Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memorial Day--My Favorite Story

(I have told this story many times and written about it in several newspapers. It appears in this week's Greenville News (SC). I share it once again because it has so much to say to us all.)

As this Memorial Day approaches I remember a powerful scene that expresses what I feel about this day. It comes from a book by the Kentucky writer, Bobbie Ann Mason. The book is called In Country and told a Memorial Day story in very human terms. The central figure in the story was Sam who lived in this tiny town in western Kentucky. Sam was conceived while her Daddy was home on leave but died in Vietnam before Sam was born. All her life she heard stories about her Daddy, Dwayne and tales about the in Southeast Asia. Emmett, a good friend of the family was also in that war and kept telling Sam about her Daddy and what a hard time it was. He told about many soldiers he knew who never came home. He also told her about all the Vietnam veterans who were on the streets or were crippled in mind or body. Sam took it all in and kept fantasizing about a Daddy she wished she had known.

Emmett decided one day that it would be a good thing to take Sam and her grandmother, Mamaw to see the Vietnam Memorial. He wanted them to see her father’s name on the monument.  So one morning they got in Sam’s old car and drove to Washington. It took a long time. Mamaw brought a geranium to leave at the Memorial.  Finally they got to Washington, fought the traffic, and found the sign which read: Viet Nam Veterans Memorial and an arrow pointing the way. Parking was a real problem but they found a spot on a side street. They got out of the car and helped Mamaw up the path to see the Memorial.

And there it was. A black slab that just looked like it emerged from the ground. It was massive and held the names of the 58,000 men and women who had died in Vietnam.  That huge black slab was nothing like they thought. Name after name really told the story of those that had died in the war. People were everywhere. All ages. Some were kneeling and touching the Wall. Some brought notes and flowers. An old vet dressed in army fatigues held his hand over his mouth as he scanned the names. A woman wiped her face with a handkerchief. 

Emmett, Sam and Mamaw found the directory that told where all the names were. They finally found Dwayne’s name and the direction to where his name was. They found the section where the name was to be but there were so many names. They keep looking and way up high they saw the name: Dwayne E. Hughes. They just stood there looking up. Emmett took the Geranium from MaMaw and knelt down and placed it at the base of the granite panel. Mamaw said, “Oh, I wish I could touch it.” So Sam rescued a ladder from some workmen nearby, opened it. Slowly they helped Mamaw up rung after rung. She found the name of her grandson. Ever so slowly she reached up and touches his name. The old woman ran her hand over his name etched in granite. She didn’t say a word. After a long time she said, “Hep me down.” 

Then it was Sam’s turn. She climbed up and touched the name of the Daddy she never knew. When she backed down the ladder Mamaw clutched her arm and said, “Coming up on this wall of a sudden and seeing how black it was, it was so awful, but then I came down in it and saw that white carnation blooming out of that crack and it gave me hope. It made me know he’s watching over us.”

This ought to be a day for memories. Remembering all those that have died for us and for this country. Remembering all the brave soldiers of all the professions who have worked and dreamed and labored and lived and loved. We would be different people were it not for some soldier, some teacher, some Mamaw—some person whose name is not inscribed on anybody’s wall—but it etched on the wall of our hearts. None of them died in vain. Take a few moments and remember all the fallen. It is touching time—running our memories over the names and the faces of all those who have made a difference in our lives. 
--Roger Lovette /

Memorial Day 2016 - A Challenge

Prophets come in different voices. This Memorial Day Sebastian Junger offers us a challenge.
He spent 15 months living with our troops in a single platoon in one of the most dangerous outposts of the Afghan war. Out of that experience he has told the story in his powerful book, War.  Since that time he has produced two documentaries about our wars there. iHe knows what he is talking about.

Now he has published another book about our veterans coming home called Tribe. And this is where he rises to the level of a prophet. He writes that we at home need to clean up our act for the sake of returning troops. During months of combat, he writes, "soldiers all but ignored differences of race, religion and politics within their platoons." They come back home to a country torn apart. They hear incredible contempt about the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the President or the entire U.S. government. These returning troops are surprised to find a war going on at home.

Junger writes that those veterans who have been willing to die for their country are not sure they know how to lived in America 2016.  In today's toxic political climate he says those who come back--many wounded and crippled--look around at a world gone crazy. The writer says this is a prescription for deep despair. No wonder PTSD is epidemic for these veterans coming home. Small wonder the suicide rate among these soldiers particularly is high.

They left a war-torn world where they bonded, where they were a band of brothers and sisters--despite whatever differences they had. They fought side by side for a common cause. Back home--many must wonder what happened. Community--our commonality--seems to have vanished. Those members of the same tribe over there find little ties that bind here at home. Mr.  Junger says that our personal loyalties have shrunk to the size of a teacup. There is little regard for what is collectively ours. We litter. We fudge on our taxes. Medical providers defraud  Medicare. Pay day loans rip-off too many.

