Friday, June 26, 2015

America is Sometimes not so Hard to See

For me the Star Spangled Banner sounds little different in the context of what the Supreme Court did today.  Sing the first verse along with me:

"O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs burstinng in air
Gave proof  thro' the night that the flag was still there.
O  say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O're the land of the free and the home of the brave."

We're still working on the All in our land.

It will take a long time to upack the meaning of the same-sex decision. Remember when the Supreme Court cut down segregation? Justice was a long time coming. And still is for many people. Especially for those with tears in their eyes in Charleston.

The Apostle Paul was right: "We grieve but not as those who have no hope."

Take a moment just squint your eyes--look around you--do you see it? Justice. It's here--we just have to keep working and looking. Once in a while America is not so hard to see.

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Charleston Teaches us about Racism

photo by Helen M Bushe / flick

I have been wondering what tributaries have flown into the life of Dylann Roof that made him kill those nine people as they worshipped. They welcomed him with open arms. He sat there and listened to the Bible study for an hour before shooting as many black people as he could. Guns of course were part of the picture. But that is far too simple answer. Where did all that hate come from? We live in a society that still has a very long way to go in stamping out our racism with our black brothers and sisters. Eugene Robinson who is a fine commentator and wise man just happens to be from South Carolina. He is quiet, prophetic and hopeful. He gives us some clues about why Dylann Roof did what he did. You might want to read his wise words in Truthdig.

--Roger Lovette /

Forgiveness Flows from Charleston

I took this picture at Coventry Cathedral. The church was bombed
during the World War II by the Germans. This statue stands in the bombed out ruins adjacent to the new sanctuary.

Forgiveness. Strange word to be uttered by family members as they addressed the man that killed their loved ones in Charleston. Nadine Collier’s 70 year old mother was killed. She said to Dyllan Roof: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” Twanza Sanders , a  26 year old poet was shot. His mother told Roof that those killed in the Bible study were among the most beautiful people alive. “Every fiber in my body hurts…I’ll never be the same. Twanza is my son but Twanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.”

Forgiveness. Mercy. Strange words for an “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” world.  One national newscaster who heard their statements said that he did not go to church . But from what he heard from those family members it made him wonder. He said he might just have to change his mind about church.

Those of us on the inside of the church know that we don’t always forgive. I have seen the slitted eyes and pursed lips sitting on some pew with folded arms Sunday after Sunday. They weren’t many—yet there were always a handful on every church I served. They were some of the most unhappy people I have ever known.

And yet—the heart of the Christian faith are those words that Jesus spoke to his enemies from his cross. “Father forgive.” If those in Charleston that lost so much cannot finally let their rage and sorrow go they will carry a burden too heavy to bear.

It really is amazing that some of our finest teachers of grace have come from the black community. Despite all the dangers, toils and snares that they have been through—many of them have found the secret of Jesus’ teachings. Seventy timers seven—Jesus told Simon Peter. Simon thought those multiplications were a mite excessive. Jesus meant that we never, ever can leave forgiveness behind. We bump into its challenges as long as we live.

As I read the heart-rending responses from the family members in Charleston, I remembered back to my Birmingham days. On an airplane I met a black woman named Mrs. Robinson. As we talked she said she lived in Birmingham. I asked her if she was a member of the 16th Street church where the bombing took place in the sixties. She said, “I was a member of that church.” “Were you there during the bombing,” I asked. She said, “My daughter was killed in that bombing.l Her name was Carole—with an “e.” She told me her daughter was 14-years -old and played the clarinet and loved pretty dresses. She told me she was getting ready for church that Sunday morning when she heard a loud noise that would change her life forever. Her husband came home with the sad news: Their church had been bombed and Carole was dead. 

Years later they caught one of the bombers Thomas Blanton and he was on trial. And they wheeled Mrs. Robinson into the courtroom in Birmingham and she addressed this man who had helped kill her daughter. She told him that day in court was her daughter’s birthday and she would have been fifty two years old. 

Mrs. Robinson was featured in Spike Lee’s film, Four Little Girls. The movie told the world what happened that terrible Sunday morning. Toward the end of the film Mrs. Robinson spoke, “I have worked very hard not to feel anger and hatred. I had to keep my spirits up so I could help my husband’s spirits up and the folks around me. We had good friends and family who gave us a lot of support. But you have to work with it and pray…Gradually, “ she said, “healing came about because hating people would not do me good and it would do me more harm that it would them. “ She continued. “I think I conquered it but every once in a while it comes out, not the hatred but anger…It comes out in different ways. I’ve tried to put all that behind me and go on and live. My husband is gone, my three brothers, my sisters and parents are gone. I still have my son and daughter and three grandchildren and give great-grandchildren. So I have something to be thankful for.” 

