Friday, May 30, 2014

Sayonara Maya

Burns Library, Boston/ flickr

Maya Angelou died this week. Her life was filled with pain and wonder. Born into a segregated world of poverty and wrong. Her mother disappeared when she was three. She and her brother were shuffled from place to place. She was abused as a child , an unwed mother at 17. She worked as a prostitute yet she somehow overcame all the brokenness of those early years.  Before she left us she had written 36 books, was an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer. She was an inspiration to millions, especially to her own race.

 She was chosen to read a poem at President Clinton's 1993 inauguration. The next year she read her poem, "Still I Rise" at Nelson Mandela's inauguration as President of South Africa. Her words in her poems and writings expressed not only her own journey but her dream for all people everywhere. She gave all of us hope. She graced our lives because she refused to be blocked by the circumstances around her.  Indeed--she really did rise again and again.

Years ago she wrote this poem. Riffling through a book of her poems I rediscovered this poem It is called fittingly, "America" and leaves us with a vision yet to be fulfilled.

"The gold of her promise
   has never been mined

Her borders of justice
   not clearly defined

Her crops of abundance
   the fruit and the grain

Have not fed the hungry
   nor eased that deep pain

Her proud declarations
   are leaves on the wind

Her southern exposure
   black death did befriend

Discover this country
   dead centuries cry

Erect noble tablets
   where none can decry

"She kills her bright future
   and rapes for a sou

Then entraps her children
   with legends untrue"

I beg you

Discover this country.

Heaven is for Real--I'm not sure about the Book

"It is unwise for Christians to claim any knowledge of
either the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell, 
or to be certain about any details of the Kingdom of God 
in which history is consummated."
         --Reinhold Niebuhr

I first heard of this book. Heaven is for Real, one Sunday at the beach. The preacher with a tee shirt and blue jeans—began his sermon with a reading from this book I had never heard of. It was a story of a little boy—not quite four-- who almost died of a ruptured appendix. During the operation he claimed he went to heaven. He came back from that near-death experience with news about rainbows, wings, halos and a Jesus who levitated in the air. He told of seeing God with a crown on his head—which held a huge pink diamond. The streets were paved with gold. He even sat on Jesus’ lap.

When the operation was over and he began to recover— the young boy began to share his experiences with his parents. Little by little he told this amazing story about the reality and wonders of heaven. At first the mother and father did not believe him—after all small children do have vivid imaginations. But as the days progressed his father and mother became certain all their little boy had reported was true.

Since I first heard that story, Heaven is for Real has been on the New York Times Best Seller list 116 weeks. A movie has been made and is now shown across the country. I decided I ought to read the real story for myself.

The boy’s father, Todd Burpo is a Pastor. He comes from a conservative denomination where some believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. The father tells the story to the ghostwriter, Lynn Vincent. This is the same writer who co-wrote Sarah Palin’s autobiography, Going Rogue.

This is really a narrative of a near-death experience. I have talked to very sick people who have been on the edge of mystery and come back with stories from that other world. But reading this book, I had a hard time believing that little Colton Burpo, three years and ten months old could have had all these experiences.
His father, Todd Burpo reported his son’s descriptions of heaven, God, and angels with literal Biblical passages. Colton’s description of Jesus in heaven looks curiously like the renderings of Jesus that appear in many Bibles and Sunday school leaflets. The little boy claims to have met the devil and explained how there will one day be a war between God and Satan that we call Armageddon. Fundamentalist end-time literature has preached this idea for years.

People in Jesus’ day were desperate for a sign that God existed. All three temptations try to seduce Jesus into wowing the crowds with miracles. Jesus refused. When people later come asking for a sign Jesus shook his head. Church history is also filled with groups who claimed they had evidence of faith. Jesus’ tears, wood from the cross, vials of blood from the crucifixion, bones of the Apostles, the image of Jesus preserved on shrouds. The list is endless.

Faith and facts are not the same thing. Paul calls it looking through a glass darkly. The Christian faith is not about proofs. Philosophically there are at least two ways of knowing. One is a seeing which leads to believing. Another knowing is embracing some mystery which cannot be proven yet deeply believed. Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”

I rejoice that Colton Burpo survived a ruptured appendix when he almost died. I do believe heaven is a real place but I am skeptical that this book’s portrayal of heaven. Proof and faith are not one and the same.

That’s why I love Patrick Overton’s poem from The Learning Tree.

“When we walk to the edge of all
   the light we have
and take that step into the darkness
   of the unknown,
we must believe that one of two things
   will happen—
There will be something solid for us
   To stand on,
Or, we will be taught how to fly.”