Somehow we have forgotten that we are all in the same boat. If we revolt, kill one another off--refuse to work together--the boat is going no where. Maybe this Memorial Day we could stop and think of a multitude of ways we might just lower the temperature and unite our little tribe whoever they are.

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dying Republican Senator Apologizes for Trump

photo by Michael Daugherty / flickr
ThinkProgress has a provocative article about a Republican Utah Senator who lay dying tihs Spring. Before he died he said he wanted to apologize particularly to Muslims on behalf of his party for Mr. Trump's comments continually about them. Read the last will and testament of this conservative Republican statesman in his last days. Jack Jenkins wrote the article.

We need two strong political parties in this country. Neither is perfect by a long shot. I don't know many saints that have run for the office as President. But I don't think Hillary Clinton is accusing Mr. Trump of being a drug dealer or even a murderer. He keeps saying "We just don't know..."to a great many problems and issues. If we don't know why don't we keep our mouths shut.

The beginning of keeping America great is the old fashioned word, civility. We treat each other with respect despite our differences. This is not the first presidential campaign to get down and dirty--but what we hear almost every day does not help the common cause of us all.

Wendell Berry makes me think in this strange time:

"The nation is a boat, 
as some have said, ourselves
its passengers. How troubling 
now to ride it drifting 
down the flow from the old 
high vision of dignity, freedom, 
holy writ of habeas corpus, 
and the land's abundance--down
to waste, want, fear, tyranny,
torture, caricature
of vision in a characterless time, 
while the abyss whirls below."
   --Wendell Berry, Leavings, p. 83

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Can You Make a Difference?

photo by Dana / flickr

I want to read one of Jesus’ parables to you today. It’s a parable about the Kingdom—the Kingdom of God. And embedded in this story are four words that describe what God’s kingdom really is like. Can you find the four words? "And again he said, 'To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.'"(Luke 13.20-21)

Have you already picked out the words? They are: Leaven. Hid. Flour. All. 


Funny, this first word: leaven. For most of the time when this word is used in the Bible it refers to something evil and not good. Jesus warns them to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." That leaven spoiled everything. The Pharisees were really the cold water brigade. Whenever things seemed to be going right they would come up and spoil it all. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and they were furious. More concerned about the law than the man's health. He healed you on the Sabbath? How many steps did you take? Don't you realize that he has broken God's law. They just got out their buckets and poured cold water over the whole thing. Again and again. 

At the end of one sermon I was standing at my customary place at the back door shaking hands. And a  man came by followed with his
photo by Martha Soukup / flickr
wife and daughter. I could tell by the way he looked that he was upset. He was red-faced and angry. He took a bucket and just doused me. This is what he said: "That was the worst sermon I have ever heard. Here are all these students here and you didn't even approach the gospel." They turned and stalked down the steps. The man turned back and yelled: "We won't be back!" I just stood there cold and clammy. The cold water brigade. The Pharisees had it down to an art form. Jesus said beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. For they were always the cold water brigade. Hurting—not helping.

Paul, when he wrote to Corinth, talked about an ugly, ugly word: leaven. He spit it out. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven ..." And he defines what that kind of leaven is when he talked to Corinth. The leaven of malice and evil, insincerity and falsehood. (I Cor. 5.6-7) Leaven can destroy the whole thing.

 But Jesus takes this word which meant nothing good and dusted it off, polished it with brasso and made it shine. “To whom shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven…” “Leaven?” they asked. Jesus whispered: "Leaven." They thought he had lost his mind. Leaven, they knew was a bad thing.  

That same Sunday I stood shaking hands and another man came by, followed by his daughter and I guess his wife. He could not have been nicer about the sermon. And you know what they said? “Our daughter has been coming here for three years. And this church means so much to her. And she loves your sermons. We just love visiting here.” They didn’t know what the other man had just said. But they were bringing the kind of leaven Jesus was talking about. I needed it and they provided it. I wished I had told them to go on out and meet that other man in the parking lost and compare notes—but I didn’t.

Leaven was small, Jesus said. And the disciples responded, “Well, it couldn’t be very important if it is that small.” And Jesus said, "No. No. You are missing the point and I haven't even started the parable." They did not understand. Small was always unimportant. But how wrong they were. He had already told them the kingdom was like a seed. Tiny and inconsequential. He had already lifted up a little child, with smudges on her face and said, "This is what the kingdom is like." Had they forgotten all that? Had they already forgotten that He took time for the poor and the little people? Had they forgotten how he treated the disenfranchised and the dispossessed? People like tax collectors and nameless women--even prostitutes. He said they all counted. And so he continued. "The kingdom is like leaven." Little. Small. Tiny and very, very unassuming. Leaven can make a difference and so can we.


But let’s look at the second word embedded in this parable. The word is hidden. The word can mean buried or invisible. Leaven can be hidden in the dough of life.

