Thursday, April 24, 2014

Religious Liberty for All

photo by K. G. Hawes / flickr
Real Religious Freedom in this country does not mean my religious freedom..,.but everybody's religious freedom. Without all being included nobody is really free.
  --Roger Lovette

There is a bill floating around the country which says that public schools “would allow students to pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during and after the school day.” The proposed law also said that “faith-themed clothing can be worn on public school property at public events.” The Governor of Virginia vetoed this bill. Why?

Naturally this veto has stirred up as hornet’s nest. What could possibly be wrong with allowing public school students the right to pray publicly and express their religious beliefs?

This bill and others imply that students do not have the right to pray in schools. Numerous Supreme Court decisions have said that religious expression by anyone must be protected as other expressions are protected. The clincher to not ignore is: the expressions of religious must not coerce, sponsor or be endorsed by any agency or person representing the government.

As I read these words my mind wandered back to my grade school. The week began with the teacher always asking, “Class, how many of you went to Sunday School yesterday?” I always raised my hand because I loved church and Sunday School and wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But as I looked back at those years I remember when the hands were raised—here and there were boys and girls who could not raise their hands. They did not go to Sunday School or Church. I remember the teacher chiding these unraised hands and telling them how important it was for them to be in church.

The setting is always important. Ours was a little cotton-mill village school. It was ruled by the strong hand of an old-maid Presbyterian Principal whom everybody feared. Everybody in my class room was a Baptist, except for a smattering of Methodists and further up the road the Holiness Church. There wasn’t a Catholic or a Jew or any other group within a ten-mile radius. This was the South in the forties and fifties. We were insulated from a great deal of the world even then.

Majority ruled. So—every Monday, before Scripture and prayer we would be asked about Sunday School. I have often wondered how those children must have felt who could not raise their hands. I knew a couple who did raise their hands out of embarrassment who had never entered the doors of a church.

If a teacher asked that question in just about any school today—a lot of hands could not be raised. For any classroom holds Jews, Mormons, Muslims and sometimes a Buddhist or two. To allow the school to return to school sponsored prayer and Bible reading in the nation’s public schools would be a mess. It would leave too many people out. It would make too many students feel like outsiders. 

We know students have religious pre-school and after school programs. No coercion. No mandated gatherings. Just young people who are free to sing, pray, read the Bible and have meditations. This is perfectly fine.

The point is that the public school in 2014 is not in the school-sponsored prayer business. We have no business returning to a different time and a different age. We are in a diverse age. The world with all its variety has come to America.

Old-time Baptists that first came to this country understood the outsider. They left England and moved to Holland because the state-mandated church would not allow freedom of expression of their faith. Stubbornly they refused to pray from the prayer book and to have their ministers approved by the state. They wanted to be free. But even in the new land they found they were outsiders. They did not belong to the approved church of that time. They were ridiculed and many of their ministers were jailed. Out of that setting came the first Amendment to the Constitution. We have no state-sponsored faith. We make room, on our better days for every person. No one should feel like an outsider because of his or her faith or non-faith.

Nobody believes in prayer more than me. But—I stand by the first Amendment to the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” We have not taken prayer out of our schools. Nor will we in this country. The atheists who protest what schools can do—will not rule the day. But hopefully we will not return to a time where children whose faith is different than ours will ever feel out of place in a public school classroom.

photo by funkor / flickr

(I am indebted to Ellis M. West and his article, "They're Back," which appeared in Associated Baptist Press, April 21, 2014 for some of his ideas for this blog piece.)

                                          --Roger Lovette/

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let's Put a Moratorium on "I'm Blessed."


Maybe this is just a hang-up of mine but I get weary when people say, “I’m so blessed.” Or  “I’m blessed.”  It always sounds self-righteous to me. I always feel like I' m hearing: "I'm blessed...I don't know about you." What about all those people who don’t feel blessed—has God turned God’s back on them?  I think about all those folk hanging on by their fingernails. All those battling crippling scary diseases. All those soldiers who came back from Iraq and Afghanistan all broken, suicidal—to families who don’t know what to do. The folk that want to just pull the covers up and stay in bed. Life gets messy. Not everybody has a blessed day.

Maybe we ought to say, “We’re grateful.” This puts some accountability on our backs—not God’s. We’ve all got something to be grateful for if we think long enough. Thinking really is thanking. Even people on hospital beds or those facing life-threatening situations. Doctors and nurses who do the dirty work without complaining. Family members that just keep up their faithfulness. Prayers from people all over who keep us going. And yes—God whose grace comes in their tiniest and most substantial of ways and never leaves and never forsakes. Even when we don’t know this is working.

