Friday, May 29, 2015

Bull Riding and Jesus

photo by Bill Gracey / flickr

Jesus was on that Cross.
After that they pounded nails into his hands.
After that, well, after that,
everyone wore hats."
--Anne Sexton, from "Protestant Easter"

Jeff Brumley of Baptist News writes an amazing story of this Ohio pastor who brought a large bull into his church and rode the critter. The Pastor was a former bull rider and hoped to get people's attention--and win souls for Jesus. Guess what? It worked.  300 souls were saved. I am not sure what they were saved from. Bull riding? Maybe saved for bull riding.

The Pastor, Lawrence Bishop created an Internet sensation and even appeared on Nightline. Wonder how many souls were saved by just listening to this story. Bishop's Mama was quoted as saying that she believed her son had gone crazy when he pitched the idea of building a rodeo ring inside the church and riding bulls in it. But, she said, it was an exciting place "because there is never a dull moment at Solid Rock Church".

Brother Bishop ought to read the Book. The crowds turned away when Jesus did not feed them. He asked his disciples, "Will you also go away?" The longer he preached the fewer there were that came. Early in his ministry the Lord was confronted by the devil with three temptations. Stones into the crowd by throwing yourself  from the temple's highest point...fall down and worship me, the devil said. The Bible called these temptations. I'll give it all to you--all you have to do is dazzle the crowd. Jesus simply shook his head.

In our desperation these days many churches are opting for the spectacular. A church down the road from me gave a motorcycle to one of the attenders on Father's Day. I don't know if they gave a lifetime supply of diapers to some mother on Mother's Day. Or maybe that church ought to try aprons, comet and brooms for the little ladies.

When the church becomes just like the rest of the entertainment world--it will eventually go down the tubes. Reckon all those whose lives were changed on Bull Riding Sunday will be around a year from now? Maybe so. Maybe not. But the church is not the theatre and not some place to tickle the nerve endings of very bored people.

Jesus did give something to those that came. He touched them. He healed them. He loved them. He forgave them. He pointed them in a whole new direction. He called them to leave it all behind and follow him. Most of those first disciples ended up as martyrs. He never gave them what they wanted--he gave them what they needed.

We don't need any more entertainment. We don't need the spectacular. We do need faith and hope and love. Buechner said that if Paul were writing today he would say of faith, hope, love-- the greatest of these is hope. Everywhere I go from grocery store, to the work out place, to Sunday School class or just talking to my neighbor over the back fence--we are all hungry not only for hope but faith to hang on to when everything is crazy--and a love that will never let us go--regardless of who we are and what we have done.

My Mama used to say: "You need something to stick to your innards." And so do we all. Wouldn't it be something to come to the end of the line and realize all that cotton candy we filled ourselves up on was really not enough. Once upon a time Gene Autry was quite a cowboy--and made whole lot of money when he sang, over and over, at the end of his movies, "I'm back in the saddle again." But I guarantee you if you stop people on the street and ask them about Gene Autry they will look at you strangely and say, "Who?"

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day--Let us Remember the Fallen

"One pronoun keeps at bay our guilt
  they they they they they they..."
    --Karen Swenson, from her poem, "we"

Flags will fly this week-end.Veterans will be honored--and rightly so. But we also need to be reminded of the longest war in our whole history--which is still going on.

Memorial Day Weekend is not just a holiday--it really is a holy day. When we remember all the blood that has been shed for us and ours.

How many of the speeches we hear will ponder the fact of all the men and women we have lost these last few years? How many will raise the question: will we repeat the same mistakes again that we made after September 11, 2001? Colin Powell was right when he said if we break it we own it. Except we never ponder the deep meaning of those words. How many will ask: can we afford to just continue to fight year after year? The same old excuses follow us today and I am afraid into the future. We have to fight them over there so that we don't have to fight them over here.

