parents were each seriously ill and near death in 2000. I was “stressed to the max” about it. I remember that on one morning Claire made some sort of a casual comment to me and I “let her have it” verbally. Honestly, I can be “short fused” and I’ve had several people angrily leave the church through the years for that reason. Not Claire. She could not have been more warm and forgiving toward me, saying, “There is nothing you could ever say that would cause me to think any less of you.” Claire Grimes models Biblical forgiveness. She and her husband have had close relatives of theirs experience serious crimes (on the level of the type of matters you see on “America’s Most Wanted”). Despite that, Claire could not harbor bitterness toward the perpetrators.

The local Assemblies of God District officials closed the little Framingham church this past March. Most of the “church family” have found other places to attend and most have emotionally “moved on”. For Claire, this was a challenging year as she underwent a hip replacement and almost two months of rehabilitation, and she gave up driving. At 82, Claire’s not ready to jump into another church. She’s an amazingly positive person, but I have heard her sadly declare many times over the past few months, “I miss my CHURCH!” I had to chuckle when Claire said, “You many not believe this, but I even loved cleaning that little church building and I miss doing that so much!”

Every pastor wishes he or she had a congregation full of Claire Grimeses!
As far as I’m concerned I’ll always be her pastor, and I thank God for her and the difference she has made in my life and in the lives of many others!

Monday, December 27, 2010

SORRY, BUT IT'S NOT IN THE BIBLE

“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)

For the end of the year, the MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA) is running a series on “Persons of Distinction” in MetroWest. (This series is ONLY found in the print edition; it’s not in the on-line edition.) I want to be very careful about how I frame this piece because I’ve never met the man featured in today’s (December 27, 2010) paper, but he sounds like an outstanding and great man: Mr. Peter Hill. Hill is the leader of the V.F.W. of Holliston. Hill served in Iraq as a National Guardsman. He’s also on the Holliston Fire Department. I consider guys like Mr. Hill genuine heroes. They are a great blessing to society. They touch many lives and make a great positive difference in the world.

Reporter Julia Spitz wrote the piece. She included three questions she asked Mr. Hill and his responses. One question was, “What’s the best quote or saying you wished you’d said, or that guides you when you need a boost?”

Mr Hill’s reply was, “There are two quotes from the Bible that I can think of.
‘I used to complain that I had no shoes until I met the man that had no feet’”.

Mr. Hill’s other quote was, “’Give a man a fish and he will eat for a meal. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.’”.

Listen, there’s nothing wrong with those quotes. I’ve heard both of them many times before. They’re powerful, and I agree with each of them.

Here’s the one problem: Neither one is found in the Bible.

If you check (on-line) you’ll find that each is often mistakenly cited as being found in the Bible. In fact, the one about the man with no shoes meeting the man with no feet is most likely an old Persian proverb. And, the one about teaching a man to fish is most likely an old Chinese proverb.

Don’t get me wrong, both are very wise sayings which certainly embody Biblical principles.

I really mean no harm to Mr. Hill, and I hope he keeps citing those quotes, but that he’ll understand they’re not found in the Bible. There are all sorts of sayings that are supposedly found in the Bible. One is “God helps those who help themselves”. Another is “money is the root of all evil”. (Now there IS a verse very close to that one about money, but it actually says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” ) Still another so-called Bible verse is “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Now, the Book of Proverbs DOES have much to say about the “rod of correction” but that particular line is never found in the Book of Proverbs or anywhere else in the Bible.

Tonight, I watched Jeopardy, and once again there was a fairly easy Bible question on there that none of the contestants could get right. Each week, I get an e-mail newsletter from the Rev. Charles Crabtree, President of Zion Bible College in Haverhill, MA. In a couple of recent issues, Crabtree lamented the Biblical illiteracy of modern Americans. Recently I was talking to a young businessman who happened to be a nominal Catholic. We were talking about getting ready for Christmas, and he asked me, “Do Protestants celebrate Christmas?” He assumed Christmas was a ROMAN CATHOLIC holiday and that Protestants don’t celebrate it! (Well, technically there IS a very tiny minority of Protestants; maybe one or two percent who do not celebrate Christmas, and the Puritans in colonial New England did not celebrate Christmas, but let’s face it, 98% of Protestants celebrate Christmas!)

I guess it wouldn’t hurt to read one of those “Bible for dummies” or “Religion for dummies” books, but the fact is, to REALLY know your Bible, you’ve got to read it and study it consistently. I know sitting and reading from a bunch of books spread out all over the place may seem dry, but today there are all kinds of Bible study helps right on line. I can just do a google search, say, for Luke 2 or Matthew 2 about the birth of Jesus, and thousands and thousands of Bible commentary references, not to mention scores of Bible translations, will just pop up on the computer screen. So, as we near 2011, maybe that ought to be a goal...to get more familiar with God’s Word. You don’t want to find yourself naming your favorite quotes from the Bible that...well...aren’t in the Bible...

Friday, December 24, 2010

JUST WHAT THE MASTER ORDERED...

"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7)

This year's Christmas season has been very different, and I've mentioned that previously.
For December 24, I REALLY was missing officiating at a Christmas Eve service. Our church WAS small, and some years the Christmas Eve service was no more than fifteen or twenty. Even so, it was very special. We'd have the Christmas Eve service early...around 6:30 or 7 and it would be all over by 8 at the latest. There would be Christmas carols and special music and Bible readings and usually I would share some sort of Christmas devotional from Scripture. There would be an opportunity at the end to wish one another a Merry Christmas, and it was not unusual for the Baril family to be given several gifts from people in the church.

For this year's Christmas Eve, I got through with my shift at the answering service at 6; went home and relaxed a bit, and then we got takeout Chinese food. To my surprise, my daughter Rachel mentioned she was going to a 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service at First United Methodist Church over on the other side of town. I grew up Roman Catholic, but I've never gone to a Midnight mass nor to any sort of Midnight or late night Christmas service. I was tired and could easily have drifted off to sleep around 10, but there was that gnawing feeling that something was missing. I had not been to a Christmas church service, and for me that was unsettling. I think it was the Holy Spirit nudging me because it was like something or someone was internally "bugging" me to go to that service with Rachel. I asked Rachel if she'd mind if I joined her, and she did not mind. After a mug of hot coffee, I changed my clothes, and we left for the service around 10:35.

First United Methodist's building is one of those "ultra modern" A-frame style church facilities from the early 1960s. Today, those facilities seem very dated, and in one sense they're kind of impractical. Despite that, I find that sort of architecture warm and appealing. There are stained glass windows, and that A-frame style just kind of says "UP!!!" and puts you in a worshipful frame of mind. As Rachel and I were waiting for the service to start, I heard a guy in the back row comment that there was something about that church facility that was "warm and fuzzy" and made him feel spiritual. Honestly, I agree, and I was thinking the same thing.

When Rachel and I arrived the number of people was pretty sparse, but I was surprised that by 11:05 there was a good sized crowd. The service was beautiful. It ended with all of us lighting candles and singing "Silent Night". During the service we sang hymns and carols, there was special music, and there were Bible readings. This was also a Communion service. I knew that Lutheran and Episcopal churches "do" Communion in a very similar manner to the Roman Catholic Church...many of the readings are virtually identical, but I did not realize that was also true for the Methodists. So, the first two-thirds of the service seemed very "low church Protestant" but the Communion part seemed very Roman Catholic. In this church you walk up to receive Communion much as you do in the Roman Catholic Church. Pastor Sandy Bonnette-Kim handed you a small chunk of bread torn from a large loaf, and then you dipped it in a cup of grape juice held by a church lay leader. I do know that form of receiving the Communion elements is called "intinction". Rachel later commented that the bread tasted kind of lousy. And, it sort of did, BUT of course, it's what the elements STAND for that's important, and tonight, I found that Communion service quite meaningful.

The service ended around 12:15, so we arrived on Christmas Eve and we technically left on Christmas Day. It was a good way to start Christmas Day 2010, and it was what I needed. I was tempted to call this piece, "Just What the Doctor Ordered". That would not be inappropriate as Jesus Christ IS "the Great Physician", but I think I'll say it was "Just What the Master Ordered"!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CHRISTMAS "POT POURRI"

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

I know my last posting was “very heavy”...maybe the “heaviest” thing I’ve ever posted on the blog.

This one will be very light. Just a pot pourri of things I’m thinking this week.

We don’t have a tree up this year and the house is being gradually packed up as we anticipate moving within the next couple of months. And, I’m working part of Christmas Day (I don’t mind). I really didn’t think I’d feel Christmassy at all this year, and I’m not a big Christmas person at all, anyway. However, I’ve enjoyed this season far more than I thought I would. I actually LIKED the one inch snowfall this week. It was enough to turn the ground white, without having to shovel 2 feet of snow and have cars get stuck and all that kind of stuff! (And, I usually don’t like snow!!)

I had purposed to NOT send out Christmas cards this year. In fact, I sent an e-mail some weeks back letting people know that. One of my reasons is that the Christmas mailing label software was all on the church iMac computer which is gone. I did not have a backup at home. I used to run the address labels and return labels on the church iMac, and in fact, I had the whole Christmas list where I check off “sent” and “received” on that church iMac. I do the Christmas cards in our family, and I just wasn’t keen on having to go out and buy a bunch of cards and stamps, and I really didn’t want to have to hand address them all, etc. Well, yesterday I was fumbling through my basement file cabinet, and “what to my wondering eyes did appear?” as the poem says, but a manilla envelope marked Christmas list. I opened it up. Last March when the church closed, I’d printed out the Christmas card list along with labels and return labels for Christmas 2010 so I’d have them when the time came. Unfortunately, I FORGOT I’D DONE THAT! Honestly, I felt so STUPID, knowing I could probably have sent out cards after all! I may put out some kind of New Year’s mailing with them, OR I may wait until we’re definitely moving and send out a hard copy notice as well as an e-mail notice about our new address when that time comes.

