Friday, November 30, 2012


"Greet one another with an holy kiss." (2 Corinthians 12:13)

Not everyone likes that famous Frank Capra Christmas classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life". Boston area radio talk show host Michael Graham says it's an incredibly stupid story- that Clarence the angel should have just said, "Mr. Potter stole the money!" and somehow gone and scared Mr. Potter half to death, recovered the funds, and all would have been solved. Of course, technically, Michael Graham is correct about that. But, Michael's just not considering the artistic value of the film and a much deeper message: that of the lives we touch and the people we affect that we are not even aware of. I've gotten to know a young man in the past few months that most people have never heard of, and that most would consider totally unimportant and insignificant. The guy is about 25-years-old. His name is "Daniel". I don't even know Daniel's last name. As much as I have hated going through the experience of having the small church I pastored closed up, having my ministry seriously questioned and scrutinized, and being deemed not healthy to be doing ministry at this time, this experience has caused me to look at life very differently. I've been very humbled, and I've gotten to know quite a few people that I never would have met were I still pastoring. One of those is Daniel.

I have often mentioned that I work at a telephone answering service, and I do about thirty-three hours a week. I do have another job, however. I hand out leaflets for the BJ's Wholesale Club Optical Department anywhere from two to six hours a week at the main entrance of the store. That's where I got to know Daniel as despite his right arm being in a cast, he was cheerfully greeting customers. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that Daniel suffers from some disabilities. His speech can be difficult to understand. He tends to speak with sort of slurred speech and sort of lisping speech. You have to really pay attention to follow what Daniel's talking about. I felt so bad for Daniel one day about three months ago. A slim, bright, attractive and very impatient female shopper probably in her 30s asked him where some item was located in the store. With his slurred and lisping speech, he tried to tell her.

"I can't even understand you, I don't know what you're saying!" she said.

Her words were angry, cutting, and demaning. I wanted to say to her, "Can't you see that he's disabled?! Can't you see that he's trying to help you?!" I didn't, and maybe I should have.

In time, Daniel trusted me enough to tell me he was very seriously injured in a car accident as a very young child. There is brain damage. He was in the cast due to breaking his wrist in an accident on the job. I don't want to violate any confidences here, but I have had the opportunity to share my faith in Jesus Christ with Daniel. I've done that a couple of times. I don't push,but if the opportunity arises, I don't mind sharing my faith.

Some people would see Daniel as very juvenile. He likes video games and is a huge fan of "My Little Pony" which he sometimes talks about almost endlessly. Despite his handicaps and limitations, however, Daniel actually has some talent, in my opinion, as an entertainer.

"Welcome to BJ's Welcome to BJ's Welcome to BJ's" he will jump and yell rapidfire as customers enter the store. And with just as much gusto he will yell, "Have a nice evening!" over and over again to those who are leaving. Daniel seems to take real pride and joy in connecting with customers and in representing the store with his antics, which have sometimes included performances with a hand puppet!

No, Daniel's not a manager nor is he a leader nor is he a macho strongman or tradesman or handyman, and he probably will never be any of those things. Yet, I think Daniel's much more of an asset to BJ's Wholesale Club than their management would ever imagine and even more than he would ever imagine. Yesterday, as I handed out leaflets and watched Daniel greet customers, I thought that someone with some kind of importance really ought to give Daniel a big handshake, a warm greeting, and let him know that what he's doing really matters. I sadly realized that's just not likely to happen, but I then purposed to write this blog piece. Daniel will never be named a "Citizen of the Year" in Framingham or anything close to that, but he deserves kudos and recognition. Honestly, as nutty as this would sound to corporate BJ's management, they ought to feature him in a television commercial. I think he'd become a popular and liked symbol of their store. That's just my opinion.

If you're anywhere near Framingham, Massachusetts at this holiday season, and especially if you're a BJ's Member, you ought to come through the doors of the Framingham store and experience Daniel's warm greeting, and let him know it's appreciated. I think you'd really make his Christmas. Again, Daniel is about twenty-five. He recently had his cast removed after ten months. Daniel's of average height, and has dark brown hair which can have a bit of a slicked down look at times. He also tend to go without shaving for days on end and sport a scruffy beard. You can't miss the smile and antics. Now, he DOES go on break from time to time and isn't always working there, of course, but he typically is there Monday through Friday from late morning to early evening. Again, if you want to do a really nice thing at Christmas, you'd really bless him by stopping by and being friendly.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (I John 1:3)

My son Jon is a huge "movie" person. I probably have not seen half as many movies as he has, nor do I have a tenth of his film expertise, but I want to tell you on this post about my two favorite films. You will probably be surprised at my title, as neither of these films is even remotely considered a Christmas film, but I want to tell you why I love these films and why I chose that title. My absolute favorite film of all time is "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Costner and a very close second is "The Apostle" starring Robert Duval.

