Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Epiphany--You Can't See Much in the Dark

Credit Peter Haden/flickr

Epiphany. What does it mean? It harks back to the story of the Wise Men that followed the star until they came to the manger. The old strange word means: manifestation. Something not known or unseen suddenly became real. So standing there in the starlight, in the drafty barn, those three well heeled Ones from another place were caught off-guard by the child in the manger. This, this was the Promised One? This infant—with smudges on his face—looking very much like his mother even then—this was what they had been traveling so far to see.

The old poet had it right:

“They all were looking for a king 
  To slay their foes and lift them high—
Their cams’t, a tiny, baby thing
  That made a woman cry.”

It means that the light really does shine in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out. Light—just a tiny light so that we will not stumble or fall or break something. Just enough light to find the way.

Skeptics want us to show them. Proof. They want to see for themselves. Don’t we all! Another poet prayed:

“God, if you’re really God
 fling us a dipper full of stars.”  

 I’ve never seen that kind of dazzling light. It would be good if we all could.

John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s Progress caught the Epiphany truth when the wandering Pilgrim was trying to find the way. The journey was scary and fraught with dangers and  obstacles seemingly impossible to overcome. Pilgrim cried out loud, “I’ve got this burden on my back and I don’t think I can make it.” Evangelist told him, “’Do you see yonder Wicket-gate?’ The man said, ‘“No’” Then said the other. ‘Do you see yonder shining light?’ He said, ‘I think I do.’ Then said Evangelist, ‘Keep that light in thine eye, and go directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate...’”  

And that’s Epiphany. Like Pilgrim if we squint enough  we may just see that tiny light. It’s all we need to get through the darkness of this time and the darkness of our lives. Don’t let anyone fool you—the light is here. We are not alone. No wonder the Church year after year, decade after decade has taken these cold days after Christmas to remind us of the warmth of the shining light.

Credit SummerTX/flickr

rogerlovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 29, 2013

After Christmas Blues

"Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes--Some have gotten broken--and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, And the children got ready for school. There are enough left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week--Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, stayed up so late, attempted--quite unsuccessfully--To love all our relatives, and in general grossly overestimated our powers.

             +                     +                +                +

"The streets are much narrower than  we remembered; we had forgotten the office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen the child, however dimly, however incredulously, The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all."
    --W.H. Auden, For the Time Being

We hear a lot of talk during this Christmas season about depression. With all the advertised joy many folk, going through a hard time, wonder what is wrong with them. There's nothing particularly wrong with them. Life has just been lousy and they don't feel much like celebrating.

We don't hear much talk about the After-Christmas blues.Tomorrow my kids leave for Philadelphia and Atlanta. The old house has shaken for days with laughter, movement, constant eating and catching up. Tomorrow the house will. be quiet. We will look around and see that the decorations are already beginning to sag. There will be some left-overs in the fridge--but we are just tired of Christmas food. In a day or two we will begin the hard task of taking all the Christmas decorations down and getting back to what we call normal.

And we'll miss the kids and even the dog. We will miss the stairs shaking as the teenagers came and went. We will miss the wonderful feeling of having everyone under the same roof. There is a comfort in that. It doesn't happen very often these days. We are too busy and too scattered.

One Christmas Eve I served Communion in the tiny church where I worked. It was a come and go affair. In the sanctuary only lit by candlelight and a tall Chrismon tree--people came to the altar one by one. "What shall we pray for?" I whispered. And after we prayed for family members, for health, for people they loved, for the war and many things, I held out the Bread and the Cup and said, "Remember." But in between their coming I sat on the front pew in the darkness. I don't do this very often. Just sat in the silence. And something good happened there without cell phone or text messages. I remembered faces of so many people I love. I thought of all those who had waded through a hard time and made it. Like a rosary, I thought of blessing after blessing that had come unreservedly to me this year. I hope that I can save those memories for the months to come.

I began this piece by those powerful words of W.H. Auden. Toward the end of that poem he wrote:

"Remembering the stabled where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an it."

So we take down the decorations and pack away all the vestiges of Christmas. Yet we can all hold on to some personal vision or promise. Days when the light came into a very troubled world and the darkness has never, ever been able to put it out. Even after all these years--even after all the terrible things that have come down the pike.

(I first published this piece when I began my blog in December, 2008. Of all the writings I have published since then--this is the favorite or many people.) 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas--Where's the Star?

