Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jesus--Who is He Anyway?

"Music without bass notes is liable to just be bare tinkling stuff."

Statistics tell us that fewer and fewer people are going to church. I am told that atheism is making a strong comeback. Young people particularly find something else to do on Sunday morning. And a great many that do wander into a church expect hoopla and fun and having “their needs are met.” Look around any mainline church and you’ll likely see a whole cadre of empty spaces. Preachers and members are wringing their hands and whispering: “What are we going to do!”

Down the street there are traffic cops making sure that people don’t crash into one another trying to get into the hip, with-it new church scene. There will be colored lights and loud music and some preacher, male of course, dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. Likely as not he’ll talk a lot about “Dude” this and “Dude” that. There will be nary a word about homeless folk, the ugly mood in the nation, Isis, Ferguson or the terrible gridlock in Washington. 

Somewhere churches have jumped the track. We love the Bible but we ignore the application. That’s why I would recommend Todd Wilson’s article in Thursday’s Greenville News. (SC) He writes about the sacrifices Jesus demands of his followers. He challenges us to look at the big picture of what faith people are to be about. There have been a lot of times in church history when the church has been more reflective of the culture than of its leader, Jesus.  If you read the Book carefully you’re likely to find God’s word cuts across the grain of most of our lives and most of our culture. It is no wonder that so many churches today have no Cross anywhere in their worship centers. Churches that preach a strong gospel will not have to worry about traffic cops driving its traffic.

I’d like to hear what some of you have to say about this subject.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Immigration--the Human Side

photo by michael fleshman/ flickr
 It was Halloween night. We were visiting relatives on the Oregon coast.  There weren’t many trick o' treaters that came ringing the doorbell. But we opened the door and there stood three very scary grinning children. They were dressed up as a skeleton, Spiderman and another character I could not identify. Behind them stood their parents proud and dressed-up themselves. They were Hispanic and they were friends of my relatives. Not only did we put assorted goodies in their sacks but we also invited them in.

It must have been ten years ago that they left Mexico and their families and found themselves on the Oregon Coast.  It must have been scary to leave behind all that was familiar and arrive with just a few suitcases, wondering if they could find work. The young man had finished a degree in computer programming in Mexico. Very soon he found a job on a construction crew. His wife worked as a maid cleaning people’s houses. Ten years later they had bought a house, had three boys and were very proud of their home, their children and the community they lived in.

photo by Ricardo Lopez S./ flickr
My relatives met the man and they became friends. He had all sorts of skills and so they began to call on him. It seems that he could do about anything. He refinished their kitchen cabinets. Put tile in their bathroom. He changed some light fixtures. When they called him with computer trouble—he was there. He even installed hardwood floors throughout their house. He is the kind of man every all-thumbs family dreams of. This Hispanic family sent money back home to relatives who live on limited income.

They never have been able to become American citizens even though all three of their children were born here. Yet they work hard, they want the very best for their children; they pay taxes and social security. While we were there the mid-term elections were held. Oregon’s citizens voted that unless someone was a citizen of the United States, they could not get a driver’s license.

This man now must drive to work with no license and I assume no insurance. Even though he pays taxes and social security—he will see few benefits from the money he pays to the government week after week.

Walking down an Oregon street I saw an ugly sign on the front of one house. “If you can’t speak English—why don’t you go home.” That house also had a target plastered to the front door that said: “We know how to shoot!”

There is something terribly wrong with this picture. Many hope we can starve these people or drive them out of the country. President Obama has said that if Congress and the Senate cannot come to some positive conclusion about immigration he is seriously consider signing a presidential order to protect five million of these people. All this means is that those brown-skinned people like those that stood at my relatives’ door—will be political footballs. There will be no names mentioned, no children’s pictures—just them—stuck in a power play in Washington and the rest of the country.

I keep remembering that word, all, that is embedded in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Maybe we ought to mark out that word and write in bold letters another word: some. Looks like we still have some work to do as a people.

photo by takomabibelot / flickr

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Politics and More--Winning and Losing

photo by mandarin77 / flicklr
Losing is no fun. Ask all the candidates in this off-year election that worked hard, spent too much money and still found themselves defeated. Mostly Democrats. But whether you are red or blue or striped or a thousand shades of grey losing is no fun.