If I had a Benediction for all the grievers in Charleston—it would be the words of a woman who lost a precious 14-year-old daughter of her own over fifty years ago.
photo by Celestine Chua / flickr

--Roger Lovette/

Friday, June 19, 2015

Charleston's Sorrow

photo by Alby Headrick / flickr

Nine people were gunned down in Charleston as they prayed in their church Wednesday evening. As I read about that massacre at that church I remembered back to my Birmingham days. When four little black girls, dressed in their finery were killed in a racist bomb blast. in the sixties  After the dust settled and the rebuilding was sadly going on--the children of Wales took up money and fashioned this window which dominates the 16th Street Church there. In the stained glass memorial Jesus stretches out his hands in a cruciform way. Underneath the beautiful window are the words: "You do it unto me..."

There are no words to respond to what happened in that Charleston Church.

We do not know what terrible tributaries merged into this young man's mind that did the shooting...

We do know his father gave him the gun that was used in the shooting...

We do know that the city still grieves over the black man shot in the back by a policeman there just weeks ago... 

We do know that the poison that has flowed through our society since a black man has been elected president is so destructive...

We do know that the hatemongers still rant over the radio and the internet day after day...

We do know some politicians are ignoring the nine black people and talk piously about the attack on churches in our time...

We do know that even though the American flag is at half mast in the Columbia (SC) State capitol--the Confederate flag flies high in the wind there...

We do know that stupid slogan: "Guns don't kill people--people do..." sounds a little hollow in Charleston this morning...

 We do know the same Jesus who put his arms around that church in Birmingham and all those grieving parents has moved down to Charleston and touches all those black and white who mourn ...

 We do know we still have a long way to go and much work to do. We lift up our brothers and sisters in Charleston who have lost so much--and the whole nation.

Langston Hughes, black poet expresses it for me:

"At the feet o' Jesus
Sorrow like a sea.
Lordy, let yo' mercy 
Come driftin' down on me.

At the feet o' Jesus
At yo' feet I stand.
O, ma little Jesus, 
Please reach yo' hand."

Statue at Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky
given to remember a civil rights worker
from Massachusetts murdered in Missippi.

--Roger Lovette /


Father's Day--A Big Deal

photo by sightmybyblinded / flickr
"As my father had done with me,
Once when my infant son
Woke crying from his sleep, 
I carried him out to the yard
To show him the full moon
Rising branch by branch through
The trees, a vision strong enough
To settle him.
                  'Moon!' I said,
               He was dazzled,
Struggled with the word until
He croaked, 'Moo, moo!'  "
        --Aaron Paul Zimmer

Fathers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are wonderful and the memories their children have this Father’s Day will be warm and healthy. Others children find Father’s Day hard. This day holds no place of wonder in their memories. Father’s Day is a painful time and they hope to skip the celebration.

When my daughter was little—she would climb up in my lap as I read the paper or watched TV. She would take her tiny hands, put them of both sides of my face and point my head in her direction. Usually she would say the same thing, “Look at me Daddy. Look at me!”

Dozens of times through the years, at the swimming pool, some soccer game or play at school they crane their heads in all directions trying to see if their Daddy is watching., “Look at me,” they think, “look at me.”

The Bible says that one day Joshua reached up and stopped the sun. Fathers can perform this miracle in their own families. By their care, their love and attention they can make the sun stand still for their children.  

Brooks Adams was once U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. He began keeping a diary when he was a small boy. One entry read: “Went fishing with my father, The most glorious day of my life.” The father also kept a diary. His entry for that day was: “Went fishing with my son—a day wasted.”  The Daddy missed the point.

Father’s Day reminds us that we fathers are to put down the paper, turn off the TV and the cell phone. We are to grab our children by their hands go out and look at the stars,  listen to the the birds, kneel down and just discover the wonders lurking in the grass.

On week-ends sometimes I wander into a fast food restaurant and see them sitting in a corner. A man with his child—sometimes two children. He wears no wedding band. I guess that marriage is behind him. Often I see him laughing and enjoying being with his youngsters. The looks on their faces is absolute delight. Sometimes you see another Daddy glancing at his watch, looking around the restaurant obviously bored. It’s another court-appointed Father’s Day.

The real Father’s day is not a sentimental or over-commercialized occasion. This day is a reminder that the sun really can stand still with a child. Many of us fathers have missed many opportunities to just be there when our children really need us. 

