Sunday, February 7, 2016

Looking at the Serenity Prayer---We Need Some Acceptance

photo by Luca Maglia / flickr
For three weeks we are going to be looking at the Serenity prayer. I don’t know if you know the history of this prayer. After Reinhold Niebuhr’s death someone asked his widow about this prayer that her husband had written. He was one of the great American theologians. And she answered by telling this story: “Well, I think it was in the early 1940’s. We were vacationing in Heath, Massachusetts, where we had a cottage. My husband Reinhold was preaching on Sundays at a little church. At the end of one of the services he used this prayer: “O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, courage to change what should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.”

After the service, a retired minister who had been Dean of the Cathedral of the Episcopal Church in New York, Howard Chandler Robbins, asked his good friend Niebuhr for a copy of the prayer. Dr. Niebuhr took a copy of the prayer on a crumpled piece of paper from the back of his Bible and said, “Well, just take it. I don’t have any further use for it.”

Robbins liked the prayer so much he put it on his Christmas cards the next Christmas. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous saw it, liked it, adopted it as their official prayer. The USO reprinted millions of copies for soldiers and their families in the Second World War. Today we find the prayer everywhere—on greeting cards and plaques and whispered by many, many people trying to recover from all sorts of difficulties. The man who prayed those twenty-seven words had no idea the power of what he would pray that summer Sunday morning.

I have wondered what it is about this prayer that has touched millions around the world. Why have so many troubled people found comfort in these words? Maybe it is because the language is clear. The words express something about the things we all understand—real life, real living. The prayer deals with the realism of life. The things that cannot be altered, those things that will not change regardless of what we do. But it also deals with those other realities which are sometimes transformed miraculously, whether we do anything or not. The last part of the prayer helps us to sort out what can be changed from the things that cannot be altered. So I thought it might be helpful during these days of transition to spend three Sundays looking at this prayer. 

Chagall painting / photo by Jim Forest / flickr
Let’s begin with the first part of the petition: “God, grant us the serenity to accept that which cannot be changed.” Our sermon in one sentence is: there are some things that just cannot be altered in your life and mine. We know that. We don’t like it but we know it. 

This is what our Scripture is about this morning. In the second chapter of Genesis, God placed man and woman in the garden. He gave them this magnificent place that was lush and rich in so many ways. And then he gave them the animals and land with such hopeful possibilities. The promise stretched out endlessly, it seemed—except, he said, there was this tree. There in the middle of the garden there was this tree. You can eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden except this tree in the middle of it all. You cannot eat of the fruit of this tree because you will die if you eat it. 

We know the story well. None of us like this story. It says we cannot do everything. We can do a great deal: except. Carlyle Marney used to say there is a wall around our garden. We can’t do it all. There is also this forbidden fruit. There are these limitations we have all chafed under all our lives. Robert Frost understood our frustration when he wrote: “Something there is that doesn’t like a wall…it walls in some things and walls out some things…” And one of the first lessons we teach our little ones about becoming human is to deal with the hard edges, the corners, the spills, the falls— writing on walls flushing your Mama’s glasses down the toilet. There are some things we just
cannot do. “Don’t touch that hot stove.” ”Do not play in the street.” Our youngest granddaughter was instructed that she could not take food into the Great room. And so she would take her snack or drink, walk all the way to the edge where the tile ended and the carpet begin—and she would put one foot half-way up into the Great Room. Pushing the limits. For one of the hard lessons of life is that if we break these rules they may just break us.

photo by Tom Sens / flickr
So early, we begin to come to terms with this garden filled with infinite possibilities. But a garden, unfortunately with limits. What does it mean? That I am never got to run a four-minute mile. It means most of us are not going to win the Miss America contest or be movie stars or win the lottery. All of us will have to settle with the painful fact that we cannot do it all. Don’t you just hate that. Once Arthur Godfrey was flying one night over New York City and he'd looked down at all the twinkling, glittering lights and the told the Pilot: “You know what gets me? Fifty years from now all that will still be down there glittering and I won’t be around to enjoy it.”He’s right, you know. For many of us there is more behind than there is ahead. Someone has said that the great grief is this: we all run out of time. I told my friends at a funeral in Birmingham three weeks ago: It never lasts long enough. 