Recently a Facebook friend of mine who is a very committed Christian posted a wonderful piece about the line "Go the Distance" from "Field of Dreams". If you've never seen the film I don't want to spoil it for you, but I highly urge you to watch it before the end of 2012. I know many of my evangelical Christian friends may have some problems with the film- with the New Age overtones, the fantasy, and even the glorification of a writer who wrote books in the 1960s which included dirty words. If you can look past that stuff, there's so much you can glean from "Field of Dreams". The movie is the story of Kevin Costner's character Ray Kansella building a baseball field on his Iowa farm in obedience to a mysterious voice he hears. Ray believes something wonderful will happen as a result. The film has a great ending, but initially the building of the field brings Kansella great financial problems and the ridicule and disdain of many of his neighbors. The "Christmas" scene I remember is of Ray at Christmas time sitting and sadly looking at his baseball field filling up with snow. At that point, nothing special has happened, and he's feeling the great financial pressure and some embarrassment. Boy, have I been there! No, I never built a baseball field, but if you're a person who "marches to the beat of a different drummer" as I definitely do, and if you've done things that others called crazy and brought you disdain and ridicule, and even in a few cases financial stress, and I definitely have, then you will relate. I have seen "Field of Dreams" in its entirety abut five times. The James Earl Jones, "People will come, Ray" scene is very powerful and kind of a tearjerker. I'm feeling emotional just writing these words. Maybe this Christmas you feel like Ray. You're just sitting there looking out the window, feeling disconcerted and embarrassed (or just plain sad). Things have not turned out the way you expected. This doesn't seem like much of a Christmas season, and you're dreading the next month. WATCH THAT FILM!

I love "The Apostle" almost as much as "Field of Dreams". I've seen "The Apostle" in full probably twelve times. I never tire of it Many of my fellow evangelical Christians don't like the film. It includes just a few swears. The story includes murder, adultery, drinking, and other "stuff" that makes conservative Christians very uncomfortable. Sadly, those who so oppose the film totally miss its message! I also don't want to spoil this film for you if you have never seen it, but in fact it does not glorify those sins I've mentioned. Rather, it presents the reality that people are sometimes sinful, fallible and hypocritical. In the end, the murderer goes to jail. But Robert Duval's character wants to do something special, meaningful and glorifying to God before he goes to prison, and God grants that desire. I am so thankful that (as I often tell people) "you can't put God in a box". God is so much more forgiving than people are. Is God the "type" to let a murderer have a few months to do a special work before being arrested? This may not square with your theology, but yes, He is! Something that is very special about this film is that many, many of the ministers and devout Christians in the film are really ministers and devout Christians in real life! Now, to be fair and accurate, the guy who plays Rev. Blackwell is an actor. And, the Spanish-speaking female revival preacher is an actor and dancer who is a friend of Duval's. But almost all of the rest are just real devout Christian people, mostly from the rural South. The blind African-American preacher in the opening scene is a real preacher, and he gave a real sermon and led a real service for that scene. The one-legged black guy that Duval's character stays with for a short time is a pastor in real life. The guy was going through a difficult time in his personal life when asked to act in that movie, and playing that role was therapeutic for him. "Elmo" the businessman is a devout Christian from Arkansas in real life. In the final scene where Sammy "gets saved" the guy playing that role just relived the night he did "get saved" in real life as a teenager. His tears of love for Jesus were genuine. The cops who arrest Duval's character are real Louisiana police officers who were asked to handle the arrest exactly as they would in real life.

Listen, do you think you have done something so bad that God could and would never love you or use you for His glory? You have not! That's the message of "The Apostle". And, the Christmas connection is that in Duval's character's final church service, it's right around this time of year- late November. "Apostle E.F." is looking for volunteers to act in the church's Christmas pagent!

