Monday, September 30, 2013

Universal Health Care--We Had A Dream

"Were our government for the people, we would have the best education in the world, universal health insurance, a decent sway of financing elections, and a massive commitment to sources of clean energy."
--William Sloane Coffin, in Credo

We are on the edge of a day like our country has not seen. 50 million citizens uninsured will have a chance at affordable health care. The fight has been long and hard.

  • Nine Presidents faced horrendous opposition to this effort and failed.*
  • President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law March 23, 2010
  • The fight goes on even after this Bill has become law.
  •  The Huffington Lost has pointed out that before this landmark health care reform law was passed since 2009 1,246 different organizations have registered to lobby Congress or the executive branch on the Affordable Care Act.
  • Lobbying groups $1.06 billion between 2009 and 2010 to defeat this bill.
  • Groups spent 126 million as the Supreme Court considered this bill.
  • Since the Health Care Bill was assigned into law groups have spent over $262 million on television advertisements.
  • Immediately after the bill’s passage the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity announced they would spend $9 million on an ad blitz campaign to oppose this ruling.
  • The House of Representatives have 42 times to rescind this law. Each effort failed.
  • About 36 states have refused to cooperate with this Bill.
  • South Carolina has at least 320,000 citizens uninsured citizens.
  • The state legislature has refused to cooperate with this Bill. 

When President Franklin Roosevelt the Social Security Bill this was the response of some of the opposition:
  • “Ultimate socialistic control of life and industry” –National Association of Manufacturers
  • “Industry has every reason to be alarmed at the social, economic, and financial implications...The dangers are manifest.” – A.P. Sloan, Chair General Motors
  • “Never in the history of the world has any measure brought in here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers, and to present any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.” – John Taber, Republican representative NY
  • “The last of the dictator will be felt.” – Daniel Reed, Republican representative from NY i

Change is disrupting. Remember giving women the right to vote. Remember setting limits on child labor. Remember Civil Rights. Remember Voting Rights. Every effort to support all the people has always met with enormous opposition. Remember.

[i] H.W. Brands, Traitor To His Class,  p. 311
*Those nine Presidents were: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. 

            --by Roger Lovette,

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Laugh Until it Hurts

I don't know a better medicine for any of us than a good laugh. I remember that Norman Cousins who was Editor of the then sophisticated, Saturday Review. He contacted a very serious illness and the doctors told him he did not have long to live. So he decided that he was going to prove the doctors wrong. After a brief stint in the hospital he checked himself into a hotel room. He said it was cheaper than the hospital (and this was years ago) and you could get some sleep at night. He heard somewhere that laughter was good for the soul and so he decided to make laughter part of his daily regimen. He got his wife to locate a whole cadre of the old Candid Camera re-runs that were on television. He would watch these for a while every day and just laugh and laugh. Cousins did not beat the serious disease he had--but he lived several years after the doctors said he would die. He told his story in a great book, Anatomy of an Illness. 

I've been co-teaching a class on aging with my Pastor the last few weeks. And he introduced me to Mary Maxwell.  Mary is this absolutely hilarious older lady. We showed clips from her YouTube segments to our class. I recommend them to anybody who needs a laugh which is, I guess just about all of us. Pull up YouTube and type in Mary Maxwell and--tah-day--there you are. And--happy laughing.

                                          by Roger Lovette:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Football Mania Comes to Town

The little town where I live holds 14,000 people. But it's a University town--filled with runners and bicyclists and filled-up bars and kids with enormous energy. Why there may even be some real live students among this number. Some faculty members are not all that what's academic and what's athletic.

Remember the old story of the two farmers that went down to the Court House to hear a politician plead for votes. One of the men turned to the other and said, "Well, what do you think?" And his sidekick said:" I didn't come here to think--I come here to holler." Well--on Football week-ends especially there is a whole lot of hollering.

Our stadium holds over 100,00 people--that's a lot of people for a little town. Then you can compute all those hanger-on's who come just to party (and holler) , tailgate and have fun. It was estimated that when Clemson players the University of Georgia there were upward to 150-200,000 people here. But the pageantry and the energy on ball-game days is absolutely infectious. Some say there is nothing like these rabid fans anywhere in the country.

My good friend and blogging buddy. Marion Aldridge has a great blog called, "Where the Pavement Ends." He is a Clemson graduate and to say he is a fan is an understatement. Today he wrote about football week-ends and the excitement that goes on. His blog is accompanied with a wonderful You Tube video of just what happens at the beginning of every home ball game. Check it out. It really worth seeing.

