Monday, November 29, 2010


“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


[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 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


“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


“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”?)


“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


“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


“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.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


“that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,
but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—” (Ephesians 4:14-15 New King James Version)

I received quite an unexpected e-mail yesterday. It did not come to my personal e-mail address. Rather it came to the e-mail address of the now defunct church that I pastored, (First Assembly of God of Framingham). It was from a gentleman from the South that I’ve never heard of. It only listed me as the recipient, but I assume I had to have been “blind copied”...that is a method of sending a mass e-mail where the sender can send it to hundreds or even thousands at one time, but each receives an apparently personalized e-mail. The writer had an axe to grind against the pastor of a large Assemblies of God church in a fairly good-sized southern city. I don’t know anyone on the pastoral staff of that church and I’ve never visited that church, nor that city for that matter. So, the e-mail is just his word and I have no idea if the information contained in the e-mail is accurate or not. The writer stated that a prominent and longtime Board Member of that church had testified in a very important court trial and had blatantly perjured himself on the stand. The writer was shocked and appalled that the church Board Member, a respected businessman and well known person in the community, had blatantly lied again and again with a straight face and seemingly no uneasiness about doing so. The writer went on to say that he’d confronted the church’s Senior Pastor about what had happened, and that he was even more shocked that the clergyman defended and supported the Board Member’s actions. As the writer reported it, the pastor said he was defending the Board Member because of all he’d done for him and for the church. The writer claims the pastor said something like, “Why should I side with YOU? What did YOU ever do to help me or help grow our church?” The e-mail’s author stated that he was writing to other Assemblies of God pastors to ask if they agreed with what this pastor had said and with the clergyman’s line of reasoning.

This thing of “telling the truth” is a lot tougher than many would believe. Frankly, there are very few pastors who have never stretched the truth or flat out lied in the ministry. I remember that at the pastors’ prayer group I attend, a HIGHLY respected pastor told the story of having used the pulpit to verbally take a few shots at one particular guy in the church and his sins and issues. It’s a bad idea, frankly, but it’s something most pastors have done. I’ve done it. After the service, to the pastor’s shock, the guy confronted him, accusing, “You were talking about ME! You were aiming that sermon DIRECTLY AT ME.” The pastor frankly told our group. “I lied. I told him NO I had not aimed it at him. But I had.” And, “truthfully” in awkward church situations like that, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve lied, too.

There are so many games we play in evangelical Christian circles. Again, I have no idea if the story told to me in today’s e-mail was accurate. But I would not at all be surprised if it IS accurate. Really, it’s all of life. One of my daughters send me a song on youtube this weekend. I had never heard of the song, but I guess it’s popular with the teens and twenties set. The lyrics speak of people with phony smiles who stab you in the back. There is so much of that stuff in life, that it’s very sad, indeed.

With the exception of two or three raunchy episodes, I really love the television show, “The Office”. People either “get” that show or they don’t. I absolutely get it. I hate to admit that I have an affinity for the goofy and unwise boss, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carrell), but I do. I don’t think in real life a guy like Michael Scott could ever REALLY become a “branch manager”. On one of the early episodes of LAST year’s show, Michael Scott is invited to a large corporate meeting of the shareholders of their company (“Dunder Mifflin”) in New York City. A limousine is sent to pick Michael and several of his staff up and whisk them to the New York City meeting. The meeting is being held at an auditorium. Most of the stockholders and employees present are very angry. The company is losing money at an alarming rate, yet the highest level executives seem to be spending money like drunken sailors. Several people make very angry speeches and accusations against the company’s CEO and top executives. With the innocence of a 3rd Grader at a Cub Scout meeting, Michael Scott races to the podium microphone.

“Wait a minute, these are NICE people!” Michael announces. “Why, they’re so nice, do you know what they did? They sent us a limousine to pick us up, and they gave us all kinds of great food to eat!”

Michael cannot understand why the crowd begins booing and yelling in anger.

“What do you intend to DO to TURN THIS COMPANY AROUND?!” one man asks in a very confrontational manner, to the cheers of fellow stockholders and employees. The CEO begins with a typical line of sappy political double-talk and mumbo jumbo. It’s not working. Once again, Michael Scott grabs the microphone, enthusiastically yelling and promising,

“What are we going to DO?! We are going to come up with a PLAN! That’s what we’re going to DO! We’re going to COME UP WITH A PLAN IN THE NEXT 45 MINUTES THAT WILL TURN THIS COUNTRY AROUND!”

Michael comes on with the fervor and charisma of a television prosperity evangelist or a political cheerleader like Sarah Palin addressing a crowd of conservative pro-family women. The crowd LOVES him, and is completely turned around. They begin wildly cheering, and Michael has a big grin, feeling he’s saved the day.

The executives take a “recess”, leave the stage, and go into a conference room. Michael expects to be honored as a hero. He honestly believes these smart, corporate leaders really care about turning around the company, and that they have the brains and wisdom to come up with a winning plan in less than 45 minutes. Instead, Michael is met with ridicule and disdain from the executives. He has been brought in as the manager of the Scranton branch which leads Dunder Mifflin in sales. He is supposed to just say a sentence or two about the great sales his branch has had and that the company is in good hands. That’s it. The executives turn on Michael, calling him “stupid” and an “idiot”. Sadly, nervously, and bravely, Michael says to them, “I’m the manager of the branch with top sales. I am not an idiot.”