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Bridge at Arnhem--Let us Remember the Fallen

"I was terrified during the fighting. After the battle I heard a bird sing again for the first time. It was as if I'd risen from the dead. It was only then I realized I'd survived."
                  --British soldier from Arnhem Battle

Our River cruise boat stopped at Arnhem on the Rhine River. We were told that we had docked almost near a famous bridge which had great meaning in World War II. Cornelius Ryan would tell the battle story in his best selling book called, A Bridge Too Far. A film was made from the book by Richard Attenborough.

On this Memorial Day my memory goes back to that Bridge. In 1944 the Germans had moved into Holland and all the citizens of Arnhem had been evacuated. General Bernard Montgomery of England believed if the Allied forces could take this bridge and two others at Arnhem they could end the war.

The Battle plan was called Operation Market Garden. The largest Airborne operation in history happened there. 35,000 paratroopers were dropped in 3 separate areas. If they could take this bridge, defeat the Germans they could then move into the Netherlands. It would be the end of the war.

The Battle at Arnhem lasted for ten long days in September of 1944. Despite fighting as hard as they could the Allied troops were defeated. When the dust had settled 1,485 servicemen had been killed and 6,525 had been wounded or reported missing. 453 citizens on Arnhem died in those days.

I had heard little of this battle. But I visited the Cemetery where so many of these troops were buried. And I was reminded that on this special day we should pause to remember all those who fallen in all the wars.

There are more than a few unknown soldiers. There are millions scattered in cemeteries and unknown graves around the world. We never knew their names, their hopes, their dreams or their shattered families. Yet—they gave their lives for the cause of freedom on a great many occasions.

The Bridge at Arnhem was destroyed in that battle despite the defeat of the Allied troops. Yet when I saw the bridge I was amazed at how it has been rebuilt. Four months after that battle the war really did end and the troops from so many countries found their way home.

But on this Memorial weekend let us remember all the fallen. Let us pray that wars can end and peace might just come. Not all battles are won. Many have been lost. But flowers grow in Arnhem after these terrible years.

We must take the long view of history. That is hard in a crazed media age where every headline is a crisis. And yet when we look a long way back—we might just know that even after enormous losses and defeat and pain—the flowers still grow. Let us remember the fallen.

Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Graduation Time

For weeks now all across the land they don their robes and four-pointed hats and tassels. And then the march begins, usually to “Pomp and Circumstance.” And they file in, surrounded by family and friends they march down the aisles and take their seats. It’s graduation time. We call it: Commencement—a starting over, a beginning, a kickoff.

But those sitting in those uncomfortable gowns and strange fitting hats know that something is ending. That place and that time. For when they leave there will no more pencils, no more books—no more teacher’s dirty looks. Well--not for a while. They will say goodbye to friends and promise to keep in touch. A few hug teachers and shake hands with Coaches who have shaped their lives in ways they do not yet know.

But whether they know it or not—something may be ending—but something is also beginning. Who knows where they will go and what they will do. Some to the Service where they may find themselves in some trouble spot far away. Some will think of the school they have already been accepted to and wonder about the days ahead. Some, thrust into adulthood, will look for a job, hoping for the brass ring.

Starting over is fun but scary at the same time. But that’s what commencement is. A starting over. I remember the old story about the two mean kids who tried to trick the wisest man in town. They weren’t sure about that. They found a bird and took it with them and knocked on the old man’s door. He came out and one boy said, “We hear you are the wisest man in these parts.” The man chuckled: “Well, I’m not sure about that.” They continued, “If you are so smart we have a riddle for you. We’ve got this bird with us.” They held it out their cupped hands. “Is the bird alive or dead?” If he said the bird was dead they would open their hands and let the bird fly away. If the man said the bird was alive they would squeeze the life out of the bird and show him. “Which is it, old man?” He thought for a minute and said, “Boys, it is whatever you want it to be.” The kids turned and walked away.

The wise old man was right and also wrong. It isn’t really what you want it to be. There are too many hurdles for those graduating. But they all hold in their hands what is yet to be. And though life may throw many of them curves they cannot even envision—so much will depend on what happens after their starting line.

Months ago I bundled up my courage and went to my 60th High School reunion. There must have been maybe twenty-five of us who came. The years had taken its toll. The President of the class, still in charge, made a speech hoping we wouldn’t notice his toupee. Across the room were walkers and a wheel chair or two. Some of the girls that I would have never noticed back in High School were gorgeous. Two of our beauty queens were beauties no more. Most of the men looked old.

