Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hymns...Praise Songs or What?

Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned and ultimately executed by the Nazis, wrote in his "prison diary" March 27, 1944 that it "is a year now since I have heard a hymn sung. But it is strange how the music that we hear inwardly can almost surpass, if we really concentrate on it, what we hear physically...There are only a few pieces that I know well enough to be able to hear them inwardly, but I get on particularly well with the Easter hymns."
     -Quoted from Bill Leonard, "Prison Songs"

Bill Leonard recently wrote a piece where he told the story of losing his mother who was 95. The family discovered Alzheimer’s eleven years before her death. But Bill writes, “Lavelle lost her memory but not her personality which remained strong , even defiant to the end, evident in her continuing ability to recall the words to many of her favorite hymns...” One of our church’s caregivers told Bill she could get his mother to sing the old hymn, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” from memory when she remembered nothing else.

There is something powerful about music that reaches way down in our souls and stays there. One of the saddest stories I ever heard was a relative who said, “You know I have not heard a single hymn in our church in a long, long time. I miss them so much.” That church had put aside the hymn books, put screens on their walls and sang only praise songs every Sunday.

It’s a new age and I am trying to understand what is going on in many churches. Technology has walked down the center aisle and is sitting on the front row. Some of this is good and some of it is bad. I have nothing against trying to reach this new generation who view life different from many of us. But I do know there are some things we cannot shed without terrible consequences. Someone called the Hymn Book the most theological book we have outside the Bible. Many of the hymns go way back.

To scrap the hymn book and ignore the songs that have lifted the church through the ages—is a sad thing. Choruses may enhance worship if they are theologically sound. But they cannot replace the Hymn book. Remember our state funerals? In hard times we lean on: “O God Our Hope in Ages Past”, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”, and “Holy, Holy Holy.”

Some professionally trained musicians sneer at Gospel songs. Some want only the best hymns with proper texts. This is understandable. Without these hymns our lives and worship would be poorer. But why choose between hymns and gospel songs?  In my own tradition, many of the gospel songs take us back, back to another time and another place. We remember the night we walked down the aisle to “Where He Leads Me I will Follow.” “Just as I am” brings a lump to many throats. “Amazing Grace” still lifts us up.

I remember Tex Sample telling the story of preaching one Sunday and saying that “In the Garden” was so individualistic and sentimental that it should be scrapped. After that service a young woman came up to him and said, “Let me tell you a story.  When I was a teenager—my father came into my room at night and sexually abused me over and over. It was terrible and I wondered if I could live through those awful times. But the only thing that kept me going was the song, “In the Garden.” Through those moments of agony I would say the words to myself over and over. Don’t you ever make fun of that song again. It saved my life.”

I cannot imagine someone in a nursing home who remembers little, singing praise songs. No. They remember instead another time and another place when God was close and their loved ones were near and home was close at hand. And they could hear once again their Savior calling...going with them, with them all the way.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All Saints Day--A Time to Remember

"For all the saints
who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith 
before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!"
 --William W. How, 1823-1897

Mary Jo Bang wrote after the death of her son: "You are the brightest thing in the shop window And the most beautiful seldom I ever saw."  I don’t know a better way to get at All Saints Day than these sad and powerful words. I have told my Grief groups that one of the things that saves us is gratitude. Remembering...Remembering...Remembering.

I know that it doesn’t last long enough. I know we wished with all our hearts there was more than there has been. You have told me that there are days so hard that you just don’t think you can make it. But on this All Saints Day the Church has called out the names of those that have died this year “believing that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and the living.”  But it just isn’t those that slipped into the mystery this year. This is a day for fondling the rosary of every name and every face that shaped you and made you smile.

You might spend the day just thinking of him or her or them. You might stare at some picture or open some album and remember. There is a good grief and a poor grief. When we say a Doxology over those who have changed our lives—we grieve, “but not as those who have no hope.”

At most of the funerals I have conducted the last few years I have leaned on that wonderful Benediction which comes from the Roman Catholic Prayer for the Dead. 

"Into paradise may the angels lead them; at their coming may the martyrs take them up into eternal rest, and may the chorus of angels lead them to that holy city, and the place of  perpetual light." Amen.

