Friday, September 25, 2015

Taking Our Country Back--to Where?

photo by pieter mustard / flickr
"Carry me Back to old Virginia,
There's where the cotton and the corn and taters grow,
There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime,
There's where this old darkey's heart am long'd to go."
                   --James Bland

Donald Trump is not the only one wanting "to take our country back." We've been hearing this manta now for quite some time. Mostly the longing comes from politicians--but I have also heard it from pulpits and some editorialists that surprise me. It has a powerful ring: "take my country back."

Back to where, please tell me.
To slavery days. 
No, not that far.
To the days when women could not vote. 
Well, not there either.
To segregation and separate but equal.
That's not exactly what I had in mind.
Maybe back to those days when we incarcerated the Japanese in California.
That was a mite excessive.
Maybe back to the draft when everybody had to go--even politician's sons.
We don't need the draft.
Maybe World War II when men and women were shipped overseas and some did not come home for three years or more.
I said we don't need the draft.
Maybe back to pre-social security days when we didn't spend so much money.
We couldn't do without social security.
Maybe those great days when the government didn't stick their noses into our groceries and our 
  medicines and education was one-room for those that could go.
We don't want to go back to that. 
Perhaps those days not too long ago when gays kept their mouths shut, didn't hold hands in the street 
and stayed in the closet.
Well, at least marriage was for one man and one woman.
Maybe at least go back to the Vietnam days when 50,000 of our own came home in boxes.
Nobody would advocate that., No draft, I said.
Maybe before transgender bubbled to the surface.
We'd be just as well off without all that. It's confusing.
Maybe having a white man in the White House.
At least people wouldn't wonder where he was born.
Maybe women not working outside the home and staying home with the kids.
Well, it sure helped.
Maybe we go back to when we didn't want any Jews or Nee-groes or Irish or Italians not to speak of     Mexicans, for goodness sake.
We know that is going much too far. I'm Irish myself. But we do need more wall.
Maybe go back to the Hitler days when we turned back Jewish refugee ships and sent them home to die.
You know that's not what I mean.
Maybe the Depression days when money was just about nonexistent and everybody stayed home.
God, nobody would wish for that.

Remember those words that come from the Bible. Have we forgotten?

""In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt? 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.'"

But Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.'"

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Catholics, Muslims and Other Heretics

photo by Jeffrey Bruno Aleteia / flickr
Growing up in Columbus, Georgia about two miles down the street was the Baptist Tabernacle. The Pastor was Parson Jack Johnson. You could count on Parson Jack to be against almost everything. Eisenhower was a Communist and so were several members of his cabinet. The Reds we're everywhere. Of course the nig-ras...not the word he used--had no "bid-ness" even thinking of going to our schools or riding on the front of the bus or, perish the thought, raping our women. We had to keep them in their place. But a great deal of the Parson's ire was focused on Rome and the Papist heresies. The Priests had their girlfriends. There were unmarked graves behind their convents and monasteries where they buried their illegitimate babies. But the most frightening thing he told the whole town was that the Catholics kept guns in the basement of every church and one day they rise and take over our country unless we were vigilant.

So even though I did not go to the Parson's church--and even then he was considered a maverick--his message of hate seeped into our community. Not only were we told we couldn't date Catholics but marriage was out of the question. Why the Priest would say all your children would have to be baptized--we called it sprinkled--and they would be brainwashed by the Catholic Church and be forever lost. And we knew where that would lead.

Along the way I met some Catholics. Why the Editor of our High School paper was Catholic. Shirley didn't have horns, she didn't seem so different from us--in fact she was a smart girl and a delight to be around. Maybe she was responsible for making me begin to wonder about my Catholic prejudice. But she was the first of many along the way.

