Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Sermon for A Troubled Country


(This sermon was preached at the North Anderson Community Church in Anderson, SC October 23. On the eve of our Presidential election this was my meditation.)

We get up and put the coffee on—put cold water on our faces maybe put on a bathrobe or enough to get the morning paper. Retrieve the paper—come back in the house —pour a cup of coffee and simultaneously open the paper and turn on the TV. Bad move. It all about the Presidential race. Who said that. Who did what to who. He said what? He called her a criminal and should be locked up. You want to turn it off and yet you are hooked. Who will win and who will lose?  The temperature is climbing here in October. And wonder where all this is going. My sister-in-law says, “We’re going out just in time.” Some days I think she is right. But back to the morning and the papers and the headache. There is so much about this election that doesn’t even seem like America. Some of you remember when everybody got into a huff when Truman said: “Damn.”

Looks like it is a time for us to resurrect that word which sounds kinda mild when you think of all the other stuff we hear in this election. And what is our task—yours and mine. Just to keep saying ain’t it awful—fussing with our kinfolk over the election. You’re gonna vote for who? Countries go through some terrible things. Look at Britain and Brixit and they are in a mess. Look at all those folk who have fled Syria with just what they could carry in their hands. Or Haiti and the absolute injustice of ripping through a country that is said to be the poorest country in the world. Yep—it’s a pretty hard time and you footnote it in just about every direction you turn.

But we Christians and Jews need to remember our history. I think it was the sixth century BC when Nebuchadnezzar marched into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and dragged the best and the brightest back to Babylon. Not once but three times this happened until he had about all there talented and all the able-bodied. Seventy years they lived in exile. Far from home. In a strange land. Worry about the ones left back home—Mamas and Daddies and Grandpas and the sick and the broken. It looked like the end of the world. They kept asking what some of us are asking: “How can you sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ Walter Brueggemann tells us that the reason so many people are against gays has nothing to do with gays particularly. He says these people are seeing a whole different world than the one that used to be and they are taking it out on politicians and preachers and school boards and neighbors and just about everybody., There is so much anger. And folk now and singing, as they did then, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a place like this.” Gays getting married. Transgenders. ISIS and you and me worried about Social Security and Retirement and children and grandchildren. It’s a whole different world. And in some ways we are as much in exile as those folk back in the sixth century. 

photo by Justin Kern / flickr
Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah came and many folk just spat on them or chased them out of town. But after seventy years King Cyrus, God bless him, came on the throne and told the Israelites they could go home. Some stayed—they had gotten used to Babylon. But most packed up their paltry belonging and stumbled back through the desert. When they got home they looked around at a country broken and in disarray. Government almost nonexistent. Land that used to be fertile filled with stones from all the buildings the Babylonians had destroyed before they left Israel. No economic system. No schools. Just a whole lot of loved ones who had died while they were away. Talk about a strange land. Looking around them nothing looked familiar. This is what we dreamed of coming home to, they said.

God bless them—but Isaiah and Jeremiah and some other prophets held their hands and propped them out and pointed not to what was not but what could be. The Prophets helped them find the way back. Not to 1940 or 1952 when everything was wonderful. No. But the prophets told them to lift up their eyes beyond the mess they were in. They pointed them up to the hills where their help always came from.

And so finally—we come to our theme. I have been moved over and over by the 136 Psalm.  Scholars tell us that the Psalm sung and spoke came out of that terrible time when they got back home and everything—every thing—needed work and attention and rebuilding. And one of the things that kept them going was this Psalm. They used it in worship over and over. 26 times the same phrase recurs. So old Psalmist rubbed their noses in it. Listen. He said. Listen. It is a Thanksgiving Psalm . And in case they missed the point 26 times he tells them why they should sing the Doxology. Praise God. Praise God. Praise God. 

It begins:”O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” For his steadfast love is said over and over—26 times. Remember the setting. They had little but what they brought back from Babylon. Some of them had died coming home. And they looked out at a very bleak time. And some Psalmist said the strangest thing. “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

And that phrase: “His steadfast love” hooked me and I hope you too. He told them it ain’t over because the singing fat lady—but because of the steadfastness of God. This was the word God sent his troubled people. 

Two big themes: 1) The Lord is Creator; 2) The Lord is Guide and Champion of Israel from then until now.

