Monday, January 16, 2017

Mr. Trump--The Journey from "I" to " We"--A Challenge

Photo by Chuck Coker / flickr

On this day for remembering Dr. Martin Luther King I have been struck by the challenges that E. J.  Dionne, Jr. and Joy-Ann Reid give us. Their words can be found in The Washington Post. Recently they studied President Obama's speeches and have Co-edited a book called: We Are the Change We Seek.

They offer a challenge to our new President-to-be. No ugliness. Just a challenge. They say that President Obama--and many other Presidents have leaned on the word, We, as opposed to the tiny word, I. Mr. Trump loves the word: I. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights use: We continually. "We, the people..." most of us know that the journey from I to we is a very long and difficult one. Most of us struggle with these two words most of our lives.

My hope is that Mr. Trump, in taking on this enormous mantle as President, will begin to realize the "we-ness" of his position and the trust he has been granted. He is to be President of all in this  country. The United States has struggled since its beginnings with this inclusive word: We. 

Looking back--there were so many times in our history when we tried to whittle  down the meaning of this word to our own tribe, our own clan, our own battalion. The great dream of the "We" is that it takes us all in. Most of the world looks at us because of this word and its promise too all. My prayer is that on this day for remembering the great King--our new President will learn soon to say and incarnate this special word.

I keep remembering what one of the characters in Carson McCullers' play, Member of the Wedding says: "Everybody wants to be a "we."

Photo by Brian / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Clemson Football...Dr. King...President Obama

photo by Hector Alezandro / flickr

This morning I watched Clemson celebrate the winning of the National Football Championship. 75,000 peopled gather in 15,000 tiny Clemson to welcome the team and celebrate their victory. It was quite a day of smiles and yells and wonderful hoop-la.  As I sat watching that long line of 2017 gladiators—I noticed that many, maybe most were black. And as the cameras fanned through the crowd—there were black faces everywhere. And at recognition time—black Mamas and Papas were also recognized and the crowd cheered. 

It wasn’t always this way. Integrating Southern institutions like schools and athletic programs was no small accomplishment. Along the way there were Governors standing in school doors, ugly confrontations toward black folk. There were churches burned and bomb threats and even lynchings. Pastors were hounded out of many pulpits simply because they said the church doors should be open to everyone. But slowly, ever so slowly schools down South reluctantly opened their doors. Athletic programs slowly admitted black players. Pulling up the rear, as usual the church finally came around—at least on paper. 

Monday we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. Interestingly, this week we also say goodbye to the country’s first black President. Even after eight years when racism reared its head again and ran not only through the streets of Washington—but through much of our country—President Obama served us with grace and dignity. Despite the venom from politicians that knew better—I think when it all shakes down—our outgoing Commander-in-Chief will be known as one of our great Presidents. Like Jackie Robinson in baseball—the President was the first black man to hold that office—and being the first is no small thing.

I was proud when he was elected and marveled that we had come so far. Little did I know that his election would really uncover a stream of racism and hatred that we thought was behind us. And yet—twice we still elected this man and the country is the better for it. The Southern Poverty Law Association keeps track of the hate groups in this country. During the Obama years the groups who fan the flames of discrimination have risen by an alarming degree. 

And yet on this Martin Luther King week-end—we need to remember that the progress we
photo by Lesley / flickr
have made would not have happened without the great King. Most forget today the rage and hatred he stirred  up all over the country. He gave his life to the cause of “a justice that would roll down like waters…and righteousness like a mighty stream.” 

Many are disturbed at the prospects on the political horizon. Black folk are scared. Immigrants are frightened.  Muslims here do not sleep well. A little black boy told my teacher-daughter: “We go be sent back to Africa.” We do not know what the future will hold. Yet—we need to look at our tortured history but also remember Dr. King. We need to look at the long line of black athletes who helped Clemson win the national championship. We need to see John Lewis again still standing after all his hard years. 

Those of us in despair need to remember how far we have come. No—we have not come all the way by a long shot. But the distance from the Montgomery years of Dr. King and 2017 is long and wide and joyous in many ways.

I watched the film, “Fences” the other night. It was a play which has been made into a fine movie. The title reflects the story. The fences that black family had to overcome were many. And as I sat in that South Carolina theatre there were black folk and white folk sitting side by side in the darkness. We have not torn down all the fences that separate us and we may have a President who tries hard to unpack that old lumber and nail the boards up again.