 I still remember that night in the gymnasium when we filed in wearing our caps and gowns. I didn’t know it then but the old man in the story was partially wrong. Life isn’t always what we decide—we don’t have total control unfortunately Sixty years later, looking around that room at that handful who had graduated with me—so much had happened to all of us that had been out of their hands. There had been divorces and bouts with depression. Some were battling cancer—and more than one had dragged in an oxygen tank. Some had been prosperous—and some had never left their hometown. But the life we had envisioned had been different for us all.

We were the survivors. But we had made it out of the starting gate, encountering more surprises around that track than we ever imagined. Hurdles and mistakes and stupidities and delights. Yet—there we were—60 years later laughing remembering, holding our glasses high. Having a good time.

So to this year’s Class of 2014 I have no great words of wisdom. But you have a chance to do wonderful things. Maybe what you hold in your hands will never be what you thought—but the challenge is yours. To make it so that sixty years later—walkers or not—your mind will wander back to the old starting gate. You might remember not only once upon a time you wore the cap and gown—but in all that happened after that, good and bad—we call life. Important. Precious. Rare. Wonderful.

Looking back over my shoulder, much of it did not turn out the way I dreamed it might. Despite some disappointments and heartaches—it worked out. And looking back I remember and I am glad. I hope that is what happens to you—Class of 2014. 

(I write this piece in honor of my youngest granddaughter, Libby who graduates from High School in Alpharetta, Georgia this weekend.)

                                         --RogerLovette /

Friday, May 16, 2014

Should Women Ride in the Back of the Bus?

photo by forwardstl/ flickr

This whole heresy about men being the "godly" head of the family and women are supposed to follow along won't go away. Owen Strachan has recently been chosen to head a 30-year old organization called: The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This group has been combating evangelical feminism for years. Mr. Strachan has said, "Cancel the apology tour." Meaning: the idea that men are ordained patriarchs of the home while the wife serves as a helpmate in submission to her husband's godly headship is the will of God. His organization and followers pull out the old thread-bare texts from another era when women were totally subservient to  men. Funny how they ignore polygamy and the stoning of women caught in adultery.

You don't hear many women talking about this submission business. I guess they are to keep their mouths shut and let the men speak for them. Wonder if any of these "complementarian" folk have ever visited a Women's Shelter...sat across the room and listened to the women brutalized and abused by their husbands? I wonder if they have ever listened to the children scared to death of their fathers whose rage sends them running?

Is this what Jesus intended?


Hasn't this Benghazi bid-ness gone far enough?

So far we have had 7 Congressional Investigations...
13 Hearings...
50 briefings for staff and lawmakers...
More than 25,000 pages of documents.

Now we have yet another investigation led by Representative Trey Gowdy of our dear state of South Carolina. He has stated that: "I've got to get the facts..."
Senator Lindsay Graham of our dear state of South Carolina (and up for re-election) has made a clarion plea for the Senate to begin its own investigation.

What happened to immigration...what happened to joblessness...what happened to these new plans (yet unseen) for a new health care plan...what happened to helping hurting veterans?

Gowdy has said, quoting the Latin phrase: "May justice be done even if the heavens fall." Yeah!


photo by Darrell Jesonis/ flickr

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Day Memory

One of the pictures in my study is a photograph of two red Gerbera daisies. One is in full bloom and the other is just beginning to open. It looks like a sunshiny day. The flower’s foliage is lush and green. Occasionally someone will pick up the picture and ask, “Why do you have a picture of these two flowers on your desk?” And I answer their question with a story.

It goes back more than twenty five years. Coming home from a two-week trip I began to catch up on the news with my wife. She had traveled south while I had studied up north. On the way home she had stopped by my mother’s house in Georgia and learned she was in the hospital. In her eighties, Mother’s trips to the hospital were coming closer together.

“Oh by the way,” my wife said, “your mother sent you some flowers. Gerber daisies, she called them.  Just before she got sick she told me that she went to a nursery, found two plants at a good price. She instructed me to go by her house when I left the hospital, get the daisies, be careful with them, and bring them home to you.” We were moving soon and so she told my wife, “Don’t plant them now. Take the plants to Memphis and plant them when you move.”

When I talked to my mother on the telephone she wanted to know about the daisies. “Give them plenty of water, keep them out of the full sun until they’re planted and take them with you to Memphis. Now don’t put them in that moving van—you put them in your car.”That was our last conversation. She died less than a week later.

