Tuesday, October 6, 2015

PayDay Loans : Second Stanza

photo by david ten have / flickr

It happens at my house about three times a week. The phone rings. On the other end a voice exclaims: “You are so lucky! You have been approved for a $500.00 loan.” Calling the number I was told that I could get up to a $1,750.00 loan. I could be approved in less than ten minutes.

Imagine being desperate for money. Imagine having lost your job. Imagine having a wife needing to go to the hospital and you don’t have enough money. Imagine a husband dies and you wonder where the burial expenses will come from. Imagine being a soldier overseas and your car at home has been repossessed. Imagine a divorcee whose husband has not paid what he promised and you and your three children have no money for groceries or rent.

So you receive the phone call I received. Desperate for money for car repairs, utility bills, or money to pay your rent—you give the information over the telephone.The money is electronically deposited in your checking account. You have the money you need. Prayers answered. Not really. Payday loans get a lot of people in trouble. 80 % of these loans will be extended because they could not pay the borrowed money back in two weeks. So they either roll over the loan, refinance or take out another loan with another company. One-third of the $46 billion paid into payday loans annually comes from borrowers who take out as many as 11 loans in one year.  The Center for Responsible Lending has said “most of the business model is based on repeat borrowers.”

Payday loan agencies say that all their customers have to do is read the fine print when they take out a loan. Many do not. Consequently the interest in many cases sky rockets. Typically payday users pay $15.00 for every $100.00 for a two-week loan. That sounds like 15%. Not true. On an annual basis the borrow rate is 391%. The interest rate on a typical credit card is 12 to 30%. 

How does South Carolina fare with this issue? The Aiken Standard reported that in 2014 128,000 citizens took out more than 1 million payday loans in our state. Borrowers collectively paid $60.4 million in fees.  This may sound bad but we have done better than many states. In 2009 the South Carolina state law tightened the rampant abuse in this industry. We have gone from 1100 payday loan offices to over 300 across the state today.

What can be done about this problem that is ruining the lives of so many of our citizens? In 2009 many of our Senators wanted to abolish the industry altogether. The Aiken Standard quotes State Senator Luke Rankin as saying that “Unfortunately, people are paying way too much for credit, and our state is sanctioning it. People are being preyed upon. The profits on this are tremendous.” We need to change this picture.

Payday loan officials say they are providing a service for people that cannot get money from other institutions. This is right. But to charge astronomical interest rates is destructive to people everywhere. Jobs are lost, cars are repossessed, people who cannot pay their rent are left homeless. Some propose a cap of 36% interest for these loans. The Appleseed Legal Justice Center has said that we need to look at better ways to promote affordable credit that doesn’t trap people in debt. 

Almost every religious group teaches that that lending money at exorbitant rates goes counter to everything faith teaches. In a state as religious as South Carolina we need to remember what Jesus said. “Inasmuch as you do it unto the lest of these you do it to me.”  It is not hard to believe what Jesus would say about any state that allows any financial institution to charge its citizens 300-500% interest rates. 

photo by Molly Marshall / flickr
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogsplot.com

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kim Davis and the Pope

photo by Julia  Ortiz / flickr

When I read where Kim Davis, the anti-gay marriage icon was having a secret meeting with the Pope I said, "What?" Why would the Pope meet with this woman who has become a symbol of hatred toward gays and gay marriage? She made headlines weeks ago when as County Clerk she turned away gay couples trying to get a marriage license in her Kentucky county. Opponents of gay marriage are hauling out their flags and saying: "See...see--even the Pope is against this terrible law."

As I settled down--some--and thought further about this issue I have changed my mind. This Pope keeps everyone surprised. He has washed the feet of people with AIDS. He has spoken strongly for the poor and the marginalized. Homeless people love him. He has visited prisons . He even stopped his Fiat the other day tin Philadelphia to touch and pray for a little boy with cerebral palsy. His parents will never forget that moment. Weeks ago when asked about gays the Pope replied, "Who am I to judge!"