(The painting at the beginning of this piece is from Fra Angelico, 15th Century artist.)    

(Sojourners blog published these moving pictures of All Saints Day that come from the Guardian--you might want to view them. Great and very moving.) 


Monday, October 28, 2013

Stained Glass--A Parable

Yesterday when my eighteen-year old granddaughter visited our church—she was intrigued by the stained glass windows. She hadn’t visited from out of town a lot—but yesterday she kept taking picture after picture of these windows. She was particularly struck by the Resurrection window which is huge, in the back of the Sanctuary. When the light shines through that window at a certain time of the day—its colors spread across the sanctuary and fills the whole space with light.

Charles Arrington was Pastor when the sanctuary was built. I have a hunch that he loved this window particularly. I love this window too. It is a symbol of how the healing light of the cross and God’s love touches all—not just some. When I was Pastor I used to sit in different pews where I knew most people sat. I would try to imagine who they were and what they brought when they came to church. I felt that the light from those windows touched them all. The angry where life had not worked out as they wished. The shamed—struggling with sexuality and their guilt. The pompous that thought they had all the answers. The scared and frightened that came just hoping they might receive some word from the Lord. Some came, I mused carrying a heavy burden for children or grandchildren or even a troubled world. Some remembered a wife or husband’s funeral. Someone might have thought of their wedding at that altar and remembering how good it felt and how painful the divorce was years later. Someone remembered the day they took that long scary walk down to the front to say: “I want to begin.” And some came, perhaps pushed by parents or friends, wondering if all this was true at all. And whoever they were—or are—that light—that colored-healing light falls on all. And so I am glad that my Granddaughter took this picture. It reminds me of what I think faith looks like. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Real Church is No Small Circle--We All Have the Same Name

 I have chosen for our text that wonderful scene in Jesus' life. Our Lord pushed aside the carpenter shavings and turned toward adulthood. He found his cousin John and said, "Will you baptize me?" Standing there in the Jordan River, the wind blew. A bird sang off in the distance. And a voice spoke. It was a holy moment. For this was God that spoke. And as Jesus came up out of the water that voice said: "This is my beloved." And this became the word that would carry him through thick and thin for the rest of his life. And here, in the Jordan River I have found my sermon. This is my beloved.

Tony Morrison has a wonderful novel called Beloved. It's the story of a woman trapped in slavery--a black woman in the 1870's in Ohio. The only thing she had in all her life--the only thing she had--was her two-year old child who died. Who can imagine such grief? In her devastation, she went to see the man that carved tombstones. Knowing she had little or no money he said to her: "I've got a little sliver of granite left over. It is just the size for a baby's tombstone. If you can give me seven letters in the next few minutes I have a little time and I'll carve the tombstone and give to you for free." She couldn't read. She did not know how long letters were. She wanted to put "Dearly Beloved " on the tombstone because that's what the preacher had said over and over at the funeral for her baby. But the man said that was too many letters. And so she said, "Would the word, beloved be too long?" He counted on his fingers: "B-E-L-O-V-E-D." And he carved those seven letters of a very great love and an enormous, enormous loss.

And when we come to the Scriptures, three Gospels have carved this word into the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. And across waters and time and cultures and two thousand years, the word still remains: B-E-L-O-V-E-D.

It isn't the only time we bump into this word. Jesus would face the dark clouds and opposition and friends and family who did not understand and finally the Cross. All three gospels tell that other story of that time when Jesus and his three friends went up into the mountains to the place which has become known as The Mount of Transfiguration. There on top of the mountain, so far from the difficulties he would face, he would find a preparation to go on. Peter, James and John witnessed this surreal scene. They heard a voice that came to Jesus and said, "You are my beloved." And so he led them down, down the mountain with its twisting, winding trails all the way down where he would face the hard things that would lead him to the Cross. The Gospels tell us he did it with his head held high moving through his darkest hours with great dignity and grace because he had heard a word. Beloved.

