Friday, July 11, 2014

Rose Cook: Madame Secretary

If you traveled to Western Kentucky down Highway 54 several miles from Owensboro you would come to a brick church on a hill between two highways. The sign reads: Dawson Baptist Church. You would be in Philpot, Kentucky. And if you were there from two o’clock until four o’clock this Sunday an important reception is going on. I wish I could be there. Rose Cook, Church Secretary for fifty years is being honored. She is retiring after all those years of faithfulness.

She was a member of the first church I served as Pastor. She baby sat with our daughter and a multitude of others. She always loved children. She had finished high school and the only work she had ever done was baby sitting. “Rose,” I would say, “You can do more.” She wasn’t sure at all. Finally I nudged her toward a business school in Owensboro about the time I left there. Word came back that not only had she graduated but she had made all A’s. She worked for a while at a Coca Cola office and then fell back to her old ways of babysitting. She had typed our bulletin for a long time—and slowly she became the Secretary of her church. And if you wanted to know anything about anybody—Rose Cook was the informant. She knew everybody and everything about that tiny community.

Lyle Schaller used to say that the most important person on the staff is a good Secretary. And he is right. Rose in her own quiet way was a good Secretary. She survived Pastors and building projects and I guess a zillion business meetings. Through thick and thin she stayed. That job was the making of Rose Cook. It gave her a status and a belonging that she and we all crave. She helped her church in innumerable ways and without her Dawson Baptist Church would  have been very different from the church it is.

We in the church mostly follow the ways of the world. We applaud the famous, the headliners and the rock and movie stars. But outside that circle are most of the folk that get up every morning, put their clothes on and open up the church and do what needs to be done. Without them—I don’t think the church could operate. Jesus said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We don ‘t really believe that or we would treat people differently. Especially staff persons (other than the Pastor), Custodians, those that keep the sound system, the heating and air-condition units working.

Woody Allen, I think it was that said 80% of the job is just showing up. Rose Cook showed up. She could  be counted on. And next week when somebody else opens up the church and turns on the lights and gets things going—dear Rose Cook will be sorely missed.

My regret is that I will not be able to drive down Highway 54, turn into the Dawson Baptist Church next Sunday and hug Rose’s neck.

Rose Cook is in the blue dress. 1963.

                                           --Roger Lovette /

What Are We To Do With All These "Outsiders" ?


Photo by Barri Net / flickr
I can’t get a particular picture out of my mind. I think it was on the front page of the New York Times days ago. It was a tiny Hispanic boy maybe five years old holding a water bottle and looking up wide-eyed and scared at this huge cop who stood before him guns and all. I doubt the policeman was mean to this boy—but the look on the little boy’s face I cannot forget.

On July 3rd in desperation a horde of immigrants—a great many children and women and some men—somehow managed to get over the border into the states. Some were sick, some were scared. Some had been traveling for days. Many had paid thousands of dollars just to get to the US. Interviewed, many of them said they came because they afraid of their safety and the safety of their families back home in Honduras or El Salvador or somewhere in Mexico. Drugs gangs were running rampant—some of their relatives had been killed. So they traveled some hundreds of miles to find a place called America where people would be safe and they could build a better life.

Many were taken to Murrieta, California for processing until the government could figure what to do with all these people. Remember this was July 3rd—on the eve of our annual July 4th celebration. You can read a splendid article, which comes from Media Matters, which also shows a video of some citizens' feelings as they encountered these newcomers. These immigrants found fury and anger and abuse from the people of this upscale California town. Of course all the residents did not feel this way—but those who came from so far must have wondered if this was the same place they had seen and dreamed of on TV.

The sheer enormity of so many has scared many Americans. Couple this with wild rumors of disease and crime. No wonder many screamed: “Go back to your own home!” This is a serious problem. Yet we are teaching these little children and their desperate parents the wrong kind of lessons about America.

If you’ve ever been to Ellis Island you know that we have reluctantly welcomed many that have come to our land. And when many did come—the Irish, the Jews, the Italians, the Poles and many from China and Japan—the reception they received from many was not much different from those frightened immigrants in California. There have been many days in "our history when we seem to have been poles apart from the dreams of what this country was supposed to be.

We cannot simplify this issue. And for God’s sake—and I mean that—this is not the time to politicize the issue of hurting people It is high time for those we send to Washington to do something positive for a change about an issue that says a lot about us as a people. I know this matter is enormously complicated and hard to decide what to do. But I do know this. We deal with human beings and once again we are being measured as a people. Will we treat these that come with respect and decency or will we act as if they are dangerous and subhuman?

The old question comes to mind: What Would Jesus Do? I do know this—he wouldn’t be standing in a crowd with a sign spitting and screaming out expletives. 