Have you ever gone back to a High School reunion? It’s a funny-sad time. Over there in the corner was the head cheerleader—still a cheerleader after all these years. On a walker and a cheerleader! Senior Class President—toupee slightly askew—still running for office. Athletes that made all the touchdowns, hobbling around still trying to make it to some goal line. One friend confessed to me that when it came to his high school reunion he rented a limousine to make all his class mates think he was somebody. He rented the limousine We all get stuck. Stuck. In the middle of this garden there is a deal we have to contend with. We can’t stay here—we have to move on.

What is this tree and what are the limits in our lives? It’s different for all of us. Maybe you never got married. Or maybe you married and it was lousy. Maybe you never had any children—or maybe you had too many children. Maybe you are the like the woman I talked to one day who said, “I would give anything in the world if I had not had children—it is too painful.” She was having a hard time. Maybe you got the job you wanted and you hate it. Maybe you worked twenty-five years and got passed over and you despise where you are. One buddy confessed to me that he hated the chicken neck under his chin and so he went to this plastic surgeon and had it removed. When he recovered he asked his friend: "Well, what do you think?” And the friend said: "They should have fixed your nose too.”

We all have a tree. Health problems. Some parental scar back there which crippled us intentionally or unintentionally. A friend of mined in Kentucky told me one time: “You know Roger, I used to lie in bed every night wondering what it was I was doing to hurt my children. And all the things I didn’t think of was what hurt them. And all the things I worried about didn’t matter to them at all.”  It’s hard. But there is always this tree. You see, there is always this tree.

What is the point of all of this? We are all human beings. We all travel this winding, winding road called acceptance. And along the way we all have to come to terms with finitude, weakness, lusts, givens, frailties. We have to come to terms or we are going to fail. One of the reasons I think AA chose this prayer is because they know who they are. Can’t drink. Powerless by themselves. They needs some higher power. They need other people. I don’t know why you need to pray this part of the prayer but there is a tree in everybody’s garden. 

One of the great writers of our time was a man named Reynolds Price. He lived in North Carolina and taught at Duke. He had a book entitled, A Whole New Life. He told his own story. He woke up one day with these strange pains and went to the doctor. They discovered a tumor wrapped around his spine. They had to dig it out and when they dug it out it left him paralyzed from the chest down. He would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He could hardly move his arms. But the terrible thing was the pain that came and never went away. It was just excruciating. Twenty-four hours a day—just pain. He thought about suicide. Day after day, month after month was a nightmare. Finally, under the
photo by Willy Nelson / flickr
care of Doctors at Duke he began hypnosis. He learned, in time, to manage the pain. It never went way. It’s was there until the day he died.But he said he learned to manage the pain in such a way that he was able to begin to live and be productive again.

Since that time he wrote more than ten books. PBS featured his life in an hour’s program several years ago. He wrote the song, “Copper Line” for James Taylor. He was honored by a President. The creative juices came back and he wrote that this became the most creative time in his life. Sitting in a wheelchair, crippled from his chest down. He said he wouldn’t recommend what happened to him to anybody. But he went on to say that you can choose to live with your limitations or not. You can be bitter and hateful and spiteful and make everybody around you miserable. He reminded us that doctors could not change his life and medicines could not change his life. But that does not mean we do not use medicines or go to doctors. But he said we have to manage our own lives. There are some things we have to do for ourselves. And if this Church will be healthy and viable in the future we don’t try to copy some big old fat church somewhere—but we choose, with God’s help to do what we can here on our little half-acre. Some people here would;'t be here without this church--or another church somewhere. And with God’s help--it will work. It always does.   
What are you going to do with the tree in your life? That’s the question. What are you going to do with the hurts, the disappointments, the raw deals that are so hard. Evelyn Underhill once wrote: “Sometimes we need to remember there is always a night shift, and sooner or alter we are all going to be put on it.” It’s that lousy tree we all keep bumping into. 

