Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kristallnacht--Remembering the Fallen

poster /Melkshake13

 Last Thursday night I had the opportunity to hear a holocaust survivor. This is the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. It was the night of the broken  glass.  On November 9-10, 1938 was a carefully orchestrated program of attacks against Jews in Germany and parts of Austria. The word Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets of Jewish owned stores, buildings, and  synagogues. This was  the beginning of the Holocaust which would finally cost the lives of six million Jews. Eleven million people were killed by the Nazis not counting United States soldiers.

Trudy Heller now 92 years old, is a  citizen of Greenville (SC) spoke to us last week. She lived in Vienna that night when everything Jewish there was smashed. 95 Jewish synagogues in Vienna alone were destroyed. During those two days over 1,000 synagogues were either destroyed or burned. 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed or damaged. Ms. Heller was a teenager in Vienna. Nazi authorities knocked on their door, asked for the family's car keys--and they realized terrible things were on the way.  At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks. 30,000 were arrested and thrown into concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked. So Trudy and her family were told they had six hours to leave their home or die. So they left most of their belongings behind and were cooped up with other Jewish families in a Ghetto. Along the way courageous people helped keep them safe. Finally they were able to cross the Austrian border to Holland and finally to Belgium. Most Jewish folk were not so lucky. 90 members of Trudy Heller's family were killed during those terrible years.

 Miraculously her family finally made their way to the United States and South Carolina. Her father lived to be 87. She married Max Heller in Greenville and he became the Mayor of Greenville and brought many positive changes to this deep-South town.

She reminded us that no Jewish family in Europe was untouched. Ms. Heller said she lost 90 members of her family. Even at 92 Mrs. Heller still tells her great story. She reminded us that gathered that night that Hitler taught people how to hate. "You have to be grateful for what you have," she told our audience. "There is not enough time for hate. We must love one another."Mrs. Heller is the only Kristallnacht survivor in Greenville.

Sitting in that crowded room in Easley, South Carolina that cold night when Ms. Heller spoke I remembered an Anniversary trip which included Budapest, Hungary. Behind the Dohany Street Synagogue is a park named Raoul Wallenberg. It honors the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during World War II. The centerpiece of that park is a metal sculptured piece that honors the 600,000 Hungarian Jews that perished by the hands of the Nazis.

The monument is named the "Silver Weeping Willow." The tree is a maze of metal, slivers of silver that bend toward the earth. The tree houses thousands of metal leaves and on every leaf of the engraved leaves are inscribed the names of the murdered. An inscription in Hebrew frames all this sorrow: "Whose agony is greater than mine?" 

On this Anniversary it gives me pause to remember not only all those that gave their lives 75 years ago--but all those who suffer injustice and wrong at the hands of hatred even after all these years.



Monday, January 27, 2014

Anniversary Waltz: Stanza #53

"You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you.  Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.

But then,
something wonderful happens:
Someone, a man or a woman, walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.

So you finally get 
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite, 
the blood flowing back 
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner's arms tire,
you hold up your own 
to relieve her (him, sic) again.

And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling."
  --Michael Blumenthal, "Marriage"

It all began on a snowy night in Louisville, Kentucky. Well, not really. It really began at a Pizza Parlor in St. Matthews, a suburb of Louisville. The year must have been 1958. My buddy and I got hooked up with blind dates--twins. Interesting, I thought. Never dated a twin. But that night, with pizza and candlelight--I looked across the table at, I think the prettiest girl I ever saw. I really should say--at the prettiest girls I ever saw. They looked smack-dab alike. Blue eyes the color of light blue marbles.  Blonde hair. Sorta quiet--and a smile that was sunshiny great. I thought it would be the last time I ever saw her. How could I, a peasant from Georgia, possibly  be loved by this gorgeous girl sitting across the table that candlelit night?

