Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent Meditation: The Waiting

photo by brett jordan / flickr
Looking back I think one of the hardest parts was the waiting. Waiting for the baby. Well, that's the Daddy-to-be talking. Maybe for the Mama-to-be the hardest part was the nauseating morning sickness. The smell of even the precious coffee you could not take. Maybe the welling in your stomach. The soreness in your breasts. What does a Daddy-to-be really know?

Boy or girl--then we did not know. Would everything be all right--then we did not know. But the waiting--the incessant waiting. Women seem to do the waiting better. The Daddies-to-be well, not so. Waiting was not in our job description.

From that old promise that went all the way back to who was it? Abraham. "I will make you a great nation..." Or old Moses, with thinning hair standing on the edge of what-he-could-only-see. Over there--over there--it would happen. Or maybe King David or his pathetic son Solomon. They too waited. And we could add dear old Isaiah with his misty-eyed promise: "Comfort ye...comfort ye...every valley shall be exalted and every hill be made low." And so they waited before the Exile they feared and the Exile they endured--and the heart-breaking return to a crumbling land. Yet they waited.

And Mary waited. And Elizabeth. And poor, wondering Joseph. And mad kings that thought the waiting was over. Well, not quite. And the Shepherds with their less-than-minimum-wage--and the three kings with their stocks and bonds. They waited too.

And then when the waiting was over--how strange it ended. In a cow stable with a hole in the roof and steaming dung--everywhere. And dirt-poor and with no-room-in-the-inn--he came. The tiny fingers and little toes. Reaching for his mother's breast. No power there. Only a wisp of a child that might just end up like all the others. Probably never a King with stocks and bonds. Hopefully not a Shepherd with no minimum wage. Maybelike his father a carpenter. 

And so Mary and Joseph waited and the book is silent during all those waiting-growing-up years. And then one day he, like us, struggled with his own demons. He, like us ate and ached and longed--and lusted? Surely not. He wasn't anything like he was supposed to be--what valleys and hills would be exalted--and what crooked paths would be made straight?

He toppled no kings. He led no revolutions. He did not cure all the diseases. He did not make everything great. And it all ended--it seemed on a hill far away when his Mother wept and wondered was this what all the waiting brought?

We still wonder--don't we. We have hung our wreaths and put up the Christmas tree and hauled all the dusty ornaments from the attic. We've looked over the Christmas card list. And, of course, the women folk wonder about the food and the beds and a less-cluttered house.

And yet--as gloomy as this Christmas seems to so many of us--we still wait. For the wolf to lie down with the lamb and the leopard to lie down with the kid. We wait for everyone to sit under his own fig tree and study war no more. We wait for peace on earth and goodwill to all. All? All. We wait.

And so once again like all those through the ages--we wait. He will not come as we expected. He will do not do our bidding. He will, like always, be at the heart of it all--but in  his own way. Quiet. Silent. Whispering...whispering "I will be with you."

And one day the waiting is over. And the baby comes. And all is so different than we imagined. But better--far, far better than anything we could even dream in the waiting.

photo by GP Witteveen/ flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent Meditation: Advent is a Wondering and a Waiting

photo by Holly Hayes / flickr

She came home with a smile and a little smirk. "Guess what?" she said. "I'm pregnant. We're pregnant." I don't know what I said--but it took my breath away. Pregnant. What did it mean? What does it mean? We were, together, moving into unchartered waters. I know it sounds dramatic to you seasoned ones who had forgotten when you first got your news. But for us newcomers--well--it was joyous and scary and we did not know what lay ahead. And the waiting. Nine months. Why that is almost a year! Will my wife be all right? Will the baby be all right? We don't have much money. And what does this total change in everything--really mean? We were moving, slowly--ever so slowly--into unchartered waters--and we just did not know.

And once upon a time the book says that this little girl--maybe not even sixteen--was told she was pregnant. The word came not from the doctor but, for God's sake, from an angel. Angel? She had never even thought about an angel--and that strange day--the angel came bearing this news. And she, too like us was moving into unchartered waters. And like us she did not know what it meant. Her worries were many. What would her parents say? We were never told. What would Joseph, her betrothed say? What would the neighbors say?

The angel said two things. "You are not to be afraid." And your cousin who has prayed for a child so long--she too is pregnant. And then the angel said this second thing."With God all things are possible." Mary thought it was a miracle that Cousin Elizabeth was expecting after all her barren years. Maybe all things really were possible. Even, she thought, even if you have not been with a man. Surely these were unchartered waters.

