Wednesday, October 28, 2015

All Saints Day--Looking for the Dove-Bringers

photo by Fr Lawrence O.P.  / flickr
Every Monday night I sit in a circle with a group of people who have lost somebody they love. We call it a Support Group for Grievers. Just as the sun is setting, they drive up one by one in their cars and trucks. After several weeks--they greet one another as old friends. They have listened quietly as the others in the group opened up their hearts and told their stories. Their losses have been many. Sometimes a child. A suicide. A mother that lived in the home and was her buddy. Husbands and wives and friends, sometimes and even neighbors.

In the middle of all their lives there is this enormous chasm. A loss--that right now they wonder if they can ever recover or feel different. Grieving is a personal thing--and a solitary journey. You find yourself having blinders on. You can't go about your ordinary tasks like you  have always done. Not now. It is a hard place to be and if we live long enough we will all find ourselves at this place.

Because Grief is so isolating and forces us to turn inward or try to run away distractedly--we often find those who have lost someone--stuck. Immobilized. Fearful. Depressed. And there are no instructions when you lose someone you love.

So, as the leader it is my task to try to help. One week I asked each one to write three thank-you notes before our next meeting. Keep the notes simple, I instructed. Pick out people you are grateful for--but not just the people you usually remember. Not those that sent flowers and cards. Not those that brought casseroles or hugged you and were so kind. But think of folk that have helped you on your journey and send your thank-you's to them. The next week some came with notes but all with stories that went behind the words they had written.

As they told us about friends that had not heard from in forty years, neighbors that had no idea how much those tiny kindnesses meant. Some mentioned little children that graced them in this hard time. Some were relatives and some folk would never have guessed what they did was a matter of life or death to these that limped along in pain. Some even mentioned a dog or a cat and the comfort they brought.

After those in my Grief Group had named the people or even animals that kept them going, I  remembered a book that helped frame what I wanted to say about all the people they wrote those words that kept them going. The book was by William Armstrong, a very fine writer. He called his book Through Troubled Waters. He wrote that one day his wife had some pain and went to the doctor while he took their kids to school.  Hours later a call came: Your wife is dead. Out of the blue or the dark, maybe--a tsunami struck his little family and he was destitute. He was left, I think with three little children to raise by himself. He'd wondered, again and again how in the world he could get through that ordeal. He likened it to the flood that old Noah and his family faced on the ark. It rained and rained.  Finally the rain stopped and Noah just floated along. Bored and desperate one day the family sent out a dove to see if somewhere there might be dry land. The bird never came back. Days later--Noah sent a second dove and the bird came back with an olive leaf in its beak. For Noah and his family it was a sign that the water had gone down and they could return to land and life. The writer Armstrong, likened the death of his wife to the flood that came and swept so much away.

He thought he could not go on. But weeks, months later--he said little Mary, his four year old daughter came bearing an olive leaf. She, he said, would be the dove for him. Saying in her own little way the message he needed more than anything: the water was going down and life could begin again.

I told my Grief group after they had shared their thank-you notes about the little girl who became a dove of promise for her father. I said the people they had mentioned have been a dove to them. These enablers had come in their own way bearing an olive leaf. By their words,  cards, actions and prayers they reminded their loved one that the water really was really going down and life could begin again.

As we celebrate All Saints Day--it isn't just about the saints in stained glass and men and women that laid down their lives for the faith. All Saints Day is much larger.  Whoever it is, along the way that has come as your personal dove surely is a saint. None of us could have made it or make it without this great cloud of witnesses who have stood on our balconies at different times in our lives and cheered us on.

You may not write a thank-you note this week-end. But you can stop and whisper a prayer for whoever it was that saved your life and kept you going even until this very day.

"For all the saints who from their labors rest,     
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!"

photo by Reji / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, October 26, 2015

Living in a Halloween World

photo by J J / flickr

(Good friend Dr. Jim Pitts has written a fine article about how to respond to troubled times. He served as Chaplain at Furman University until his retirement and lives with his wife in Greenville. I thank him for his generosity in letting me use this piece. Worth reading.)

