Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Clemson Got a Victory--We all need a Victory!

photo courtesy of clemsunivlibrary / flickr

We’ve all been a little punch drunk over what happened in Santa Clara. It was a great game. And seeing the huge black Football player, Christian Wilkins with tears coursing down his cheeks said it all. And that was followed with the Parade back home and the almost filled-up stadium. It was a great time. And I’ve been thinking about that victory. And one of the wonderful things about that night was that some of those guys had never had many victories in their lives. Dirt poor. Raised by a single Mama or a Grandmother. Having so little—some of the guys experienced victory for the first time. And that ought to be celebrated. 

But it nudged me to thinking—we all need a victory. Everyone of us. And you wouldn’t be here today unless somebody cheered you on and helped make it happen. 

So I have been looking back over the years at some of those that helped me find a victory. They helped open the door and it never really closed after that. Somebody or a whole lot of somebodies said: You can do it. You can do it. 

As a little boy I got down many days. And I was sitting at the kitchen table one morning moaning about just about everything. And the black woman that worked with us part-time came over said;”Mr. Roger quit crying. Just your wait! Just you wait! "I don’t know how many times she did that. But when I wrote the first book I ever wrote—I sent her a copy and inscribed it: “Nancy—you kept saying'Just you wait!" You were right.” When she died I spoke at her funeral in Hurstboro, Alabama. And I told that story to a sea of mostly black folk that day--Nancy was right, I told them,  Just you wait! It is a word for us all. 

Coming out of that cotton mill village, riding the school bus about ten miles to the country school—we had very little. And nobody in my family had ever gone to college—many didn’t finish high school. Like my parents they came out of the Depression where they had to leave school in the seventh or eighth grade and helped their families mostly on the farm. But there was a Journalism-Spanish teacher—short, fat and divorced—which didn’t happen much back then. But she took a shine to me and about the tenth grade she started saying “Have you thought about going to college?” Well…not much. But she  kept nudging me until I started checking out schools and finally found one and went off to college. And it was a great experience when more doors opened than I knew were possible. And my Mama, working in the mill, sent me fifteen crumpled dollars every week to live on. And about once a month a homemade cake would come in the mail. 

There was a women in our town named Birdie. Went to church with me. And when she was little she fell into a fire and was hopelessly scarred and her eyes especially were affected. She could hardly see. And she worked in a knitting mill. And she pulled me aside one day after church and said: “You’re going off to college and I want to help.” And she out of her little paycheck took money and helped pay for my tuition. 

And in my first church 25 and green as a gourd—I was way out in the country—and the church was hard on preachers.  At least it seemed that way. And I didn’t know if I could pull that off or not. And I’d go down the road—Alternate 54 in  Philpot, Kentucky and sit on Mr. John ’s porch and pour out my frustrations. He’s sit there smoking his little pencil thin cigars and didn’t say much. And then he said: “I’ ve been around here for a long time and seen a lot of preachers come and go. We can be hard on you Reverends. But let me tell you something. You are doing a good job and you are gonna make it.” And it helped.

And at every juncture there was somebody or more than one somebodies who said: You gonna do it. You are gonna make
photo courtesy of clemsonunivlibrary / flickr
it. And I guess I did because I wouldn’t be standing here today without a whole lot of people that stood on my sidelines and cheered me on. 

And as I watched the game the other night and watched tears streaming down Christian's face I thought to myself we all need a victory. And you wouldn’t be here today unless somebody out there whispered in your ear—you’re gonna make it. And if you have had any victories—and you have—it is because of all those folks that made it happen for you. Yep—everybody needs a victory. And I don’t talk about this to make myself look big and important. But I do it so that you will stir up your own memories and imaginations and know that without them you could never have made it. 

Nobody is self-made. And those that think they are are not the kind of people we want to be around. 

Somebody asked a social worker who worked with a lot of troubled down and out people. Hard job. And he’d done it for a long time—and didn’t make a lot of money. And one of his friends said: “Why do you keep doing this? It just seems impossible. Everybody you work with is so needy and their lives are so messed up. Why do you do this?"  And the man said: "The only way I can get up and come to work is that I rejoice in the smallest of victories." 

The smallest of victories. They are all around us. And if all we do is play this: “Ain’t it awful game” —and things are a mess. But if we open your eyes to the smallest of victories around us—and remember some of our own—it changes the whole picture. 