(Want to read the human side of this particular immigrant crisis, read USA Today's article on one Honduran family's journey to this country.)

Photo by Darren Last / flickr

      --Roger Lovette /  rogerlovette.blogspot,com

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Want to Read A Good Book?

For Father’s Day someone sent me a book that I have just loved. Ties That Bind is written or compiled by Dave Isay of NPR. For at least ten years—he has been interviewing people through an oral history project called Storycorps. He begins by telling the story of Studs Terkel when he was 91 years old. He stood in front of a small sound studio in the middle of Grand Central Terminal He said, “Today we shall begin celebrating the lives of the uncelebrated!” He went on to say: “We’re in Grand Central Terminal. We know there was an architect, but who hung the iron? Who were the brick masons? Who swept the floors? These are the noncelebrated people of our country. In this kiosk, those anonymous people—the noncelebrated—will speak of their lives!”

So Dave Isay has recorded about 100 thousand interviews with just plain folks. None of these people will ever make People Magazine. But in a few short pages different people pour out their hearts. The things they are grateful for. The people who held them up and changed their lives. Everybody has a story—and Isay celebrates these. USA Today has said of his work: "Each interview is a revelation."

Years ago Kenneth Koch, a poet, taught poetry writing in a nursing home. Most of those people had never written a poem. Many were unsophisticated—yet Koch collected their poems in a book called, I Never Told Anybody. Most of the stories in Isay’s book are heart-warming experiences that most folk have never heard.  I recommend this book to everybody who wants a breath of fresh air in a very toxic world. 

(After I read the book I discovered three others with incredible stories that Isay has recorded. All There Is (which are love stories), Listening Is An Act of Love, and Mom (a celebration of mothers).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Party Time in Pennsylvania

For months my son Matthew and his partner had been planning a 25th anniversary party. They couldn’t invite everybody—but they decided to invite 50 of their closest friends and family members to come and share on this occasion for two days. They chose an Inn in Hawley, Pennsylvania called The Ledges. I had never heard of the place—but when I got there I could understand why they made that choice. The Inn had once been a silk mill. Beside it was this magnificent waterfall, which cascaded down the rocks. Our two evening dinners would be spent on the three decks overlooking the waterfall. Rocks, green trees everywhere—and this wonderful waterfall. It almost looked like we were in the middle of a beautiful forest.

So last weekend was the party. People came from all over. A friend flew in from California. The Hairdresser who had cut Matthew and Mark’s hair—and several others who came—was there from Chicago. There were old friends from Governor’s School in Greenville and some from college days. Matthew’s art teacher who had taught him all the way from the third grade was there. She came with her
family. We call her his second Mama. The good friend that Mark first confessed to that he thought he was gay was there. Mark was married at that time...and made the decision to break off the marriage in fairness to his wife. But the wonderful thing was they maintained a friendship and she and her husband were at the party. There were other old friends that went all the way back to the early days of Matthew and Mark’s relationship in Chicago. There were brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. They came from places like Atlanta and Madison,
Wisconsin. There were people from Florida and Charleston. There was Mark’s mother and Aunt and brothers and sister were present. My wife and I were there and Matthew's sister and one of our granddaughters.

What did we do for two days? We got acquainted with each other. We told Matthew and Mark stories. We laughed a lot. We ate wonderful food that Chef Matthew had carefully selected. He really is a food-a-holic. We drank a lot of wine. We just enjoyed the reverie of two wonderful days celebrating 25 years of two gay guys being together.

I don’t know how many people said this was the best Anniversary-wedding party they had ever been to. The second night, after we had finished eating we moved to the huge room in the lodge where scenes from Matthew and Mark’s twenty-five years were replayed on and on. They have been everywhere mostly because of their work—and I have no idea how many places and countries they have visited.

Friends and family toasted Matthew and Mark. The man who Mark first told he was gay talked about that painful-truthful moment. A nephew spoke. Mark’s sister spoke. Friends scattered around the room talked
about their ties and how special this couple was. Mark’s gorgeous ex-wife spoke. How many people could have that happen. With a lump in my throat—I stood and tried to talk. I told them I had been on the edge of tears the whole two days.  The ties that, my they were fine and strong and wonderful. I talked about the tributaries that had flowed into the lives of these two very special people. I confessed that when I first heard of this two-day anniversary idea—I thought it was a little crazy. But I also confessed that there I had discovered it was one of the most moving two days of my life.

We scattered the next day. Some there may not ever have heard the words of the writer, Dostoevsky but I think all would agree that what he wrote years ago captured those two days for us all. “And even if we are occupied with important things, even if we attain honor or fall into misfortune, 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."

Friday, July 4, 2014

Matthew and Mark-A Journey From "I" to "We".