(Pardon my brag but I couldn't resist this great photo of one of two beautiful granddaughters.)

                                                         By Roger Lovette,

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is the Pope a Catholic?

If you walked two blocks from where I lived in a four-room house you would come to the bus stop. We had no car. So I guess I rode the bus down Second Avenue three miles to town a zillion times. Halfway there you could see a neon sign: Baptist Tabernacle. Parson Jack was the preacher and was known all over town. He was Chaplain of the KKK and hated Jews, Catholics and of course he said niggers. 

My little Baptist Church was not all that with-it—but we always thought even in the fifties that Parson Jack was a mite too rabid. I never stopped there but I do know the Parson reflected at least part of our Georgia culture too well.

 But in my Church even we were suspicious of all those Catholics. I never met one until I went to High School, but it was whispered that they were not real Americans and that they kept guns in the basement of every church. One day, when no one was looking they would haul out the guns and take over the country. Crazy, yes but it was out there for public consumption. Even though that sounded a bit strange I was told they worshipped idols and Mary of all people and they did whatever the Pope told them to do. We were instructed in Sunday school never to date and certainly not to marry a Catholic. Why? Mixed-marriage.  You had to sign a paper that you would raise your children Catholic and even if the Catholic parent died—the kids still had to be Catholic. We were taught that they really might not be saved, even though the Methodists with their sprinkling and the Presbyterians with their stiffness--were much closer than the Catholics.

My first experience with a real live Catholic was in High School. Shirley was Editor of the school paper. She was wonderful. Kind, funny and smart as could be. She taught me that maybe, just maybe some Catholics might just make it through the Pearly Gates. Even after all these years I still remember Shirley and the gifts she gave me.

In my first church in Western Kentucky the lines were clearly drawn between the Baptists and the Catholics. They co-existed. And all the prejudices about them. The very worst thing any of our young people could do was marry “one of them.”

Up the road about ten miles or so was the tiny community of Knottsville. In the center of the town was a Catholic Church. Many of the folk that lived there were Catholic. I called up the Priest one day and slowly we became friends. He taught me a lot about Catholics. One of the real lessons was they are just like us. Same hopes and dreams—and not a gun in the church.  When we built our new building I asked the Priest to come and give the Invocation. I was unheard of—but I hope it opened some eyes. Later this cigar-smoking Priest invited me to their Church’s Dedication and I had part in the ceremonies. I still remember the Bishop looking just a little uncomfortable. Like Shirley years before—he taught me some of the good things about the Catholic Church.

There are some doors that open that will never close again. I discovered Thomas Merton and read The
Seven Storey Mountain. I heard of the Berrigan brothers and their courageous efforts to stop the cursed wars and bring peace. I read a little, not a lot of Hans Kung and Teihard de Chardin. I discovered funny, brilliant Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic. But that little wisp of a woman in India who spent her life picking up dying babies and loving the unloving--clenched the deal for me.

So this is my roundabout way of saying that we owe the Catholics great debt of gratitude in many ways. I know something of the Inquisition and their tortured history. I have visited Avignon and wondered how in the world the Popes could live there with all their opulence while outside the heavy doors multitudes were starving. I also know something of our own tortured history. We Baptists like all the other Protestants have had—and some still do—some very dark days.

So I was curious when Pope Francis was elected. I never liked Pope Benedict—maybe it was those red Prada shoes. Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of News York came home after the papal conclave. He was quoted as saying not to expect many changes from this new Pope.

Jaws must have dropped Pope Francis’ first Holy Week when he went to a prison of all things and washed the feet of twelve prisoners. Popes usually wash feet—usually another official in the church. This seemed be a Prelude of his tenure as Pope. He caused a ripple across the church for refusing to ride in the Pope Mobile. Like his namesake the other Francis—he lives simply.

He too has opened the door for many American Catholics—who for years have paid little attention to the standard Catholic mandates. Francis has brought new hope to the poor. Lately he has cracked the door even wider with his statements that we must love homosexuals and accept them. He talks about the changes that the church must bring to finances, to women, to birth control and many other important subjects.

This Pope is no flaming liberal. He has strong conservative feelings about many of the church’s practice. He has probably known for years that you don’t turn the Queen Mary around suddenly. It would break into pieces. Neither can institutions change fast.

And yet—I know this: there is a good, good man leading the Catholic Church. I doubt Parson Jack would believe a word he says—I smile when I think of the changes he has brought and will still bring. Yes, the Pope is a Catholic—a very good one.  Would you join me in singing the Doxology?