I’m truly thankful for little things. I never thought I’d enjoy having a rather mundane secular job, but I truly do. The Campbell family who own Total Connections LLC/VIP Answering Service could not have been nicer to me this year. Just having the job is a big help. I have to say my coworkers, most of whom are female, and many of whom are over twenty years younger than me, couldn’t have been more pleasant to me this year. Having a pleasant atmosphere in which to go to work and feeling part of the “family” there is nice. They actually are having “5 Days of Christmas” this week and are giving us gifts each day!

Like George Bailey, I have some dear friends. I am a little nervous to start naming people, because when you do that you will always forget someone, and for anyone I forget, it is not intentional,and I’m sorry! Ed Duddy from Texas, Rob Woods, pastor of the AG church in Marlboro, and Ron Sebastian from Ashland have been particularly supportive this year. Strong honorable mentions also go to Claire Grimes, Bob Gill, Dave Milley, Bill Lincoln, Jim Spence, John Sullivan, Lee Wickett and several others who have consistently prayed for me and have been encouraging and helpful in SO many ways. I also have appreciated the folks at Bread of Life Assembly of God in Westminster. It’s a “hike” to drive there, but it’s a very good church. All of the pastoral staff have been a great blessing. There’s a depth among the people at that church and a hunger for God that I don’t see in too many other places.

I have a number of “on-line” friends, too, some of which I’ve never met in person, and some of which I have not seen in years, but you’ve been great.

Some of my immediate family very much don’t like me writing or talking about them in public, so I’ll honor that, but I do appreciate each of my family more than they could imagine. I’ve also got a great extended family.

We really have SO much in America.
But so many of us are impatient and complainers. Listen, I’m really guilty in both of those “departments”. A few years ago, I placed an order at a Wendy’s Drive Thru. The woman got it wrong, and I made her come back to the window and acknowledge she messed the order up and gave one chili when I said two. (I made her look at the receipt and acknowledge it.) My kids at the time said, “Dad, I can’t BELIEVE you did that!!” And at the time, I defended it. But after working a service job and having enough people bark at me for different things, I realize I over did it, and that we Americans can be so ungrateful.

Canada IS a beautiful country and I LOVE to visit there, but I give kudos to my 4 Canadian grandparents to came to this country for a better life for their descendants (and 3 out of 4 spoke French as their first language, so that was a challenge for them).

Yup, I have family and friends and a place to sleep at night and to shower in the morning. I have food. I am blessed and thankful this Christmas.

I wish a Merry Christmas to all!

(For all 3 of you who’ll made it through this one without giving up and falling asleep, thanks!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

IF YOU BUILD IT, HE WILL COME

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

“IF YOU BUILD IT, HE WILL COME.” That’s the famous supernatural and mystical line from the film “Field of Dreams”. Field of Dreams is my favorite film. It’s one of those kind of movies that I could probably watch three hundred times, and still not get tired of. Ironically, some of my fellow evangelical Christians will have a very difficult time with my love of this film. Yes, it could probably be considered a “New Age” film. Certainly, it’s literal message is not Biblical. NO, if you build a first class baseball field, ball players from 1919 are not going to show up and play ball! “Moonlight” Graham is not going to come and prevent your little girl from choking. You Dad is not going to show up as a young man and play catch with you. The film is NEVER meant to be taken literally, but if you look at that film as a metaphor, it’s very powerful.

It’s been a week since I have posted on the blog. I was going to write something this evening which would be interesting, inspirational and “safe”. But as I reflected on it, I just CAN’T write the piece I’d intended. Instead, I’m writing a very “unsafe” piece...one which may get me in trouble...one which some folks may not understand... and may harshly criticize.

But that’s a vivid example of how you follow the Scripture verse I opened with, and the philosophy of “If you build it, he will come”. For some of my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters who just CAN’T get into “Field of Dreams” then watch a great Christian film which you’ll feel much better about: that’s “Facing the Giants”. It’s not a baseball movie, it’s a football movie, but it has a strong message about faith...believing...stepping out to believe God for the impossible...

That’s what this piece is about.

Listen, 2010 has not been an easy year for me. Like Elijah and the guy who followed in his footsteps hundreds of years later (John the Baptist) I’ve sunk to some of the lowest points of despair and hopelessness of my life this year. But I’m still alive and kicking. I want to thank many wonderful people who have prayed for me this year, and who have literally battled the forces of darkness in their prayers. No kidding, I’VE FELT YOUR PRAYERS! Although I’m very weak in myself, and in me, in Bob Baril (naturally speaking) is NO good thing, yet the prayers of God’s people have given me the faith and courage to look to Jesus the Author and Finisher of my faith (see Hebrews 12) and press on!

I feel very strongly that this piece is for at least a couple of people- maybe more. Whoever it’s for, I hope and pray that you’ll read it and read it again and again and again...maybe cut and paste it and save it and print it out. Listen, I’m nothing, but the principles and truths in this piece are what I hold onto and a big part of what are keeping me going at this difficult time. Jesus said in Matthew 11:15, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. Are you hearing?!

Listen, you know what’s KILLING and HAMPERING and MAIMING and CRIPPLING the church in America and the Christian people of America? It’s what my good friend Ron Sebastian calls “the spirit of I.B.M.” No, I’m really not talking about International Business Machines. I’m talking about being “INTENTIONALLY BUSINESS MINDED”. Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, we all have to be practical up to a point. If I’m buying a car, for instance, I have to figure what it’s going to cost me to buy it, then sales tax, insurance, excise tax, registration, title, etc. If I’m buying a house, there are credit checks and closing costs, and the need of legal representation, etc. I’m not against any of that stuff. I’m for it. BUT MOST CHRISTIANS AND CHURCHES NEVER GET BEYOND THAT LEVEL!! So many of the Christians of one hundred years ago believed God for the impossible. They prayed in their jobs. They prayed in their clothing. They prayed in their “daily Bread”. They believed God for the impossible, and many times THE IMPOSSIBLE HAPPENED. My friend Dave Milley who reads this blog can tell you about his Dad, Norman Milley, who was one of those kind of people. He’d be about 110 if her were still living. Listen, that guy prayed for the impossible, and many times IT HAPPENED! That guy wasn’t perfect, but that guy walked and talked with God. He worked construction. He wasn’t some flaky ethereal guy. But he really believed God and His Word, and Norman lived that uncompromisingly.

You may be the most humble ordinary person in the world. You may have had some great failures in your life. You may have actually felt worthless. (Sometimes I have- and that’s LIE from the pit of Hell!). You may feel God can never forgive you and can never bless and use you (that’s also a big lie!). What has God promised you in your spirit? (I know if you’re not a born again Christian, this is all foreign to you...in that case YOU need to come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, and if you’ll e-mail me, I can tell you more about that.) One Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1979, I went to Knollwood Memorial Park in Canton and sought the Lord there with all my heart. God spoke to me- NOT audibly...but in that “still small voice” internally that Believers know about... and told me one day I’d be an assistant pastor at a particular large church. I thought that was crazy and it did not seem possible. Yet, two years later I was put on staff at that large church. I’ve had all sorts of things like that take place in my life. That’s why I know how important it is to really seek the Lord and trust Him no matter how foolish it seems, or frankly, no matter what you have to go through in the meantime.

So many times we become judgmental. We look down our nose at others. We become so concerned about the “speck” in our brother or sister’s eye and forget about the BEAM in our own eye. This is really for somebody right now. FORGET about the “speck” in your brother or sister’s eye. Forget about it. Pray for them and leave it to God. Let God deal with the BEAM in your own eye. What is He saying to YOU? Are YOU standing in the way? Is your pride standing in the way of what God wants to do? Is your opinion standing in the way? Listen, sometimes mine has been. But what about YOU?

We Pentecostals can become so cocky about feeling that we’re “led by the Holy Spirit” and sometimes we’re the most “intentionally business minded” and carnal people of all. Let me tell you about George and Lorraine Barnett. They’re still alive and around 80 and I hope they won’t mind, but somehow I don’t think they’ll mind me telling this story: They were from Baptist and Presbyterian backgrounds. They’re not into “speaking in tongues” or any of that kind of stuff at all. But they do know the Lord. Back in 1959 they were a young couple with a toddler looking to move from Boston to the suburbs. They looked at a lot of houses. They looked at a new ranch style house in Canton. It was really nothing special. They found their dream house in Braintree. They put a deposit on the Braintree house and were proceeding ahead with buying and moving to their dream house. But one day, God spoke (in that “still small voice”) to Lorraine Barnett. He told her to NOT buy the house in Braintree...instead to buy the house in Canton...that He had a work for them to do there. The Barnetts are rock solid sensible people...not “flaky” at all. But Lorraine knew this was God. They backed out of the Braintree deal. They bought the Canton residence. They joined a Baptist church in Sharon. Ten years passed and NOTHING happened as far as spiritual things were concerned. In 1970, their son George Jr. led me to personal faith in Jesus Christ. Shortly thereafter, my sister Dianne became a born-again Christian. There was a mini-revival and a number of young people who were all students at Canton High School became born-again Christians. One of them, Glenn Pickett is today a professor of music at a Christian college in southern California. His brother Larry died a few years ago of A.L.S. Larry died as a born-again Christian...led to the Lord by his brother Glenn. Today Larry is in Heaven. Do you think it was important for Lorraine Barnett to listen to God and obey Him? Had she been “sensible” and “intentionally business minded” she’d have moved to Braintree and I’d have gone to Hell...along with Glenn, and Larry and Dianne and others...