When Everyday Seems Like Halloween

When life tumbles in, what then? What in the world can we do? Some crises are predictable. Others take us by surprise. School shootings, sidewalk axe attacks, home invasions, political polarities, Ebola and ISIS; all remind us of our finitude and need for a faith perspective that transcends the present.

For young adults the loss is one of innocence. Ready of not, adult life with all of its rights and responsibilities is now. For those who are more mature, this calamity causes us to revisit griefs we thought were past and forgotten. Feelings of vulnerability, distrust, and anger surface and surprise us.

Besides acting crazy or going criminal, what in God's name can we do? As we journey through this present wilderness, we need to take seriously the dimensions of our grief. The road to reconciliation and acceptance is long and difficult. There is no quick fix or easy resolution. Along the way we face shock and denial, anger, fear, pain and pleading, depression and guilt.

Remember that every crisis is filled with both danger and opportunity that offers the possibility of spiritual growth. We don't need to sit around and stew in our juices, we need to think, talk, read scripture and pray. We need to move beyond personal preoccupation and connect with others and with God. We are not alone. We are not abandoned and we are not without hope.

In light of what's happening in the world, let's resolve to:

  •   Talk about feelings.
  •    Ask for help.
  •    Listen to others and be kind.
  •    Spend time with family and friends.
  •    Return to our daily routine.
  •    Limit TV time.
  •    Reassure our children that they are loved.
  •    Recall other times we persevered through adversity.
  •    Do something to help others.
  •    And most importantly...Pray!
Appropriate for these troubling times, when everyday seems like Halloween, is classic Cornish prayer.

      "From ghoulies and ghosties,
       long legged beasties
       and things that go bump in the night, 
       Good Lord deliver us!"

Wherever you are in the pumpkin patch of life, I invite you to remember this prayer and add your own "Amen!"
Thanks, Jim Pitts for reminding us of some things we need to remember this Halloween.

--Roger Lovette /



Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Benghazi Hearings...

courtesy of flickr
I watched almost all day long yesterday. The more than nine hours where Hillary Clinton was gruelled and questioned and applauded and left at the end of the day somehow still standing and sorta still smiling. If she was more tired of the hearings than I was--then that was something.

The task was to get to the bottom of the Benghazi conundrum. I think there had already been seven hearings to get to the bottom of this sad situation which has claimed our attention for two years. Four people died. Serving us--in a foreign land. The families still grieving, hoped I am sure for some word that would help. They got little from this hearing--perhaps the others also.

But we do know that the four people that died got lost in the shuffle. And this is the tragedy. When the dust had settled last night we had heard about emails and servers and Sidney someone and asking Hillary what did she do when.

Secretary Clinton who had 70,000 people working under her--and responsible for our work in well over more than a hundred countries--was asked about this date and what happened on that night. I don't remember what I did a year ago and I am only responsible for me and mine.

It was obvious that the opposition's out to make sure this woman sitting before them and the TV nation--was a crook and liar and maybe even a traitor. Surely she was not qualified to be President! And she had her defenders who came to her defense to try to help fend off the ugliness and the insinuations that rained down on her head. Behind their defense was the obvious fact that this was their candidate for our highest office--and who was better qualified than Secretary Clinton!

So the hearings were an impasse in many ways. Right and left. Democrats and Republicans. Tea partiers and main-line Republicans. In a way the hearings were a reflection of the whole country. We are a divided people. History tells us that in many ways we have always been divided into camps: north-south, east-west--well-heeled and poverty-stricken. And in between a fledgling middle class.

If Ms. Clinton wins the election next year the climate in Washington will probably be more of the same. If some Republican wins--guess what--it will be more of the same coming from the opposition. Whatever side wins--it seems that everybody loses because in our rigidities--we refuse to do what government is supposed to do for us all--govern.

I was appalled yesterday at the venom and bad manners of those that tried to trap Secretary Clinton.
Is this the only way we can hold a hearing? Have we really no decency when it comes to those that oppose us? Surely there would have been a better way to handle this matter than the shabby way in which it was handled.

