Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Pastor Retires

(On November 22 I was privileged to take part in Bob Shrum's retirement from Oakland Baptist Church,  Rock Hill,  South Carolina. Bob had been Pastor there for almost 33 years. 

He is one of my oldest friends. We have been friends, colleagues and partners in crimes for 40 years. It has been a blessed relationship for me and our compadre, Randy Wright. So I was delighted to be part of this last service for Bob's retirement.

Everywhere he served his ministry has been significant.  At Oakland he has led the church in a courageous way.  He led the church to ordain women as deacons. An ordained woman serves as his associate. When Furman University was having serious difficulties with the SC Baptists, Bob Shrum spoke eloquently for the school. Some ten years ago he address the SC Legislature about the rightness of supporting same-sex marriage. 

He has led his church to move outside the walls and minister to the community of Rock Hill. His church has led in the building of several Habitat Houses, established a free-medical clinic for the needy, helped move the church from the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention to the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He has led his church to struggle with the issue of gays in church. At the same time he has ministered to his church family and the people love him and the church has flourished.

So--on his last Sunday--this is what I said when I spoke...)
When Bob had been Pastor here for 25 years I was asked to have part on the program. As I thought about what I wanted to say I remembered a picture that hung in my office. It was a Charleston scene. It is called: "Ceremonial at St. Philips." It shows the outside of St. Philips Church. It was raining. The robed Choir stood beside the front door all carrying umbrellas getting ready to process into the service. And what I said that Sunday was that Bob Shrum opened the church's doors and helped people come in out of the storm. A place of warmth and love and safety.

After I sat down that Sunday--the next person that spoke presented Bob with this picture. This same picture I had been talking about. And the man that presented it said: Our Pastor has helped so many people here come out in of the storm. Bob had told that story many times--an idea which he stole for me. But it represented for the church what he had done. And what I want to do today is to say again Bob Shrum has helped so many, many of you come in out of the storm. And your lives have been changed. This wounded healer--and many of you have known his wounds. Wounds and all-he has stood by the door--sharing with you his wounds--but not often--and welcoming all of you out of the storm and into the church. And I would applaud this congregation for standing by Bob during his own stormy times. This church did not shoot this wounded soldier and you and he are the better for it. So--Bob--thank you for opening up your heart and life not only to the congregations you served--but also to your friends. We are better because you have helped some of us with our own storms. I could not finish without mentioning dear Rosie and Stephen and Jonathan and David and Jason and Laura. Without you Bob could not have done what he did.

I think it is time for us to bow our heads and give thanks on this Sunday for Bob and all he has meant to so many of us.

God of grace and God of glory
We come to thank you this fine day with hearts and hands and voices—
For all the tributaries that have flowed into Bob Shrum’s life.
Lord—we don’t know where to begin.
Parents…Sunday School teachers…Pastors…and friends who showed this little South Carolina boy your face and led him to believe.
We thank you that one happy day he heard his name called and like those disciples of long ago began to follow you.
So many tributaries. 

For all those along the way that opened the doors to learning and dreaming and stretching and laughter and joy.
So many tributaries, Lord.

For Joella and Rosie and Earl and Carol Ann and Stephen and Jonathan and David and Jason and Laura. They, especially have graced his life and made his journey rich indeed.
We are grateful for his ministry in Sumter and Pendleton and these rich years at Oakland. 
And for all those staff members that shared the burden and the joy.
So many tributaries, Lord.

We thank you for all those that nurtured and tolerated and encouraged him…
So many along the way, Lord
  those who gather here today…
  and all those others out there that cannot even remember his name—but know your name because of him.
So many, many tributaries, Lord.

And so this day we pray for him that he might look back and count it all joy as he remembers places and faces and moments when the bush burned so brightly.
Give him health and strength as he continues his journey as your servant still.
Give him time that he has not had to do   what he never had time to do.
   time to reach up and stop the sun.
   time to praise the human season.
   time to ponder the mystery of his tributaries
   time to “get home before dark.”
And when that day comes when he lays it all down—may he be surprised again by the wonder that comes to those found faithful.