That leaven was yeast that the cook worked into the dough. When the yeast is hidden in the dough it matters. You can't see it working, but it matters. That yeast, that leaven was a penetrating force that made a difference. 
And so he spoke to the disciples and to the church so little and so tottery. It matters what you do. Work it in--that yeast you hold in your hands. Take what you have and knead it into the kingdom. 

How does it work? My wife used to make sour dough bread. She would take the yeast and knead it into the dough. Then she would cover it with a cloth and leave it overnight. The next morning when I used to come down to breakfast there would be this wonderful smell all over the house. And the dough had risen into this huge loaf.

It wouldn't happen without the kneading. Remember this second word, hidden. You roll up your sleeves and mix the yeast into the dough well. If the kneading is not well-done, if the  leaven does not permeate the dough the loaf will be lumpy and flat. But when it is thoroughly kneaded the yeast lightens the dough. It is filled with thousands of tiny pockets of carbon dioxide. And these pockets of gas cause the bread to rise because they expand when they are heated.

Do you see any similarity between that story and our own stories? We bring what we have our time, our talents and our money. knead it into his kingdom's work. Jesus said the leaven makes a difference when we knead it. Hidden, that’s the word. Nobody may not know it but you—but what you do makes a difference.


photo by kyle Strickland / flickr
Now we come to the third word. Flour. This parable talks about three measures of flour. This was a lot of flour. Three measures represented a bushel of flour. Capon says that is 128 cups. That is 16 five pound bags of flour. You then have to add 42 cups of water. And all this makes 101 pounds of dough. And Capon said this was no 95 pound housewife. This was a huge woman--look at those arms. It would take work to pound that much dough to make bread. 

Now what does all this mean? If we do our work and if we do it properly there's going to be enough. Enough to go around. That's the meaning of the 101 pounds of dough. The leaven touched it all. 

And what we have here in the gospel is a strange arithmetic. We hide our gifts and our talents into some cause and we are not poorer. We grow richer, maybe not on the outside, but we grow spiritually. Like the roots of a tree sunk deep into the ground.


Now for the fourth word in the parable. All.  "It was like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." All. This is a great mystery. A miracle. 101 pounds of dough. How many loaves would that make? I am not sure. I cannot count that high.

Remember the story of the loaves and the fishes that on that hillside of five thousand not a single one went away hungry. Not just the deserving, whatever that means. All. The little boy did what he could and God did the rest. All were filled and when they took up what was left over they could hardly carry the baskets to the Master's feet. That’s why we go to Haiti. That’s why we go out from here to build somebody a ramp and hang sheetrock for somebody who can’t afford it. Sometimes paint a house for somebody who cannot do it themselves. Of course Jesus did not feed everybody that was hungry—but he took what the boy brought—and worked a miracle in somebody’s life—-a whole lot of somebody’s. And we can take what we have and make a difference too. That’s what the story means.

I heard Tony Campolo tell this story that a woman in Chesapeake, Virginia told him. There was a school teacher named Miss Jean Thompson. Each September when school started Miss Thompson greeted each new class the same way: “Boys and girls, I love you all the same. I have no favorites.” Of course, it wasn’t exactly the truth. Every teacher has favorites. But she was determined to treat every student alike. 

photo by Sgt.1st Class Jeff Troth / flickr
Teddy Stallard was a boy Miss Thompson just did not like. She had good reasons. He was sullen and slouched down in his seat. When she spoke to him she only got a “yeah” or “nah” from him. His clothes were musty. Britches almost down to his knees. His hair was unkempt. He was unattractive in just about every way. Whenever she graded Teddy’s papers she got a perverse delight out of putting X’s next to the wrong answers. And when she put the “F” at the top of his papers, she always did it with a flair. She should have  known better. Teachers have records, and she had records on Teddy.

First grade: Teddy shows promise with his word and attitude, but poor home situation. 

Second grade: Teddy is a good boy, but he is too serious for a second grade. His mother is terminally ill.

Third grade: Teddy is  becoming withdrawn and detached. His mother died this year.  His father shows no interest.
Fourth grade: Teddy is a troubled child. He needs help. 

Christmas came and the children brought presents to Miss Thompson and piled them on her desk. They crowded around that afternoon as she opened her presents. They were all wrapped in beautiful paper all except Teddy’s. His was wrapped in brown wrapping paper and held together with Scotch tape. She was surprised he even brought a present.

When she tore open his present there fell out a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a half-empty bottle of cheap perfume. The other children began to giggle, but Miss Thompson snapped on the bracelet and put some of the perfume on her wrist and behind her ear. She said: “Isn’t the bracelet lovely, and don’t I smell good.”

At the end of the day when all the other kids had left, Teddy came over to her desk. “Miss Thompson, all day today you smelled just like my mother used to smell. That’s her bracelet you’re wearing. It looks very nice on you. I’m real glad you liked my presents.” After he left she got down on her knees and cried and cried and asked God to forgive her.