It’s not convincing. Michael tries bringing one of his accountants in to give the top executives some advice. Poor Oscar the accountant is SO nervous and intimidated by these “suits” that he falls apart and clams up. Michael and his staff just about run for their lives to the limo and (to use one of my expressions) “rip out of there”!

The Michael Scotts of this world are often under valued, under appreciated and misunderstood. And, granted, Michael DOES pull some stupid practical jokes on the show and act very juvenile at times. But, the character IS a top salesman. That’s how he became branch manager. Michael is SO sanguine, funny, and extroverted, that customers buy paper from him almost in spite of that. Yes, Michael may not know Dunn and Bradstreet from McDonald’s and may not know a spreadsheet from a bedspread, but he can get on the phone and successfully sell paper to a paper mill, or anybody else for that matter. IS his childlike innocence in proclaiming: “Wait a minute, these are NICE people! Why, they’re so nice, do you know what they did? They sent us a limousine to pick us up, and they gave us all kinds of great food to eat!” an asset or a liability? I know what most people would say, but you know what?- I’d buy from him, too! I’d feel like this is a real guy who can relate to me. (Now, the Michael Scott who takes his GPS very literally and drives his new Taurus rental car into a lake when he hears, “Turn right”...well, I’d take a few steps away from that Michael Scott!)

Maybe the Michael Scotts of this world, be they branch managers or clergymen are “idiots”- but at least they’re not likely to face the kind of accusatory e-mail that southern pastor did!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


“The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33 King James Version)

“The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord's alone.” (Proverbs 16:33 New Revised Standard Version)

Last night’s election results in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts disproved Leo Durocher’s famous quote, “Nice Guys Finish Last.” (For you baseball and history buffs, Durocher made the statement on July 6, 1946 when he was managing the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was said about his crosstown rivals, the New York Giants.)
I don’t think Massachusetts has been more politically opposite from the rest of the country since we were the only state to vote for George McGovern for President back in 1972! The Republicans crushed the Democrats in most of America yesterday, but here in Massachusetts, the Democrats pretty much crushed the Republicans.

Serious political observers may be stumped about what happened in Massachusetts, but we forget that NOT every voter is a serious political observer nor a political ideologue. In fact, probably two-thirds of voters are neither. I think most voters vote for somebody they LIKE. Why did Massachusetts vote for Scott Brown back in January? There are a lot of reasons, but the fact that he was the father of Ayla Brown from American Idol fame AND the fact that he was a handsome, cool and very likable guy from Wrentham was a big part of it. I don’t think Governor Patrick has done QUITE as bad a job as many others do; but his performance has been no better than a C minus. Does a Governor with a C minus performance for his first term deserve a second term? I say “no”, but I don’t think his performance had much to do with yesterday’s vote. Deval Patrick is a very congenial, likable, and somewhat charismatic guy. When he ran the first time around, I wrote that he’s a guy you’d like to go out to lunch with or go to a ball game with. I still feel that way. People (especially women) like him. In fact, there was a HUGE “gender gap” in this election with men favoring Charlie Baker for Governor, while women heavily favored Deval Patrick.

I got several friends annoyed with me because I said I was voting for Tim Cahill and not Charlie Baker. And, yesterday, I DID vote for Tim Cahill. I think Charlie Baker would probably be a more competent Governor than Deval Patrick. But I just COULDN’T get excited about him. I tried, but I couldn’t. Baker was frankly NOT appealing to “social conservatives” at all. Mass. Citizens For Life, for example, endorsed Tim Cahill. I suppose it’s not fair to judge someone this way, but Baker came across as a rich elitist who’d had a sweet life and just couldn’t relate to the average guy. I don’t think his promise to lay off 5,000 state workers helped him, either. I have two friends who work for the state. Each of them dislikes Deval Patrick and each of them voted for Tim Cahill for Governor. I know I have to be careful trying to speak for my dead father, but as a career state employee, I don’t think he’d ever have voted for Charlie Baker. A number of people have pointed out that Charlie Baker reminded them of Bill Weld. There’s no question they’re a lot alike. So, why did Bill Weld get elected in 1990? His opponent that year was Boston University President John Silber (whom Howie Carr still refers to as “Herr Doctor”). Democrat John Silber was actually more conservative than Republican Bill Weld, and Silber kept making verbal gaffs on the campaign trail that became known as “Silber shockers”. The electorate DIDN’T LIKE John Silber, and so Bill Weld benefitted. I think Charlie Baker definitely could have beaten John Silber, but Charlie Baker has to work on that “likability factor” himself.

Republicans and conservatives in Massachusetts were very hopeful yesterday...TOO hopeful! The fact is these entrenched politicians like Barney Frank and Ed Markey are perceived as being powerful men with a lot of clout and most voters just don’t want to get rid of them. I voted for very few winners yesterday. I DID vote for Democrat Chris Walsh for State Rep. He’s a nice guy (yeah, there we go again with the nice guy thing) and has a real passion for Framingham. I did not vote for State Senator Karen Spilka. I’ll admit being somewhat torn on that one, but I ultimately voted for Republican Ed McGrath only because I think Spilka’s politics are just too liberal. Yet, I was torn because I really like Karen Spilka as a person.

I’m no “political pundit” making big bucks in the media and some may dismiss what I’ve written here, but for my final example I give you the late Ronald Reagan. How did a guy who was frankly a “pretty far to the right” Republican ever get elected President twice? That smile, twinkle in his eye, warmth, and sense of humor had a lot to do with it! Boy, could Massachusetts use another Ronald Reagan!