Let us this weekend remember the fallen. CNN gives us these figures:
3,477 of our troops have died in Afghanistan
20,000 plus have been seriousy wounded
Thousands have come home with PTSD
4,802 of our troops have died in Iraq
32,246 have been seriously wounded
Thousands more have come home with PTSD
You might want to read Barbara Wagner Duehlm's moving account of her father that fought in World War II and writes thst for her family World WarII was never over. Her story is entitled, "War Without End."
When this weekend ends and we return to whatever it is we do--let us pause, not once but often to remember the fallen and all those at home who sit by empty chairs and look at photographs of those that will not come home or came home so broken life will never, ever be the same.
--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pentecost Comes Just in Time

"Here's what I've decided: the very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can't say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither destroyers nor the destroyed. That's about it. Right now I'm living in that hope, running down its hallways and touching the walls on both sides. I can't tell you how good it feels."
  --Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Did you read the latest Pew Report? Church attendance is shrinking. Christian nation? Well, sorta. But the number of the “none’s”—who have no faith—are growing. Atheism is on the rise. Church attendance for the most part is sagging and people of all ages are saying: “I’m spiritual—I’m just not in to organized religion.” Sound pessimistic—well, yes. 

Almost every mainline church I know is wringing it’s hands asking: What are we going to do? What are we going to do? Good question. We have a whole cottage industry of experts which you can hire for a big bucks to come in and sit with your folks around the table and take your church’s pulse. I can’t be too critical. I’ve been there and I have done that more than once. So I have to quietly put my rocks back down and admit my frustration like everybody else I know.

When the money starts to sag here and there members whisper,” This Pastor thing is not working. We’ve got to get someone in here…who____________(fill in the blanks of the wish list of the One who could come and make it right). Sometimes the voices get louder: “Are you he/she that comes or shall we look for another?” 

So in our anxiety we tinker. Down the street that hot shot that is still packing them in must be doing something right. Well, yes. He wears blue jeans and Nike’s. He swoops his hair up like he really is a millennial. He talks the Dude language. The music is so loud it hurts you rears and the kids love it. There will be nary a Christian symbol in the place—and the old hymns that have kept the faithful going for centuries have been scrapped.  

Technology will not bring in the kingdom. Gimmicks and tricks will not wow the outsider very long. After spending a week texting and staring at the computer and all its accouterments—who really, seriously needs the same thing on Sunday? Christian Netflix—forget it. 

One of the Old Testament words that the prophets used a lot was whoredom. They warned the people about the whores. They preached about whoring after strange gods. We are not in the entertainment business. We are not supposed to be here to please the crowds. We are not supposed to give them they want. Remember how Jesus shook his head when they wanted more and more.  

We need a place that’s quiet enough for us to hear the beating of our own troubled hearts. We need a place that’s honest about everything and doesn’t tiptoe around all those issues we talk about when we play golf or sit around the bridge table. Yeah, church ought to be relevant—but relevant to what? 

Which brings us to Pentecost. Who brought Pentecost in to the troubled church? Jesus was gone. The Romans were mean as hell and Christian kids were dressing and acting like Romans! That was the culture. These fledgling Christians needed something to stick to their innards. Something that would help them deal with the dark side of their lives, their time, their country and world. A place that would turn you inside out—or the reverse--so that you have something to hang on to. No slogans. No gimmicks. Something deeper.  Jesus said he would send his Spirit. And unless I miss my guess…God still sends the Spirit. I think in our anxiety we really do think it depends on us and if this is the bottom line—we’re headed for a fall. This still is God’s thing.  

I’ve got a lot of retired preacher friends that mutter: “I sure am glad I’m not having to deal with all that stuff.” I have days like that. But I do miss it on other days. I have no answers for the troubles of the wayward church.  But if this really God’s thing then we can to open ourselves up to the infilling that this Spirit brings.  