It takes guts to do what you think God is calling you to do, even if it means almost everybody thinks you're crazy and you lose some friends and supporters. I've lived that. But if you really believe God is calling you to do something, as long as it is not contrary to the Bible, I think you should do it! And, if you think you're too bad to "make a difference" and do something special for God, you're not!

Incidentally, my "behind the scenes" information on "The Apostle" came from watching the film one time with Robert Duval's commentary track on! If you have not seen these films in years, get copies of them and watch them before the end of the year. And, if you've never seen them, you've GOT to!

Thursday, November 15, 2012


"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." (Romans 14:5)

Dan Rea, for many years a popular television reporter in the Boston market, has been hosting an early evening radio talk show on Boston's major 50,000 watt WBZ radio for the past several years. Rea's program called "Nightside" gets into 38 states and 6 Canadian provinces.

I caught most of Dan's first hour as I drove home from Framingham to Canton last night. Dan Rea is pretty disturbed at the marginalization of Thanksgiving Day. For those who have not heard, several "big box" stores, including WalMart, Sears, and Target plan to open on Thanksgiving evening- some at 8 p.m. and some at 9 p.m. (Now, I understand that in Massachusetts due to rigid state laws, this won't happen. However, those stores will be opening at one minute after Midnight Friday morning in Mass.) Dan Rea is just a few years older than I am. We remember an era when Thanksgiving Day was a major event. It was not just a pre-Christmas holiday tacked in there to kick off the shopping season. It was the quintessential American holiday. While technically speaking not a "religious" holiday, it was sacred. And, since most "religious" folks did thank God on Thanksgiving Day, in that sense, it was a religious holiday. I remember that in the Baril household, Thanksgiving Day was very important. We'd have my grandmother and her sister Celia over for dinner. This was the fanciest dinner of the year, and only Christmas Day rivaled the "fanciness" of the dinner. You wouldn't even think of doing something like going shopping at a department store on Thanksgiving Day. When I was a little older, I played in the Canton High band, and of course we performed at the halftime shows of the high school football games on Thanksgiving morning. A lot of people may not understand the significance of New England Thanksgiving morning high school football games, but in a crazy sense, there was even something sacred about those!

About twenty years ago, all that began to be watered down by stores opening very early on Friday mornings for Christmas shopping sales. Now, "Black Friday" as a big shopping day is nothing new. I remember that one year in the 1960s, my mother and sister had gone shopping at Boston's "Downtown Crossing" on Black Friday and their black and white photo as "shoppers" appeared on the front page of The Boston Globe on the Saturday after Thanksgiving that year. But shopping began around 9:30 a.m. in those days. In the early '90s, the practice of stores opening at 6 a.m. started. A few years later, it was 4 a.m. Still a few years later, it was 1 a.m., and now it's going to be Thanksgiving Day itself! I don't think it's crazy to state that if this trend continues, within fifteen years, Thanksgiving Day will be no different from any other and all stores and malls will be open and packed with shoppers all day long on Thanksgiving Day. I wouldn't be surprised to then see the Thanksgiving Day high school football games moved to Black Friday nights.

Dan Rea has purposed to do something about this!

Last night, he began what he hopes to quickly become a national grass roots protest. He is urging that we just DON'T go shopping at any "big box" stores on Thanksgiving Day or on Black Friday. He's sort of open to a truce of people shopping after 9 a.m. on Friday, although I get the feeling he's not even crazy about that, and neither am I. I am posting this because I heartily agree with Dan Rea. I am asking you to not shop on Thanksgiving Day or on Black Friday. Now, understand that I do work on Thanksgiving Day. I work at a telephone answering service. On Thanksgiving Day this year, I will be working from 6 to 10 p.m. And I know nurses work, and firefighters and police and others work on Thanksgiving Day. But this whole crazy early Christmas shopping stuff which is encroaching on Thanksgiving is ridiculous and it's got to stop!

Thursday, November 8, 2012


"Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour." (Romans 13:7)

This morning, Ron, a very good friend of mine from Ashland, MA, called me on my cell phone as I drove from Canton to Framingham, MA. We had not had a chance to chat for awhile and so Ron updated me on a number of things. One story of Ron's this morning speaks volumes. Like me, Ron is a huge admirer of Scott Brown. At his home he had a Scott Brown yard sign on display. Last Saturday as he was outside doing yard work, Ron noticed a woman canvassing his neighborhood. She wore an Elizabeth Warren sweatshirt and carried a clipboard.