Genesis says, yes there is this tree. But the Garden is still fraught with infinite possibilities. We can spend our time raging at the things we cannot do—or we can spend our time creatively on the things we can still do. 

Somebody wrote a book some time ago. The title took my breath away. Painting Rainbows With Broken Crayons. It’s the only thing we’ve got. We take what is given and ask God to help us learn to paint rainbows with the limitations of our lives.

And so we pray the prayer, bring all the things of our lives: “God grant me the serenity—which is peace—to accept all the things I cannot change.  And if we learn to do this, maybe we will know what to do with all the lushness in the garden—even with a fence around it.

No wonder the Church has set a table of bread and cup and invited us all to come. Just as We Are…just as we are…we bring the broken things of our lives—and here, believe it or not, we find healing and hope and promise and love. They called the Supper Eucharist—thanksgiving. I think I know why.

photo by Tom Sens / flickr

This sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church,  Pendleton, SC,  February 7, 2016

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, February 5, 2016

Taking America Back--From What?

photo by mandhak / flickr

Looking out at the political landscape today and the talk, talk, talk that we hear from candidatesI  am reminded of the geographical terrain in other days. In Medieval times the old maps were filled in the margins with drawings of all sorts of creatures: wild beasts, serpents, sea monsters, lions and dragons. In fact one map called the Hunt-Lenox Globe of 1503 scribbled across the unknown territories: “Here be dragons.” 

These scary creatures would fill in the unknown blanks where people had never ventured. Not knowing what was out there—this was the map-makers way of saying: There is very bad stuff out there. Dangers ahead.Who knows what demons might just gobble you up?  It took explorers a long time to discover the wonders of a larger world and slowly see their fears evaporate.

Sometimes I wonder how much progress we have made. At every venture forward there have been those that say: “No. No. Here be dragons.” Many turned back afraid that the trackless lands and seas would hold unbelievable horrors. 

photo by Stuart Rankin / flickr
Lewis and Clark were no nay-sayers. They are included in our list of American heroes. They struck out from Saint Louis to learn what was on the other side of the safety of their maps. There were warnings galore. Indians who would scalp you without notice. Disease, plague, hunger, Grizzles and rattlers were out there and winter was coming on.

Yet Lewis and Clark joined that noble band who dared to defy the mythical dragons. They found their journey long and arduous. Men and their horses died along the way. Yet—if we visit Saint Louis today and look up at the Golden Arch it is a reminder that maybe the old map makers were dead wrong. The Louis and Clark journey westward began in May, 1804. Their trek ended at the Pacific Ocean November 16, 1805.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could, in this time of fear-mongering and hand-wringing to be part of another generation that dared to defy today’s mythical dragons. I have been trying to discover the roots of the multitude of fears that so many of us lug around daily. I fault the politicians, the pundits and social media with much of the fear that infect us all. The seeds of our despair are many. Economy. Certainly. Yet if we look at the facts we are not in those terrible days of the depression. The Dow has bounced so much lately and yet that rate is double what it was in 2004. Records show it stands around 17,000 today. Ask the old timers how this age compares with the bare 1930’s of dust bowls and soup lines across there country. It is true that many of our people are out of work and many cannot find jobs. Yet—what is the employment rate today? It stands at 5.0%. In 2010 the unemployment rate was 9.8%. 

photo by Edith Zwagerman / flickr
But someone says what about ISIS and the dangers to our land? We have not had a concerted terror attack on our country since 9-11. Thanks to the vigilance of many people. Yes, there have been scattered terrorist attacks by individuals here and there. Yet most of the murderous attacks have come from our own citizens. Many say there is more fear out there than their was after September 11th. I find this very strange.

All this weird talk of “taking America back to greatness”—fails to remember that we are still the strongest country in the world. Where are our dragons? Millions of decent folk flee the horrors of their home land hoping to find safety for themselves and their families here. Why are we shutting our doors so tight? I passed a new house going up this week ion my street. The brown-faced Hispanics were hard at work in the rain. There are no dragons in my neighborhood.