Do we liberals think have a corner on religion, the Pope or diversity? The very word Pope means "bridge builder." Pope Francis has taken out his hammer, nails and saw and began to do what few Popes have done. He is reaching out to all kinds of people. Labels mean little to him. Such actions make for a better world.

Back to Kim Davis. Like the ten-year old boy with cerebral palsy--Pope Francis sees Kim Davis as a child of God. Yes she has been married four times. Twice to the same man.Yes she has had two children out of wedlock. Yes she has stood in her Clerk's office and turned gay couples away that came to get a marriage license. She said"No!" when when the law of the land has said: "Yes!" She is not one of my favorite people. But maybe the Pope in having a private meeting with Mrs. Davis is teaching we liberals a lesson we sometimes forget. Jesus loves everybody. He took time for everybody. Even the politically incorrect.

I am sure the people who arranged this meeting hope to make hay out of a very human response of the Pope. I can just hear politicians already getting on their soapboxes and yelling: "See...even the Pope hates gay Marriage."

Forget these folk. When the dust has settled--Kim Davis will look at the black rosary the Pope gave her. She will not remember the visits of Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz to her Kentucky county. She will not even remember the people who have used her for their own cause. No. She will always remember that once upon a time a very great Christian man--known the world over--called her name, prayed for her and treated here like a real human being.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, September 25, 2015

Taking Our Country Back--to Where?

photo by pieter mustard / flickr
"Carry me Back to old Virginia,
There's where the cotton and the corn and taters grow,
There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime,
There's where this old darkey's heart am long'd to go."
                   --James Bland

Donald Trump is not the only one wanting "to take our country back." We've been hearing this manta now for quite some time. Mostly the longing comes from politicians--but I have also heard it from pulpits and some editorialists that surprise me. It has a powerful ring: "take my country back."

Back to where, please tell me.
To slavery days. 
No, not that far.
To the days when women could not vote. 
Well, not there either.
To segregation and separate but equal.
That's not exactly what I had in mind.
Maybe back to those days when we incarcerated the Japanese in California.
That was a mite excessive.
Maybe back to the draft when everybody had to go--even politician's sons.
We don't need the draft.
Maybe World War II when men and women were shipped overseas and some did not come home for three years or more.
I said we don't need the draft.
Maybe back to pre-social security days when we didn't spend so much money.
We couldn't do without social security.
Maybe those great days when the government didn't stick their noses into our groceries and our 
  medicines and education was one-room for those that could go.
We don't want to go back to that. 
Perhaps those days not too long ago when gays kept their mouths shut, didn't hold hands in the street 
and stayed in the closet.
Well, at least marriage was for one man and one woman.
Maybe at least go back to the Vietnam days when 50,000 of our own came home in boxes.
Nobody would advocate that., No draft, I said.
Maybe before transgender bubbled to the surface.
We'd be just as well off without all that. It's confusing.
Maybe having a white man in the White House.
At least people wouldn't wonder where he was born.
Maybe women not working outside the home and staying home with the kids.
Well, it sure helped.
Maybe we go back to when we didn't want any Jews or Nee-groes or Irish or Italians not to speak of     Mexicans, for goodness sake.
We know that is going much too far. I'm Irish myself. But we do need more wall.
Maybe go back to the Hitler days when we turned back Jewish refugee ships and sent them home to die.
You know that's not what I mean.
Maybe the Depression days when money was just about nonexistent and everybody stayed home.
God, nobody would wish for that.

Remember those words that come from the Bible. Have we forgotten?

""In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt? 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.'"

But Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.'"

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Catholics, Muslims and Other Heretics

photo by Jeffrey Bruno Aleteia / flickr
Growing up in Columbus, Georgia about two miles down the street was the Baptist Tabernacle. The Pastor was Parson Jack Johnson. You could count on Parson Jack to be against almost everything. Eisenhower was a Communist and so were several members of his cabinet. The Reds we're everywhere. Of course the nig-ras...not the word he used--had no "bid-ness" even thinking of going to our schools or riding on the front of the bus or, perish the thought, raping our women. We had to keep them in their place. But a great deal of the Parson's ire was focused on Rome and the Papist heresies. The Priests had their girlfriends. There were unmarked graves behind their convents and monasteries where they buried their illegitimate babies. But the most frightening thing he told the whole town was that the Catholics kept guns in the basement of every church and one day they rise and take over our country unless we were vigilant.