(You might enjoy reading Jim Wallis' article on "Pope Francis We Need You in Washington.")

   --by Roger Lovette,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Good Grief-ers

"Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift."

   --Mary Oliver, The Uses of Sorrow

I just finished a Grief Group last night. We call it The Healing Place. We met for eight weeks in a circle. Slowly, ever so slowly we tentatively began to share our feelings. We showed pictures of the people we had lost. One week we brought something that symbolized the person—that when we looked at it—memories came flooding back. Someone brought a cross-stitched piece—showing that even the back was done perfectly. Another brought a picture high up in the mountains of that windy day when life was rich and fine and laughter came easy. Someone pulled out a two pictures—one of a young couple on their wedding day—years and years before. And then they showed us another picture—taken the last year before the end came. Changes, yes. Many changes. But an up-and-down-lifetime of love. Someone brought a banner they hung up at the Tailgating parties before the Football games. It showed pictures and names of some family members they had lost. Others shared simple things: a worn tee-shirt...a hammer depicting his love of his shop...a dog-eared baseball cap...the pictures they found in his billfold after he died.

We told stories—wonderful human stories. About trips. About the things they did together. We heard someone confess that they never thought they could go on without this person they loved. We heard stories of motorcycles, of someone who had worked hard all their lives. Someone told of how he liked to cook and she never had to go into the kitchen. One person told of coming home from the hospital without her new baby and looking at the freshly painted room and all the presents from all the showers never to be used.

The eighth week we talked about where we were and what we had learned. I learned, she said that I am not alone in my grief. Everyone in this group feels the way I do. Someone offered, I think I learned that every grief is different and that none of us grieve the same way—and that’s all right. Some told of learning things about their loved one they had discovered only recently. People who would sidle up and tell stories of something the person did and the way they told those jokes.

The last group meeting ended. People got up and gathered their belongings to leave. Someone wrapped up the cake we did not eat and put away the Styrofoam cups and the empty water bottle away. We picked up the knotted-up pieces of tissue that had held the tears. No one wanted to leave. We hugged one another tight and long. We looked into each other’s faces and smiled. We whispered something to one another--private and loving. We wrote down telephone numbers and email addresses. Finally the last person was gone and I began to turn off the lights. I looked around the room at where each one had sat. For just a few moments, week after week, that space had become holy as people had taken off their shoes and opened up their hearts and talked about the hard things.

Years ago Judith Guest wrote a book, Ordinary People. It was a book about loss. She wrote: “How does (anyone) deal with grief? There is no dealing; he (or she) knows that much. There is the stubborn, mindless hanging on until it is over. Until you are through it. But something has happened in the process. The old definitions, the neat, knowing pigeonholes have disappeared. Or else they no longer apply.” My group knew that well.

I think today of those who scattered last night. Back to empty houses. Back to jobs. Back to families—where little children still need what they gave to give. Back to a life where the terrain is strange and the road ahead is far from certain.

Whether we’ve been in a circle or not—we’ve all lost. Places, jobs, dogs and cats—money or success or health or status. We’ve all known failure.  Kids that have broken our hearts. Disappointments when we peer into the mirror. Sometimes muttering: “If only...”

I hang on to one of my favorite hopeful verses of Scripture for them: "For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Wherever they are and whatever they are doing today—I hope they find that promised joy that right now may seem so far away.

       --by Roger Lovette,

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Poor--Facts and Opinions

The quote has been attributed to Patrick Moynihan. “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”  We’re living in a strange time—maybe it’s always been this way. But so many folk believe that opinions and facts are one and the same. Remember when TV first came out. People thought: If it was on TV it must be the truth. I guess we got jaundiced to all those words, words, words. Now—so many think if it is on the Internet it must be true. And every day there spews out craziness and madness that people take for truth. Hitler corralled a whole nation by telling a lie over and over again. Millions and millions of dollars are spent trying to make folk think the opinions they foist on us are truths.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” We’ve got an awful lot of folk—inside and outside the church—who drag around very heavy chains of mis-truths. Just because we think it does not make it true.

The photograph above I took in Barcelona. In the wonderful cathedral that Gaudi designed , as you walk through the door you can see this plaque. Among a multitude of words, words, words there in the center if you look closely you can see it. The word: Jesus. It stands out above all the others because pilgrims, I guess, touched the word as they moved into the cathedral.