Who you vote for next November is your business. You can get on the bandwagon for the Democratic candidate or the Republican's choice. Whoever we choose will be a human being--flawed as the rest of us. But we do need to remember we call ourselves a United States. Right now--this title does not reflect who we are.

I wish we could learn something from those nine-ten hours that were spent in Washington yesterday. The day was really a microcosm of where we are as a country. We can do better than this--regardless of who we elect.

I read a Prayer this morning in the Common Book of Prayer. It sums up what I wish for everyone of us:

"O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to all stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

(This piece was not written to tell you who I think you should vote for. That is your business. My attempt was to say that surely we could have had a hearing despite whoever was being quizzed--with respect to people. Denigrating Republicans or Democrats does not help our cause or get closer to the truth of the matter at hand.)

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened to Me in Church

photo by Kevin Oliver / flickr
serendipity: Chance, accident, fluke, good luck, coincidental, fortuitous, providence, happy coincidence, grace.

Unfortunately none of these definitions of serendipity do justice to its meaning. Maybe you find yourself going down a road just ordinary and unexceptional and ta-dah--something happens. You find something on that road or that trail that you never, ever expected. Lightning strikes. Your breath almost stops. You are open-mouthed and wonder-filled.

It's like Jesus said one time. You are going walking in this field--a place you've walked a hundred times. And suddenly you stub your toe. What was it? You kneel down and dig around whatever made your toe ache. Jesus said: Guess what you find? A treasure hidden that field. A treasure of incredible value. That's serendipity.

Such holy moments happen to all of us. Especially
when maybe are feeling anything but holy. Last week in Montreal we decided to wind up the hill to one of the highest peaks in the city. We came to what is called Saint Joseph's Oratory. Which means, in case you are wondering, a place of prayer. You look up at this huge dome. And you look at the tall steps leading to the church door. 283 steps! To see the church you have to climb all those steps. Whatever happened to handicapped access?

Huffing and puffing, stopping half way and then continuing we finally made it to the front door. My wife was so dizzy we had to sit a spell and wait for the dizziness to pass. It is one of the largest worship centers in the world. Eat your heart out Joel Osteen. The sanctuary seats 2,200. But standing room capacity is 10,000.

As we moved down the hall to see the sanctuary I noticed a strange thing. There were crutches and walking canes lining the wall. Not just a few. The huge aisle on both sides was lined with hundreds of wooden crutches. I asked: Wonder what they mean? Someone told me that Brother Andre was responsible for all those crutches. When he was 30 years old people would come to see him and he healed them and they left their crutches behind. Word spread. Even though he told everyone that came that Saint Joseph was responsible--they came to Brother Andre with their brokenness and needs. So many people came from everywhere that he built a chapel on 1904. But the crowds continued to come and the place was too small. And the crutches kept pilig up.

So a new sanctuary was begun in 1924. Brother Andre lived to see much of the construction. When he died in 1937 a million people filed by his coffin. The work continued until the church was inaugurated in 1955. And outside the doors to the main basilica the halls are lined with the crutches.

Who knows about the healing power of Saint Andre? Many are suspicious. Yet people who came to share their burdens--left their crutches behind.

Maybe you are wondering where is the  serendipity? I'm getting there.  When we got through huffing and puffing from our long walk and I looked around at all the vestiges of Catholicism it seemed like just another beautiful church. And then I saw the crutches. This, I said to myself, is what the church is all about. People coming with whatever it is they can hardly bear and leave behind something that caused them pain.

Whatever church is--it happens all the time in little tiny storefronts to great cathedrals. All denominations. All kinds of people. The world over. I remember something Carlyle Marney said once. He called it the Pastor's dream. On Monday morning when the custodians come in to sweep out the sanctuary from Sunday's service they will discover the strangest thing. Instead of umbrellas, odd gloves, idly penciled notes and discarded bulletins, these workers will come upon some other things. Scattered here and there they will find some big man's deep grief and another's disappointment and someone's sense of failure. They will stumble on some quiet woman's bitter hurt, another's painful pride, and someone's quarrel with God. Far over in one section, so tiny they almost miss it, they came upon some youngster's sin and they will find the bulky trash of someone's badly bruised ego, left behind where it belonged. The Pastor remembered the end of his dream. All that the workers found would be swept out and thrown away when church was over.