I believe this is a prophetic word to some of you: PLEASE GET OUT OF THE WAY. DROP YOUR STINKIN’ THINKIN’. DROP THE I.B.M. STUFF. What is God telling you to do? What is His call on your life? I know of a guy who was a T.V. repairman (Dick Lawless) who is now around 80, but who led scores of people to Christ on television repair calls in the 1970s and 1980s. What’s God calling YOU to do?

Walking forward in faith is not easy. In “Field of Dreams” the Kevin Costner character looks outside at his baseball field filling up with snow. He couldn’t pay the mortgage. He looked like a fool. In “Facing the Giants” the main characters also have their very dark moments when they feel very foolish. Listen, sometimes when you follow God you have to be willing to look very foolish and to become very vulnerable. Christian people will try to discourage you and will push their “I.B.M.” stuff on you. Remember when Peter told Jesus he did NOT have to go to the cross and Jesus told Peter, “Get thee behind me, SATAN!”? Peter gave Jesus an “I.B.M.” speech there if I’ve ever heard one.

Again, this is for at least a couple of people...maybe more. What is God saying to your spirit? What calling is on your life? What are you doing to THWART that? How can you get out of the way and let God have His way with you?

The end of “Facing the Giants” is a very moving scene of a bunch of high school boys, one by one, proclaiming that nothing is impossible with God. And, you know the end of “Field of Dreams”...the lead character playing catch with his Dad. I had a testy relationship with my own father, and that scene always brings tears to my eyes.

Listen, it’s really true. Read the Bible passage I started with again.

And, if you build it, he will come.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

FINALLY ON FACEBOOK!

“Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” (2 John 12)

The news is out: Matt Zuckerberg is Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”. It seems a lot of the reason for the choice is the success of the film, “The Social Network”. My late father was very reluctant to jump on bandwagons. When it came to what was popular, he was quite a contrarian. When virtually every male between the ages of 16 and 60 began growing long sideburns around 1969, he was determined his sideburns would stay exactly as they’d always been, and they did. Dad had absolutely no interest in cable T.V. “Why pay for television when it came through the airwaves for free?” was his attitude. He had no interest in watching some crazy channels called “CNN” or “HBO”. And, his telephones were operated with 1950s style rotary dials, not push buttons.

Yes, I admit that’s where I get it from. I tend to be late to jump on-board with new trends and technological changes. I did not use a computer at all until 1993, and was frankly reluctant to give up my electronic typewriter. In those days, it was not unusual for your computer to be self-contained and NOT on-line. I did not go on-line until 1996. (I was talked into it by others and had little interest in it.) I did not get a cell phone until late 1999 and it was a gift from someone. I know Facebook’s been around since 2006, and before that the big thing was “My Space” and I know there was some big thing before that (but I honestly forget what it was called). The earlier social networks were almost exclusively used by 13 to 25-year-olds. Virtually nobody over thirty was interested in them. THAT was until Facebook, which was originally intended as a social networking tool for college-age young adults.

For me, my blog, my e-mail, my web surfing, and my (occasional) instant messaging were quite enough. I just couldn’t see why I needed to get involved in one more on-line activity. As it is, some friends were telling me I was spending way too much time on-line, especially working on the blog, so I couldn’t see HOW I would find the time for Facebook. AND, there was that thinking very much like my father’s: Just because EVERYBODY else was on Facebook, why did I HAVE to be? I got all sorts of requests to go on Facebook and be various people’s friends, and I always just ignored them. (That also goes for Linkedin or Linkin or whatever it is!) It’s a good thing I don’t bet, because I’d have been willing to bet I would never join Facebook, and I would have lost the bet.

You know, I guess Zuckerberg DID deserve to be person of the year. It was the recent piece about Zuckerberg on “60 Minutes” that got me seriously thinking about jumping onto Facebook for the first time ever. Monday night was the local Assemblies of God ministers’ Christmas dinner. (It was held at the Southern New England District’s ministry headquarters facility out on Route 20 on the Charlton/Sturbridge line.) I usually go, and this year Mary Ann and I each attended. I had a good time, but it was also a little bit surreal. There are what used to be all my peers...Assemblies of God pastors and their spouses from central Massachusetts. I used to be one of those. Well, I’m still an officially Ordained Assemblies of God minister, but I’m kind of a minister-at-large these days. Pastors talk about “pastor stuff”...problems with the local building officials, families the church has gained and lost, a great new Christian Ed. DVD series that the adults love, and a horrible one they all hated; the pros and cons of oil heat “locked in” contracts; the pros and cons of parsonages versus housing allowances...all that kind of stuff. It was a very nice social night, and I did enjoy myself, but it hit me as I drove home that I was not going to wake up on Tuesday morning and go into my church office.

I came home “keyed up” and just did not want to sleep. It was around 11, but I was as wide awake as if it were 11 a.m. You may not believe this, but I’ve never taken a digital photograph and I’ve never added a photo to the computer. My wife is an outstanding amateur photographer and literally has put hundreds of photos on the computer. I began looking through all those photos until I could find some of me, and I settled on one of me from 2007 standing by a harbor. I THINK that one was taken at Boothbay Harbor, Maine. [EDITING NOTE, Dec. 19, '10- I've checked and that photo was actually taken in 2008 at Rockport, Mass.!] I “fiddled” with the software to “lift” that photo and “paste” it into the “photo” think on Facebook... I walked through the steps to join Facebook, and “voila”!

No kidding, I woke up on Tuesday morning thinking, “Did I REALLY join Facebook?” It almost seemed like a dream. For just a second, I wondered if I should have gone through with it and if I’d made a mistake. But, guess what? For the past couple of days, Facebook has been like a new toy...like an early Christmas present. I’m really enjoying it...connecting with all sorts of folks, writing various comments, and wondering WHY I was so resistant to this.

So, miracles really DO happen- I’m finally on Facebook!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"RAM'S HORN"

“And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.” (Joshua 6:5)

I’ve got to say right at the outset that this is NOT a theological piece! This is another one of my secular “car buff” postings, but I could not resist that Biblical quote. Of course, the ram’s horn above refers to the shofar. If it meant the blasting of the horn of a Dodge Ram truck, now wouldn’t that be pretty awesome?!

If you’re not a car or truck buff, this piece will bore you to tears, but for you who ARE, I have a question: Have you noticed Chrysler Group LLC’s advertisements on television for 2011 Ram trucks? And have you noticed that most Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge dealers NOW include the “Ram” name and logo on their exterior walls? Have you noticed that the Ram logo is what used to be the Dodge logo, and that Dodge has a new logo? This has all had me puzzled. I wondered if Chrysler has made Ram a separate and distinct make, rather than a Dodge truck model as it has been for decades. I very much suspected Chrysler HAD done that.
You won’t see “Dodge” mentioned anywhere in the Ram television ads, nor in magazine ads for Ram, for that matter.

Chrysler has a history of doing that sort of thing before. People in my age group and older will remember that one of the first compact cars produced by the Big Three was the Valiant which was introduced as a 1960 model. Most of us remember the car as the “Plymouth Valiant”, competition for the Ford Falcon and Chevy Corvair. In fact, for 1960, Valiant was a separate and distinct MAKE. For ‘61, Chrysler decided it would be better to just include Valiant as a model of the Plymouth lineup, and the car was a Plymouth for the next fifteen years of its manufacture. In the early 1950s, the most expensive model Chrysler was the Chrysler Imperial. In 1955, Chrysler spun off “Imperial” as a separate and distinct make, rather than a Chrysler model. Imperial was a separate and distinct make for more than twenty years, although it used to drive most Imperial owners crazy that almost everybody referred to the car as the “Chrysler Imperial”! Eventually, Chrysler folded the Imperial make back into the Chrysler lineup and once again you had the “Chrysler Imperial” until the car was killed entirely.

If you do a thorough internet search for “Ram Trucks”, especially Chrysler Group LLC and some of the better automotive writers, you’ll find that in fact Ram has NOT become a separate make. Now, if you read Wikipedia, it states that Ram HAS become a separate make, but this is at odds with the Chrysler website itself! (I wrote a correction for the Wikipedia piece and submitted it, but whether that edit will show up, I don’t know!) You can do the research yourself and read the articles, but here’s the scoop as I’ve read it:

The Italian company FIAT has the controlling interest in Chrysler Group LLC. FIAT has been purposing to shake some things up and make some changes at Chrysler. For one thing, they purpose to make Chrysler strictly a luxury make to compete with Lincoln and Cadillac. Personally, I think that’s a horrible idea. For decades, Chrysler was marketed as a medium priced and slightly high end car; very much intended to compete with Buick. When Daimler-Benz owned Chrysler, they made some changes, including killing the Plymouth brand. That was very understandable because Plymouth was essentially the same thing as Dodge and was a much poorer seller than Dodge. But when they killed the low-priced Plymouth, they kept some Plymouth models and renamed them as Chryslers. One example is the Chrysler Voyager minivan (which has been discontinued). Another is the PT Cruiser which WAS planned to be a Plymouth, but was slightly reconfigured to be a Chrysler. The Voyager and PT Cruiser are certainly not luxury cars! They’re also not even medium priced high end cars! FIAT has also decided that they want to change Dodge’s image, and their ultimate goal for Dodge is that it be a sports car make something like Alfa Romeo. (I’m not kidding!) For that reason, FIAT does not like its connection to Dodge Ram trucks at all. (I don’t know what they intend to do with the Dodge Grand Caravan?!) Incidentally, SMALL trucks like the Dodge Dakota will still be marketed as Dodges, but full-sized Dodge trucks will be marketed as “Rams”. Originally, FIAT did intend Ram to be a separate and distinct make. They gave Ram the old Dodge logo and created a new Dodge logo. I don’t know why, but kind of at the last minute, FIAT decided to NOT make Ram a separate make, but to market the Ram truck AS IF it were a separate make! So, when you buy a Ram truck you DO buy a Dodge. I would THINK the title and registration would read “Dodge” under the “make” category. But the truck will never be marketed as a Dodge. If you look at the Chrysler Group LLC website, essentially in the fine print you read that the Ram truck IS a Dodge, but it’s being treated like a big secret.