 For if we listen closely the One that heard that word gave it out again and again wherever he went. And if we, too, can claim this word for ourselves, we can go out into all the hard things that we must do and we shall find that anchoring word, and we shall make it. Beloved. You are beloved of God.

But someone here says, "But what about those other words?" Other words? "You are no good." "You are lazy." "You'll never amount to anything." "You're a nobody." "Worthless--absolutely worthless!" “You’re a failure.” We have heard them all our lives from kindergarten and home and school and church and, it seems, everywhere. "Just who do you think you are?" And many of us have fought these old labels all our lives and we are exhausted from the fighting. And so we have tried a multitude of prescriptions to cancel out the ugly, ugly words: work, success, jobs, money, things--addictions of all kinds. And none of these worked at all.

Do you see why I have chosen this old story? For if we can somehow capture the essence of this word God gave his son, it may just carry us through. To close the gap between what God says and the realities of all of our lives. For this is our task and this is the great missionary word of the church: to tell each other and the whole wide world what God himself has called all of his children to discover this healing word, beloved.

But we can't do it alone. We can't operate on ourselves. And I think this is why we need church, if it's healthy. We shake the amnesia of many things in order to hear this special, special word. We hear music. We ponder sermons. We sing hymns. We wade through the baptismal waters. We take the Bread and the Cup. We listen to the old words of Scripture. But the great hope is that, somehow, we will be addressed and our names will be called. And if we ever, ever hear that word, beloved, we keep coming back because we know it's real and right and true. This is our name—yours and mine: beloved.


But it doesn't stop there. For Jesus did a wonderful thing. He took that benediction, that which had been given, and broke it and gave it away like the loaves and fishes. And they just kept coming. Not just the right people. But everybody. Like those hungry, hungry five thousand he fed that day. The weary ones. The heavy-laden ones. The rich ones. All those without insurance. The poor, poor ones. The Republican ones. The Democrat ones. The Tea Party Ones. The Independents. The gay ones. The divorced ones. Even the Muslims and the Hispanics without papers. I've wanted to preach a sermon some time entitled, :"Some Things I Wish Jesus Had Not Said." Maybe he got carried away. And to call even the people I don't like beloved. . But it's in the book--and we read that they kept coming--hungry for affirmation. Everybody. Everybody. And he told them all their name: You are beloved. Everybody.

 Maybe you have heard the name Raymond Carver. He was one of the great writers of the twentieth century. He died a couple of years ago. He had an awful time with alcoholism. Lost his wife. Lost his family. Lost about everything he had. But in the last ten years of his life he put the bottle away with the help of some groups and doctors and AA. He met a woman named Tess Gallagher whom he dedicates his last book to. I love that dedication:
            Tess. Tess. Tess. Tess.

She was his light. He found some joy and meaning in those last ten years. Then he discovered he had lung cancer. He went through all the chemotherapy. There were ten months of courageous fighting before he lost the battle. The last book of poetry he ever wrote was called A New Path to the Waterfall. The last poem in the book is his benediction for his life.

            And did you get
            what you wanted
            from this life, even so?
            I did.
            And what did you want?
            To call myself beloved.
            To feel myself beloved of the earth.

It is the great, great dream of us all. To hear that voice that gives us, deep down that name that tells us, we matter and we count.

 Leonard Sweet, a Methodist preacher tells of a little boy named Michael who was four years old. His mother told him one day that she was going to have a baby. Michael was so excited. He wanted a baby in their family. As his mother grew larger and larger, Michael would go up as she was standing there at the sink and put his nose on her stomach and put his arms around what he said was the baby. And he would sing:

            You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
            You make me happy when skies are gray.
            You'll never know, dear, how much I love you,
            Please don't take my sunshine away.