Looking  back I now know that miracles really do happen. She saw in that fat guy with Gary Cooper glasses--studying to be a preacher, for God's sake a whole lot more than this insecure 22 year-old ever imagined. She had to swim against a very strong tide to say "yes" on another moon-lit night. Her Mama had one strong word of advice: "Never marry a preacher!" The girl was a fine, fine musician. A pianist taking from the best piano teacher in Louisville.  And he loved her. And he warned: "Don't throw your life away. You'll end up in some god-forsaken place like Anniston, Alabama." I had no car. We either dated by bus--which was ridiculous or sitting in the back seat of a friend's car as he drove. I had no dowry to bring. No ox, sheep, goats--or chest of gold and silver. Just me.

And so--she took an enormous risk. Not me: no risk--except I felt I was not good enough for this wonderful person. It was the best thing I ever did. Even after 53 years I can say it now louder before the mike than I could back there: it was the best thing I ever did. I kid you not.

So we were married that snowy-night ten degrees below zero. I think our two-night three-day Honeymoon at French Lick cost $53.00 (meals included). We came home absolutely broke. We both graduated that Spring--me from Seminary and she from college. And so the journey began. There must have been days when she must have said to herself: "What in the hell have I got myself into?" Our first church was way out in the country. A tiny house of four rooms, a Warm Morning heater that did not do the job and mice that ran sometimes across the kitchen counter. I made $70.00  a week. She taught third-grade a class she had no training for--and I was the village Reverend--with plenty of training and zero experience. We had a  beautiful red-headed curly haired daughter born there. We left after three and a half years. I told a friend that wasn't a very long start. He said: It was as long as World War II. Seriously--I considered this my internship and they taught me much more than I could give.

That Church was followed by another in Virginia--where our red-headed son was born. Se was wife and mother and first lady of the Church--God, she hated those words. She survived the rantings of a husband after Deacon's meetings and phone calls that asked: When the son-of-a-bitch was going to leave his church. Emphasis on the his. She held my hand through the loss of  my father and the hard grief that followed. Those nights when I staggered home after some minor-crisis I thought was major--she would smooth my feathers and tell me it was all right.

Time after time she must have mused: Maybe my Mother was right. But she kept her peace. She survived Churches that expected Bee-hive hairdos and a praying, pious Pastor's wife that they thought would be their Head Majorette (like the last one!.) Not. She survived Sunday School classes that preached the borned-again gospel of Republicanism and praying that the nigras would calm down and find their place again. But she held her ground. And went her own way--and so in every church that we ever had there was this cadre that followed her everywhere. More than one Pastor's wife would exclaim: "Gayle Lovette is my model of what a Preacher's wife ought to be."They loved her independence and her strong and sure self-image.    And all the time I was out somewhere serving the Lord--she was home raising two kids and doing it with grace and love and care.

Once when I resigned without a place to go at age 55--I was sure it was all over. And she said: "Are you crazy? You are good and you will find something." And I did. She had said that year after year and place after place.

And so here we are. She's still here. Despite the dangers, toils and snares--emphasis on all three--she is still here. I remember what Loren Eiseley said of his wife as he stood by her grave: "You have come all the way."

I hope my wife lives and lives. But I can say that now. She has come all the way. And, I repeat myself: Marrying her was the best thing I ever did.

I bumped into an e.e.cummings poem which says it for me:

"i carry your heart with me(i carry it in 
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
 i go, you go my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling) 
                                         i fear
no fate (for you are mt fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Martin Luther King--We Still Need His Birthday

Photo by Tom LeGro/PBS NewsHour

It's been 46 years since he left us. Since that terrible day in April people in this country and around the world have remembered his words and his special life. Hardly a town of any size doesn't have a Martin Luther King Boulevard--though most of them run through the poorest of neighborhoods. There are monuments to his memory everywhere. 