So I guess our job is to just pass on what has happened to us. We all can be part of somebody else’s victory. I think about all those twisted terrible people that took a gun at Sandy Hook and Charleston and Las Vegas and all those other places. More than we just about count. But I think most of them fell through the cracks. Because they never had a single victory in all their lives. Mostly loners. Kept to themselves. Many from screwed-up families. I think some victories in their lives would have made a difference. 

I know a lot of us are retired but that doesn’t mean we cannot reach out and help somebody else. There are a whole lot of people out there hanging on by their fingernails that need somebody to pat them on the back and say you can make it.

Little Clayton was going to have a birthday and his parents asked him what kind of a party he wanted. And he said: "Why don’t we let everybody dress up like Kings and queens." And his Mama said: “ How would that work?"  "Well we’d get crepe paper and make some cloaks. And we’d get some sticks for scepters. And we’d get some paper and help everybody that comes make a crown. It’ll be great.” Well—that’s what happened. The kids came and they dressed up and they took their stick scepters and made their crowns and put them on. And after Clayton had opened all his presents and the lighted the candles on his cake—his Daddy said: “Now make a wish.” And he did. And then they decided to have a parade and they marched up and down the streets dressed like kings and queens. 

That night before Clayton went to sleep his Mother came in and said: “It was a great party.” And Clayton smiled. And his Mama said: “You made a wish when you blew out your candles—want to tell me what you wished?” And he said, “I wished that everybody in the whole wide world could be a king or a queen.”

It’s a big, big wish—and maybe we can’t change the world but we can help somebody out there discover a victory they never, ever had.

photo by Tyler Howell / flickr

(I made these remarks at the Sertoma Club in Central, SC, November 14.)

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hey--Despite the darkness--the Light is still here

photo by raymondclarkeimages / flickr

Of all the seasons of the Christian year—one of my favorites is Epiphany. We Baptists don’t know much about the word—but we know about the light it talks about. In tiny clapboard churches and high-steeple places people have come into their houses of worship hoping, hoping that somehow they could make it through all the things they brought with them. They all came hungering for the light. And they found the Epiphany light over and over even though they did not know the word.

Epiphany still comes on the heels of Christmas telling the story of how the Wise Men came from a long way off—following a star. At the end of their journey they stood open-mouthed and wonder-filled beside a manger. The story said “they went home by another way.” That story meant many things. First, the Herods of the world do not have the last word. It also meant that following the light they found kept them going. 

The Church through the years has sung the “We three kings of Orient are…” and been  reminded reminded that “the light has come and the darkness cannot put it out.” Those words of light have covered a lot of ups and downs in history.   I think they mean that despite it all—the darkness that is seemingly everywhere—the light really does still shine. 

Put those words down beside 2019. I know we are besieged by many things—personal problems and grief and a strange hard world. The Herods are still with us. It would be easy for any of us to think this darkness will suffocate us us all.  And yet—Epiphany comes around again. Not only reminding us of that old story of a star and strange men coming from the east. But reminding us that the terrible darkness does not have the last word.

At the beginning of World War II when England was on the edge of the terrible time that would change their world. Hitler seemed to be destroying everything. King George VI spoke to the English people. He said: “I said to the man who stood at the gate of shadows, ‘Give me a light the I may tread faithfully out into the dark unknown.’ A voice replied, ‘In order to find victory in the darkness, go in courage; and then put your hand in the hand of God. That will be better than having light and safer than knowing the way.’”

Little did the King or his people know that they would be bombed night after night for more than 50 days. Yet they endured. So let us remember Epiphany and its tiny flickering light. Just enough to keeps going. Just enough to lead the way.

A Serbian man lights his candle. 
photo by Guillaume Speurt / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, December 31, 2018

Christmas isn’t Over

photo by Joelle Brandt / flickr

I wrote this the day after Christmas. In England they tell me this is Boxing Day. The time, I guess when you gather up all the wrapping and Yuletide boxes and get the house in some kind of before-Christmas -order.  We’re packing our bags in Philadelphia and getting ready to leave in the morning for our plane ride back home. It’s hard hugging your loved ones or standing by the driveway as they slowly drive away.

 But in England and other countries Boxing  Day was the day the well-heeled let their servants off for the day to visit their families, taking with them a box from their employers loaded with a bonus, maybe a present or two and some left-over food from the Master’s table.  In this country Boxing Day is the time you cram back in yesterday’s boxes and rush back to the store to return the stuff you got that you do not want. Those that work in Department stores say this is the biggest nightmare of the year. “I really do appreciate what you got me...” (and then under your breath—God, why did they get me this.)