The next day the class had a new teacher. Not really. But Miss Thompson was a changed person. She cared in ways the old teacher had not cared. She reached out in ways the old teacher had not. She spent time with children like Teddy. She nurtured and encouraged and helped tutor him and others who needed special attention. By the end of the school year Teddy had caught up with the other children and was ahead of some of them.

He moved away and Miss Thompson forgot about him. Then one day out of the blue there came this letter.

Dear Miss Thompson, I am graduating from high school. I wanted you to be the first to know. Love, Teddy Stallard.

There was no address. But four years later there was another note and it read:

Dear Miss Thompson, I want you to be the first to know. I’m second in my class.  The university has not been easy, but I really liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard.

And four years later there was still another letter.

Dear Miss Thompson, As of today I am Theodore J. Stallard, MD! How about that! I wanted you to be the first to know. I’m going to be married the 27th of July to be exact. I want you to come and I want you to sit where my mother would have sat. You’re the only family I have now. Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard.

And Miss Thompson went to the wedding. And she sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat..because she deserved to be there.

Do you think Jesus might have had Miss Thompson in mind when he gave us this parable: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 

I think he did. I really think he did. 

photo by cobalt123 / flickr

Description of flour and dough from Robert Farrar Capon. The Parables of the Kingdom, p.122

Story of Teddy Stallard from Tony Campolo,  Let Me Tell You A Story,  pp.167-169

(This sermon preached at The First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC , May 22, 2016)

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mr. Trump and Jesus

photo by Gage Skidmore / flickr
Ordinarily I try to stay away from politics on this blog. If you are like me you want to turn off the TV and run away from it all. I am tired of hearing what Mr. Trump has to say--after all--it really is about him at every point. Every time he speaks it is Saturday Night Live. Remember the character that kept on saying: "He really likes me. He really, really likes me!" And if he/she doesn't like him or crosses swords with him all hell breaks loose and the media is right there salivating and recording every pathetic rant. Somebody said the other day this is not politics--this is entertainment. I remember one political candidate several years ago that was so pious that he dripped. And I remember thinking: "We are not electing a Pastor--we're electing a President--or should." Well now I have been thinking "We are not electing an entertainer--we're electing a President." The two are poles apart.

I have been ashamed of many evangelicals (yet again ) that ought to know better. So many of good folk who love their kids and their country--have fallen hook, line and especially sinker over Donald Trump. "Well...we don't particularly like him but if he can do something about the economy or maybe just 'do something' --he will be a good President." Huh? The man is morally bankrupt. And we still wonder why he won't release his tax returns like all the others have done through the years. If he  changes his mind as often as he has changed his ideas on just about everything--we'd be in big trouble. He has spent months bashing Muslims about all kinds of things--and just this week he said about them:" Oh this was just a suggestion."  Cokie Roberts, not exactly a wide-eyed liberal said on TV the other day: "We can't  have anyone in that office with his attitudes toward Muslims and others. Why kids all over the country are saying terrible things to the Muslims whose desk is right across from theirs. Not to speak of his attitude toward women." The President sets the pace for the rest of us--and if we re going to enter a time when we are mean and cruel and keep the lid off all the time--well, that would be a nightmare.

Wise man, Jim Wallis who is a committed Christian and has led us on many hard issues--has written a splendid piece that everybody--especially we Christians--ought to read. Read it for yourself. It makes sense and for me it makes good religion.

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, May 9, 2016

Another Word About Illegals

photo by Fibonacci Blue / flickr
This Immigration-Refugee issue
will not go away so easily. Eleven million plus still wait to see what we will do with them. American values are being tested and to date I do not like the outcome. But the struggle is far from over.

I wonder when the history of these stormy days are written what the history books will say about us?

So many Christians have no unearthly idea that Jesus' last parable-challenge: "I was a stranger and you took me in..." has anything whatsoever to do with where we are right now as a people. Selective reading of the Bible today as in other times--
pulls the teeth out of the gospel and leaves us weak and irrelevant.

The Church of Jesus Christ is not supposed to be only white, middle and upper class and waving its banner for only what suits our prejudices and our comfortability.  Remember how Jesus closed that parable: "Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these--you do it unto me. "

I recommend Robert Scheer's moving article, written for Mother's Day, about how frightened his immigrant mother was for years because she was afraid she might be deported. Her story could be repeated over and over in our time.

Those politicians who pander to hate and prejudice and our basest values--do not represent our better hopes and dreams. Read his words and weep. But more than that--pray and speak out for justice.

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mother's Day in Real Time

photo by Charlie O'Shields / flickr
Sunday is her day. Mothers will be inundated with flowers, perfumes, fancy soaps, candy, greeting cards, and corsages. Restaurants will be filled and running over. Amazon and UPS will do a booming business. Pews in churches will be packed with proud Mamas and her brood—some who have come from a long way and haven’t had a tie or hose on in years. The audience will be peppered with buttoners of white and red roses—depending on if your Mom is alive or not. Sermons will pull out all the heart strings and preachers will extol the wonders and joys of motherhood. 

photo by
Ewardo Fonseca Arraes /
But on Mother’s Day we forget all those who find the day hard. Those who were raised or abandoned by a Mother. Those who were abused or emotionally crippled by their troubled Mama. Those who tried again and again to have children and only experienced failure. Those women who years ago had an abortion and think daily about what if. Those others who gave away their child and wonder where they are and how they must look. And then there all those others who buried a child from Iraq, or an auto accident or drugs or suicide. 