High up on our Christmas tree, near the top, if you look closely you may see it. If you don’t squint your eyes and look carefully you’ll probably miss it entirely. I’m talking about the star.

It may be the tiniest ornament on the tree. The little star is probably an inch and a half in diameter. The star was made in the church kitchen by a little girl and her Sunday school teacher over forty years ago in Southside Virginia.

Every year, without fail she breezes into the house with her own two daughters. After lugging in suitcases, pillows and presents she always moves toward the Christmas tree in the corner. She asks the same question year after year. “Where’s the star?” Christmas would not be Christmas without that star. I used to think it was a foolish request hanging on to that old homemade star. But I have changed my mind.

We all need some ties to back there. We need some stack pole of remembering that sends us back, back toward yesterday and the past and our roots. What’s your star? Probably not a paste ornament. What is it that calls you back to what used to be with a tug and a pull that is almost magic? I have a buddy who keeps high on a shelf an old threadbare teddy bear. Some of the stuffing is missing and one eye has been lost. His Daddy bought it for him at the fair one time. They stood there looking at the wonderful stuffed animals and he pointed and his Daddy shook his head. The little boy burst into tears and snubbed and snubbed. Finally the Father sighed took out his billfold and handed the clerk the money. His Daddy has been dead for more than thirty years, yet that teddy bare are one of his most precious possessions.

 I have another friend, long gone now, that kept an old pouch of chewing tobacco pinned to the bookcase behind his desk.  He told me he grew up in this little tiny cotton mill village and smoke breaks were few and far between. Almost everybody then chewed tobacco in the mill.  The man has written a score of books. He taught hundreds of students. And he always kept a pouch of chewing tobacco as a reminder of how far he had come and how grateful he was.

Several  years ago I stopped by to see the old black lady that we would now call a Nanny. She kept my brother and me for years and loved us fiercely. As I started to leave she told me she wanted to show me something. She opened a dresser drawer and pulled out something wrapped in tissue paper. She unfolded the yellowing paper and held up a slip. “Miz Ruth give me this slip. She always gave me the nicest presents.” She had never worn it but she kept it and remembered.

Christmas is a time for stirring memories. Silver Bells. Silent Night. Santa Claus is coming to town. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. O Come All Ye Faithful. But this season is much, much more. The faces loom up before us. Names of those long dead get mixed up with fun-filled times from our crowded pasts. Christmas is a remembering time.

Some of us hang the symbols of our memories on a Christmas tree. Some pack them away in tissue paper. Some place these momentoes carefully in a jewelry box and open it up from time to time and just smile. Some just keep our treasures tucked away in our hearts.

“Where’s the star?” Good question. Unpack it gently. Hang it high in your own way. And remember. Remember. Remember. 

(Almost every Christmas for years I have told this story. It has appeared in The Birmingham News (AL) and The Greenville News (SC). I have published it several times in my Christmas blogs through the years. Read it and do your own remembering.)

                     --rogerlovette/ rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas--A Baby! A Baby! A Baby-- 4th Sunday in Advent

"On that night of nights--God came down the
 stairs of heaven with a child in his arms."
           --Paul Scherer

As I read the Isaiah 7 text for the week Christmas began to knock on my door. "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." And the New Testament passage helps us remember. "She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

What do we say as we stand before the mystery of mysteries? Music helps. The gift of just being together again under one roof helps. Decorations might help. Cards that come from far-away may help. Taking a food basket or clothes to  a family in need could help--if we don't forget the family after Christmas. Advent services--particularly Christmas Eve helps.  Just sitting in the darkness pondering the mystery as we look at our Christmas tree or lighted candles--could take us back to the wonder of it all.  

But let's face it--there is no way to really express this inexpressible gift. But we try and sometimes we pull it off.  One of the best ways I have ever seen this glory of Christmas expressed came from a strange source. Our Christmas texts help me remember. It happened on the Bill Cosby Show years ago. Bill was trying to help a woman have a baby. He was stranded with this woman and her two children in a terrible rainstorm. All the lights and telephones had been knocked out. The very-pregnant woman told him she had her two other children by natural childbirth and there was not much for Bill to fear. He didn't believe her. He knew he had to do something to help this woman. What? He offered to get boiling water. He ran around frantically looking for towels. Nothing he did seemed to work. He tried to smile at the woman but it wasn't really reassuring. He finally ended up with this helpless look on his face just swinging his arms in the air. The baby came and the mother survived and Bill, was thrilled beyond words. He just walked out into the rain with a voice colored with many meaning, simply saying over and over, "A baby! A baby! A baby!

