Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pat Pattillo--a Tribute

Pat Pattillo has been a friend for years. He died after a strange form of leukemia took him after several months. The leukemia was so rare the physicians did not know how to treat it. He died December 22, 2015. We had his service at his church, The Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham,AL on January 9th. The family asked me to speak and this is what I said...

Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher said that the chief purpose of a temple is a place where people come to weep in common. On this sad day we have made proper use of this Temple yet again because we come, one and all, to grieve, to weep together.

We weep for dear Pat--whose far-reaching and splendid journey did not last long enough., We weep for Zelma who has stood by so faithfully for 48 years. We weep for Laura and Stephen and all the members of this family. We weep as colleagues and friends because he was a member of our tribe. And so we've come from far and wide to weep...for Pat, for his family and for us all.

I cannot add much to all these fine tributes and recollections that would have made Pat very proud. But listening to this collage of memories I am reminded of Mary Oliver's beautiful words: "I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

Pat Pattillo was no visitor. He was a citizen of wherever he lived and whatever he did. Always engaged--brimming with ideas--committed whether it was at the University of Georgia or Louisville or Samford or Florida or Hong Kong or New York. His record is breathtaking. No, Pat you were no visitor.

I first met him in Louisville. He served the Seminary in so many goods ways. He stretched its influence far and wide--he connected alumni--he told, over and over, the Louisville story. He left his mark. Our paths criss-crossed through the years and he and Zelma walked down  the aisle one Sunday and joined this church while I was Pastor.

They were both committed to this place. Pat, came in one day and said, "We need to help this community get to know this church better. People drive by here all the time and don't know that this is a church. When people pass here they need to take notice." So he helped design banners that would draw attention to The Baptist Church of the Covenant. Flapping in the breeze people would see our name. They served their purpose. He helped frame the logo that is used to this day. A Cross--standing at the crossroads in the heart of this city. He'd wanted people to know that there was a place- a special place--where all would be welcomed and no one would be turned away. He and Zelma were faithful members. They both helped in  their own special ways. Helping to put their church on the heart of the Birmingham community.

We've heard about the Seminary and Samford and Florida and Hong Kong and New York. Everywhere he went he left fingerprints all over the place. And in their retirement he and Zelma came back here and found their place and still made a difference. Sometimes when we would visit back here he would say: "I can't stay long I have a Committee meeting at the church."

So we thank God that we knew him...that we worked with him...that our lives and the institutions he served were far better because he did so much more than merely visiting his many-colored world.

So Unamuno was right. We really do come to weep together. But more--to be reminded that at the heart of life--our lives--Pat's life--his family's life--there is a special promise. Listen closely and we will hear that tom-tom beat from beginning to the end of the book. Listen and you may hear the promise even today. These words: "I will be with you...I will not leave you desolate...I will come to you." We find that promise all over the place in different ways and stanzas. In those dark, gloomy exile days when God's people did not think they could stand that cursed exile another day--Isaiah, one of them, spoke to his broken people. There would come one , he said, who would heal their broken  hearts. And Jeremiah speaking to that same congregation of the fearful told them, "There really is a balm in Gilead."

Jesus much later would unroll that same Isaiah scroll in his first sermon and read the promise: "I have come to heal the broken- hearted." And our Lord would tell them that even in their mourning they would find a blessedness.

And so when it looked like the story had run its course, Mary stood by his tomb one dark Easter morning. Someone spoke to her and asked, "Why are you weeping?" She told this gardener that she had lost so much when Jesus died. But that morning she discovered that she was not talking to the gardener after all. For when he called her name...her name...she knew who it was.

My prayer that in our grief today and in the days to come...we will, one way or another,  hear our named called: Zelma...Laura...Stephen...Pastor Sarah...Roger--all of us. And we will know that in our own circuitous journeys--we are not alone even when we, like Mary, think we are. For he calls our names and this will be enough.

Thank God for this good man who did far more than just unpack his suitcase and visit for 75 years. Thank God that under the shadow of this Cross we remember, too that we are not alone. And even in our weepings and our griefs we will remember those wondrous words that come from the Psalter. It was a hard time. A troubled time. A dark time. But this is what some nameless writer has left for us: "Weeping may last for a night"...dear God it seems so endless--but that is not the end of the story. "Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes to one and all in the morning."

