Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Growing Up Gay in Church--Listen to what Jeff Chu Says

I  recently saw this remarkable video of a young man, Jeff Chu talking about what it's like to grow up Gay in Church recently. I wish this video could be shown to every church in the country. He delivered his moving words to a Youth Ministry Conference in Chicago. Jeff has also written a book about his experience called, Does Jesus Really Love Me? I hope you'll take the time to view this video and maybe get the book. 

Somebody the other day said, "I don't think we have any gays in our church." I said, "Don't kid yourself--at least ten per cent of those sitting out there on Sunday are struggling with being gay."

We still have a long way to go. Many churches and denominations are scared to death of this issue. Why, we might lose members if this gets out. Jeff Chu is helping us understand what it feels like to sit in church and feel like nobody cares or understands what they are going through. One of the best definitions of church is sanctuary. A safe Place. Church ought to be safe for everybody.

Jesus says in his last parable, "I was a stranger and you took me in...Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these you do it unto me."

(Thanks to Rachel Held Evans and her fine blog for pointing this video out to me.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Are Burkas Back in Style?

photo by Osvaldo Saf / flickr
One little girl was overheard while praying:  "Dear God, are boys better than girls? I know you are one, but try to be fair."

Sometimes when I get depressed about the church I remember that this new breed of Pastors may just be on to something. Many of them are bright, media savvy, have a strong social conscience. They are wise in most of their insights, male and female—and are fair as they tackle the hard issues.

Barrett Owen is a Pastor of the National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. He also serves on the staff of McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. I hope you’ll read his fine comments on women and the church. His blog piece is entitled, “My Wife and I Are Partners.” (

It is hard for me to believe that in 2014 we still have some churches and denominations that are fighting the women’s issue. Huh? Some Pastors are still wed to the Old Testament view when women were treated about the way many of them are still treated today in Afghanistan and Iraq and other countries. This was the world of Jesus. He had many enemies for many reasons. One reason was his attitude toward women. He took everyone in. So when we read the Old Testament and some of New Testament writings about women being submissive, etc—we need to remember that the prism through which we are to filter the whole Bible is Jesus. He is our high water mark.

When the Gospel is understood—the Burkas will be packed away forever. I appreciate Pastor Owen and what he had to say about this issue.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Religious Liberty for All

photo by K. G. Hawes / flickr
Real Religious Freedom in this country does not mean my religious freedom..,.but everybody's religious freedom. Without all being included nobody is really free.
  --Roger Lovette

There is a bill floating around the country which says that public schools “would allow students to pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during and after the school day.” The proposed law also said that “faith-themed clothing can be worn on public school property at public events.” The Governor of Virginia vetoed this bill. Why?

Naturally this veto has stirred up as hornet’s nest. What could possibly be wrong with allowing public school students the right to pray publicly and express their religious beliefs?

This bill and others imply that students do not have the right to pray in schools. Numerous Supreme Court decisions have said that religious expression by anyone must be protected as other expressions are protected. The clincher to not ignore is: the expressions of religious must not coerce, sponsor or be endorsed by any agency or person representing the government.

As I read these words my mind wandered back to my grade school. The week began with the teacher always asking, “Class, how many of you went to Sunday School yesterday?” I always raised my hand because I loved church and Sunday School and wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But as I looked back at those years I remember when the hands were raised—here and there were boys and girls who could not raise their hands. They did not go to Sunday School or Church. I remember the teacher chiding these unraised hands and telling them how important it was for them to be in church.

The setting is always important. Ours was a little cotton-mill village school. It was ruled by the strong hand of an old-maid Presbyterian Principal whom everybody feared. Everybody in my class room was a Baptist, except for a smattering of Methodists and further up the road the Holiness Church. There wasn’t a Catholic or a Jew or any other group within a ten-mile radius. This was the South in the forties and fifties. We were insulated from a great deal of the world even then.

Majority ruled. So—every Monday, before Scripture and prayer we would be asked about Sunday School. I have often wondered how those children must have felt who could not raise their hands. I knew a couple who did raise their hands out of embarrassment who had never entered the doors of a church.