One of the moving stories that came out of Beau Biden’s funeral recently was that story of how Joe Biden’s wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident as they were going out looking for a Christmas tree. His two sons ages one and three survived the accident.

Joe Biden was sworn into the Senate in his boys' hospital room as they recovered. And daily, for years this father would take the train home to Wilmington, Delaware after a hard day's work in Washington. He wanted to be with his children and to see them off to school the next day. Then he would board the train, head back to Washington to do his work representing his state. At his son's funeral each of the Senator's children spoke of how their father was one of the most important people in their lives.

Wouldn’t it be great to know that long after we are gone this day will be special and memorable for our children. Because they will remember that once upon a time their Daddy really did reach up and
stop the sun.

Image: AllcePopkorn / flickr

--Roger Lovette  /

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Darkness--A Sermon

photo by Madamepsychosis / flickr

I wish we could stop at John 3.16 today but we can’t. Most of my ministry I have stopped here. And it is a wonderful stopping place. For if we ever get our hearts around this text: For God so loved the world—the world—everybody—God takes us all in—and say that whosoever believes in Him will never perish--why it would change the church and all of us, too. For we would open our hearts to everyone and that is a pretty big order. Even to us—especially to us. But I don’t want to stop there today. I want to move on down to that 19th verse. I don’t think I ever got that far in any sermon. Listen: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all that do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”(3.19-21)

Do you hear what John is saying? God loves the whole world—everybody. But that is only part. And now we come to the hard part. People loved darkness rather than light. John is talking about the everybody that God loves. Everybody, all of us, gravitates to the dark side. This is why we need a Savior.

My granddaughter Libby used to say: “Mama, can you come in here—I am afraid of the dart.” And I don’t know anybody, anywhere that comes close to the darkness of evil and comes away more than a little tarnished.

One of the basic problems in the whole Bible is the dart. There is that Garden, surrounded by all the lushness that God Almighty could provide there came this beautiful snake. Whispering, “Do you really think you have to listen to God? Bite that apple—you won’t die.” And from there to Cain and Abel where one brother slays another to Jacob taking his brother, Esau’s birthright to David’s adultery to Solomon’s destruction of the Kingdom over greed and sex and rock and roll.

So many of us have stopped too soon. We talked about John 3.16. But what about this nineteenth verse? What about evil? What about the dart that we have all tried to live around or ignore or just wish it would go away? We thought we solved it when we identified the problem. Evil was for us Baptists, drinking, dancing and smoking. And there are churches all over this land this morning that are preaching evil with a little “e.” Them. Those people. They. And we know who they are. If you are a Republican they are Democrats. If you are a Democrat they are Republicans. They are in Iraq and Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Isis—really mean and scary. Over there. What about here? All these shootings and kidnaps and rapes. What about all these pay-day loans where some people with nothing are paying 300 to 500% interest. They’ll never get out of that hole. What about here? I teach Grief groups and they come in with the saddest of stories. The Mama who found her 22-year-old dead of a drug overdose. The little man in my church who comes every Sunday. He just put his wife in a nursing home and he goes every single day and holds her and she says: “Do I know you?” We know about evil—don’t we?

 But look again at the text. John says people love darkness rather than light. Not just the “them’s”.  Not just the “they’s.” Everybody John says. We all love the darkness rather than the light. And John’s verse forces us to look closely at ourselves and see how very far we all fall short from what God wants us to be.

Paul said it, “What I want to do—I do not do. What I do not want to do—I find myself doing.” Which means that like Paul we all have a shadow side. We all have a dart—and left alone it would destroy us and all those around us. For sometimes the sins of the fathers and the mothers are visited on the third and fourth generations. William Styron, one of our greatest writers was subject to depression all his life. He called it, in one of his books Darkness Visible. It was so real he could almost reach out and touch it.

Like the moth to the flame, we keep coming close to the darkness. But mostly we deny it. Oh, it is so much easier to know your wife’s faults. Your boss’ faults. The preacher’s. The Deacon’s. Your Mama or Daddy that wounded you. We can look so many places out there and find the blame. Obama, George Bush, the Legislature, Bill Clinton, the Gamecocks, maybe the Session or the Presbytery. The list is endless. We see everybody else’s shadow side. I like the story of the man who answered his doorbell one day and let his old friend in—along with a great big shaggy dog. As they sat talking, the dog bumped into an end table and almost sent a lamp crashing to the floor. After chewing on the rug the dog began to ramble through the house and, as he went, you could hear the sound of breaking glass. He finally jumped on the couch with his muddy feet and curled up for a nap. The homeowner could not take it any longer. “Don’t you think you should have trained your dog better before you brought him in here?” And the friend said: “My dog? I thought it was your dog.” Nobody wants to claim the dog. But we all have a shadow side and we have to deal with it.