And this was the funny-not-so-funny thing that happened to me in Montreal. Despite all the terrible and painful things that has been done to the church or by the church through the years--people come and leave behind something they need no more. And this is why after more than 2000 years people still keep coming. Hoping to leave their crutches. Maybe even in Joel Osteen's church, too. And that's what I call my serendipity.

photo by Kevin Oliver/ flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me

"Take off your shoes Moses the place where you stand is holy ground."

I try hard to make sure this blog is not all about me. Deep in my heart I know that you don't want to
hear much about somebody else's stuff--good and bad and ugly. We've all heard enough about somebody else's victories to know that they usually make us mutter (to ourselves) "What's wrong with me? Why can't I have a life filled with drama, too?" Well--most of us are in the same boat. A little drama and much, much tedium in which we slosh through the days without much happening.

I could write about "how I have been blessed"--a term which I really hate. Everybody has been blessed--except the days when the birds fly by and drop their offerings on our heads. But I am not ready to hang it up quite yet--and it really has been a great run.

I had parents who did the best they could. I had a church that did the best it could. I've been harsh with both sometimes--and yet in old age I look back

and know I should be more than grateful. I learned about love in that little battalion we call family. I learned about mystery and even holiness in that all-too-human church. I learned about acceptance and joy and forgiveness from friends and colleagues along the way. I learned about the larger world from books and school and teachers and mentors. Whew--that covers a lot of territory.

I learned much more about love in my own little family of wife and two kids. Sometimes as a Preacher I look back on all those days that I was preoccupied
with Deacons and supposedly great church matters and grumpy people who kept me up at night. And my family got only part of me. But even with that they, too have been forgiving and loving despite whatever deep cracks I have in my plaster.

Called to preach? I guess. When I do not know. But one day I did say yes and I am so glad I did. I have met so many that have wowed my life. I have seen a
cadre of brave soldiers face incredible odds of all sorts. I've watched little kids grow up and flap their wings and do wondrous things.

Sure my heart has been broken by betrayals and people who I love that hold deep grudges I do not rightly understand. I have ached, like you, at assassinations, tsunamis, church fights, and politics that seem to be determined to tear everything to pieces. I have watched people--some call
little--I don't. But I have seen them try to get by on just about nothing. I have
given out dollars and sandwiches to homeless people. I have been ripped off by some pretty good con artists. And I grow weary of all the posturing and the power games and the greediness that has touched just about everything.

And yet--God is good. Believe it or not. I tip my hat to my wife who has endured these 54 years. Loren Eiseley stood at the grave of his wife of many years and said: "You have been with me all the way." I can say that with deep appreciation for my wife Gayle and for dear Leslie and Matthew.

So I turn eighty on October 15th. I have come a long way from that balmy October morning on First Avenue in a little Georgia mill house where I came moaning into the world. My Mother and Daddy never thought they could have kids--and yet I came and was picked up and held and loved and given more than I realized. Out of their poverty they gave me a richness.

The late May Sarton is a poet that has opened all sorts of windows in my world. My wife gave her book of poetry for our 34th wedding anniversary. A long time ago. The book was called Coming Into Eighty. I never thought it would apply to me but I read it again this week and the poet was right on target. She expresses what I really feel and wanted to share it with you.

"Coming into eighty
I slow my ship down
For a safe landing.
It has been battered, 
One sail torn, the rudder
Sometimes wobbly.
We are hardly a glorious sight.
It has been a long voyage
Through time, travail and triumph.
Eighty years
Of learning what to be
And how to become it.

One day the ship will decompose
and then what will become of me?
Only a breath
Gone into nothingness
Or a spirit of air and fire
Set free?
Who knows?

Greet us at landfall
The old ship and me,
But we can't stay and anchored. 
Soon we must set sail
On the last mysterious voyage
Everybody takes
Toward death.
Without my ship there,
Wish me well."