If a teacher asked that question in just about any school today—a lot of hands could not be raised. For any classroom holds Jews, Mormons, Muslims and sometimes a Buddhist or two. To allow the school to return to school sponsored prayer and Bible reading in the nation’s public schools would be a mess. It would leave too many people out. It would make too many students feel like outsiders. 

We know students have religious pre-school and after school programs. No coercion. No mandated gatherings. Just young people who are free to sing, pray, read the Bible and have meditations. This is perfectly fine.

The point is that the public school in 2014 is not in the school-sponsored prayer business. We have no business returning to a different time and a different age. We are in a diverse age. The world with all its variety has come to America.

Old-time Baptists that first came to this country understood the outsider. They left England and moved to Holland because the state-mandated church would not allow freedom of expression of their faith. Stubbornly they refused to pray from the prayer book and to have their ministers approved by the state. They wanted to be free. But even in the new land they found they were outsiders. They did not belong to the approved church of that time. They were ridiculed and many of their ministers were jailed. Out of that setting came the first Amendment to the Constitution. We have no state-sponsored faith. We make room, on our better days for every person. No one should feel like an outsider because of his or her faith or non-faith.

Nobody believes in prayer more than me. But—I stand by the first Amendment to the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” We have not taken prayer out of our schools. Nor will we in this country. The atheists who protest what schools can do—will not rule the day. But hopefully we will not return to a time where children whose faith is different than ours will ever feel out of place in a public school classroom.

photo by funkor / flickr

(I am indebted to Ellis M. West and his article, "They're Back," which appeared in Associated Baptist Press, April 21, 2014 for some of his ideas for this blog piece.)

                                          --Roger Lovette/

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let's Put a Moratorium on "I'm Blessed."


Maybe this is just a hang-up of mine but I get weary when people say, “I’m so blessed.” Or  “I’m blessed.”  It always sounds self-righteous to me. I always feel like I' m hearing: "I'm blessed...I don't know about you." What about all those people who don’t feel blessed—has God turned God’s back on them?  I think about all those folk hanging on by their fingernails. All those battling crippling scary diseases. All those soldiers who came back from Iraq and Afghanistan all broken, suicidal—to families who don’t know what to do. The folk that want to just pull the covers up and stay in bed. Life gets messy. Not everybody has a blessed day.

Maybe we ought to say, “We’re grateful.” This puts some accountability on our backs—not God’s. We’ve all got something to be grateful for if we think long enough. Thinking really is thanking. Even people on hospital beds or those facing life-threatening situations. Doctors and nurses who do the dirty work without complaining. Family members that just keep up their faithfulness. Prayers from people all over who keep us going. And yes—God whose grace comes in their tiniest and most substantial of ways and never leaves and never forsakes. Even when we don’t know this is working.

On second thought let’s put a moratorium on,  “I’m blessed” and say instead, “Everybody is blessed.” Everybody. Every body.

Good Post-Easter Words

Inward/Outward is a great Meditation blog. Some fine piece comes every day and most of them are sooo good. It started as a ministry of the Church of the Savior in Washington--a tiny church whose influence spread far and wide. I recommend this site to anyone who who needs a special breath from the Spirit. Yesterday this woman wrote about How God Forgets. It's great. (inward/ Check back to April 20, 2014--the writer, Kayla McClurg is a talented writer and works in Providence House in NYC and has inspired resurrection for thousands of women. She reminds in a powerful way that that God really does forget all our foolishness and our sins.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

It's Easter!

photo by Piero Amorati/ flickr
"Why couldn't everyone some Easter Sunday noon
Glance in the ditch as I did
See the snow run off the church-top hill
see the snow run off in sunny rivulets
Slam the wagon to a skidding stop,
Then look at lilies in full bloom,
   their heads in sky
Their roots
in cold

 I slipped my shoes and stockings off
Rolled up my suit pants
Waded in
(Did water ever feel so cold?)
And plucked a few to carry home
Telling my family
And myself.
In ways at which the church can only hint
That life eternal springs from coldest waters
And blossoms well in slightly thawing earth."
   --Stephen O. Swanson

Every Easter I remember a scene at the Passion Play in Oberammergau in Germany I saw years ago. The play opened with Jesus riding into Jerusalem for the last time. The play ended with the Resurrection. And in-between, the drama of the last days of Jesus’ life took six hours to tell.