They needed a lot of  reminders that they needed some holy, holy, holy in their lives. Fred Craddock, one of our best preachers, told that one day he went down to the hospital to see this woman who have surgery next day. And he said when he got there she had a stack of
photo by Manoj Jacob / flickr
magazines own her nightstand. People Magazine. Cosmo. . What Brad and Angelina were going to do. Talking about the Kardashians. And that weird couple with 26 kids that just split. One magazine talked about how she could lose  weight and look like the new Marilyn Monroe. There was a paperback or two. Love novels. Fifty Shades of Grey. Something just about as dreary. And Dr. Craddock said she was having serious surgery the next day—and she was reading all this stuff. And he said there was not a calorie in the whole stack. She needed some holy, holy, holy to get her through the night and the next day.

And Dancing With the Stars and The Voice and what Whoopie and Ellen are saying…not to speak of Mr.Trump and all those others. No calories. Folks—the Psalmist says that in a time of desperation we need some holy holy. We need to remember, over and over, His steadfast love endures forever. In the Psalm he'd reminds them that God started this thing. But he/she did not just sit down and let it go. God worked in his/her creation.(1-9) God delivered Israel from Egypt. (10-22) God led them through the wilderness on the way to a Promised Land. And the Psalm says: God remembered his people as they tried to settle in Canaan. (23-25) And he ended with a flourish. That steadfast love. God gives food to all flesh.(25)

He told them to go back to and discover how when they were hungry God provided a table in the wilderness. Do you think the Jebusites can stop that steadfast love? Or Mr. Trump. Or Hillary. Even if he is elected God is still God.They called it a touch of wonder. And this age of how much did it cost and how much is gasoline and if our kids will finally grow up and if Clemson will go all the way and if we can deal with these addictions—which we all have. Remember what God told Moses: “Take off your shoes the ground on which you stand is holy.” It has not changed folks. That steadfast love endures forever. Hang on to it and what happened to those after the exile when they had to rebuilt everything—can happen in our time too. To us.

Our fundamental response is to be thankful. Grateful to God. Oh, I know it is hard as nails some days. We read the paper and so many things in there break our hearts or scare us to death—but we Christians cannot let go of the fact that we live our lives in dependence not on ourselves but on Almighty God. 

photo by 4 WardEver Campaign  UK
Old Isaiah that helped them along put it this way. “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”( Isaiah 54.10)

Maya Angelou who went through hell before she got on her feet. Sexually abused as a little girl. So traumatized she did not speak for two years. Pregnant at 16.  Worked as a cook, a sex worker, a nightclub dancer. And a black woman in a lily white world. She wrote in her first book a title we ought to hang on to. Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. And may we discover in this strange time that the caged bird in our hearts and our time can sing and sing and sing. Why? Why? Because the God we serve is still good. 

Remember that last verse of our Psalm. The Lord promised to spread a table in their wilderness. He still does that. Maybe not the silver and the best china--but we find on that table enough. Enough for what we must be and do. The steadfast love of God.

photo by Sarah / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette/

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Birthday Reverie

It all began on a cool October night. October 15, 1935. Born at home in a little four-room mill house which would be my home until way after I went away to college. Dr. Wooldridge, delivered you, my mother would say with reverence. They had waited for years years and no baby came. And I guess they had almost given up when she learned she was pregnant. No Mama could have been prouder. Not only then but her whole life long. You don't think of the wonder of that love and utter delight she showered on you until she was long gone and you look back with a lump in your throat. She and my father had so little of the world's goods--and yet she had two boys that always were her treasure.

Turning eighty-one is not such an easy thing. Forget: "Just remember the alternative". Some days I wonder where it all went. If it had not gone so fast maybe I would have spent more time looking and listening and really seeing the wonder that was all around me.

One of my favorite writers is a Nova Scotia poet I discovered a couple of years ago. He moves me like few poets do. Why? He touches those places in the heart that we all have. Places that dredge up those good, good things we should never forget.

One of his poems is entitled, "Great Things Have Happened." I won't write the whole poem for you but he said he was talking one day with someone about the great things that had happened in their lifetimes. They talked about all sorts of things--and then he said: Nah, those were not the greatest.

"The truth is the moon landing didn't mean 
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963 
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been 
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince...
on a street where by now nobody lived 
who could afford to live anywhere else. 
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me, 
woke up at half-past for in the morning 
and ate cinnamon toast together.

