Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advent Comes--Not One Day Too Soon

"But about that day and hour
 no one knows, neither the angels
f heaven, nor the Son,
 but only the Father."

  +         +       +       +

"Keep awake therefore, for you 
do not knows on what day your Lord is coming."  
    --Matthew 24. 36, 42

“No one knows the day nor the hour...”
I preached on this Advent text one Sunday.
And a woman with big hair and a bigger Bible—
  got up and stalked out of the church.
She called later to say she was leaving.
The Late Great Planet Earth, said  He was coming soon.
The signs are everywhere. Don't you believe the Bible?”

What we all know—the woman with the big Bible
  and all those who do not care—
Reading on down the page—we may not know
  the day nor the hour...
But the floods will come pouring into our lives.
Our own special Katrina. Maybe a tsanami.
Everything will be changed, altered,
   turned upside down—destroyed.
William Armstrong called it
  Through Troubled Water
   when his young wife died suddenly.

As this holy season begins—I think of all those
 in my Grief groups who dread this year
 like a plague.
He, she—they-- are gone forever.
“Christmas won’t be the same...” 
   and they are right.

I have no answers.

But I let my finger move
  down the old text.
“Keep awake...”  it says.
 “ Open your eyes”, even those filled with tears,
   it says.
Somehow we grievers will learn—with eyes wide open—
   what so many other fellow-strugglers have learned.
Somehow, some how—the water will really finally go down.
And life—our life—will go on.

No wonder the Church picked these words for
  The First Sunday in Advent.

(This photograph of the Annunciation hangs in our kitchen. Years ago traveling in Canada to Niagara- by- the- Lake we stopped in this tiny town and saw this antique shop. It was filled with stained glass pieces. The old man who ran the shop told us that some time after the Second World War he was able to buy stained glass figures from bombed our churches in England. Then he took those pieces and put his own stained glass around them and made a frame for them.  We bought this window and since that time it has hung at different places in our houses. Even broken things, kept and made new, continue to bring us all joy.)

      --rogerlovette /

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving--A Chance to Transcend our Headaches

"You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip my pen in the ink."
       --G. K. Chesterton

The year was 1863. For the man sitting in the White House it was a turbulent time. On January 1 of that year he had issued the Emancipation Proclamation: “All persons held as slaves…shall be then , thenceforward, and forever free.” The country pulled at him from all sides. The Abolitionists said the Proclamation did not go far enough. Many wondered how this action would affect the morale of the troops. Senators, like the newspapers, put their ears to the ground and barked out varied opinions. That year they began to talk about Mr. Lincoln’s War. The year before he had lost little Willie, his eleven year old son, and his wife would never fully recover. Many of his generals had let him down and then July 1-3 of that year Gettysburg came. It was the bloodiest battle in America history. When the fighting stopped on the third day 51,000 casualties from both sides were reported dead. One book about Gettysburg called that battle, A Vast Sea of Misery. By September of that hard year half the Northern public was against this war.

That same year there was a little known poet and editor named Sarah J. Hale. She had been lobbying for some time to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Many states observed this special day that went all the way back to President George Washington. But Sarah Hale felt strongly that the nation needed a national day of Thanksgiving when the whole country would pause and remember.

Mrs. Hale came to see the President about her concern. If the country had a national day when all would pause and give thanks it might just do something for all the people. Lincoln listened and began to wonder if perhaps such a day might just help unite his divided nation. And so on the third day of October in 1863 Lincoln signed the national Thanksgiving Proclamation to be held on the fourth Thursday in November.

It would be two more years before the war would end on April 9, 1865. Did that Thanksgiving Proclamation stop the war? No. Did the declaration change anything? Who knows? We do know that the President continued to courageously lead the nation in the hardest of days. We do know that on November 19, one week before that first national Thanksgiving that Lincoln stood at Gettysburg and looked out on a torn battlefield and gave his finest address.

147 years later on this Thursday we pause for another Thanksgiving Day. It would be great if the old dream of a united people stirred once again. Our nation has many difficulties. Some say our President has as much on his plate as did Abraham Lincoln. We do know the mood of the land has turned sour. We have come through yet another contentious election. The battle lines are being drawn while foreclosures continue, people are desperate for jobs and the economy is in disarray Anxiety settles down on us like a fog. Some even say America’s best days are over. 