Embedded in the tsunami of words that wash over us everyday there are kernels of truth. The wise ones among us swill look hard until we see it. Paul Krugman wrote in Monday morning’s New York Times of some of the sad mis-truth—or downright lies—told about the poor in this country. Republicans are hell-bent on whittling down the food stamp program. We’ve heard all their whines about people in Cadillacs driving up to the Grocery store and pulling out their food stamps. We’ve also been told of all the sorry people who could work who just enjoy living off the pittance the government provides. Paul Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee says the food stamp program is a safety net for those who do not need it. He says this safety net is a “hammock that lulls able-bodied people to live lives of dependency and complacency.”

Krugman challenges his opinions with solid facts.

  • The average food stamp benefits for a day are $4.45.
  • 2/3rds of the food stamp recipients are children, the elderly and the disabled.
  • The Nutrition program in schools for the poor help make them better students.

Churches of all places ought to be standing up for the truth that if there are people in real need—this is one of the tasks of the government. I know, I know so many say that we ought to leave all this helping to the churches. Having served the church many places and many times—I know the generosity that takes place in church after church. But—we cannot take on the poor—there are too many. Yet—on Sundays people ought to squirm just a little bit as they are told how the Lord Jesus reached out to those in need. "Isasmuch as we do it unto the least of these" has not changed. Neither has: "Inasmuch as you did it not unto the least of these..." Among the multitude of words we still need to touch that word, Jesus embedded in the heart of life. This understanding could alter the way we see many things. The facts remain. We live in a very hard time. Jobs are few in number. Many are desperate. 25 million have no health care.What they need is a helping hand and not a guilt trip because of the hard place they are in. Bill Coffin was right when he said: “Hell is truth seen too late.”

                   --by Roger Lovette,

Sunday, September 22, 2013

God of the Whole Wide World

"And when the strife is fierce, the    warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant              triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and  arms are strong. 
Alleluia! Alleluia!"
--Hymn,"For All the Saints," verse 4,  William H. How, 1823-1897

Last night I was privileged to attend a concert called: "Hope and Remembrance." The community choral performance was a benefit for the Cancer Association of Anderson, South Carolina. They asked all the cancer survivors to stand and all over the house people of all ages stood, many with tears in their eyes. The distinguished man sitting next to me whispered, "I am a cancer survivor, too." Then they asked all the caregivers who had once helped someone who had gone on to stand. All these brave soldiers received a standing ovation.

The songs the choir sang were made up of music from stage and screen productions. But the last few selections to end the concert were from the musical, Les Miserables. As they sang I remembered the story. I think Carlyle Marney first pointed this scene out for me. Cosette is one of the characters in the book and the drama.  Cosette was alone in the dark which frightened her and she stained at carrying a bucket of water she had been forced to carry. And this is the way the author, Victor Hugo puts it:

"She had only one thought, to fly; to fly with all her might, across woods, across fields, to houses, to windows, to lighted candles.  Her eyes fell upon the bucket...She grasped the handle with both hands,. She could hardly lift the bucket.

She went a dozen steps in this manner, but the bucket was full, it was heavy, she was compelled to rest it on the ground...She walked bending forward, her head down, like an old woman: the weight of the bucket strained and stiffened her thin arms. 

                     +                        +                          +                   +

Arriving near an old chestnut tree which she knew,...the poor little despairing thing could not help crying: 'Oh! my God! my God!'

At that moment she felt all at once that the weight of the bucket was gone. a hand, which seemed enormous to her, had just caught the handle, and was carrying it easily. She raised her head.  A large dark form, straight and erect, was walking beside her in the gloom. It was a man who had come up behind her, and whom she had not heard. This man, without saying a word, had grasped the handle of the bucket she was carrying."

Victor Hugo observed: "There are instincts for all the crises of life. The child was not afraid." In time the child learned to call Jean Valjean father and knew him by no other name.

As the music washed over me last night--I thought of all those wounded souls, much like Cosette, who had fought a good fight. And I thought of my own  friends scattered here and there who battle this terrible disease. And I thought of all those the world over who need something and right and true.

Our faith tells us he's got the whole world in his hands.  Not only cancer victims and survivors. Not only the little bitty baby--not only, even we brothers and sisters, but he really does have the whole world in his hands.

This is what I thought about all the way home driving through the darkness last night. I hope my friends across the miles remember this truth--and I hope, on the hard days, especially the hard days, I remember it, too.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Guns and Starbucks

"We are beginning to resemble extinct dinosaurs who suffered from too much armor and too little brain."
  --William Sloane Coffin,  Credo

“Guns don’t kill people...people do.” I know. I know. But what happens when crazy people take guns—and we could footnote this in Washington and last night in Chicago—and just about every other week. Starbucks’ President only yesterday had a full page ad in the NY Times...asking the folk that come there to leave their guns at home. He said he didn’t want to get into any kind of political spit-fight with anybody but a lot of those guns are scaring people in Starbucks. And a few guns have gone off inadvertently and I bet a whole lot of people closed up their computers and went home. I applaud him for sticking his neck out.