And so as Pope Francis moves through his first visit to America--the crowds that greet him everywhere are astounding. Parson Jack--if he were living--would pitch a fit. Well, he wouldn't be the only one. Senators and Congressmen and some citizens are scared of what the Pope just might say to our country. Before he got here he visited Cuba--of all places--and even met with the Castros! The Cuban people lined the streets with joy and wonder as Pope Francis passed by.   He complimented President Obama and the United States for opening the door to Cuba which had been closed for at least fifty years.

The Pope has already shaken up his church and many of his managers are shaking their heads. He seems to be unmanageable. Name almost any issue that affects people: Global warming, birth control, divorce, gay folk and his great heart aching for all those refugees. He is going to prick the conscience of those of us sitting comfortably in our dens listening to his moral challenges. Why he has said that if every parish would take in one refugee family we could begin to deal with this crisis. He is giving hope to Catholics that have been disenfranchised from their church for ages. This Pope is also giving hope to people around the world. He is saying the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to follow its Lord and his strong commands. Strange gospel, indeed.

I'd be surprised if he did not say something about Muslims. ISIS is scary indeed. Sharia law would
photo by See Tefl / flickr
take us back to the Middle ages.  But most Muslims are not terrorists. There is so much about their faith that I do not understand--but to paint all Muslims as our enemies would be wrong indeed. Mr.Trump,  Mr. Carson have both used the Muslim card. Well, we aren't sure where this black President was really born and we don't need a Muslim in the White House--wink, wink. I don't want to bash Republicans particularly--but why are so many of the other candidates silent on this issue. After 9/11 President Bush reminded us that we should not paint all Muslims with the same dark brush. It was one of his finest moments in a very hard time.

Is it really in the spirit of America--not to speak of the church--to make these folk who work in our towns, walk down our streets and buy groceries with us--feel safe, Why they have done no more to deserve our ire than the neighbors next door. The Christian faith is supposed to say welcome--not just as an evangelistic tool--but common decency.

There are a whole lot of outsiders around us. Some are Hispanic, some are poor, some never had the chance that we have had. Sometimes the Christian faith is a hard business. "I was a stranger and you took me in..." cannot be revised or amended. It is part of a Constitution a whole lot older than the US document. And God bless Pope Francis and the United States of America. God bless the whole wide world.

    --Roger Lovette /

Thursday, September 17, 2015

American-Christian / Christian-American?


                       "Love of country is a wonderful thing, but why should it stop at the border?"  
                                                            --Pablo Casals                                  

Driving by this church this morning--I wonder if any member of the church realizes how incongruous
this picture is.

What happens when an Hispanic walks into the church...or someone from China or Korea...or even one of the Middle Eastern countries? Would they feel at home?

Old-time Baptists would never put national flags outside their churches--if they had a building. They knew that Church and State were separate. Coming out of England where all the ministers had to be approved by the State...where all the citizens would have to give to the church coffers whether they liked them or not--these dissenters moved to America hoping to live in a land free from the state when it came to church. Well, we really know the rest of the story.

The hymn that reads:"In Christ there is no East or West, in Him no north our South"--was not talking about the geography of America--but the universality of the gospel.

Consequently we don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist--or wear any other label to be a Christian. I love the story about the teacher in a Church school in California. He asked the students if they were Christians. One teen-ager raised her hand and said, "Yes, I'm an American." When we blend American and Christian we get a strange and heretical brew.

Russell Moore has written a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times asking "Have Evangelcals Lost Their Values?" You might want to read it.

                                                   --Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When We Face Stormy Weather

photo by Liam Kernel / flickr
"Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within, and if ever we are to find true shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness and need for true shelter that we have to start."
----Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Someone asked a woman on a ship if she liked storms at sea. She said, "No--I don't like storms at sea--but I do like having moved through storms at sea." From time to time most of us have to deal with stormy weather. Unless we love disruption--nobody likes troubled waters.