On second thought let’s put a moratorium on,  “I’m blessed” and say instead, “Everybody is blessed.” Everybody. Every body.

Good Post-Easter Words

Inward/Outward is a great Meditation blog. Some fine piece comes every day and most of them are sooo good. It started as a ministry of the Church of the Savior in Washington--a tiny church whose influence spread far and wide. I recommend this site to anyone who who needs a special breath from the Spirit. Yesterday this woman wrote about How God Forgets. It's great. (inward/ Check back to April 20, 2014--the writer, Kayla McClurg is a talented writer and works in Providence House in NYC and has inspired resurrection for thousands of women. She reminds in a powerful way that that God really does forget all our foolishness and our sins.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

It's Easter!

photo by Piero Amorati/ flickr
"Why couldn't everyone some Easter Sunday noon
Glance in the ditch as I did
See the snow run off the church-top hill
see the snow run off in sunny rivulets
Slam the wagon to a skidding stop,
Then look at lilies in full bloom,
   their heads in sky
Their roots
in cold

 I slipped my shoes and stockings off
Rolled up my suit pants
Waded in
(Did water ever feel so cold?)
And plucked a few to carry home
Telling my family
And myself.
In ways at which the church can only hint
That life eternal springs from coldest waters
And blossoms well in slightly thawing earth."
   --Stephen O. Swanson

Every Easter I remember a scene at the Passion Play in Oberammergau in Germany I saw years ago. The play opened with Jesus riding into Jerusalem for the last time. The play ended with the Resurrection. And in-between, the drama of the last days of Jesus’ life took six hours to tell.

I was not prepared for the Resurrection scene. The crucifixion had been particularly graphic. The stage went dark after Jesus was taken down from the cross by his loved ones. In the last scene of the drama the weeping women move through the darkness and stood behind these huge doors that represented the sealed tomb. They knocked on the door and nothing happened. Then an angel came and without saying a word she unrolled an aisle cloth from the door down, down the steps toward the audience. As the women looked on, the door slowly began to open. Light, dazzling light slowly filled the stage and bathed the darkened room where we sat with light. After a long pause through that open door and the streaming light Jesus came. He walked down the steps and from stage left and right a hundred children come running forward and grabbed his legs laughing and laughing as the chorus sang joyously.

That’s Easter for me. Year after year, the memory never grows old. Light and hope and new beginnings and love and laughter. Somehow my old nine-to-five appointment book is disturbed once more. The predictability of my days is thrown off kilter. The thus and so-ness of my life--worries about money or health or children or just the weary world—is suspended for just a moment. And I can make it another year.

                            --rogerlovette /

Station 14: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb

photo from Contemplative Imaging / flickr
"Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. There, accordingly, because of the Preparation Day of the Jews, for the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus."
      --John 19. 41-42

We come now to the last station. Funny, this word station. It is a stopping-off place. It is a place to stand until the train comes by. But we’ve come to the last station. This is the end of the line. There are no more stops to make. All out, the conductor says. All four Gospels tell this story in one way or another. Joseph, rich and prominent took a great risk in infuriating his own people and confronting Pilate. He asked for Jesus’ body. Romans just let the body rot on the cross—left for the birds to come and do their terrible work. But Pilate relented. He must have been tired of these Jews and their demands.

Who were these two that came to do the saddest work, the dirtiest work—taking the body down from the cross? Not the disciples. Not even the Mother as some art has depicted. Not even Simon who by now surely was repentant. No. On stage there comes Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Nicodemus. Who earlier had come by night asking Jesus’ questions. But not now. Both prominent and perhaps rich, too—come in broad daylight. Joseph gives his own tomb for Jesus’ body. He and Nicodemus move the body ever so slowly to the burial place.

Perhaps this station reminds us that even any of us might find ourselves in this drama. Even the rich and the prominent. Sometimes the Gospels and Jesus’ words have been hard on the rich. Not here. The circle widens. Everyone is invited. Everyone can have a part.

These two men did not know the end of the story. They do know that graveyards are final places. There is no sadder or harder spot. We have all been there—or will. Knowing that the chapter is over. Life seems to be over. There is nothing left, really. We all shuffle out of the train now. This is the last stop. We move away from our cemeteries with heavy and broken hearts.

George Buttrick has written that here we write: ‘Finis’ as boldly as we can. We have seen the suffering and the agony. And then the silence. The terrible silence. But Buttrick says where we write ‘finis’ God adds another word: “to be continued.”