So amid our power failures and hard times and troubled world--we can stand open-mouthed and wondering before this great miracle called Christmas. What else can we say? "A baby! A baby! A baby!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's Christmas And I Can See Their Faces

I sit here and see their faces—
One by one they march by—
Troubled, tear-stained, open-mouthed. Desperate.
What can I do to help?
Of course it’s a male thing—we have to help.
But no.
As they march by slow and weary—
I reach back in memory and remember other days—
When the sun was high in the sky and we laughed and ran
   and loved it all.
Nights when we drank or smoked or argued  and just enjoyed being as one.
What can I do to help?
No much.
We live too far away—
   Phone calls, books and notes are too fragile vessels to carry
   our love and care.
And so I pray.
Does it matter?
Who knows?
But I pray—believing—half-believing--somehow out there
   where they live and go through the motions of the day—
   a lightness will come to their heaviness
   and a glimmer of hope will find a way into their hearts.
                                            --Roger Lovette

                     -- rogerlovette/rogerlovette.blogspot.com 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent --Hard Times Come Again No More

"Let us pause in life's pleasures and count it's many tears
While we all sup sorrow with the poor
There's a song that will linger in our ears;
Oh, hard times come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door
Oh hard times come again no more."
   --Stephen Foster  

As we were moving from one place to another the saddest thing happened. My cousin, my good friend--took his life. He was in his fifties with a great deal of promise. He left me a note that said he wanted me to have his funeral in our church in Birmingham. He lived out of town but loved our Church and he loved its openness--he loved the fact that we took in all kinds of people.

As I struggled with what to say one of his nieces called me and wanted to use a particular song at the funeral. I was not sure--often people suggest music that is totally inappropriate for the occasion. But that was not the case--she wanted us to use Stephen Foster's plaintive, hopeful song: "Hard Times Come Again No More."And so at the end of that service we played this most appropriate song. The music could not have been more fitting.

I remembered that occasion as I turned to to this week's lectionary passage in Isaiah 35. I was struck by one word that is used over and over throughout the chapter like a mantra. Shall is repeated 24 times.

  • The wilderness shall be glad...
  • The desert shall rejoice...
  • The glory...shall be given...
  • The lame shall leap like a deer...
  • Waters shall break forth in the wilderness
  • A highway shall be there...
  • And it shall be called the Way of Holiness...
  • Sorrow and sighing shall flee away...

Isaiah wrote in a bitter time for God's people and gave them a word of hope.  So this wonderful word, shall is reiterated over and over. The door to their present and their future was not shut tight. Exile was not the last word. And today? Neither will suicide or a mean-spirited time or continual gun violence be the last word. We put this five letter word down beside the heartbreak on every street. We use the word at a time of terrorists threats--real or imagined. And certainly we could use the word out there for all the  grievers. In the  middle of whatever we deal with--or the world struggles with--embedded in it all is this hopeful word: Shall.

It is a word for people whose lives feel like a wilderness. The word speaks to the weak , the fearful, the blind, the deaf--all the broken people.

Is this shall just a mirage? We keep coming back to this word Advent after Advent. So we put it down beside our newspapers and the web and that family down the street and all  those widows whose husbands or wives will not be coming home from Afghanistan--ever.

Like Foster's song that emerged from that terrible time of slavery. Isaiah also proclaimed: hard times will come again no more   Our task, the text says in verses 3-4 is to help one another. "Strengthen the weak hands," he writes, "and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong, do not fear!'" This is not only a personal word for us but it is also a challenge fore us to respond to but all those out there without jobs or enough to eat or sleeping under the interstate bridge. We are given a mandate. Our task is to make the word shall become a reality for us all.

And so, like other hard times, we pilgrims light three candles. We whisper shall. For we believe, deep in our hearts, that this hard, hard time is not the last word. Say it over and over as did the Prophet. Shall...Shall...Shall.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Prayer for Peace at Christmas

"Protect me oh Lord for my boat is     so small
Protect me oh Lord for my boat is       so small
My boat is so small and your sea is      so wide
Protect me oh Lord."
  --Breton Fisherman's Prayer

Lord—your disciples told the story of that scary time when they were in the boat...and the water got choppy and the wind blew hard...and the waves got high...and they were afraid they would drown. And they wrote that Jesus came—walking on the water—whispering one word: Peace. And the winds died down and the water became calm and the boat made it safely to shore.