I'm not talking about the Weather Channel or the temperature--I'm talking about a subject far different. Right now I'm leading a Grief group of people who have lost wives, husbands,  parents and partners. They are in the middle of stormy weather. How they respond to this very hard time--will determine their futures really. Losing someone we love is one of the hardest things we have to go through. None of us are immune. We can also add old age, bad lab reports, broken relationships, failures, depression, fear and whole lot of other things. Stormy weather, indeed.

How do we move through our storms? Our culture teaches us to fix our problems and if we cannot fix our difficulties--at least we learn better techniques, use more advanced technology--control whatever we face.

Guess what? There are a great many things that we cannot control. Our culture has little to say about these storms. Look at the folk in California who have lost their houses in the fire that just happened. Hundreds of homes have burned to the ground. I read where a man in a neighboring town just shot a retired coach and one of his friends as they walked down the street. My good friend just learned that he has a disease that nobody seems to understand--not even the doctors--he is going through a frightening time. We are told that we can manage about everything. The old saying: "There's nothing that me and God together can't handle."

Tell that to the grievers, those who have lost houses or jobs or don't know what to do with the unending bills they cannot pay. Stormy weather. And the advice to: "walk through the storm with our head held high..." is just not enough to get us through all these things we cannot control.

The Apostle Paul, veteran of more storms that he could even remember said: "We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..."If you read a little further he tells them what he has said over and over: "We do not lose heart." And then he gives the secret--but not a fix--"We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal."

We are not storm chasers they seem to me to be a little crazy. But the challenge is to be a storm facer. Not storm deniers. Barbara Brown Taylor says there are a whole lot of churches today whose message is: "full solar spirituality." They believe we can stay in the light of God around the clock. Taylor believes we can learn to walk in the dark.

That's why I sit in a circle week after week listening to the stories of people who have lost someone they love. This is why I believe, despite all the craziness we cannot control--maybe the old song is right after all: "We really do not walk alone."

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11 - Remembering the Fallen

Wendell Berry has a poem:" Come to the Window and look out" That's what I want to do this sad day of remembering.

One year ago I walked through the World Trade Center Museum. What I remember most were the faces...all the faces that were lost that day.

We are told that of the several attacks that day 2,996 lost their lives.

Besides the people in the buildings and the planes also killed were:

343 Firefighters
37 Port Authority Policeman
23 Police Officers
2   Paramedics

Come to the window and look out. 

American service members killed in Afghanistan: 4,493
  Total service members wounded 100,000
  Vets with Brain injuries 320,000
   18 vets commit suicide daily

American service members killed in Afghan war: 2,361
    20,051 Service members wounded in action

Iraqi death toll of civilians : 500,000
Afghan civilians killed: 142,659-164,530

Come to the window and look out.

These figures do not include family members whose lives were torn from the roots this day 14 years  ago.
These figures do not include all those who worked tirelessly in the wreckage to rescue people only to find themselves sick and many disabled for life.

Come to the window and look out.

Statistics do not include the anger and the rage and a nation that somehow cannot come together on any issue that matters.
A country that will spend billions of dollars to elect someone to the highest office in the land.
A country that will still be divided by race, gender, status, rich,  poor, immigrants, refugees and people of several different religions or no religion.

Wendell Berry ends his poem:

"Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees, 
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes."

--Roger Lovette /


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Refugees--A whole lot of people are crying, Lord

Politicians in this country are jockeying for power--trying to upstage Donald Trump (it isn't working). And people are pouring zillions of dollars into this political campaign. Across the world in Europe I hope you have seen the pictures and studied the faces of all those refugees that are looking for a place of safety.

Amy Butler, talented Senior Minister of the Riverside Church, NYC has a fine blog worth reading, Talk With the Preacher. On September 7th she wrote a response to the Refugee crisis which is utterly heart breaking. She chose her focus by sharing a poem by a Kenyan-born, Somali poet, Warsan Shire. Read it and weep.

