Wednesday, March 31, 2021

TRUTH

"Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?..."  (from John 18:38)

Here I am on Holy Week 2021.  I remember that a year ago we were immersed in the whole COVID-19 thing, and today it's maybe just a little bit better but it feels about the same.  I'm on a rare day off.  I just came from a dental appointment.  Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment today because I've got a numb mouth and I'm writing a piece which I suppose could generate hostile responses that will at least feel like a punch in the mouth!  Everything is so supercharged right now.  There is so much hate and division.  There is so much judgment.  I feel extraordinarily sad about it, and I feel more than ever like I don't belong in this world!  

I hate the whole "woke" thing.  I hate the whole thing that I am supposed to feel ashamed and guilty that I am a white male and especially that I am a white evangelical Christian male.  And, as far as politics, I am uncomfortable with the extremes of both the right and the left, although don't get me wrong, I'm much more "right" than "left" in my own political views.  What's frustrating is the far right thinks America is all good, all perfect, and all wonderful.  There's nothing to feel bad about.  It's all good.  Columbus was a wonderful guy.  General Custer was a wonderful guy.  Let's get American flags and wrap ourselves in them and worship them.  That's the American far right.  And, it's equally frustrating that the far left thinks America is all evil, all despicable, and all terrible.  There's nothing to feel good about  It's all bad.  The Native Americans had their lands stolen and were treated like garbage- and still are.  The Blacks were dragged over from Africa, treated even worse than the Native Americans, made slaves, and then suffering horribly under Jim Crow.  Let's all give the flag the finger and unleash a tirade of F-Bombs against the military and all American law enforcement officers.

The fact is the history of the human race for thousands of years has been of great good actions and great evil actions.  Just about any country I can think of has done much good and much bad.  Just about any ethnic group I can think of has done much good and much bad.  Throughout the centuries, one people has conquered and subjugated another.  What ultimately came out of that as decades and decades have gone on is a whole lot of really good stuff and a whole lot of not so good stuff.  

Do you remember Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem about the little girl?  Here goes:

There was a little girl,  Who had a little curl,  Right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, She was very, very good,  But when she was bad she was horrid.

So much in life is like that little girl.  So much!  If I had to tell you everything about my life, I could tell you true stories of what a wonderful, giving, caring, self-sacrificing guy I've been, and what a total jerk I have been.  Do you think I want to tell you about the time I pulled a false alarm using one of those old fashioned street fire boxes when I was a ten-year-old?  I don't want to, and I did get caught.  And, I've got lots of stories I'm ashamed of.  I imagine you do, too.

We are being told, no people are trying to force us right now to see America as racist and evil.  As radio talk show host Jesse Kelly says, "We are told America sucks!".  And we are.  Just my humble opinion here.  I have told you the extreme right's position on America and the extreme left's position on America.  Both are wrong - obviously.  But, I think for the sake of and the good of our culture and our country it's better to see America as a wonderful country, built on wonderful ideals, which is still a land of opportunity, but a country which at times has done some serious wrongs and made some terrible mistakes.  That's how I choose to see America, and how I will continue to choose to see America, even if I'm forced to sit in classes which try to make me see or think otherwise.  Listen, if I were depressed and suicidal and hating myself because I pulled a false fire alarm and did some horrible things in my life, especially when I was around middle school age, would you encourage me to focus on that stuff or on the good things about who Bob Baril is?

Now, notice the title of this piece.  It's TRUTH,  I'm saying let's present and discuss America's faults and failures, absolutely.  But let's make the main focus that we are getting better and that America is a good and decent country.  One missionary to Africa once told me that, "Half of sub-Saharan Africa between the ages of twenty and forty want to come to America".  If America "sucks" as Jesse Kelly warns the left constantly stresses, why do so many people want to come here?

Speaking of truth, one of the reasons I know the Bible is true is that it tells the truth about all the "great men and women of God".  It tells us sometime after the flood, Noah got drunk and was naked, and one of his son's disrespected him and acted like a jerk.  It tells us Abraham lied and was out to protect himself and his wife by any means necessary, good or bad.  It tells us David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then had Bathsheba's husband murdered.  It tells us the great and holy missionaries Paul and Barnabas in the New Testament had a big hostile argument and went their separate ways.  It tells us the Apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus, cursing as he did so.  The Bible tells the truth.  These people were great servants of God.  They also had great flaws and God doesn't hide that;  but God also doesn't make that the "be all and end all" of who these people were! 

Back to American politics, about thirty years ago I heard a caller to Rush Limbaugh's radio show ask Rush, "Don't you wish all the liberals would go away; don't you wish we were rid of all the liberals?" You may be surprised at Rush's answer.  He said he did not wish for that!  Rush said a truly free society has a place at the table for many various political and philosophical ideas.  Certainly, conservatives should be there at the table, but so should the liberals.  Rush said we are all to listen to one another and to consider what each person says, and ultimately to carefully come to a consensus.  And he's correct. And I'm concerned that America seems to be rapidly moving away from that sacred ideal.