Looks like guns are here to stay. And—I have no complaint with people owning guns and people living in isolated areas protecting themselves. I have no truck with hunters who love their guns and hunting. I do have trouble with AK-47’s and such. I do have trouble with a society that demand that we have a driver’s license—and now it seems a photo ID to vote—but no restrictions on our guns. And I am deeply troubled with all these laws passed saying we can take guns into churches (anybody ever been to a heated Baptist business meeting?). Now we are told some states are allowing teachers and administrators to take guns into public school classrooms. I even heard of a church recently that was taking their Junior High School kids out to the shooting range and teaching them how to shoot. There is something out of sync with this whole picture. Are we this frightened that we must pack our weapons when we go to the mall or the grocery store?

I’ve held the hand of one man who tried to commit suicide with his gun—half-missed and had only half his head and lived. I think of a little boy who got hold of his Daddy’s gun and it misfired and he is mentally crippled for the rest of his life. I don’t see much hope in changing this picture. I do not think that football games allow guns any more than they allow alcohol. Both would be deadly if someone behind you was yelling for the other side in not-so-civil language. We keep hearing talk about a well-trained militia. Huh? In the place I live there are cops to call and 911 operates pretty well. And out there on the highways are State troopers with guns—trying to do a much better job than any of us could do. I just hope one of these days we really address this problem in some kind of civil discourse.

(Want to read an impassioned article on the power of gun control in this country, read John Morse's fine piece in  Newsweek. John Morse was elected to the Colorado state Senate in November 2012. He swore to take action on the devastation guns had caused in Colorado and across the nation. He was just recalled by the people of his state because of his courageous stand on leading the fight to pass  laws in Colorado that deal with gun violence. In the article he says even though he has lost his job he has no regrets for the stand he has taken. Worth reading.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Technology--Monster or Miracle??

My sister-in-law may be right. She says: “We’re going out just in time.” Some days I totally agree. Either the computer isn’t working or I cannot remember one of my endless passwords. I called the airlines the other day to confirm my airline tickets which had to be purchased within 24 hours. Guess what? The woman wanted to know my pin number. Pin number for my airline? Name? No. Confirmation number? No. Pin Number.  I didn’t have a pin number for the plane tickets. After forty minutes of wrangling with assorted airline folks, being transferred from one person to another trying to help me set up yet another pin number—being cut off and having to start again—I finally got a new pin number and the ticket confirmed. The clock was ticking and it looked like the 24-hour deadline would end and no tickets. Whee—I got them—finally.

I decided to order something on the Internet. And did. Followed all the steps and completed the other. Then I got a request saying they worked through Pay Pal for the payment. Good. I wrote a check to Pay Pal and got a notice that they didn’t think Pay Pal would take checks but would take a credit card. They wouldn’t take checks? Huh?

Then there was the Red Box in-ci-dent (as they say in the South). I decided to rent a movie. Good price. Really convenient. Ok. I pulled up Red box on the computer went through all the steps. Got yet a new password, etc. Went to the Red Box near and guess what? No movie. I had failed to finish the last step and so I stood there empty handed. Well, back home I meticulously followed the steps and voila—the computer said the movie was ready for a pick up. So—I stood in front of the Red Box trying to follow the steps to get the movie.  Nothing worked. Finally two kids came by and zap—I got the movie. Great flick. If you haven’t seen “The Quartet” I recommend it. Wonderful and very funny. So—you have to take the movie back within 24 hours or they double-charge you. I went back to my friendly Red Box stood there trying desperately to send the movie back—and I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the thing. I turned the disc every whichaway (as we say down here) and it would not go. A young guy came by and I timidly asked if he could help. He took the disc and slipped it into the slot and I was home free.

