Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memorial Day--My Favorite Story

(I have told this story many times and written about it in several newspapers. It appears in this week's Greenville News (SC). I share it once again because it has so much to say to us all.)

As this Memorial Day approaches I remember a powerful scene that expresses what I feel about this day. It comes from a book by the Kentucky writer, Bobbie Ann Mason. The book is called In Country and told a Memorial Day story in very human terms. The central figure in the story was Sam who lived in this tiny town in western Kentucky. Sam was conceived while her Daddy was home on leave but died in Vietnam before Sam was born. All her life she heard stories about her Daddy, Dwayne and tales about the in Southeast Asia. Emmett, a good friend of the family was also in that war and kept telling Sam about her Daddy and what a hard time it was. He told about many soldiers he knew who never came home. He also told her about all the Vietnam veterans who were on the streets or were crippled in mind or body. Sam took it all in and kept fantasizing about a Daddy she wished she had known.

Emmett decided one day that it would be a good thing to take Sam and her grandmother, Mamaw to see the Vietnam Memorial. He wanted them to see her father’s name on the monument.  So one morning they got in Sam’s old car and drove to Washington. It took a long time. Mamaw brought a geranium to leave at the Memorial.  Finally they got to Washington, fought the traffic, and found the sign which read: Viet Nam Veterans Memorial and an arrow pointing the way. Parking was a real problem but they found a spot on a side street. They got out of the car and helped Mamaw up the path to see the Memorial.

And there it was. A black slab that just looked like it emerged from the ground. It was massive and held the names of the 58,000 men and women who had died in Vietnam.  That huge black slab was nothing like they thought. Name after name really told the story of those that had died in the war. People were everywhere. All ages. Some were kneeling and touching the Wall. Some brought notes and flowers. An old vet dressed in army fatigues held his hand over his mouth as he scanned the names. A woman wiped her face with a handkerchief. 

Emmett, Sam and Mamaw found the directory that told where all the names were. They finally found Dwayne’s name and the direction to where his name was. They found the section where the name was to be but there were so many names. They keep looking and way up high they saw the name: Dwayne E. Hughes. They just stood there looking up. Emmett took the Geranium from MaMaw and knelt down and placed it at the base of the granite panel. Mamaw said, “Oh, I wish I could touch it.” So Sam rescued a ladder from some workmen nearby, opened it. Slowly they helped Mamaw up rung after rung. She found the name of her grandson. Ever so slowly she reached up and touches his name. The old woman ran her hand over his name etched in granite. She didn’t say a word. After a long time she said, “Hep me down.” 

Then it was Sam’s turn. She climbed up and touched the name of the Daddy she never knew. When she backed down the ladder Mamaw clutched her arm and said, “Coming up on this wall of a sudden and seeing how black it was, it was so awful, but then I came down in it and saw that white carnation blooming out of that crack and it gave me hope. It made me know he’s watching over us.”

This ought to be a day for memories. Remembering all those that have died for us and for this country. Remembering all the brave soldiers of all the professions who have worked and dreamed and labored and lived and loved. We would be different people were it not for some soldier, some teacher, some Mamaw—some person whose name is not inscribed on anybody’s wall—but it etched on the wall of our hearts. None of them died in vain. Take a few moments and remember all the fallen. It is touching time—running our memories over the names and the faces of all those who have made a difference in our lives. 
--Roger Lovette /

Memorial Day 2016 - A Challenge

Prophets come in different voices. This Memorial Day Sebastian Junger offers us a challenge.
He spent 15 months living with our troops in a single platoon in one of the most dangerous outposts of the Afghan war. Out of that experience he has told the story in his powerful book, War.  Since that time he has produced two documentaries about our wars there. iHe knows what he is talking about.

Now he has published another book about our veterans coming home called Tribe. And this is where he rises to the level of a prophet. He writes that we at home need to clean up our act for the sake of returning troops. During months of combat, he writes, "soldiers all but ignored differences of race, religion and politics within their platoons." They come back home to a country torn apart. They hear incredible contempt about the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the President or the entire U.S. government. These returning troops are surprised to find a war going on at home.

Junger writes that those veterans who have been willing to die for their country are not sure they know how to lived in America 2016.  In today's toxic political climate he says those who come back--many wounded and crippled--look around at a world gone crazy. The writer says this is a prescription for deep despair. No wonder PTSD is epidemic for these veterans coming home. Small wonder the suicide rate among these soldiers particularly is high.