Lord—the water still gets choppy. And sometimes the waves just get too high...and, like those other disciples, we too get scared.

So here—where it’s quiet and all seems so peaceful—we know better. We confess that we don’t feel like we are safe and secure from all alarms. For some of us the water is wide and the waves are just too choppy. Some of us are afraid of what might happen to our little boats—or our child’s boat and all those we love. Some of us are fearful for the future. And so here in this safe place—we lift up our fears to you.

Could you do for us what you did long ago for those disciples? Could you bring us peace—here--where we are? Could you calm down our insides? Can you give us enough faith that we will know we are not alone.

Outside these walls—up and down these streets and out to Interstates to this whole country—and world—the waves get mighty high sometimes. Is it too much to ask you to do for us what you did for your disciples long ago? But not only for us—we ask for your peace for all those out there. In Afghanistan—not only our forces—but all those who live there and have known nothing their whole lives but fear and confusion and heartache. Could you do for them what you did for those disciples years ago?

As Christmas comes much too fast—so many today dread it’s coming. Some have lost someone precious. Some face enormous problems. Some worry about many things. The waves are just too high...and those boats feel like they won’t make it. Could you do for them what you did for those disciples years ago?

So Lord Jesus—walk across our choppy waters. Whisper peace to every troubled heart. And may that peace that really does pass all understanding—touch us and all those others out there. Leave no one out for we all have a common need.

We ask it all in the strong name of that Prince whose name we know as Peace. Amen.

(The artist who painted this picture is H Qi, a Chinese artist. He currently resides in the United States and He studied at Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing Art Institute and Hamburg (Germany) Art Institute. His work has been shown around the world at Universities at Cambridge and Oxford and Yale and Princeton and many other places. His unique style has been featured in many leading magazines and newspapers. He is committed to the artistic creation of modern Chinese Christian art. I first saw his work at Regent's Park College in Oxford and was struck by its power and  beauty.)

I wrote this prayer for an Advent service at the First Baptist Church, Clemson, South Carolina.

   --rogerlovette/ rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Monday, December 9, 2013

Wish I'd Said That--The Biggest People in the World.

From time to time I read something so good and so moving that I want to share the words with you.  One of my favorite columnists writes for the Los Angeles Times. Steve Lopez knows how to write. He has won more than a dozen national journalism awards for his work. You may remember, The Soloist which was Lopez' book which was made into a movie. It was the moving story of a homeless man that I still find unforgettable. Recently he wrote a column about Margaret McWhorter, a lady who has worked for four decades as a waitress in South Pasadena. The mark of fine writing is that it brings to mind someone you know that needs to be honored. Read his moving words about a very fine lady. I hate the term little people. For some of those unheralded folk are the world's biggest citizens. Forget Time's Person of the Year. Think of all those whose lives have touched yours and made an indelible difference.They make us proud to be part of the human family. And so does the writing of Mr. Lopez.

(Nancy Fears worked for our family for years. Even after my Father helped her get a job in the mill--she still came to our house on Saturdays and cleaned and helped. She was my first counselor. She listened. She loved. She was always there when we needed her.She had six children of her own...yet she had to work at menial jobs away from her family to make ends meet.  She made an incredible difference. This Christmas...I remember and I am glad.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2nd Sunday in Advent - Unlikely Hope

"They all were looking for a king
  To slay their foes and lift them high;
Thou cam'st, a little baby thing
  That made a woman cry."
  --George McDonald, 1824-1905

As we study the Advent passages for today—one theme runs them all. Hope

 In Psalms 72—hope for the poor. Deliverance to the needy. Unlikely hope. 

In Isaiah 11—with the frightening exile looming in their future the prophet gave the people what? Hope. From a tiny shoot, hardly perceptible would emerge from the stump of the cut-down tree. And from that shoot would come a branch Unseen—but real—the roots of the shoot were alive...and hope was on the way. Unlikely hope. 

In Romans 15 Paul says that the Scriptures were written that we might find hope.  God, he says, is a God of hope—filling us--even us—with joy and peace and yes—hope. Unlikely hope for the mess they were in. Even with what we are in?

 In Matthew 3—there appeared on the scene a wild man, John the Baptist. If you were to paint a picture of a prophet—would he look like the wild John? No. Yet—this unlikely one would pave the way for Him who was to come.