 Over and over Michael would sing that song. Sometimes the baby would kick and he would giggle. He was so happy about the baby. The time came for the mother to go to the hospital and she had the baby. But there were a lot of complications. They did not know if the baby was going to live. She told Michael as best she could that the baby was very sick. Michael was so distressed and he wanted to see the baby. Well, the baby was in the neonatal unit and they didn't want him to see the baby with all the tubes and things she was hooked up to. But Michael insisted. He would not take no for an answer. All he talked about was his baby sister. Finally, the mother got permission from the doctors and they brought Michael to the hospital. He went upstairs and they took him by the hand and led him into the room. And he saw the baby. He didn't see the wires and feeding tubes and the monitors. He just saw his baby sister. He said, "Mama, I want to touch her." So they lifted Michael up and he put his nose against her nose and he said, "She's beautiful!" And he started singing:

            You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
            You make me happy when skies are gray.
            You'll never know, dear, how much I love you,
            Please don't take my sunshine away.

The next day at kindergarten, someone from the hospital came to the school and said they wanted Michael to come back to the hospital. Was something wrong with the baby? No, the baby was a little better. But when the doctor read all the charts and reports from the night before, he noticed that at a certain time during the day, somehow the baby began to calm down and to rest peacefully. The Doctor discovered that a change came about the time that Michael had been there and when he had sung. They said the doctor wants Michael to come back and to sing to the baby. And so every day at the same time, they would take Michael from the school to the hospital, up the elevator, to the neonatal unit and he would put his nose on the baby's nose and he would sing: "You Are My Sunshine."

 Leonard Sweet, in telling the story, says his favorite picture in his office is a picture of nine-year-old Michael and his five-year- old sister.

 Once upon a time, God came down the stairs of heaven with a child in his arms. And you know, I think he was singing. But I don't think he was singing just to the baby. I think he was singing to you and me and to the whole wide world. And I think I know what he was singing. Will you sing it with me?

            You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
            You make me happy when skies are gray,
            You'll never know, dear, how much I love you,
            Please don't take my sunshine away.

And that's the name I want to remind you of today. You are beloved. Beloved of God. And if we ever, ever get our arms around that idea we can take it all: death, life, things present, things to come, powers, no matter how high the waves or dark the night—nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For, you see, we know our name—and that name is Beloved.

(I gave this sermon October 27th at the First Baptist Church, Clemson, SC. This is the  church where I served for 13 years. On this Sunday they honored me by naming me Minister Emeritus. Any Pastor would be honored when a church he or she once served remembered their time of service there. These photos below are from scenes in the church during those years. I wrote a book on Worship while I was there--and dedicated it to this Church with these words: "They let it happen." They really did.)




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ground Zero and This Troubled Country

Like many of  you I have worried about where we are going as a country. Thinking back particularly over the logjam in Washington I don't know how we got here. Was it the War and the lies behind it? Was it our fear of another attack? Was it all that money we put on a credit card--asking no sacrifices from anyone--except those boys and girls that fought while we forgot. Maybe it was just grief over knowing we had had joined the rest o the world and we were not really safe anymore. Most of the folk I know want us to address the hurting problems of this country. Unemployment, immigration reform, the economy, gay rights, and the endless war--they have all taken a back seat to jockeying for power, saying anything--anything to make sure one can win an election in 2014 or 2016.  Have we lost our sense of decency? What ever happened to the common good?

My wife and I took a subway just a week ago down to Ground Zero. We had not been there in years. We
stood in line with people from all over the world. Slowly we made our way into the museum and it all came back--the sadness of that terrible day, the enormous loss that is still with us. We looked up at the faces of those that we lost. We read their names and remembered again they were people just like us.

We moved over to the Memorial--a beautiful waterfall and around it are the names of all those that gave their lives that day. People stood in silence just looking. Sometimes words just won't do it. I remembered back to how we joined hands and hearts after that. We pulled together, at least for a little while. That visit where the tall towers had stood brought back the poem written by Cheryl Sawyer:

"As the soot and dirt and ash rained down, 
We became one color.
As we carried each other down the stairs of the burning building
We became one class.
As we lit candles of waiting and hope
We became one generation.
As the firefighters and police officers fought their way into the inferno
We became one gender.
As we fell to our knees in prayer for strength,
We became one faith.
As we whispered or shouted words of encouragement,
We spoke one language.
As we gave our blood in lines a mile long,
We became one body.
As we mourned together the great loss
We became one family.
As we cried tears of grief and loss
We became one soul.
As we retell with pride the sacrifice of heroes
We become one people.