On Holy Week Jesus Christ talked about loving one another.  On Holy Week Jesus washed His disciples' feet, including Judas Iscariot's feet.  If you're on the right, can you pray for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this week?  Would you humble yourself and wash their feet?  If you're on the left, can you pray for Donald Trump and Mike Pence this week?  Would you humble yourself and wash their feet?

On this Holy Week at this very serious time in our history, this is my "two cents".

 

 


Saturday, January 23, 2021

A TALE OF THREE BILLS

 "... a word spoken in due season, how good it is!"  (from Proverbs 15:23 New King James Version)

I'm writing this in January of 2021.  It's only January.  And yet, in some respects it has been such a harsh year.  Last year the hateful posts on the internet and the horrible condescending and patronizing messages from "friends" seemed like they couldn't get any worse.  But they have.  I've cut back on my Facebook posting and commenting.  I took a verbal beating from "friends" a couple of weeks ago due to something I'd posted; and so in the words of G.P.S., I'm "recalibrating" my whole approach to the world.  

I've found myself thinking about three guys named Bill who have been in my life and "stuff" I've learned from their examples.  I didn't get permission from any of them to name them on the internet so I will use the the first initial of their last names.  First, there's Bill L.  Bill L. was a prominent person at the church I pastored in Framingham, Massachusetts for many years.  Bill L. is a blue-collar worker who has amazing mechanical ability.  He also has a lot of what is often called "street smarts".  Bill L. served as a board member of the Framingham church during at least half of the years I ministered there.  What stands out about Bill L. is that he doesn't say very much, but when he does say something it is usually something quite important and quite helpful.  He doesn't waste a lot of time just rambling on about nonsense the way so many people do.  Honestly, it could be said of me that I have a "big mouth".  On the one hand, with strangers, I'm typically a very shy person.  However, with people I know I can talk and talk and talk, often saying things that are at best not helpful and at worst hurtful.  Years ago when the Framingham church was being closed and my ministry was on the rocks my wife Mary Ann told me that through the years I had hurt a lot of people by things I'd said.  At the time I was defensive and rejected that observation.  But during the past few years I've thought about that and I've painfully realized she was right.  I was not careful about what I said or how I came across to people.  I often took people for granted and I did not go out of my way to show appreciation to them.  In life I've paid for that flaw.  My friend Ron Sebastian says, "You can't get in trouble for things you don't say".  More and more I'm learning that, and trying to learn to listen more and speak less.  It might not surprise you that Bill L. isn't even on the internet.  Pouring out his opinions and observations in post after post on Facebook would never interest him.  

There's also Bill S.  Bill S. was a board member and adult class teacher at Bread of Life Church in Westminster, Massachusetts where Mary Ann and I currently attend.  Bill S. and his wife moved a couple of years ago, but he had a great impact on me in many ways.  Bill S. taught what is usually known as the "New Converts Class" at Bread of Life Church.  I'm sure right now somebody is thinking, "Wait a minute, you're a Bible College graduate, an Ordained minister, and you pastored for many years. Why would you possibly attend a New Converts Class?!"  In my opinion, every Christian ought to attend a New Converts Class from time to time.  As much as you know and as much as you've experienced, you'll be surprised how much you'll pick up in a New Converts Class and how much it will affect you.  For instance, do you know what to do when you start having thoughts you just don't want to have but can't seem to stop them?  Well, Bill S. taught on that in one powerful class.  It had a radical positive affect on me, and helped me so much in that area!  (I'm not going to write the answer about how to overcome that problem.  If you really want to know it, you'll have to contact me!)  Another time, and this is much more pertinent to this article, Bill S. said something that really convicted me.  He said that "self promotion" has no place in a Christian's walk.  He not only said that, he really underscored it.  Why was I convicted?  The reason is, I've been very guilty of self promotion, especially over the past twenty years.  We all have "issues" that are hard to face and hard to talk about, and this is one for me.  You may be surprised by this, but I've had low self-esteem for most of my life.  In the ministry, I pastored a very small and "unsuccessful" church.  Socially (with strangers) I can be very awkward.  The word I often used about myself in the 1990s was "marginalized".  I felt very marginalized as a minister and as a person.  The way I tried to compensate for that was self promotion.  I wrote guest columns for the local newspaper in Framingham, and I was proud of my columns.  I began writing this blog in 2006.  Many of the posts from the pre-2015 days are frankly very prideful and self promoting in one way or another.  And even some of my Youtube videos, especially the earlier ones, were egotistical and self promoting.  When Bill S. spoke about self promotion, it stung!  That was probably seven years ago.  I wish I could say that right after that my self promotion stopped, but it didn't.  I'd do really well in that area for a few months, and I'd do not so well in that area for a few months.  Right now, as far as self-promotion, I'd say I'm in "recovery" and it's "One Day at a Time"!  Back to what I said at the beginning about all the hateful things people write on the internet- a lot of that is really their self promotion.  They want to let everyone know how brilliant they are and how stupid others are.  We could all learn a lot from Bill S.!