But remember Dr. King. Remember his great dream. Remember how far we have come—and very far we still need to go. We owe the Reverend a great deal. For he can teach us that one day little black and white boys may play football together. Little white and black girls may stand side by side as cheerleaders. And wonder of wonders—we say goodby to a black President who left our country so much better than he found it eight years ago.

(You might want to read Dr. Will Willimon's fine article and prayer on our current situation.)

—Roger Lovette /

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Preacher Stands in the Uncomfortable Middle

photo by David / flickr
Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Seminary has written a great article about preachers and pastoral ministry. He says that after this stormy election--Pastors must get up every Sunday--not to speak of many conversations in between--and deal with members on the right and the left and some in-between. He asks a good question: "How does one be a pastor-preacher in a time of cultural division?"

So I looked back over my shoulder at my own more-than forty year ministry. I think Dr. Barnes would agree that this problem is no new dilemma for the Pastor. Remember Paul?

Most Baptist churches historically have placed the pulpit in the middle. History tells us that we non-conformists were suspicious of those liturgical ways that placed the Pulpit on the left or the right of the altar. And so for most of us the Pulpit was there: smack-dab in the middle. Often the church would have a center aisle. And I have heard more comments than I would like to remember about Mamas that would tell me: "We must have a center aisle so my Daughter can come down to the altar on her wedding day." They usually won. So much for theological underpinnings of church architecture. But I think that pulpit in the center facing faces on the right and left is a pretty good symbol of not only where we reverends are today--but how things have been for as long as I remember.

My own pressure in that first church--and I think all the others--came from standing there with an Open Bible--looking out at folk who voted left or right--maybe today we should paint one side of the pews red and the other side blue. Except--the reds would win out every time. There was a cultural divide even on Alternate Highway 54 in rural Kentucky. We had folk divided over Kat-licks. In  Western Kentucky we had quite a few Catholics and the Protestant-Catholic divide was very real. Maybe I felt this problem first-hand when the Catholic boy wanted to marry one of our Baptist girls. And there I was squeezed in the middle.
Early on a couple who had been divorced came to talk to me about getting married. Being young and naive and trying to be open--even then--I married them. And folk would come up and say: "Did you know that divorced men can't serve in this church as a Deacon?" And there I was standing right in the middle. We had other battles: Would Communion be open (to everyone) or closed (When only Baptists and some congregations: only members of that church could partake of the Lord's Supper.)  Even then I wondered just whose table this was.

If that was not enough there was in Montgomery, Alabama a bus boycott. And black folks stood up and demanded their rights. And being a Southerner and knee-deep in richest tobacco land in Southside Virginia--race relations came to church. The KKK burned crosses in front of some of my colleague's parsonages. Some received bomb threats. And Deacons met to decide if they would stand at the door on Sundays and protect the church from those black outsiders. It was not our best day in church anywhere. Somehow I missed the burning crosses, etc.--but I still found myself in the middle.

And through the years I have looked out on both sides of the congregation and felt the pressure. Women Deacons. Open Communion. Open membership (which meant you did not have to be baptized again if you came from another faith.) There has always been the divide about Scripture. "Is every word of the Bible really true? Or the same?" In one church speaking in tongues was all the rage in that community--and it infected our flock. And the Reverend had to deal with charismatics in the church.

Before I knew it the Baptists were more divided than usual. Through the years we had managed to stay together somehow. But when Fundamentalism marched down the aisle and crossed its arms and glared toward the Pulpit--well, I had to deal with that issue. Out of that squabble came another group of Baptists--more open and more inclusive.

It did not stop there. We had to deal with Viet Nam and those kids that came to church barefooted with dirty hair. And fine members would come and say: "What are you gonna do about all these people?"

If you moved to another congregation--sometimes the issues you thought were settled everywhere-were not settled everywhere and we Pastors had to deal or re-deal once again with issue after issue.

AIDS came to Church one Sunday and sat down in a pew--and people looked around and wondered. And members would come in and shake their fingers in my face and say: "What are you gonna do about these homos?" And so there were meetings and prayers and discussions in which we had to  hammer out another painful issue. And right in the middle of it all was the Preacher.