I am sorta enjoying my i-pad and I can do a decent job on the computer—when it works. I’ve even learned to “stream” movies and love my Apple TV gizmo. And I have just about learned to use my cell phone when I can get my stubby fingers to hit the right keys—but I am flat exhausted. I-   Tunes keeps talking about something called Home Sharing before they promise to connect me to the movie I want to watch. Remember the way we were? I guess we have made enormous progress—but some days I think I am in a nightmare—wires everywhere...buttons on every side...voices asking for pin numbers and passwords and wanting to know if I want to take their survey. Transferring me from computerized message to computerized message on the phone. I guess I wont throw in the towel just yet. Some days I just want to be left in peace. Peace. My sister-in-law may be on to something: we old timers may be going out just in time.  In the meantime I’ve got to remember to write down my last pin number and hope I remember when the time comes where I wrote it. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

16th Street Church--I Remember On This Anniversary

In loving memory of four little girls murdered September 15, 1963

Denise McNair, age 11
Carole Robertson, age 14
Addie Mae Collins, age 14
Cynthia Wesley, age 14

This story began on an airplane heading north. My seatmate was a distinguished black lady. We began to talk. “Do you live in Birmingham?” “Oh, yes,” she said. “You wouldn’t be a member of the 16th Street Church, would you? I’ve preached there several times.” “I used to be a member of that church,” she replied. “Were you a member during the bombing?” For a moment there was a long silence. And then she said, “My daughter was one of those girls killed that day.” I still remember her exact words: “Her name was Carole with an ‘e.” She told me that she was getting dressed for Church that morning when her husband came home with the terrible news. “Life was different, far different after that,” she said. She told me about the funeral. The other three little girls had a mass funeral at the church and the great King would speak. But she said she didn’t want all that hoopla—and so they had a quiet service just for them and their friends.

She was a great lady. After that airplane ride we struck up a friendship. I asked her to speak in my Church on Black History Month and she agreed. But as we got closer to the date she became sick and could not speak. I called her one day and asked her if I could interview her for an article in the Birmingham News for Mother’s Day. “Dr. Lovette, I don’t usually do that—but I will do it for you.” After the article came out she called me that afternoon and said, “Dr. Lovette, it was wonderful—even if it was about me.”

They finally caught a couple of those responsible for the bombing years later. Mrs. Robertson was asked to testify at one of the trials. They wheeled her in to the courtroom and she testified, “This would have been my daughter Carole’s birthday.” And she told the story of the loss and the sadness.

Later Spike Lee interviewed her for his movie, “Four Little Girls.” Her face filled the screen toward the end of the film. Spike asked her, “Can you forgive the men that did this?” In her gravelly voice she said, “I forgave them a long time ago. It was hard but I have learned if you don’t forgive that stuff will choke you to death. Life is just too short to hang on that.”

She called me one day and said she had just gotten back from the Academy Awards. Spike Lee had asked her out and was his guest. “Spike and I,” she said, “had the best time. I’m glad I went,” She died not long after that.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of that terrible day when those four little girls were killed. In one of the stained glass windows of the church the face of Jesus was blown out. This sad event was a hinge-turning moment in the civil right’s movement. The old industrial city some had been called, “Bombingham” was also known for old mean Bull Connor, the police chief and his fire hoses and dogs set loose even on little children.

But the years have passed. Many that lived to tell the story of the horror and heartbreak are gone. Surely God has a sense of humor—Bull Connor’s old Methodist Church is now served by a black minister. Birmingham now has its fourth black mayor. Condoleezza Rice came from Birmingham. Colin Powell was married in that city. The Jackie Robinson movie was made in Birmingham. That terrible bombing became the catalyst for President Lyndon Johnson to push civil rights legislation in 1964 after the assassination of President Kennedy.

At the funeral for the other three little girls, Martin Luther King said, “God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city.” And he was right.

The city has a long way to go—but they have come so far from that terrible day August 15, 1963. If you were to go to Birmingham today you would find a great Civil Right’s Museum just across the street from the church. After moving from photographs and videos and bombed out buses and burning crosses and so much hatred portrayed—the museum tour ends with a huge plate glass window—you look out and you see the Sixteenth Street Church.

If you go inside that church you get a better view of the wonderful window that dominates the whole sanctuary. It is a stained glass rendering of a black Jesus with his arms outstretched. Underneath are the powerful words: “You do it to me.” The children of Wales began a drive to take up money and the country joined their efforts and they presented this gorgeous rendering to the church and to the world.

We still have a long way to go. We have spilled enough blood. We have hated far too long. But we have elected President Obama twice. And though the hatred and venom that pours out from so many is still with us, our President serves with distinction and with honor.

And so on this day I remember my conversation on an airplane from Birmingham going north. I remember Mrs. Robertson and I can still hear her voice and see her face. She is still an inspiration to me as I think of the arduous progress we have made and how the future, even with all our problems, looks much, much better than the past. 

(This article was printed in the Op Ed section of The Greenville News (SC) Saturday, September 21.)