And if you have been part of the journey...I tip my hat to you--so many, many times, so many places--you have made it fun.

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Guns..Guns...Guns--Wish I'd Said That


When do lives not matter? 

Question: When do 140,000 American lives not matter?
Answer: When they are lost at the hand of other Americans, wielding the weapons which have cost us our freedom.
To be more exact, a recent study has shown that between 2002 and 2013 141,796 Americans have died in gun violence in this country. 141,796 mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, children, friends. In that same time period only 263 Americans died in attacks by “terrorists.” If you are offended by those quotation marks, please ask yourself …
Of what, and of whom, should we really be afraid?

We’re fighting an incomprehensibly expensive war against an enemy who is easy to identify because their culture and language and clothing and religion are different. They are easy to identify, and because they are supposedly not like us, they are conveniently easy to hate. The offenses of this enemy are wicked and reprehensible.
But hatred and self-righteousness always come more easily than looking in the mirror.
That enemy is the easy target, but they are not the real enemy. Look at the numbers again. One hundred forty thousand lives — killed by us. The travesty of this senseless reality should humble us by the immensity of the loss, and the apathy and silly dysfunction, which are responsible for this disgrace, should shame us into action.
But it surely will not, for our enemy is too well hidden — in plain sight.
It is so easy to fear the “other,” but being honest enough to acknowledge that our greatest enemy is within should be a far greater fear — because that enemy is more real, and much more dangerous. The numbers make this undeniably true.
We are killing ourselves at a tragic, unbelievable rate. But we choose to fear “the enemy.”
There are no easy answers, but our love affair with guns is a significant part of the problem. We call it freedom. In reality, it is the bondage of fear.
There are no easy answers, but our love of money has caused us to justify corporate profits at any cost. We call it freedom. It is the entrapment of greed.
There are no easy answers, but arrogant loyalties held in the name of partisanship have blinded us to the common good. We call it freedom. It is the slavery of ideology.
We are not free. The numbers should make that clear.
People who really are free do not annihilate each another, and justify their own demise in the name of capitalism and democracy. What could be more ironic? The economic rules of our “free market” no longer allow us to limit the power of money for the sake of a greater good. We are not free.
The political demands of a system, “of the people, for the people, by the people,” no longer allow us to compromise even when the future and fate of the whole is at stake. We are not free.
It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? And it’s frightening to think how high that number may have to get before we realize we are completely responsible for our culture of death — which means we actually have the power to change it.
141,796 lives do not matter as much as the guns and greed and graft which are our real priorities.
And until their lives matter, “freedom” won’t matter either.

Russ Dean

Russ Dean

Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. You can subscribe to Russ and Amy Jacks Dean’s blog at

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(Russ Dean has written a splendid piece. Sharp and prophetic--he and his wife Amy serve as Co-Pastors of the Park Road Church in Charlotte. Thanks, Russ.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

PayDay Loans : Second Stanza

photo by david ten have / flickr

It happens at my house about three times a week. The phone rings. On the other end a voice exclaims: “You are so lucky! You have been approved for a $500.00 loan.” Calling the number I was told that I could get up to a $1,750.00 loan. I could be approved in less than ten minutes.

Imagine being desperate for money. Imagine having lost your job. Imagine having a wife needing to go to the hospital and you don’t have enough money. Imagine a husband dies and you wonder where the burial expenses will come from. Imagine being a soldier overseas and your car at home has been repossessed. Imagine a divorcee whose husband has not paid what he promised and you and your three children have no money for groceries or rent.

So you receive the phone call I received. Desperate for money for car repairs, utility bills, or money to pay your rent—you give the information over the telephone.The money is electronically deposited in your checking account. You have the money you need. Prayers answered. Not really. Payday loans get a lot of people in trouble. 80 % of these loans will be extended because they could not pay the borrowed money back in two weeks. So they either roll over the loan, refinance or take out another loan with another company. One-third of the $46 billion paid into payday loans annually comes from borrowers who take out as many as 11 loans in one year.  The Center for Responsible Lending has said “most of the business model is based on repeat borrowers.”

