Friday, July 11, 2014

Rose Cook: Madame Secretary

If you traveled to Western Kentucky down Highway 54 several miles from Owensboro you would come to a brick church on a hill between two highways. The sign reads: Dawson Baptist Church. You would be in Philpot, Kentucky. And if you were there from two o’clock until four o’clock this Sunday an important reception is going on. I wish I could be there. Rose Cook, Church Secretary for fifty years is being honored. She is retiring after all those years of faithfulness.

She was a member of the first church I served as Pastor. She baby sat with our daughter and a multitude of others. She always loved children. She had finished high school and the only work she had ever done was baby sitting. “Rose,” I would say, “You can do more.” She wasn’t sure at all. Finally I nudged her toward a business school in Owensboro about the time I left there. Word came back that not only had she graduated but she had made all A’s. She worked for a while at a Coca Cola office and then fell back to her old ways of babysitting. She had typed our bulletin for a long time—and slowly she became the Secretary of her church. And if you wanted to know anything about anybody—Rose Cook was the informant. She knew everybody and everything about that tiny community.

Lyle Schaller used to say that the most important person on the staff is a good Secretary. And he is right. Rose in her own quiet way was a good Secretary. She survived Pastors and building projects and I guess a zillion business meetings. Through thick and thin she stayed. That job was the making of Rose Cook. It gave her a status and a belonging that she and we all crave. She helped her church in innumerable ways and without her Dawson Baptist Church would  have been very different from the church it is.

We in the church mostly follow the ways of the world. We applaud the famous, the headliners and the rock and movie stars. But outside that circle are most of the folk that get up every morning, put their clothes on and open up the church and do what needs to be done. Without them—I don’t think the church could operate. Jesus said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We don ‘t really believe that or we would treat people differently. Especially staff persons (other than the Pastor), Custodians, those that keep the sound system, the heating and air-condition units working.

Woody Allen, I think it was that said 80% of the job is just showing up. Rose Cook showed up. She could  be counted on. And next week when somebody else opens up the church and turns on the lights and gets things going—dear Rose Cook will be sorely missed.

My regret is that I will not be able to drive down Highway 54, turn into the Dawson Baptist Church next Sunday and hug Rose’s neck.

Rose Cook is in the blue dress. 1963.

                                           --Roger Lovette /

What Are We To Do With All These "Outsiders" ?


Photo by Barri Net / flickr
I can’t get a particular picture out of my mind. I think it was on the front page of the New York Times days ago. It was a tiny Hispanic boy maybe five years old holding a water bottle and looking up wide-eyed and scared at this huge cop who stood before him guns and all. I doubt the policeman was mean to this boy—but the look on the little boy’s face I cannot forget.

On July 3rd in desperation a horde of immigrants—a great many children and women and some men—somehow managed to get over the border into the states. Some were sick, some were scared. Some had been traveling for days. Many had paid thousands of dollars just to get to the US. Interviewed, many of them said they came because they afraid of their safety and the safety of their families back home in Honduras or El Salvador or somewhere in Mexico. Drugs gangs were running rampant—some of their relatives had been killed. So they traveled some hundreds of miles to find a place called America where people would be safe and they could build a better life.

Many were taken to Murrieta, California for processing until the government could figure what to do with all these people. Remember this was July 3rd—on the eve of our annual July 4th celebration. You can read a splendid article, which comes from Media Matters, which also shows a video of some citizens' feelings as they encountered these newcomers. These immigrants found fury and anger and abuse from the people of this upscale California town. Of course all the residents did not feel this way—but those who came from so far must have wondered if this was the same place they had seen and dreamed of on TV.

The sheer enormity of so many has scared many Americans. Couple this with wild rumors of disease and crime. No wonder many screamed: “Go back to your own home!” This is a serious problem. Yet we are teaching these little children and their desperate parents the wrong kind of lessons about America.

If you’ve ever been to Ellis Island you know that we have reluctantly welcomed many that have come to our land. And when many did come—the Irish, the Jews, the Italians, the Poles and many from China and Japan—the reception they received from many was not much different from those frightened immigrants in California. There have been many days in "our history when we seem to have been poles apart from the dreams of what this country was supposed to be.

We cannot simplify this issue. And for God’s sake—and I mean that—this is not the time to politicize the issue of hurting people It is high time for those we send to Washington to do something positive for a change about an issue that says a lot about us as a people. I know this matter is enormously complicated and hard to decide what to do. But I do know this. We deal with human beings and once again we are being measured as a people. Will we treat these that come with respect and decency or will we act as if they are dangerous and subhuman?

The old question comes to mind: What Would Jesus Do? I do know this—he wouldn’t be standing in a crowd with a sign spitting and screaming out expletives. 