I was not prepared for the Resurrection scene. The crucifixion had been particularly graphic. The stage went dark after Jesus was taken down from the cross by his loved ones. In the last scene of the drama the weeping women move through the darkness and stood behind these huge doors that represented the sealed tomb. They knocked on the door and nothing happened. Then an angel came and without saying a word she unrolled an aisle cloth from the door down, down the steps toward the audience. As the women looked on, the door slowly began to open. Light, dazzling light slowly filled the stage and bathed the darkened room where we sat with light. After a long pause through that open door and the streaming light Jesus came. He walked down the steps and from stage left and right a hundred children come running forward and grabbed his legs laughing and laughing as the chorus sang joyously.

That’s Easter for me. Year after year, the memory never grows old. Light and hope and new beginnings and love and laughter. Somehow my old nine-to-five appointment book is disturbed once more. The predictability of my days is thrown off kilter. The thus and so-ness of my life--worries about money or health or children or just the weary world—is suspended for just a moment. And I can make it another year.

                            --rogerlovette /

Station 14: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb

photo from Contemplative Imaging / flickr
"Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. There, accordingly, because of the Preparation Day of the Jews, for the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus."
      --John 19. 41-42

We come now to the last station. Funny, this word station. It is a stopping-off place. It is a place to stand until the train comes by. But we’ve come to the last station. This is the end of the line. There are no more stops to make. All out, the conductor says. All four Gospels tell this story in one way or another. Joseph, rich and prominent took a great risk in infuriating his own people and confronting Pilate. He asked for Jesus’ body. Romans just let the body rot on the cross—left for the birds to come and do their terrible work. But Pilate relented. He must have been tired of these Jews and their demands.

Who were these two that came to do the saddest work, the dirtiest work—taking the body down from the cross? Not the disciples. Not even the Mother as some art has depicted. Not even Simon who by now surely was repentant. No. On stage there comes Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Nicodemus. Who earlier had come by night asking Jesus’ questions. But not now. Both prominent and perhaps rich, too—come in broad daylight. Joseph gives his own tomb for Jesus’ body. He and Nicodemus move the body ever so slowly to the burial place.

Perhaps this station reminds us that even any of us might find ourselves in this drama. Even the rich and the prominent. Sometimes the Gospels and Jesus’ words have been hard on the rich. Not here. The circle widens. Everyone is invited. Everyone can have a part.

These two men did not know the end of the story. They do know that graveyards are final places. There is no sadder or harder spot. We have all been there—or will. Knowing that the chapter is over. Life seems to be over. There is nothing left, really. We all shuffle out of the train now. This is the last stop. We move away from our cemeteries with heavy and broken hearts.

George Buttrick has written that here we write: ‘Finis’ as boldly as we can. We have seen the suffering and the agony. And then the silence. The terrible silence. But Buttrick says where we write ‘finis’ God adds another word: “to be continued.”

We don’t know that when we say goodbye to our loved ones. When all around us life looks broken and jagged. Here we face reality in its starkest terms. Jesus is placed in the tomb. All of us have been there—or will.

One griever said of her loved one’s death: “the shine went out of everything.” And when Joseph and Nicodemus wiped the sweat from their brows and dusted off their garments and moved away from the tomb they had done all they could do. There was nothing left. Dark Friday and dark Saturday are like that. We just move away.

Come closer. Ponder the mystery. What seems finished is not finished. What seems to be the end is not the end. There is more. Much more. We grievers need to stay here for a while. For in this last sad station—a glimmer of hope comes. Maybe not yet—but hope will come. 

