Thursday, September 21, 2017

Evangelicals--More White...More Male...More Jesus?

I grew up in as Southern and as Baptist a church  as you could find. Deep in the heart of Georgia. My church was a mill church--where the folk there (except the Superintendent) were poor but with enough pride to keep our heads up. In the fifties of course we were white and if you had polled the congregation you would find that most, if not all had voted for Franklin Roosevelt because he had helped them in a time of great need.

But it was there I first heard the name Jesus. Sunday was one of the most important days in my week. We went to Sunday School and church. We went back in the Evening to something we called Training Union. And believe it or not we even had Sunday evening worship. Something good and whole and very fine happened to me somewhere in those growing-up years. I received a lot of affirmation in that church.When as a nine year old boy I walked down the aisle one Sunday night and said yes to the faith walk--I can still remember that evening. Like Martin Luther years and years ago said when he had a bad patch: "I have been baptized!"--my baptism took--even though back then I did not even know who Martin Luther was.

When I said I thought I had been called to the ministry they rejoiced with me, asked me to preach. That first sermon (like many others I have preached) was dreadful. But they cheered me on. And the Scriptures I learned and the hymns I sang--and the faces that surrounded me are all with me until this day. When I went away to college they sent me money. They gave me an  expensive book they thought might be helpful. And when I was ordained in that same church--they laid hands on me and whispered that they would pray for me. I have no doubt they meant it.

photo by Haldean Brown / flickr
But through the years--beginning I guess in High School and later--I began to change. I opened my eyes to the racial problem. I saw the hatred in many white folks eyes. I listened as our Maid Nancy told me about some her struggles. But she was my first counselor.

A little later I discovered my best friend was gay. I hardly knew what that meant but I shocked. Little did I know how very hard it must have been to stay locked in a closet away from his family, his church and friends like me. He never told anybody until much, much later. I received a call one night saying he had been murdered. So the scales of understanding something of gays began to slip off m eyes.

I met Catholics in High School that were as strong a believer as I thought I was. I had been warned by my Baptist brothers and sisters that they probably would go to hell. I learned this was not so. So slowly my world view expanded. Almost all my teachers along the way were female. Our grade school principal was female. Most of my teachers at church and school were female. And one of the teachers who listened to me in High School and pointed the way to  a bigger world was, of course, female.

I discovered that Jesus was not white or American or could even speak our language. The door
cracked wider. Until my evangelical heritage of white and male and Jesus just did not seem to go far enough.

I took poor people to the Jewish Doctor in Southside, Virginia. And he loved them and treated them with dignity--and took little money from them--he knew they had so little. Reckon, I wondered if he might just make it into the Kingdom--he was so kind and loving.

photo by Merl Green / flickr
But enough of me. When I look out at a evangelical world today I tremble. So many well-heeled Pastors--mostly white--and almost all male--have embraced Mr. Trump that I grow dizzy. When I read the religious credentials of so many of the Trump officials I an appalled at their attitudes. About health care for all, about their excusing the President's treatment of women, of ignoring his lies, and the poverty of his values--his despising of Muslims and Mexicans and almost all immigrants--how in God's name can they follow this man? I don't know where we are going as a country--but I do know that if Evangelicals continue to applaud the values of people like Trump--fewer and fewer will turn toward those churches whose primary loyalty is to a very narrow American flag. To dilute the gospel message is serious business.

photo by Weirs Coetser / flickr
Read Mr. Kiriakou's article on our CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. It is scary. Read The Nashville Statement where 150 Evangelical leaders have written-in pompous and hallowed terms how gay folk are not really first-class citizens--and surely not Christian. Read Nancy Sehested's fine response to such drivel. She calls her remarks: "Tired of Being Mean."You might want to read Nicholas Kristof's fine piece about Jesus dialogue with Rev. Baaker (he's still around) about Baaker's comments that if Trump is impeached it will start a civil war.

I love the church. I have served it for over fifty years. And across the country and world churches of all stripes--evangelical included-- lift burdens and reach out in love and provide hope and help to many.   I ache at all those who have given up on the church. Atheism is on the rise. It is understandable when we link the universal gospel to some political party or to some flag. We are bigger than this even though many have joined the bandwagon of culture over Christ.

A Church secretary of an inner city church went into the sanctuary on Monday to collect the bulletins and whatever else had been left behind. As she moved through the sanctuary she saw words scratched on the inside of a pew. Looking closely the word said: "I love this church." Some little child had left his or her mark for all to see. Even after all these years--I still try to scratch in those words wherever I go. But the words have nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats.

photo courtesy of KOMUnews / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, September 9, 2017

September 11th - Let us Think Hard and Long

photo from peoples world / flickr

If we are wise we will use this weekend to look at where we are and what kind of people we are. Nothing stays won anywhere. Yesterday's deals must bee updated. Not once. Again and again. The old Constitution must be read through the eyes and turbulence of today. Not yesterday. Maybe this is a testing time. The way we respond may just tell us who we really are after all.