We don’t know that when we say goodbye to our loved ones. When all around us life looks broken and jagged. Here we face reality in its starkest terms. Jesus is placed in the tomb. All of us have been there—or will.

One griever said of her loved one’s death: “the shine went out of everything.” And when Joseph and Nicodemus wiped the sweat from their brows and dusted off their garments and moved away from the tomb they had done all they could do. There was nothing left. Dark Friday and dark Saturday are like that. We just move away.

Come closer. Ponder the mystery. What seems finished is not finished. What seems to be the end is not the end. There is more. Much more. We grievers need to stay here for a while. For in this last sad station—a glimmer of hope comes. Maybe not yet—but hope will come. 

                      --Roger Lovette/

Friday, April 18, 2014

Philomena--A film of a Mother's Love

I first saw the movie, Philomena on an international flight. Even with the droning of the plane’s motors, the passengers milling around and the flight attendants moving back and forth—I found tears on my cheeks. This does not happen often. Philomena touched  me at some primal level. After I arrived home I rented the movie for my wife to see. I was as moved at the second viewing as I was at the first.

It is the true story of an Irish woman’s search for her lost son. As a young naive teenager a young man talked her into having sex. Out of that brief encounter she found herself pregnant. Her father—embarrassed and ashamed--sent her away to a Catholic Abbey in another part of Ireland that that took in such girls. She had a little boy and he became the love of her life. That young mother was forced to work for four years of hard labor to pay off the cost of her stay. One day she discovered that the nuns had adopted out her son without her knowledge. Fifty years later she was still wondering about her boy.

For fifty years her only tie to her child was a tiny photo she had of her little son before he was taken away. She kept that pregnancy secret all those years. Finally one day she confessed to her daughter. That daughter contacted an out of work journalist she knew that might help. But the man had no interest in writing a human interest story.

But her insistence and desperate desire to find her child pulled the writer into her life and her search. Out of that search the journalist, Martin Sixsmith wrote the story called The Lost Child of Philomena Lee which was published as a novel in 2009.

So this was the true-to-life story of one mother’s love for a child she lost fifty years before. With the help of the journalist she was able to discover the truth of her son’s life. The sub-theme of the film was the cruelty and judgment of the nuns and the church they represented fifty years before. Thank God the church has changed immensely since those hard and brutal days.

But what brought tears to my eyes was the depth of the mother’s love for her child even after all those years. Judi Dench who played the mother was magnificent. The pain in her face and the hurt of this woman’s heart came through again and again. As the credits rolled by at the end of the movie you see the real mother, the real son, the Journalist, the real nuns and the picture of the author that wrote the story.

I will not tell you the ending. I simply say not many movies come along these days that deal with the triumphant of the human spirit. Philomena is such a movie. I recommend it to everyone.

                         --rogerlovette /

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross

photo by Sean O'Dowd/ flickr
"Even bein' God

ain't no 

bed o' roses."

-- Green Pastures,
Marc Connelley

Our journey is about over. But not yet. We stand beside the Thirteenth Station of the Cross. It has taken us a while to get here. The via dolorosa—the way of sorrows-- is always a long journey. But not as long as that tortured journey of Jesus.   Like so many of us he, too cried out in despair: “My God why have you forsaken me?” And after three long anguishing hours—he whispered: “It is finished.” And Jesus died. And so here we stand as so many of us have stood when someone we love dies. We don’t know what to say. There is nothing to say. With enormous sadness we, in slow-motion, begin to do what we have to do. Here Jesus’ disciples have the unbearable task of taking his dead body down from the cross.

In Marc Connelly’s old play, Green Pastures there is a powerful scene when God looks down from a window in heaven and watches what is happening on the cross. On stage there is a moment of hushed and terrible silence, as God watches his beloved on die. And then, all at once, God covers his face with his hands. And so here, once again he is with any of us who have grieved over the death of someone we love. There is nothing to say. But Isaiah was right: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..." Jesus wept days before at Lazarus' tomb. And here in the saddest of the Stations—God weeps, too. Not only for Jesus but for anyone anywhere who has lost someone precious.

We now know this is not the end of the story. The disciples did not know that. And when death comes to close to us—we, like those disciples, forget that this is not the end. It seems like the end. How could it possibly be otherwise? Our only response is silence. There is nothing to say as we stand here on the holiest of ground. And as we weep, God weeps too.

                --Roger Lovette /