(Want to read the human side of this particular immigrant crisis, read USA Today's article on one Honduran family's journey to this country.)

Photo by Darren Last / flickr

      --Roger Lovette /  rogerlovette.blogspot,com

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Want to Read A Good Book?

For Father’s Day someone sent me a book that I have just loved. Ties That Bind is written or compiled by Dave Isay of NPR. For at least ten years—he has been interviewing people through an oral history project called Storycorps. He begins by telling the story of Studs Terkel when he was 91 years old. He stood in front of a small sound studio in the middle of Grand Central Terminal He said, “Today we shall begin celebrating the lives of the uncelebrated!” He went on to say: “We’re in Grand Central Terminal. We know there was an architect, but who hung the iron? Who were the brick masons? Who swept the floors? These are the noncelebrated people of our country. In this kiosk, those anonymous people—the noncelebrated—will speak of their lives!”

So Dave Isay has recorded about 100 thousand interviews with just plain folks. None of these people will ever make People Magazine. But in a few short pages different people pour out their hearts. The things they are grateful for. The people who held them up and changed their lives. Everybody has a story—and Isay celebrates these. USA Today has said of his work: "Each interview is a revelation."

Years ago Kenneth Koch, a poet, taught poetry writing in a nursing home. Most of those people had never written a poem. Many were unsophisticated—yet Koch collected their poems in a book called, I Never Told Anybody. Most of the stories in Isay’s book are heart-warming experiences that most folk have never heard.  I recommend this book to everybody who wants a breath of fresh air in a very toxic world. 

(After I read the book I discovered three others with incredible stories that Isay has recorded. All There Is (which are love stories), Listening Is An Act of Love, and Mom (a celebration of mothers).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Party Time in Pennsylvania

For months my son Matthew and his partner had been planning a 25th anniversary party. They couldn’t invite everybody—but they decided to invite 50 of their closest friends and family members to come and share on this occasion for two days. They chose an Inn in Hawley, Pennsylvania called The Ledges. I had never heard of the place—but when I got there I could understand why they made that choice. The Inn had once been a silk mill. Beside it was this magnificent waterfall, which cascaded down the rocks. Our two evening dinners would be spent on the three decks overlooking the waterfall. Rocks, green trees everywhere—and this wonderful waterfall. It almost looked like we were in the middle of a beautiful forest.

So last weekend was the party. People came from all over. A friend flew in from California. The Hairdresser who had cut Matthew and Mark’s hair—and several others who came—was there from Chicago. There were old friends from Governor’s School in Greenville and some from college days. Matthew’s art teacher who had taught him all the way from the third grade was there. She came with her
family. We call her his second Mama. The good friend that Mark first confessed to that he thought he was gay was there. Mark was married at that time...and made the decision to break off the marriage in fairness to his wife. But the wonderful thing was they maintained a friendship and she and her husband were at the party. There were other old friends that went all the way back to the early days of Matthew and Mark’s relationship in Chicago. There were brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. They came from places like Atlanta and Madison,
Wisconsin. There were people from Florida and Charleston. There was Mark’s mother and Aunt and brothers and sister were present. My wife and I were there and Matthew's sister and one of our granddaughters.

What did we do for two days? We got acquainted with each other. We told Matthew and Mark stories. We laughed a lot. We ate wonderful food that Chef Matthew had carefully selected. He really is a food-a-holic. We drank a lot of wine. We just enjoyed the reverie of two wonderful days celebrating 25 years of two gay guys being together.

I don’t know how many people said this was the best Anniversary-wedding party they had ever been to. The second night, after we had finished eating we moved to the huge room in the lodge where scenes from Matthew and Mark’s twenty-five years were replayed on and on. They have been everywhere mostly because of their work—and I have no idea how many places and countries they have visited.

Friends and family toasted Matthew and Mark. The man who Mark first told he was gay talked about that painful-truthful moment. A nephew spoke. Mark’s sister spoke. Friends scattered around the room talked
about their ties and how special this couple was. Mark’s gorgeous ex-wife spoke. How many people could have that happen. With a lump in my throat—I stood and tried to talk. I told them I had been on the edge of tears the whole two days.  The ties that, my they were fine and strong and wonderful. I talked about the tributaries that had flowed into the lives of these two very special people. I confessed that when I first heard of this two-day anniversary idea—I thought it was a little crazy. But I also confessed that there I had discovered it was one of the most moving two days of my life.

We scattered the next day. Some there may not ever have heard the words of the writer, Dostoevsky but I think all would agree that what he wrote years ago captured those two days for us all. “And even if we are occupied with important things, even if we attain honor or fall into misfortune, still let us remember how good it was once here when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us better perhaps than we are."