Supposedly I’m a dope when it comes to business and marketing, but I’m putting this right out there in cyberspace that FIAT is all wrong in how it’s trying to reshape and remarket Chrysler! They should market the Dodge as a family car and truck (and minivan) make and market it toe to toe against Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota, Honda and Nissan, for that matter. I know Dodge’s sales slipped in the past five years, but in the 1990s and very early 2000s it was a very strong low-priced make and there’s no reason that can’t be the case again. Marketing Chrysler as a luxury car against Cadillac and Lincoln is NUTS! I guess I COULD see bringing out a luxury top of the line Chrysler and calling it the Chrysler Imperial, but such a car is never going to make BIG inroads against Cadillac and Lincoln. It’s frankly the Jeeps that bring people into Chrysler dealerships, but the Jeep foot traffic should generate enough sales to keep Chrysler selling cars, although I would not expect they’d ever do the sales volume of Dodge cars, let alone other makes.

It will be interesting to see how FIAT’s plans do at Chrysler, but, and I really mean no insult to Italian-Americans here, but how many FIATs do you see on the road and what is FIAT’s world wide image? I rest my case!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"MASS"

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
For the body is not one member, but many.” (I Corinthians 12:13-14)

Danielle Ameden, a reporter for the MetroWest Daily News, authored a moving story about the funeral arrangements for Sudbury’s Lt. Scott Milley which appeared on the front page of today’s paper. It was a well written piece. Like so many in the MetroWest area, my heart goes out to the Milley family in their terrible time of grief and loss.

I realize this is quite a “nit-pick” but reporter Ameden wrote that the “mass” for Lt. Milley will take place this morning. So, I’ve decided to make this into a teachable moment. In Roman Catholicism, most church services are called “mass”. The Catholic church will advertise the times for “Sunday masses”. People say, “I’m going to mass”. When you live in such a heavily Roman Catholic area as Boston, and you grow up in this environment, you can (wrongly) think all religious services are called “mass”. They’re not.

“Mass” is predominantly a Roman Catholic term. I do know that Anglicans and Episcopalians also DO use the term “mass”. I am not sure if the Eastern Orthodox churches use the term or not. In Roman Catholicism, the service is “the sacrifice of the mass” which commemorates Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. The mass culminates in the “Holy Eucharist”, which is Communion. In the “Holy Eucharist” they believe the bread and wine truly becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that the communicants partake of that body and blood.

In fact, the funeral service for Lt. Milley will be conducted by Pastor Bruce Hanlon from Crossroads Community Church in Framingham. (Crossroads is a non-denominational Protestant church.) Therefore, the service is not a “mass”. For most Protestants (Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Assemblies of God,etc.)
we call the times of corporate worship “services”. Many Protestant churches do NOT observe Holy Communion every week....but rather once a month. For most Protestants, Communion is NOT the literal body and blood of Christ, but is an important symbol.

For whatever reason, most modern Americans are quite ignorant about religious and spiritual matters. You see that on Jeopardy. Contestants can master categories such as “Physics” or “International leaders” but can’t answer “Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?” or “Who was the founder of the Mormon Church?”

Well, that’s my nit-pick for today!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A VERY "MARIAN" CHRISTMAS

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14)

Many of you know that in a lot of respects, I’m not really a “big” Christmas person- so when someone or something really gets me excited about Christmas and makes me happy, that’s worth writing about! I was privileged to attend Marian High School’s “Holiday Pops 2010” performance this past Sunday afternoon at the Marian High auditorium.

Marian High has got to be one of the best kept secrets in Framingham; and that’s unfortunate. True, their piece of property is very small by 2010 high school standards, and the building which was a state-of-the-art three million dollar facility back in the late 1950s is now pretty “dated”. Even so, the property is kept very well maintained, and any visitor would be surprised by the up to date computers and other equipment at the school and the overall high quality of the faculty and staff. Most years Marian’s total student population is no more than three hundred. Despite that somewhat low number, most of the time, Marian is able to field outstanding athletic teams. And, while many in this area know that Framingham High has an outstanding drama program, SO DOES MARIAN!

All of my kids were part of the “Marian Mainstagers” during their high school years. The school is blessed to have teacher and drama coach Stephen Flynn on staff. Flynn has a background on Broadway and has got to be one of the most talented and capable drama teachers in New England. For each of the past few years the Marian Mainstagers have put on a Christmas program, but this year some wondered whether the school would be up to the task. Mr. Flynn became quite ill just a few weeks ago, and had to have a quintuple heart by-pass done. At this point, I’ve got to interject as a proud Dad that my daughter Rachel who holds Bachelor’s degrees in both Fine Arts and Theater Arts stepped in and supervised practices for the program along with music teacher and director Mr. George A. Perrone. Thank God, Mr. Flynn was back to direct the performance.

“Holiday Pops 2010” was really not a “Christmas PLAY”. It was a musical variety show. The kids at Marian have some amazing talents. (Fox’s “Glee”- watch out!!) The audience was entertained with singing, instrumental music, dance, choreography, and a fabulous set! One thing that kind of bothers me about the Marian drama shows is the bulk of the audience is usually parents, siblings, and very old people. That’s no slight to very old people! I’m a card carrying AARP member and only a few years away from being officially classified as “elderly” myself. Old people love the Marian shows, and God bless them, they SHOULD attend... I was just a little sad to see the auditorium no more than half full on Sunday. This was the third performance, but even so, the place SHOULD have been full...and with people of all ages and backgrounds.

This is not “your grandparents’ Marian High School”! The demographic background is not just Irish and Italian Catholic kids. Oh, sure, there are plenty of Irish and Italian Catholic kids and faculty; but Marian currently has quite a number of Korean exchange students, as well as a representation of quite a few ethnic and religious groups.

There were well over thirty “numbers” in the show. One person DID comment to me that there should have been more “religious” pieces, and I agree. I’d have loved to hear a soloist do “O Holy Night” or hear a few carols such as “Angels We Have Heard on High”. That stuff was surprisingly lacking at a Catholic school program. But there WERE a lot of the holiday favorites such as LeRoy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”, “Blue Christmas” by a Korean-American Elvis impersonator (no kidding!), “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Silver Bells”, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. They even cranked up Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” (would it shock readers to know I love that song?) and Colleen Fitzpatrick did an impressive dance number while it played.

The closing song was “White Christmas”.

There was rousing applause for the performers, and especially for Mr. Flynn.
The kids gave floral bouquets as “thank yous” to several adults who’d helped with the show, and I was thrilled that my daughter Rachel received one.

If you’re looking for a great alternative to public school for your children or grandchildren, I highly recommend Framingham’s Marian High School. And, I hope next year the place will be full for their Christmas program!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

NEW LIFE IN DECEMBER

“And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” (Exodus 3:2-3)

Like most children I loved Christmas, and I loved December. Christmas meant a wonderful Christmas tree and lots of presents, candy, and other goodies. December also meant winter which included Christmas vacation from school and snowstorms. Snowstorms were a blast! They meant sledding, and making snowmen and having all sorts of great fun. Well, as a fifty-something guy with rapidly graying hair, I’ve cringed each year when the calendar hit December 1. (That was also my late father’s birthday, so maybe that has something to do with it, too. I think of my Dad’s slow descent into Alzheimer’s disease and his death as a feeble old man in a nursing home.) Now, December means cold, snow, shoveling, trying to start old cars in cold weather, and financial pressure. There are also some years we haven’t done much to celebrate Christmas and largely because we will be moving from our residence in the relatively near future, we’re not doing any home decorating or Christmas tree this year. Although I HAVEN’T liked Christmas much as an adult, I will say I DID enjoy singing Christmas carols at church each December and having an Advent wreath at church. Each Sunday of Advent, we’d light another Advent candle and Mary Ann would share a devotional about the meaning of the coming of Jesus into the world.
And, we always had a “cool” Christmas Eve service. I’m really missing that dimension of it this year.

I came down with a cold on Thanksgiving, which has now infected my son Jon, and one of my coworkers at the answering service has it. This weekend, the cold is actually worse than it was last weekend. I awoke today quite congested, coughing, and just plain feeling “lousy”. I work at the answering service all afternoon, so I got up early to go grocery shopping. Stepping out of my old Subaru in my driveway and about to unload the groceries, I beheld a strange sight.
There among the lifeless and bare branches of the bushes and little trees that line our driveway was a cluster of beautiful green “brand new” maple leaves. They caught my eye, and I was startled. Like Moses with the burning bush, I went over to investigate. I’m NO botanist. I’m not really a gardener. I DO pride myself in lawn care and in cultivating some really green and impressive lawns, but that’s only because I’ve followed the instructions of those who really know what they’re doing. “HOW could there be fresh new maple leaves?” I wondered. Our yard is no more than a third of an acre, but this Fall I raked up forty-two large bagfuls of fallen dead brown leaves, and frankly there are STILL dead leaves scattered around the lawn even after all that raking. NEW green leaves, like you’d see in May? Was that even POSSIBLE? I didn’t think any new leaves like that sprouted and grew in DECEMBER.

