Friday, December 19, 2014

Arts Under Attack--at Christmas??

photo by Randy Robertson / flickr

The headline in our local paper read:

   “Cost of Arts Funding Cuts

Just think what this will mean...

 more money for Benghazi investigations...
 more money to sue the president...
 more money to bring home the boys and girls in boxes...
 more money for tax breaks for millionaires...
 more money to dismantle health care for all...
 more money for drones...
 more money for planes and tanks we won’t use...
 more money for Homeland Security...
  
 
Just think what it will mean...

 no Christmas celebrations on PBS...
 no luxury items like The Messiah...
 no art programs for kids in poor counties...
 no Arts Commissions...
 no Symphonies...
 no theatres...
 no gatherings on Main Streets for Arts fairs...
 no “Best Christmas Ever” in local communities...
 no bands for football games...
 no Christmas wreaths lining the streets...
 no imagination and creativity...
 no new books for libraries...
 no scholarships for the gifted in arts.

T.S. Eliot may have had it right:

“And the wind will say:
 ‘Here were decent godless people
  Their only monument the asphalt road
  And a thousand lost golf balls.’”
   --T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock


photo by John 'K' / flickr


--RogerLovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

(You might want to read Paul Hyde's telling article in The Greenville News about proposed cuts in the arts.)

  


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Centerpiece of Christmas



Slowly we discovered them like treasures from another time. In big dusty boxes not wrapped in swaddling clothes—but in old yellowing newspaper, which, if we had a mind to would take us back to all those places we have lived. Papers from Owensboro, Danville (VA) The Georgetown (KY).... the Clemson (SC) paper...somewhere along the way the New York Times and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis and in Birmingham, The News. Long after we are gone someone will riffle through these sagging boxes and spread out some of the old crumbling newspapers and say: “Look at this. Isn’t this funny.”

But I got diverted. For what really mattered as I dug through those boxes were the tiny little figures that I found deeply nestled in those dust-covered containers. There were the wonderful carvings of the Holy Family from Oberammergau. Mary, Joseph, the little baby perfectly carved and painted, one sheep and I think one shepherd. These figures were costly—and so we had to leave the rest of the Holy Family in Germany. Then there is one of my favorites. Years ago I visited San Antonio and saw this wonderful nativity set that some native in Mexico had fashioned. It was primitive but beautiful. The characters were all white trimmed in silver. But we got busy, never went back to the shop—and came home without the set. Months later I told my friend who was moving that way about that Nativity set and how I wished I had bought it.  The next Christmas there arrived a package at our house. Opening up the box there they were—the figures I had seen in the store window in Texas. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, a Wise Man or two—a sheep and a goat—two angels—and at the center of it all a baby the size of my thumb. Made out of plaster of paris. Tiny halos around the heads of Mary and Joseph and the two angels. I carefully arrange them in a barn—with a tiny star on top.

There is another set from Switzerland. On a wooden platform there are the tiniest nativity figures you could imagine. There is also a paper foldout that we picked up somewhere in Europe. Opening it up—there they are—the holy family and animals and kings and shepherds and even an angel.

But my all-time favorite is those figures that come from our first church and first Christmas we were married. We picked them up at K-Mart. And I remember asking my wife, “Are these tacky?” And she said , “Maybe. Get them anyway.” So every year they too come out of some box and are carefully unwrapped. There is Mary with a hole in her back where our son played Captain Marvel with her as she sailed through the air. There is a Shepherd and a King. Where’s Joseph? We lost him somewhere along the way. Jesus and his manger were wrapped, not in swaddling clothes but in a foldout page of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. Jesus, of course is the centerpiece but showing the wear and tear of the years. One time our little Dachshund got hold of   Jesus’ foot and one toe is missing—but the rest of him is intact.

Why do we, year after year, go through the same motions? Dig the boxes out; carefully unwrap the holy family over and over. The history of our family’s life can be seen
in those tiny figures and in the newspaper in which they are wrapped. Why do we keep doing this?