Let’s bring Mother’s Day into the real world. If we want to make this day meaningful let us begin to honor all year long the women who birthed us. Let us ponder the mystery of how many of them did so much with so little through the years. Let us think of all those mothers who stand in front of steaming trays serving us or bringing our meals to the table. Let us remember all those who try to make do on minimum wages. Let us not forget that large number who have been abused sometimes for years by some husband or partner. Let us add all the male legislators who have proposed invasive techniques on rape victims, who intone piously about the tragedy of abortion not ever thinking of the pain and heartache of many of those decisions. Legislators that block family leave for new mothers, that sneer at all those who cannot live without their meagre food stamps. And we
photo by Jerry Lai / flickr
cannot leave out those who sit for hours on end in emergency rooms ashamed when asked what insurance policy they have. Let us remember all the women in the workforce who will be paid only about 75% of what their male counterparts make. And us not forget on this Mother’s Day weekend all those mothers around the world—some starving, some stoned and abandoned because they were raped. Many undocumented mothers scared daily they may be sent back to a place they fled in desperation. All those who never in all their lives have known anything but sickness and trouble and heartache.

Maybe this is a downer. But maybe we only have to look outside, watch TV or read a newspaper to know that this Mother’s Day is set down among a multitude of injustices toward women. We must move beyond the sentimentality of only thinking of only our good mother and what she did. I have been blessed by a woman who was as great a mother hen that you would ever find—yet we must not stop until we make provisions for all the women, mothers or not. I am very glad someone years ago decided to honor mothers with a special day—but we must now stretch its meaning and its power until all women are taken in and none are left out.

photo by Meesh Rheault Miller/ flickr

--Roger Lovette /

My Favorite Mother's Day Memory

Ruth Kelley Lovette
Today is Mother’s Day a time to pause and remember Mama. There are many reasons why we all need this day. We are connected to our mothers in ways we are linked to no other. For nine months we lived close to her heart. We swam in the security of her body. And when we finally did make our entrance into the world some mother or mother surrogate fed us, diapered us, held us close and kept us safe. It is no wonder that Ana Jarvis began a campaign in 1907 in Philadelphia to establish a national day to honor mothers. She chose the second Sunday in May which was the anniversary of her own mother’s death. She campaigned hard until finally President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 made Mother’s Day an official holiday. 

We all have our Mama stories. One of my favorites happened when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. My mother never had many advantages in many ways. Married at sixteen, worked in a cotton mill until her retirement, her world was small. Family, mill, church were the parameters of her life. 

But she was determined her boys would have more chances than she had. Early she introduced my brother and me to books and encouraged us to read. Our little four-room house was filled with books. Discovering I had an interest in music she pieced together enough money to buy a good used piano. I never thought about the sacrifices that purchase must have cost until years later. The arrival of that piano was followed by weekly piano lessons and encouragement to practice, practice, practice. 
One day the piano teacher told my mother she thought it would be a good thing for me to go to a concert and to hear a great pianist play. My mother knew no classical music or the names of any concert pianist. So when it was announced that a great pianist was coming to our town, she bought the tickets and waited for the night to come.  

One afternoon after work she told me this was the night. After an early supper she put on her Sunday clothes, made sure I was presentable and we walked to the corner and waited for the bus. We rode three miles downtown and then transferred to another bus that would take us to the High School five miles away where the concert would be held.

We got off the bus and entered the crowded room. A woman pointed upstairs to where our seats would be. We found our places in the balcony and sat down. I looked around at a sea of faces. On the stage there was a beautiful grand piano. The lights dimmed. A small distinguished man dressed in a tuxedo came from behind the curtain and the audience began to applaud. My mother whispered, “That’s Artur Rubenstein! They say he’s one of the greatest pianists there is.” The room was quiet as the great man began to play.

I had never heard music like that before. I was mesmerized by the man at the piano and the music that washed over me. Once in a while my Mother would look at me, squeeze my hand and smile. It was her first concert, too. 

When the concert ended we walked out the door and waited for the bus. Finally the bus came and we rode to town, caught a second bus which would take us home. We must have gotten home about eleven o’clock which was late for someone who had to be at work the next morning at seven. 