So even though I did not go to the Parson's church--and even then he was considered a maverick--his message of hate seeped into our community. Not only were we told we couldn't date Catholics but marriage was out of the question. Why the Priest would say all your children would have to be baptized--we called it sprinkled--and they would be brainwashed by the Catholic Church and be forever lost. And we knew where that would lead.

Along the way I met some Catholics. Why the Editor of our High School paper was Catholic. Shirley didn't have horns, she didn't seem so different from us--in fact she was a smart girl and a delight to be around. Maybe she was responsible for making me begin to wonder about my Catholic prejudice. But she was the first of many along the way.

And so as Pope Francis moves through his first visit to America--the crowds that greet him everywhere are astounding. Parson Jack--if he were living--would pitch a fit. Well, he wouldn't be the only one. Senators and Congressmen and some citizens are scared of what the Pope just might say to our country. Before he got here he visited Cuba--of all places--and even met with the Castros! The Cuban people lined the streets with joy and wonder as Pope Francis passed by.   He complimented President Obama and the United States for opening the door to Cuba which had been closed for at least fifty years.

The Pope has already shaken up his church and many of his managers are shaking their heads. He seems to be unmanageable. Name almost any issue that affects people: Global warming, birth control, divorce, gay folk and his great heart aching for all those refugees. He is going to prick the conscience of those of us sitting comfortably in our dens listening to his moral challenges. Why he has said that if every parish would take in one refugee family we could begin to deal with this crisis. He is giving hope to Catholics that have been disenfranchised from their church for ages. This Pope is also giving hope to people around the world. He is saying the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to follow its Lord and his strong commands. Strange gospel, indeed.

I'd be surprised if he did not say something about Muslims. ISIS is scary indeed. Sharia law would
photo by See Tefl / flickr
take us back to the Middle ages.  But most Muslims are not terrorists. There is so much about their faith that I do not understand--but to paint all Muslims as our enemies would be wrong indeed. Mr.Trump,  Mr. Carson have both used the Muslim card. Well, we aren't sure where this black President was really born and we don't need a Muslim in the White House--wink, wink. I don't want to bash Republicans particularly--but why are so many of the other candidates silent on this issue. After 9/11 President Bush reminded us that we should not paint all Muslims with the same dark brush. It was one of his finest moments in a very hard time.

Is it really in the spirit of America--not to speak of the church--to make these folk who work in our towns, walk down our streets and buy groceries with us--feel safe, Why they have done no more to deserve our ire than the neighbors next door. The Christian faith is supposed to say welcome--not just as an evangelistic tool--but common decency.

There are a whole lot of outsiders around us. Some are Hispanic, some are poor, some never had the chance that we have had. Sometimes the Christian faith is a hard business. "I was a stranger and you took me in..." cannot be revised or amended. It is part of a Constitution a whole lot older than the US document. And God bless Pope Francis and the United States of America. God bless the whole wide world.

    --Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogsplot.com

Thursday, September 17, 2015

American-Christian / Christian-American?


                       "Love of country is a wonderful thing, but why should it stop at the border?"  
                                                            --Pablo Casals                                  

Driving by this church this morning--I wonder if any member of the church realizes how incongruous
this picture is.

What happens when an Hispanic walks into the church...or someone from China or Korea...or even one of the Middle Eastern countries? Would they feel at home?

Old-time Baptists would never put national flags outside their churches--if they had a building. They knew that Church and State were separate. Coming out of England where all the ministers had to be approved by the State...where all the citizens would have to give to the church coffers whether they liked them or not--these dissenters moved to America hoping to live in a land free from the state when it came to church. Well, we really know the rest of the story.

The hymn that reads:"In Christ there is no East or West, in Him no north our South"--was not talking about the geography of America--but the universality of the gospel.