We ask it all, Lord in the name of the One whose name is above every name. Amen.*

*I am indebted to the late Tom Corts for some of the ideas in this prayer.

Bob and Rosie Shrum

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogsplot.com

Thanksgiving--In A Hard Time

courtesy of U.S. Army / flickr

This Thanksgiving comes at a strange time. The devastation and deaths in Paris have shaken us to the core. Like September 11th—the old fears come back to haunt us. Will we be safe? What do we do about ISIS? Shall we send more troops? How do we respond? How can we possibly take in refugees when we simply might be opening the door to terrorists. We stare at the TV at the sad scenes of mountains of flowers and candles and notes and grief-stricken faces in France.  This Thanksgiving really does come at a strange time.

Like you, I have few answers. This Thanksgiving I remember the story of Martin Rinkart. He lived in Eilenburg, Germany where he was a Pastor in the 1600’s. His whole ministry was spent during the terrible Thirty Years War. His walled city of Eilenburg became a refuge for fugitives from all over. It was a hard time and that crowded place suffered from famine and disease. In 1637 a great pestilence swept across the city and officials and clergy either died or fled for their lives. Only Pastor Rinkart remained to care for the dying and the dead. History says that he read the burial service over 40 to 50 persons a day. In all he held 4,480 services. So many people died that finally there were buried in trenches, without funeral ties.  Rinkhart’s wife was one of the 8,000 that perished. If that was not enough—first the Austrians and then the Swedes attacked the city and the 30,000 remaining citizens shrunk to 2,000. Somewhere during those nightmare years Pastor Rinkart sat down and wrote a hymn. Strange words for a hard time. Christians around the world still sing the hymn, ”Now Thank We All our God.” 

Interestingly he first entitled the Hymn, “Short Grace Before Meals.” Sitting down before his meagre fare of little except pain and grief and hunger—he took a pen and wrote these words:

“Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices, 
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom the world rejoices; 
Who from our mother’s arms, Hath blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.” 

Skeptics would call his words foolish and perhaps crazy. What possible good could come in such a time of devastation? I do not know. Surely they were not words of escape from a hard time. There was no place for Rinkart to hide.

Perhaps on this Thanksgiving—we also might bow our heads for our own short grace before our meal. Maybe Rinkart was on to something. In a time of great pain and sorrow we may not know what direction to take. But we can bow our hearts, too and remember. We are not in this mess alone. We are not simply left to our own paltry resources. There is more to life—hard and difficult—than evil and wrong and injustice. Remember that we are not the first people—or the last—that will stand before the abyss not knowing what to do. Remember that in this twisting, winding journey of life there really is hope at the heart of it all.

So with our plates full of so much this year—Martin Rinkart might help us all. Maybe Thanksgiving has come at just the right time after all. Rinkart may be right.

“O may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts  And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace,  And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills  In this world and the next.”

(This blogspot was published in The Greenville News (SC) , November 23, 2015

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees--Taking The Stranger In--Maybe

photo from United Nations Photos / flickr
I still can't get the pictures out of my mind of all those refugees fleeing Syria. Winter is coming and I wonder what is going to happen to them. Nobody seems to want them--especially after the Paris attack. Wonder if the children of Israel, once upon a time, felt the same way after they they fled their Assad and crossed the Red Sea.

I know...I know all of the arguments. We are afraid that I'm the middle of all these that shuffle along there will be terrorists, suicide bombers, people who wormed their way in just to take us down. Of course so many of our leaders--if you can call them that today--have been saying all along that we can't take any of these people in. And since Paris they footnote the fears that they have been fanning all along. These governmental officials sneer at our vetting process of letting people in. Loud, of course, they chant that these people--these people--listen to the way they say it--are Muslims, for goodness sake.

And underneath the fears they flame is the idea spoken and mostly unspoken--that all Muslims--unchristian--of course--are all out to do us in and take over our country and kill all the Christians. More than half the Governors have joined the bandwagon that reads: "Not in our State!"

I really don't know what these political folk are thinking. Are they moved at all by the children, the old people and even the young who fled their country in fear? They only took what they could carry in their hands.

