Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Don't Let Your Preacher Tell You How to Vote

photo by Paula Walls / flickr

One of the planks in the Republican platform hopes to turn back is the Congress-passed rule that non-profits--particularly churches-- cannot get into the partisan politics.  In the present churches and others that carry the flag for one candidate are in danger of losing their tax-exempt status. Even though this law has been on the books since the Johnson years--it really has not been imposed often on violating churches and other non-profits.

Simply put: No preacher has any business telling you how to vote. That is your business. We still have separation of Church and State on the books. It doesn't mean that the church should not take moral stands or lead their congregations to struggle with rights and wrongs. Churches that were silent when the Civil Rights struggle was going on were simply caving in to expedience. I know--a lot of churches didn't want their Pastors to talk about this issue (and others)--but at bottom this was an integrity issue. Still is. Deacons stood at the front door of churches to make sure no black folks were allowed. Some kept saying we don't know what their motives are or what their agenda might be. Funny. They never raised that question about white folks that sauntered into the door. The same thing could be said about gays. Some churches turn them away by their attitudes even though no one stands at the door unless it is that weird bunch in Kansas.

When Jesus said Whosoever will may come--he did not qualify that whosoever. Any church that turns anyone away simply because of color or gender is violating the heart of the gospel. One preacher was sitting in a Deacon's meeting one night when the Deacons decided any black person that decided to join would be turned away. The preacher responded: "Ok. Go on and do this. And next Sunday there will be no Invitation. Or the next Sunday or the next. If everybody can't come and present themselves for membership in this church--nobody can." It didn't take long for the Deacons to change their policy.

Tony Campolo wrote a book in which he said: Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican. He's right. So--we preachers should not be in the bid-ness of telling their people how to vote. The arrogance of such as a stance is appalling. Members do have brains and are not puppets. Years ago one prominent Cardinal of the Catholic church said: "You have to pay your own taxes, make your own love, and choose who you will vote for. There are some things you have to do for yourself."

Any preacher who stands behind what we used to call the "sacred desk" and tells people what candidate to vote for ought to be given his or her walking papers. For he or she has corrupted a Gospel that waves no national banner or tries to drag Jesus to their particular side. And I don't care if their names are Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr. or James Dobson.

Bob Allen of Baptist Global News has written a fine article about Pastors on Mr. Trump's Advisory Committee. Looks like some Baptist have forgotten their heritage.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogsplot.com

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sometimes planks get Splintered--even at Conventions

photo by Nancy Dowd / flickr

Two Pastors at this week's Republican Convention declared Mr. Trump God's candidate for this fall's election. Many Evangelicals have forgotten their values by standing firm for Mr. Trump as President. Supporting Mr. Donald Trump is everyone's right. But dragging God into the mix is a dangerous thing. If he doesn't get elected does it mean God loses? Does it mean that Lucifer triumphs as Dr. Carson so pathetically said? Old-time Baptists believed in the separation of church and state and they made sure this idea was stitched strongly into our Bill of Rights. Read it for yourself.

The following clip from Comedy Central interviewing one Pastor's complete immersion in Donald Trump's candidacy is worth watching. I recommend. With sadness.


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, July 22, 2016

Warning: Santa Claus is Not Coming to Town!

photo by Gage Skidmore / flickr

Years ago, young and green, I saw my first Broadway play. It was the beginning of my love affair with drama. The play I saw was called, Inherit the Wind. The theme was the trial about the monkey trials in Dayton, Tennessee. Would the high school teacher be indicted for teaching evolution? That was the underlying question. That night I heard words that I looked up after the play and they have been with me ever since. As I watched with great sadness the events in Cleveland this week, the words came back to me.

"That was the name of my first long shot, Golden Dancer. She was in the big side window of the general store in Wakeman, Ohio. I used to stand out in the street and say to myself, 'If I had Golden Dancer I'd have everything in the world that I wanted. I was seven years old, and a very fine judge of rocking horses. Golden Dancer had a bright red mane, blue eyes, and she was gold all over, with purple spots. When  the sun hit her stirrups, she was a dazzling sight to see. But she was a week's wages for my father. So Golden Dancer and I always had a plate glass window between us. But--let's see, it wasn't Christmas; must've been my birthday--I woke up in the morning and there was Golden Dancer at the foot of my bed! Ma had skimped on the groceries, and my father'd worked nights for a  month. I jumped into the saddle and started go to rock--and it broke! It split in two! The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine, and no substance! Bert, whenever you see something bright, shining, perfect-seeming--all gold, with purple spots--look behind the paint. And if it's a lie--show it up for what it really is!'"