I share with you a poem boy a Muslim man. His words make me think. His name is Tamman Adi. Listen closely to what he says:

Hitler’s song was “Jewish terrorism.” It created the Holocaust.
The media keeps singing “Islamic terrorism.”
“Terrorism experts” keep singing “Islamic fundamentalism.”
Do they want a holocaust against Muslims?
Hey journalists, you know better.

photo by Nathan Rupert / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Dreamers and September 11th

photo by jphillipobrien / flickr

The Sunday following the day the Towers fell I was preaching in Huntsville, Alabama. After the sermon an Usher came and said, “There’s a young man back here that would like to speak to you.” He was dark-skinned. Obviously from some middle-eastern country. The first thing he said was, “I hope you don’t hate all of us.” Strange way to open a conversation. And then he poured out his pain. He was from Iraq. He was a student far from home. A Muslim. He was so embarrassed at what had happened. He told me that in that long week since the towers fell some people had been ugly to him. Some said little but they just looked like they hated him. I still remember his words, “I hope you don’t hate all of us.” I tried to
photo by Marion Doss / flickr
assure him that I didn’t hate him and neither did many others. I said that we did not hold him responsible for had happened. I said we were glad he was in our country and hoped things would go well for him. He shook my hand and left. I have often wondered where he is today.

His haunting question comes back to me today. “I hope you don’t hate us.” The Dreamers are asking that same question sixteen years later. There are 800,000 young people working, studying and longing for a better life. They have won scholarships. Some have worked three jobs and are still in school. Their parents fled poverty and fear just to come to a place that was safe and they could start over. They came with little sacks and bundles. They brought with them two, five and seven year olds. They found work and a life of safety. Most of them have worked hard and are proud that their little ones grew up and have had chances they never had. 

DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—opened their doors to the future. After paying a hefty fee every two years, those qualified for this program could receive Social Security cards, get a driver’s license, pay taxes and be admitted to many of our colleges. There are over 7,000 South Carolina Dreamers. 

photo by Susan Melkisethian / flickr
In Greenville and all over this country they and their supporters have taken to the streets. Ana Tepio was brought here when she was six year’s old. She says, “I have never been outside of Greenville. I’ve studied here, I’ve graduated from here…I’ve been here forever. It’s the only place I know as home.” Her story could be duplicated many times. America is the only home many of them know. Many can only speak English. 

Dismantling this program will leave these 800,000 young people in limbo. Will we send them back to places they do not even know? Some have bought homes. As students they will just be forced to leave schools and suspend their educations. They will lose jobs, driver’s licenses and the opportunities that America provides for our young. 

The Attorney General of the United States, speaking for the President says this program will be dismantled if nothing is done in six months. He has joined with some State Attorney Generals saying that DACA is unconstitutional and that we must stand by the rule of law. Our South Carolina Attorney General has joined this group. This “rule of law” has a strange familiar ring. We heard these words in a time of slavery. We heard the same words when women did not have the right to vote. We heard the words as we struggled to desegregate our schools. We even heard the words when your football teams would only admit white players. Gays heard “the rule of law” as they came out of the shadows simply to be who they were. We cannot hide behind the rule of law when people’s dreams are dismantled. When the twin towers came down 327 people from foreign nations were killed that day. They were Americans too.

Our President has sent mixed signals on this important matter.  He has said he cannot support the Dreamer’s. He has also said that he loves them. Strange logic. Instead of making a firm decision to stand up for these 800,000—he has abdicated his responsibility and pushed this matter over to the Congress. These young people must wait six months to find out their status and their futures. This is a terrible place to be.

What kind of a people are we? Cruel. Mean-spirited. Rigid and heartless. I think not. On this day when we remember that terrible time when America was turned inside out—we came together as one people. Labels did not matter. We dug through the debris. We found bodies. We had funerals. We wept over and over. It hardly mattered what color we were or what we believed. 

This is the America I still long for. What would I tell the young man today who asked me years ago if we hated him. And what shall we tell all these frightened young people who look to us for an answer. Love is not what we say. Love is what we do. And hate is not an American value.

photo by Wally Gobetz / flickr

You might want to read Sarah Jaffe's great article about some of the  casualties of DACA. Two young people open their hearts. 

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Jesus Wept--A Meditation on Mr. Sessions and Dreams Deferred

photo by Alan Creech / flickr

I have been wondering if, during the Congressional recess, Mr. Sessions went back home to Alabama. Knowing he is a devout Methodist I have mused that perhaps like most of us Southern Christians, he put on his suit, picked up his Bible and headed for church. Sitting there, surrounded by so many so proud of him, I wonder if he looked up at the strained glass window over the pulpit. Jesus praying in the Garden. I wonder if he looked to one side where the Shepherd Jesus cares for his sheep. 