When we moved into 40 Harrison Street back in 1987, there was a beautiful clustering of what I think are mostly lilac bushes which grew on the small strip of land between our driveway and the driveway of the house next door. In the summer they were so thick and green and beautiful that you couldn’t even see the property next door. The quality of the strip of bushes has deteriorated over the years, however. Gradually, weeds, and other varieties of bushes and trees invaded and took root in the midst of the lilacs. Back at the famous April Fools Day blizzard of 1997, the bushes were crushed down by the weight of fallen and drifted snow. Probably about a third of them died at that time. They were never the same after that. More and more, little oak trees, little maple trees, and all sorts of other growth filled in the holes. Today that strip of growth is a mishmash of lilac and all sorts of other stuff.

Particularly during the spring, that growth will EXPLODE. You can have literally hundreds of shoots and branches protruding into the driveway; to the point that it makes it difficult to park and exit a car! A least twice during any year, I get out a big ladder and an electric trimmer and cut down all that growth that protrudes into the driveway, and Andy Mason next door does the same on his side. But even those trimmings are not always enough. You’ll still get some shoots and branches growing into the driveway area. Probably another three or four times each year, I’ll go up the driveway with a pair of hand clippers, and just trim those back to neaten up the look of the driveway.

The last time I did that was probably about six weeks ago. As I examined the new green maple leaves, I realized they were growing out of an area I’d clipped several weeks ago. I also noticed that there were several other similar clusters of maple leaves growing out of spots I’d clipped. I’d heard gardeners talk about how pruning brings about new growth, but I guess I’d never seen such a vivid example of that.

Standing back and looking at the “dead” brown brush all along the driveway, and seeing the perky new maple leaf clusters popping out in spite of them was, well, a very beautiful sight indeed! Yes, there will be bitter cold and snow coming and those new maple leaves won’t last, but they are a reminder of the new life that’s coming next spring and that those trees that appear dead are actually very much alive.

In a year when we won’t even have a Christmas tree and when I really don’t feel like celebrating, those leaf clusters were sort of a “Christmas tree” to me! As the famous cartoon reminds us each year, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store...Christmas means a little bit more”. The true meaning of Christmas is God’s love for mankind and sending His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ to be the Savior of the world.

Have you ever wondered about the verse in Matthew that says, “and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”? You know, there IS no Scripture in the Old Testament that literally says Jesus would be called a Nazarene, so at first glance that Matthew passage appears to be incorrect. Yet, it’s drawn from Isaiah 11:1, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:” In the Hebrew, “branch” is the word “netzir”. Thus, in Matthew 2, “Nazarene” and “netzir” are kind of a play on words. It would like saying that a guy who frames pictures is the “FRAME guy from FRAMINGHAM”...something like THAT.

There are other Old Testament passages that promise that King David would ALWAYS have a descendant of his sitting on the throne. Now, those verses also definitely seem to be incorrect. Both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David. But there had been no king or royalty in that line for over four hundred years at the time of Jesus’ birth. By this time, they were just ordinary blue-collar people. Yes, Jesus Christ, as fully God and fully Man lives and reigns forever as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and so that promise about the Davidic line is also fulfilled.

A guy I know happened to tell me this week that “God often raises new life out of the ashes of death”. I needed that word, and I needed to see those fresh new maple leaves today!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"PERFECT!"

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

My last couple of blog entries have examined pretty serious and intense topics: one discussed how we treat people who are feeling suicidal, and one was a defense of spirituality and belief in God in contrast to atheism. This one is (for the most part) intended to be a “light” and “fun” piece; but there is a serious component, too.

I’ve written a few times about things I’ve learned from working at a telephone answering service. You learn a LOT about people on this job. And, you DISCOVER and THINK about certain human behaviors and characteristics that you’d have never thought about otherwise. I speak to scores and scores of people on the phones each day- ALL kinds of people. There’s something interesting I’ve noticed: the use of the word “perfect” by callers.

There’s one “demographic group” of callers that frequently says “perfect” after I will agree to take their message or to page a doctor for them. They may also say, “that will be perfect” or “that would be perfect”. I suppose I wouldn’t have noticed this as a “big deal” if it were not for the fact that only one demographic group says it: Women, and mostly affluent suburban women, between the ages of 30 and 49 frequently say “perfect”. I mean frequently. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them either say “perfect” or “that would be perfect” when I comply with a request of theirs. And, it’s often even said in sort of a perky, feminine manner.

Here’s what’s weird: I have worked at the answering service for nine months. I don’t think I’ve heard one man on the phone over the entire nine months even say the word “perfect” once on a call. They’ll say things like, “thanks for your help”, or “thanks, buddy” or “appreciate it” or just “thanks” but NEVER “perfect” or “that would be perfect”.

At first, I thought it was just a man/woman thing...that it was WOMEN who for some reason liked to use the “perfect” phrases. But, that’s not exactly it. I never hear elderly women use that. Never. In fact, most elderly callers are either amazingly happy or amazingly miserable, but they just DON’T use the word “perfect” to describe how they feel about your service to them. Young women also don’t use perfect. I never hear a teenage girl or young women in her early 20s say “perfect” or “that would be perfect”. I was musing on this today at work as I was taking a message from a 40-ish woman. And I almost laughed when she said “perfect” after I’d agreed to take her message.

I’m actually curious: Do YOU say “perfect” or “that would be perfect” after someone agrees to a certain matter? And, if so, do you or do you not fit the demographic of a suburban woman in her 30s or 40s?

You know, I NEVER say, “perfect” or “that would be perfect”. One of my own struggles (like that of my father) is that I’ve tended to be a perfectionist in life, and I’ve actually been depressed at times about the imperfections of life. It’s just such a loaded word for me, that I seldom use it.

Why do you suppose it’s 30s and 40 suburban women who are constantly saying “perfect” or “that would be perfect”? Why don’t others say it?

No kidding, just start looking for this behavior! You’ll see that I’m right!

Incidentally, an online dictionary defines “perfect” as “entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings”. Unfortunately, by that definition, none of my writing is perfect!

Monday, November 29, 2010

"I SHOT THE SHERIFF"

“Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.
And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.” (I Samuel 31:4-6)

“I Shot the Sheriff” is a 1974 pop music hit song recorded by Eric Clapton. Wikipedia tells us the song was written by Bob Marley, told from the point of view of a man who admits to having killed the local sheriff, but claims to have been falsely accused of killing the deputy sheriff.

No, this piece is really not about the song, “I Shot the Sheriff.” I was trying to find a clever title about the apparent suicide by gunshot wound of Middlesex County (Massachusetts) Sheriff James DiPaola. I believe the news was first broadcast on Boston media outlets this past Saturday evening. It was a shocking new story. DiPaola had been found dead in a Wells, Maine hotel room. He died from a gunshot to the head. HIs body was found by the hotel cleaning staff. It has been reported that he left a suicide note on his laptop computer.

This piece is in no way meant to heap more pain on the DiPaola family, nor to any friends of Sheriff DiPaola. I did not know Sheriff DiPaola personally. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones. My memory of Sheriff DiPaola is from the Natick 4th of July parades in which Sheriff DiPaola usually participated. As I recall, they’d have a classic 1960s “Sheriff” car in the parade each year. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a Plymouth sedan from the mid-1960s. I believe they also had at least two other vehicles in the parade each year. The Natick parade features a lot of “politicians” and public figures. That’s especially true in an election year such as this one. I’ve shaken hands with a number of politicians and aspirants for political office over the years. I definitely remember Sheriff DiPaola. He had that heavyset Italian-American law enforcement officer look. I mean that with no disrespect. He was a guy that made an impression- that really looked like a cop or somebody in authority. I’ve shaken hands with SO many over the years (the pols really work the crowds at that parade) that I can’t be 100% sure, but I THINK I did shake hands with the Sheriff...maybe even this year.

On Emily Rooney’s “Greater Boston” public affairs show this evening on Boston’s WGBH channel 2, there was a segment devoted to discussing the Sheriff’s apparent suicide. Emily Rooney had Republican State Senator Bob Hedlund, former Democratic State Senator Warren Tolman, and Boston University’s Tom Fiedler discussing Sheriff DiPaola’s passing.
I’m a regular viewer of “Greater Boston”. I seldom miss the show unless I’m working at the telephone answering service during that time. I had NOT been aware that Sheriff DiPaola was a guest on “Greater Boston” just one week ago. Somehow I missed that broadcast. They ran a brief clip of that interview tonight. Considering he dies just over four days later, it was very eerie to watch. James DiPaola had been scrutiny from the media for planning to use a loophole to collect both his salary and his pension at the same time. (After the media scrutiny, he changed his mind about doing this, and in fact announced his resignation.) He was also under an ethics investigation by the state over other matters; although that investigation has apparently only uncovered rather minor infractions.

Emily Rooney commented on how positive and pleasant DiPaola was on her program a week ago. She also commented that he had gone on the “Howie Carr” radio show on WRKO that same day. I was not aware of either media appearance. Howie Carr is a brutal critic of politicians and “political hacks”. Most will not touch his show with a ten foot pole. It suggested great transparency that the Sheriff would go on these programs.

Of course, the $64,000 question is: If Sheriff DiPaola was so pleasant, transparent, friendly, and confident before the media just one week ago, why would he commit suicide just a few days later?

I would guess family and friends are already saying, “If ONLY he could have talked to somebody. If ONLY he could have told somebody what he was thinking about doing”. That’s true. None of us knows what was going on in Sheriff DiPaola’s mind, but it’s my guess that his (apparent) suicide was NOT a rash act that he suddenly decided to do over the weekend. My guess is that even as he was making those media appearances, he had it all planned. He knew what he was gong to do. Those appearances were a “good-bye” and meant to leave a positive impression with the public.