photo by Gage Skidmore / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Sermon for a Divided People

Church of the Holy Rule
photo by Becky McCray / flickr
Several years ago my wife and I visited Stirling Scotland. Stirling is north east of Edinburgh and is the gateway to the Scottish highlands. This is where Robert the Bruce fought to gain Scotland’s independence in 1314. It is a beautiful city, dominated by a wonderful castle high on a hill overlooking the whole city. Near the castle is the Church of the Holy Rude. In case you’re wondering Holy Rude was a medieval term for the Cross of Christ’s crucifixion. 

In this church that dates back to the fifteen century, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned there in 1543. Prince Henry was christened in this church in 1594. As we stood there in the sanctuary, the guide said: “Do you see the brick line there?” He pointed to a line from floor to ceiling right down the middle sides of the church. “This was one of our painful stories. During the turbulent 17th century when there were no many religious and political troubles, the congregation was split into factions. An extreme and bigoted Presbyterian Pastor, James Guthrie refused to accept his more moderate colleague. After trying to resolve the conflict for a long time the Town Council finally solved the problem by building a wall across the church between the west pillars of the crossing. They did this in 1656. So one church became two separate churches, the East and the West. They worshipped back to back. One altar at one end and a second altar at the other end of the sanctuary. Those two churches worshipped that way from 1656 until 1935 when the wall was removed and the church was reunited. For 279 years they worshipped in a divided manner. 

I looked up at the scars where the bricks had finally come down. I thought about the churches I have known and served from its beginning until now. All those divisions in that little band of twelve Jesus called. Peter, James and John—and then the others. Peter was loudmouthed and impetuous. James and John wanted to be in charge. Judas, the treasurer—well you know that story. Standing there in that 900-year-old church I thought about all the jealousies and the jockeying for power from then until now. The splits and divisions between Peter and Paul and Apollos. The hassles, struggles over doctrine, disposition and personalities. 

I thought about church history standing there. The storms had raged in that very building. When the Protestants went on a rampage and smashed statues and windows and tore great art from the walls and left them bare and ugly. But this church was spared. I thought about the heresies and the holy wars and all the fighting we have done in the name of God up until this very time. There is not a major denomination in this country that is not having serious trouble with each other. 

While we were there we heard N.T. Wright the Bishop of Durham speak one Sunday. Bishop Wright is no liberal. And his whole sermon was on the unity of the church. He said the great heresy of the church is its disunity and that the church could not divide over any single issue or several. The church had to stay together and work it out. 

One of the things I love about the Bible and about the early church. is that they were realists. When they took the stories about the life of Jesus and pieced them together the church was young and green and struggling. There were a lot of conflicts. They sometimes wondered if they could pull this thing off. Rome pressed down on them. Culture twisted them. The Jews gave them a hard time. There were sexual problems and ethical violations aplenty. It was a mess. And so as they put together the documents that would become in time our gospels one of the things Matthew wanted to do was to help the struggling church find its way. Those early believers needed help on what was it that would create and sustain real community. And so one of the purposes of Matthew’s gospel was to help the church maintain a meaningful fellowship in a hard time. And as I look at our stormy political scene—I feel like we erected some walls and divisions that make unity and progress almost impossible.

photo by Jennifer W / flickr
What is the glue that is supposed to hold church and society together? What is it that keeps the walls down or at least tear the walls down once they’ve gone up? What is it that moves us down the road without killing each other off? What is the glue that makes church church and this nation the United Sates of America?

One of the great scholars on world religions was a man named Houston Smith. He talked about the contribution that every major faith group in the world had contributed to making the world better. And so when he came to Christianity, people wondered what we would say. What was it that made the Christian faith unique from all the other religions? And do you know what he said. The quality that separates Christianity from the other religions and makes it the faith it is one word. Forgiveness. Houston Smith said our focus on and our demand for forgiveness is at the heart of our faith. 