                      --Roger Lovette/

Friday, April 18, 2014

Philomena--A film of a Mother's Love

I first saw the movie, Philomena on an international flight. Even with the droning of the plane’s motors, the passengers milling around and the flight attendants moving back and forth—I found tears on my cheeks. This does not happen often. Philomena touched  me at some primal level. After I arrived home I rented the movie for my wife to see. I was as moved at the second viewing as I was at the first.

It is the true story of an Irish woman’s search for her lost son. As a young naive teenager a young man talked her into having sex. Out of that brief encounter she found herself pregnant. Her father—embarrassed and ashamed--sent her away to a Catholic Abbey in another part of Ireland that that took in such girls. She had a little boy and he became the love of her life. That young mother was forced to work for four years of hard labor to pay off the cost of her stay. One day she discovered that the nuns had adopted out her son without her knowledge. Fifty years later she was still wondering about her boy.

For fifty years her only tie to her child was a tiny photo she had of her little son before he was taken away. She kept that pregnancy secret all those years. Finally one day she confessed to her daughter. That daughter contacted an out of work journalist she knew that might help. But the man had no interest in writing a human interest story.

But her insistence and desperate desire to find her child pulled the writer into her life and her search. Out of that search the journalist, Martin Sixsmith wrote the story called The Lost Child of Philomena Lee which was published as a novel in 2009.

So this was the true-to-life story of one mother’s love for a child she lost fifty years before. With the help of the journalist she was able to discover the truth of her son’s life. The sub-theme of the film was the cruelty and judgment of the nuns and the church they represented fifty years before. Thank God the church has changed immensely since those hard and brutal days.

But what brought tears to my eyes was the depth of the mother’s love for her child even after all those years. Judi Dench who played the mother was magnificent. The pain in her face and the hurt of this woman’s heart came through again and again. As the credits rolled by at the end of the movie you see the real mother, the real son, the Journalist, the real nuns and the picture of the author that wrote the story.

I will not tell you the ending. I simply say not many movies come along these days that deal with the triumphant of the human spirit. Philomena is such a movie. I recommend it to everyone.

                         --rogerlovette /

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross

photo by Sean O'Dowd/ flickr
"Even bein' God

ain't no 

bed o' roses."

-- Green Pastures,
Marc Connelley

Our journey is about over. But not yet. We stand beside the Thirteenth Station of the Cross. It has taken us a while to get here. The via dolorosa—the way of sorrows-- is always a long journey. But not as long as that tortured journey of Jesus.   Like so many of us he, too cried out in despair: “My God why have you forsaken me?” And after three long anguishing hours—he whispered: “It is finished.” And Jesus died. And so here we stand as so many of us have stood when someone we love dies. We don’t know what to say. There is nothing to say. With enormous sadness we, in slow-motion, begin to do what we have to do. Here Jesus’ disciples have the unbearable task of taking his dead body down from the cross.

In Marc Connelly’s old play, Green Pastures there is a powerful scene when God looks down from a window in heaven and watches what is happening on the cross. On stage there is a moment of hushed and terrible silence, as God watches his beloved on die. And then, all at once, God covers his face with his hands. And so here, once again he is with any of us who have grieved over the death of someone we love. There is nothing to say. But Isaiah was right: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..." Jesus wept days before at Lazarus' tomb. And here in the saddest of the Stations—God weeps, too. Not only for Jesus but for anyone anywhere who has lost someone precious.

We now know this is not the end of the story. The disciples did not know that. And when death comes to close to us—we, like those disciples, forget that this is not the end. It seems like the end. How could it possibly be otherwise? Our only response is silence. There is nothing to say as we stand here on the holiest of ground. And as we weep, God weeps too.

                --Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Prayer--For Everybody

The list fell out of my Bible. Just a tiny piece of paper.
It’s old and turning a little yellow—and filled with names.
 And names scratched out.
But I see beyond the names and the scratched-outness...
 I see a face, many faces.
They go back a long way.
Some are family members.
Some are friends from across the years.
Some are just people
  I saw in a photograph somewhere.