I am no Pollyanna. We do have a long laundry list of changes that would help us all. We must be vigilant and we must be careful at every point. But whenever we hear all these fearful folk fanning the flames—we need to say: “Dragons—where?” I have not seen one lately.

William Inge wrote a play years ago called “The Dark At the Top of the Stairs.” It was a play about the convulsive changes taking place in our country in Oklahoma in the 1920’s. In the drama a Mother tells her little boy to go on up to bed. Minutes later he still sits on the steps. Sighing, she asks: “Buddy why are you so afraid of the dark?” “Cause,” he said, “I don’t know what’s up there and what might get me.” The Mother shakes her head, grabs his hand and says: “OK. Let’s go up the stairs together.” And they walk up the stairs into the dark. Wouldn’t it be something if liberals and conservatives denounced all those that fan our fears. Let’s join hands. Let’s walk into the unknown darkness together. We don’t need to make American great again. It’s already here. And the dragons are nowhere in sight.

photo by Morgan Burke / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pat Pattillo--a Tribute

Pat Pattillo has been a friend for years. He died after a strange form of leukemia took him after several months. The leukemia was so rare the physicians did not know how to treat it. He died December 22, 2015. We had his service at his church, The Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham,AL on January 9th. The family asked me to speak and this is what I said...

Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher said that the chief purpose of a temple is a place where people come to weep in common. On this sad day we have made proper use of this Temple yet again because we come, one and all, to grieve, to weep together.

We weep for dear Pat--whose far-reaching and splendid journey did not last long enough., We weep for Zelma who has stood by so faithfully for 48 years. We weep for Laura and Stephen and all the members of this family. We weep as colleagues and friends because he was a member of our tribe. And so we've come from far and wide to weep...for Pat, for his family and for us all.

I cannot add much to all these fine tributes and recollections that would have made Pat very proud. But listening to this collage of memories I am reminded of Mary Oliver's beautiful words: "I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

Pat Pattillo was no visitor. He was a citizen of wherever he lived and whatever he did. Always engaged--brimming with ideas--committed whether it was at the University of Georgia or Louisville or Samford or Florida or Hong Kong or New York. His record is breathtaking. No, Pat you were no visitor.

I first met him in Louisville. He served the Seminary in so many goods ways. He stretched its influence far and wide--he connected alumni--he told, over and over, the Louisville story. He left his mark. Our paths criss-crossed through the years and he and Zelma walked down  the aisle one Sunday and joined this church while I was Pastor.

They were both committed to this place. Pat, came in one day and said, "We need to help this community get to know this church better. People drive by here all the time and don't know that this is a church. When people pass here they need to take notice." So he helped design banners that would draw attention to The Baptist Church of the Covenant. Flapping in the breeze people would see our name. They served their purpose. He helped frame the logo that is used to this day. A Cross--standing at the crossroads in the heart of this city. He'd wanted people to know that there was a place- a special place--where all would be welcomed and no one would be turned away. He and Zelma were faithful members. They both helped in  their own special ways. Helping to put their church on the heart of the Birmingham community.

We've heard about the Seminary and Samford and Florida and Hong Kong and New York. Everywhere he went he left fingerprints all over the place. And in their retirement he and Zelma came back here and found their place and still made a difference. Sometimes when we would visit back here he would say: "I can't stay long I have a Committee meeting at the church."

So we thank God that we knew him...that we worked with him...that our lives and the institutions he served were far better because he did so much more than merely visiting his many-colored world.

So Unamuno was right. We really do come to weep together. But more--to be reminded that at the heart of life--our lives--Pat's life--his family's life--there is a special promise. Listen closely and we will hear that tom-tom beat from beginning to the end of the book. Listen and you may hear the promise even today. These words: "I will be with you...I will not leave you desolate...I will come to you." We find that promise all over the place in different ways and stanzas. In those dark, gloomy exile days when God's people did not think they could stand that cursed exile another day--Isaiah, one of them, spoke to his broken people. There would come one , he said, who would heal their broken  hearts. And Jeremiah speaking to that same congregation of the fearful told them, "There really is a balm in Gilead."