And so after all these years we come back to the story that never grows old. It is star-filled. It is wonder-filled. It is downright unbelievable because it goes against everything we know. Little girls do not get pregnant by themselves. Old women, too old for a baby--found prayers she left off long ago-- now answered! Impossible.

What does it mean as we still move into unchartered waters. This baby of Mary's turned the world upside down--or maybe right side up. Into a world of hate and poverty and unimaginable cruelty--two babies--Mary's and Elizabeth's came. Does it say anything to us? Dear God, I hope so. If God places down on our doorstep this promise of new life and new hope and star-filled, wonder-filled news--could he still turn things upside down or right side up? Sounds really crazy.

We, after all these years, need to remember two things the angel said. We are not to be afraid. And with God all things are possible. Help us to place all our fears and shames and worries before this Christ-child. Let us reaffirm the truth we have often disbelieved: with God all things are possible.

So much is so complicated in our time. Personally, nationally--internationally. Let us hold on to these two promises beside our troubled lives and time. Let us know, deep in our hearts, the One who never leaves and never forsakes comes to this time and to our time. If it is really true--Advent says there is a whole lot more in store for us than we can even imagine. Also we put aside all these worries about us and our country and our world. We put aside all the headlines and heart-breaks that are real. We will not deny them or evade them. We will work even harder for peace and justice. But we will also put all these things all down beside this good, good news which the angel still brings.  And despite incredible odds--deep in our hearts we will believe.

"Do not be afraid."
"With God all things are possible."

photo by Cinzia Bazzanelle/ flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Christmas Meditation: "What's this Advent Thing?"

photo by Gil Garcia / flickr

Like most card-carrying-bonfide-Southern Baptists I came to Advent late. After all--I grew up in a church where ceremony of any kind was suspect. Kat-lick--we would say. No robes--no candles except for weddings--and we hoped most brides would keep them to a minimum. The closest we ever got to the celebration of Christmas in that mill village was when the mill officials came down from Olympus and handed out fruit baskets. Santa Claus--or a sorta reasonable facsimile-- would waddle in and the Christmas celebration would begin. By the next day--most of the fruit and the candy and that handful of nuts would have disappeared. Maybe we sang a few Christmas songs on Sunday--but we would keep our Church celebrations to a minimum.

Meanwhile back at home my Mother had already sent our "colored woman" to the liquor store (after dark to get the whiskey for the Fruit cake. At night because everybody knew who this black lady worked for--and they would spread the rumor that the Lovette's were lushes--which Baptists supposedly were not. We got out the silver and gold spray paints and sprayed leaves and branches for the mantle. We dragged in a huge Christmas tree for our little house--decorated usually with blue lights. I can't remember why except we thought that was very cool. Meanwhile in the kitchen Mama and our maid were busy baking cake after cake. We bought two hams--one fresh and one cured--a big fat chicken--my Mama said old turkeys don't make good dressing. And the presents began to pile up. We had no idea what this Advent was. But the whiskey bottle was empty.

I think the first time I heard the word, Advent I said, "E-vent?" And the response: "No--Advent!" "What does that mean?" Piously someone said: "It means you are spiritually getting ready for Christmas and it takes four weeks to get there. "Four weeks!" I said. "Yes" was the answer.

Well, I grew up some and went off to college and somewhere along the line I visited a church when somebody walked down the aisle and lit some candles while the choir sang softly. It moved me terribly. So when I finally became Pastor of that little church on a side highway in western Kentucky I tried to introduce Advent to my congregation. Something new--of course they were suspicious. But since they didn't want to hurt the new Pastor's feelings--at least at that point--they said, "Well--go ahead." I don't remember much about that except the first Sunday our head usher, Miles came forward as the choir tried to sing--and lit all five candles! I don't know how we backed out of that fiasco--but the church lived ("the gates of ha-il will not prevail!!") and so did the green Pastor and even the Christmas season.

Well since I have cashed in my Union card and when people say: "You--you are a Baptist!" I say: "Not that kind of Baptist." So somewhere along the line I learned more about the meaning of the season. You can't just get up on Christmas morning, open your presents and then somewhere in the day maybe, maybe think of the Lord Jesus asleep in the hay. But not often. Advent is expectation. Advent is getting ready. Advent means: Prepare ye..." Advent means pondering the mystery so great that it just washes over you in wonder, love and praise.

So--occasionally I have donned a robe. We finally taught those that lighted the wreath which candle comes when. We added a little later a Chrismon tree and put wreaths and candles in the windows--and just before Christmas Eve we lined the pews with candlelight. And for those four weeks every heart, one way or another was trying as best we could to prepare the way and hopefully hear heaven and nature sing.