Simon Peter came to Jesus in Matthew 18. He was the spokesperson. Strong man. Opinionated. A little pushy. Smart. A man’s man. Jesus had already talked about who was greatest in his kingdom. Become like a child, he said. Jesus tells them not to put a stumbling block between any of the weak ones. They must help one another. Do not despise, he said, any of the little ones. Be like the Shepherd who went out after the one lost stupid, stubborn sheep. He shouldn’t have run off. That sheep should never have gotten lost. But Jesus said we have to go after him. And if one member of the church sins against you—get this—sins against you—you have to do something about it. You have to reconcile. You have to get together. You can’t just sit there puffed up. You have to do something about these brick walls between you. 

Peter heard it. He heard it all. The words about greatness, this helping the weak ones. This story about the one lost sheep who got himself into trouble or this would have never happened. He heard Jesus’ words about reconciliation. Those he had bumped heads with. Those that despised him. All the troubles he had known in the church. And standing there was Donald Trump and all his followers. And not quite so close to them was Hillary Clinton and her followers. 

This is all background to our text. “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another
photo by Christa Lohman / flickr
member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.’”
(Matthew 18. 22)

How often should I forgive someone who has sinned against me? Notice what Peter said. How often should I forgive someone who has hurt me? He decided to be generous. Seven times, Lord? The Rabbis always said to forgive someone three times. That’s going more than the second mile. But if someone offends me—trips me up—makes me lose my job or just cheats and lies and just makes life miserable for me how many times must I forgive them, asked Peter? Seven times. Wouldn’t that be great, Lord?

It was quiet for a moment. Jesus answered his old impetuous friend. And he looked out across his disciples' heads to Donald and Hillary. Peter, not seven times. Seventy times seven. And the Bible says that Simon Peter got out his calculator and began to multiply it and looked up with his mouth wide open. Lord, that’s 490 times! And Matthew put this story in his document to help a very troubled church by saying this is the only way you are going to survive.  Seventy times seven.

Will Willimon, Methodist preacher says that not far from his South Carolina home there was a church. He said actually by the time he came along it was not a church any longer. It was just a decaying, rotting shell of a building where once there had been weddings and funerals and worship week after week. Not it was covered in kudzu vines that kept creeping over a crumbling roof and into holes where windows had once been. The front door was gone and there was just the opening where once it stood.

photo by Anna Lee / flickr
Will asked his grandmother one day, “What happened? What happened to all the people who went to the church?” His grandmother laughed slightly and said, “Well, son, that was a church—a very active church. I remember it well when I was a girl. There used to be services there very Sunday and picnics in the Spring and fall and then something happened. They have their ‘great falling out.’”

“What was that?” Will asked. “Well,” the grandmother said, “’the great falling out’ was when Mr. Jones, or was it Mr. Johnson?…at any rate when either Mr. Jones or Mr. Johnson wanted to pave the driveway to he church. Some of them thought it were a waste of money. Said that Mr. Jones, or Mr. Johnson, whoever he was, was trying to take over the church. You can see today the drive never did get paved. After that fight, the church split. One group went and took what it had and left. And a few of them stayed, tried to keep the church going for a while. Eventually, they just died off or moved away and what you see now, crumbling and covered in kudzu, is the end of the argument. Nobody won.”  They had somehow failed to hear and inculcate today’s text into their lives and into the lives of their church.

Peter just stood there with his calculator. He checked it again. Seventy times seven. 490 times. We’re supposed to forgive four hundred and ninety separate times. It isn’t in the text but I can almost hear Jesus tenderly saying: “Simon put away your calculator. It isn’t about math. It isn’t about linguistics. It’s about forgiveness. It’s an attitude, a way of life,  Peter—it’s a matter of the heart.” What is our definition of forgiveness? We know when it happens to us. We know what it feels like. It is not a matter of calculators. It really is a matter of the heart.

Matthew envisioned the Christian church as some kind of laboratory where we learn to forgive. And I think this is also true of the nation. One day as Benjamin Franklin was leaving Constitution Hall a woman recognized him and asked, “Mr. Franklin what kind of government are you giving us?” And he said, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Statue amid ruins of old Coventry Cathedral
 I watched some of those hearings the other day when the FBi Director and later the Attorney General were quizzed about why they didn’t put Hillary Clinton in jail. And the ugliness of many of those asking questions was so mean so nasty. Ever watch some of business meeting at church? People are just furious. Red-faced. Sitting there all puffed up. Saying the ugliest things to their neighbors or to some leader You see the church hasn’t done a very good job of dealing with forgiveness and reconciliation.  And neither has there country. And this is the one differentiating point between us and the rest of the world. If we really do forgive one another. Forgiveness is not to build walls or coexist. Forgiveness is to be reconciled. Forgiveness is to feel like you are part of the family. That's reconciliation. 