I keep coming  back to the list.
It is loaded with pain and hurt.
That list is weighty with the burdens of life.
The scratch marks remind me of all those who
   slipped away into the mystery.

There are folk there that never finished their business—
   And now it is too late. Maybe not.
There is old age which wanders
  across that page back and front—
Alzheimer’s, ALS, bankruptcies, divorces,
  worries, worries, worries.

There are the names of people who lost someone
   And feel lost them.
Parents who buried their children much too young.
Young men and women in their prime

Beside every name today—even the scratched-out
I whisper one word: Easter.
Suicide: Easter.
Depression: Easter.
Locked away mindless in some nursing home: Easter.
Beginning marriage yet again—some for the third time: Easter.
Trying desperately to stay sober or clean: Easter.
Hoping for a cure: Easter.
But more.
Putin: Easter.
Obama: Easter.
Ukraine: Easter.
Boston: Easter.

And for everybody out there and me, too—
  Easter. It’s the best prayer I know.
           --Roger Lovette

                                                --Roger Lovette/


Boston Marathon: We Remember One Who Fell

"Surely Jesus has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..."

This Holy Week--seems appropriate to tell this story...To understand the heart break, pathos and courage of last year's Boston Marathon--we need to focus on the human side. Someone who was a casualty on that jubilant day that turned into a nightmare.

Jeff Bauman was standing on the sidelines waiting for his girl friend to run across the finish line in Boston. The bomb went off. This is his story as told by Josh Hayner who won a Pulitzer for the New York Times for photography.

Jeff Bauman is truly a profile in courage. Read it and weep and rejoice in the human spirit.

                                           --Roger Lovette/

Monday, April 14, 2014

Station Twelve: Jesus Dies on the Cross

photo by Contemplative Imaging/ flickr
"Christ nailed up might be more
than a symbol of all pain.
He might in very truth
contain all pain.
 And a man standing
on a hilltop
with his arms outstretched,
a symbol of a symbol,
he too might be a reservoir
of all the pain that ever was." 

--  John Steinbeck

As we come to the Twelfth Station we ponder the mystery--Jesus, God's son, died on the  cross. Nothing captures this Station more than a story that comes out of France. It was a Good Friday afternoon, three students stood and watched the crowds go in and out of the great Cathedral. A French Bishop swears the story was true.

One student said: "How can people be so superstitious to believe Christ died for our sins?" As they talked one of the young people grew bolder. "Are you afraid to go in and tell the priest what you just said? I dare you." The student nodded and all three went into the Church and found the priest.

"I have come," he said, "to tell you that Christianity is dead. I think all religion is just superstition." The priest looked at the young man ans asked: "Why did you come to tell me this--especially Good Friday of all days?"

The student said, "My two friends here dared me to do this. The priest looked into the faces of the other two. "All right," he said, "you took a dare from them; now take one from me. Go out into the cathedral. At the altar there is a large wooden cross with the figure of Christ with his hands outstretched. I want you to walk down the aisle, look up at the cross and say: "Jesus Christ died for me and I don't give a damn."

The young man dropped his eyes and did not want to do this. But to save face with his friends, he slowly went down the aisle to the altar. In a few minutes he came back. "Well, I did it."

The priest said, "Do it once more after all it means nothing to you."

The young man reluctantly went back to the cross. It was hard for him to speak as he looked up at the outstretched Jesus.. He finally said quietly: "Jesus Christ died for me and I don't give...a..." This time the student did not go back to the priest. He started for the door. But the priest stopped him."OK, just do it once more--and you can go." The two friends and the priest watched him. People kept coming and going but no one noticed the young man who walked back up the aisle. He stood at the altar for a long time looking up at Jesus on the cross. Suddenly he did the strangest thing. He dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and clenched his hands in prayer.

When people heard the Bishop tell the story, some said: "That sounds like a preacher story to me." But the Bishop always ended the story like this: "I know this story is true because I was that young man." *

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full at his wonderful face , 
And things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace."