Have I depressed you enough? There is evil and there is good. Atheists say they have us here. If there was a God why evil? And I can’t answer that question except to say if we did not have a choice we could not be free people. But that’s a weak answer. But John told us in those opening verses: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.”(1.5) And then move down to the ninth verse he says that Jesus is the true light and “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (1.9) What our faith says is that the light is stronger than the darkness.

photo by Marilena Marchese / flickr
And this is good news for all of us. Whatever shadow sides we have to deal with, whatever darkness we carry does not have to be the last word. Move on through John’s gospel. And when we come to that twentieth chapter, the Easter story begins: “While it was still dark…” Mary Magdalene comes to the Open Tomb. While it was still dark. You ever been there? Of course you have. We all have. And John says Mary stands there weeping for the best person she ever knew had been nailed to a cross on a dark Friday afternoon. It was Easter Sunday early…and it was still dark. We’ve all been there. Sometimes even on  Easter. But John tells us there is more.

In Oberammergau at the Passion Play in Germany we sat for three hours or more as the story of Jesus’ last week was played out before our eyes. And then we broke for lunch and then came back for the rest of the play. They show the crucifixion in graphic terms. Jesus nailed to a cross. They show his broken body being taken down and the weeping women and other disciples. And slowly all the lights go out and we sit in darkness.  And then through the darkness we can barely make out these women who come and stand beside the huge stone door. They weep and try to move the door—but it will not budge. And suddenly two angels come from stage left and stage right and slowly they begin to unroll an aisle cloth--liken we used to do at weddings. The angels  move to the door and just crack the door open.  Through the cracked door you could see the light shining through. And the dark stage slowly, ever so slowly is filled with light until it covers the whole audience. And then through the light there comes Jesus, the Risen Lord. And from all over a hundred children come running, running and grab Jesus by the legs laughing in wonder and joy.

You brought some dark in here today. It may be heavy and it may be hard. But John says: the light has come into the world and the darkness cannot put it out. The dart does not have the last word.

There is an old play that was on Broadway some time ago called The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. In the play the Mama has told Sonny,er son, to go on upstairs to bed while she finishes up in the kitchen. A few minutes later she goes to the darkened stairs and Sonny is just sitting there. “Sonny,” she says, " I thought I told you to go on up to bed.” He says, “Mom!” And she sees he is embarrassed, and she tells him: “Sonny, why are so afraid of the dark?” And he replies: “Cause you can’t see what’s in front of you. And it might be something awful.” “Sonny—you’re the man of the house—and mustn't be afraid.” I’m not afraid,” he says, “if someone’s with me.” And the Mama walks over and takes his hand and they go up the darkened stairs together.
This is what the Gospel—good news—is all about. We leave here and go back to whatever hard, hard things we have to face. And the good news is that we don’t just stop at John 3.16. We remember that other word: we may all carry our own dart but the strong  kindly light can always put it out. "Weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning." Thanks be to God.

photo by Untitled blue / flickr

(I  preached this sermon Sunday,  June 14th at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Westminster, SC)
--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Gays and Mr. Campolo

photo by George Fox Evangelical Seminary / flickr
Tony Campolo has been around for a long time  speaking a good word for Christ and his children. His writings and sermons have moved a great many of us. Tony has always had a great heart for social issues. He has stuck is neck out for the rights for all God’s children. Yet—for years he has struggled with Gays and same-sex marriage. Unlike his wife, Peggy he could not quite say that Gays were just like everyone else. He tried to be fair and loving and accepting. But he just could not bring himself to support Gays in same-sex marriage.  

But he has changed his mind. Tony has never changed his mind because of the way the wind blows. Never. But he says as he began to know gay folks, hear their stories and become friends with many—he realized that they are just like the rest of us. His wife Peggy he also says kept pushing him with the challenge of the gospel in this area. The Christian Post has written about his change of heart and what he now supports same-sex couples and marriage. 

When I was Pastor in Birmingham gays began to come to our services. Some had AIDS. Some were hard livers. They brought with them the same baggage as their straight brothers and sisters. I heard their stories and listened to their struggles. A church that would not let a gay man sing at his mother’s funeral because they discovered he was gay. Parents who turned their backs on their children. Gays who could not let their parents know of their partners or their hopes and dreams. Whole segments of their lives could not be shared with those they loved. Some business people had to stay closeted.  