For Pat...for Zelma...for this family and for us all. Thanks be to God.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dr. King--I Remember...

Photo by Norman Maddeaux / flickr

Monday, January 18 would be Martin Luther King’s 87th birthday. We celebrate this day for many reasons.

As I look at the black checker in the Grocery store I remember how it was.

As I saw a young black man working out at the Gym I remember how it was.

As I watched our black President in the State of the Union address I remember how it was.

As I watched the Republican debate and saw Ben Carson I remember how it was.

As I saw a black couple check into the motel in Birmingham I remember how it was.

As I watched Alabama win the National Championship I remember Bear Bryant’s resistance.

As I entered church Sunday no Deacons stood at the front door to protect the church from black
folks who would come in "for the wrong reasons".

As I talked on the telephone complaining because my paper did not come—a black woman helped me.

As I walked down my neighborhood street—three houses down a black couple lives.

As I walked up my neighborhood street five houses up—two black families live.

As I look out my window a father leads a group of kids, black and white to school two blocks away.

As I drove down University Boulevard students black and white walked across the campus.

As I watched Aretha Franklin bring down the house at the Kennedy Center Honors.

And so in remembering the way it was I thank God for the courage of Martin Luther King who led us down a hard street and gave his life that that we might live up to our values.

photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / flickr

Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It's Vision Time

(I began a new interim with the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, South Carolina last Sunday. What do
you say on such an occasion? This is what I preached.)

The text for today is that Transfiguration passage. It stands midpoint in the gospel story. The storm clouds were gathering around Jesus already. His enemies were growing in number and the pressure was increasing. In the distance Jesus saw trouble, serious trouble ahead.

And so Jesus took Peter, James and John high up on a mountain. It is a dream-like scene. Some called it a vision. But whatever it was something important happened there. Jesus appeared with Elijah and Moses. It must have been terribly emotional because Peter wanted to stay and build three tabernacles and just worship God. But Mark says the disciples were terrified—it was like one of those out of the body experiences. For out of the mist a voice came. God’s voice. “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him.” It was the same words Jesus had heard whispered that day he stood waist-deep in the Jordan and was baptized. But on this mountain, Mark says, the dream-like moment was over quickly. Elijah and Moses were not there. The cloudy  mist was gone and the four of them just stood there.

Jesus led them down the mountain telling them to keep what had happened a secret. At the bottom of the hill they found a world in need. Scholars say that this whole experience was a preparation time as Jesus came nearer and nearer to his death. Later those disciples would read back into the story their own meanings. It was a preparation time for them, too—preparing them to face the fact of their Lord’s death and perhaps their own.

Why did the Church keep the story? Three gospels record this incident. And what is there here for us to take home with us today? Two little words, I think. Maybe not little at all. Maybe two of the most important words that we have.

The first word is vision. Who here does not need some vision? Out there it is easy to lose the way. TV blaring, crisis upon crisis, War on terror, Money, money, money. Leaders in Washington not knowing what to do. ISIS with all its complexities. And up and down these roads heartache and heartbreak. It’s a mess out there and unless we are careful we can drown in all that stuff. It is hard to keep a healthy perspective.

photo by Matthew Fang /  flickr
And so turn back to the Scriptures. Jesus’ world was in many ways more difficult than ours. Slavery, people treated like animals, poverty everywhere. Women were only servants. It was a hard world. And Jesus knew that he and his followers would never make it unless there were ways to alter their perspective. And it wasn’t fear he was after. They needed some vision to help them slosh through their troubled times. Jesus found his vision that morning as he was baptized when God spoke and said, “You are beloved…” And now in our Scripture today, high up on a hill, far away from trouble and misery and cries and heartbreak, he heard a voice and the disciples, too. The voice told Jesus: “You are my beloved.” And this was the vision-word that carried him through all he had to face. All-too-human disciples acting like today’s political candidates. The soldiers coming and dragging him away. Beatings. Betrayals. Those same disciples falling away. There were rigged trials and then finally the cross. I think through it all he must have heard this word coming back: “You are beloved.” This was the center of his vision. 