Photo courtesy of UN / flickr
"no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it's not something you ever thought ofd doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.
you have to understand
that no one puts his children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
photo by Frank Keillor / flickr
or strip searches where you
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
\no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll of your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
photo courtesy of UN / flickr
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
\to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be under
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don't know what i've become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here"

                                      --Roger Lovette /

Kim Davis--No Rosa Parks

courtesy of Mike Licht who entitled his picture:
Our Lady of Intolerance / flickr
Ever wake up thinking you have landed in a crazy house? This sad saga of Kim Davis is a mite weird. Two gay guys applied for a marriage license in Rowan County, Kentucky. County Court Clerk Kim Davis turned them away. She said her religious principles about gays would not permit her to grant that license. Well, she wound up in jail for not following the law she promised to uphold when she took the job.

I thought the jailing of this woman was overreach on the Judge's part. Why not just censure her and let her know that she had to follow the rules of her job or be shuffled around in another department. Jail seemed cruel to me. I'm glad she is free.

The media who always loves hoop-la rushed to the scene. A group of  citizens surrounded the court house waving American and Christian flags, some holding huge crosses, others carrying signs saying this woman was a martyr for a Christian cause. Some people intoned that Ms. Davis was the Rosa Parks for religious freedom.  If that were not worse enough Presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz
 rushed to the scene. They couldn't comment enough. I don't think I saw either candidate in Charleston after the blood bath in the Ebenezer Church. But that's beside the point.

What we now know is that Kim Davis has been married four times. Yes, four times. I have a sneaky feeling that Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Cruse would not have rushed down to Kentucky had they known this fact. Of course--Huckabee who claims to be a Baptist minister and smoothed the event over by saying: "I know she has been married four times but she accepted the Lord Jesus as her Savior several months ago and it has changed her life. She is not the same person she was." This reminds me of another story which has nothing to do with the issue. But some little boy asked his Sunday School teacher if she thought Hitler was a Christian. She said,  "Well, we hope he accepted the Lord Jesus and was baptized when he was a little boy."Hmm.

Ms. Davis is no Hitler. But her recent conversion does not sweep away the years or her history so easily. I am glad she has turned her life around. But not far enough. Jesus welcomes all. The Supreme Court has said, at least at this point, all citizens in this country have the same right when they request a marriage license. If your job is to grant licenses to all tax-paying citizens--Ms. Davis has made a serious mistake.  She can believe whatever she wishes about gays--that is her right as a citizen of a free land. But to work for the state her job is to follow the law of the land. When religious freedom means discrimination in any form something is wrong with this picture. Ms. Davis is no Rosa Parks.
But sadly she has been used by a narrow segment of the church and a much larger media blitz--not to speak of political candidates-- for their own shabby purposes.

                                           --Roger Lovette /

Monday, September 7, 2015

Some Responses to My Article about Gays and Church

Sunday, September 6th I wrote a response to the stance of First Baptist Church, Greenville, SC opening its doors with full rights and privileges to every member. This article appeared in the Op Ed section of the Greenville News. There is no pecking order in that church. I applaud their courageous stand. I have received quite a few responses to that article. Most have been positive but, of course, not all. I share four responses that I have received because they tell a little of the large struggle of people found in every church--or people who have great trouble with the church today.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Periods and Çommas--What Kind of a Sermon is This?

photo by  James Lee / flickr
Gracie Allen used to say: “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” Have you ever done that? Of course you have. We have all done that. All my life I have been bumping up against something unexpected, something difficult—and I would say: “I can’t do that. I can’t do that.” What I was doing was getting out my pencil and placing a large period after this hard thing. I said no when I should have said yes.