This is not the first time that our country has had a shabby record with those trying to get in. It took a
long time and many, many deaths in Germany before we stepped up to help defeat Hitler and his cursed Nazism. We turned away shipload after shipload of Jews and sent them back to what almost everyone knew would be their deaths.

As we sit down next week around a table laden down with food and laughter and family and joy--let us remember that not everyone will have this privilege. As we bow our heads and say grace over the blessings and bounty of the year--will we include those 800,000 plus who have so little to be thankful for this year?

I have no answers to this problem of course. But I do know that to turn our faces away from this horrendous sea of human need would say much about the kind of people we really are.

(You might want to read Amy Butler's splendid blog piece on the problem we all face. It is worth reading. )

photo by Takver / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Nadia Bolz-Weber - Real live John the Baptist

photo by
 Fr Lawence Lew, O.P.
 /  flickr
I got this book for my birthday. Author's name is strange: Nadia Bolz-Weber. Stranger preacher: more tattoos than I can count, got a belt buckle in her picture bigger than my fist--looks like a wrestler's winner. Many people would see her standing in the pulpit and say: "Huh?"

The Pastor of a church in Denver that meets in a bar--told her story first in a book called Pastrix. She told about her struggles before she became a Christian. Cynicism, drug addiction, alcoholism, and promiscuity. All that is behind her, but she raises a disclaimer--she still struggles like everybody else with many things.

I see her as a female John the Baptist. John was an unlikely proclaimer, too. He dressed strange, he ate weird food, and his message laid just about everybody in the shade. That sounds a lot like Nadia.

Nadia Bolz-Weber
She ministers mostly to hard-living people. That is until the word got out and she is on the speaking circuit. So her book moved me greatly. If you are offended by cussin' then you better not buy this book. For Nadia still has a pretty bad potty mouth and the words are sprinkled throughout her book.

Yet--if you can get over this hurdle--you might hear a fresh voice.  As fresh as John the Baptist when people looked up, dropped what they were doing and listened. He also colored far outside of the lines.

 Listen to her vision of church. "...when traumatic things happen in the world and I have nowhere to place them and make sense of them but I do have a group of people who gather with me every week, people will mourn and pray with me over the devastation of something like a school shooting, and when I end up changed by loving someone I'd never choose out of a catalogue but whom God sends my way to teach me about God's love." Pretty good definition of church seems to me.

In the book she lets us meet several of her communicants--though I doubt she would ever use that word. She is Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and many of them in her denomination do not know what to do with her. Still sounds like John the Baptist to me. She writes about her people who "inadvertently stumbled into reception like they were looking for something else at the time, people who have just a wee bit of a drinking problem and manage to get sober and help others to do the same, people who are as kind as they are hostile."

Though the term liberal seems to fit her--she defies labels. Mourning the children who died at Sandy Hook, she preached hard words about guns and gun control. And then she met this gun owner who loves guns and could not see clamping down on weapons. Nadia wanted to run away and she thought he was wrong, wrong but she listened anyway. He took her to the shooting range--against her better judgment-- and taught her something she never had done--how to shoot a gun. She found it was fun. She didn't really change her opinions about gun control but she listened and understood some of the strong feelings of gun owners--and she made a friend.

The book's title, Accidental Saints tells us that "all the saints I have known have been accidental ones..." And then she draws the circle very large and says that out there are a whole lot more "saints" than we realize. Most of these folks would get the heebie jeebies if you called them saints. Nadia will give you much to think about if you dare to read her book. Sounds like John the Baptist to me!

--Roger Lovette /  rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Whatever Happened to Privacy?

photo by Dan Kleinke / flickr

Ever heard the old joke about the preacher in a little church that stood up, leaned over the pulpit and said, "Today we are going to do something a little different. I'm going to ask you someth' personal. I want you to share your story today--and I want you to tell it all."

Woman speaks: "I have a drinking' problem. And nobody knows it--but I get drunk all week-end--except Sunday."
Preacher: "Thank you, Sister. "
Preacher:" Tell it all."
Another member said: "Preacher I hate you."
Preacher (after a long pause): "Tell it all."
Deacon spoke: "I have had sex with three women lately besides my wife."
Preacher: (even a longer pause) : I don't believe I'd a told that."