Maybe the Spirit will bring an ensmallment campaign. Maybe the none’s will grow and so will the unbelievers and the spiritual ones who are scared of the church. Maybe if that happens we will turn to a Book written by resident aliens--to resident aliens. Strangers a strange land. People in little clusters that had to hang on to one another for dear life on their good days—and believed what happened to them and their world would depend on God. The comforter would come—the one who would make sure that in a hard world they need not be so troubled. Not wishful thinking—but hard reality.  

If we lose our center—if we lose the idea that God will be with us through and thin--we might as well join the none’s or those other crowds. But the old tom-tom beat from Genesis to Revelation was: “I will be with you…” That’s Pentecost. Whatever happens to you or your church or your friends or the world…that “I will be with you" is not us. God's Power comes from outside and it fills us with enough energy and hope that we, too will really keep on keeping on. 

Lest we forget our history—our founding fathers (and mothers)—Peter, Paul James and even Judas—not George Washington, etc—has ups and downs. “...through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…” (II Cor. 6.4b-8a) The early church was not a piece of cake. Incest, heresy, cruelty, apostasy and false prophets beset them. Falling away was their central problem. Yet—the Spirit knowing them through and through came anyway—despite their whoredoms. What was this all about? Peter defined Pentecost: Sons and daughters shall prophesy…young men (and women, too) shall see visions…and old men (yes, and women) will dream dreams. 

It’s been happening for two thousand years this strange spirit coming and demanding the weirdest of things.  We need some prophesy—somebody to take the pulse of our time and hold it up to the lightGod, that would be painful. We need some visions—that lift us out of the doldrums of our time and remind us God is not finished with us—even us—yet. And we need some dreams—big enough to move an old crusty two thousand year institution into a new age still telling the truth, still trying to remain faithful, still believing even after all we have been through—Pentecost—God’s thing really will become true again and again. But why wait ‘till next year?

--Roger Lovette /

1st photo was by Faisal Akram Ether / flickr
2nd photo from Lourdes, France / flickr

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grief - A Poem

photo by ondablv / flickr
Everyone Has Lost Someone 

They came from six,
   maybe eight directions.
The drove up and slowly
   got out of their cars.
I greeted them and they nodded--
   some smiled.
We walked through the door
  and down the steps—
  Through another door.

We sat down in a circle
   around a table.
One by one
  we shared our names.
Slowly, ever so slowly
   we began to talk.
Everyone there had lost someone.
A baby born dead.
A twenty-two year old
  who overdosed.
A mother of two—forty-four years old
   whose liver had given out.
A wife who just slipped away
   after 42 years of marriage.
An old woman with Alzheimers.
A young woman barely married
   who suicided.
Everyone there had lost someone. 

The evening ended.
We shook hands.
A few hugged.
Others just walked away to their cars.
I locked the door.
I got in my car.
Turning the key
   I remembered.
Everyone—every one—has lost

      --Roger Lovette /

Monday, May 18, 2015

Teacher Appreciation--The Debt We Owe

 photo by flickr
May is Teacher Appreciation Month. If I had my way we'd extend this appreciation to the whole year. Exaggeration? Not at all.

Most of us would agree that without some teacher(s) along the way our lives would have turned out very differently. The late Loren Eiseley, anthropologist and fine writer said there was one of his teachers he called "the magician." Coming out of an impoverished background he wrote that one special teacher
took the magic wand of herself and worked a miracle.

Teacher Appreciation Month nudges me to take a trip down memory lane. Living with two parents that lived knee deep in the depression, both dropped out of school to work on the farm. They never got past the eighth grade. So in our house,  teachers were way up in my parents' thinking. They would not have dreamed of challenging a teacher. In their minds, teachers were always right--and were due all the respect we could give them.

So  I have been thinking of these magicians in my own life that have made my own journey special and meaningful. I still remember my first grade teacher. What she looked like. The freckles on her face. Those wire-rimmed glasses that glittered in the sunlight that streamed through the windows. How she held my hand as we walked down the hall. I don't remember a single thing she ever said--but I loved her. She was the teacher and she cared about me and all the others.