'Is that all?' I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness...
everything was strange without bering threatening... 
it was like the feeling you get 
sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put 
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love."

81 years. What were the greatest things that happened? I do not rightly know. I don't have the word-pictures of Nowland. It took years and years for me to know that growing up across from the mill with so little of the world's goods...knowing deeply the hard-living people around me--that the gifts they gave me are with me still. Or the little church with the tall white columns where I walked down the aisle terrified one night and began my faith journey.

Maybe it was the friends that made it all happen. Or the Sunday dinners where the little formica table was weighed down with all the things I called my favorites. My red-headed brother that I fought and loved. Maybe it was that First Grade teacher that I felt loved that little bare-footed boy. Or maybe later that fat journalism teacher who listed and laughed when she could have been doing more important things. Or the teen-age friends or one or two other teachers. Who knows?

Maybe it was college. A school nobody thought was important that opened the doors and windows to so much that was out there. What a glorious time. Going to the Post office week after week and opening that little envelope that held fifteen crumpled dollars from my mother that kept me going. Who knows?

Seminary. The Y where I worked with kids who came from the wrong places and could tell you the
damnedest stories. Or those Profs that helped you open the black book like it was the first time and discovering an inner world you did not know existed. Or that December 5th night when, you had your first date with you and you knew--then and now still--was the prettiest girl in the whole wide world.

That first church way out in the middle of nowhere and farmers and wives who loved us despite our city ways. Or Pooch our first dog. Or even bigger-- that red-headed little girl who came one cool October night of her own. Followed four years later by another redhead, a boy this time.

Or all those other churches little and big where they came in one by one hoping just hoping that something said or done would make a difference. But for me...the Reverend...they gave me more faith and hope and love than I could ever give them.

The rare Sundays when God really did walk down those some unlikely aisles and changed it all. The buildings we built. The prayers we prayed. The people we had to say painful words over at some cemetery. All those with AIDS we ached for. Who knows? Or those who didn't have to but came to your rescue when you were so broken and wondered if you could go on. But more--the woman who believed in you and propped you up and stood and stands by you then and how. Talk about great things.

 That night when they gave me a retirement dinner and they came out of the woodwork from every  church I had ever served. Or that next last day when Tom Corts prayed as only that gifted wordsman could pray: "Thanking God for all those people I had touched that could not even remember my name."

Kids growing up. College for them in Louisville and Chicago. Wandering from rooms to room missing them so, so much. But that summer we spent in England. Their Graduations and hurled into the world of adulthood. Teaching in Louisville...finding your way in Chicago. Or standing not once but twice at the hospital as our grand-girls were born. And watching them grow up and become young women. How did that happen? That week-end when I stood on holy ground by a fireplace and married my son to his partner. And the wonderful week-end that followed.

The great things. Work...wife...children...friends. Faith on and off and hope sometimes and a love that I still am overwhelmed by: that never lets me go. The great things. Cats and dogs and houses we wall- papered and painted and made work. Flowers. Cars that worked. The fresh-smell of grass cut and job over for another week. And books and music and sunshine and changing seasons--especially October.

This is far too long. The reverie of an old man who maybe ought to shut up. But on this day, the day of my birth I do remember some of the great things that have happened and I am grateful.

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mr. Trump and School Children

photo by Central Elementary School-77 / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps its hand on the pulse of what is happening in the nation. Morris Dees and his staff have been keeping their fingers on the pulse of our country for a long time. They say their charge is to: "fight hate...teach tolerance...and seek justice."" Lately they have turned the spotlight on this presidential election and it's effects on the children in our classrooms.

They surveyed 2,000 K-12 teachers. They have said their survey is not scientific. They have reported that those school teacher responders are likely those who are concerned about the impact of this presidential campaign on their students and schools. This is what they have found:

  • Two-thirds of the teachers reported that students--mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims--have expressed concerns or fears for what might happen to them and their families after this election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than one-third has observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment. 
  • Forty percent of the teachers steer away from election discussion because it produces anxiety and unrest in many of their students.
Though no political candidates names were mentioned in the survey instructions--out of 5,000 comments Mr. Trump was mentioned 1,000 times. Comments stated the students were afraid. One teacher wrote: "My students are terrified of Donald Trump. They think that is he is elected, all black people will be sent back to Africa."