Our mood reminds me of the little boy that brought home from school the familiar picture of the three Patriots that marched down the road. One played the fife, another beat a drum and a third carried a flag. The little boy showed the picture to his father and said, “Daddy, the man carrying the flag looks like he has a terrible headache.” Most of us understand that picture.

Yet Thanksgiving gives us another opportunity to transcend our headaches. It could be a moment when we might just renew our faith in the old vision of the Pilgrims and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It might be a time to put away our weapons and labels and reaffirm our faith in this good land. We have been blessed beyond measure. We have survived so much in our history. It is high time to pause and give thanks and recommit ourselves to making this word united a reality for America once more.

(This article appeared in The Greenville News, Monday, November 25.)

     --roger lovette/

Monday, November 25, 2013

God Does Not Need Our Praise

God does not need our thanks.

Yep, I said it.

I’ll say it again: God does not need our thanks.

What kind of deity would God be if He (She) sat around just waiting for our praise?

And what kind of a God would it be that would zap us if we forgot to praise Him or Her?

I’m getting a little weary of all these praise songs...that infer that God needs our praise or our worship.

God is God and needs nothing from us.

On the other hand—we need to praise.

We need to thank God.

Sure, we need to keep singing the Doxology.

Praise makes us remember. 
Gratitude makes us more humble and more human.

To say a thank you that comes from the heart does something to the giver.

So—we won’t scrap our thanks or our praise.

But we will remember we’re not pleasing God as we thank. 
God does not need our pleasure.

But back of it all—we need reminders, again and again, that at the heart of it all is love and mystery and understanding and forgiveness.

Praise God!

    --roger lovette/

Thanksgiving--Paying our Dues

On this Thanksgiving week I remember that old  couple who were members of the rural church I served. Once a month, without fail they would hobble in and hand me a  check. They always said the same thing, "We've come to pay our dues." 

We all have dues to pay, don 't we? Thanksgiving  provides us all with an opportunity to ponder the faces and events that stir our memories and take us back across the years. Surrounded by the lushness of so much, this day provides even the poorest of us with opportunity to do some healthy remembering.

Think about your own dues--and the people you owe more than you can even imagine.  I recall a tree my Daddy planted the day I was born that still stands. I remember a First-grade teacher that taught me to love learning and books. I remember a little all-too-typical church that pointed me upward and gave me an anchor that still holds.  I remember high school and a journalism teacher that whispered one day: “Would you like to write? I think you can.” And then there was College and Seminary and teachers and books and windows that opened to a much-larger world that I could have ever imagined.

My dues must include parents who sacrificed out of their poverty to provide me with opportunities they never had. How could I ever forget that girl that said yes over fifty-something years ago and has stuck with me through thick and thin? I also must include our two redheads that have made the trip enormously delightful.And my two beautiful granddaughters.  

Dues. Dues. Dues. It's time we pay up.  The friends we made. The dogs we’ve had—or had us. The employers that took a risk with us and forgave our mistakes. Enormous dues like music and laughter and stained glass windows and “The Lord is my Shepherd…” All our cups are full and running over. Flowers and full moons and colored leaves and singing birds and jogs on a fall day when you wish you could live forever. The list is endless.

 I think of the down times and the friends and family members that have stood by me. The people who called from all over when my father died. And that group that drove many miles to stand in the cemetery when I buried my mother. We all have wondered how we would get through the darkness of some troubled time. Sickness, death, disappointment, life taking a wrong turn--rejection slips. And sitting here on Thanksgiving I remember.

So pause between turkey and football. Maybe make a list. Look back over your shoulder and stir your memories. How far you have come and all those that cheered you on and made the trip worthwhile.

 Don’t be distracted at the spread on the table that seems to go on and on. Forget the Internet, troubles at work—the election, your aching back. You may just find yourself overwhelmed at what comes to mind. A check won't do it. That would be too simple. But bowing your head or just sitting in the silence maybe you'll remember all those dues that this Thanksgiving are coming due.

No wonder, in a terrible time of plague and death, the Pastor who had to bury all the dead
wrote, amazingly:

"Now thank we all our God  With hearts and hands and voices
Who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices;
Who from our mother's arms, Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today."


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Kennedy Assassination--Lessons to Ponder

Friday we remember the much-too short presidency of John Kennedy. Has it really been fifty years since he left us much too soon? Accolades have been coming in from all directions. And should. But we have a problem in this country of forgetting our history. Amnesia is rife. Maybe it has always been. Pause and think of the Kennedy years. He was hated by many people. In fact he was warned not to go to Texas. The atmosphere there was toxic. The newspapers in Dallas and other places were calling for his impeachment. The Pastor of the then-largest Baptist Church in that town denounced him as a traitor from his influential pulpit. He would not let people forget that Kennedy was a Roman Catholic. This was the setting of that terrible day in Dallas. But it was a mirror of much of our country. We have a selective memory. We forget the painful and dark side.