So Mr. Trump's election is not the first time we have been here and once again we must ask: How can we reach a lot or at least most of these folk divided over Trump-Hillary-Democrat-Republican--red-state-blue state. There they are sitting there in front of you every Sunday. President Barnes frames the question well: "What does it mean to be pastor-preacher who has taken a vow to love everyone in the congregation in such a divisive time?"

We cannot remain silent during this hard time--but we have to speak the truth in love to all those that gather under the sign of the cross. And we have to remind ourselves and others that the gospel of Jesus Christ has always been divisive. I do believe the centerpiece of our faith is a cross. So pray for those that stand up every Sunday trying not just to navigate through troubled waters and not offend too many--but to keep faith with a gospel and a book that is called a two-edged sword.

Dick Gregory was once asked why he took such a stand for black folks in a terribly divided and dangerous time. They would say: "Why did you stick your neck out over and over.?" And he said: "When my little granddaughter crawls up in my lap and looks at the flickering images on TV of the marches back there and the churches that were bombed and the little black girls that were killed. What if she looks into my face and asks: 'Grandaddy were you there back then? What did you do?' And Dick Gregory said: "This is why I did what I did for civil rights."

And so Preachers and Pastors don't forget that Book you open and that cross behind your pulpit and that charge you took on the day of your ordination.

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It's Epiphany Time in Trumpville

photo by GollyGforce / flickr

The liturgical church called the days after Christmas--Epiphany. We Baptists didn't have a clue back there. After the Yuletide season was over--we packed away our Christmas stuff, cleaned the house--and worried about how we were going to pay for all that stuff we charged. So January came in cold and rainy--even in Georgia--and looking out the 

window everything was drab and ugly and blah.

But somewhere I discovered this after-christmas season of Epiphany. Traditionally it began on January 6. It honored the coming of the three kings that followed the star until they discovered the baby Jesus. Back there we thought when the three kings of Orient marched down the aisle in their bathrobes--carrying various smelling salts and jars, filched from their Mama's vanity--that it was all over. 

And later, much later I learned that we had the three wise men coming on stage too soon. They came later in January. Maybe somebody back there knew that after Christmas when everything was dull and everybody was a little down--that we might need what they called an Epiphany. Translated: Manifestation. Translated: Seeing the star--walking in its incredible light--and discovering at the heart of it all there was more, much, more more than we ever dreamed. 

Epiphany heralds the coming of the light. And here in this January we all need a fresh dose of light for these dark days. All the pundits are wringing their hands--except for Kelly Ann and all the other paid actors. I wake up every morning dreading to turn on the news. Trump. Who refuses to sit still even for the reports and briefings. It makes sense--when you know everything why waste precious time on all those boring reports that may not be true after all. 

I read the long sad list of the people who expect to whisper in his ear and tell him which way to go. Lordy! An Amway millionaire who never sent a child to public schools all hepped up over vouchers for mostly privileged kids. What about all the others? A General who helped spread the news that Hillary was involved in some kind of furtive sex ring outside a pizza join in Washington. She didn't have far to travel. A reputed alt-right nationalist who has written terrible things on his web site. He will stand close. The Energy Secretary who wants to dismantle the Department he now will probably head. Huh?  A  Surgeon from Georgia who was picked to abolish the health care for over 20 million people. The list goes on. A President-to-be whose role model seems to be Mr. Putin. Mr. Trump has loudly proclaimed that he will drain the swamp. And it now seems that the only people left will be billionaires. 

What does all this have to do with Epiphany? Everything. Our forebears were wise enough to know that despite whatever Herods there might be--whatever injustices that would march across the world--we have this old story of three kings that followed a star--refusing to listen to the evil-intentioned king. Three kings who found more than they ever dreamed in an out-of-the-way place nobody had ever heard of. Not even Rick Steeve. 

The writer John would look back on the whole Christmas story and write later, maybe with a smile--"the light shines and the darkness cannot put it out." The time in which he wrote those words was about as dark as the world could get. So we Christians must hang on to Epiphany. Light. A manifestation that there is more here than meets the eye or has Trump stamped all over it. So, like all those others through the winding years--we remember what headlines and elections would try to diminish. In 2017 the light still shines--a shining light--in a darkness that is mighty scary. 