                                --by Roger Lovette:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On September 11th--Wish I'd Said That

After all these years I have been surprised at how little editorial coverage has been given to September 11th. After all it was one of the defining moments for our country. But I just read a piece worth reading. It is written by, Galen
Guengenrich the Senior Pastor of the All Souls Unitarian Church in New York, City. He entitled his piece, "A New Yorker's Reflections on 9/11/2001." 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 11th--Where are You?

The big question today always comes up on this day: “Where were you on September 11th?”  We can all answer that question. But I have another question: “Where are we on September 11th—not 2001 but 2013?” And what have we learned in these intervening years. We do need to remember that terrible day:

3,497 died that day
1609 lost spouses
3,152 children lost parents
327 foreign nationals were killed in three attacks

On that terrible day, under President  Bush’s leadership we came together. I remember him chastising those who wanted to bash Muslims. And for a while it looked like all those ashes and all that grief and all that pain would bring us together. And yet as we look back now we wonder about the reasons for going into that awful war and its grotesque results. Those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan tell us:

3,432 service persons died in Iraq
2,266 killed in Afghanistan
2,021 Americans were wounded
18 Vets commit suicide every day
Estimate of civilian casualties in these wars: 158,000-202,000

This is where we are on September 11, 2013. Much of our grief we turned outward. Hate crimes are astronomically high. Para-military groups are in every state hoping to take down the government they think tyrannical. We cannot tackle the immigration problem. Gridlock is everywhere in Washington. Who would believe in 2013 that we would be putting up barricades yet again to keep people from voting? The jobless rate in our country is still too high. And fights over the US Budget continues ad nauseam.

And yet this is only part of the story. Where are we on September 11, 2013? We have elected a black President twice. We have moved closer to giving Gays and Lesbians full rights in our country. Despite incredible opposition we have voted in our first Affordable Care Act for all Americans of the first time in our history. How many other Presidents tried and failed here. We must have learned something from these wars. No wonder we are skittish about Syria. We are haunted by photographs of all those children and adults. We want to do something—but we are afraid of another war. Seems like we have grown up some when the majority of our people wonder about strikes to Syria. Many of our citizens want to turn our attention to some of the serous problems in our country. And all this is good news for me. Where are we on this September 11th? This is not an easy question to answer. Yet—despite all the messiness of our democracy I do see some real hope for the days ahead.    

We need to come together and deal with our problems. We need to quit bashing our President—even though he is only human. What President was not? The dividing line between red-states and blue-states seems hard and fast. Yet those on both sides love this country-or most of us do. Yet we can’t seem affirm our belief in a United States.

Where are you on this September 11th? As we answer that question we might just have a glimmer of what the future just might look like.

The Polish poet Adam Zagajewski says it for me:

“Try to praise the mutilated world
Remember June’s long days,
 and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we wee together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes,
and returns."

Sounds like a pretty good Benediction for wherever we are this September 11th.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Diana Nyad Teaches Us Swimming Lessons

"When Diana Nyad was told to follow the path that had been cleared for her, she flashed her sense of humor and replied, "I've never been able to follow it in my life..."
--Diana Nyad, Website

When Diana Nyad stumbled onto the sand at Key West she had done something no one else had ever done. She was the first person to swim all the way from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida without a protective cage.

This was Ms. Nyad’s fifth try to swim this distance of 110 miles. The first time she tried was in 1978. Because she failed she moved on to other things until 2011 and 2012 where she still was defeated by the water, jellyfish and simply exhaustion. She said that for 49 hours this time the wind just did not calm down. But after swimming an unbelievable 53 house she found that she had achieved her goal.

As reporters gathered around her the exhausted Nyad said, “I got three messages. One is we should never, never give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like s solitary spot, but it’s a team effort.”

Her first four tries were marked by terrible setbacks: if the rough, strength-sapping seas were not enough, she had a severe asthma attack and jellyfish strings that left her nearly paralyzed and in excruciating pain.

She told an interviewer, “You have a dream 35 years ago and it doesn’t come to fruition, but you move on with life. But it’s back there somewhere. Then you turn 60, and your Mom dies, and you’re looking for something. And the dream comes waking out of your imagination.”

It’s a great story. Most of us give up far too soon. We hit snags or the wall, we stumble and fall. But this 64 year-old athlete might just teach us all some swimming lessons. Her advice reminds me of what Winston Churchill said after the war when he went back to his old school and talked to the students. His beloved London had been bombed 71 times in 265 days. Thousands were killed and the whole country was torn asunder. Churchill told the students: “Surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Diana Nyad nudges me to remember. We all face disappointments. Some of them terrible. But Diana was right—we must never give up.