But let us not forget our history. Remember how vilified he was? Remember how they bombed his house in Montgomery? And the deaths threats that just kept coming? Remember how he was called a Communist and J.Edgar Hoover was determined to bring him down? Remember how supposedly good politicians fought to make sure his birthday did not become a national holiday. They lost. Remember his was not a seamless life. Thetre were cracks in his plaster. His feet were as clay as are ours. His sins were sometimes enormous. Yet--who was it that said that God always writes straight lines with crooked sticks?

But Dr. King gave us hope. And still does after all these years. Not too long ago I stood before the great monument  in Washington."Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." And as I looked black folk with smiles on their faces stood below the huge stone rendering and had their pictures taken. I saw a little black boy perhaps not even nine standing there just looking up. I hope something good and special stirred in his young heart.

We're in a strange place today. We have a black President. Many politicians have determined that he will be a failure. How could any black man really run this country! Lies have been told on top of lies--about his heritage. Not really black. Not really white. Not born in this country--but some strange place like Kenya. An undercover Muslim. Not one of us. A Socialist or maybe a Communist. Another Hitler. Why, he only got into Harvard because they thought he was black--affirmative action enshrined.  Rumors of impeachment. The Southern Poverty Law Center has said that hate groups have risen 800% during his tenure as President. 

I stopped by my black seamstresses' house the other day. Over her sewing machine  and mounds of fabric was a picture of the smiling Barack Obama. He has given hope where there was no hope. He has added dignity to lives who felt so little. Not only in our country but around the world. He, like the great King, still promises hope for everyone.

Forget health care and the tangled web of Washington. Even though our President has pulled it off--no other President in our whole history has done this. People in every state who had no insurance are finding help. Sure it is a mess. And it will still be a mess until those in power decide to do more than simply ensconce themselves in more power. But let us not just blame them--those in charge of this new program--have done very shabby preparations. But affordable health care is an idea whose time has come. 

And so this day we all know that President Obama would not be here without that man who gave his life for us all in Memphis. Dr. King kept telling us: "Deep in my heart--I do believe that we shall overcome one day." He sang it in bombed our churches. He sang it over the dead bodies of four little girls in Birmingham. He sang it in Mississippi where young men with stars in their eyes were dead for helping vote register top vote. He sang it not only for black folk but for the poor and all that were disenfranchised. He sang it despite the venom and the curses and was singing it just the night before he was killed.  

And so, dear President--I hope we remember that song today. And I hope that we will remember those words too. It is a hard time. Meanness runs through many of our streets. Both political parties seem more interested in power than helping the common good. But remember we still can sing the song of hope and pray: "Deep in my heart I do believe that we shall overcome one day."

          -- rogerlovette/

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dear, Dear Elizabeth: A Tribute

Elizabeth Smith-Cox
February 12, 1924-January 8, 2014
"I don't want 

to end up

simply having 

visited this 


-- Mary Oliver

In 1988 as I left this church for another place, Liz Smith stopped me at the door that last Sunday. She handed me a yellow piece of paper. As I sat in the car that morning I read what she had hand-written: “How hard it is to escape from places! However carefully one goes, they hold you—you leave bits of yourself fluttering on the fences, little rags and shreds of your very life.” The words came from Katherine Mansfield, poet and writer. Since that time those words have been under the glass top on my desk. I see them often. And so I know no better way to express my feelings today than to give back to dear Elizabeth the words she gave me years ago. “How hard it is to escape from places! However carefully one goes, they hold you—you leave bits of yourself fluttering on the fences, little rags and shreds of your very life.”