We are
One color
One class
One generation
One gender
One faith
One language
One body
One family
One soul
One people  

We are The Power of One.
We are United.
We are America."

Will we ever find our way back together--or will we just tear each other to pieces--leaving all our problems by the wayside? It all depends on us, doesn't it?

          --by Roger Lovette/

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Washington Mess--Some Wise Words

I've been wanting to write something about the terrible mess in Washington. I used to tell couples getting ready to get married that it was never winning and losing--when you get into that fight everybody loses. That's why I really recommend Philip E. Jenks' blog piece from The Little Scroll. It's great. We owe Philip a standing ovation for this one.

    by Roger Lovette,

Monday, October 21, 2013

High School Reunion Times Sixty

 Ever been back to a High School Reunion? I went to my 25th High School Reunion—35 years ago! Then this past weekend I went to my 60th Reunion. Any changes in those thirty-five years?  Some of us were on walkers. Some could hardly hear at all—if at all. If I squinted I could recognize some that came. Here and there I saw a Cheerleader, a majorette. Way back in the back was a football player or two. Where’s so and so, I asked? Either they were lost in the mists of time or too sick to come or just were not with us anymore. I looked around and a wave of sadness just washed over me. Time had done it’s damage on all of us. Yet—those that came were alive and laughing and having an enormously good time.

They asked me to have a Devotional on Sunday morning, over breakfast before we scattered. Hmm. One of about two Reverends in the class—I guess they were wanting some kind of pious, fire and brimstone sermon or some little Scripture passage which I would irrelevantly bore them with. That’s what I tried not to do.

A week before my wife and I had gotten tickets to the Dave Letterman Show, which was a lot of fun. As he usually does Dave gave us a top ten list of some crazy subject. So-I told my aging brothers and sisters I had my own top ten lists. This is what I tried to say over eggs and grits and a heap of sausages.

Number 10 – Live Until You Die. Just because we are in our seventies does not mean we are ready for the cemetery. We’ve still got some living to do. I know the media thinks anybody who is not 22 and svelte or trim or good looking or successful is not very important. They don’t write our agenda or can push us over to the side. Live all the way to the finish line.

Number 9 – Don’t live in the past. It was easy last weekend to remember back. The time we kissed our first sweetheart or fell in love for the first time. The great year our school won the State Championship in Basketball. The fun we had and the friends we made. Looking back is wonderful—but we old timers shouldn’t live there. Every football weekend in our town I see them everywhere. They graduated in’53 or they remembered the time we won the National Championship. And they sit around on bar stools—half drunk with misty eyes. “Remember when...” they say. I know Coca Cola used to cost a dime and movies were not more than a quarter. Forget that. The Apostle Paul said, “Today is the day of salvation.” Look around you, over your shoulder, and live right now. Today.

Number 8 – Forgive Your Enemies—Forgive Yourself. A lot of us carry some heavy baggage from the past. Somebody tripped us up or fired us or treated us cruelly. And some of us still suck on that poison. We don’t have time to carry all that stuff around. We have to let it go. It’s surprising how light we feel when we just drop it. We also have to forgive ourselves. Sometimes this is the heaviest baggage of them all. The things that shame us. The things we wished we had never done. The bad choices we made in vocation or marriage. Arthur Miller said in one of his plays, “There comes a time when we have to take ourselves in our own arms.” Travel lightly—it’s healthier.

Number 7 – You’re only as old as you act. Old age is a state of mind. If you think you are over the hill—you are over the hill. There is a mental age and a chronological age. They should not be one and the same. As I said we’re not dead by a long shot. Don’t act like it.

Number 6 – Get outside Your Bubble. We feel so comfortable talking to the people that agree with us. That hold the same prejudices we do. That tell us what we already know or what we want to hear. When we do this we are stuck. Learn something new. Get a Bucket List and try to spread your wings in ways you never thought. Try something you never did. This might just energize us all.

Number 5 – Be kind. Old people can sometimes be quite crotchety. When William James’ nephew was going off to school he asked his uncle if he had any advice. And James said, “Only six words. Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.”  Wherever we go— let's spread some kindness. The whole world aches. We might just make somebody’s day—and in doing so our own.