They left a war-torn world where they bonded, where they were a band of brothers and sisters--despite whatever differences they had. They fought side by side for a common cause. Back home--many must wonder what happened. Community--our commonality--seems to have vanished. Those members of the same tribe over there find little ties that bind here at home. Mr.  Junger says that our personal loyalties have shrunk to the size of a teacup. There is little regard for what is collectively ours. We litter. We fudge on our taxes. Medical providers defraud  Medicare. Pay day loans rip-off too many.

Somehow we have forgotten that we are all in the same boat. If we revolt, kill one another off--refuse to work together--the boat is going no where. Maybe this Memorial Day we could stop and think of a multitude of ways we might just lower the temperature and unite our little tribe whoever they are.

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dying Republican Senator Apologizes for Trump

photo by Michael Daugherty / flickr
ThinkProgress has a provocative article about a Republican Utah Senator who lay dying tihs Spring. Before he died he said he wanted to apologize particularly to Muslims on behalf of his party for Mr. Trump's comments continually about them. Read the last will and testament of this conservative Republican statesman in his last days. Jack Jenkins wrote the article.

We need two strong political parties in this country. Neither is perfect by a long shot. I don't know many saints that have run for the office as President. But I don't think Hillary Clinton is accusing Mr. Trump of being a drug dealer or even a murderer. He keeps saying "We just don't know..."to a great many problems and issues. If we don't know why don't we keep our mouths shut.

The beginning of keeping America great is the old fashioned word, civility. We treat each other with respect despite our differences. This is not the first presidential campaign to get down and dirty--but what we hear almost every day does not help the common cause of us all.

Wendell Berry makes me think in this strange time:

"The nation is a boat, 
as some have said, ourselves
its passengers. How troubling 
now to ride it drifting 
down the flow from the old 
high vision of dignity, freedom, 
holy writ of habeas corpus, 
and the land's abundance--down
to waste, want, fear, tyranny,
torture, caricature
of vision in a characterless time, 
while the abyss whirls below."
   --Wendell Berry, Leavings, p. 83

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Can You Make a Difference?

photo by Dana / flickr

I want to read one of Jesus’ parables to you today. It’s a parable about the Kingdom—the Kingdom of God. And embedded in this story are four words that describe what God’s kingdom really is like. Can you find the four words? "And again he said, 'To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.'"(Luke 13.20-21)

Have you already picked out the words? They are: Leaven. Hid. Flour. All. 


Funny, this first word: leaven. For most of the time when this word is used in the Bible it refers to something evil and not good. Jesus warns them to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." That leaven spoiled everything. The Pharisees were really the cold water brigade. Whenever things seemed to be going right they would come up and spoil it all. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and they were furious. More concerned about the law than the man's health. He healed you on the Sabbath? How many steps did you take? Don't you realize that he has broken God's law. They just got out their buckets and poured cold water over the whole thing. Again and again. 

At the end of one sermon I was standing at my customary place at the back door shaking hands. And a  man came by followed with his
photo by Martha Soukup / flickr
wife and daughter. I could tell by the way he looked that he was upset. He was red-faced and angry. He took a bucket and just doused me. This is what he said: "That was the worst sermon I have ever heard. Here are all these students here and you didn't even approach the gospel." They turned and stalked down the steps. The man turned back and yelled: "We won't be back!" I just stood there cold and clammy. The cold water brigade. The Pharisees had it down to an art form. Jesus said beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. For they were always the cold water brigade. Hurting—not helping.

Paul, when he wrote to Corinth, talked about an ugly, ugly word: leaven. He spit it out. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven ..." And he defines what that kind of leaven is when he talked to Corinth. The leaven of malice and evil, insincerity and falsehood. (I Cor. 5.6-7) Leaven can destroy the whole thing.

 But Jesus takes this word which meant nothing good and dusted it off, polished it with brasso and made it shine. “To whom shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven…” “Leaven?” they asked. Jesus whispered: "Leaven." They thought he had lost his mind. Leaven, they knew was a bad thing.  

That same Sunday I stood shaking hands and another man came by, followed by his daughter and I guess his wife. He could not have been nicer about the sermon. And you know what they said? “Our daughter has been coming here for three years. And this church means so much to her. And she loves your sermons. We just love visiting here.” They didn’t know what the other man had just said. But they were bringing the kind of leaven Jesus was talking about. I needed it and they provided it. I wished I had told them to go on out and meet that other man in the parking lost and compare notes—but I didn’t.