Diana is 64 years old. But she said that none of us are too old to chase our dreams. When dreams fade the life goes out of us. Of course as the years go on we have to alter our dreams and readjust ourselves to difficult realities. But we don’t have to give up on our dreams. Langston Hughes, the black poet was born at a hard time for his people. And yet he wrote poetry that endures. Maybe he was speaking to himself as he wrote of dreams:

“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.”
 --Langston Hughes, in The Dream Keeper

Nyad tried out her dream in the choppy waters between Cuba and Key West and failed four times. But she now says that she wanted to show that we can dream at any age. This time,” she said, “I am 64. So the years of my life are shorter to the end. So this time I am, all the way across...going to think about all those life lessons that came up during the swim.”

Her last lesson that she gave the public after the swim was: “It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team...” Boats of experts followed her on her journey. I am sure they must have encouraged her time after time. Success of any kind is a team effort. Behind all of us are a great number who have cheered us on, who have held up our hands, and beaten off the sharks. Again and again these companions have said: “You can make it. You can make it.” Perhaps Nyad may have made it alone--but we all know that the journey is better, much better when there is somebody along the way that helps and encourages us. To stop from time to time and think of those along the way that have helped make our ride possible is not only humbling but connects us with the rest of the human family. In every age heroes, like shooting stars move across the dark, dark sky—and when this happens those that us that see are better than we would otherwise be. Diana Nyad, God bless her, is one of those shooting stars. Her swimming lessons might just help us all.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day Thinkin'

"We all belong one to another. That's the way God made us. Christ died to keep us that way. Our sin is only and always that we put asunder what God has joined together."
       --William Sloane Coffin, in Credo

Labor Day—more than just a holiday. It ought to be a time when we stop and praise all those wonderful people that keep us going. What would we do without all the service people and all the repairmen and those who serve our food or cook in some restaurant behind closed doors? So many of these people we never see. But if they were not there—we would know it mighty soon.

I guess what got me to thinking about this is the painting of our kitchen cabinets. My wife wants white cabinets. We bought a house with dark wood cabinets. So we have been
wrangling now for about a year about painting what looked pretty nice to me. Well, I finally gave in and guess what—they are going to look wonderful. But this wouldn’t take place without the man who has spent most of last week (excluding Saturdays and Sundays)—and then part of this week—doing all the prep work, dismantling doors, getting the paint and working hard to make sure we liked the job he is doing. He came to this country from Mexico when he was fourteen years old. He and his family came here like so many of our ancestors—seeking a better life. (The immigration opponents forget our history and the humanity of those that are here.) His wife is going to college to finish an accounting degree. He has two teen-agers whom he loves fiercely. And he has worked around rain which oil paint doesn’t particularly like—and our living in the house while all this was going on. We have tried to stay out of his way—but I am sure that we have complicated the painting situation. And when he has done he will fold up the drop cloths and clean up his paintbrushes and head out to yet another job. We’ll probably never see him again. Yet—he has left behind splendid work and my very happy wife. But guess what: he is just like the rest of us with hopes and dreams for himself and his family. We need to quit demonizing folk. 

I also think of the friend who built the bookcases for my office. The first week we had moved in he visited and I was bemoaning the fact that I did not have enough bookcases and he volunteered to build what I needed. A week later he called and said the bookcases were ready and he wanted to deliver them.  I don’t know what I would have done without that man who came to my rescue in a time of need.

Ever had a computer problem? Of course you have. I have in my address book the name of Dave that has come to my rescue I don’t know how many times. He has never failed to fix my computer problems. He comes when needed and always does a fine job.

I could go on an on. The waitresses at the Breakfast group I am part of every Thursday morning. They take our orders and get them right and deliver them on time and help with whatever we need to make breakfast better. I know they don’t make enough. I know the tips often are not as much as they should be. But we all owe a great debt to all those who serve us.

They fix our cars, they answer our questions at the drug store, they clip our shrubbery and every Tuesday morning somebody on a big green truck takes away our garbage. We know that must be hard, hard work. I could go on and on. But I won’t.

Sometimes we writer to ourselves, we writers. And on this Labor Day I stop just a few moments and remember those who help keep me and mine going. Be sensitive, treat them with great respect. Back of those smiles or sulks some of them are having a pretty tough time. I keep remembering that quotation: "Be kind, everyone you know is fighting a hard battle." I hope that when this holiday ends I will remember those who make my life better by their doing.