Behind the carefully choreographed facade was a President who was very ill, and who had serious problems with sex. His public persona as a family man did not stack up with what we now know. In a different age he would not have fared as well probably as Bill Clinton. Seymour Hersh’s book, The Dark Side of Camelot is worth reading. A reputable journalist—not a hack, wrote it.

 All said, we forget that God always writes straight lines with crooked sticks. Maybe countries, too. This does not excuse irresponsibility or wrong-doing. 

But we must remember that we live only in the present. Today. This week. This time in history.  So—fifty years from now people will look back and remember another President. Black. Smart. He will be then called courageous for breaking the color line in the White House. They will write of how people of color the world over felt so good about America. Obama will be compared to Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King and Lincoln. Hopefully they will write that he left us with a legacy in which all our citizens were covered with health care. Will that memory still be selective? Probably. Little will be said about the birther fantasy. Few will remember the ugly whispers: “He just is not like us--he is a Muslim.” “He will destroy this country.” His  real weaknesses, too will be mostly forgotten.

Now we forget most of the bad stuff of yesterday. We remember only that the myth of Camelot was real and right and true. We should not forget that terrible day when our hearts stopped and we watched the sad, sad drama acted out in Washington for three long days. And we should also remember the horrendous climate that made that awful day possible. Hated for his integration stand. Hated because of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Hated because he dreamed big dreams for all our citizenry. Some just loved to hate.

Democracy is always messy. Our history surely tells us so. But when we look back this week on the short Kennedy presidency let us remember the whole story. The difficulty of trying to help this people live up to its best dreams and its values. And let us pledge ourselves that in this day and this time. We will never be yes people to this President nor any other. But we will try our best to make this climate today healthier not only for those that serve us—but for us all.

I keep remembering the story that comes from Philadelphia. As Benjamin Franklin emerged from Constitution Hall a a Hall a woman asked him, “What kind of a government are you giving us?” He replied, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.” 

           --roger lovette/

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Gay Bashing--A Christian Virtue?

 Just read on Yahoo News a story about a New Jersey waitress. After her customer paid the bill and left, she was shocked at the note the woman had left behind. There was no tip. The note read: “I am sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle and how you live your life.” The note-writer and her family skipped the tip on their $93.55 bill and only left her this pious explanation. The server reported that she had been waiting tables for ten years and that she never told the family she was gay when she introduced herself. “Just a normal introduction,” she said. “My name is Dayna and I’ll be taking care of you today.” She reported that the woman at the table replied, “I thought you were going to say your name was Dan.” “I didn’t know how to react,” she said,” ‘ I never thought this would ever happen.”

Most folk would not react this way—thank God. But we still have a long way to go. I’ve sat in the counseling room and heard story after story from gay people. They opened up their hearts and talked about the pain of discovering who they were. Hating themselves because they felt they were different. Sitting in church and hearing their preacher denounce the "gay life-style." Kids at school snickering about fags and queers. Or parents that often did not try to understand and turned their backs on them. I have had gay friends tell me that they have been with their partner for years yet they could not bring their loved one home. Some families did not even know the partner existed. The parents knew their child was gay--but they closed the door to this discussion years ago. Some said, “OK, we’ve talked about this—subject closed.”

I keep remembering that quote: “Be kind; everyone you meet is having a hard battle.” Straights, gays, everybody. Everybody.

   --Roger Lovette/

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Immigration Reform Can't Get Lost in the Shuffle

It looks like Immigration reform has gotten lost in the shuffle. How do you lose 11 million residents of our country?  I guess you can ignore this number of people when you realize that 49.9 million—yes, million—do not have health insurance in this country. (That figure is up from 2009’s number, which was a mere 49 million.)

We’ve spent all our energy lately talking about the glitches in the Affordable Health Care law—and we ought to say: GLITCHES—because we have done a poor, poor job of getting this program off the ground. And so most of the opponents of that program are wringing their hands and saying: “How terrible—all these people that call or check on the web site and can’t get in.” They do have a good point. And hopefully we will finally iron out this mess.