Leaven was small, Jesus said. And the disciples responded, “Well, it couldn’t be very important if it is that small.” And Jesus said, "No. No. You are missing the point and I haven't even started the parable." They did not understand. Small was always unimportant. But how wrong they were. He had already told them the kingdom was like a seed. Tiny and inconsequential. He had already lifted up a little child, with smudges on her face and said, "This is what the kingdom is like." Had they forgotten all that? Had they already forgotten that He took time for the poor and the little people? Had they forgotten how he treated the disenfranchised and the dispossessed? People like tax collectors and nameless women--even prostitutes. He said they all counted. And so he continued. "The kingdom is like leaven." Little. Small. Tiny and very, very unassuming. Leaven can make a difference and so can we.


But let’s look at the second word embedded in this parable. The word is hidden. The word can mean buried or invisible. Leaven can be hidden in the dough of life.

That leaven was yeast that the cook worked into the dough. When the yeast is hidden in the dough it matters. You can't see it working, but it matters. That yeast, that leaven was a penetrating force that made a difference. 
And so he spoke to the disciples and to the church so little and so tottery. It matters what you do. Work it in--that yeast you hold in your hands. Take what you have and knead it into the kingdom. 

How does it work? My wife used to make sour dough bread. She would take the yeast and knead it into the dough. Then she would cover it with a cloth and leave it overnight. The next morning when I used to come down to breakfast there would be this wonderful smell all over the house. And the dough had risen into this huge loaf.

It wouldn't happen without the kneading. Remember this second word, hidden. You roll up your sleeves and mix the yeast into the dough well. If the kneading is not well-done, if the  leaven does not permeate the dough the loaf will be lumpy and flat. But when it is thoroughly kneaded the yeast lightens the dough. It is filled with thousands of tiny pockets of carbon dioxide. And these pockets of gas cause the bread to rise because they expand when they are heated.

Do you see any similarity between that story and our own stories? We bring what we have our time, our talents and our money. knead it into his kingdom's work. Jesus said the leaven makes a difference when we knead it. Hidden, that’s the word. Nobody may not know it but you—but what you do makes a difference.


photo by kyle Strickland / flickr
Now we come to the third word. Flour. This parable talks about three measures of flour. This was a lot of flour. Three measures represented a bushel of flour. Capon says that is 128 cups. That is 16 five pound bags of flour. You then have to add 42 cups of water. And all this makes 101 pounds of dough. And Capon said this was no 95 pound housewife. This was a huge woman--look at those arms. It would take work to pound that much dough to make bread. 

Now what does all this mean? If we do our work and if we do it properly there's going to be enough. Enough to go around. That's the meaning of the 101 pounds of dough. The leaven touched it all. 

And what we have here in the gospel is a strange arithmetic. We hide our gifts and our talents into some cause and we are not poorer. We grow richer, maybe not on the outside, but we grow spiritually. Like the roots of a tree sunk deep into the ground.


Now for the fourth word in the parable. All.  "It was like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." All. This is a great mystery. A miracle. 101 pounds of dough. How many loaves would that make? I am not sure. I cannot count that high.

Remember the story of the loaves and the fishes that on that hillside of five thousand not a single one went away hungry. Not just the deserving, whatever that means. All. The little boy did what he could and God did the rest. All were filled and when they took up what was left over they could hardly carry the baskets to the Master's feet. That’s why we go to Haiti. That’s why we go out from here to build somebody a ramp and hang sheetrock for somebody who can’t afford it. Sometimes paint a house for somebody who cannot do it themselves. Of course Jesus did not feed everybody that was hungry—but he took what the boy brought—and worked a miracle in somebody’s life—-a whole lot of somebody’s. And we can take what we have and make a difference too. That’s what the story means.

I heard Tony Campolo tell this story that a woman in Chesapeake, Virginia told him. There was a school teacher named Miss Jean Thompson. Each September when school started Miss Thompson greeted each new class the same way: “Boys and girls, I love you all the same. I have no favorites.” Of course, it wasn’t exactly the truth. Every teacher has favorites. But she was determined to treat every student alike. 

photo by Sgt.1st Class Jeff Troth / flickr
Teddy Stallard was a boy Miss Thompson just did not like. She had good reasons. He was sullen and slouched down in his seat. When she spoke to him she only got a “yeah” or “nah” from him. His clothes were musty. Britches almost down to his knees. His hair was unkempt. He was unattractive in just about every way. Whenever she graded Teddy’s papers she got a perverse delight out of putting X’s next to the wrong answers. And when she put the “F” at the top of his papers, she always did it with a flair. She should have  known better. Teachers have records, and she had records on Teddy.