But you don’t die from losing you just wish you could. We’ve all lost a whole lot. Not just some political race but more. We’ve lost health, status, money, friends, and people we loved greatly. Most of us have some place like the wistful song: “O give me a home where the buffalo roam...” In the college town where I live losing is not supposed to happen to our team. But it does. And what happens if the scoreboard turns in favor of our cursed opponents. Sometimes we feel like we are nobody, that we don’t count and that the sky is cloudy all day long. People who have never seen the inside of a college don the home teams colors and finery. Buy expensive tickets, tailgate like crazy and scream until their voices are hardly a whisper. And if the team loses they walk away as if somebody or something special has died. We put too much money and effort and commitment into something that is far from perfect. And if too much is lost we politely fire the coach and look everywhere for somebody that will win, win, win.

I hate to mention politics but I will anyway. As I have seen John McCain muttering and castigating the President daily I wonder if any of his opinions are shaped by the fact that he lost to our President. Poor losers are no fun to be around. I think the same thing—only more so—about Sarah Palin who is still smirking and sarcastically dissing the President. Some people--columnists and pundits have made a cottage industry—not to speak of zillions of dollars they have made—have never gotten over the hard fact that they lost the election to a black President twice.

But I need to be fair. Mr. McConnell has now made it to Senate Majority Leader. I do remember the first days Mr. Obama was in office that Mr. McConnell said his number one goal was to make sure that this new President failed. He has certainly done his part. I couldn’t get over an elected official of national stature saying this. I kept thinking if the President fails—don’t we all fail? Hmmm.

But now Mr. McConnell is on center stage—not as President but in a powerful political position. Should Mr. Obama have as his stated purpose to make sure that Mr. McConnell fails? Republicans will cry unfair. Democrats will lick their chops. Wouldn’t it be healthier to at least try to work with this man for the good of the country? I’m not talking about giving up principles—but I am talking about working together to get our country off the skids.

Some of us lost this past Tuesday in the election. Some of us won. Now what? Shall we rub the losers noses in their defeats—shall the losers spit and claw at the winners. We are in a hard time. We have big fish to fry. Jobs maybe first. Dealing with the unending war in the Middle East which has been going on for centuries really. But we all need to be for something not agin' something.

Maybe I’ve rambled too long. But I do remember the wonderful story of Mother Teresa. Some columnist went to India and watched her work. Picking up little starving and dead babies. Hugging, carrying them to the hospital—reaching out to what seemed like endless disease and poverty. The reporter asked Mother Theresa didn’t she get discouraged. Wasn’t what she did a hopeless task? Why didn’t she do something where she could see some results? She turned and looked at him and said, “Young man I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.”

Losers or winners—not bad advice for a country desperately in need of people who will continue the hard work of making the USA live up to its dreams and Constitution.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Reverie -- Praising the Human Season

"I'm so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers."

--L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

October is not a bad month to be born. I don't remember October leaves until I went away to college. I have no memory of the wonderful color of the leaves of fall until then. My school started in September. Leaving home, discovering a whole new world out there was something. I still remember the wondrous feeling of it all.  New friends, new adventures, new freedom. And when I walked down the streets in East Lake back then in Birmingham--the October leaves took my breath away. I remember taking picture after picture of those long streets many leaves still on the trees--walking
through a sea of leaves.I always think of that first year in college when the air gets a little nippy and the trees begin to turn. Maybe some of the scales fell off my eyes. I do not know. But something happened there and since that time October takes me back.

Somewhere I read where someone said that "In the kingdom of God it is always October." I think whoever penned those lines was right on target. I wonder if the Prodigal son didn't walk down that long road that led back home in October. Who knows? The Scriptures say: "when he came to himself..." I like to think that as he looked up from his misery and sorry choices he saw the turning leaves and he remembered how it was back home. And sure enough--getting close--seeing his father's house in the distance--he saw the trees--those beautiful trees framing the house called home--he remembered and even before he felt his father's arms around him--there was a gladness about it all.