Corinth understood this. They were having a lot of trouble with the commas and periods. Sometimes they did not know which went where. They had a lot of problems. They were surrounded by a pagan culture and it was easy to believe about anything except what they heard on Sundays. They met in somebody’s living room—they were that small. And even though they were small they had a hard time getting along. Some were rich and some were poor and that complicated matters. Some wanted Paul to be their preacher while others wanted Apollos and others Peter. They couldn’t agree on what worship was to be about—the speaking in tongues was a real problem. And if that was not enough there were some sexual problems there that were downright embarrassing. It had taken its toll on that little church. Their numbers were dwindling. People were upset and worried. Some were taking it out on one another. And some were beginning to say: I have had about all of this I can take. I don’t know if there is anything to this faith or Jesus business. Seems like a mess to me. They were just overwhelmed. 

Paul had been their Pastor. He has stayed there longer than any other place he had ministered except Ephesus. He was there for eighteen months and in that time he had grown to love them and know what an important work they did. In a wild seaport town where you could find about anything you wanted—Paul helped them establish this little lighthouse of the gospel. Tiny, but very important. Shining as a beacon of hope in a dark world. 

photo by D Coetzee / flickr
But now they were in trouble. And Paul in Ephesus sat down and wrote First and Second Çorinthians. And running through all those chapters is, I think one shining words: never place a period where God has placed a comma.

So when we come to II Corinthians 4 he was talking about not losing heart. Different translations use different words. Corinth: faint not. Corinth: do not play the coward. Corinth: have no faint-hearted fears. Corinth: never give up. Corinth: do not be despondent. Corinth: do not let anything daunt you. Corinth: do not be discouraged. Do not lose heart is like a parenthesis. He used it at the beginning of this chapter and at the end of chapter four. (16) And in between he gave them a reason they could not stop—they could not put down some period and just walk away.

And this is what he said in verse 7. “We have the treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that his extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

They were only clay pots. Not what does that mean? Clay pots were really candle holders. Every household had them. No electricity, of course. So the clay pots were small pottery lamps which were cheap and fragile. You could buy them at any shop in Corinth. 

photo by Chris Jones / flickr
And Paul knew that many of them in Corinth were giving up the fight because of the problems in the church. They were putting down a period because things were tough. We sat at a dinner table the other night and a young man said, “I just don’t think I can do this anymore. This church thing. So many Christians I know look down at you and are so mean. I work with some folks that have all these Scripture verses hanging in frames all over their walls and they are some of the most unforgiving people I ever met.” 

I tried to tell him this was not always the case. I tried to tell him he had lost his perspective. I tried to tell him what Paul tried to tell Corinth. We have the treasure in clay jars. That’s the only way it comes. 

Every denomination I know is having difficulties. Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists,
Catholics, even the Baptists. Did you know that—even the Baptists are having trouble? Who would have believed it? The Baptists? Every major faith group is divided and troubled today. And we need to listen closely to what Paul said to another church in a hard time. We have the treasure in a clay pot.

But let’s not just take it out on the church. Let’s look at our own lives. Yours and mine. Paul tried to tell them that humanity is often a burden. Even the saints among us have clay feet. To be human is to have a back that hurts. It is to risk losing a job because you did something wrong. It is to have a bad lab report. It is to have a child to break your heart—or not to be able to have children at all. It is to live in a world where sometimes you wonder if there is going to be any Social Security or anything in your retirement account when you get there. To be human is to suffer and wonder. 

This is the way Paul puts it in verse 8. The next verse. We are afflicted in every way. We are perplexed. We are persecuted. We are struck down. Our outer nature wastes away. And if that were not enough turn to the sixth chapter. And Paul says even the Reverend has experienced: "afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…” (6.4b-5) To live a life is a hard thing, he says. And the only way it ever comes, this business of living is in a clay pot. A fragile vessel. And sometimes you wonder why the best Christian you knew has suffered so much---remember this. To be human is sometimes a burden.

I like the way Leonard Cohen, the folk singer puts it: “There are cracks, cracks in everything that is how the light shines through.” For down beside the periods we have almost punched into the paper, God comes along and erases them and places a comma. The cracks are where the light shines through.

photo by  Travis / flickr
That’s what Paul was telling all-too-human Corinth and I think himself, too. Any good sermon is one in which you really do preach to yourself. But this is what he said: “We have the treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” 

For after the word clay jars—just cheap little candleholders, Paul had placed a comma. For to be a clay jar is not the end. We have the treasure in a clay jar to show that the extraordinary power belongs to God and not us. 