Our church struggled with this issue—as they have through the years with many issues. But God bless them they kept the doors open for everyone. They put their arms around gays as well as straights and people with all kinds of baggage and problems. I used to tell some of the gay members your best witness here is to let people know you are just like them—you have the same hopes and dreams. Many rose to the challenge. And they changed people’s attitudes and hearts. 

It you visited the Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham this Sunday you would see an open congregation that welcomes everyone. They wave no flags. They have taken no votes. There are some issues that the church has no business voting on. That congregation is alive and vital and offering a great ministry in downtown Birmingham, yes—Alabama. 

Whether the Supreme Court comes down on the side of same-sex marriage or not—this issue is on the church’s agenda. It will not go away. We will have to struggle and dialogue and come to some Christian understanding as we slowly have on many other issues.
I know people will leave over this issue. We lost some members in Birmingham. Through the years the church has lost people over all sorts of things. But the integrity of the church is at stake. Do we really believe that whosoever will may come? The Church is not the place that categorizes and draws lines between who’s in and who’s out. Church on its better days opens its doors and takes everyone in. We still have much work to do. But let us thank Tony Campolo and a multitude of others who have not waved the banner of political correctness—but the battle flag of the gospel. Read Campolo’s words. Remember the prism through which the Bible must always be filtered is none other than Jesus Christ.

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why Do I Go to Church?

Anne Lamott. one of my secret girlfriends, says that she goes to church "because somebody gives her dimes." An old black lady, probably on food stamps, sidled up to her--a single mother--and slipped a tiny plastic bag tied with a twisty and filled with dimes more than once.

Why do I go to church? After all these years--seeing the good, the bad and some real mean ugly--I still go. Carlyle Marney used to say that the church had dirty under drawers which was his way of saying what Paul once said, "We have the treasure in earthen vessels."And they both knew that from time to time the Church of Jesus Christ was a long way from what the Lord Jesus intended. And knowing this I still go.

I used to get paid to go. I was the Preacher but, looking back, I think I would have stood behind that pulpit with an open black Bible even if they had not paid me a dime--or a bag of dimes.

Why do I go? Because growing up in a home with a lot of stormy weather--on Sunday--I found some peace and the music wasn't half bad and people smiled and some patted me on the head.

Why do l I go? Because a woman, covered with scars from a fire when she was a baby--reading only with the page almost touching her nose--sent me money--more than dimes--from her knitting mill job to a college she could never go.

Why do I go? Because once in a while back there struggling to find my way--somebody or several some bodies would hug me or whisper how good I was (I wasn't) or just light up when I came into the room.

Why do I go? Because I've seen old gnarled hands from spinning frames--use those same hands to hang on to a rope called faith. Narrow, sometimes rigid--not always correct--but faith.  It kept them going.

Why do I go? Because I have been overwhelmed by the graceful acts of so many. Grace-filled. They gave their nickles and yes, their dimes to people over there whom their Preacher said did not know or were hungry or needed shoes.

Why do I go? Because I've seen alcoholics find their way back and some church--as ordinary as dirt--take them in and welcome them back. I go because they took food baskets into little houses that you had to hold your breath to enter. I go because they build a house and then another another and yet another for a family who would never, in all their lives, be able to do that on their own. I go because when they lost their 22 year old or their aging parent or some mate of 45 years--somebody brought a casserole or hugged them hard or  called on the telephone six months later.

Why do I go? Because that cross and that Sunday dinner of bread and wine and that stained glass and that organ music and sometimes even a choir or a sermon will lift me up and carry me through and force me to pray--even now after all these years.

Why do I go? Because I've seen hope slowly emerge from the dirty concrete of somebody's life and watch it stubbornly grow and grow and grow. The fertilizer of Sunday School or prayers or genuine care sprinkled out again and again enabled them to live and flourish and sometimes bloom.

Why do I go? Because I've seen more than one church take
somebody in with AIDS or make somebody a Deacon who had once been in jail or throw a wedding of all weddings for a couple of special people who would always remember that happy day when their church cheered and cried and laughed and loved them until they felt whole--even for a short time.

God knows I've seen the dark side of church. Not only in them--but also in me. I could footnote a thousand reasons for not ever going through that door and sitting on those pews again.  And yet next Sunday, unless I'm sick,  I'll put on my clothes and head down to that comfortable place I have known most of my life.

--Roger Lovette /