But it’s the day after Christmas and time, really to get back to abnormal once again. What if we remembered the words from the Christmas Eve service and those that followed. Christmas was really just beginning. Hopefully the Shepherds and the Wise Men returned “praising God for all they had seen or heard.” Mary and Joseph gathered up whatever they brought and bundled up the baby and left for  Egypt hoping their little one would be safe.

And he was safe. So the Christmas story was just beginning—a-to-be-continued saga which would change the world. And most of us know the rest of the story from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and all those dusty miles in-between.

But what about us. You and me and these very dusty roads we are traveling today. Government shut-downs except for his majesty’s staff and his majesty’s congressmen. They still get their checks. Or that poor destitute family that must take their little boy who died in America on Christmas Eve day and say goodbye for a last and final time. Or all their neighbors holed up in tents and lean-tos in Mexico while the rest of us are returning all the stuff we wish we had never got.

But I remember that just before Christmas a man in Greenville South Carolina walked into a Wal Mart store on Christmas Eve and paid off every lay-away for mostly poor people had owed for things they needed or. Christmas gifts. He gave $3,600 to pay the very bill. Also on TV I saw a man giving out hundred dollar bills to people in the streets of a large city to those need. Caring isn't dead. Think about all those who worked in soup kitchens or those others who worked hard across the country to make sure that little children with very little would not be disappointed at Christmastime.

Most of that stream of caring can be traced back to a barn and a manger and a bright, shining star. If Christmas is just beginning then it’s our job to make sure those warm and tender feelings of Christmas flow out into this troubled world.

We may not be able to do much about the cruelty and selfishness of our time (except at election time) but we can, like Mother Teresa said, “I do what I can with what I have where I am.” We aren’t responsible for it all—but each one of us can help in all sorts of ways. And if we let Christmas seep into our souls—who knows—it may not just help someone hanging on with their fingernails but us as well.

The old year is fading pretty fast. It’s time to get out those new calendars with all those fresh white pages stretching out and make sure Christmas isn’t over by a long-shot.

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas 2018 or AD 1?

photo courtesy of United Nations Photo / flickr

From a snippet in the New York Times. Maxine Marron wrote: "We cannot wait to hear about Gary's kindergarten play this year. Two years ago, his school put on "Snow White" with 27 "dwarfs," so that the children could be in the play. Last year, it presented "The Nativity." Joseph came to the inn and knocked on the door. The little boy playing the innkeeper decided to be inventive. When Joseph asked if there was room in the inn, he answered by saying: "You are so lucky. We have just had a cancellation."

As we Christians around the world gather to celebrate the birth of our Lord I wonder how many of us will ponder the words of Luke's story: "And she gave birth to her firstborn son and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." I think of all those on the other side of the United States in Mexico and other places who this day scratch for food, try to keep warm and hold tight to their little ones. They came from poverty, from places without jobs, from countries where relatives were murdered and their daughters were raped. They came hundreds, maybe thousands of miles to find a place where they would be safe and their children would not only be far from danger. But also have a chance, in their little lives, to discover for themselves what their parents had not been able to do.

There are no mangers in Mexico or in Syria or all those other troubled places where people flee for their lives. When the history of our time is written I wonder if someone will 
ask the question: "No room? No room in the inn? Did not Christians, well-fed and prosperous care for those so desperately in need?" 

Like the little boy in kindergarten wouldn't it be something if we followers of Jesus Christ could open our hearts and lives and pocketbooks and churches and say to all those out there: "You are so lucky. We have just had a cancellation."

"To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come;
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome;
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all...are at home.
--G. K. Chesterton

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Christmas Wonder

I took this picture in Montreal about three years ago. Kneeling in that magnificent church this woman may not have taken off her shoes--but she knew she was on holy ground. Most folks I know are starved for wonder. TV won't do it. Breaking news won't do it. The thus-and-so-ness of life surely won't do it. Arthur Gordon years ago had a book that I cherish. It is called: A Touch of Wonder. We all need a touch of wonder, don't we?

One of my favorite poets is a man who lived in Nova Scotia. His name was Alden Nowlan. He wrote this a poem, which will not reproduce because it is pretty long. But he said that one day somebody asked him what were some of the great things that had happened in his life. I thought: good question, especially when you have mucho miles on the odometer and strange questions pop into your head at unexpected times.