Unlikely. Hope. These are the two words that jump out of the text for me. Unlikely at every point. Poor family. Sixteen-year-old girl. Peasant father. Born in a barn, for God’s sake. Far, far from Rome and all its power. Unlikely hope.

The TV brings us the news that Nelson Mandela has died. Black man in segregated Africa. Imprisoned for 27 years for his plots against his established government. A long time. What happened? I do not understand it. He became President of South Africa. He was a Nobel Prize winner. He reached out to blacks and whites and helped his fractured country find some hope for all its citizens. In The NY Times editorial for Friday the President of Ghana writes: “He Taught a Continent to Forgive.”

Truly God has a sense of humor. Unlikely hope in all directions. In an exile. In a wild man with no real credentials. In a barn. From a jail cell to the Presidency of his country. Unlikely hope.

What about us? Here. Now. Heartbreak everywhere. The poor still bashed by too many well-heeled people. A President under siege. A mainline church not sure at all where it will go or what it should do. Too  many still coming home in flag-draped boxes.And you and me, stringing lights, hanging wreaths on doors, sending cards across the way. Could it be that here and now--up and down our streets: hope—unlikely hope might just knock on our door and all the others? “Let every heart prepare him room...” the old Carol goes. Rich. Young and old. Muslim and real live Southern Baptist. Catholics and Jews. Gays. Every heart. E-v-e-r-y heart. Unlikely hope.

( I saw this rendering of John the Baptist last fall and thought it strange. The great sculptor Rodin fashioned this piece as his understanding of John the Baptist. Unlikely Hope) 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Grieving--The Long Goodbye

"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, from Thirst

(Last week I was asked to speak at the annual Memorial service at our Funeral Home in Clemson as we remembered all those that had died in the last year. Over 160 people had left us. And so that night I looked out on a slice of humanity. All kinds of folk. The very sophisticated and those who had little of the world's goods. There were people on walkers and all ages who gathered to remember their loved one. Our griefs became an equalizer. It did not matter who we were. We were grievers, one and all, trying to deal with the hurt and heartbreak of our loss. This is what I said to those in that crowded chapel room.)

We Come to Remember

 We remember wives and husbands and children and grandparents and uncles and cousins. And besides these, there are some good friends who have come to stand with you this night. Yes, we have come to remember.

You were brave to come tonight. Because what you have done is rip open the old wound and know, once again, the grieving is not over. The tears may not be over. And this evening is a painful reminder of this hard, hard time in your life.

We come to Touch our Grief Once More

I am glad you came for a lot of reasons. In this remembering time you need to touch your grief once more. Some people don’t realize that it takes a long, long time to say goodbye. And some of you think this hard place in your heart will never move. So I first say that you are not finished grieving. Mark Twain lost 3 children. A 16-month-old son. And two daughters: Jean and Susy. But talking about the loss of his children he said, “Losing one’s loved one is like the burning down of your house—it will take years and years to reckon with all you have lost.” And this is true. For a long, long time you’ll look and remember something
you thought you had forgotten and the grief comes roaring back. Not as bad as the last time...but it comes. One man wrote: “The shine went out of everything.” Facing your grief—which is what you all are doing tonight is hard but it is healthy. For if we don’t face it—it will eat us alive. And our loved ones we lost would not want to happen. 

We have all looked at the pictures of your loved ones on the screen. Alive and vital and funny and mean and human and stubborn and kind and loving and hard to live with. Some of their peculiar habits that drove you crazy—you’d give anything to have them back. So tonight brings it all back. But look around you—this is another reason I’m glad you came. Because you are surrounded by a whole lot of other grievers. When we lose somebody our focus gets very narrow and we think that we are the only one that feel the way we do. Nobody else we think, has gone through what we go through. So looking around you-- you know there are whole lot of others who are in the same hard place you are. There’s a comfort in that. And you mutter: “Well, maybe I’m not crazy after all.”

This Goodbye is very Long

One woman tells of going to the cemetery after the funeral. She lost her husband and she was crying. A relative, driving the car turned and said, “Stop that. You’ll just have to get over it.” We talk a lot about closure and moving on. But these words should not apply to our grief. We do get over it but it takes a long, long time. And we don’t think we will ever get over it.  But you will. One day you will get out of bed and look through the window and guess what? That old yellow thing in the sky will be shining once more and somewhere in the distance you’ll hear a bird sing. And you are back. You never thought it would happen. But it will or it has for some of you,. Life will go on. It’s like an amputation. Different, always different—but life will go on. My buddy lost his wife of 47 years the other day and I knew both of them well. And when I called him, one week after the funeral I said, “Do you know what Marilyn would say? Bob—this is going to be very hard—but you going to get through it.” And she was right. And this is true of everybody here.