And so Jesus did not keep that word, Beloved to himself. But he reached into his heart and gave to all those he met what God had given him. He whispered, again and again, “You are beloved.” Prostitutes, beggars, old cripples sitting by the pool for 38 years. Rich young rulers and fisherman and tax collectors. Even his disciples. He told them all the same thing. You are beloved. No wonder they followed him. They caught his vision. 

photo by drew Brayshaw/ flickr

What does this story have to do with us? Everything, I think. I served 6 very different churches. I have worked with seven churches as Interim Pastor and I have flunked retirement seen times and I am working on the eighth.  Seven interims. Each one was different—and in some ways all are the same. Without a Pastor, disappointed in themselves, ashamed of foolish mistakes. Sometimes they have pointed fingers at one another. Sometimes they pointed fingers at the Pastor that left. Angry—but more than angry—nervous.  Anxious. What are we going to do? We’re in a mess they all said. 

And so in all seven of these interims we started to work with a Transition Team. Some called it the Dream Team. But in each church we began to ask: When you started back there in 18942. Remember your vision? What did you want? Why start a church in Pendleton? We’re going to examine these together. But I know one reason you came into being. You put it on your bulletin every single Sunday. “Rooted in faith…Growing in love .” Not a bad vision or dream.

What I have learned from working from these seven other churches is that to move ahead you have to clarify your vision. And then you have to stick with it. And if you can come back to your purpose and build your church around that dream you won’t get lost in blaming or worrying about money or paying off debts or members leaving. 

Our work together will be to help you re-dream the dream. Look at your DNA. Who are you, really? And what is it that God is calling us to do together. We will take your pulse. We’ll have all-church meetings. We will pray and rediscover what the dream means in 2016. And whatever we find it will cluster around what Jesus said: You are beloved. How will we give that out?

And this brings us to the second word:  Task. If the first word is vision—the second word is task.
photo by Leticia Bertin / flickr
Look at our text. After that wonderful experience on the mountain, Jesus and his three friends made their winding way to the bottom of the hill. Reality hit them in the face. No vision now. Just life. A man stood helplessly by as his son convulsed. And the disciples could do nothing. Just standing there not knowing what to do. The text says sadly: they were not able.
They could not help the boy or his frantic father.. And so they argued. About the right cure. Blaming the family. And if it was today they would blame teachers and the church and the President and I don’t know what else. With all this smirking and blaming— the boy convulsed and the father cried: “Help him! Help him!”

Doesn’t it sound familiar? The world aches. Still too many people looking for work. Think of the heartbreak and disappointment. Families sitting in their living rooms today, holding a folded flag—5,000 families. Their boys and girls will never come home. And in Washington politicians so afraid somebody won’t vote for them they do nothing that seems to count. We are like those disciples that stood around the boy that convulsed. Why didn’t you do something? The text said: They were not able.  Jesus reached out and touched the boy. He healed him and whispered: You are beloved.
What is our task here?  It is to put feet and hands and hearts to Pendleton’s vision. We are to reach out and help not just stand around not knowing what to do. Beginning right here in Pendleton—this community ought to be better because we are here. And so in a time of transition—what are we to do? How do we put our vision to work? We meet and pray. We ask, over and over: God, what do you want us to do? Not what you want the new preacher to do. Or even someone in the pew. You ask: How do we put this vision thing to work? We meet and pray and read the Scriptures and find ourselves in the story—and begin to map out some plans together. What are you to do about the unchurched all around us? Maybe they are staying at home watching Joel Osteen. I don’t think he will come when you are in the hospital or needing to talk.All the people on your church rolls…how do you meet their needs? How do you make your dreams of: “Rooted in faith…growing in love” A reality in the days to come. Hispanics are moving in? Are they part of the love? I met with the local Islamic leader in Clemson just weeks ago. He told me that the wives of their members would not go out of the house alone these days. In South Carolina. He said they didn’t go to many malls anymore—they were afraid of what people would say. In South Carolina. Are they part of the love? Where are those who have gotten themselves into trouble—are they part of the love? Hammering out your agenda is your work here. I can’t do that for you—but I can coach you. The boy convulses all around us—will we stand helpless like the disciples. Or will we, with God’s help be able to do something to make this old world better for everybody?