I left the plants with a neighbor while we went to her funeral in Georgia. I wanted to make sure they were all right. And so we stood with family and friends in the cemetery on a hot July afternoon and said our sad goodbyes.

We moved weeks later to Tennessee. One of the last things I did as we closed up our house was to put the daisies in my car. A week later on a hot Sunday morning I planted my daisy plants in the Tennessee soil in our side yard. Grief came surging back. As I mulched the flowers I remember praying, “Dear God, let them live. Let them live.” It was late August.

My birthday fell on a Saturday in October that year. As I went to get the paper  that morning I was dumbfounded by what I saw. One of the daisies had the prettiest red bloom and another bud was barely opening. I don’t know much about this flower except October is very late for a Gerbera daisy to bloom. I charged into the house and told my wife, “You won’t believe what’s outside. One of mother’s daisies is blooming on my birthday!”

It was her final gift the last of many others she had given me through the years. Even after her death, her gift came alive. The long arm of her love touches me still.

Frost came early that year. The flowers wilted. I hoped the daisies would live through the winter—but Gerbera daisies don’t usually do that. The next spring the flowers never came up. But this I know—that daisy bloomed on my birthday. The flowers didn’t come back—but they did their work in a hard time. And even after all these years, on Mother’s Day especially I look at that picture and smile. Grace, stubborn grace, comes in the strangest of ways. And so I told my friend this is why I keep this picture of that Gerbera daisy on my desk.

(I've told this story many times in the last few years. It is my favorite Mother's Day story.  I shared this piece on my blog several years ago--many of you may not have seen it. Here it is a second time. My mother was Ruth Kelley Lovette.)


Friday, May 2, 2014

Remember the Fallen

When I first started my blog several years ago—from time to time I would give a report on all of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq that have lost their lives serving in our military. I called these blog posts “Remember the Fallen.” Week after sad week I listed the names of those killed, their ages and where they were from. I felt strongly then—and still do—that while we are at home having mostly the good life there are fine women and men who have given their lives while we have sacrificed little if anything. This is the first war in our whole history in which we did not raise taxes to pay the bill. Any wonder we are in an economic mess?

The statistics from Iraq and Afghanistan are still grim:
  • Death of service personnel in Iraq (through 2014)  4,406
  • Death of service personnel in Afghanistan (through 2014)  2,179
  • Number of Traumatic Brain Injuries  287,981 (this could not be right, I thought—so I double-checked. This number might be low.)
  • Number of PTSD, Traumatic brain injuries and other related conditions – half-million men and women.
  • The soldiers who are engaged in repeated deployments are more likely to commit suicide. Some are deployed four-five times.
  • 22 Veterans commit suicide every day of the year.

So as we remember the fallen—we must also remember all those who have come home from these wars broken and wounded. We could also add their families—wives, husbands and children who now live in a household whose world has been turned upside down.

David Finkel of The Washington Post has written two splendid books about the longest wars in our history. In 2009 he published a book called The Good Soldier. He went to Iraq and followed one Infantry battalion and lived with them eight months. Out of that experience he has told us what that war was like in personal terms.

In 2013 Mr. Finkel published a sequel to his first book called, Thank You For Your Service. He writes about this same battalion after they came home. The results will break your heart. None returned as they were before their deployments. Finkel writes particularly about their wounds that are not always visible. What he found was anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, sleeplessness, self-abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and suicidal tendencies.

One of the returnees was taking 40 pills a day. Bureaucratic help was a nightmare--and still is. Just to gain entrance to one program that was purported to help one soldier had to collect 39 different signatures from different persons before he could be admitted to the program that might help.

We do our veterans and their families a great disservice when we do not provide the help they need after they return home.

Brian Turner, war poet of these two wars has a book of poems called, Here, Bullet. This seems to be a good way to end this sad blog.

 April. And the air dry
as the shoulders of a water buffalo.

Grasshoppers scratch as the dirt,
Rub their wings with thin legs,
Flaring out in front of the soldiers
In low arching flights, wings a blur.

The soldiers don’t notice anymore,
Seeing only the wreckage of the streets,
bodies draped with sheets, and the sun,
how bright it is, how hard and flat and white.

It will take many nail from the coffinmakers
to shut out this light, which reflects off everything:
the calloused feet of the dead, their bony hands,
their pale foreheads so cold, brilliant in the sun.”
  --Brian Turner, Here, Bullet, “How Bright It is”

We cannot forget our fallen. Not only do they lie in some grave--but they are scattered across this country.

--Roger Lovette/