That night was the opening of a door. Maybe my mother knew there would be a great many events that would follow that night. There would be high school and college and trips that would take me north and west and friends from all over. There would be books to read and other nights sitting in other balconies waiting for the music to begin. There would be a bride in Kentucky and two children my mother dearly loved. There would be churches and vacations and a world so much larger than she, or I had never envisioned.  She never complained about the sacrifices she had made or the constrictions of her hard life. What she did do was what all good mothers do—she opened a door.   
After the sudden death of his little daughter Mark Twain wrote that grief was like the burning down of one’s house. It would take years and years to reckon with the loss. I still reckon with the loss of my mother after her death in the late eighties. It has taken me years and years to look back down that long road and reckon with a multitude of blessings my Mother brought my way.

(This article has been published in several newspapers and I have published it on my blog some time ago. I print it again as as tribute to a very great lady.)

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Holocaust--We Can't Forget

Weeks ago my wife and I wandered around Paris near Notre Dame until we found it: the Holocaust Museum. 

It tells the story of the 76,000 French Jews that were deported from their homes and all their possessions to concentration camps by the Nazis from 1942 to 1944. 

This museum has this tremendous wall where the names of all 76,000 are inscribed. When you see that sea of names you begin to realize all over again the horror and the evil that human beings can do to one another. 

The holy place is called The Museum of Shoah--which means a Museum of catastrophe. It is really a Hebrew word that seeks to remind the world of some of the darkest pages in human history.

Today has been designated as Holocaust Remembrance Day. So once a year--despite our schedules and our busyness--we should ponder the sorrow and pathos of those terrible years in Germany and other European countries. From 1941 to 1945 the Nazis systematically murdered over six million people. The Holocaust Museum is a quiet place--few words are spoken. And those that are mostly come as whispers. 

The pictures of the children were the most heart-wrenching to me.There are three thousand pictures of some of those deported from France never to return. It took a lot of people to exterminate six million human beings. It has been estimated that there were at least 200,000 perpetrators that carried out these crimes against humanity.

Why should we remember this dark dark time in our history? We need to come face to face with the depths of evil that can be perpetrated on one another.

This political season has brought out some of the worst in the American people. Hatred against Muslims, immigrants from many countries--refugees from Syria that had fled their country for their lives--not to speak of the racism that swirls just beneath the surface in every state in our Union. Who would have thought that our nation would be where we are in 2016.

William Sloane Coffin once said, "We belong to one another. That's the way God made us. Christ died to keep us that way. Our sin is only and always that we put asunder what God has joined together."  

I keep remembering that quote from Elie Wiesel, himself lucky enough too escape the Holocaust. Every member of his family were murdered. He said the only reason he thinks he was left was to tell the story. And in book after book this Nobel-prize winning author has told the story of his people and that terrible time. Over and over, he reminds us that the word illegal is the first step to the gas chambers. Is he being melodramatic--I do not think so.


Someone asked Dick Gregory one time why he marched and protested and was thrown in jail and beaten for standing up for his people. He'd thought for a few minutes and said, "When my grand child crawls up in my arms and sees the terrible scenes of what happened there on TV she may ask me, "Granddaddy, did you live then?" And Gregory said he would nod his head. "What did you do when all that was happening?" And he said that is why I have protested and raised my voice.

--Roger Lovette /


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hate is Not Supposed to be an American Value

photo by Carlos Lorenzo / flickr

My eye caught the headline on yesterday's Greenville News. Migrant Children Kept from Enrolling in School. I wondered what this meant. Here's the way the article began:

"Candelario Jimon Alonzo came to the U.S. dreaming of becoming something more than what seemed possible along the rutted roads of his hometown in Guatemala's highlands. This was his chance: He could earn a U.S. high school education and eventually become a teacher.

Instead, the 16- year-old spends most days alone in the tumbledown Memphis house where he lives with his uncle, leaving only occasionally to play soccer and pick up what English he can from his friends.

Local school officials have kept Jimon out of the classroom since he tried to enroll in January
...officials contend the teens lacked transcripts or were too old to graduate on time..."

Before we jump on Memphis particularly the article went on to say: "The Associated Press has found that in at least 35 districts in 14 states, hundreds of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been discouraged from enrolling in schools or pressured into what advocates and attorneys argue are separate but unequal alternative programs..."

Read the whole article for yourself. There is something terribly wrong with this country when we block yearning young people--and their parents--from trying to fulfill their God-given dreams. We have always had a spotty record with immigrants. Talk to the ancestors of Irish, Poles, Italians, Jews and others--and you will see that Miss Liberty came with serious restrictions.

This is 2016. It is high time we grew up and owned up to those words that we still find on the base of the Stature of Liberty.

art work by Jimmie / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Habitat House and Hope

Sketch by Liz Smith

Once in a while something comes along that makes you proud. Like everybody else I have had my share of defeats and disappointments. While I was Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Clemson, South Carolina we decided to build a Habitat house for some family that needed a house. This would be the first Habitat house built in Pickens County. Since that time all over our county you can find rays of hope where people who needed a place to call home found one--many for the first times in their lives.