Number 4 – Sing the Doxology every day. Forget pity parties.Grateful people are fun to be around. Think of those who helped us get to where we are. Those that stood with us through it all and loved us even when we were unlovable. Be grateful.

Number 3 – Carry some Faith wherever you go. One of the tom-tom beats in the Bible from beginning to end is: “Do not be afraid.” Wonder why it is there so often? It's the heart of faith.I love the quote from Patrick Overton  “When walk to the edge of all the light we have...And take a step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen--There will be something solid for us to stand on, Or, we will be taught how to fly.”

Number 2 – Never Give up. One of the women in our group came on a walker. The crazy airline lost it. They finally had to give her a replacement. And there she was at breakfast. One woman had lost her husband two weeks before. And she came that morning. When Churchill was asked the secret of England’s endurance during World War II. It was a terrible time. London alone had been bombed over 70 times. How did they survive? Old Churchill stuck out his chin and said,“We never gave up.  Never, never, never did we give up.”

Number 1 –Make the World Better Than You Found It.  While I was in my hometown my brother took me to eat at a great hot-dog place. As we walked in, I remembered they had torn my old high school down. And the owner of the restaurant somehow had gotten the cornerstone and there it was at the entrance to this eatery. It read: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” It was a saying of Horace Mann. Let's do something to make our world better. This is a hard time to live. Maybe it has always been. But let's not leave here without leaving our fingerprints somewhere that matters.

I finished last Sunday morning and sat down. Thinking back, maybe I had just given myself something to try to live by, too.

       by--Roger Lovette.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Trip to Bountiful

Back in July I published a piece about Cecily Tyson and the play she starred in, "A Trip to Bountiful." The drama had a short run on Broadway. I wanted to see it--but it would not be playing very long.

Little did I know my son had given me an Orchestra seat to see the last performance. What a birthday present.
My wife and I went up to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Forty-third Street, stood in a long line and finally found our seats.

Looking around, the theater slowly filled up until there were almost no seats left. The audience must have been 75% black. You could feel the excitement in the air. And we all waited, waited for the curtain to go up.

We were not disappointed. Ms.Tyson played the part of an old woman who lived in a room in her son and daughter-in-law's house. The daughter- in- law made life miserable for her. The old woman, in desperation, packed her bag and said she was going back to Bountiful--where she was born and grew up. She escaped from the house, found the bus station and said she wanted a ticket to Bountiful. Waiting for the bus, she began to sing: "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine..." And across the audience singing quietly swept across the room.. "This is My story, This is my song--Praising My Savior All the day long." She finally hobbled on the bus and made her way to the place she loved the most. Hours later she got off the bus to find she was twelve miles from Bountiful. Her old house was boarded up. But she stood looking at the trees she remembered and named the birds that still sang there. She was not disappointed.

Everybody I know has a Bountiful. Some place where the memories are strong and the world seems to be safe and at peace. We can't really go back--none of us--we have to keep moving on. But maybe the old song kept her going. And not only her but the audience who wiped away the tears as they sang along with the old mother there in the darkness.

At the end of this magnificent performance--a choir of black young people surrounded Ms. Tyson and sang "Blessed Assurance" and other Gospel songs. The audience was now on their feet. They sang and they clapped and they cheered. It was a great moment for theater.

As the curtain went down for the last time, people didn't want to leave. It was like they had been to church. We smiled at each other. We wiped away some tears. We chuckled. Slowly we moved back into the city with is blaring lights and milling crowds. But we had all been to Bountiful--and it was something I think we will always remember.

     --by Roger Lovette,

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

78 is the new 78

Did you ever start up a mountain trail  you'd never climbed before? Friends challenged this acrophobia-fearing guy to climb up to the top of Mt. LeConte in the Smokies which is  a long way up--emphasis on the up. I finally got talked into the trek against my better judgment. Yep--it was scary and there were moments I couldn't look down. You could hardly see the bottom of the ravine. My heart kept pounding--but I made it. Getting out of your comfort zone is sometimes a very scary experience.