Liz Smith left a whole lot on our fences when she left us last week. And so we come to remember this special life. W.S. Merwin has a book called, Unframed Originals. Liz Smith was an unframed original. We have to begin at that primary place. Washington, North Carolina where she was born 89 years ago. With Mama and Papa—an only child. The Florist Shop. Later—after school and work not one but two good marriages. First Ed—the engineer. Do you know how hard it must have been for an artist and an engineer to pull it off? But they did—it was a great marriage. And then later, dear Morris came into her life. An artist and a lawyer. They pulled it off. But she did say that for a while she kept her house at Six Mile, “Because if we have a fuss I have a place to go.”  But things must have worked out because she sold that house and built a house in Clemson. She left us a great legacy in her three children. She loved them fiercely and talked to me often about Shelley and Dale and Jed. And then there were her grandchildren: Claudia, Charlie and Jack and her Step-Grandchildren: Ali, Olivia and Patrick and two great-grandchildren.

But she left a whole lot fluttering on our fences as well. I don’t know where you begin and where you end. She talked often about making sure that people colored outside the lines. Well—Liz’s influence never stayed in the lines—they flowed out in all directions.


Friendship—I don’t know how many friends she had but there were many. And this room is filled with those friends. Her work as an art teacher at Daniel High School. Hundreds, literally hundreds of students found their lives changed because of this unframed original. Always telling them to color outside the lines. She was a hard taskmaster. She kept pushing them, saying:  “You can do better.” She was named South Carolina Teacher of the Year. Do you know how rare it would be for this state or any state to select an art teacher—an art teacher—for this honor.


She left us her art. This month we have had a display of her work in our Art gallery. She was probably behind the creation of that gallery years ago. But her work was as rich and varied as her life. She painted her children. Ed and Morris. The Beach. Italy. Honduras. Chairs. Rooms. Churches. Windows. But that was not all. I wonder how many pictures she drew—big pictures—of a person’s face and gave this personal get-well card to them when they were in the hospital. Many of you still have those pictures somewhere. Liz drew a portrait of every High School graduate in our church and gave them that present. She drew faces on aprons of friends that tailgated and they wore them game after game.  

Books and Casseroles

She gave out books to people who had lost loved ones. One of her favorites was a book called In the Midst of Winter. The books begins: “In the midst of winter I found a glorious summer.” She gave us that. And then there were those famous casseroles—macaroni and cheese with little bits of bacon on top. I call these: “casserole theology.” She didn’t talk much about faith she just did it.


She was part of the first Habitat House that was built by this church in Pickens Country and active in its work. And if we had time today—almost every one here could stand and tell a Liz story. For she left a whole lot fluttering on the fences of our lives.

Thank You Notes

Just last week I sat on her bed next to her as she talked and talked. About everything She was interested in everything and everybody. But as we talked she said loudly, “I’ve got to write some thank-you notes!” I told her to wait just a little while. Well—Liz, dear Liz—you gave us more thank-you notes than you knew. By your living and your love and fluttering on our fences are memories we can never forget because of you and who you were and what you did.

I haven’t talked much about her incredible faith—our Pastor will do that. But let us remember what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

And so we remember: “How hard it is to escape places! However carefully one goes, they hold you—you leave bits and pieces of yourself fluttering on the fences, little rags and shreds of your very life.” Dear Elizabeth—we thank you for that.


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

(Elizabeth Cox-Smith's funeral was held at the First Baptist Church,  Clemson, South Carolina, January 14, 2014.  Years ago she asked me to speak at her funeral. Here are my remarks from that service.)


Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Room Called Remember

There two two pictures were taken by my son of that park and
given to me on my birthday. 

The world presses down on all of us. We get weary. Friends die. The world breaks our hearts. Often we lose our perspective. There is a Bell Tower in Florida in the middle of a beautiful garden.  The inscription at the base of the tower reads: "I come here to find myself--it is so easy to get lost in he world." I hope you have such a place. Frederick Buechner calls it:  A Room Called Remember.

There is a special park in Princeton, New Jersey where I spent part of every summer for thirty years. It was a place of healing and meditation and prayer and just fun. But years ago I wrote this poem about my special place. Think of your own life. What memory is it that keeps you going. Where is your room called remember?

Marquand Park

Sometimes in the middle of the madness--
I remember a park.

The trees are old as God
and the fields are green as green
And here and there there are benches for stopping.