I remember a teacher in college who invited our class into her living room in the evenings to discuss  books. She didn't have to do that. She made a difference.  Later in Seminary one of my teachers stopped me in the hall one day and just asked,  "Have you ever considered writing?" I never had until that day.

But of all my teachers I still remember my High School Spanish and Journalism teacher. The yellow school bus would stop across the street from the mill village where we lived. We  would ride forty minutes across town to the county high school. This particular teacher took a special interest. She, too would ask the question: "Have you ever thought of..." And she would send me away with dreams in my head I did not have before her questions. Nobody in my family had ever been to college. And so she kept asking me if I was going away to school. College? Me--college? We don't have any money.  How could I possibly go to college? She kept asking me of and over until the seed she planted called hope slowly emerged and began to grow.

Without her questions and her patience with fifteen-sixteen-seventeen year olds--I probably would have taken a road far different. I knew little about her. She was from North Carolina. She was divorced. Sixty years ago she would have made a pittance. I never knew about her hopes or her own particular dreams. I do remember the question she kept quietly asking: "What if..."

As graduation drew near--she told a friend of mine and me that she wanted to take us out for a celebration. This teacher wanted to come to our houses some evening and pick us up. She kept her word. I was sitting on the porch when she drove up with my friend. My heart was beating fast. We were not only eating out--but we were going to a great restaurant I had only heard about. It was a glorious evening. And that night was really a symbol of what she had been doing for years--caring and letting us know we were important.

From time to time I have tried to find her. I wanted to tell her what fingerprints she left on my life are still there after all these years. I never found her. But on this month of teacher appreciation I remember my own special magician. She made it happen with her care, her attentiveness, her laughter and  her questions.

I know there are teachers that cramp students' minds and hearts. I  know there are those that carry no magic wand and activate few students' dreams. But across this state and country we owe an enormous debt to our teachers. They are not paid nearly enough for what they do. They work long hours and get little appreciation. They lug home brief cases full of papers to be filled out and turned in to headquarters.

I would bet there has been some magician in your life. Think back. Who asked: "What if..." Who told you that you could do it when you had just about given up. Who waved that wand over and over until it took for you?

Parents, school boards and legislators need to take a long and hard look at the greatest challenge we have. It is not abortion, guns,  homeland security, our crumbling infrastructure or how much we pay our coaches.  These are all important issues. But unless we elevate those in those little classrooms who keep asking "What if..." we will be poorer indeed.

photo by Mike Sansone / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Boston Bomber - Death Penalty or Not

Photo by Ninian Reid  / flickr
The Boston Bomber trial  is winding down.  This 21 year old,  along with his brother, was responsible for the deaths of 3 citizens, a police officer and wounding 264 other people during the Boston Marathon two years ago.

There is no doubt of the guilt of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The pain that he has caused is inestimable.

And so the jury must decide one of two things: either this man will face the death penalty or he will spend the rest of his life in a maximum prison in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.  The government which rested its case last month has argued for the jury to sentence him to death.

I have  pretty good idea how I would feel if I had been wounded, a member of my family had been wounded or struck down. I can understand the rage of all those families touched by this horror. Runners and healthy citizens will run no more. Their lives and their families' lives have been torn up by the roots. One of those killed was an eight -year -old boy who stood by the finish line excited and happy to be at the great race.

Should this man with the strange name be sent to his death for what he has done or sentenced to life in prison? If he doesn't deserve death--who does? I throw that question out to you--and I'd like to see your response. If you were sitting on that jury how would you vote?

Even though many countries and some states had done away with the death penalty--still jurists must decide on this twisted man's fate. The question that arises in this perennial debate is: does the state have the right to take any person's life? The other side would say there are some crimes against humanity for which only the death penalty is appropriate.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun he is a strong opponent of the death penalty, visited Dzhokhar five times. Sister Prejean took the witness stand in this man's defense. Though she never used the word remorse--she said that the charged man was sorry for what he had done and realized the enormity of the pain he had caused. She recommended prison.