*I am indebted to John Alexander McElroy who tells this story in Living With the Seven Last Words (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1961) pp. 18-19

                         --Roger Lovette /

Friday, April 11, 2014

Station Eleven: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

contemplative imaging/ flickr

"With him they crucified two insurgents, one on his right and one at his left."
   Mark 15. 27

I don’t know which was the harder part—nailing Jesus to the Cross or hanging there naked in the sun as his flesh tore and the pain was unbearable.

We arrive at Station Eleven. Soon our journey will be over and we can get back to buying groceries, paying bills and worry about what the doctor will say. Why stop here—we know the rest of the story. We’ve read the book—we know how this journey ends.  But we must linger here and remember that our Lord was nailed to the cross. We cannot even imagine what torture that was.

But we do know that everything nailed down does not come loose. Through the years as the pilgrims shuffled to this Station—they pondered the nails—and so do we. All the constrictions and all the box-in-ness. All the painful, painful sides of life.

We have our nails, too.
We lose loved ones and life is forever different...
We have cancer...
Our hearts break—literally...
Or depression comes that seems endless...
Sometimes saying goodbye to your first child who only lived one day...
Or being told you can’t drive anymore...
Or not being able to reach that child you loved with all your heart...
Or wishing you could call back that terrible thing you said or did...
Or divorce...
Or the word, inoperable...
Or falling down and not able to get up...
We could go on and on. For standing in the hardware store there is a whole section for nails. They come in all sizes—we know that well, these nails.

We cannot move on without pondering his nails and ours. But we remember later when the tears had dried and the grief was not so strong—Jesus came back. Thomas, who was not there said: “Unless I see the nail prints I cannot believe.” And days later Jesus came with his outstretched nail-scarred hands. And Thomas who never missed a chance to talk—could not say a single word. Everything nailed down really does come loose. Just look at those scars—his and ours.

                       --Roger Lovette /

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is This 1855?

photo by KICKS Flicks/ flickr

Word comes from the reliable Southern Poverty Law Center that the College of Charleston has called as its new President a man whose stand on equal rights seems to be a mite off center. It looks like nothing stays won. We have to continue to fight for equal rights for all and support those who stand by the Constitution and Bill of Rights of our country.

                       --Roger Lovette /

Sometimes the Church Really Is the Church

photo by flickr

Every once in a while you read something so good and so moving you want to share it with everybody. My good friends Russ and Amy Dean are Co-Pastors of the Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Some anonymous person left some infant's ashes on the doorstep of the church. They left a note saying that they could not afford proper burial. The Deans decided to have a funeral service for the baby. A Charlotte TV station picked up this event--and you can read what happened for yourself. Sometimes the church gets it right. I am still proud to be a member of the club. Thanks Russ and Amy and Park Road Church, too.

                       --Roger Lovette /

Palm Sunday: The Donkey Speaks

photo by Anthony/ flickr
It’s funny, now as I look back on it. Two men came into my village where I was tied next to a colt. They simply untied me and the other animal and took us to the one called Jesus. This Jesus came close and patted both of us. He smoothed out my coat—he looked at my feet to make sure my hoofs were fine. He seemed to be interested in both of us.  Most people just treated us like beasts that were to do the work. Sometimes we were beaten—often we were cursed and kicked.

The disciples who had brought us came and put cloaks on both our backs. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just the outer cloaks peasants wore. The same kind of people that owned us and worked us in the fields.  Jesus slowly mounted my back. I think the colt must have been right behind. In the rush of everything I don’t remember. But Jesus began, clip-clop, clip-clop down the road to Jerusalem. As we got closer we saw people on both sides of the road. Some were shouting. Some had palm branches in their hands. Some even took their garments and palm branches and paved the road. As we moved on there were more people and they yelled, over and over, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Then the roads were packed with people. Most were shouting and singing and some had tears running down their faces. Children were everywhere. The crowds scared me. I found myself pulling back, not wanting to go forward. But this man Jesus did not kick or pull hard on my bridle—he just patted me, whispered in my ear and I felt things were going to be fine.