Carson McCullers, the Georgia writer wrote this book called, A Member of the Wedding years ago. In that novel a couple is getting married and the little sister of the groom was going to be left at home without her brother. And she says, “I want to be a member of the wedding. Not the wedding party.  I want to stand up by you...I want to get married with you two.” She goes on to say, “I don’t want to just be an ‘I’—I want to be a “We”. Everybody I know, she laments, “is a ‘We’ except me. “

It is the great dream of us all to be a “We.” To be connected, tied to someone else, to belong. We all want to be loved and cherished and affirmed. And so when my son asked me if I would perform the wedding for him and his partner of 25 years what could I say? They live in Pennsylvania, which has just passed the bill that will allow same-sex marriage.

They were already planning a big anniversary celebration which I will write about later.  But before the big party they wanted to get married privately with no hoopla. So—after breakfast last week, just them and my wife and me and two of their friends—stood in the living room in Philadelphia. We should have taken off our shoes—for that morning we really did stand on holy ground. We were legalizing what had already been going on for 25 years. We acknowledged loud and clear that these two people whom we love really have discovered through the years what it means to be more than an ‘I’—but most definitely a “We.”

This is what I said as we stood there before their fireplace on a sunny morning.

“This is the beginning of a great week-end. For beginning tomorrow friends, family and loved ones will come together to celebrate 25 years that you all have been together. But today is different from just marking this partnership of 25 years.

What you did 25 years ago was a private matter between two persons. Society did not give you full rights and privileges that all citizens would have. You were put in a different category of simply not fitting in...of being so different from everyone else that you had no legal or religious status in your relationship.

Thank God this is changing before our very eyes. For granting gay people the right to be married makes what has been only a private matter a public and legal event of enormous consequence. But it goes much further than this—it proclaims a truth that has always been there—you are just like everyone else—and the false categories we have put around gay people are falling away.

So what you did 25 years ago is now acceptable in this state and many other states. Nobody knows the struggles you both have gone through your whole lives to be where you are. To be told by culture and government and church and families and even friends that there is something wrong with you...that you don’t fit in...that you’re not like everyone else—that you should not be who you are—is a terrible thing. And yet—despite whaterver you have had to overcome—and that has been a lot—you found each other and you established a relationship which is life-affirming and as fine as you will find in any marriage. And we applaud you for that. So—this is an important day and we all rejoice with you. 

Wallace Stegner is a great writer and in one of his books he writes:

“It is something—it can be everything—to have found fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.”[i]

And so I ask you both the same questions I ask every other couple who wish to be married. Matthew and Mark—do you take each other to live in the holy state of marriage? Will you love each other...comfort each other...honor and keep each other in sickness and in health and that forsaking all will be faithful to each other as long as you shall live?

Then I ask each of you to repeat after me the old marriage promise, which people have been saying for hundreds of years.

I, Matthew take you Mark, to be my beloved have and to hold, from this day forward...for better, for worse...for richer or for sickness and in love and to cherish my whole life long. I give you this promise that I made to you 25 years ago.

I, Mark, take you Matthew, to be my beloved have and to hold, from this day forward...for better, for worse...for richer of for sickness and in love and to cherish my whole life long. I give you this promise that I made to you 25 years ago.   
Because you have made your promises to one another...and have already sealed that promise with 25 good years...I declare that you are now married not only by the state of Pennsylvania...but also in the presence of God who celebrates the joy and wonder when two people come to this place.

Let us pray:

Lord God, we thank you for Matthew and Mark and for this special day in their lives. We also thank you for every tributary along the way that has brought them to this good place. Be with them in all the days to come...keep them safe from danger and may your promised goodness and mercy follow them all the days of their lives. Amen.

[i] Wallace Stegner, The Spectator Bird (New York: Doubleday, 1976) p. 213

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Facebook--I love you--Almost

photo by Dimtris Kalogeropoylos/ flickr
Lud-dite. (lud/it) n, a member of any organizations of various bands of workmen in England (1811-1816) organized to destroy manufacturing machinery, under the belief that its use diminished employment.

I am beginning to believe that we ought to bring back the Luddite movement. Here’s what we could do—smash—and I do mean smash—smart phones and the cheaper not-so-smart-phones that (poor things) can’t access apps. I would also almost include I-pads but because I am addicted I will have to let this invention slide by without destruction. But I will add I-pods to the list. I have my second one. The first one I dropped into the commode and baptizing it did not only--not make it more religious—but the little cursed instrument flat quit working. So—I ordered a used one on Amazon which came with someone else’s name engraved on the back. I cranked up my laptop—my desktop was acting strange—found I Tunes and tried desperately to upload NPR, jazzy music, etc.