"She's going door to door for Elizabeth Warren," Ron quickly thought.

As the female Elizabeth Warren supporter passed by Ron's property, she pointed to the Scott Brown Sign and said, "Well, I guess we have nothing to talk about!"

"Actually," Ron replied, "I think we DO have some things to talk about."

The woman stopped and they had a friendly and lengthy conversation. Ron said he commended the woman for getting involved in the political process. He listened to her spiel about Elizabeth Warren. Then he asked her some tough questions.

"Scott Brown is the kind of Republican that Democrat activists say they want," said Ron, "he frequently crosses the aisle to work with Democrats. He's got a strong bipartisan record. He's moderate on the issues and a very fair and nice man. He's not an ideologue or a party hack. Conversely, Elizabeth Warren is an elitist who has been hand picked by the corrupt Democratic party establishment. How can you be working against Scott Brown?!"

Ron, a guy around age 50, went on to tell her that this was only the second time he has ever displayed a political sign on his lawn, but it's because he felt that strongly in favor of Scott Brown. He said the Warren supporter was visibly shaken. She told him that while she was still voting for Elizabeth Warren, he'd left her with a lot to think about.

A lot of people in Massachusetts should have done a lot of thinking before going to the polls this Tuesday. They got the U.S. Senate race wrong.

Some of you may know that "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" is a 1967 musical comedy by Clark Gesner, Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip. I couldn't resist doing a little tweaking of that title for this piece! Any similarities to Scott Brown end with that title, however! Scott's not a socially awkward little kid who couldn't lead his way out of a paper bag. He's a truly outstanding American who was a very hardworking and very good U.S. Senator. When was the last time you saw prominent Democrats such as former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn doing television commercials for a Republican candidate? When was the last time you saw a Republican's signs all over lawns all over the state? There had to be twenty Scott Brown signs for every Romney sign. When was the last time you saw prominent Massachusetts celebrities such as Doug Flutie and the Andelmans of the "Phantom Gourmet" radio and television shows actively promoting a Republican candidate? The fact is, Scott Brown, although registered as a Republican is far more than just a Republican. Brown's slogan, "He's for us" was absolutely correct.

I'm one of those "civics geeks" who follows what's going on in local politics. I knew who Scott Brown was long before he ran for U.S. Senator. I greatly admired him as a State Senator. Scott Brown was a great State Senator who (unlike Barack Obama when he was an Illinois State Senator) did not merely show up and vote "Present"! Scott Brown began his political career as an Assessor and Selectman in the Massachusetts Town of Wrentham (which for you non-New Englanders is very near the Patriots' Gillette Stadium). He did an outstanding job and had an outstanding reputation with people of all stripes in Massachuestts. His wife, Gail Huff, was a highly respected television reporter for Boston's ABC affiliate station. His daughter Ayla is a talented singer who was a semi-finalist on American Idol a few years ago. His other daughter Arianna is a competitive equestrian. Scott has served honorably for many years with the Massachusetts National Guard.

I will admit that I'm more socially conservative than is Scott Brown. I'm pro-life and he's pro-choice, for instance. There are other issues where we differ. I suspect that my good friend Ron differs with Scott Brown on some issues, too. Why, then, do people like Ron and me, and my sister Dianne feel so strongly about Scott Brown? (Dianne has said that if Brown runs for any political office in the future, she'll actively work in the campaign!) It's because he's a one in a million kind of guy and not at all a typical politician.

This week a woman called the Michael Graham radio show in Boston with a very touching story about Scott Brown. Her Dad had enlisted for military service just one month short of graduating from a Massachusetts high school. Now elderly, her Dad had always regretted not having his high school diploma. The woman had gone to the high school to ask if they'd award the diploma to her father, even at this late date. (The diploma was still sitting in a box at the school after all these years.) The school principal refused her request. She phoned Scott Brown's office. Amazingly, Scott Brown went to the school, got the diploma, and in a special ceremony at a Veteran's hall, Senator Scott Brown presented the high school diploma to her father! That's no isolated incident. A few years ago, I was honored to do the "blessing of the bikes" at a fundraising motorcycle ride for an 8-year-old girl with cancer. Guess who attended that event? Yes, Scott Brown who was a State Senator at that time.