Grief can evolve into Thanksgiving

The third thing I would say is that we have just come through a period of Thanksgiving. And maybe you feel like you don’t have anything to thank God for. Well—remember. Remember your loved one. Remember their face and how they looked and acted. Their little quirks that made them who they were. Whisper a thanks—You did not have them long enough—but for the time they were here--they added grace to your life. Give a thanks for that.

But that’s not all. Think of all the people that stood in that long line to hug you and stand with you. Think of those people that said they would  pray for you. Think of all that food—more than you could ever eat. But it came with a heart full of love. Think of the service and those that left their jobs and some their own grief to come and stand with you. And the cards—they didn’t have to send them or the flowers. As you remember I hope you thank God again and again.

You are not Alone

 Whether you go to church or not—we all need to remember that Jesus wept when his good friend Lazarus died. And God aches for you in your pain. The quote I keep hanging on to these days says: “I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge—someone is hidden in this dark with me.” You are not alone. God will send you his angels in one form or another. Angel means messenger. God’s love might come through a
grandchild...a friend...a Pastor...someone you hardly  know. Sometimes—believe it or not—that old dog that follows you around and thinks you are the greatest thing in the world could be one of those angels. These messengers however they come...tell us we’re gonna make it. That life is not over. Grief might not be over yet—but life is not over either. The prayers that have gone up for you and your family will be heard. God will send his Spirit in one form or another. Let not your heart be troubled—neither be afraid. Somehow you will make it.

And if old grief won’t leave you alone—talk to someone. A Pastor. Your Doctor. A counselor. They can help. But I love that old verse in the Bible that says: “Weeping may last for a night—but joy comes in the morning.” And this is my prayer for each one of you. After the tears do not come as often...you will discover that joy will come to you. And you will live again. That’s my prayer for everybody in this room. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Watching

The Preacher Said Watch
The preacher said, Watch.”
It was the first Sunday of Advent.
He said, “Watch” over and over.
How can I possibly watch when I must find my lost car keys?
How can I watch when I’m trying to figure out this Dentist’s bill?.
How can I watch when my feet hurt always—my age is ridiculous?
How can I watch when across town my good friend has lost his wife much too soon?
How can I possibly watch when the pundits on TV keep blaring about this and that—
     mostly that?

This watching never was easy.
Jesus knew that.
And the disciples that wrote it all down knew it, too.
The distractions were real then and still are.
Worrying about who’s in and who’s out—Jews, Gentiles.
Worrying about the crippled donkey and the drafty barn.
Worrying about if Jesus really sweated and wept 
and got tired and was furious some days.
Worrying about who’s greatest—Peter, James and John 
or Donald Trump or Brad Pitt or Lady Gaga.

No, there always has been something out there or in here
 to take our eyes off of what matters.
No, your child is not perfect.
No, you never will have enough money or security.
No, you won’t be able to complete your bucket list.

But—listen and look and wait and see.
We don’t know when the Lord will come.
But it could be remembering all the good, good things 
that make up your less-than-perfect life.
Put down the newspaper and listen to the music.
Forget the game you did not win—and open your eyes to what’s here.
Wait, whether you’re patient or not.
Who knows, God may just come.

See, beyond all the broken things,
The treasure hid in your field.
And even though we will never know the day nor the hour
We will know, deep in our hearts that it’s coming—this child 
born and yet to be born.
This Christ-mass.
And so we watch, like the Preacher said.
And we shall wait, hard though it may be.
And amid the mounting busy-ness something deep down will tug at our hearts.
And we will  know
somehow that drafty barn and that donkey with the wounded leg really do matter.
And so we watch.

   --rogerlovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 1, 2013

World Aids Day Reminds Me of Faces and Names and Real People

(Today is World Aids Day. I don't think I have seen a single mention of this day in any publications I have read. And yet this is far too important a cause to be ignored--even though we have made great strides in helping people with HIV live long lives. 

There are 35.3 million people living with Aids around the world. 
3 million people still die every year from this disease.
Over 65% of those infected do not have access to the drugs that would help.

On this day I think back on all those brave soldiers whom I have known that have struggled valiantly with this disease.
I wrote the following words in a blog piece in 2009. It makes me remember so many who have given so much.