Well-- that's how I feel on my 78th birthday. 78--seventy-eight--I've never been here before. And  so I stand wondering how this new mountain trail will be like. After all I've never been here before. Yep-- there are signs. My hearing has just about tanked. My feet and the Doctor--not to speak of my wife--tell me that my jogging days are over. Is a walker or depends very far behind.? And I get tired-er at the wierdest times. So like that mountain climb which I dreaded--I do wonder where this up-hill slippery trail will lead. Some friends sidle up and say, "Consider the alternative." I don't WANT to consider the alternative!

Back to that early scary morning I remember some of the deep foreboding in the pit of my stomach. What if...and I thought of a zillion reasons to head back to the comfort of my cabin and feign illness of some serious sort. But I didn't do that. Step by slippery step I made my way up the mountain. There were places where you could put one down at a time. Finally--I made it. And I looked out over a rock ledge at a vista that took my breath away. And the air--Lord, but the air was pure and smelled so good. Now feeling sort of superior, I was glad I swallowed my phobias and took the trip.

Every once in a while I remember that mountain and my fears. But I smile and remember how it was up on top of that mountain that special day. You know where this is going. No, I've never been on this 78 trail before. But maybe, just maybe I will one day look back at my fears on this day and smile. No--I will not have considered the alternative--but even here I will discover some things I never even dreamed of before.

  --by Roger Lovette,

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Washington Mess--What Really Matters

Reading the paper, watching TV--all this wrangling in Washington is scary. Somebody said it was Junior High School revisited. But there is more to life than Washington and other crazy places.

So I've gone through my picture file--and picked out some things that make me smile and remember. Frederick Buechner says when someone takes down their albums and riffle through the pages--even if we do not know the folk--it calls to mind our own places and our own loves. So along with my pictures I've included two poems by the Canadian poet Alden Nowlan (1933-1983). His early years were filled with a lot of pain and somehow he was able to take his hard things and stitch them into words that move many people. I hope, passing these on--they will do the same for you.

"Great Things Have Happened"

"We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes; 
and I said, 'Oh, I suppose the Moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time'  But, of course, we were all lying. 
The truth is the moon landing didn't mean 
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once
   had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us. Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

'Is that all?' I hear somebody ask.

On, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing In
   Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country 
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love."

Let me give you an excerpt from another poem called "He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded." He tells of going to a school for the mentally handicapped. He writes about his feelings of awkwardness and helplessness when a female resident sits down beside him and puts her arms around him. She asks Nowland to hold her. He is embarrassed and not quite sure what to do. This is the way he ends that beautiful and heart-breaking poem:

"It's what we all want, in the end, 
to be held, merely to be held,
to be kissed (not necessarily on the lips,
for every touching is a kind of kiss.)

Yes, it's what we all want, in the end,
not to be worshipped, not to be admired,
not to be famous, not to be feared,
not even to be loved, but simply to be held."

(Interested in this poet, try Alden Nowland, Selected Poems, House of Anansi press, 1996)

Keep your eyes open today. Who knows who you will see if you just slow down and look around you. And--for a little while forget the madness.

   --by Roger Lovette,

Monday, October 7, 2013

Birthday Memories

It all began in a little four-room house in a little mill village in Columbus, Georgia. The year was 1935. The country was just beginning to stagger out of the Depression. My parents, not able to eke out a living in farming in South Alabama—moved all their belongings into a wagon and traveled to Columbus, Georgia—a little over a hundred miles. They heard there was work in the mills in Georgia.

They found work. Lived in two rooms of a four-room house. They didn’t think they would ever have children—and they didn’t for over ten years. But one day after just about giving up—guess what—my Mother was pregnant. Nine months later I came bawling into the world in that four-room rented house on First Avenue across from the mill. We would live there all my growing-up years.

That was 78 years ago. And here I sit on the eve of this birthday—thinking, thinking. I remember every nook and cranny of that little house—the few nooks and crannies that there were. I can tell you after all these years about how the kitchen looked and what was in the pantry. I could draw a layout of all four rooms—where the beds were and where we kept our few clothes. I remember what the back yard looked like and I can still remember most of the neighbors that lived nearby.