And what he says to them and to us and don’t get stuck with an-all-too-human denomination or church or just yourself. Life is messy and sometimes embarrassing. We disappoint ourselves and those around us. 

But, as this is the good news. It does not depend on us, thank God. The power belongs to God. Listen to how Paul puts it:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
    Perplexed, but not driven to despair;
  Persecuted, but not forsaken;
  Struck down, but not destroyed…” 

And let your finger run on down the page and he writes, there toward the end of that chapter. “So we do not lose heart…” Why? “Because we look not at what can be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(16, 18)
photo by sriram bala / flickr

Let me tell you a story. Several years ago I was Pastor of a church and things were just not working. I was working very hard and nothing seemed to help. I grew very discouraged and thought about just throwing in the towel. It was a hard time in my life.

One of the gifts that came out of that hard time was an invitation to go back to the first little church I had served in Western Kentucky. They had built a new building, changed locations and invited me back for their celebration. When I was there the little white-frame church sat on a county road 54. The new highway bypassed us. And we were in the bottom land and when it rained the water would come all the way up to the top step—flooded the parking lot and we couldn’t have church. Finally, being young and green I proposed to the Deacons one night that we form a Committee to think about relocating since we were in a bad location and water was such a problem. There was dead silence, you would have thought I had lost my mind. Well, I lost that battle. And one day I just moved on—saying this church will never do anything. And now—years later they had moved two miles up the road on a hill on the new highway in a beautiful new building. They were so proud. And as I stood up that morning and looking out at all those beaming faces I wanted to say, “Why didn’t you do this thirty years ago?” But I didn’t.

We had a great time that week-end.  And as I left they gave me a videotape of the last service they had held in that hundred-year old church. Weeks later, back to my hard reality—wondering what I was going to do and felt like I was just spinning my wheels, I put that videotape on.

The last service was a Sunday evening. They gathered that evening in June to tell stories about what
Dawson Baptist Church - Philpot, Ky.
their little church had meant to them. They filled the sanctuary that night. As the tape began little had changed. The video began by showing the tiny, clapboard church. There was the steeple with a bell and the cord they rang every Sunday. As the camera moved inside, you could see the pews the church had bought from another church that never did quite match the décor. At the front were two very large Warm Morning heaters that kept the place too warm or not warm at all. In the gothic shaped windows, bits and pieces of colored glass had been knocked out and replaced through the years by other glass pieces that did not quite match. In the center at the front stood the pulpit with the Bible a mother had given to honor her 21-year-old son had been killed in an automobile accident. On the right was the little Hammond organ Miss Jennie played as slow as you could play. On the left was the spinet piano. Behind the pulpit, centered, was the old, yellowing crocheted framed piece of the Lord’s Prayer that some member had lovingly made seventy-five years before. To the left of the pulpit was the choir on a landing back of the piano.

Different members stood that night and told what had happened to them in that holy space. They remembered their own baptisms in the pond and when their children had been dedicated at the altar. Someone told about their bout with cancer and how the church gathered around them and loved and prayed. They remembered revivals and Vacation Bible Schools and named a couple of Pastors. They spoke of losing jobs and coming together after a long hard week in the fields. They told about how the casseroles had just kept coming when they needed them. Mostly, it was personal stuff. In that little frame church on that side road, they had found something that kept them going through the years.

And as the tape ended, I sat there wiping away the tears. They had taught me a powerful lesson. All the periods I had tried to put down in church through the years hardly mattered. This was God’s thing. And what happened there and in the all-too-human church I had once served was something more than you could see and feel and touch.