Jesus much later would unroll that same Isaiah scroll in his first sermon and read the promise: "I have come to heal the broken- hearted." And our Lord would tell them that even in their mourning they would find a blessedness.

And so when it looked like the story had run its course, Mary stood by his tomb one dark Easter morning. Someone spoke to her and asked, "Why are you weeping?" She told this gardener that she had lost so much when Jesus died. But that morning she discovered that she was not talking to the gardener after all. For when he called her name...her name...she knew who it was.

My prayer that in our grief today and in the days to come...we will, one way or another,  hear our named called: Zelma...Laura...Stephen...Pastor Sarah...Roger--all of us. And we will know that in our own circuitous journeys--we are not alone even when we, like Mary, think we are. For he calls our names and this will be enough.

Thank God for this good man who did far more than just unpack his suitcase and visit for 75 years. Thank God that under the shadow of this Cross we remember, too that we are not alone. And even in our weepings and our griefs we will remember those wondrous words that come from the Psalter. It was a hard time. A troubled time. A dark time. But this is what some nameless writer has left for us: "Weeping may last for a night"...dear God it seems so endless--but that is not the end of the story. "Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes to one and all in the morning."

For Pat...for Zelma...for this family and for us all. Thanks be to God.

--Roger Lovette /


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dr. King--I Remember...

Photo by Norman Maddeaux / flickr

Monday, January 18 would be Martin Luther King’s 87th birthday. We celebrate this day for many reasons.

As I look at the black checker in the Grocery store I remember how it was.

As I saw a young black man working out at the Gym I remember how it was.

As I watched our black President in the State of the Union address I remember how it was.

As I watched the Republican debate and saw Ben Carson I remember how it was.

As I saw a black couple check into the motel in Birmingham I remember how it was.

As I watched Alabama win the National Championship I remember Bear Bryant’s resistance.

As I entered church Sunday no Deacons stood at the front door to protect the church from black
folks who would come in "for the wrong reasons".

As I talked on the telephone complaining because my paper did not come—a black woman helped me.

As I walked down my neighborhood street—three houses down a black couple lives.

As I walked up my neighborhood street five houses up—two black families live.

As I look out my window a father leads a group of kids, black and white to school two blocks away.

As I drove down University Boulevard students black and white walked across the campus.

As I watched Aretha Franklin bring down the house at the Kennedy Center Honors.

And so in remembering the way it was I thank God for the courage of Martin Luther King who led us down a hard street and gave his life that that we might live up to our values.

photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / flickr

Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It's Vision Time

(I began a new interim with the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, South Carolina last Sunday. What do
you say on such an occasion? This is what I preached.)

The text for today is that Transfiguration passage. It stands midpoint in the gospel story. The storm clouds were gathering around Jesus already. His enemies were growing in number and the pressure was increasing. In the distance Jesus saw trouble, serious trouble ahead.

And so Jesus took Peter, James and John high up on a mountain. It is a dream-like scene. Some called it a vision. But whatever it was something important happened there. Jesus appeared with Elijah and Moses. It must have been terribly emotional because Peter wanted to stay and build three tabernacles and just worship God. But Mark says the disciples were terrified—it was like one of those out of the body experiences. For out of the mist a voice came. God’s voice. “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him.” It was the same words Jesus had heard whispered that day he stood waist-deep in the Jordan and was baptized. But on this mountain, Mark says, the dream-like moment was over quickly. Elijah and Moses were not there. The cloudy  mist was gone and the four of them just stood there.

Jesus led them down the mountain telling them to keep what had happened a secret. At the bottom of the hill they found a world in need. Scholars say that this whole experience was a preparation time as Jesus came nearer and nearer to his death. Later those disciples would read back into the story their own meanings. It was a preparation time for them, too—preparing them to face the fact of their Lord’s death and perhaps their own.