In state after state teachers report similar fears from minority students, One Virginia elementary teacher said students were crying in the classroom and having meltdowns at home. In North Carolina a high school teacher said that she had Latino students who carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they fear they will be deported. Many Muslim students are receiving taunts from other students. They are called terrorists, ISIS members or bombers. 

We do not know the long-term effect on these children. Neither do we know the long-term effect of this election on all of us. But we do know that, as I have said before, words matter. Read the abbreviated report for yourself or the full report of all the teachers' comments. It is worth pondering this report which is presented by the Center.

Maybe you are as tired of this subject as I am. But we must look long and hard at this election. There is too much at stake to turn away.

photo by Quinn Dombrowski / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, October 9, 2016

This Election is not Reality TV.

photo by Gage Skidmore / flickr

This crazy, crazy election time reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon I saw some years ago. A young father, kneeling on the muddy shoulder of a busy highway, is attempting to repair a flat tire in a driving rainstorm. From inside the car, his two children, noses against the glass, stare at him in disbelief. "Don't you understand? " he yells. "This is life,  this is what is happening. We can't switch to another channel."

And so tonight we have the second debate. This is not entertainment. This is not reality TV. This is not a soap opera. Tonight we deal with life. Real life. Folk all over the country and I guess the world will be watching and listening.

The number of Republican leaders that have said they cannot support Donald Trump as President have grown daily to a large and significant number. Sadly--most of these leaders have waited until this sex scandal to join the bandwagon. Where were they when Trump proclaimed that Mexicans were rapists and murders? Maybe some good ones he said. Maybe. Since the beginning of his crusade he has said often that Obama's birth was suspect. Nobody knows, he kept saying even when the birth certificate was public record. This was racism with its sleeves rolled up. Where were all these irate Republican leaders when he sneered at crippled journalists, attacked anyone who got in his way. He has made Muslim citizens scared in a country where everyone is to be safe. He has beaten the terrorist drum when most of our murderous attacks had little or nothing to do with terrorism. He has lied continually about just about every issue and there was enormous silence from the Republican leaders. The list of his prejudices and hurtful, lying comments have done irreparable damage. Little Hispanic children and their parents are terrified. He proclaims that when he is in charge that we will take the oil. Take the oil--this serious proclamation has slipped through the cracks of a multitude of false statements. This alone is madness at best.

Republican leaders and others are now saying: "We won't vote for Trump--and we can't vote for Hillary." How irresponsible can you get. A vote for neither is a vote for Trump. Hillary Clinton has her own problems. Some of her own mistakes have been foolish and very irresponsible. But we have had hearings after hearings on just about everything dealing with Clinton. Yet--no charges have been brought. We have talked endlessly about emails and yet there is no record that she has betrayed secrets or done anything to hurt this country. Fox news has been on a smear campaign for her since Obama's second term started. If you throw enough mud--it will stick. And people have bought into sorry lying business.

We have to elect a President. We have to elect someone who knows the world and its problems. Folks, this is life--real life. We cannot change the channel.

Over hundred prominent Evangelical leaders have petitioned Donald Trump to drop out of this race. We have heard over and over that Evangelicals support Donald Trump. This petition by responsible Christian leaders helps set the record straight. The petition is called: "A Declaration of American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump." Read their concerns for yourself. Read the names of all those that have signed so far.

Maybe we should have had others to run as President. Well--this is what we have. It is a time of reckoning. You might disagree with these words and this is your right. But someone, somewhere must speak for this whole country and have a vision for the common good of all. That is all I can say. And this is my great hope for us all.

--Roger Lovette /

Happy Birthday Daughter

It was 53 years ago today. It was the second time we had been to this Western Kentucky hospital within a week. The first visit we were told was a false start--so we went back home to wait. And then toward evening days later we drove frantically to the hospital. No false start that time.

Husbands were not permitted into the delivery room. So, with a friend who held my hand we waited for what seemed to me to be an interminable time. The Doctor came out and said, "You've got a girl and you can go in." And there was the smiling nurses holding the baby. Red-headed. Quiet--which would be her disposition all these years.