I write those words with no disdain, and again, wishing no ill on the family.
Depression and suicide are complicated issues. When somebody kills himself or herself, it’s usually asked why they couldn’t have talked to somebody... or why they would resort to such an act.

WIthout going into much detail, I can say that there is depression and suicide in my extended family background (on my mother’s side) and so our family has been touched by the illness (and it is an illness) of clinical depression. Think of the awful spot of being a public figure, being well thought of and respected, having an image to uphold, wanting not to let anyone down, and also struggling with serious self doubt that you feel you cannot tell ANYONE about. Think of being such a person and confiding in someone that you’re having suicidal thoughts.

It’s kind of like that line in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Matthew Broderick pans to the camera that you’ve got to be careful not to overdo the faking sick thing...that a good fake fever can end you up in a doctor’s office and that’s worse than school. Telling somebody you’re thinking about killing yourself can lower some people’s esteem and image of you from a “ten” to maybe a “two” and worst of all can get you committed to a psychiatric unit for three days evaluation. If you think it’s a struggle for a gay person to “come out of the closet”, try being a person who’s thinking about committing suicide. After the poor person has revealed it and ended up in the psychiatric unit, they may be so distraught that they really WILL commit suicide! It’s a real “Catch 22”, isn’t it?

You can tell I’ve had some life experience with this stuff, and indeed I have. With such a sensitive matter, you can’t share very much because you end up breaking confidences. I will say that I think of an elderly woman I will call Mrs. Lundstrom (not her real name). She was around 75. Her husband had been a successful Baptist minister for decades and had died of cancer. They had no children. Mrs. Lundstrom’s whole life was being a pastor’s wife and serving in the church. When her husband died, they had been at that particular church for nineteen years. She lived in a beautiful parsonage. Within a few months, she had to move out of the parsonage and moved in with her mother who was almost 100 and had dementia. Mrs. Lundstrom did not like the new pastor at all...a weak, nerdy man of around 30. She fell into deep depression. One day after a friend took her grocery shopping, she announced to her friend, “I’m going into the house and DRINK BLEACH!” Within a short period of time, she was in a psychiatric unit. I remember visiting her. She was so sad and ashamed. I just listened to her and tried to show her the love of Christ. I certainly did not condemn her. I thought no less of her as a person or as a Christian, and I told her that. We had a good relationship, and she died of natural causes a few years later.

I’m not saying suicide is “right”. It’s not right. It’s really not O.K. It devastates the people left behind. We had a beloved member of First Assembly of God of Framingham commit suicide in December of 1998. I realized later that he’d shown all the signs, but we didn’t see them at the time. He gave things away to people. He was particularly faithful to church attendance in the final six weeks of his life, and paid compliments to various people in the church. There was a warm phone call to me just days before he killed himself. He told me he just wanted me to know as his pastor that “everything’s fine” with him. I realized later it was his good-bye call. His death devastated me and just about everyone at our church. We did not have pews, but chairs that we set up in rows for our main meeting room. I actually changed the pattern of the chairs after his death so people would not be distracted by thinking about “his” chair.

Sheriff DiPaola had been Sheriff since 1996. Before that, he was a Malden Police Officer, and had been a Democratic State Rep. He also spent time in the military. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters. Yes, if only he could have talked to somebody.

With a LOT of people there’s a tremendous stigma about suicide and a tremendous stigma about clinical depression. Clinically depressed people can be looked upon sort of as “lepers”. They’re thought of as “weak” and as people who should hang their heads and be very ashamed. Listen, I’m not saying people SHOULDN’T be placed in psychiatric units for observation. Sometimes for their own safety that needs to be done. But (and I suspect some will roll their eyes, thinking, “here we go, another politically correct thing”) there’s got to be a change in how we view clinically depressed people and how we view people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Most DON’T want these thoughts; most really want to get better. Most just want to know they’re loved unconditionally, and that they can talk to their family and friends about this stuff without facing rejection and condemnation.

It’s complicated stuff. It’s very sad this happened. It’s very sad whenever anyone kills himself or herself. If this tragedy causes someone to rethink how they’d respond to a loved one who revealed a struggle with suicidal thoughts, that’s a good thing. And, if someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts comes forward before loved ones they can trust, RATHER than taking their life and continuing to harbor their terrible secret, that’s a better thing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

REPLY TO MR. HAROLD J. WOLFE

[NOTE: This piece was published on the OP/ED page of the Tuesday, November 30, 2010 issue of the MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA) where it is entitled, "Answering an atheist's letter".]

“...yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (from Romans 3:4)

Mr. Harold J. Wolfe of Framingham had a letter published in the Wednesday, November 24, 2010 issue of the MetroWest Daily News entitled, “The Fraud of Religion”. I don’t know Harold Wolfe personally, but I’ve watched him on the local public access cable channel several times, and I’ve read some items he’s had published in the paper. Sometimes I’ve agreed with Mr. Wolfe’s political views, and sometimes I’ve disagreed. Twenty or thirty years ago, a letter such as Wolfe’s most recent would probably have made me quite angry. Today, I read it with thought, perplexity, and some sadness. I certainly do NOT advocate that America be turned into a theocracy. We have freedom of religion and freedom of speech in this country. I do celebrate and validate Mr. Wolfe’s right to express his views freely, and for others to agree or disagree.

There’s a quote I heard many years ago regarding the issue of intellectual conflicts between believers in God and unbelievers in God. It goes something like this: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” With that in mind, I have no illusions of changing Mr. Wolfe’s mind, but I just want to share a few thoughts and observations:

Mr. Wolfe writes, “Each member of the clergy believe in the following: God created man, life after death and a vast infrastructure of Heaven and Hell...” In fact, you’d find a WIDE variety of theological and spiritual beliefs among the clergy of Framingham and of America. A number of clergy do not believe in an afterlife...in a Heaven or a Hell. I do, but many don’t. Some believe in a personal God as described in the Bible or other sacred books. Others believe in kind of a generic “higher power”.

Mr. Wolfe also states, “Framingham's clerical profession are fundamentally non-productive people who work tirelessly in misdirecting residents by suggesting we ignore the evidence we see before us, such as evolution. They are the true classic evolution deniers.” I guess it wouldn’t shock Wolfe that I don’t accept Darwinian evolution, but I’d guess at least half of Framingham’s clergy DO accept it. As for being “non-productive people” many of Framingham’s clergy work tirelessly for such causes as prevention of domestic violence, finding shelter and treatment for the homeless, aiding the poor, tutoring children, making Framingham a safer and better community...matters like that which I think most of Framingham’s citizens would consider quite important.

Mr. Wolfe’s letter states, “The carefully prepared weekly sermons by the Framingham clergy are chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy, promote non-intellectual crime, and commit fraud in general on a large scale.” I am deeply saddened that because the church I pastored closed back in March, I’m no longer preparing sermons to deliver on Sunday mornings in Framingham. During all the years that I DID prepare sermons and deliver them, I never once had the goals that Wolfe claims clergy have!

I don’t mean to come across as trite. Honestly, when you’re a believer in God and in the Bible, there ARE challenging issues that you will probably struggle with from time to time. I remember graduating from Central Bible College back in 1979. Like so many young Bible school graduates, I had all the answers, and I was ready to save the world. When I meet a recent Bible College graduate today, I’m struck that they have the same idealism and starry-eyed look that I once had. My peers- my fellow “fifty-somethings” in ministry, conversely, often look tired. We’ve all experienced great miracles and seen God do mighty works. We’ve also had experiences of deep disappointment where our prayers (apparently) weren’t answered, where there was great pain for us and/or loved ones, and where it seemed like God did not care. Frankly, people like me need to be around idealistic Christian young people more...we need their faith and enthusiasm. But they need our life experience, too. Many kids just starting out in ministry will go on to have great lives serving God. Some, after becoming parents of severely disabled children, or being stricken with serious illness, or being fired by a church facing accusations they were not guilty of, will turn from God...their love for Him will grow cold.

Yes, I believe in miracles. As a very young child, my mother was stricken with spinal meningitis...the worst kind. Her devout Catholic parents were devastated. They prayed fervently for a miracle. And, they got one. To the doctors’ amazement, she miraculously recovered. I would not be alive if not for that miracle. Back in 2002, my tax accountant had cancer and was seriously ill. My sister Dianne and I laid hands on him and prayed for a miraculous healing. He was miraculously healed! He reminds me of that each year when I sit down in his office to have him do my taxes. But sometimes, things have not been so easy. My brother collapsed at work at age 27 back in 1883. He went into cardiac arrest and into a coma. He lived for ten days and died. We prayed, but there was no miracle. My mother died of cancer in August of 2000 just seven weeks after my father had died. I tried to bargain with God. I begged God to heal hear. That did not happen. I sat at her bedside when she passed, and I sobbed like a baby. I never, ever believed the little church I pastored, First Assembly of God of Framingham would close. I prayed and prayed. In March, the Assemblies of God closed it. For me, it’s been like a death. The loss has been devastating. I’ve shed a lot of tears, and I’ve asked God how He could allow that to happen. Yet, I have not lost my belief in God, nor have I given up my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for my personal salvation. It’s ONLY because of my belief in God and the Bible that I’m able to get up and function each day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

LESSONS LEARNED AT THE ANSWERING SERVICE

“And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil: the same is Micaiah the son of Imla. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.” (2 Chronicles 18:7)

Sometimes life takes some strange turns! Many of you know I spent over twenty-five years as a full-time Assemblies of God minister. (I’m still an Assemblies of God minister, and maybe someday I’ll be doing that full-time again.) I never thought I would be a telephone answering service operator, but I’ve now been doing that for eight months. When I first took the answering service job, a pastor friend of mine told me, “When one of my kids is sick, and I call the doctor’s office, and I get the answering service, I HATE IT! I say, ‘what do you mean the answering service?; I WANT A DOCTOR!’” In the past eight months, I’ve learned that a LOT of people say that when we answer, or they say a lot worse!