Don't throw in the towel. Remember the three kings. Remember the star. Forget Herod. He is a bit player in a drama that is larger than life and death and powers and principalities and whatever else will come down the pike. 

(You may want to read Martin Marty's, "Many Sightings of Hope," in the publication Sightings. He writes that he wrote nothing about the election and the candidates intentionally. Now he'd responds with a splendid article about Hope. Good read.)

--Roger Lovette /

J.D. Vance--Teacher

I have been hearing about J.D. Vance's book for weeks. It has climbed to the top of the best seller lists. I wondered why the book has caused quite a stir. A book about hillbillies?

I thought it might be some sociological study. Some clues to why Hillary did not get elected. Not so. The book is the story of one man's life. And the book is good and provocative and heart-warming.

Vance grew up, like so many of us, without a great many advantages. His family was a mess. Did not know his father, his mother had a stream of live-ins. She also battled alcohol and drugs. He found safety and encouragement from his Grandmother, Me-Maw particularly. She may have cussed like a sailor but she believed in family and J.D. in particular.

She helped save his life. Not having many chances at education he joined the Marines, got out went to Ohio State--did well--and wound up in Yale Law School.

Vance does not look back on his conscripted past with disdain. He appreciates his family. He has come to value the experiences in their lives that kept them--and him--going. In many different ways he tells his audience not to look down on people--any people. Try to understand. Give them a break.

Whatever hard times Vance had to endure and escape--he has come to forgive his family that had so little and to value the things of their lives that were important. In today's world that worships money and success J.D. Vance is a fine teacher. Families matter. All families. Forget the labels like Hillbillies or poor or disadvantaged or broken homes or any other terms we try to diminish people with.

J.D. Vance lets us know there is strength and hope in these hillbillies. Me Maw was the key to her Grandson's success. She was always there. She held him accountable. She helped him continue to dream dreams against seemingly impossible odds. She--and many others--saved his life.

What this book taught me is that what we all do matters. That we can help everybody along the way. The world is a better place when somebody listens, loves and cares. Instead of writing others off--how much better to believe, despite the odds, in everyone.

We're in a mess today. Yet--the old words may still be the best after all. Love. Care. Commitment. And that old word that keeps us all going: hope. I recommend this book as a good start for the new year.

(You might want to read Vance's article on "Barack Obama and Me" in this week's New York Times. The author is no Democrat but he writes about his appreciation for our outgoing President.)

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, January 2, 2017

After Christmas Blues

photo by Jean Gazis

On this, the second day of the new year, I watched them from my window. They packed the car—my neighbor's kids. They struggled to get the big box in the trunk. They kept going into the house and coming out with little sacks, suitcases and coffee cups. I assumed she lived next door—or at least their parent’s did. I assumed he was her boyfriend. Finally, at long last, the car was crammed, parents came out to the car—hugging her first—tight and long—and then the boy. They got in the car and drove off—and the parents just stood looking as the car moved on down the road and faded from sight.

We did the same thing at our house days earlier. We helped them pack the car, walked the dog and then it was time for them to go. We hugged them both just as our neighbors had done their child. There was a lump in our throats and theirs, too I guess. It was all over, this Christmas. This old weary year was passing fast. We stood there as their car moved down our street for other places—school and job and the yet unknown. We turned slowly and made our way back into the house. Empty now. No neurotic dog. No loud music. No clicking of the endless text messages. Just us two—with the sagging Christmas tree and the left-over ham and a garage piled high with boxes. 

This cold December the pages have turned like the old leaves that fell weeks ago. It all went too fast. This tired year and especially this Christmas. Miss Judy was right when she sang:  “Who knows where the time goes…” Who knows? And who knows what tomorrow will bring those neighbor kids—and our own that left us standing in the street.

Weeks, months from now we will remember how good it seemed back there at Christmas. We will take out our memories like the canned jars we put up last summer. And we will twist the tops and for just a moment we will know what matters and what is important. A tree and music. And a table stretched—with the big leaf in it—and chairs where we all sat and laughed and most of all—loved.

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016

  "Remembering the stable where for once in our lives 

     everything became a you and nothing was an it."
                                    --W.H. Auden

Merry Christmas


Roger Lovette