We finally made it to the Temple. And Jesus slowly dismounted and went inside. I was outside but I heard the clanging of coins and it sounded like tables overturned. I think I heard Jesus say: “This is supposed to be a house of prayer and you have turned it into a den of robbers.” He sounded angry. Some important-looking people came running out and I heard them say, “Now we can get him. He’s gone too far.”
Someone led me away from the crowds and confusion. They gave me something to eat and drink. The colt was there with me. I do not know exactly what happened. Some called him the King of the Jews. I wondered. How cans a King ride into the city on a donkey? Kings always rode on horses. I do not know if he was a king or not.  I only remember his gentleness. I remember how he patted me as if he loved me.

It was strange, though. The crowds just wandered away. The palm branches they had laid down with some of their cloaks had been brushed aside. Later I overheard someone say they had sentenced this Jesus to death. Where were the crowds that welcomed him into the city so joyfully? Now they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I did not understand at all.

Some said they nailed him to a Roman cross. I heard somewhere that they put a sign above his head that said: “This is the King of the Jews.” I was confused. Kings rode in on stallions. Kings did not die on crosses.

What I do remember was that the sky turned dark. It thundered and the ground shook. And then the rain started. I didn’t think it would ever stop. But finally it did and everything got very quiet. I do not know what all of this meant, if anything. I only know he was gentle and kind and he acted as if he cared for me and the colt. So unlike a King. But I will remember him until he day I die.  

photo by Kay Ebel / flickr

Station Ten: Jesus is Stripped

photo by Jerry Daughtery's Connecticut/ Flickr
"He was despised and rejected by others; 

a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; 

as one from whom others hide their faces 

he was despised, and we held him of no account."
                   --Isaiah 53. 3

Matthew’s gospel doesn’t linger over the scene we find in Station 10. He hurries by, saying: “And when they had crucified him...they took his garments...” Matthew must have been embarrassed by this story.

We don’t see many pictures of Jesus naked. Artists in those first renderings of the baby Jesus covered the infant’s privates. It must have been their way of saying: this holy one really is not like us—he is sexless and sinless. But this Tenth Station puts it bluntly: Jesus was stripped. And so we may avert our eyes—but here he is as human and vulnerable as the rest of us.

He has come a very long way. His scourging and torture, Pilate’s washing his hands, the crowds screaming for blood. And then the crown of thorns, the purple robe, the laughter, the spittle and the terrible falls. Could he have missed their hisses: “How weak he is, this Messiah.” Pain piled on top of pain—surely this is enough.

But no. We come to the Tenth Station. A naked Jesus. This may very well be the worst. All his pretensions have been abandoned. All his friends are hiding or silent except for a little cluster. He is alone.

To be stripped is to be violated. The last shreds of respect are gone. Jesus stands helpless and naked—this may be the final indignity. No place to hide. No one comes to his rescue. They have done all they can do. And so he stands before us ashamed and afraid. Stripped.

Leonard  Boff asks: “How many people have been stripped naked in the subterranean depths of repressive systems and mechanisms! How many have been violated, bestialized, and subjected to every kind of harassment! Husbands are forced to watch their wives being raped. Wives forced to see their husbands tortured and castrated, their daughter violated, and their children executed. These violations of the sacred rights of the human person, of the poor in particular, are justified in the name of the legitimate defense and security of society.”*

Jesus is naked and vulnerable—ashamed, as we have been ashamed. Wanting to run away and hide as sometimes we want to run away and hide. Whatever shames we and the rest of the world have felt—Jesus is one with us all.

David Read, great preacher of another era told a story in one of his sermons about the boy who came home naked and ashamed. He had done terrible things. But the father in the parable ran out to meet him and put his arms around him and whispered, “ My boy...My son.” The father yelled to his servants: “Bring forth the best robe and sandals and a ring.” He covered the boy’ shame and nakedness—with what Read called, the dignity of faith.

And as we ponder this painful Tenth station—we all know the story Jesus told is really our story. He takes all the indignities—and there are many—and covers them with a grandeur of love and forgiveness.