Link between old Coventry Cathedral
and new. 
While we were in England we decided to go up to Coventry. In the Second World War the Germans destroyed that beautiful cathedral that was hundreds of years old. Many citizens lost their lives. And so when the war was over they were trying to decide what to do. And some wanted just to tear down what was left of the church. Not much. Just some crumbling brick walls. But they decided to prop up that shell of the old church and next to it build a new cathedral. And in  that crumbling space someone has erected this wonderful stature of two old enemies meeting and hugging. It was a symbol of what they said the new Coventry Church was to be. And as you move from the old ruins into the new church they have erected a cross that was made from the charred embers of the building they loved. And underneath are the words: Father Forgive.

Jesus said you are to forgive 490 times, Peter says. 490 times? And Jesus nods his head. And 490 times does not mean to keep a record. It does mean that forgiveness for all of us is not some isolated, occasional act of heroism but forgiveness, real forgiveness is a way of life. Forgiveness, then, is the constant homework of Christians. And for we citizens of the United States too. Unfinished business, always. We never graduate. Seventy times seven.

A man named Sebastian Junger is a journalist who has written several books about the Iraq-Afghanistan war. He spent about 15 months over there living with the troops. He went out with them when the battles were going on and IED’s were blowing up our soldiers. Scary. But he learned a lot. And writes this book called Tribe. And he said from the beginning of this country until the present time the the binding tie was the connections we have with one another. And he writes that over there something happens to the men and women that serve. They really do have each other’s backs. And he said it did not matter where they came from if they were rich or poor. It didn’t matter if some had even been in prison or cussed like some soldiers do. He said it didn’t matter if they were gay or straight or black or white or Hispanic. All those divisions fell away. Some were evangelical Christians and some didn’t believe anything. And he said they forged a unity—and they fought for a common cause and it was something to see.  And then he writes those same men and women come home and look around at a country divided and fighting with each other. And Junger says many can’t stand it. They fought for this? For this? And some commit suicide. Some live all their lives with PTSD. Some sign back up some for five and six deployments. They can’t find at home what they found over there where the bullets were flying and death was everywhere. 

When Jesus told Simon seventy times seven he was talking about some superficial holding hands and singing Kum Bah Yah. He was talking about you and me and everybody forgiving one another and making it work. Over here we also are to be a tribe. Having each other’s backs regardless of who we are.

Seventy times seven. Simon looked horrified. That’s a lot.  And he was right. But whether your crazy relative or some mate you can’t stand or someone on the other side of this room or some Democrat or Republican—seventy times seven. That’s our charge. I wonder in this strange time will we get Jesus’ message?

photo by Penn State / flickr

(This sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC July 17, 2016)

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Monday, July 18, 2016

Racism 2016--Wish I'd Said This

My colleague, Philip E. Jenks is a blogger who lives in Port Chester,  New York. He wrote a monthly editorial called The Little Scroll for the American Baptist magazine from 1974-1992. (The Little Scroll is also the title of his blog.) He also has been a newspaper reporter and written for national and ecumenical church organizations. He is a fine writer and worth reading. He gave me permission to use his blog piece on racism. I think it is right on target. Who among us is not some kind of racist--like it or not. This piece is long but good. With all the terrible unrest these days just in our country--this piece rings a bell with me. You can read some of his further writings on his blog: thelittlescroll.blogspot.com --RL

The Racism Virus

July 15, 2016. Three years ago I wrote this sermon at a time when it seemed racial divisions could not get much worse in the U.S. 

Now the divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump has made matters much worse and millions of white Americans are no longer uncomfortable about revealing their racism. “In a country where the wealthiest and most influential citizens are still mostly white,” the New York Times reported this week, “Mr. Trump is voicing the bewilderment and anger of whites who do not feel at all powerful or privileged. But in so doing, Mr. Trump has also opened the door to assertions of white identity and resentment in a way not seen so broadly in American culture in over half a century.” 

Other politicians have jumped on the Trump band wagon. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani flaunted his own racism by declaring Black Lives Matter to be a racist movement. 