Robert McAfee Brown once told that every Christmas his family came home from all over the country. And every Christmas Eve he said they gathered around a tiny crèche of Mary and Joseph and a baby and others, too. And he said: We do this to remember this is the centerpiece of it all—quiet, peaceful, loving, faithful. Outside our doors, he said is a wild, cold crazy world. But around the manger we remember we are not alone really. We remember that the light really did—and does—shine in the darkness and nothing—no thing can put it out. Maybe this is why, all over our house you will bump into Mary and Joseph and a baby.  



                                        --RogerLovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I'm Dreaming of a Real Christmas

photo by Randy Wright

By this time of the year most of us have inundated by Christmas stuff. Shopping...cards...decorations. I see these houses with so many lights and do-dads that you can hardly get in the front door. I don’t think even Santa will be able to navigate through all those lights. Christmas is not presents nor cakes nor chestnuts roasting on an open fire or even family members coming from all over. Christmas is no even church services where we all go to enormous lengths to say: Ta-Dah to this holy time. I love all these things...but they aren’t the real Christmas.

Christmas is mystery at its heart. An angel coming to a sixteen-year-old girl. A virgin of all people. A baby born in a barn to poor peasants. In Bethlehem? Shepherds having their lives turned inside out. Wise Men from Iraq or Afghanistan standing that windy starry night open-mouthed at what they saw. It’s leaving that tired woman wiping that counter at the Waffle House a hundred dollar bill. It’s standing by a piano in a nursing home and having a little tiny woman who knows nobody or even where she is—singing clear and sure every word of Silent Night. Christmas is mystery—never predictable. It is out of our control and the wonder of it all just sneaks up on us.

It really is a partridge in a pear tree... and two turtledoves... and three French hens... and golden rings... and swans...and jumping ladies and lords. Crazy stuff.

Once in the Christmas doldrums I told a counselor I was having a hard time with this season. He told me we expect too much and when we don’t get the big OK...whatever that is...we are just disappointed yet another time and we shuffle toward yet another year with little wonder. Same old. Same old. The wise man told me to take one small moment and build my whole Christmas around that. Forget all the frantic stuff.  He told me to keep your eyes open that the real Christmas might find me instead of the reverse.

I thought it was strange advice until Christmas Eve, standing in the balcony of a crowded candle-lit church—my sermon in hand and hoping none of the candles lining the pews would topple over or catch fire to someone’s sleeve, worry that the Advent candles might not all burn—it all faded away. Out of the silence a little boy in a choir robe moved down the long aisle quietly singing: “This little light of mine...” And Christmas came. At the center of it all was God.

So let us keep our eyes wide open. Let us be surprised by the tiniest and most important of things. Discovering mystery—however it comes—now that is Christmas.


                                   
                                                     --Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Birthday--Sisters

Gayle and her twin sister, Gwyn had a birthday today. I can't say how many but if I did...I would be in the dog house permanently. They have this great relationship--always have. Close as two sisters could be.

Why they have been known to pick out the same birthday cards for their Mother--chose the same blouse or skirt or pants--even though they lived 500 plus miles apart. 

Their parents were so shocked that had twins that the newborns didn't even get middle names.My wife's sister lives out West and they don't get to see each other as they would like--but they burn up the telephone for long conversations at let once a week. Here are some of their pictures. Happy Birthday--Gayle and Gwyn!

















Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Immigration and Christmas



"What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping..."
--Christmas Carol

Every once in a while I find myself thinking, “I wish Jesus had not said that.”  Some of his commands seem impossible. Love your enemies? Forgive seventy times seven. Turn the other cheek. Walk two miles when your enemy forces you to walk one mile.

A whole lot of church folk tiptoe around a great deal that Jesus said. We all have a selective understanding. But there is no selectivity in Jesus’ words.  Take for example the outsider. He talked about welcoming the stranger. He talked about loving others—not just our own kind. He made heroes out of the strangest characters: a woman at the well, a despised tax collector, Samaritans, little children, Judas and even a thief on the cross.

Could we possibly put down some of Jesus’ words beside this growing population of the undocumented? There are 11 million people we call illegal living in our country. These folk are everywhere. Building houses, cleaning homes, doing yard work, keeping the chicken factories going. Many of our farmers would be hard pressed if we sent many of their workers back home.  Reckon the Innkeeper’s story in Bethlehem has anything to do with all the people who have found their way into our country?