My first encounter with AIDS came about twenty years ago. I was invited back to the first church I ever served in the early sixties. It was a rural congregation about six miles out of town, surrounded by rich tobacco land. They invited me back for a week of preaching. That first Sunday a young man came down the aisle and joined the church. Michael had been in my youth group as a boy thirty years before. After the service he told me he had AIDS. I had never met anyone with AIDS. So I went to see him that week and he told me his story. One of nine children, he always knew he was different. Michael had a hard time finding his way and accepting who he was. And just about the time he had made peace with himself and his family he discovered that he was very sick.

He had come home from the West Coast to Kentucky to die. He was trying to work but he was exhausted most of the time. They baptized Michael the Sunday after he joined the church. I was proud of that little church that reached out and took Michael into their hearts. In less than two months he was dead. But I have thought about Michael, his mother who loved him fiercely and his family and church that stood by him to the end. I realized twenty years ago that if AIDS could come to that little rural village, on a side road, it could touch any community in America.

Two weeks after my encounter with Michael I was invited to participate in a healing service for people with AIDS at the downtown Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee. That night, as the people streamed forward and whispered their requests for healing I was one of the ministers who heard their sad requests. It was a holy moment.  One old man said, “I have a son dying of AIDS and it’s killing me.” One young man told me, “My partner died six months ago and I am very sick—would you pray for me.” A mother leaned forward and said, “My boy is very sick and I don’t know if I can hold out to care for him. It’s hard.” Person after person whispered their needs. Parents, friends, siblings—partners. That evening touched me at some deep level I cannot fully understand.  I saw the human side of this disease.

Little Maggie

The first big challenge with AIDS was when one of our members wanted to bring a little black girl named Maggie to our church nursery. Remember this was eighteen or so years ago. Everybody was scared of AIDS and infection. Here was a challenge: could we put our own children at risk? Could we possibly turn away someone who needed the church? We invited all our children’s’ workers in for a Seminar. A physician, no stranger to our church who worked with the Center of Disease Control came to talk to us about the realities we faced. We learned about Universal health precautions. We learned that with great care Maggie was no threat. Reluctantly our workers agreed and aids came walking into our church.


Months later a member came by and said, “I have this friend who goes to another church. She has a son very sick with AIDS. He is coming back from California to live with her—and she doesn’t think her church will accept him. You think we could do that?” “Hmm,” I thought, “who knows—I would certainly hope we would take them.” She joined the church weeks later. And when her son came home from California furious and angry and his life had been turned upside down. You could tell he was sick just by looking. One Sunday he came to church and people welcomed him. Months later he walked down the aisle one Sunday and said he wanted to join our church.

I didn’t know how people would respond. But my little church opened up its heart to Kevin and his mother. He would live, as I remember about a year and a half. Toward the end he was very sick. The last day of his life his Sunday school class went twelve miles stand around his bed and give him Holy Communion. It was the last food he ever took by mouth.


Since that time many gay people wandered into our church and many stayed. It was not an easy struggle. Over and over I would say that this was an integrity issue and either we welcomed all or we were not a real church. Slowly that congregation rose to the occasion. First we lost Kevin and then Charles. Karron would be next—and then Gary and dear Roy. Since those early days we have made great strides.  The University of Alabama at Birmingham has been on the forefront of  research for HIV/AIDS problems.

Since my journey with AIDS began over twenty years ago we have made much progress. Drugs have been discovered that have prolonged life. I have met many persons who are profiles in courage. I have seen the ugly face of discrimination up close. People who could not let their employers know they were sick and paid costly, costly medical bills out of their own pockets. I have heard stories of parents who turned their backs on their children—leaving them without resources to live or die alone. One prominent family told none of their friends that their son was home sick and when he died no one knew. They were ashamed. No obituary. No funeral service except the four of them. And yet I have seen some members of the most conservative churches reach out and open their hearts to families in great pain. I have seen other people change their minds and hearts. 

We have made great progress—though we have a long way to go.People complain to me sometimes, “AIDS is not the only terminal disease.” And they are right. My brother has battled cancer. My mother and father both died of heart disease. My mother-in-law was taken by Alzheimer’s. There are a multitude of killing diseases out there. But we are to respond with care and love with whatever the disease and whatever the condition. I do know this—I have seen the face of AIDS a multitude of times these last twenty years and the lenses through which I see the world will always be different.