Among Republicans, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sounded a rare note of reason: “If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”

A recent New Yorker cartoon put it this way: a white man is sitting on an examination table in his doctor's office as a physician shows him an X-ray: “This is the racist bone you said you didn’t have in your body.”

That’s the point: we all have racist bones in our bodies. 

The questions I attempted to address in this sermon are these: which is worse? Brandishing our racist bones as bludgeons against persons we consider “others”? Or continuing to hide our racism while we pray the divisions in our society will go away?

Warning: earlier I censored some of the coarser language and racial epithets that I quoted. Now they have been restored in all their ugliness. 

O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved. Psalm 15.

Back in the day, most hate mongers tended to obscure their identity. What goes around comes around, folks said, and wicked words could backfire. Best to spraypaint swastikas and racial slurs in secret, lest the good guys come after you.

Not so today. Venomous words that used to be hissed in moral sewers are now tweeted from the cyber mountaintops. Most of these 140-letter messages are signed.

There has been a flood of such messages lately. On Friday the President of the United States shared his thoughts about what an African American might feel when an unarmed black teen-ager is singled out, pursued and gunned down by a volunteer neighborhood watchman. When the gunman is acquitted of the crime, Mr. Obama said, the hurt runs deep.

Most African American males, the president said, have been victims of racial profiling. Including him. 

“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son,” Mr. Obama said. “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks were dismissed as “emotional and rambling” by pundits who regard themselves as conservative rather than racist.

But tweeters on the fringes of sanity were more blunt.

Eric D. Vandenberg put it this way: “President Obama said Friday that ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me.’ Most of us wish it would have been you, Mr. President.”

What distinguished Vandenberg from other moronic tweeters is that he refrained from using the ‘N’ word or other racial insults. According to publicshaming.tumblr.com, which collects the tweets normal people would be ashamed of, many threatened the President’s life or flaunted their racial venom.  Charlie 191 wrote, “Nigger Obama is trying to start a race war so no one will be watching him take our freedom away. Fuck nigger obama an his muslam brothers!!!”

Of course we can dismiss these miscreant tweeters as idiots, but the ease with which they dangle their odium in public is a little frightening.

Mr. Obama carries the dual mantel of president of all the people and the first African American president. His ethnic background is complex because he was raised by a white mother and white grandparents. But he spoke Friday as a black man, and nothing he said about white racial profiling came as a surprise to persons of color. 

Some wish he had pointed out that the acquitted gunman, George Zimmerman, was half Latino, because it is important to acknowledge that all humans, not just white people, stereotype and profile those who don’t look exactly like them. 

But that doesn’t make the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death more understandable. A day before Mr. Obama’s remarks, publicshaming.tumblr.com shared the tweets of angry white folks who don’t like Latinos much either. Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at that most American of institutions, the All Star Game, while Twitter flakes fluttered:

“Why the f... is a spic singing God Bless America?” asked Chance Jones, using the racial epithet for Latinos. Tyler Pounds wrote, “Welcome to America where God Bless America is sung by a Mexican.” Anthony was born Marco Antonio Muñiz to Puerto Rican parents in New York, a fact that eluded Joshua Vardaman. “To be selected to sing God Bless America for the MLB All Star game,” Joshua wondered, “shouldn’t you at least be FROM America?”

The ironic thing is that all these racist twitterers who think their country is going to hell are entitled to express their views by virtue of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Even stupidity is constitutionally protected – a reality we can celebrate every time we sway to the rhythms of “God Bless America.” And while it can be unnerving that racists express themselves publicly with such impunity, the First Amendment also protects right-wing pundits such as Rush Limbaugh who define their hate speak as mere conservatism. If Rush can celebrate the Zimmerman acquittal as a victory over liberalism, no wonder his less literate minions feel free to use the ‘N’ and ‘S’ words to articulate their views.

But let’s be careful here. As noxious as the hate speakers may be, they clearly fall in the category of those Jesus told us to love.

And recent events also remind us there are at least two types of racists: those who flaunt their hatred and those who deny it.

The fact is, racism persists in our culture like an infection and many who have the most virulent strain don’t even know they are sick. 

Today in a million offices and schools, white folks will make stupidly racist remarks based on stupidly racist assumptions about persons of color. They will react to persons of color differently and treat persons of color differently – and, when challenged about it, they will be stunned and hurt because – as they will tell you – “I don't have a racist bone in my body.”