But I degrees. As Nowlan thought about that question he said he answered as most of us would: Something like the moon landing or some other historic momentous moment as the greatest thing. But, he said when we answered like that we really would be lying. So he went back to1963.  He said there were only three of them living in a three-room flat on a street where nobody lived who could afford anywhere else. Ans then these words:

(The greatest thing) "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."

Wow is about all I can say. For in a world of lawyers and investigations and porn stars and deceit and heartbreak we need a time out. Big time. Some moment when we least expect it when open-mouthed like Moses the bush burns and we don't know what to do exactly except, maybe take off our shoes and brush the tears from of our eyes. The Book says this was a turning point in Moses' life. Maybe when the bush close by bursts into flames it will change our lives too. Who knows?

--Roger Lovette /

Christmas Speaks to Fear

As the curtains part, the audience suddenly settles down. it is quiet--very quiet.  And in the dim light a young girl sits on center stage. And from someone in the back we hear a rustling. The girl looks up. And an angel, with wings expanded comes from stage left and stands next to the girl. The angel speaks so quietly the audience has to strain to hear. "Hail," she says, "O favored one!" And everyone can tell the girl is terrified. An angel--speaking to her? An angel? And then the angel says, "Do not be afraid."

And that's the opening of Luke's nativity story. Oh, there will be a whole crowded stage before this is over. Joseph not quite knowing to think. Probably her parents though the book doesn't mention them. There will be Zechariah, a priest and Anna a  Priestess. Then there will be Elizabeth as the two women compare notes. And an Innkeeper and Shepherds and a mad king and Wise Men--but you know the rest of the story. 

If Thomas Mann is right when he said, "It is it always is, however much we say it was," maybe what he was trying to say was that great literature is as much about today as yesterday. And as our curtain opens on yet another Advent--reckon this first word from the angel is for us too. "Fear not." Joseph will also her those same words. And then Shepherds and Wise Men, too. Maybe this is what the Wise Men told Herod that maybe he should not be afraid. Who knows? But that word runs like a silver thread through the whole story. "Do not be afraid." 

Is this story really not just a drama played out back there--but here, too. Here? Of all the things I see slouching around out there--and in here, too--I think fear comes close to being at the top of the list. Politicians bang the drum loudly. But so does everyone else. Why even we Evangelicals may be the most terrified of all. Of what I am not really sure. That the collection plates will come back almost empty. That looking out on a Sunday only here and there we will find a smattering of people. Maybe some of us believers are afraid that Jesus really will come back and, as the T-shirt said, "Is he pis..d." 

But the fear in that Advent story was closer to home. And it was to a particular young woman the good news came. And to all those others--no general fear. But a fear with their addresses and our address on the envelope. Yours and mine. 

You don't want to hear about my fears. We've all got them. Fear of disability. Alzheimer's, for God's sake. Wondering if we will have enough moo-lah to get to the end of the line. Worries about the kids. And the nation. And our friend down the street having round after round of chemo. Worry about if we really believe all this stuff about faith--even though the book keeps saying it over and over again. Maybe so we won't forget it. "Fear not."

Well--right now I have failed the test. I fear lots of things. But somehow I can't get this drama with the parted curtains and the little girl-women named Mary and the angel they called Gabriel out of my mind. And maybe this is why we keep reading the story over and over Christmas after Christmas.

Those words were read in those terrible years of starvation. Even when there were Roman crosses and plagues and injustice and injustice and injustice right down to this crazy social-media world. So maybe we should listen carefully to old Gabriel. There really will come a child so unexpected and with hands and feet like ours and lungs that could give it all it was worth. I believe...Lord thou my unbelief. So come Christmas I'll be there and I will try to listen to the story I've heard a thousand times. And maybe, even in old age it may just seep into the cracks of my old days. And, my friend, yours too.

(These two banners were made by my son and his friends when he was 16 years old. They have hung every Advent season in the First Baptist Church, Clemson (SC) He is now 49)

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

My Dream for Christmas

In this chaotic world God knows we need a Christmas. The real Christmas which has nothing to do with the glitter and consumerism that we are all caught up in. W.H. Auden says it best for me.

"Remembering the stable
for once in our lives
became a You and nothing was an It."

--Roger Lovette /