With all the hoopla around us and all this despair-celebration over the Trump victory--we need in Advent. To tell each other the story of a poor couple who traveled a long way--with doors slammed shut along the way--wound up in as cow stable--because there was no room in the inn. Hmm. Sounds familiar doesn't it.

My favorite Advent memory was that year when it was Christmas Eve and the Staff and Choir were up in the balcony. Out of the darkness a little boy, holding a candle came down the aisle softly singing: "This little light of mine." And, with tears in my eyes, I whispered: "Yes." And Christmas came.

So I look forward now to "Come O Come Emmanuel."  I love the Processions and the robes and the candles and the recurring memory of the tiny Jesus asleep in the hay. And when I hear the Advent words: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us...and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out" I know why there is an Advent. Through the years it has carried me through warring churches and denominational squabbles and assassinations and Watergates and Viet Nam and saying goodbye to parents and friends and too many boys and girls still coming home in  boxes. And Advent tells me what it has told people through the ages--that politics does not have the last word but underneath it all there is something we cannot see and sometimes even fathom. Nothing, folks, no-thing will separate us from the love of God. And that's why this year I'll once again show up, dab my eyes, feel a lump in my throat and once again, I hope, say: "Yes."

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Building Bridges--Not Walls

photo courtesy of MarineCorps NewYork/ flickr
"Troops become citizens on Liberty Island"

One of the charges we all have is to make sure that we live up to our name: United States of America. As we know every generation must hammer this dream out for themselves until it becomes a reality. Remember the pledge of allegiance: "with liberty and justice for all." 

There have always been forces in our country that would divide instead of unite. We must all make sure that we are part of the all-ness that our forebears dreamed of. 

Wise theologian Walter Brueggemann throws out this challenge in his book, Journey to the Common Good.

"The great crisis among us is the crisis of 'the common good,' the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny--haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor. We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interests, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity."

photo by Celso Flores / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com


The poet, Wendell Berry has stabbed me awake this Thanksgiving-time. He writes "Come to the window, look out, and see..." God knows I need to look out my window. For months I have been obsessed, worried, happy--depressed over this election. And now that this interminable hoop-la is over my heart almost stops when I read of some of the possible appointments by our new Commander in Chief. But it's Thanksgiving--and what do I have to be thankful about? Stupid question.

Wendell Berry gets my attention. Look out the window. And when I do this: "Oh-God-how-did-we- ever-get-to-this-place" doesn't really go away but makes make look at some things I have forgotten lately. Maybe a long time. I look out my window this Thanksgiving and what do I see.

"I see as blood-red tree in front of my house that has not lost its leaves. I see a house across the street with an American flag waving in the breeze. And from inside this widow comes out with her dog, carefully walking down the steps, holding on--because the arthritis never goes away. I see a crape myrtle with its yellow leaves and purple berries where blooms used to be. I see a tiny Indian woman holding a even-more tiny baby. She walks by every day and the love I see in her face is something to behold. Out my window a student runs by. And an old couple, holding hands shuffle up my street. If I squint my eyes and look to the left I see new houses going up. And Hispanics--mostly climbing ladders, nailing boards in place--manning a concrete truck. I see grass turning a brown color but covered today in those leaves that have lost some of their color. I hear the birds outside my window--chirping loudly since nobody is walking down their street. Trucks go back carrying supplies. The people that cut our grass and bushes rake and blow the leaves--and I wonder who they left back home--kids, wives? 

Two houses from
photo by Jack / flickr
me is a whole painting crew I got to know when they painted my house. Rough cigarette-smoking men, some missing more than a few teeth--but yet laughing and making the house they paint look great. My flowers have not yet faded--geraniums, even a few vincas and impatiens. My stone rabbit in the center of these plants--looks out and I wonder what he could be thinking. Down on the porch I saw a chipmunk today sitting on the bannister. Never saw that before. Taking in the sunshine--looking out. Wonder what he can see? The sky is blue gray today but sunshine and shadows bathe it all in glorious light.

This is Thanksgiving-time. I forget often that first Thanksgiving. Outside the camp were the mounded graves of those that did not make it. If legend holds there were Puritans and Indians and even maybe a skeptic or two at that gathering. But despite their hard days they sat down as if they were one and bowed their heads and gave thanks for the tiny bowls on that first table.