Payday loan agencies say that all their customers have to do is read the fine print when they take out a loan. Many do not. Consequently the interest in many cases sky rockets. Typically payday users pay $15.00 for every $100.00 for a two-week loan. That sounds like 15%. Not true. On an annual basis the borrow rate is 391%. The interest rate on a typical credit card is 12 to 30%. 

How does South Carolina fare with this issue? The Aiken Standard reported that in 2014 128,000 citizens took out more than 1 million payday loans in our state. Borrowers collectively paid $60.4 million in fees.  This may sound bad but we have done better than many states. In 2009 the South Carolina state law tightened the rampant abuse in this industry. We have gone from 1100 payday loan offices to over 300 across the state today.

What can be done about this problem that is ruining the lives of so many of our citizens? In 2009 many of our Senators wanted to abolish the industry altogether. The Aiken Standard quotes State Senator Luke Rankin as saying that “Unfortunately, people are paying way too much for credit, and our state is sanctioning it. People are being preyed upon. The profits on this are tremendous.” We need to change this picture.

Payday loan officials say they are providing a service for people that cannot get money from other institutions. This is right. But to charge astronomical interest rates is destructive to people everywhere. Jobs are lost, cars are repossessed, people who cannot pay their rent are left homeless. Some propose a cap of 36% interest for these loans. The Appleseed Legal Justice Center has said that we need to look at better ways to promote affordable credit that doesn’t trap people in debt. 

Almost every religious group teaches that that lending money at exorbitant rates goes counter to everything faith teaches. In a state as religious as South Carolina we need to remember what Jesus said. “Inasmuch as you do it unto the lest of these you do it to me.”  It is not hard to believe what Jesus would say about any state that allows any financial institution to charge its citizens 300-500% interest rates. 

(This article appeared in The Greenville News, (SC) 10-11-15)

photo by Molly Marshall / flickr
--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kim Davis and the Pope

photo by Julia  Ortiz / flickr

When I read where Kim Davis, the anti-gay marriage icon was having a secret meeting with the Pope I said, "What?" Why would the Pope meet with this woman who has become a symbol of hatred toward gays and gay marriage? She made headlines weeks ago when as County Clerk she turned away gay couples trying to get a marriage license in her Kentucky county. Opponents of gay marriage are hauling out their flags and saying: "See...see--even the Pope is against this terrible law."

As I settled down--some--and thought further about this issue I have changed my mind. This Pope keeps everyone surprised. He has washed the feet of people with AIDS. He has spoken strongly for the poor and the marginalized. Homeless people love him. He has visited prisons . He even stopped his Fiat the other day tin Philadelphia to touch and pray for a little boy with cerebral palsy. His parents will never forget that moment. Weeks ago when asked about gays the Pope replied, "Who am I to judge!"

Do we liberals think have a corner on religion, the Pope or diversity? The very word Pope means "bridge builder." Pope Francis has taken out his hammer, nails and saw and began to do what few Popes have done. He is reaching out to all kinds of people. Labels mean little to him. Such actions make for a better world.

Back to Kim Davis. Like the ten-year old boy with cerebral palsy--Pope Francis sees Kim Davis as a child of God. Yes she has been married four times. Twice to the same man.Yes she has had two children out of wedlock. Yes she has stood in her Clerk's office and turned gay couples away that came to get a marriage license. She said"No!" when when the law of the land has said: "Yes!" She is not one of my favorite people. But maybe the Pope in having a private meeting with Mrs. Davis is teaching we liberals a lesson we sometimes forget. Jesus loves everybody. He took time for everybody. Even the politically incorrect.

I am sure the people who arranged this meeting hope to make hay out of a very human response of the Pope. I can just hear politicians already getting on their soapboxes and yelling: "See...even the Pope hates gay Marriage."

Forget these folk. When the dust has settled--Kim Davis will look at the black rosary the Pope gave her. She will not remember the visits of Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz to her Kentucky county. She will not even remember the people who have used her for their own cause. No. She will always remember that once upon a time a very great Christian man--known the world over--called her name, prayed for her and treated here like a real human being.

--Roger Lovette /