*Leonard Boff, Way of the Cross-Way of Justice (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1982) p. 84

saintjohnswilliamstown/ flickr

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Station Nine: Jesus Falls a Third Time

photo by caprockcruisers /flickr
A medieval peasant asked a monk what the holy fathers did within the walls of the monastery on the hill. In his eyes such a  place, walled off from the troubles of the world, must have been as close to heaven as anything. The monk answered the man, "We fall down and we get up; we fall down and we get up; we fall down and we get up." 

How can Messiah keep falling? And why would the Church choose this painful moment a third time? Jesus falls...and falls...and falls. Because, perhaps the story is true.

Jesus falls yet again. He is exhausted. Even though his journey is not far now—he falls opening up old sores and wounds. There is no time on this way of sorrows that our Lord has felt more defeated.

We want to turn away, standing here looking up at the all-too-human Jesus. But here we come to the heart of his incarnation. Jesus is more with us in this third falling than at any other point. We want a different kind of kingdom. The kind back there in the desert where we wished Jesus did not shake his head. Not all the bread you could ever eat—complete with trimmings. Not all the kingdoms so his power could change it all. Not even some holy miracle where all would see his glory and fall at his feet.

No. Not this Jesus. Not here on twisting winding way of sorrows. This longing is 2014 stuff. We’ve been there before and we’ll be there again. We want power that waves a wand and changes it all. No. Not here on this rocky path.

We cannot avert our eyes because we know, deep in our hearts that this kingdom is different. His kingdom is far different from the Caesars or the princes of the church. His kingdom divides families and friends and sometimes the human heart itself. No wonder the atheists are having a field day. Like the poet they mutter: “God, if you’re really God, fling us a dipper full of stars.” Why suffering? Why failure? Why me? And the only answer is a man who falls a third time.

This Station can march into any AA meeting and feel at home. This Station is for whoever it is that feels crushed and weak and hopeless. Flat on the ground his hopes seem suffocated. Here he shoulders the tragic fall of every sinner--which includes us all.

But this is not the last station. Thank God. Jesus will somehow shuffle to his feet. He has miles to go, like us, before he sleeps. And so the journey will continue. And we ponder the mystery. So different from all we expect of God and Jesus and his broken church. This one is with us all. God writes off none of the fallen. With the crooked sticks of our lives—there is hope for everyone. He takes us one and all—and even with our fallings—he will write a clean straight line.

photo by contemplative imaging/ flickr

 is p;ower does not feed all the hungry then and now. His H

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Station Eight: Jesus Speaks to the Women

photo by maherite
"But Jesus turning to them said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children."
  --Luke 23.28 NIV

Jesus struggles from the second fall. He is on the road again. It is still a long journey to Calvary. With the pain and the uphill climb—he must have thought it would take forever. And maybe it would have unless there was this Eighth Station. He heard them even before he passed them. The daughters of Jerusalem. Weeping...weeping for Jesus, for the wrongness of the world, for the injustice of their own lives. If this could happen to one so good—and even to a man—what could their daughters expect?

So much of religious has tried to push women into a less than equal place. Paul’s old words about women being subjected to men. If they wanted to know anything ask their husbands. Women were not smart enough or have the right to teach male children. They would wear burkas. Their faces and heads were to be covered. They would be denied the right to vote. They cannot attend school even now in some foreign lands. Malala told us in her book about what happens when a young woman dares to try to read and know and dream and be. Lilly Ledbetter way down in Gadsden, Alabama dared to raise the question of why women were not paid the same as men in the tire company where she worked. Even today politicians piously explain why they cannot vote for a bill that would equal pay for all—not just men.

And in the Stations women must weep as they follow this journey up the hill. But they also must smile at Jesus’ mother, dear Veronica and now the daughters of Jerusalem. For this Gospel and this Jesus left no one out—not even the women--especially the women.

Remember what Jesus said as he shuffled past them with his cross. “”Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”  Even today the tears of the daughters of Jerusalem have yet to be dried.

photo by justinvandyke / flickr