The park isn't big. It covers, maybe a block
  or two.
But there the birds sing
and the squirrels play--
and I once found great peace.

Sometimes, in the middle of this madness, 
I remember a park.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

In 2014--Let's Open Our Eyes

This window is one of the Old Testament windows
 at the First  Baptist Church, Clemson, SC.
One of my favorite writers is a Roman Catholic priest , Richard Rohr. He’s written I don’t know how many books—but I first discovered him though his book, Falling Upward—which a friend gave me for Christmas. I just finished reading another of his books, Everything Belongs. I recommend both volumes. But one of his quotes from Everything Belongs sticks in my head—maybe heart too. He wrote: “All the bushes burn now if you have seen one burn.”

Seems like pretty good advice for a new year. Most of us get preoccupied with Washington or some personal family problem that weighs us down. And we spend all our time obsessing on this or that. Mostly that. And in the meantime all around us there are bushes burning that we never see,.

What would have happened to Moses—or not happened—if he had not seen that bush blaze in the wilderness. And what would have happened to that fledgling group called the people of God if he had not opened his eyes that ordinary afternoon. 

Don’t you think the memory of that hot, dusty golden day in the desert kept Moses going. We all need a nudge some days. Not just to get out of bed but to stumble through whatever it is we have to do. Mostly tedious, boring and just have-to stuff. Maybe not too different from herding stubborn sheep.

Yet—all around us something real and right and true is happening. I try to keep remembering those “once upon a time...” experiences that make life dazzling and real and right. So put your thinking cap on. Ponder the mystery. Bushes burn. Even in your neighborhood. Despite where you are or what you do.

“All the bushes burn now if you have seen one burn.” So—open the door—look around you. Who knows—you, me—all of us might find enough to keep us going. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year--A Prayer and a Hope

"I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all our poor, selfish grief
Could be dropped, like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again."
--Louisa Tarkington

We turned a new page last night. 2013--is gone. Where did it go? Outside my house the firecrackers were popping. The fireworks filled the sky. Inside--the old round ball at Times Square slowly made its way down into a screaming crowd of a million people. And so it begins. A new page. A new chapter. What if it could be a whole new book?

God knows we need a page and a chapter without the smudges of this past year. I am told by the Southern Poverty Law Center that hate groups have risen 800% since president Obama was elected. They multiplied in number this year.Congress has voted--how many times to kill the Affordable Care Act? Almost fifty times. Maybe insanity really is doing the same old monotonous defeats over and over and over again. Thanks to our pious cost-savings millions have lost unemployment insurance and food stamps on January 1 thanks to the generosity of Congress. Yep--we' ve got to shut down those safety nets where the poor, unemployed and impoverished will quit driving Mercedes and eating streaks while the rest of us hard-working people are driving Hondas and munching on hamburger. I read somewhere that if people slowly descended from Mars and looked around they would surmise that rich people don't have any money.

The Common good. Liberty and justice for all. We the people. Whatever happened to all of that? Maybe--just maybe this new year we might be kinder and gentler and not so mean-spirited with one another. I'm talking about Democrats and Republicans. Martin Marty, very wise historian has written that in the Christmas wars about Jesus or no Jesus in the public square--that both sides are wrong. The whining doesn't help.

Name calling doesn't help. Hate certainly does not help. Marty says the problem is not the triumph of Christianity over atheism or vice versa. He says the problem is power pure and simple. We could say this about every sticky social issue we face. Somebody, must win and somebody must lose. And that, I do believe, is destructive for the human family. 

So back to the blank pages. Douglas Mendenhall journalist in Residence at Abilene (Tx) Christian University has this splendid column I won't to share with everybody who'll read it. It's about our cantankerous, contentious bickering. And how he hopes we do better in 2014. I join him in this prayer and hope. Read it for yourself and do what you can hope for all of us possible. And--a Happy New Year for us all.