First grade: Teddy shows promise with his word and attitude, but poor home situation. 

Second grade: Teddy is a good boy, but he is too serious for a second grade. His mother is terminally ill.

Third grade: Teddy is  becoming withdrawn and detached. His mother died this year.  His father shows no interest.
Fourth grade: Teddy is a troubled child. He needs help. 

Christmas came and the children brought presents to Miss Thompson and piled them on her desk. They crowded around that afternoon as she opened her presents. They were all wrapped in beautiful paper all except Teddy’s. His was wrapped in brown wrapping paper and held together with Scotch tape. She was surprised he even brought a present.

When she tore open his present there fell out a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a half-empty bottle of cheap perfume. The other children began to giggle, but Miss Thompson snapped on the bracelet and put some of the perfume on her wrist and behind her ear. She said: “Isn’t the bracelet lovely, and don’t I smell good.”

At the end of the day when all the other kids had left, Teddy came over to her desk. “Miss Thompson, all day today you smelled just like my mother used to smell. That’s her bracelet you’re wearing. It looks very nice on you. I’m real glad you liked my presents.” After he left she got down on her knees and cried and cried and asked God to forgive her.

The next day the class had a new teacher. Not really. But Miss Thompson was a changed person. She cared in ways the old teacher had not cared. She reached out in ways the old teacher had not. She spent time with children like Teddy. She nurtured and encouraged and helped tutor him and others who needed special attention. By the end of the school year Teddy had caught up with the other children and was ahead of some of them.

He moved away and Miss Thompson forgot about him. Then one day out of the blue there came this letter.

Dear Miss Thompson, I am graduating from high school. I wanted you to be the first to know. Love, Teddy Stallard.

There was no address. But four years later there was another note and it read:

Dear Miss Thompson, I want you to be the first to know. I’m second in my class.  The university has not been easy, but I really liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard.

And four years later there was still another letter.

Dear Miss Thompson, As of today I am Theodore J. Stallard, MD! How about that! I wanted you to be the first to know. I’m going to be married the 27th of July to be exact. I want you to come and I want you to sit where my mother would have sat. You’re the only family I have now. Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard.

And Miss Thompson went to the wedding. And she sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat..because she deserved to be there.

Do you think Jesus might have had Miss Thompson in mind when he gave us this parable: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 

I think he did. I really think he did. 

photo by cobalt123 / flickr

Description of flour and dough from Robert Farrar Capon. The Parables of the Kingdom, p.122

Story of Teddy Stallard from Tony Campolo,  Let Me Tell You A Story,  pp.167-169

(This sermon preached at The First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC , May 22, 2016)

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mr. Trump and Jesus

photo by Gage Skidmore / flickr
Ordinarily I try to stay away from politics on this blog. If you are like me you want to turn off the TV and run away from it all. I am tired of hearing what Mr. Trump has to say--after all--it really is about him at every point. Every time he speaks it is Saturday Night Live. Remember the character that kept on saying: "He really likes me. He really, really likes me!" And if he/she doesn't like him or crosses swords with him all hell breaks loose and the media is right there salivating and recording every pathetic rant. Somebody said the other day this is not politics--this is entertainment. I remember one political candidate several years ago that was so pious that he dripped. And I remember thinking: "We are not electing a Pastor--we're electing a President--or should." Well now I have been thinking "We are not electing an entertainer--we're electing a President." The two are poles apart.

I have been ashamed of many evangelicals (yet again ) that ought to know better. So many of good folk who love their kids and their country--have fallen hook, line and especially sinker over Donald Trump. "Well...we don't particularly like him but if he can do something about the economy or maybe just 'do something' --he will be a good President." Huh? The man is morally bankrupt. And we still wonder why he won't release his tax returns like all the others have done through the years. If he  changes his mind as often as he has changed his ideas on just about everything--we'd be in big trouble. He has spent months bashing Muslims about all kinds of things--and just this week he said about them:" Oh this was just a suggestion."  Cokie Roberts, not exactly a wide-eyed liberal said on TV the other day: "We can't  have anyone in that office with his attitudes toward Muslims and others. Why kids all over the country are saying terrible things to the Muslims whose desk is right across from theirs. Not to speak of his attitude toward women." The President sets the pace for the rest of us--and if we re going to enter a time when we are mean and cruel and keep the lid off all the time--well, that would be a nightmare.