 For the life of me I could not understand how to upload. So—a trip to the Apple Store about twenty miles away. The guy was extremely helpful. He wanted to know what version of I-Pod I had. I only thought the Holy Bible came in versions. I was stumped. Like a good Apple employee he was nice but I could see in his eyes that he was dealing with a Luddite—even though I don’t think he knew what that meant. He gave me some pointers and so I went home—cranked up I Tunes and guess what? My shenanigans did not work. So—I am sweating at the Rec Center without the diversion of NPR or my jazzy 1960’s music. (Not contemporary Christian!)

I can’t disengage myself from my computers—my lap top that works fairly good or my Desktop which works some time. Except when I try to print something out my computer sends me to Fax and I have to choose another option. Wait, wait that’s not all. Then I have to turn the printer off and let it rest for just a minute—turn it back on and ta-dah—it works most of the time. I can’t get rid of my computer because how else would I be able to bore you all with my rantings.

Anyway—yesterday I kept getting furtive messages from all over saying that somebody had hacked into my Facebook account and I had better check things out.  After calling my son who is no Luddite but a computer semi-whiz—he finally figured out that some creep had hacked into my Facebook account—made yet another Facebook page for me...and was sending stuff all over the creation. So he patiently helped me erase the hacker’s furtive work. Then I had to change my Password yet again. Which means when I do crank up Facebook next time I will have no unearthly idea what my new Password is.

photo by Kaylynstar / flickr
I could stop here and talk about the multitude of Passwords I have procured- just trying not to get hacked. This is dizzying. This is my second time to be hacked on my Facebook account—and I want even get into the spam, the erectile dysfunction (!!) ads that keep coming up (How did they know?) and those little gremlins always on the edge of the computer and just salivating to get in and destroy all my precious stuff.

So I now have only one Facebook account—so friends and neighbors you can contact me and not be scared of what might happen to your computer or Facebook or Password or I-Phone or whatever.

Come to think of it, I cannot be a full-fledged Luddite. I loooooove my computers—sorta—but I am not exactly like that man in the film,  “Her” where this character actually falls in love with an imaginary character on his computer. (Where do these ideas come from?) So—I will keep trying to figure out what Password goes where...hoping I can duck the hackers...and hope that somewhere out there in la-la land—somebody might find a little something that helps and not hurts when you go to my Facebook or Blog Page.

And to all those out there who let me know I had been are way, way up there in my book. Expect multitudinous pictures from the Lovette clan—I know you cannot wait.


A semi-Luddite

                                                       RogerLovette /

Friday, June 20, 2014

War--When Will We Ever Learn?

photo by lightsqueeze/ / flickr
Where have all the young men            gone? 
Where have all the young men            gone?
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?"
       --Folk Song  

As the war in Iraq is heating up yet again—it’s time to ponder what we ought to do. It is heart breaking to see that troubled land still in total disarray and chaos. People there have not known anything their whole lives but war and terror and bloodshed and death.

Funny—but the same people who led the charge for war in 2003 are at it again. The newspapers reports and the pundits are everywhere saying we should or we shouldn’t move our troops back into Iraq. The loudest voices seem to be saying should.

Colin Powell said once of the Iraq war: “If you break it you buy it.” Well—we certainly broke it and unfortunately we bought it. Estimates are that we have spent at least 1 trillion dollars on that war. That does not include the heartbreaking-human factor.  Nicholas Kristof writes: That 1 trillion dollars "is a $35,000 tax on the average American household. The total would be enough to ensure that all children could attend preschool in the United States, that most people with AIDS worldwide could receive treatment, and that every child worldwide could attend school—for the next 83 years. Instead, we financed a futile war that was like a Mobius strip, bringing us right back to an echo of where we started.”  The rest of the article is worth reading.

We cannot afford to help re-break Iraq. We have nearly bankrupted ourselves already in the trying.  Reports say that 500,000 Iraqi lives have been lost or broken. We have send back home 4,500 flag-draped caskets. Speaking of the rants toward the VA—most rightly deserved--the poor soldiers broken and wounded and their families have gotten lost in the shuffle. As we think of that terrible expression “boots on the ground” we need to remember all those that have come home that will never be the way they were when young and hopeful they served for us. 

At the beginning of the Gulf War in 2003—we were in Oxford for a month. Protests were running high. I think they must have remembered their parents mostly talking about the bombs that fell on London and other parts of England for over 70 days. But what I remember is the window of a little row house I passed by. On one of the panes were these words: “War is not the way.” As the old protest song is still haunting: 'When will we ever learn...when will we ever learn?”

Iraq Memorial outside Boston Church
photo by Dixie Lawrence / flickr

--Roger Lovette /