We built the first house for the Collier family. Curtis, the father had a lot of trouble with drugs and alcohol. But when we opened the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Center in one of our church's houses--Curtis was one of the first ones to enroll in the program.  He was the father of several children and he and his wife were separated. But Curtis worked hard and beat the drug-alcohol habit. It was an enormous struggle and yet he did it. Because he had made such progress he was reunited with his family and they were in the Center behind our church with him. I helped a little on that house and Curtis and his family moved in. Then afternoon of the Dedication I remember crying all the way home. For once we had come together and helped a family find a home.

More than twenty years have passed since that day on Vista Drive when we dedicated that first Habitat house. When we moved back to Clemson three years ago I wondered about Curtis and his family. No one seemed to know anything about them. And then about a month ago the garbage truck came by and moved on down the street. We were leaving for a trip and I didn't want the garbage left in our can for two weeks. So I pulled out the bag and went running down the street. I finally caught up with the Garbage truck. I yelled and told the man to wait until I gave him my garbage bag. The man came to meet me. I couldn't believe it. I said, "Curtis, is that you? I didn't l know if you were still here." "Oh yeah, he said, "Doctah Lovette--is that you?" We hugged and laughed. "Yeah, we still here. Been working on this job for over twenty years. Getting ready to retire." "You living in the same house we built?" "Yeah," he said, "me and Albertine still live there. Paid off the house. It's all mine." He had to work and moved on. But I remembered his early struggles and that of his family. But his life came together and they still live in that little blue house.

Since that time Pickens County Habitat is getting ready to finish their hundredth house. As I remember that encounter with Curts by the Garbage truck Jesus' parable came into my mind.

"Another parable he put before them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

photo by Micolo / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, May 2, 2016

Where is Holy Ground--A Worship Wars Question

photo by Erica Joy / flickr
Carlyle Marney, great preacher used to say the funniest thing. He said God does not come to church every Sunday. God being God does what God pleases. And sometimes he doesn’t show at all. Some Sundays God strays home in his pajamas and reads the newspaper. But Dr. Marney said but every so often God puts on his clothes and comes down to worship. He’ll walk through the vestibule, through the doors to the Sanctuary, and walk down the aisle and stop at your pew. And Marney said So you better get up and come on to church because if God comes down that aisle and stops at your pew—something great is going to happen. Lightning will strike. You’ll be turned inside out—and you’ll never be quite the same again. 

I tell that story to talk about worship. One of the concerns that many of you expressed in our survey dealt with worship. Traditional and contemporary. Several of you feel like we need to deal with this subject. And so on Wednesday nights beginning in two weeks we are going to dialogue about worship. We have a guidebook. And you’ll have an opportunity to pick one up—but it seems like in our time that when we come to the worship wars we focus mostly on should it be traditional or contemporary. Some say God only comes to church when we have a traditional service—while others say that God only comes in 2016 when we have a contemporary service.

There is a whole lot of confusion today about what worship is and is not. In our desperation to try to undergird church attendance everywhere preachers and congregations are trying all sorts of things. Some of them are downright scary. 

ButI would remind you that everything that goes on in church under the banner of worship may not be worship at all. Worship is not entertainment. We do not come here to titillate our nerve endings—the entertainment world does a better job than we could ever do—but that’s not worship. Real worship is not predictable—just doing the same old same old Sunday after Sunday. When that happens no wonder people stay away. Worship is not simply an emotional experience. We can’t leave emotion out of what happens here—but if it only emotion—something is missing. Others say worship is an intellectual exercise. Not so.  Real worship is not just a heady thing. Dr. Fosdick used to say people do not come to church just wondering what the Jubusites or the Hittites were doing. And we might even add the mark of the beast axe heads that float or do not. That has nothing  to do with us. Worship is not preaching. We used to say just: “Are you going to preaching?” Despite what we Reverends think—people do come to church to hear a good sermon—but there’s a whole lot more to worship than preaching.  

photo by Rich Orris / flickr
Well, just what is worship? When is it that God walks down that aisle and stops at your pew and something happens? We frame an answer to this question by turning to Exodus 3. This was the call of Moses. He was just a sheep herder—and sheepherders were way down on the social ladder. They were not important in the eyes of the world.But as Moses was trying to take care of the sheep an angel appeared in a bush that burned. One translation says that Moses “turned aside and looked.” He had never seen that before.He looked. In fact before that nine verses is over ten times the word look or see is used. 

The text says: :When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to see…” God spoke. What would have happened if Moses didn’t have his eyes wide open. Hmm. God called Moses name. “Moses…Moses.” And God said the strangest thing: “Take off your shoes .” Do what? “Take off your shoes…Moses.” And I am going to ask you to do something right now you have ever done in church. I want you to take your shoes off. And if you take your shoes off—I will take my shoes off too. It was an old custom even then—when you came to a sacred placed you took off your shoes. So Moses took off his shoes. And God said: “The place where you stand is holy ground.”

Now we must remember where he was. It was just an ordinary place. Nothing special. Stubborn sheep. Probably burning sun. Ordinary. Nothing special as Moses looked around him. A place where he had tended sheep again and again. And what was it God said: “The place where you stand is holy ground.”