But that was then. Two Octobers we were in Oxford, England. And what I remember most was the leaves that  covered almost all the ancient stone buildings of the colleges. In October the green leaves give way to bright reds. 

Oxford calls that season Michaelmas. The students come back. They don their black robes and parade through town. I don't know if they remember those red-leaved walls I hope so. I also recall the Sheep's Meadow which joins Christ Church College of Harry Potter fame.  I remember that college and the long green meadow and then the trees which in those Octobers were turning their fall colors. And next to the trees was the river where you find the houseboats and the punting boats and people walking through the leaves that have already fallen.

But those are only memories. Up and down my street the red maples are just beginning to turn. In Upstate South Carolina their turning comes a little later. But if you look across the lake and squint your eyes from certain spots you can see the far hills of the mountains and bits of reds and yellows and oranges just beginning to cover all the trees.

Maybe it's old age, I do not know. But I cherish of the bluest of the October skies and the colors that seem to be everywhere this season. A man named Don Robertson wrote a book with the wonderful title: Praise the Human Season. I guess that's what I am trying to do. October, for me, is the human season--and all around me I see...I see. And it is grand.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It's Birthday Time

I don't know what to say today. I stand on the cusp or the Grand Canyon of yet another birthday. Seven-nine. God, how embarrassing. How did I get here? The Lord only knows. About every time we sing, "Through many dangers, toils and snares..." I tear up. But not just for me but for all of us--everybody included--nobody left out--that have found the journey hard and fun and scary and impossible and wondrous and downright awesome. I don't particularly like the word blessed--but I don't know another word that covers it all...and there has been a whole lot out there to take in.

One of my fav-o-rite poets which I just discovered a few years ago is a poet named Alden Nowlan from Nova Scotia. He's dead now but he left us some amazing words. And one of my favorites I'm going to share with you today.  It's entitled "Great Things Have Happened."

We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, 'Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time.' But, of course, we were all lying.
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

(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
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 four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

'Is that all?' I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in
   Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently

than in the daytime: 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."

You can't  beat that can you?

So much has happened. The memories swirl and wash over me. The day "I got borned" in that tiny little four-room house across the tracks from the mill. They thought they could never have children and at long last: "Ta Dah"  I came along. And four years later my brother. We had so very little--and thanks to my parents--we really didn't know it. We never, ever felt deprived even though some thought if you live "over there" you were not quite somebody. I never felt that.

There were animals like Lucy the cat, who in her profligately left us a zillion kittens. There was Princess, our cocker spaniel and I don't know how many others. Pooch, Red Dog. Beethoven. Agnes. Cleo--to name a few.There was the

Church up the street that made a powerful impression in my life. And the school, across that same street, opened some doors that have never closed. Early on--there were books, books and books. And still are. I  don't remember who taught me to read--but God bless them over and over.

There were teachers and high school and college and friends and friends and friends. A mere prelude of what would happen along this Jericho road of 79 years. And there were jobs and challenges that stretched me aplenty.

There was a 21-year-old that had no idea what she was getting into when we married. And after all these years--she has come all the way. She has put up with  a lot from her husband and his circuitous moods and peculiarities. There were two kids--a boy and a girl--and I can still remember where I was the night both of them came into the world. Somebody later sent me a book called, The Birth of a Grandfather--and that has happened to met two fine times. The family thing may just be the greatest thing that ever happened.

There was Church and Church and Church. Carlyle Marney used to say "the church  has dirty underdrawers." And I guess he was right. But that's not the whole truth. When she gets dressed up her her finery my, my she is something to behold. And she sometimes takes breath away and forces me to be more honest with myself than I ever thought. And trailing behind her was that glorious company too many to number. All ages. Shapes. Sizes. A handful mean as hell. Strange and wondrous. I found her and them in every church I ever served.

I don't want to bore you anymore. I just want to say to all those out there--do you have any idea how you have amazingly graced my life. Emily Dickinson talked about "sending a love-letter to the world." Well--I don't know if I would go that far--but I do know I send this love-letter out and I hope even to those who have gone on before know that these words have their name on the envelope too.