Finally there is Bill D.  Bill D. is a lay leader at Bread of Life Church.  Bill D. has walked through some deep valleys in life.  He writes and posts inspirational pieces online mostly for our church people.  (I wish more of them were "Shareable".)  Bill never went to seminary or Bible college.  Rather, he went through God's School of Hard Knocks.  I have been so blessed and humbled by his writings.  In my life I've written so many things that were silly and pointless.  And, even many of my inspirational writings have really been self promoting.  Bill D. probably has no idea how much of an affect he's had on me and what an example he is for me.  I want my writing and my public speaking to be more and more of glorifying God and truly ministering to others.  That's what Bill D's "stuff" does.  I hope someday he'll put his inspirational writings into a book.  I'd love to write the "Forward" to that book, if he'd let me.  

What's the bottom line about the Three Bills?  1.  Talk a lot less, and post a lot less on the internet.  And realize you can say and write things that really hurt people, and God will hold you accountable for that.  2.  It's not about you!  We're not to be self promoting.  We're to be God glorifying and truly encouraging to others.  3.  Post things that are positive, inspirational, helpful, and encouraging.  Nobody needs another post about what a stupid idiot Donald Trump is, or what a stupid idiot Joe Biden is.  We need even less of posts like that which are peppered with the "F bomb"!

A number of years ago, we were bombarded with the message, "What Would Jesus Do?"  Here, I'm suggesting that you start asking yourself, "What Would the Three Bills Say and Do?".

Friday, December 25, 2020

AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS

 "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)

My friend Bill Deery posted something beautiful about John Lennon's song, "So This is Christmas" online this morning.  I added a comment about how much I love that song.  It's been a weird year and it's a weird Christmas.  In eastern Massachusetts we're getting heavy rain and some high winds, and the temperature is 61 outside!  I know some people wonder why I have posted very few blog posts this year and why when people comment on my posts I seldom respond.  Well, I almost never have access to a desktop computer or even a laptop or tablet - long story.  I used to write my blog posts at the public library, and when Covid-19 hit, that was the end of that!

I'm writing at my son's small apartment in Framingham.  My daughter Rachel and my wife Mary Ann are visiting our other daughter Amy and family in Springfield, Missouri.  Yes, before they return, they will have to be tested for Covid-19.  I'm just relaxing right now.  Jon arranged for me to get a very cool present.  It's a personalized video from actor Terry O'Quinn (who played "John Locke" on "Lost" on ABC back in the early part of this century).  I posted the link on my Facebook page and I hope many of you will be able to see it.  

There's so much I want to say here, but I also want to be very brief.  I always say about my father and about my first boss in ministry (Dave Milley) that each of those guys were "complicated".  They were!  At sixty-six I'm realizing that's a word I need to apply to myself as well:  complicated.  Many people think they know and understand Bob Baril very well.  I'd say in reality, there are probably no more than ten people, if that, who really know and understand Bob Baril.  To use a word that Bill Shaw from my past used to say about himself, I am an "enigma"!  I'm so glad the Lord loves me and understands me!

All the hate and division this year has really saddened me.  I know some of you will think that because I can be very public about my opinions, such as that I voted for Donald Trump and I'm a conservative Republican, that I'm part of the problem.  I try to be a "bridge builder" but one person told me this year I'm really not a 'bridge builder" because of my disdain for people on the far left.  That stung.  And I thought about that.  I have friends who "Unfriend" people and stop talking to friends and relatives constantly!  I don't do that!  I want to have relationships with people and not always be talking about politics and philosophy.  I want to affirm what is positive in family and friends even if there are areas in which we disagree strongly.  I fear some will never understand that, or me, but at least from my point of view, I'm trying.

At sixty-six I am aware that I could always die of a sudden heart attack or other medical issue.  My parents did not make it out of their seventies.  I realize I may only be around for a few more years.  If I should pass away, I want to be seen as a guy who tried to affirm and appreciate others, and who tried to make a positive difference in life.  A guy who was an unapologetic born-again Christian and Pentecostal.  A guy who had strong convictions mostly on the political right.  But a guy who could also share encouraging words to those who agree with him and to those who disagree with him; a guy who was mostly a pleasure to know and not mostly a jerk.

And with that I will stop and say, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year"!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

ENOUGH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 30, 2020

DONALD TRUMP - GP/AJ

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

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

I voted for Donald Trump. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 8, 2020

JANIS C. AND JENNIE M. AND THE VIRUS SCARE

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

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

It all got "ramped up" really fast!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 22, 2020

RAUL RODRIGUEZ'S REVOLTING REALITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raul Rodriguez is literally a man without a country.

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

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

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

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

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