Let’s leave Moses and that place for just a minute. This is as good an understanding of real worship as anything I know. God speaks. God speaks not in some spectacular way—but in the most unlikely of places. The ground right here.Right chere. This ground. This is why we take our shoes off—to remember that where we are…not just church but where we live and work and just try to get along. 2016 with a crazy election going on and problems galore everywhere. This, my friends,  might just be holy ground. 

Real worship is when you open your eyes. We miss so much—don’t we. Because we have all that other stuff on our minds. Wonder how much longer this is gonna last? When will he stop? Did  I turn off the stove before I left?  Look at old Margie over there with pursed lips—wonder what going on with her? We do everything we can to make sure we don’t see. What? 

God walks down this aisle and calls your name, much like he did Moses. Worship is personal. Our names are called. Our names. Bill, Helen. Mary.  Alison. John. David. Henry. Worship, real worship is when we are addressed. And the reason that the ground is holy—here of all places is because God calls our names.

Think about a time when you had a real worship experience. Something happened you couldn’t quite explain—and it turned you inside out. Now that doesn’t happen everyday. But if you only look for what we can see on TV or Netflix or Facebook…you’ll never hear what God has to say. 

There’s an old movie that I keep remembering. Danny Glover plays big part in the movie. It is set in some run-down
photo by Curt Mills / flickr
neighborhood in Los Angeles. Danny is a tow truck operator.He lost his wife. He has a hard time paying his bills. And at night the bullies come out—and it’s scary where he lives. Some with guns. Some were selling drugs. Life is rough and raw. But once a year he saves up his money and goes out west to the Grand Canyon and stays a couple of days. One of his friends kept wondering why does he do that. He' doesn’t have enough money for a vacation out west. And so he asks Danny, “Why do you take off and go out to the Grand Canyon of all places. Why don’t you go to Las Vegas or Dallas or somewhere.” And Danny says, “I’ll tell you. Sometimes I get it up to here—and it just about strangles me. And so I get in the car and drive to the Grand Canyon. And when I get there I stop my car and get out and sit on the ledge and just look and look. It never gets old. But then I get back in my car and head back to my hard reality.  My tow truck.  And I keep remembering that somewhere in this world there is a place that’s quiet and beautiful and takes my breath away. I find something out there bigger than I am. And I come back and I can make it another year,”

That’s what I’m talking about folks. Opening our eyes and looking. Just looking. Where we are. The book says the ground on which we stand in our bare feet is holy…holy. You can have all the rah-ray you want…but if there is not a place where your name is called and you are not touched by something deep, deep down—then you are missing something.

Think about your own life. When was it that some bush burned. It’s back there on my left in the third window from the back. A burning bush. Reminding us Sunday after Sunday that in everybody’s life there just might be a holy place.

Let me tell you about one of those times in my own life. Like you—like all of us—this doesn’t happen every time we come to church. There are just enough mountain peak experiences in our lives to help us get through the valleys. But once in a whole like Danny Glover we stop long enough until our names really are called. And when that happens we know we are loved and that we are somebody and whatever happens to us or ours—he really does have the whole world in his hands. And you and me brother and sister, and the tiny baby and everybody here in his hands. 

When I was Pastor at Clemson my little boy and two of his buddies joined the church and we scheduled a baptism. But it was tricky. One of the boy’s fathers had cancer—and he was taking chemo and it made him so sick—we had to plan a time between treatments when he wouldn’t be so sick and could be there. Our family went on vacation and we got in on Sunday afternoon—and we were to have the baptism for my son and the two other boys that night. When I got to the church and the cars were coming into the parking lot—I discovered somebody had forgotten to fill the Baptistry. One of these Baptist bloopers. What were we going to do? We had scheduled this service around the boy whose father was so sick—and a time when he felt pretty good. Well, in church you better have  contingency plan. I called one of our members who had a swimming pool and and asked him if we could use his swimming pool in about 30 minutes. He agreed. But  I was heartsick. I could just see that baptism in a swimming pool of all things…and everybody standing around snickering. That didn’t happen. I had asked the Daddy so sick if he would have the baptismal prayer. And what a prayer it was. Not a dry eye around that pool. After the boys got dressed this same Daddy took them in his car to McDonald’s for a baptism celebration. It was that father’s last public appearance. We don’t ever know when God is going surprise us. And in the most unlikely of times our names may just be called and something will happen to us that we can never, ever forget.

I guess it is time for us to put our shoes back on. Knowing this is part of real worship. And all that other stuff that in our desperation we try is just cotton candy. Moses was told to put his shoes back on and leave there to lead his people out of slavery ,across the Red Sea, through the wilderness into the Promised land. Reckon what is it that God wants us to do. So since we have put our show back on—maybe it is time to open our ears, look around us and find out what God wants us to do. And maybe where our feet ought to go.

photo by photo by Mobeans / flickr