Why did the Church keep the story? Three gospels record this incident. And what is there here for us to take home with us today? Two little words, I think. Maybe not little at all. Maybe two of the most important words that we have.

The first word is vision. Who here does not need some vision? Out there it is easy to lose the way. TV blaring, crisis upon crisis, War on terror, Money, money, money. Leaders in Washington not knowing what to do. ISIS with all its complexities. And up and down these roads heartache and heartbreak. It’s a mess out there and unless we are careful we can drown in all that stuff. It is hard to keep a healthy perspective.

photo by Matthew Fang /  flickr
And so turn back to the Scriptures. Jesus’ world was in many ways more difficult than ours. Slavery, people treated like animals, poverty everywhere. Women were only servants. It was a hard world. And Jesus knew that he and his followers would never make it unless there were ways to alter their perspective. And it wasn’t fear he was after. They needed some vision to help them slosh through their troubled times. Jesus found his vision that morning as he was baptized when God spoke and said, “You are beloved…” And now in our Scripture today, high up on a hill, far away from trouble and misery and cries and heartbreak, he heard a voice and the disciples, too. The voice told Jesus: “You are my beloved.” And this was the vision-word that carried him through all he had to face. All-too-human disciples acting like today’s political candidates. The soldiers coming and dragging him away. Beatings. Betrayals. Those same disciples falling away. There were rigged trials and then finally the cross. I think through it all he must have heard this word coming back: “You are beloved.” This was the center of his vision. 

And so Jesus did not keep that word, Beloved to himself. But he reached into his heart and gave to all those he met what God had given him. He whispered, again and again, “You are beloved.” Prostitutes, beggars, old cripples sitting by the pool for 38 years. Rich young rulers and fisherman and tax collectors. Even his disciples. He told them all the same thing. You are beloved. No wonder they followed him. They caught his vision. 

photo by drew Brayshaw/ flickr

What does this story have to do with us? Everything, I think. I served 6 very different churches. I have worked with seven churches as Interim Pastor and I have flunked retirement seen times and I am working on the eighth.  Seven interims. Each one was different—and in some ways all are the same. Without a Pastor, disappointed in themselves, ashamed of foolish mistakes. Sometimes they have pointed fingers at one another. Sometimes they pointed fingers at the Pastor that left. Angry—but more than angry—nervous.  Anxious. What are we going to do? We’re in a mess they all said. 

And so in all seven of these interims we started to work with a Transition Team. Some called it the Dream Team. But in each church we began to ask: When you started back there in 18942. Remember your vision? What did you want? Why start a church in Pendleton? We’re going to examine these together. But I know one reason you came into being. You put it on your bulletin every single Sunday. “Rooted in faith…Growing in love .” Not a bad vision or dream.

What I have learned from working from these seven other churches is that to move ahead you have to clarify your vision. And then you have to stick with it. And if you can come back to your purpose and build your church around that dream you won’t get lost in blaming or worrying about money or paying off debts or members leaving. 

Our work together will be to help you re-dream the dream. Look at your DNA. Who are you, really? And what is it that God is calling us to do together. We will take your pulse. We’ll have all-church meetings. We will pray and rediscover what the dream means in 2016. And whatever we find it will cluster around what Jesus said: You are beloved. How will we give that out?

And this brings us to the second word:  Task. If the first word is vision—the second word is task.
photo by Leticia Bertin / flickr
Look at our text. After that wonderful experience on the mountain, Jesus and his three friends made their winding way to the bottom of the hill. Reality hit them in the face. No vision now. Just life. A man stood helplessly by as his son convulsed. And the disciples could do nothing. Just standing there not knowing what to do. The text says sadly: they were not able.
They could not help the boy or his frantic father.. And so they argued. About the right cure. Blaming the family. And if it was today they would blame teachers and the church and the President and I don’t know what else. With all this smirking and blaming— the boy convulsed and the father cried: “Help him! Help him!”