I put aside all this Trump-talk aside at least for a while. Sucking on that poison does no good at all. So I look out my window and try to pay attention. God knows I don't have too many years left and how can I fritter them away with the madness that has come and gone through the decades. They're not outside the window but their pictures are close by. My wife without whom I could not make it. Two kids that brought a multitude of joys this year. Two granddaughters--now grown--that grace me again and again.

That window makes me remember my friends some close and some far away. I call to mind all that laughter and craziness and just being together. I could bore you with a list that is seemingly endless. I won't do that. But Buechner says when we take down your own album and show someone your pictures--hopefully they will take down their own albums and remember.

Forget Trump's triumph or Hillary's defeat. Forget the shoulder that hurts. Worries about money and ailing friends and too many birthdays. Look out your window and open your eyes and your heart. I'll bet your cup will be filled and running over which I think is Thanksgiving.

So peering out the window is remembering time. Dostoevsky said it so beautifully: " And even if use are occupied with important things, even if we attain honor or fall into misfortunes, still let us remember how good it was once here when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us better perhaps than we are."

It's time to look out the window. I guarantee if you peer out there long enough you will be glad. 

photo by Liz / flickr

Roger Lovette / rogeerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, November 18, 2016

Preacher Leonard Cohen

photo by Kevin Williams / flickr

Leonard Cohen has opened some doors and windows in my life that were stuck. Isn't that always the task of a good preacher?I know, I know how flawed this man was in as great many ways. And he would have laughed his fool head off if somebody called him a preacher.

Leonard Cohen died a few days ago but he left us words and music that will be with us for a long time.  My favorite comes from his moving words in "Anthem." They have helped me many times. Listen. Listen closely.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in."

We bounce along and things seem sometimes mighty fine. And then...all hell breaks loose. Divorce...sickness...She/He dies...you lose a job...or faith...or a friend...or you hate what you have done...or you lose an election...or maybe you win one and it is not what you thought it would be at all. 

Maybe Cohen is right...maybe it really is in the cracks and fissures that the light really gets in. It has happened to me over and over through the years. Something unexpected or terrible occurs and looking back I learned something I could have never known any other way. 

The troubled preacher Leslie Weatherhead lived through the blitz in London. His daughter never got over that awful time. He was subject to great depression often. Yet he was a great preacher and writer. He wrote somewhere about those words from Isaiah: "I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places." (Isaiah 45.3a) That phrase : "the treasures of the darkness" came straight from his heart. I think he would have loved Leonard Cohen. 

Leonard Cohen's song, "Hallelujah " has been recorded over 300 times. If you have heard it you can understand why it means so much to so many. 

"There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah."

We will miss Preacher Cohen. He let the light shine through his own brokenness and taught us a mighty lesson.

photo by Frank T / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

A Prayer After the Election

"Prayer Station" photo by Robin / flickr

(After the election many of us have been dumbstruck and in grief. We must remember that ours is a long journey and that one victory which we feel is terribly misguided is not the end of the road by a long shot. We still believe--sometimes. We still have faith--sometimes. And so I offer you this prayer by a very fine and gifted colleague. She reminds me--and I hope a lot of us--that our task is still "to pick up the pieces where we left off." Words worth pondering.) --RL

Nancy Hastings Sehested
Sunday 6 November 2016

Thank you God, for the shaping from the saints in our lives…for the foolish and the wise ones, the serious and the silly ones, the reserve and the overbearing ones, the mischievous and the obedient ones…lives whose presence have broadened and enriched our own.

Free us from regrets by your grace. Strengthen us by the witness of your hope-bearing and love-embracing saints before us. May these days make saints of all of us in perseverance in the struggles, in resistance to evil, in reliance on your Spirit.

After Tuesday, may we pick up where we never left off…feeding the hungry, teaching and tending the children, listening to the lonely, comforting the broken-hearted, healing the sick, raising all those who are dead and disheartened in spirit.

After Tuesday, may we be found among that countless number who still practice the politics of praise for your creation, and who have always made art of your divine deal of reconciliation.

After Tuesday, may we be counted among that number who still lives for your great dreams for humanity again and again and again…bolstered by the resolve that we are stronger together when we sacrifice together for the common wealth, the common good, the common cause of justice and peace.

After Tuesday, may you still find us with Jesus, walking unafraid, unfaltering…undone only by your Spirit swirling in and around us all.

After Tuesday, may we be convinced more deeply than ever that nothing, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from your love.

Through the Christ of love, we pray and pray and pray. Amen.

©nancy hastings sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

"Catriona's Prayer" photo by Ewan McIntosh / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com