Boy, you learn SO MUCH when you work at a telephone answering service. Ninety percent of our clients are either doctor’s offices, clinics, or hospitals. Trust me, everybody at my place of work can name four doctors we answer for who are absolutely outstanding human beings. Some of those folks have touched me so much, just in a working relationship over the phone, that if any of them passed away, I’d go to the funeral! Each of us can also name four doctors we answer for who are nasty, mean and cruel, and of whom we cannot understand why they became doctors...I guess the money. They need to learn that line from the old Three Stooges movie, “For DUTY and HUMANITY!”. And most of the rest are somewhere in the middle.

Listen, here’s some really practical advice before you choose a doctor for yourself or a pediatrician for your children:

1. Meet with the doctor and ask some tough questions. WHO covers for him or her when the doctor is not on call? It it another doctor, is it a Physicians’ Assistant, is it a Nurse Practitioner, or is it a Nurse? (Or is it ANYONE? Once in a great while there’s a doctor who doesn’t have much of any coverage!) Does the practice have weekend hours? Does the practice have evening hours? Does the practice have early morning hours? Does the practice have “walk in clinics” or are appointments always required? Can you page the doctor on off hours if a prescription has not been called in? (Some doctors expressly forbid this.) Is it possible to speak to a doctor or nurse during the lunch hour if you have an emergency? (With most offices, it IS, but with a few it is NOT.) Try to get some references on the doctor. (There are some sites on line that you can check.) Some doctors have a great “bedside manner” on the phone. Some treat the operators like dirt. What’s the gut feeling you get from the doctor or his secretarial staff? If it’s negative, that’s PROBABLY ACCURATE!

2. When you call a doctor’s office and get the answering service, please don’t shoot the messenger. Some callers sigh angrily. Some sarcastically yell, “Oh GREAT!!!!” Some say, “That doctor is NEVER there when I need him” Some ask things like, “The brochure says the office closes at 5:00. It’s Friday at 4:53. WHY ARE THEY CLOSED?!” (Think about it, they’re human. If it’s July and a beautiful summer day out and your a doctor who wants to go sailing, wouldn’t you go home twenty minutes early?) That telephone answering service operator is trying do do his or her job, and that doctor and his staff are human.

3. Please don’t get angry when the answering service operator asks you a series of questions. We are required to do this. Usually we need to get the caller’s name, the patient's name, the phone number, and the symptoms. Ninety percent of the time, the answering service operator is going to ask, “Date of birth?” I am amazed that MOST MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS ARE NOT PREPARED TO GIVE US THE PATIENT’S DATE OF BIRTH! You should always have that information ready when calling in! Also, if there are several doctors in the practice, we will ask, “Which doctor does he usually see?” or “Who is her P.C.P.?” There are reasons for all this. Some practices may have three John Smiths or Jane Does. It’s important to match the date of birth with the right person, for instance.

4. We usually tell callers a doctor will call back within fifteen minutes and a nurse will call back within thirty minutes. (We do follow up if that doesn’t happen.) I get a chuckle, though, that some people will angrily call and say, “It’s been FOURTEEN MINUTES and that doctor HAS NOT CALLED!!” Have a little patience! Last weekend, one practice had a surgeon on call. Some folks were calling upset asking “Why hasn’t he called?!” In most cases, less than an hour had elapsed. The doctor was IN SURGERY. As soon as he came out of surgery, he called the answering service and called back those who were waiting for his calls.

Listen, it’s Thanksgiving time. My daughter Amy who happens to be a nurse and who has made several medical missionary trips to Haiti can tell you all about medicine in the third world! We take SO much for granted in America. I have also been to rural Haiti twice. The group I traveled with ran medical clinics. People would come on foot, on horseback and on donkey for MILES AND MILES to see a doctor! Many had not seen a doctor in many year. Many had deplorable medical conditions.

Yes, we can be thankful that overall we have excellent medical care in America.
Thank God for that, and please be a little more patient when you call a doctor’s office and get the answering service!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

WHAT IS PRINCE WILLIAM'S LAST NAME?

“And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.” (I Samuel 4:21)

As I drove home from work today, I flipped on a local radio station. The co-hosts I heard on Boston’s WTKK were arguing about what the last name of Prince William of England is. (Of course, everybody’s been talking about Prince William since he and his fiancĂ© announced their engagement a few days ago.) One of the hosts insisted that Prince William’s last name is “Wales” as his father, Prince Charles is the “Prince of Wales”. Do YOU know what the last name of Prince William is? I thought it was “Windsor” and I was part right. I got so curious about this matter that I briefly researched it on-line when I got home.

It turns out the radio host was PARTLY right. For ceremonial reasons, Prince William is allowed to use “Wales” as a last name. HOWEVER, Prince William’s LEGAL last name is “Mountbatten-Windsor”. The royal family is NOT of “pure English blood” nor of “pure British blood”. There’s actually a lot of German ethnicity in that family. Up until 1917, the royal family’s last name was “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha”. King George V changed it to Windsor because it sounded way too German. The Queen’s last name is Windsor, but her children and grandchildren have the last name Mountbatten-Windsor because the Queen’s husband Prince Philip has the last name Mountbatten.

It’s frankly NOT clear what some people’s last names are. And, incidentally, just as a footnote, Jesus Christ’s last name is NOT Christ. For the MOST part, people did not have last names in the first century. “Christ” is from the Greek “Christos”. It’s the Greek version of “Messiah” or “Maschiah” which is the Jewish “Anointed One”. And Jesus is actually the Greek version of Joshua or Yeshua, which literally means “Jehovah Is Salvation”. It’s the same name that Joshua in the Old Testament had.

Now, speaking of last names, in the Roman Catholic religion, we all know that the current Pope, is Pope Benedict XVI. But, do you know Pope Benedict’s last name? The current Pope’s last name is “Ratzinger”. In fact, his first name is “Joseph” and not “Benedict”. Popes take a new name when they become Pope. I am not sure why that is the case.

Now, most of us are familiar with singer “Cher” but do you know Cher’s last name? Well, I suppose most people would say “Bono” for her late husband Sunny Bono, but I mean her BIRTH last name. Cher is an Armenian-American. Her birth last name is “Sarkisian”. I am not sure why throughout her musical career she’s just been known as “Cher”.

Finally, do you know Rush Limbaugh’s real name?

I must confess that the Rush Limbaugh question WAS sort-of a trick question. Rush’s real name, his legal name, IS Rush Limbaugh. But, during his early years in radio he worked as a Top 40 music disc jockey. In those days, he used “Jeff Christie” as his radio/professional name. So, Rush had a successful radio career as “Jeff Christie” long before he was the talk show host “Rush Limbaugh”.

Even my own name of Bob Baril has its variations. “Baril” is French and the letter “l” is supposed to be silent. It’s kind of like “Paris” in English is pronounced “Par-EEE” in French. Ross Perot has a French last name. Nobody says, “Ross Per-OTT”. They say, “Ross Per-ooh”. Canadian French DOES have a different accent and way of speaking. In Quebec, my last name is pronounced “Barry”. I guess in France, it’s more like “Bar-EEE”. Granted, it LOOKS like “Barrel”. You know those prerecorded computer phone calls you get? I hate when I play the answering machine, and I hear, “This is a message from Walgreen’s for ROBERT BARREL. Your prescription is ready...” or “This is an important message from Verizon Wireless for ROBERT BARREL.” That is SUCH a turn off!

Baril is a very uncommon last name. There are only something like 700 Baril households in the U.S.A. and there are only something like 30 Robert Barils in the U.S.A. Yet, I met a guy from Michigan who had a professor in college with my last name who DID pronounce it “Barrel”!

Yeah, Baril’s not the easiest last name, but it’s better than Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and I think even Queen Elizabeth 2 would agree with me! (or SHOULD I call her “Elizabeth Windsor”?)

"THE 2011 MERCURY"

“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;” (Ecclesiastes 3:2)

A few weeks back, I wrote a posting on the blog about the significance of the end of the 2010 model year for the Ford Motor Company...that being the end of the Ford Crown Victoria, AND the end of the Mercury brand. I don’t just put information like that out there lightly. I did check all that out before posting it. That’s why I was surprised by an advertisement from Framingham Ford which appeared in Friday’s MetroWest Daily News newspaper. The ad was for a lease deal on a brand new 2011 Mercury Milan. I read it over a few times and concluded it HAD to be a mistake.

I actually sent off an e-mail to Framingham Ford asking if that was a misprint and if the car was really a 2010 Mercury Milan. Mr. Charles Simpson from Framingham Ford was nice enough to e-mail me back and explain that the Ford Motor Company DID build some 2011 Mercury cars before permanently pulling the plug on the Mercury brand a few weeks ago.

This sort of thing will probably only interest the BIGGEST automotive history geeks among us, but that has happened before. Ford Motor Company pulled the plug on the Edsel brand after only a couple of years. Most history books list the final year of the Edsel as 1959. 1959 WAS the final production year of Edsel, but as with the 2011 Mercury, Ford DID build a little over 500 1960 Edsels in the summer and early autumn of 1959. I have never seen an actual 1960 Edsel...only photographs. They’re VERY rare, and thus expensive and collectible. The 1960 Edsel does NOT look like an Edsel. There is no “horse collar” grille that the ‘58 and ‘59 Edsels were famous for. Rather the car looks a lot like a 1960 Ford Galaxie. Well, to be even more accurate, it looks like a cross between a 1960 Ford Galaxie and a 1959 Pontiac Catalina.