Interestingly enough, virtually nothing has been said in the media about Scott Brown's Christian faith. If you check out Wikipedia, you'll see that: "Brown and his family are members of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and attend New England Chapel in Franklin, Massachusetts. They also have a relationship with a community of Cistercians, more commonly known as Trappistine, Roman Catholic nuns at Mount St. Mary's Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts." The Christian Reformed denomination is kind of interesting in that it's a very theologically Protestant denominations. It's one that a lot of people would label as evangelical. There are very few Christian Reformed Churches in New England. Most are in the upper mid-west, especially Michigan, and at least half Christian Reformed members in America are of Dutch ancestry. For those who understand theology, it's a very Calvinist organization. Christian Reformed people, however, unlike most evangelicals do not tend to be the types who beat people's doors down trying to evangelize them. Their faith tends to be more quiet and personal. So, they may not be jamming their faith down people's throats (which, again, liberal Democrats are supposed to view as a good thing) but they are people of faith.

There's so much more I could write about Scott Brown. In my opinion, Elizabeth Warren won't even come close to being the great Senator he has been. And, Marisa DeFranco who wanted to be the Democrat to run against Brown says that much of the negative stuff Brown spoke about Warren being in the pocket of big insurance companies is true! (If you doubt that, contact Marisa DeFranco. I have personally contacted her several times!)

You're a good man, Scott Brown! I hope you'll be back running for some political office in the future!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (I Timothy 4:12)

It had been well over three years since I'd done any commercial airline travel, but a few afternoons ago I found myself on Spirit Airlines Flight 857 from Boston's Logan Airport to Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport in Texas. Almost immediately upon being seated, and well prior to take-off I began to overhear the conversation of three young men seated in the row directly behind me. Their words caught my attention because they were laced with phrases about Theology, phrases about Philosophy, and quoting of Bible verses. At least two of the young men speaking had heavy British accents. A took a few very quick glances at the men seated to the rear of me and noticed they were caucasians but somewhat dark-skinned. I wondered if they might be from some foreign country like Guyana.

I took the title for this piece as a slight re-doing of the Alfred Hitchcock film title "Strangers on a Train". Indeed these WERE strangers on a PLANE. I'm not ashamed to speak about my faith in public, but I'm not even sure I'd have been comfortable talking on and on in the manner that these young male students did. They spoke of the faculty and students they admired at their school due to their intellectual qualities. They talked a bit about romance and dating. They spoke with great judgmentalism about those who did not accept their faith, and proudly proclaimed matters such as "I'm now CONVINCED and I'm declaring myself a CALVINIST!".

I wondered if they were seminary students. Upon listening further, however, it was evident they were undergraduates at a secular university. They were evangelical Christians and they were very sure of themselves. One stated he intended to go into politics; not immediately after graduation, but certainly in his young like. All had great ambition. All were filled with confidence. All seemed ready to take on the world and confident that with a few Bible verses quoted and explained and a few theologians quoted and explained they could silence any and every argument and solve the world's problems. They annoyed me.

I wondered what they'd tell a mother struggling to care for her autistic young child. I wondered what they'd tell a troubled 60-year-old with terminal lung cancer. I wondered how they'd convince a pro-choice liberal to support their political aspirations. I wondered if any of them knew how to change a tire or bleed a heating system.

They had no real life experience. They were probably between age 19 and age 23. They were just kids. Yes, they annoyed me. But, I suppose that thirty-four years ago when I was a student at Central Bible College, I was a lot like them.

Yes, kids like that read a few books and study a few chapters of the Bible and suddenly they're a Calvinist or an Arminian or a Dispensationalist or a believer in Theistic Evolution, or WHATEVER. Yes, a couple of classes and a couple of books and everything was all set.

Part of me SO wanted to engage them in dialogue! But that would have been very awkward. It would have been very insensitive to the guys traveling in MY row who were working on their laptop computers. It would have been physically uncomfortable to be trying to twiswt my body and talk to them. I decided against it.

Upon arrival at Dallas-Ft.Worth, I simply turned their way to get one final look at these excited, judgmental, hopeful, confident young Believers and I walked off the plane. I fly home on Monday. I wonder if I will encounter any more interesting Strangers on a Plane!