Certainly he deserves the death penalty if anyone does. But does the state have the right to take any person's life? Yes or No. If we vote to send him to jail for life do we send the wrong signal? You can do terribly horrendous acts--and still save your life? On the other hand if we decide to send this man to prison do we not send a signal to the terrorists network that  this country does things different than terrorists states. Would it give at least some of those that hate us pause as they see how we have treated one of their own--even with all his guilt?

No one has suffered more from this bombing than Bill and Denise Richard's family. They lost their eight-year-old son that day. Their seven- year- old daughter lost a leg and both parents were injured. They have asked that the death penalty be taken off the table for Mr. Tsarnaev. They wrote a letter saying the they "understand...the heinousness and the brutality of the crimes committed...but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives." One could certainly not call the Richard's bleeding hearts--but we could call them people with hearts that bleed continually.

I vacillate almost daily with what I would do if I were on that jury. We live in a world where many of our choices are very complicated. And for people of faith capital punishment gets even more muddled. We know what the 10 Commandments say--but are there exceptions? The same book that says : "Thou shalt not kill" tells of blood running through the streets by people that were God's chosen.

Who knows? How do you feel--let me hear from you?

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mama--I Remember

Sunday is Mother's Day. And across the land florists will be busy and happy. Department stores will be flooded at the last minute--as will UPS. Greeting cards will hit an all time high. And streaming from mailboxes to Nursing Homes and apartments and condos and homes and even prisons--gifts will flow in their direction.

Ta Dah--it's Mother's Day. Memory stirs for many of us this week-end. We remember Mama. We might not sing: "M-is for the millions things she gave me..." But many, many of us will follow the trail of memory lane back through the years.

Mine began in a little four-room mill house. My father and mother, knee deep in the depression, fled the farm where they were starving for a better life in Columbus, Georgia. They lived in a three-room apartment with another couple. Then they graduated to three rooms of their own. Later they moved to a four room mill house across from the mill where they worked and where they would live for the rest of their lives. They had bare lights that hung down from the ceiling on a black twisted cords. They had an indoor toilet and running water. It was all they could dream for.

They had tried for years to have a baby--and no baby came. Finally--at long last--a baby stirred in my Mama's stomach. And so I was born in that little house one cool October morning. She named me Roger after Will Rogers who had died two months before in a plane crash. "Why did you name him Roger?" She said, "He makes me laugh."

She worked until her retirement in the mill across there street. During the war years she worked seven days a week. There was no air conditioning in that Georgia mill. Work was hard and pay was meagre. Thinking back I never heard my parents complain about their limited conditions. Maybe they remembered back to those hard days on the farm when they almost starved.

My  mother never was able to get past the eighth grade--she was needed for work at home. But it did not keep her from a mind that did not stop. She knew what was going on in the world. She read books--lots of books. The Book of the Month Club was a big deal in our house.

Did I appreciate those gnarled arthritic fingers that just kept working? Nah. Did I ponder never really having what she wanted because her two boys came first. Nah. She took her magic key and opened as much of the world as she knew for me. Church...books...friends...nice, clean clothes--safety and Sunday dinners, especially that couldn't be beat. She taught me values from her limited Southern Baptist background that stick to my 79 years.

She stood on the front porch that morning in September when I left for college. It must have broken her heart. She said nothing--then or ever about her pain. She just left the mill that morning, made sure my bags were packed.She stood on the front porch in her little print dress and waved goodbye. She knew what I didn't know that a chapter was ending--a chapter that would never be replayed.

Did I appreciate those packages of cakes and cookies that came to my college post office? Probably not enough. Did I ponder the sacrifice of that weekly fifteen dollars that came in the mail without fail to keep me in school. Nah.