I once owned an AMC car. I had a 1982 AMC Concord station wagon. AMC was the “renamed Rambler”. If you’re a baby boomer, you probably remember American Motors’ popular Rambler cars of the late 1950s and 1960s. By the late ‘60s Ramblers were being thought of as terribly uncool, so the brand name was changed to AMC. Sales dropped and dropped and dropped. American Motors also built the Jeep brand and that was largely the company’s salvation, because the Jeeps sold very well, and of course, they had the contracts with the U.S. military, but the AMC cars during the 1980s could hardly be given away. In August of 1987, Chrysler bought out American Motors Corp. Chrysler mostly wanted to add the successful Jeep lineup to bolster it’s sales and image. Chrysler immediately discontinued the AMC brand. However, during July and August of 1987, over 1,000 1988 AMC cars had been built. So, it also gets confusing that American Motors ended in 1987, but there was a 1988 AMC car. In fact, although there were some 1987 AMC coupes built, the 1988 AMC cars were strictly station wagons. Those are also collectible cars...not as valuable as 1960 Edsels, but maybe someday they will be.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the 1961 DeSoto. Chrysler killed the DeSoto make in December of 1960, but after a number of 1961 DeSotos had been built.

Would it make sense to get over to Framingham Ford and buy or lease a 2011 Mercury? Will they be collectible cars someday? Honestly, there’s a good chance that will be the case.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"LOST SPARROW"

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22)

It’s ironic that my last posting was about an independent film I watched on PBS television many years ago. This post is also about an independent film I watched on PBS. I saw this one on Wednesday night on the PBS show “Independent Lens”. The film was “Lost Sparrow” a documentary by journalist and filmmaker Chris Billing. I was not prepared for what a powerful film “Lost Sparrow” would be. It’s a very important and yet troubling and disturbing film.

It took Chris Billing about three years to make “Lost Sparrow”. Chris, now about 45-years-old, grew up in a strict Baptist home in northern New Jersey. He not only had several biological siblings, but his parents adopted several Native American children (specifically Crow Indians) from Montana. Two of the Native American boys had run away from home (when they were around middle school age), had lay on railroad tracks at night and had been run over by a train and killed instantly. Chris was surprised that his parents never really talked much about it. It happened. Their funerals took place, and the family “moved on”.
Chris set out to research what happened...why the boys ran away...why they were on the tracks and died that way.

I’m sure you are familiar with that expression: “Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it!” Sometimes that’s also rendered as, “Be careful what you WISH for...”. In the end, Chris had mixed emotions about having done the project. He uncovered a big and horrible secret: His model Christian father... a “pillar of the church” had molested his adopted sister numerous times over several years. Chris’ Mom ends up being one of the most complicated and confusing characters in the film. She tells Chris that she had suspected something was going on, and discovered the molestation at one point, but that there was really nothing she could do about it. Later in the film, she strongly implies she knew nothing of the molestation and that she wishes she could have known so that she could have saved her Native American daughter. Chris’ Mom and Dad are now divorced. Both profess and express a very strong evangelical Christian faith to this day. The sister that was molested now lives in North Carolina. She has been an alcoholic and has had numerous scrapes with the law. Chris flies down to North Carolina to interview his sister. As she describes the horror that was her childhood, the viewer can’t help but feel great sympathy for her, and can’t help hating the father.

In the early part of the film, Chris interviews his father and asks about what he did. The father is blunt and cold, essentially refusing to talk about it, and blaming the Native American daughter’s problems largely on her. The Dad DOES break down when discussing the deaths of his two adoptive sons. With great emotion, he tells the audience that the engineer of the train had forty-seven years experience and was so distraught over the deaths of the boys that he could never do that job again. Along that line, the police officer who arrived on the scene that night is interviewed and really can’t talk about what he saw.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Native American biological parents of the boys received a brief and blunt letter saying their sons had died in an accident. They knew no more details for almost thirty years. Chris learned that one of the boys had caught the father molesting the girl and tried to protect her. The boys were distraught about the molestation and the awful secret in the home. They ran away to try to get help. It’s theorized that they lay down on the rail bed because the rocks were warm, they then fell asleep, and awoke to be instantly killed by the train.

It’s amazing how much GROUND Chris Billing covers in this fifty minute film! After watching it, it SEEMS like it was a three hour movie. Over the course of time, the father fully admits to what he did. I started out hating the guy, and feeling like he was a phony Christian. But there’s a scene where he talks about King David being “a man after God’s own heart” who committed terrible sins like adultery and murder and calls HIMSELF a man after God’s own heart who also committed terrible sins.

Initially, in North Carolina, the daughter who was molested really doesn’t want to see her father again. But over the three year period, Chris kind of “works” on her and on his Dad. Eventually, a meeting is arranged in North Carolina with several family members, including the mother. The Dad fully admits what he did, and asks for forgiveness, and the daughter grants it. The Mom, very emotional, and reminding me of many middle aged women I’ve watched pray at Pentecostal altar services lays hands on several family members and fervently intercedes aloud for them. My heart went out to her, yet there IS that nagging feeling of “but why did she allow this to go on?”

The film ends with a burial. Arrangements are made to move the Native American boys’ coffins from New Jersey to the Crow Reservation in Montana. The Crow funeral service was deeply moving. First, a Crow medicine man chanted, and explained that to Native Americans, moving bodies is a VERY bad thing to do, but he understands this HAD to be done. He is asking God to forgive them for moving the bodies. Then, a female Native American Protestant minster leads in what for most evangelical Protestants would be a more typical graveside burial service. A Native American plays his flute. It’s very sad and poignant.

Some of my readers may think the purpose of this film was to trash evangelical Christians or to expose their hypocrisy. While hypocrisy was definitely exposed, I do not think that was the purpose of the film at all. Towards the end, the Mom comments about her ex-husband. He is distraught about all that happened and all he caused. He is truly sorry. He truly loves God. But he is an unhappy and deeply troubled man. She comments that there ARE consequences of sin, and that he is living with those consequences. In the end, the family feels sorry for him, and the viewer feels sorry for him.

As a Christian, I am left pondering that IT’S JUST NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY! This was just NEVER what God intended! And how sad that sincere professing Christians allowed their “flesh” and their “old nature” to SO dominate them (especially that father) with such tragic results. You know, if those parents had really LIVED what God had called them to, well, they wouldn’t have been “perfect”, no one is (except Jesus). But they WOULD have left a strong Godly heritage and legacy.

How important it is for all Christians to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only”. Thank you Chris Billing for sharing your powerful and very painful family story with us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

MOVIE WITH A MESSAGE

“And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50)

“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

Today I thought of a short, independent film I saw on television over ten years ago and I decided to write about it. I don’t remember the title. As I recall, the film was only about fifteen minutes long. I saw it on a Saturday night on Boston’s channel 44 which is a PBS station. The film takes place entirely at a Mobil gas station. A somewhat uneasy woman pulls up to the full service pump and asks the attendant to fill the tank with gasoline. The attendant behaves in a VERY strange manner. He has the ODDEST look on his face. The viewer just wonders WHAT is wrong with this gas station attendant. Is he a serial killer? Is he a rapist? Does he have some kind of antisocial disorder?

This film was made before the “instant pay at the pump” option. After the fill-up the driver hands the attendant her credit card. He stares at the interior of the car, and slowly walks into the station. He’s in there for a long time. Finally, he comes back and says, “Madam, I’m sorry but this credit card was declined. You’ll have to come into the station for a minute.” She is obviously terrified. She protests that the credit card is perfectly good and should not have been declined. The attendant goes back into the station for a long time, and then comes back.

“I think I’m going to have to call the credit card company.” he says, “Won’t you come in with me while I call them?”

Again, she angrily protests and refuses. The attendant goes back into the station. After a couple of minutes, he comes out, saying, “I’ve got the lady from the credit card company on the phone and she wants to talk to you.” She adamantly refuses.
He’s not giving up. He insists she go into the station and talk to the woman from the credit card company. This conversation goes back and forth.

Ultimately, the female driver admits to the attendant that she does not trust him. She says the only way she’ll go into the station and pick up the phone is if he walks to the periphery of the station property, by the sidewalk and street. He is very reluctant. After some discussion, he DOES walk to the periphery of the station property.

The woman nervously exits the car. She starts to walk briskly to the station office, but halfway there, the attendant bolts toward her like a thoroughbred racehorse heading for the finish line. He grabs her and forces her into the station. She is TERRIFIED! The suspense and horror of this scene is acutely felt by the viewer!

Will she be raped? Knifed? Shot? Strangled? All of the above?

Trying to communicate over her screams, the attendant says, “Lady! There’s a guy holding an axe, laying on the back floor of your car!!”

Instantly, the camera allows us to see that “lovely gentleman” with the axe on the floor! And, instantly, we understand why the gas station attendant looked and acted SO STRANGELY! HE was not some psychopath! He was trying to save the female driver from a psychopath!

No, I can’t remember the title, but I never forgot that little independent film.
Have you ever had an experience where someone was trying to tell you something but you “blew it off” and later realized you were very foolish to reject that advice or counsel? Have you ever tried to warn someone of a danger only to be spurned and rejected?

So often we “shoot the messenger”!

For what it’s worth, I just felt like writing about that movie with a message today.