Doesn’t it sound familiar? The world aches. Still too many people looking for work. Think of the heartbreak and disappointment. Families sitting in their living rooms today, holding a folded flag—5,000 families. Their boys and girls will never come home. And in Washington politicians so afraid somebody won’t vote for them they do nothing that seems to count. We are like those disciples that stood around the boy that convulsed. Why didn’t you do something? The text said: They were not able.  Jesus reached out and touched the boy. He healed him and whispered: You are beloved.
What is our task here?  It is to put feet and hands and hearts to Pendleton’s vision. We are to reach out and help not just stand around not knowing what to do. Beginning right here in Pendleton—this community ought to be better because we are here. And so in a time of transition—what are we to do? How do we put our vision to work? We meet and pray. We ask, over and over: God, what do you want us to do? Not what you want the new preacher to do. Or even someone in the pew. You ask: How do we put this vision thing to work? We meet and pray and read the Scriptures and find ourselves in the story—and begin to map out some plans together. What are you to do about the unchurched all around us? Maybe they are staying at home watching Joel Osteen. I don’t think he will come when you are in the hospital or needing to talk.All the people on your church rolls…how do you meet their needs? How do you make your dreams of: “Rooted in faith…growing in love” A reality in the days to come. Hispanics are moving in? Are they part of the love? I met with the local Islamic leader in Clemson just weeks ago. He told me that the wives of their members would not go out of the house alone these days. In South Carolina. He said they didn’t go to many malls anymore—they were afraid of what people would say. In South Carolina. Are they part of the love? Where are those who have gotten themselves into trouble—are they part of the love? Hammering out your agenda is your work here. I can’t do that for you—but I can coach you. The boy convulses all around us—will we stand helpless like the disciples. Or will we, with God’s help be able to do something to make this old world better for everybody?

A friend of mine tells the story that comes out of a Christian school in the mid-west. One day in the middle of the class, the principal came in with a new boy for the class. She introduced him to the teacher and the class and left. The teacher said, “Let’s give a big clap and welcome Jimmy to our class.” And so they did. But one of the kids whispered to another: “He just has one arm.” And the word spread from student to student and they all looked. “He only has one arm.” So Jimmy found a seat and became a member of the class. One day the teacher said she wanted to talk to them about the church. “Have you all ever done this?” And she put her hands together and said: “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple—open the doors and here are the people.” So she told them to try it. And the minute she said that she remembered Jimmy with only one arm. She was mortified and did not know what to do. But little Suzie came forward and saved the day. She came over to Jimmy and said, “Teacher, Jimmy and I will join our hands and we will build a church.”

I wonder, things being as they are if we will catch the vision, join hands together and we will continue to build a church. Even without a Pastor. I think you will. I think we will.

photo by Paul / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy Birthday Son

He came roaring into the world on January 3rd. Terrible time for a birthday. He was supposed to arrive on December 15. No baby. Well, we thought he will come before Christmas. Nooo....So we decided he would be the first New Year's baby and we'd get all those presents like gift certificates to McDonald's and Sears. Didn't happen. Finally on a snowy evening when the driving was scary he decided to make his entrance on January 3.

The first thing my wife said as she roused up, bleary-eyed was: "Let me see his ears."Most of the Lovette clan have big ears like Obama. " I thought so," she said and went back to sleep.

Red-headed and always squirmy--he made his mark. Still does. Every church I see red had a Matthew story or two. He loved the church in Georgetown because it was small and everybody knew everybody. So they made over both our red-heads. He went to Montessori school taught by this wonderful nun, Margie. Our car pool was like the United Nations. There was a Korean boy, a black boy, a girl from a foreign country and Matthew. One week he came home ands said, "Mama I wish you had hair like Ricky's
mother." His Mama said, "I know- she has this huge Afro." "Matthew said, "Yeah--I know I felt it all the way home. If you had one it would be cool." He roared through the church with his Superman cape.