I remember as a little boy wondering what it would be like to grow up. Where would I
be? What would I be doing? One thing I knew I did not want to stay in that house and work in that mill across the street. When I got older I did work there in summers—and I wanted something else.

Nobody had ever been to college in my family—and a few people nudged me in that direction. And so one September morning I hauled my footlocker out to the street and lifted it into a friend’s car—and we were off to where we did not rightly know.

College was like a dream in some ways. About as non-ivy-league as you could get. And yet I discovered friends and books and a much larger world than I ever envisioned. I traveled out west one summer and worked. I went to New York for the first time. I worked in a YMCA camp in New Jersey. And all the while I was feeling a pull toward the church.

And so I put that same footlocker on a train one morning and headed for Louisville, Kentucky. Seminary stretched me even further. And living in Louisville—a great big bustling city was fun. I worked for four years in a downtown YMCA for
underprivileged kids and learned something I have never forgotten about raw poverty. I met a girl one night on a blind date and three years later we married on a cold January night. It was the best thing I ever, ever did.

After graduation there were a series of churches in Kentucky and Virginia and South Carolina and Tennessee and Alabama. Six in all. I learned like Paul: "We really do have the treasure in earthen vessels.” The ones I served—at least some of them were pretty earthen. 
In my first church our redheaded daughter was born. We just celebrated her 50th birthday this week. In my second church was had a second redhead—this time a boy.

I have been blessed by people in every church I ever served. I look back and I can still see their faces and remember many of their names. If love really is what you go through together—then I have known the love of a great many people.

I have lived all the turbulent storms we have all been through. I have known assassinations and racial struggles and wars and suicides from people I love. I have stuck my neck out for the poor and the disenfranchised and gays and anybody else bullied by the world. I don’t know if any of it has any made any difference but I have tried.

After six churches I retired at 65 and the church I served threw a good-bye party and people from all six churches came to that wonderful weekend. Retirement followed. Seemed scary. But I went from church to church as Interim Pastor until I had served seven congregations after retirement.

There were days when I didn’t think I could stand it no longer. In those painful growing-up adolescent days. In those work days in the mill all night long. In college and sometimes in Seminary when I had so little money and wondered about the future. Sometimes after a terrible Business meeting at church.

The black dog of depression has stalked me all my life. Not every day. Not every month—but enough to make my life miserable at times. What helped? The love of my wife who stayed and loved and nudged me on. Two kids that I am so proud of. Two grandchildren that make me smile. One in college now and the other just turned 18. My brother and his family in Georgia are important to me. And friends—my, my I have a couple of friends that have always been there and without them I do not know what I would do.

On the edge of 78 I write a little. I pray some. I work a little in the church I once served for 13 years. My wife and I take trips occasionally. Who would have ever believed this little boy would grow up and spend time in England—Fareham and Oxford? And there was France and Belgium and Germany and Switzerland and Austria and Italy and Hungary and Prague. Every trip left me open-mouthed and joyful.

The phone rings and from out west one of our oldest friends lost his wife. Closer here I learn that she or he is battling cancer and the time may not be long. As the darkness gets closer it’s scary. So I work some, I work out some. I read a lot. I spend some time on the phone. I teach Grief groups that help me, probably as much as it helps them. I work some at the church. We go to movies and watch things on TV. I dig in the yard.

My feet hurt and I cannot run as I have done most of my adult life. After working outside I get tired in ways I did not before. I travel downtown to see the skin doctor. Sometimes my back hurts. The old black dog comes sauntering back when I least expect him. But thank God, he does not stay as long as he did.
And so here I am. Life has been rich indeed. Never would I have dreamed it would be as it has been.  And whatever time I have left—and there is not as much ahead as there was behind—I hope I can spend each day as if a little boy in a candy store with rows and rows of choices.

Sitting at that kitchen table in the house where I was born, as a young teen-ager I would put my face in my hands and feel so bad. And Nancy, our maid and good friend, would say, “Mr. Roger, look at me. You just wait! You just wait!” Looking back, over my shoulder—I now know she was right. 

  --by Roger Lovette,