Their plight reminds me of another crowded time that we keep coming back to every Christmas season.  A young boy volunteered to be in his church’s Christmas pageant. The Director wondered what to do with this squirmy boy that had never been in any pageant. Little and inexperienced, they finally gave him the part of the Innkeeper. Over and over he rehearsed his lines: “There is no room in the inn.” The Director instructed him: "Don't be afraid. Just speak loud and distinctly. You'll be great." Finally on the night of the play the Organist began to play: “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” This was the cue for the shepherds to come clunking down the aisle in their bathrobes. Next three small kings came forward with their jars of Merle Norman, Mary Kaye and Old Spice. Then a little girl, wrapped in blue walked down the aisle, another bath-robed character held her hand. Joseph helped little Mary up the risers. Then he knocked on the door of a makeshift inn. The door opened and he asked the Innkeeper for a room. Tiny Joseph explained they had come a long way and that his weary wife was expecting a baby any time. The little boy who had practiced diligently for weeks said his part perfectly, “There is no room in the inn.”  The couple said nothing but turned and walked down the risers and moved toward the back door. The boy-inn-keeper was dumbfounded. Before the couple could leave the room he yelled, “Come back. Come back. You can have my room!”

Can we move over and give these people who have come to America a place to be? That’s the painful question.  They have real faces and real needs. Forget politics—we’ve shuffled these people around like a football. Most came here looking for a better life. Many encountered all sorts of obstacles just to get here. Some desperate families, afraid for their children paid more money than they could afford to send their little ones to safety.

A great many matters Jesus talked about complicates our lives. But to find ways to take these strangers in we may just discover the most unlikely of surprises.  When we reach out to the stranger we just might see the face of Jesus. Not only at Christmas but all the days that follow. I keep remembering the words of the little boy in the pageant, “Come back---you can have my room.” One thing Jesus did say was this: a little child shall lead them. I think he was right.

Advent Prayer

Almighty God, who now in thy Son art ever ready to bestow upon us thy very life, give us grace so to receive thy gift that we may bear in our own hearts that immemorial pain which is thy yearning for all mankind. Through him that is born Jesus, the Christ and our Lord. Amen.
                                                                        --Paul Scherer









Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent: Jesus is Coming!!

photo by code poet / flickr
It took we Baptists quite awhile before we discovered Advent. Maybe we’re just slow. There were first glimmers of Advent in Antioch in the middle of the second century. But Constantine in the Fourth Century legalized the term and crammed it down everybody’s throats. But it was at the Council of Tours in 567 that this season began to come into its own. At first the focus was on the birth of Jesus but it really was a winter Lent. They encouraged fasting before Christmas. And in fasting they hoped to better understand this mystery of mysteries.

But maybe the South revolted once again—with our love of food—how in the world could we fast at Christmas? We love our Coconut and our Lane cakes and those fruitcakes laced with bourbon—even  the tee-totalers. I want even get into the meat selections.

When this holy season became full blown—we discovered some of what those early believers had in mind. For the word Advent comes from the Latin, adventus when means Parousia. Which translated can mean arrival or coming.

So we began to read that dark text in Matthew 25 about the moon turning to blood and all sorts of scary things happening when Jesus comes back. We read again that parable of the wise and foolish virgins. And even though Jesus said nobody knows the day nor the hour we pigeon-holed his words there (and other places) and concentrated on those virgins that had little oil were locked outside the gates to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Before we Baptists started trying to adopt some kind of Advent liturgy we knew about Matthew 25. We knew about wise and foolish virgins. We also knew about the Second Coming. And so sermons everywhere scared the daylights out of children and adults. Jesus was coming soon. And we were told when Eisenhower was President—Jesus was about to come back. There were Communists running all over the country—Jesus was about to come back. There were wars and rumors of wars—The Second World War, Korea, Viet Nam and now the longest war in our history: Afghanistan, Iraq and all that terrible unrest. Jesus was about to come back. Remember when we turned over the calendar to another millennium—from 1900 something to 2000 something everybody thought surely this would be end. Surely this time Jesus would come back.