But—back to the eleven million people that are wondering what place they have in our country. Most churches don’t put down “I was a strange and they took me in.” beside the immigration issue. Well, most faith groups do not put down: “I was sick and you visited me” as it applies to over 49 million uninsured people either.

We‘ve got to tackle this health care dilemma in a way that will deal with our 49 million problem. But—we still have to struggle with positive ways to help these people already in our country. Story after story tells of the sadness of our foot-dragging.

The Sojourner’s blog—God’s Politics--which always keeps our foot to the fire—has a splendid article called: “What Immigration Reform Looks Like.” Ivone Guillen tells of this problem in human terms. She also provides a video of an undocumented Minister and his family. The article and video are worth looking at.

Why do I keep talking about this issue? Because this country is in the people business whether it’s health care or immigration. But more than that—because the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be on the forefront wherever people hurt and need.

(Want to read another story that puts a human face on 11 million immigrants--read Karla Guillen's story about her parents being deported.)

   --Roger Lovette /

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veteran's Day--Remember the Fallen

"I'm siting here now
Trying to put pen to paper
Trying to write something
That you can relate to

It's hard to relate 
To my personal circumstances
I'm out here in Afghanistan now
Taking my chances.

Read what you read
And say what you say
You want understand it
Until you've lived it day by day.

Poverty-stricken people
With medieval ways
Will wake your life without a thought
And now we're all the same
Each playing our part in this brutal game."
 --Alex Cockers, 2010*

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day. The banks will be closed. A few stores may observe the day. Libraries will probably be closed. When George Bush was asked years ago what we at home could do for this war effort he said, "Why don't you go shopping." And we did. And we do. Still. Here and there Veterans will gather for a parade. Old men with caps that remember how it was back there in Germany or France in World War II. Some will remember their time in Korea or Viet Nam or Afghanistan or Iraq. Mostly though those that half-line the streets will be old timers. While most of us go shopping--men and women who fought in our longest war called Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom--will stay home. They won't be shopping. 50,000 of them were wounded and some can't even leave the house. No. They won't join the parades. It is too painful. But they will remember. And across the land--others: Fathers, brothers and sisters will remember one or more of those 6,750 that lost their lives over there.

Few at home will take note of the number of civilians that have been killed in these wars. More than 753,399. Not to speak of the children and the old and the women and many of the men who lives will never be same there. As many here could agree.

Since 2001 2.5 million Americans have served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard units. Of that number 37,000 have been deployed more than five times. Records show that 4000,000 have done three or more deployments. 670,000 of those veterans have been awarded disability status. These two wars have produced more disability claims per veteran than any other wars on the books.

Shopping won't do it. And evasion of these terrible facts will not erase the scars and damage and heartbreak that those that served will carry to their graves. So pause some time today or tomorrow and remember. Pray we can bring the rest of our troops home. Pray that we might learn some lessons from the stories we hear that could change all our lives. Maybe this nation, too.

*This poem was written by Alex Cockers. He was born in April 1985. He was a Royal Marines Commando from 2005-2009. He served on Operation Herrick five and seven in Helmand province for a total of 14 months.

He explains how he came to write this poem and others. "During my 14 months in Afghanistan, I had many feelings and thoughts that I was unable to share with anyone. Under the stars; in the desert,  rhymes would manifest in my head. I would write them down, construct them into poems and somehow I felt better for getting it off my chest."


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Problems...Problems--25th Sunday After Pentecost

"Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up, And  places with no carpet on the floor--
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And turnin' corners, 
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you find it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still goin' honey,
I'se still climbin'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair."
   --Langston Hughes, "Mother to Son"

Martin Marty, very wise man told of seeing a cartoon in the paper. It shows a minister in the pulpit, preaching: “Having completed the formation of the earth, on the seventh day the Lord rested. Then, on the eighth day, the Lord said, “Let there be problems.” And there were problems.

Well, preacher that is an understatement. One of the Lectionary texts for today is from that gloomy book, Job. We all know his story. Speaking of problems—he lost everything. Every thing. Backing up a few verses Job unloads on his so-called-friends who come to comfort and leave him feeling worst than when we know they came. We know the type. They mean well--but...I like the way The Message puts the prelude to today’s text.

“God alienated my family from me; everyone who knows me avoids me.
My relatives and friends have all left; houseguests forget I ever existed.
The servant girls treat me like a bum off the street; look at me like they’ve never seen me before. He ends by saying: “God has come down hard on me.” (19.21)

Read it all for yourself. It sounds like a page out of the lives of so many people I know. One friend lost his wife weeks ago and he is knee-deep in grief. Another waits until Saturday when they will have his wife’s service. A good friend’s wife in our own had a kidney transplant. It did not work and they are scared, scared as she labors valiantly in ICU.  Someone I know wonders what will happen to their high schooler on drugs. Uncontrollable, it seems. What do you do?