If I ever get the time I want to write a book called, Things I Wish Jesus Had Not Said. But today, looking back--where would I be if I had not heard and believed and tried (haltingly and sometimes not at all) to follow what Jesus really did say.

And so my rantings are over today. Thank you family...that you friends...and thank you God for the memories which are far, far richer than anything I ever even knew was out there when I sat at that little desk in that little classroom when I was eight years old.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Happy Birthday Daughter

It was October 9th, 1963. Owensboro, Kentucky. We'd already been to the hospital days before. False alarm. But this night was no false alarm. It was the real thing. My buddy Dick Delleney came and held my hand. Fathers-to- be couldn't dare enter the delivery room. Finally--it seemed like hours--they called me in. "You have a little girl--red-headed." It took my breath away. Gayle, the Mama roused up and dreamily said, "Let me see her ears." And they did. And those ears really did look like mine. "Cursed," my wife moaned.

We didn't know where this wonderful joy-ride would take us. And if we can be prouder today--and we are--than we were then--we are so glad this red-headed girl with the big ears--covered, of course, grew up to be tall and smart and beautiful and savvy and a Mama twice and a Teacher of so many that have loved her.

How very different this journey would have been without you. Your first trip to  New York. It was the day the Sky Lab fell, of all times. And I waited and waited at La Guardia airport--scared to death that you would not make it. You did. What fun it was. We saw a play with Liv Ullman and waited at the door for her to come out. We ate Italian food. We crammed in so much in those three days.

You graduated from Daniel High School and went on to the University of Louisville. And you'll be in Clemson this week-end pulling for Louisville as they play the Tigers. Before you finished college the four Lovette's spent a summer in England. I can still hear you upstairs in the bathtub, trying to maneuver that rubber thing that was supposed to be a shower and kept coming off--and you yelling , "God, I hate England!" You didn't.

There was a marriage that gave you two wonderful girls. Natalie and Libby. And you moved from Louisville to Atlanta where you still live. Blog-readers don't need to be bored--but they--you--need to know how very proud we are of you and the journey, not always easy, that you have made. But here you are in living color...great friend, wonderful daughter, good teacher, great Mama and  not a bad driver. Where did you ever learn that.

On this special day memories swirl. And we thank God for them--the cup is full and running over--and we thank God for you.

--RogerLovette /

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The 4 Trillion Dollar War

I’ve just finished reading Dexter Filkins’ great book, The Forever War. Mr. Filkins, the author is a foreign correspondent and he writes about the rise of the Taliban, the aftermath of the September 11 attack on New York and the days that followed. Want to learn something about the complexity in the Middle East—read this book. This is not a simple problem. He writes about the people in these battle-scarred lands, soldiers and their families, the Memorial services he has attended. Though the book came out in 2008 it is a prophetic observation of where we are as we deal with the ISIS crisis.

Osama bin Laden said that the September 11th attack was to bring America’s financial system to its knees. Was he right?  President in 2003 as the war started that it would cost $60 billion dollars. We now know the price tag was at least $817 billion and the Economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz states that the cost of those wars could be as much as $4 trillion dollars. We continue to pay interest on this credit card. This, of course does not factor in all those service people, if they did come back, many arrived home crippled or damaged some way for life. Filkins writes about their stories in Thank You for Your Service. Two million soldiers have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands came back with PTSD.

So as we beat the war drums again—I simply do not know what to think. ISIS must somehow be stopped. But the United States cannot do this alone. USA Today says that bombing ISIL costs us $10 million dollars a day. That paper gives us these estimates:

  • Stretched over a year this new war could cost us as much as $3.7 billion dollars.
  • Operation Enduring in Afghanistan (2013 figures) costs us $212 million a day.
  • One Tomahawk land attack cruise missile costs $1.1 million. (47 have been used through September.) 
In the last several days Congress slashed $8.7 billion from Federal Food Stamp Funding.
I do not know what to do about this terrible situation in Iraq and Syria. I do know we must think and hard before we engage in another full-scale war. If Filkins is right this could be a forever war. You don’t see these figures enumerated by those in Washington or many of our media folk.

Michael J. Tuttle / flickr

--RogerLovette /