Consequently we don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist--or wear any other label to be a Christian. I love the story about the teacher in a Church school in California. He asked the students if they were Christians. One teen-ager raised her hand and said, "Yes, I'm an American." When we blend American and Christian we get a strange and heretical brew.

Russell Moore has written a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times asking "Have Evangelcals Lost Their Values?" You might want to read it.

                                                   --Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When We Face Stormy Weather

photo by Liam Kernel / flickr
"Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within, and if ever we are to find true shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness and need for true shelter that we have to start."
----Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Someone asked a woman on a ship if she liked storms at sea. She said, "No--I don't like storms at sea--but I do like having moved through storms at sea." From time to time most of us have to deal with stormy weather. Unless we love disruption--nobody likes troubled waters.

I'm not talking about the Weather Channel or the temperature--I'm talking about a subject far different. Right now I'm leading a Grief group of people who have lost wives, husbands,  parents and partners. They are in the middle of stormy weather. How they respond to this very hard time--will determine their futures really. Losing someone we love is one of the hardest things we have to go through. None of us are immune. We can also add old age, bad lab reports, broken relationships, failures, depression, fear and whole lot of other things. Stormy weather, indeed.

How do we move through our storms? Our culture teaches us to fix our problems and if we cannot fix our difficulties--at least we learn better techniques, use more advanced technology--control whatever we face.

Guess what? There are a great many things that we cannot control. Our culture has little to say about these storms. Look at the folk in California who have lost their houses in the fire that just happened. Hundreds of homes have burned to the ground. I read where a man in a neighboring town just shot a retired coach and one of his friends as they walked down the street. My good friend just learned that he has a disease that nobody seems to understand--not even the doctors--he is going through a frightening time. We are told that we can manage about everything. The old saying: "There's nothing that me and God together can't handle."

Tell that to the grievers, those who have lost houses or jobs or don't know what to do with the unending bills they cannot pay. Stormy weather. And the advice to: "walk through the storm with our head held high..." is just not enough to get us through all these things we cannot control.

The Apostle Paul, veteran of more storms that he could even remember said: "We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..."If you read a little further he tells them what he has said over and over: "We do not lose heart." And then he gives the secret--but not a fix--"We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal."

We are not storm chasers they seem to me to be a little crazy. But the challenge is to be a storm facer. Not storm deniers. Barbara Brown Taylor says there are a whole lot of churches today whose message is: "full solar spirituality." They believe we can stay in the light of God around the clock. Taylor believes we can learn to walk in the dark.

That's why I sit in a circle week after week listening to the stories of people who have lost someone they love. This is why I believe, despite all the craziness we cannot control--maybe the old song is right after all: "We really do not walk alone."

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11 - Remembering the Fallen

Wendell Berry has a poem:" Come to the Window and look out" That's what I want to do this sad day of remembering.

One year ago I walked through the World Trade Center Museum. What I remember most were the faces...all the faces that were lost that day.

We are told that of the several attacks that day 2,996 lost their lives.

Besides the people in the buildings and the planes also killed were:

343 Firefighters
37 Port Authority Policeman
23 Police Officers
2   Paramedics

Come to the window and look out. 

American service members killed in Afghanistan: 4,493
  Total service members wounded 100,000
  Vets with Brain injuries 320,000
   18 vets commit suicide daily

American service members killed in Afghan war: 2,361
    20,051 Service members wounded in action

Iraqi death toll of civilians : 500,000
Afghan civilians killed: 142,659-164,530

Come to the window and look out.

These figures do not include family members whose lives were torn from the roots this day 14 years  ago.
These figures do not include all those who worked tirelessly in the wreckage to rescue people only to find themselves sick and many disabled for life.

Come to the window and look out.

Statistics do not include the anger and the rage and a nation that somehow cannot come together on any issue that matters.
A country that will spend billions of dollars to elect someone to the highest office in the land.
A country that will still be divided by race, gender, status, rich,  poor, immigrants, refugees and people of several different religions or no religion.

Wendell Berry ends his poem:

"Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees, 
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes."

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com