This is why I have come all the way from Çlemson. To tell you that this is God’s thing—not just ours. And every time I had taken a pencil and tried to nail down a period—God came along and erased those periods and placed a comma instead.

 The only way I can explain it is this marvelous Scripture that Paul gave Corinth: “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”(II Cor. 4: 7.-10)

But we can’t stop there. Run your finger down the page to that sixteenth verse. “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory behind all measure, because we look not at what can be seen; what can be seen in temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(II Cor. 4. 16-18)

Gracie Allen was more right than she knew. “We should never, never place a period where God has placed a comma.” 
photo by Massimo Valiani / flickr

(This sermon will be preached at Tyger River Church, Moore, SC,  September 6, 2015)

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, September 4, 2015

Labor Day Thoughts

photo bt Franck Verval / flickr
photo by brutalSoCal / flickr
Well, looks like we get a holiday on Monday—or at least some of us. Maybe we ought to stop and remember all the folk that won’t be celebrating this day. Why? They’re working. They are keeping things going. Policeman, Grocery store employees, servers and cooks in restaurants. Order a pizza by phone—somebody will deliver it to your door on Labor Day.

The day started in the labor movement in the late 1800’s. Slowly state after state recognized this day and in June of 1894 Congress passed an act that made Labor Day officially a holiday nation wide on every first Monday in September.

So think about those folk that won’t be off. And think about those in the work force that will not be working that day—but will be back at it on Tuesday, Every once in a while, despite my wife’s embarrassment I will ask a server, flight attendant or a grocery store clerk: “What percentage of your customers are difficult?” I get different answers but they all say: “Oh, ten percent sometimes twenty.” “That high?,” I ask, They nod their heads and say: "Yes."
photo by jankie / flickr

Some wise person said you can tell the character of a person by how they treat those that serve them in any way. I told a church secretary this week, “You know what I missed most in retirement—my Secretary.” I’m on my own and sometimes I don’t even know what day is. Yesterday I picked up my watch at a jewelry store. The crystal broke—and I couldn’t fix it. My wife took two bracelets in—the catches were messed up—a man fixed them. His skin is dark—he comes from another country—and he always does a good
Courtesy of Olympic Week--
Teacher for a day/ flickr
job. I had breakfast in a restaurant this week, The young woman that waited on us was just great. She remembered what we ordered, kept asking if she could get anything—all this for a sausage biscuit. I stopped at a gas pump and the machine would not take my credit card. I tried three times—and finally went to that little box where a woman sat behind a glass enclosure—and she solved my problem. All day long she has to deal with customers that are frustrated at the pump. My paper comes every morning and somebody wrapped it up in plastic so it won’t get wet. I flagged down the woman in an old rusty car who delivers the paper faithfully. "What time do you start?" “Oh,” she said, “about five.” On Tuesday my Garbage workers come—followed by the Recycle folk. Faithful as the sun. Down the street some Hispanics are sweating and working in the hot sun. One day I stopped my car and said, “No hablo Espanol.” The worker just broke up and couldn’t quit laughing. Every time I drive by that house now he waves and chuckles.

Courtesy of Boston Public Library
 / flickr
You have your list and I have mine—I could go on and, on remember him or her that made my life a little better by what they did. And do. I recall Linda, in The Death of the Salesman. She  stood at the grave of her husband. Her two boys were there—two or three other people. She asked her boys, “Where are all the people he helped? All those years he worked so hard and nobody came.” And then she said, “Attention should be paid.”

That’s Labor Day. Paying attention to those out there who keep things going. Let’s don’t confine our remembrances of our helpers just on this day. Let’s keep them in mind all year long. We don’t know what’s going on in their lives or what is behind their scowls or their smiles. But each one—each single one—has a story and all are important. They keep us going. One of my favorite quotes is by Ian Maclaren from the 1800’s. The quote is still with us because it is so true. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And Happy Labor Day to you!

photo by Bernard Pollack / flickr

--Roger Lovette /