Some days when I see the boys and girls coming home from the war crippled and wounded—I wish Jesus would come back and wrap up this whole crazy thing. When I see us still fighting the race battle and a zillion other issues that I thought were finished I sometimes whisper: Come Lord Jesus. And when I keep standing by some grave site and say goodbye to somebody I love I find myself turning to the Psalm: “How long, O Lord.”

When Jesus does come back I don’t think it will be Ta-Dah time. People left behind and all the borned-again pious believers snatched up in the air. I think our Lord will probably come like it did that cold Bethlehem night when only a handful knew what was happening. And this is why I think we keep bumping into the word: Watch. Be prepared.

Until the big day—I think it means that every day we have a chance to see the Lord and some of his handiwork. Jesus told his disciples in his last appearance: Quit looking up into the heavens...look around you. And his words still ring true.

With cards and presents and trying to make sure some Christmas tree does not lean--not to speak of the heartbreaking headlines—it will be so easy for us to miss Christ and the gifts God has for us this season.

And so we have another Advent—even we Baptists. It means to open our eyes and watch and wait. Every day of our lives this quiet man from Nazareth walks down all our streets and stops at every door. Don’t be scared of the moon turning to blood and not having exactly the right amount of oil in your lamp—chances are when that does happen he will catch most of us doing a whole lot of things that we are ashamed of. Never mind. Jesus knows us through and through and loves us anyway. I don’t think any of his children will be left behind—leave that to Hollywood and the fundamentalists.

But Jesus is coming—we still see it on road signs and huge rocks. I still tremble a bit when I see those words. And yet—really after all these years—and discovering something of the real live Advent—I know this coming today, tomorrow or a thousand years brings great joy to me and to the whole wide world.

So let’s light our candles. Sing the Carols. Turn to Luke and Matthew and even old Isaiah’s “Comfort ye...comfort ye.” Listen to the majesty of The Messiah. And open up not only our eyes but also our hearts because Jesus is coming soon. Sooner than we realized. And none of us need be left behind this year.

photo from flickr

Advent Prayer

"O God, who in thy Son didst come among us, and in him wilt come again, of thy mercy grant us not to shrink from thy presence, but to rejoice in it. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."
                                                 --Paul Scherer

                                     RogerLovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com





Monday, December 1, 2014

BENGHAZI...Benghazi...benghazi

  photo by Jaz Marsh / flickr
"I don't believe anybody could fly and if they could it sure wouldn't be nobody from Dayton."
   --local response to Wright Brothers 1st flight



Years ago I led a group of Senior adults. We met once a month and had a potluck and caught up on the gossip and local doings. One week it had been announced on TV, newspapers and everywhere that Neil Armstrong had just walked on the moon. There was much celebrating around the country and world. A man had literally walked on the moon! Around our dinner table with my Senior Adults almost all agreed that the story was bunk. “Nobody can walk on the moon,” they said and one by one they nodded their heads. “It’s just a soap opera cooked up by Washington. There’s no truth to it at all.”

One of the most disturbing things about our time is that people will not believe serious reports on all sorts of matters—even when the facts and investigations nail down the truth. A good illustration is the important report on Benghazi that came out just before Thanksgiving. That report which was headed by Republican Mike Rogers, a Congressman from Michigan. The House Intelligence Committee set up this investigation. This two-year study has come to the conclusion that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. The report further said that there was no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

photo  by will21629 / flickr
I have seen little about this report in the news—maybe it got lost in Thanksgiving.  But we need to remember that this was the eighth investigation on this matter. Millions of dollars have been spent. There have been six previous Congressional investigations on this matter. There was also a State Department report.  Now there is yet another Committee appointed—number nine headed by Congressman Trey Gowdy (SC) who is diligently at work hoping to shed new light on this matter. Even more money and more energy.

Reading this report and listening to the responses of so many who will not believe these facts—reminds me of that time years ago when those Senior Adults could not believe people could walk on the moon. I would like to know how much money we have spent on trying to ferret out lies and deceit behind our present Administration.


When truth is as clear as the noses on our faces—it is scary when folk, led by some of our elected officials, refuse to let this matter drop. There's a whole lot of screaming and posturing today which is simply a diversion from dealing with the hard problems of this country.

                          --RogerLovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com