I still see her on my graduation day from college--in that navy blue dress with the crocheted collar and the the big wide-brimmed blue hat. She was so proud and paid some relative good money to bring her to that graduation. We had no car.  She kept her hand over her mouth most of the time. You see her teeth were terrible and she did for us, her boys, instead of getting those teeth fixed. She never complained. Years later she finally got her false teeth--but by then she was near retirement.

She wrote letters faithfully telling me in great detail of the news and, of course, the neighborhood scandals. She never missed work and she never missed church and she never failed to provide clean clothes, good food or saying, over and over, "Son, it'll work out."

She left us in her eighties. Just went to bed and never woke up. I still remember the black lady that worked for us  standing at her casket. "Miss Ruth," she said, "you worked hard all yo' life. Hard. Now you just rest. You just rest." And she leaned over and kissed my Mama.

A great preacher left his church in Texas and moved to North Carolina. He had breakfast for years in a tiny coffee shop where everybody in that Texas town knew him. Years later one morning a waitress asked one of his friends, "Let me ask you something--is the preacher that used to come in here--still down at the church? I never see him  anymore." The wise friend paused and said, "Yes, he's still here."

My Mama's body may rest in a cemetery in my home town. But she's still here. She's still here.

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, May 4, 2015

Is Everybody Welcome in Church?

Don't you just love this picture? Reckon all the heathen will rush into the parking lot, stamp out the green grass getting in and look around to see a whole congregation standing, smiling and welcoming them with open arms. Hmm.

Just who are these heathen? Could they be people on food stamps. Maybe a seventeen year old girl alone and scared with a baby on her hip. (Not somebody there's daughter--but a total stranger from Lord knows where.) Maybe a kid on drugs, trying desperately to dry out, flunking rehab again and again. Would he be in this welcoming category? What about the girl who walked down the aisle in this very church four months ago and her marriage is a disaster--and everybody there knows it--what about her? What about the family who have been coming to this church for years and their oldest got caught stealing something and is in the pen with a felony charge? Wonder if their Sunday School class will open their arms and whisper behind their backs.  That homeless man that left his shopping cart around back, hoping nobody will steal his treasures--what kind of a reception will he get? There is this transgendered kid--a boy who just wants to dress like a girl. His parents don't know what to do with him. When he/she walks into a Sunday School class--will the sign still stand. What about that banker living less than a mile from the church--whose picture was plastered all over the paper and is being charged with bank theft. Or his wife. Or his kids. There is a woman with a sari on, scarf over her head that drives by the church every day--wondering what would happen if she opened that wide
front door and walked in. Would some usher look away as he handed her a bulletin?

We love labels in this culture. Democrat, Republican, Gay, Straight, Christian, Muslim, Sinner, Outsider, Insider, Independent, Foreigner, Racist, Illegals.  Us and them. Saved and the Unsaved. Churched and the Unchurched.

Let's dispense with the labels--not only on our signs--but even more important--the labels in our heads that we all use every day to categorize and mark and include or exclude. We don't know their stories anymore than they know ours.

There is a Catholic church I used wander into in Oxford, England. About two blocks from the campus. Sitting in the pew, hardly anyone else there--I looked up, up above the altar and there was the golden Jesus with his arms outstretched. He took me in that day, far from home, wondering about my kids, freshly retired and wondering about my future. Somehow we've got to do better than putting up these off-putting signs.

One of my early mentors was Gordon Cosby who said it for me: "We moderate and polish the world's thinking, and name it Christian. The church embodies the upside-down kingdom. Whatever the world admires is probably not good, according to kingdom values. The church is always anti-empire...What the church does is provide a place where pain can be touched and where the vision for a new world can be lifted up and held before people."           

Dear God, let it be so. We've got a whole lot of work to do. 

This figure of the outstretched Jesus hangs above the altar in St. Giles
Catholic Church in Oxford, England. 

--Roger Lovette /