Sometimes living in this social media age--I think some folk have gone slap crazy. There are some things you ought not to tell. Unless maybe a counselor. Yet--there are people of all ages that are partially or totally stripping and sending their photos to somebody. Remember Anthony Wiener.

But hopefully these are in the minority. But people are on Facebook daily typing away and showing pictures or this or that. I have seen some pretty awful things on Facebook that ought to have never been told. Often I have thought to myself: Who cares. Young people especially have no idea that some of their personal stories could be terribly damaging. They apply for a job and someone in Personnel looks under their name on Facebook. Interview cancelled.

We have books and magazine articles that tell people's private stuff that ought to stay private. I don't believe we need to tell everything. Take political candidates--we do not need to hear it all. We have heard a great many invasive things about candidates and their family members that should never have been told or written. I remember when Truman was President and his daughter  Margaret made her singing debut somewhere in Washington. Some columnist wrote about how she could not sing and ought to stay off there stage. The President was so furious he called the reporter up and used some words I probably should not say here. Lately somebody wrote nasty comments about the President's daughters and how terribly they dressed for some occasion. Of course every President has his own painful stories of events or occasion that should never have been told.  Who cares that the candidate may have smoked marijuana in high school thirty years ago? The implication is that he (or she) is a druggy.

I think it has been in poor taste and unprofessional for Mr. Trump especially to smear the other Republican candidates. These people have been vetted--surely they would not be on the stage if they were impostors.  I think we know that if the media ever has the courage to look at Mr. Trump's past--he would be irate. We all have a shadow side.

Bottom line: We don't need to tell everything. One of the problems of the church these last few years is that some Pastors feel they should tell everything about themselves. Not only is it "not all about them" but often it hurts congregations knowing information that should have been kept quiet. We are all human. I have a saying: "There's ain't but one Jesus." My wife has been known to remind me of this fact.

The reason Jesus said: "Judge Not" was because he carried the burden of humanity and he was one with us all. We all really do have a shadow side. We all need forgiveness for a multitude of things. There is no reason for us to "tell it all" or air our dirty linen in public. Privacy is taking an enormous beating today and we do not need to contribute to this problem.

photo by Amancay Maahs / flickr 

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blospot.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

All Saints Day--Looking for the Dove-Bringers

photo by Fr Lawrence O.P.  / flickr
Every Monday night I sit in a circle with a group of people who have lost somebody they love. We call it a Support Group for Grievers. Just as the sun is setting, they drive up one by one in their cars and trucks. After several weeks--they greet one another as old friends. They have listened quietly as the others in the group opened up their hearts and told their stories. Their losses have been many. Sometimes a child. A suicide. A mother that lived in the home and was her buddy. Husbands and wives and friends, sometimes and even neighbors.

In the middle of all their lives there is this enormous chasm. A loss--that right now they wonder if they can ever recover or feel different. Grieving is a personal thing--and a solitary journey. You find yourself having blinders on. You can't go about your ordinary tasks like you  have always done. Not now. It is a hard place to be and if we live long enough we will all find ourselves at this place.

Because Grief is so isolating and forces us to turn inward or try to run away distractedly--we often find those who have lost someone--stuck. Immobilized. Fearful. Depressed. And there are no instructions when you lose someone you love.

So, as the leader it is my task to try to help. One week I asked each one to write three thank-you notes before our next meeting. Keep the notes simple, I instructed. Pick out people you are grateful for--but not just the people you usually remember. Not those that sent flowers and cards. Not those that brought casseroles or hugged you and were so kind. But think of folk that have helped you on your journey and send your thank-you's to them. The next week some came with notes but all with stories that went behind the words they had written.

As they told us about friends that had not heard from in forty years, neighbors that had no idea how much those tiny kindnesses meant. Some mentioned little children that graced them in this hard time. Some were relatives and some folk would never have guessed what they did was a matter of life or death to these that limped along in pain. Some even mentioned a dog or a cat and the comfort they brought.