Wise man, Jim Wallis who is a committed Christian and has led us on many hard issues--has written a splendid piece that everybody--especially we Christians--ought to read. Read it for yourself. It makes sense and for me it makes good religion.

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, May 9, 2016

Another Word About Illegals

photo by Fibonacci Blue / flickr
This Immigration-Refugee issue
will not go away so easily. Eleven million plus still wait to see what we will do with them. American values are being tested and to date I do not like the outcome. But the struggle is far from over.

I wonder when the history of these stormy days are written what the history books will say about us?

So many Christians have no unearthly idea that Jesus' last parable-challenge: "I was a stranger and you took me in..." has anything whatsoever to do with where we are right now as a people. Selective reading of the Bible today as in other times--
pulls the teeth out of the gospel and leaves us weak and irrelevant.

The Church of Jesus Christ is not supposed to be only white, middle and upper class and waving its banner for only what suits our prejudices and our comfortability.  Remember how Jesus closed that parable: "Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these--you do it unto me. "

I recommend Robert Scheer's moving article, written for Mother's Day, about how frightened his immigrant mother was for years because she was afraid she might be deported. Her story could be repeated over and over in our time.

Those politicians who pander to hate and prejudice and our basest values--do not represent our better hopes and dreams. Read his words and weep. But more than that--pray and speak out for justice.

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mother's Day in Real Time

photo by Charlie O'Shields / flickr
Sunday is her day. Mothers will be inundated with flowers, perfumes, fancy soaps, candy, greeting cards, and corsages. Restaurants will be filled and running over. Amazon and UPS will do a booming business. Pews in churches will be packed with proud Mamas and her brood—some who have come from a long way and haven’t had a tie or hose on in years. The audience will be peppered with buttoners of white and red roses—depending on if your Mom is alive or not. Sermons will pull out all the heart strings and preachers will extol the wonders and joys of motherhood. 

photo by
Ewardo Fonseca Arraes /
But on Mother’s Day we forget all those who find the day hard. Those who were raised or abandoned by a Mother. Those who were abused or emotionally crippled by their troubled Mama. Those who tried again and again to have children and only experienced failure. Those women who years ago had an abortion and think daily about what if. Those others who gave away their child and wonder where they are and how they must look. And then there all those others who buried a child from Iraq, or an auto accident or drugs or suicide. 

Let’s bring Mother’s Day into the real world. If we want to make this day meaningful let us begin to honor all year long the women who birthed us. Let us ponder the mystery of how many of them did so much with so little through the years. Let us think of all those mothers who stand in front of steaming trays serving us or bringing our meals to the table. Let us remember all those who try to make do on minimum wages. Let us not forget that large number who have been abused sometimes for years by some husband or partner. Let us add all the male legislators who have proposed invasive techniques on rape victims, who intone piously about the tragedy of abortion not ever thinking of the pain and heartache of many of those decisions. Legislators that block family leave for new mothers, that sneer at all those who cannot live without their meagre food stamps. And we
photo by Jerry Lai / flickr
cannot leave out those who sit for hours on end in emergency rooms ashamed when asked what insurance policy they have. Let us remember all the women in the workforce who will be paid only about 75% of what their male counterparts make. And us not forget on this Mother’s Day weekend all those mothers around the world—some starving, some stoned and abandoned because they were raped. Many undocumented mothers scared daily they may be sent back to a place they fled in desperation. All those who never in all their lives have known anything but sickness and trouble and heartache.

Maybe this is a downer. But maybe we only have to look outside, watch TV or read a newspaper to know that this Mother’s Day is set down among a multitude of injustices toward women. We must move beyond the sentimentality of only thinking of only our good mother and what she did. I have been blessed by a woman who was as great a mother hen that you would ever find—yet we must not stop until we make provisions for all the women, mothers or not. I am very glad someone years ago decided to honor mothers with a special day—but we must now stretch its meaning and its power until all women are taken in and none are left out.

photo by Meesh Rheault Miller/ flickr

--Roger Lovette /