A friend of mine tells the story that comes out of a Christian school in the mid-west. One day in the middle of the class, the principal came in with a new boy for the class. She introduced him to the teacher and the class and left. The teacher said, “Let’s give a big clap and welcome Jimmy to our class.” And so they did. But one of the kids whispered to another: “He just has one arm.” And the word spread from student to student and they all looked. “He only has one arm.” So Jimmy found a seat and became a member of the class. One day the teacher said she wanted to talk to them about the church. “Have you all ever done this?” And she put her hands together and said: “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple—open the doors and here are the people.” So she told them to try it. And the minute she said that she remembered Jimmy with only one arm. She was mortified and did not know what to do. But little Suzie came forward and saved the day. She came over to Jimmy and said, “Teacher, Jimmy and I will join our hands and we will build a church.”

I wonder, things being as they are if we will catch the vision, join hands together and we will continue to build a church. Even without a Pastor. I think you will. I think we will.

photo by Paul / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy Birthday Son

He came roaring into the world on January 3rd. Terrible time for a birthday. He was supposed to arrive on December 15. No baby. Well, we thought he will come before Christmas. Nooo....So we decided he would be the first New Year's baby and we'd get all those presents like gift certificates to McDonald's and Sears. Didn't happen. Finally on a snowy evening when the driving was scary he decided to make his entrance on January 3.

The first thing my wife said as she roused up, bleary-eyed was: "Let me see his ears."Most of the Lovette clan have big ears like Obama. " I thought so," she said and went back to sleep.

Red-headed and always squirmy--he made his mark. Still does. Every church I see red had a Matthew story or two. He loved the church in Georgetown because it was small and everybody knew everybody. So they made over both our red-heads. He went to Montessori school taught by this wonderful nun, Margie. Our car pool was like the United Nations. There was a Korean boy, a black boy, a girl from a foreign country and Matthew. One week he came home ands said, "Mama I wish you had hair like Ricky's
mother." His Mama said, "I know- she has this huge Afro." "Matthew said, "Yeah--I know I felt it all the way home. If you had one it would be cool." He roared through the church with his Superman cape.

Moving to Clemson he loved the church because it had, he said, "nailed-down seats." One Christmas Eve during our Candlelight Communion Service he set his bulletin on fire from his candle. Early on he discovered art and Brenda Bowers taught him year after year. If there is a second Mama Brenda is it. Early on she recognized he had real talent. He won all sorts off awards and went to Governor''s School in South Carolina.  He was one of the national finalists in the Presidential Art Awards.

His art teacher and Governor's School recognized his artistic ability and recommended that he spend his last year of High School at the North Carolina School for the Arts. While there he won a scholarship to the Art Institute in Chicago. And so one August day we packed a van and drove him all the way to Chicago. It was scary--driving off and leave your 17 year old son in Chicago of all places. He flourished there and it was a great experience. And when  he graduated sitting beside us was Brenda Bowers, crying here eyes out like the rest of the parents. 

He worked in a restaurant for a while. Spent a semester working for Habitat for Humanity as a Photographer in Americus, Georgia. He took loads of pictures for the Jimmy Carters and told his Mama, "You know how your eyes look. Rosiland Carter has the same bags under her eyes you do."

He went back to Chicago to be close to Mark somebody. Were wondered about this relationship. But Mark and Matthew have been together now for 26 years and were married a year ago by his father -preacher in their living room. This is a great relationship.

Since then he and Mark had a Bed and Breakfast for five years--became consultants for that group and then decided to take photographs of Bed and Breakfasts. Not many Bed and Breakfast photographers around. Since that time they have worked in over 100 inns.

The adolescent years of growing up were particularly hard for Matthew. Yet because of a great art teacher, some recognition that made him feel good about himself--and parents that cheered him on he has had a wonderful 48 years.

He is still a wild and crazy guy. And we love both of our red-heads fiercely. And today--I remember that cold icy evening when he came into the world. Late...but ready to go. So I wish him well for all the days that come after today.

As I think of him I remember Langston Hughes' poem, "Mother to Son".

"Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. 
It's had tacks in it, 
And splinters, 
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor--Bare. 
But all the time 
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners, 
And sometimes going' in the dark
Where they ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back. 
Don't set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still groin' honey, 
I'se still. climbing'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair."

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com