After those in my Grief Group had named the people or even animals that kept them going, I  remembered a book that helped frame what I wanted to say about all the people they wrote those words that kept them going. The book was by William Armstrong, a very fine writer. He called his book Through Troubled Waters. He wrote that one day his wife had some pain and went to the doctor while he took their kids to school.  Hours later a call came: Your wife is dead. Out of the blue or the dark, maybe--a tsunami struck his little family and he was destitute. He was left, I think with three little children to raise by himself. He'd wondered, again and again how in the world he could get through that ordeal. He likened it to the flood that old Noah and his family faced on the ark. It rained and rained.  Finally the rain stopped and Noah just floated along. Bored and desperate one day the family sent out a dove to see if somewhere there might be dry land. The bird never came back. Days later--Noah sent a second dove and the bird came back with an olive leaf in its beak. For Noah and his family it was a sign that the water had gone down and they could return to land and life. The writer Armstrong, likened the death of his wife to the flood that came and swept so much away.

He thought he could not go on. But weeks, months later--he said little Mary, his four year old daughter came bearing an olive leaf. She, he said, would be the dove for him. Saying in her own little way the message he needed more than anything: the water was going down and life could begin again.

I told my Grief group after they had shared their thank-you notes about the little girl who became a dove of promise for her father. I said the people they had mentioned have been a dove to them. These enablers had come in their own way bearing an olive leaf. By their words,  cards, actions and prayers they reminded their loved one that the water really was really going down and life could begin again.

As we celebrate All Saints Day--it isn't just about the saints in stained glass and men and women that laid down their lives for the faith. All Saints Day is much larger.  Whoever it is, along the way that has come as your personal dove surely is a saint. None of us could have made it or make it without this great cloud of witnesses who have stood on our balconies at different times in our lives and cheered us on.

You may not write a thank-you note this week-end. But you can stop and whisper a prayer for whoever it was that saved your life and kept you going even until this very day.

"For all the saints who from their labors rest,     
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!"

photo by Reji / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Monday, October 26, 2015

Living in a Halloween World

photo by J J / flickr

(Good friend Dr. Jim Pitts has written a fine article about how to respond to troubled times. He served as Chaplain at Furman University until his retirement and lives with his wife in Greenville. I thank him for his generosity in letting me use this piece. Worth reading.)

When Everyday Seems Like Halloween

When life tumbles in, what then? What in the world can we do? Some crises are predictable. Others take us by surprise. School shootings, sidewalk axe attacks, home invasions, political polarities, Ebola and ISIS; all remind us of our finitude and need for a faith perspective that transcends the present.

For young adults the loss is one of innocence. Ready of not, adult life with all of its rights and responsibilities is now. For those who are more mature, this calamity causes us to revisit griefs we thought were past and forgotten. Feelings of vulnerability, distrust, and anger surface and surprise us.

Besides acting crazy or going criminal, what in God's name can we do? As we journey through this present wilderness, we need to take seriously the dimensions of our grief. The road to reconciliation and acceptance is long and difficult. There is no quick fix or easy resolution. Along the way we face shock and denial, anger, fear, pain and pleading, depression and guilt.

Remember that every crisis is filled with both danger and opportunity that offers the possibility of spiritual growth. We don't need to sit around and stew in our juices, we need to think, talk, read scripture and pray. We need to move beyond personal preoccupation and connect with others and with God. We are not alone. We are not abandoned and we are not without hope.

In light of what's happening in the world, let's resolve to:

  •   Talk about feelings.
  •    Ask for help.
  •    Listen to others and be kind.
  •    Spend time with family and friends.
  •    Return to our daily routine.
  •    Limit TV time.
  •    Reassure our children that they are loved.
  •    Recall other times we persevered through adversity.
  •    Do something to help others.
  •    And most importantly...Pray!
Appropriate for these troubling times, when everyday seems like Halloween, is classic Cornish prayer.

      "From ghoulies and ghosties,
       long legged beasties
       and things that go bump in the night, 
       Good Lord deliver us!"

Wherever you are in the pumpkin patch of life, I invite you to remember this prayer and add your own "Amen!"
Thanks, Jim Pitts for reminding us of some things we need to remember this Halloween.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com