My wife roused up, "Let me see her ears." And the Nurse leaned close and showed her the ears. "Oh," my wife said, "I thought so--she has her father's ears." Not good. I often thought my Obama ears were larger than life and having little hair--there was no way to disguise my affliction. This was, of course, years before the Donald Trump coiffure. But this lttle girl would have plenty of hair.

We were told the next day that she had developed a fever, then pneumonia and we would have to go home without our baby. We were terrified even though we were told there was nothing to worry about. She was in the hospital a week. And the day my mother-in-law had to go back home--we came home with the baby knowing very little of what to do.  But a neighbor came to the rescue--some of the church members where I served helped immensely. And somehow we learned sorta how to take care of the baby.

And now today she is fifty-three years old. She has two daughters of her own. She finished college, got a Master's degree, teaches school. Teaches special education in Atlanta and those that have her as teacher are fortunate indeed.

"Who knows", as Judy Collins sang so plaintively, "Where the Time Goes?" It all has gone so fast and I look at this beautiful, talented smart woman and think, "Could this be my daughter?"

I won't bore you with the nuts and bolts of all the years that have made up her life. But this next picture captures it all. Shoes and purses--then and now. I guess you could even add a wine bottle--but that would come later.

We love her. We re proud of her. And today we thank God for all the memories and all the fun-hard times. And for Leslie just being Leslie. Happy Birthday, Daughter!

--Roger Lovette  /

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Happy Birthday Grand-Daughter

Twenty one years ago when came into our lives--our second granddaughter: Libby. Elizabeth, really named after the father's mother. She was born in Louisville and not too long after that they moved to Atlanta where she lived until she finished high school. Then she went to Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina for two years. She was a runner--as you can see from one of these pictures and won all sorts of medals. They gave her a running scholarship at Limestone.

But she wanted to be a nurse and so she transferred this Fall to South Carolina Upstate because she wanted to get into the Nurses' program they had. She's on the cross-country running team there too. 

I don't want to bore you with TMI--too much information--but Libby has been an delight. And I am very proud of her and proud to have her for a granddaughter.

Twenty-one...wonderful and scary. But I wanted her to know how much we love her and how we could easily give her a standing ovation if she was here today.

We all have a touch time growing up. And Libby has jumped over some pretty high hurdles in her young life. And here she is--in living color--and see wish her the best of everything. 



 Libby Jennette

My four girls: Libby, Leslie, Natalie, Gayle

--Roger Lovette /


All Saints Day--Remember...Remember

(Oops--guess what--after being gone two weeks my mental calendar is all screwed up.  All Saints Day is November 2. I am a month early and a dollar short! I am not losing it--totally--but bear with me and maybe I will learn the month and year as I move on. If I write in July about Christmas you will know I have strayed too far. Thanks for patience and reading.) --RL

All Saints Day--A Time to Remember

"For all the saints
who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith 
before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever 
Alleluia! Alleluia!"
 --William W. How, 1823-1897

Mary Jo Bang wrote after the death of her son: "You were the brightest thing in the shop 
window. And the most beautiful thing I ever saw."  I don’t know a better way to get at 
All Saints Day than these sad and powerful words. I have told my Grief groups that one 
of the things that saves us is gratitude. Remembering... Remembering...Remembering.

I know that it doesn’t last long enough. I know we wished with all our hearts there was 
more than there has been. You have told me that there are days so hard that you just 
don’t think you can make it. But on this All Saints Day the Church has called out the 
names of those that have died this year “believing that there is a prayerful spiritual bond 
between those in heaven and the living.”  But it just isn’t those that slipped into the 
mystery this year. This is a day for fondling the rosary of every name and every face that 
shaped you and made you smile. 

You might spend the day just thinking of him or her or them. You might stare at some 
picture or open some album and remember. There is a good grief and a poor grief. When 
we say a Doxology over those who have changed our lives—we grieve, “but not as those 
who have no hope.” 

At most of the funerals I have conducted the last few years I have leaned on that 
wonderful Benediction which comes from the Roman Catholic Prayer for the Dead. 

"Into paradise may the angels lead them; at their coming may the martyrs take 
them up into eternal rest, and may the chorus of angels lead them to that holy city, 
and the place of  perpetual light." Amen.

(The painting at the beginning of this piece is from Fra Angelico, 15th Century artist.)  

(I first printed this piece in a blog post for 2013. I love the spirit of this day--and wanted to share these 
words with you.)

--Roger Lovette /