And then I wondered how he squares those pictures he has known all his life--with his strong anti-immigrant bias. He called turning away all those Dreamers an act of compassion. Compassion? I wonder if he even thought of those 800,000 who long for a better life. 

Stilll, maybe I have forgotten the Deacons that stood at the front doors and would not let blacks in. "You would be more comfortable in your own church." Maybe I should remember Baptist school board members determined that separate but equal schools were best for their community.  Or the Deacons that wanted whites only at their restaurant counters. Or the preachers that played round after round of golf in those white-only country clubs. We have had a disconnect for a long time with the Jesus who prayed for all in the garden and the reality of our mean streets. We compartmentalize it so well.  Religion has nothing to do, after all, with politics. So we evangelicals really can sing our hymns and bow our heads and forget justice,kindness and compassion when it comes to all those 800,000 who simply want to reach up and claim their dreams. 

Maybe, Mr. Sessions that stained glass-Good-Shepherd-Jesus is just that: a stained glass figure from way back there. Maybe scared, frightened immigrants have nothing to do with the faith once delivered to the saints. Maybe the cruelty of people has nothing to do with religion after all. 

But I remember that the shortest verse in the Bible may be one of the most important. Jesus wept. He wept. For Lazarus and for his sisters. And for the disciples so wrong-headed. And for dear Jerusalem that did not know what really could make for peace. He wept for Rome and the poor and the dispossessed and the women so beat down and wherever people hurt--he wept. And today when cruelty and lies and deceit are front and center--I wonder, Mr. Sessions if he weeps for us all. 

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Will America Shatter the Dreams of So Many?

photo by Michael Fleshman / flickr

800,000 young people out there today are wondering what the President will do about their dreams? They were brought here by their parents. Most of them know nothing but America. They have risen to the top. They have worked so hard. They are students all over this country. And what about the dreams of their parents? So proud of what their children have been able to do so far.This is America act its best. 

My friend-colleague-writer Will McCorkle is a Ph.D student at Clemson who writes often for The Greenville News about issues that concern people. Real people. He has just written an impassioned open-letter to Senator Scott of our state. Senator Scott is African-American. He grew up with practically nothing. He is a Republican who has yet to raise his voice for the young Dreamers. Will's words are a challenge not only to Senator Scott but to us all.

Want to listen to one off the Dreamer students? I recommend Christian Bardales' words in The Washington Post. 

--Roger Lovette /

Prosperity Gospel Only for the Well-Heeled?

photo courtesy of Texas National Guard
who have come to the rescue / Flickr

For all those people who decry the lack of importance of the federal government--I wonder 
what they think of the enormous tragedy in Houston and surrounding communities. The courageous efforts of our government has once again stepped in and helped in so many ways. I have been moved by all those who have come to the rescue of people who names they do not know. It hardly mattered their color, their faith or non-faith--they simply were people in desperate need. We Americans know how to help in times of need. We saw it after 9-ll; we saw it after Katrina--I saw it when the tornadoes ripped through Birmingham--and we have all seen in again and again. 

How in the world could we have made it without the Federal Government? Our Government cannot do everything--but they have helped enormously again and again. I have also been moved by the multitudes of people who have come forward to help once again in Texas. In a lot of ways we are like that crazy family that are poles apart on just about everything--but when trouble comes--the good family pulls together.

We cannot do it by ourselves. The world is much too complicated and our resources are far too little. This does not give us license to pass the buck to the federal government or anybody else. We all must do what we can. 

The list of our needs are many. The Dreamers who simply want to have a better life. The poor aging grandmothers who are trying desperately to raise three grandchildren. The sick in some little out of the way place that find health care nonexistent. Or the Title One kids who do not have the luxury of vouchers. Or all those everywhere that need decent health care and whose resources cannot stretch but so far. 

We have other problems than Hurricanes and other natural disasters. And this is why I think this is one of the reasons we have a government. To take care of the people. All the people. Not just some group or some party. The word still is all. So we need federal and state governments that know that above all else--people count and cannot be lost in the shuffle. In my book the government should do for us together what we cannot do alone. 

We disagree on a lot of issues in this country. But when I see all those reaching out in Houston and those other desperate communities I am proud to be an American. And when I see all those other problems--I hope we can do a better job of helping these too. 