There are no easy answers. Job doesn’t even give us many answers. The preacher was right: There will be problems. If we live long enough we will all come to this hard place. In John Bunyan’s classic, Christian, like us, is in on a journey. He carries on his back a heavy, heavy burden. It slows him down and makes his travel difficult. And he falls into what Bunyan calls, the Slough of Despond. Because of his heavy burden—he cannot climb out of that scary place. Sound familiar? Most of us have been there. And sometimes we really do fall and can’t get up.

Job somehow made it. Somehow. I have no answers. In our Scripture today Job talks to himself and his cruel friends:

“If only my words were written in a book—better yet, chiseled in stone! Still, I know that God lives—the One who give me back my life—and eventually he’ll take his stand on earth. And I’ll see him—even though I get skinned alive!—see God myself, with my very own eyes. Oh, how I long for that day!”(Job 19.23-24)

And so do my troubled friends and us all. Despite it all Job says I do believe God lives—is somewhere in this terrible mess. Where, how--I do not know. And so he hangs on to these words like a life raft. Easter we quote the NRSV or some other translation: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Well, not so fast. I think Job said I think and hope that my Redeemer liveth. Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress finally got out of the Slough of Despond. Someone named Help came and reached down and rescued him. And Pilgrim, with the burden still on his back, kept going.

And so as I remember my suffering friends and us all—Obama, Cruz, Tea Party--No Party, frightened immigrants—people in those troubled countries.  I hope we, like Job can hang on until we can say like the old sufferer...”I know that my God lives.” And somehow, despite the terrible problems...we will make it as did Job. As have so many others. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we will all discover somewhere over the rainbow—some where—it will be a better day. We call that faith.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Health Care--What A Mess!!

Tired of the Health Care Debate?
We all are.
Those that slinging their mud and brick-bats are relentless.
Those defensive ones who say over and over it’s gonna be all right.
The outright lies from actors paid, primed and air-brushed talking about how much money they have lost since their policies have been cancelled. Some real people have. 
And then the White House and all these glitches from computers, computers that are just an almost-unforgiveable mess.

Doesn’t anything work anymore?
Is everything—every thing a crisis?
Can we get anything done in the richest country in the world?
Don’t those pulling the strings realize that a whole lot of those millions that don’t have insurance have no unearthly idea what a is?
Who will help the voiceless?

I am a true believer. I do believer this Health Care program will get fixed. Not perfect. What is perfect in this glitzy age? Nothing. 
Power and money and who-will-get-elected-next time seem to be more important than “We, the people...”
It's an uphill climb--but hasn't progress always worked this way?
But Health Care might be helpful to all those out there who wait in emergency rooms eight hours time after time. And a whole lost of others too.

Read Nicholas Kristof’s great piece in Sunday's New York Times. He always comes down on the side of people. They must not get lost in this shuffle. President Obama fix this program. Even though they have one of your hands tied behind you—fix it.


All Saints Day--Revisited

"Don't Tell the Lazarus Story this Morning"

"It would not help the boy
who, listing wishes with a red
has only one, and writes,
'I wish she could come back to

  --Mary Kratt in The Christian Century

All Saints Day yesterday at the church. There came a time in the service where we called out the names of those in our community of faith that had died during the year. As the name was called, someone lit a solitary candle and a somber bell rang.The names were listed in the Bulletin. A long list of grief and loss. . .

Someone who died so quickly after the cursed cancer was found.

Someone in their forties--who left us much too soon.

Someone, I think who died of sadness.

Those infected with the dreaded Alzheimer's. Now at peace thank God

Someone who had been bed fast for years and years.

And after these candles had been lighted--people in the congregation were asked if they wanted to come forward and add another name to that list. Those who came to the microphone called out their loved ones names and then they lit a candle. Some known. Some unknown.

 A Tiny baby.
 A brilliant teacher who bravely fought cancer for years.
A mother.
A grandfather.
 A brother.
A sister.
A best friend.
A friend's wife.

The rest of us sat there looking at the flickering candles. Thinking of a  name, a face, a funny story. How they laughed or sang or painted or cooked. We remembered , despite our sadness, and we were glad.