Moving to Clemson he loved the church because it had, he said, "nailed-down seats." One Christmas Eve during our Candlelight Communion Service he set his bulletin on fire from his candle. Early on he discovered art and Brenda Bowers taught him year after year. If there is a second Mama Brenda is it. Early on she recognized he had real talent. He won all sorts off awards and went to Governor''s School in South Carolina.  He was one of the national finalists in the Presidential Art Awards.

His art teacher and Governor's School recognized his artistic ability and recommended that he spend his last year of High School at the North Carolina School for the Arts. While there he won a scholarship to the Art Institute in Chicago. And so one August day we packed a van and drove him all the way to Chicago. It was scary--driving off and leave your 17 year old son in Chicago of all places. He flourished there and it was a great experience. And when  he graduated sitting beside us was Brenda Bowers, crying here eyes out like the rest of the parents. 

He worked in a restaurant for a while. Spent a semester working for Habitat for Humanity as a Photographer in Americus, Georgia. He took loads of pictures for the Jimmy Carters and told his Mama, "You know how your eyes look. Rosiland Carter has the same bags under her eyes you do."

He went back to Chicago to be close to Mark somebody. Were wondered about this relationship. But Mark and Matthew have been together now for 26 years and were married a year ago by his father -preacher in their living room. This is a great relationship.

Since then he and Mark had a Bed and Breakfast for five years--became consultants for that group and then decided to take photographs of Bed and Breakfasts. Not many Bed and Breakfast photographers around. Since that time they have worked in over 100 inns.

The adolescent years of growing up were particularly hard for Matthew. Yet because of a great art teacher, some recognition that made him feel good about himself--and parents that cheered him on he has had a wonderful 48 years.

He is still a wild and crazy guy. And we love both of our red-heads fiercely. And today--I remember that cold icy evening when he came into the world. Late...but ready to go. So I wish him well for all the days that come after today.

As I think of him I remember Langston Hughes' poem, "Mother to Son".

"Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. 
It's had tacks in it, 
And splinters, 
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor--Bare. 
But all the time 
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners, 
And sometimes going' in the dark
Where they ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back. 
Don't set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still groin' honey, 
I'se still. climbing'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair."

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Room in the Inn--Sorta

JrWooley6 / flickr

Maybe you read the story of the bathrobe drama at church. I think I read it first in Guideposts years ago. As Mary and Joseph stumbled to find their places on stage nobody was more enchanted by that night than little Wally. He stood in the wings waiting his turn. He was the innkeeper in the play--dumbfounded by the wonder of it all.

Joseph and Mary walked in and knocked on the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard as Wally, the innkeeper was there, waiting. "What do you "want? Wally asked, swinging the door open. "We seek lodging," Joseph said. Wally spoke vigorously, "Seek it elsewhere. The inn is filled."

Joseph persisted, "Sir we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled a long way and are very weary." Wally shook his head. "There is no room in this inn for you."

Joseph was unrelenting. "Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife. She is heavy with child and needs a a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."  Now for the first time the innkeeper looked down at Mary. There was a long pause and the audience wondered what would come next. No one said a word.

The Prompter backstage grew nervous. She whispered, "Say: No! Begone!'  Wally said, "No!" and then added, "Begone!" Joseph laced his arm around Mary and slowly began to move away. The innkeeper just stood there watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open but no words came.  But there were tears in his eyes.

And suddenly the pageant took a different turn. Wally spoke, "Don't go Joseph. Don't go. Bring Mary back." With a great smile Wally said,  "You can have my room." The audience broke up. Some left the program thinking the play had been ruined. Yet there were others that thought this was the best Christmas pageant they had ever seen.

As I thought about all those refugees fleeing Syria for their lives, I suddenly remembered Wally and his story. And just this morning I picked up yesterday's New York Times and read about Kamal, age 33, refugee from Syria. He is struggling to find a place for his family and himself in Texas. Read it. We Americans need to listen to the human side of the refugee crisis. Maybe if we ponder the reality of the enormous needs laid at our doorstep--we, like Wally might just begin to say: "You can have my room."

--Roger Lovette /