Anthea Butler has written this great article in The New York Times about the poverty of the Prosperity Gospel in times of desperation. You may not agree with all of what she says. Who does? But this writer seems to be reminding us that when Jesus said we are commanded to reach out always "to the least of these" he never gave us another choice. And he never qualified what he said.  

photo courtesy of Texas Military Relief / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, September 1, 2017

Walt Berry--A Tribute

(Last Thursday we gathered in the First Baptist Church, Clemson (SC) to say goodbye to a fine and courageous man. Walt Berry. He was quite a man and he crammed a whole lot of life into his 79 years. The last couple of years were very hard for Walt. He developed Alzheimer's and slowly slipped away. His wife Mary and his daughter and son-in-law did all they could to let Walt know he was loved and cared for. The following words are the tribute I gave at the church. )

We’ve come today to honor the life and memory of Walt Berry. A son, a husband, a father,aworker, a Christian, a friend. But none of these or all of these can capture this special life. 

We are all a collage of a great many things. And this certainly true of Walt. Born in Greenville on a December day 79 years ago. He grew up in Greenville—went to Clemson University. Dropped out. Worked a while came back and graduated. Married Mary on a June day 48 years ago.  

He wanted to get married six months earlier—but Mary wanted to be a June bride—and she was. They had two children whom he loved fiercely. Steve and Susan. Walt was Safety Coordinator for the University until his retirement in 1994. He lived on Strawberry Lane overlooking the lake with his family in the house that he, himself designed. 

In the Broadway play “Rent” one of the songs goes this way:

How do you measure the life
Of a woman or  man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died.”

And the song ends
“Measure your life in love
Seasons of love…
Seasons of love.”

My, my Walt’s collage is interesting. There are so many parts to his collage of love. He loved his Karman Ghia. And for some reason it was orange. It’s still in the Garage. He loved Music and Motorcycles and Bicycles and Family and Church. He loved lunch every day—the same thing. A pimento sandwich and pinto beans straight out of the can. He loved to travel. He and Mary went to Bermuda on their honeymoon. And if you look closely at his collage you’ll not only find Strawberry Lane but Maine and the West and the North East. They loved to travel. Mary gave me a four page single-spaced document of one of their trips they took to Europe. Walt wrote in meticulous handwriting detailed of that particular trip. England and Holland…Germany…and Austria…and Venice and Rome and Florence and Switzerland and Paris. Seasons of love…seasons of love.

He wrote that one of their stops was Heidelburg Germany. We went there 20 years ago and walked up to the  castle high on a hill overlooking the city of Heidelburg. 20 years ago the tour guide pointed to the entrance of one of the buildings there and said: “Do you see the twin angels?” And over the door were these two angels carved in stone. I called them goodness and mercy. 

Last year we went black to Heidelburg and climbed the hill to the castle. I asked my wife,
“Do you think those angels are still there?” We didn’t know. But walking through the entrance sure enough there they were: goodness and mercy. Still there after all those years. And as people walked in and out—over their lives decade after decade were these two stone angels: goodness and mercy. I don’t know if Walt saw these—he didn’t miss much. We have read the 23rd Psalm which is a favorite of so many of us. It reminds us that the Lord is our shepherd—He watches over us all. And the Psalm ends: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in there house of the Lord forever.”

The Psalm says those twin angels are overarching all our lives. Goodness and mercy. And I would remind dear Mary and Susan and David and Mary’s grandson little Cliff—and all of us in this room. The Lord is our Shepherd—and those twin angels are with us always. Goodness and mercy. The Psalmist is right. They were with Walt all his life. And there toward the end when he was slowly leaving us don’t you think those twin angels were with him every step of that hard way. And Mary, too. And Susan and David that came back home to help take care of Walt. And we stop and say thanks to them for being with Mary in her hours of great need. Isn’t that what family is supposed to do?And in those hard days goodness and mercy was with them…and is with them still. When Walt moved to Clemson Downs—don’t you think all those nurses and aides that cared for him could have made it themselves without goodness and mercy, too. And then that last dark night Susan and Mary were there with Walt and as he slipped away and laid every burden down—I see in Walt’s collage two angels. Goodness and mercy.

And if I had one gift to give Mary and Susan and David and all of us it would be the great reminder that those twin angels are over all our lives—and they will not leave. And in the hard days of grief ahead and in whatever decisions they and we make—as we close our eyes and try to sleep—let us try to remember on good days and bad—goodness and mercy are with us all. 

We thank God that those two angels followed Walt all the way to the end. And that promise holds for us all. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and one day we, took shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Seasons of love. Seasons of love. Even here. Even now. 

Langston Hughes captured this promise in his prayer-poem:

“At the feet o’ Jesus,
Sorrow like a sea. 
Lordy, let yo’ mercy
Come driftin’ down on me.

At the feet o’ Jesus
At yo’ feet I stand
O, ma little Jesus, 
Please reach out yo' hand."

A Benediction

"Into paradise may the angels lead Walt, at his coming may the martyrs take him up into eternal rest, and may the chorus of angels led him to that holy city, and the place of perpetual light." --from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead.

--Roger Lovette /