But even in the age of Obama, racism flourishes in the land and each day the majority finds a new way to make the minority feel marginalized. My daughter, who is racially mixed (as are my five other children), reacted this way a few years ago when President Obama tried to reconcile a cop who arrested a black university professor on his own porch because the cop assumed he was an intruder. Obama invited the cop and the professor to the White House for a beer. My daughter wrote in her Facebook update: “Elita wishes she could have a beer with the president every time she gets racially profiled.”

It goes without saying – or should – that racism is not the sole bailiwick of whites. It’s endemic in the human condition. My wife, who was born in Havana, looked sufficiently different from the locals when she worked in Americus, Ga., in the early 1980s that she was pointedly asked, “What are you?” 

Martha has often commented on the surprise expressed by us American Baptist white folks when members of the Hispanic American Baptist Caucus complained about the domination of the Black American Baptist Caucus in denominational life – as did the Asian Caucus and Native American Caucus. “How can people who live under discrimination and injustice despise one another?” white folks would ask, genuinely shocked.

Occasionally Martha suggests that Cubans – residents of an island that projects a carefully calculated image of edenic racial harmony – are as racist as anyone. “Black members of my family make a distinction between themselves and ‘negros americanos,’ who obviously don’t benefit from the same redemptive mestizaje of the islands,” she says.

But I doubt Cubans have cornered the market on racism. The people I grew up with in Central New York State were too good at it to cede the honor to anyone else. There were only a handful of African Americans in Madison County, some of whom may have been descended from slaves who settled in Peterboro, an outpost of the Underground Railroad operated by the abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Looking back, I am appalled by memories of how the white majority – including me – treated them. Black children were taunted with the ‘N’ word on the playground, or slapped by white teachers and – in one memorable incident – subjected to an incredibly obtuse but well meaning teacher who used the ‘N’ word in a rhyme to select the next person to read from a text book: “eeney, meeney, miney mo ...” 

I can't begin to imagine how uncomfortable we made children of color back then. And most of us oppressors would have insisted that we didn't have a racist bone in our bodies.

I haven't seen Tony Campolo for years, but judging from his press pictures, he's the least changed of my Eastern Baptist College professors from the sixties.

Tony was known for making startling claims with ex cathedra authority, which was challenging in the day when you couldn't vet his claims through Google, and he tried out some of his more famous lines on us: “Last night when you were sleeping, 30,000 kids died of malnutrition and you don't give a shit about it. Worse, you're more upset that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids starved to death.”

Once Tony said something, it was hard to forget it. Among the Tonyisms I remember:

“If you grew up in the United States, you are a racist.”

I first heard Tony say that in Soc 200 in 1968, and the notion surprised me. But as the years pass, I find fewer reasons to doubt it. I’m a racist, you’re a racist, all God's children who grew up in the race-obsessed cauldron of American culture are racist.

Now, that's not necessarily a peculiar aberration. Racism is a sin, and we all know we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. To deny our racism is to deny we are sinners.

The next time you hear someone say, “I'm color-blind,” or, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” smile ironically and walk away. 

Certainly people in the U.S. (and elsewhere) who openly tweet their hatred are to be feared – loved, as Jesus willed it – but feared nonetheless. 

Particularly scary are those white folks who complain they have lost their freedom and status because a black man has twice been elected president, and because the president declares a commitment to universal healthcare, economic justice, immigration reform, and gun control. 

Those nervous white folks have difficulty seeing that they haven’t lost any freedoms because freedom is being offered to more people. In fact, the more races, ages, ethnic groups, and sexual orientations that are empowered in the U.S. system, the more freedom everyone has.

Be that as it may, the most dangerous people in America are not those who tweet their hatred openly. 

Even more problematical are those who don’t believe they are racists. 

That problem group may include you, me, Obama, Zimmerman, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Al Sharpton, or anyone else who is supposed to have a dispensation from the sin of racism. 

But racism is like any other sin: all have done it, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.

Racism is also a deadly virus in the body politic. Jesus sought to make it clear wherever he went that the realm of God requires opening our hearts and minds and loving God as much as every human we encounter on the shadowy pathways of life.

Loving our neighbors and loving our enemies is the only cure available for the virus of racism.

Repeating the gospel of Campolo: “You can’t grow up in the United States without being a racist.

And the first step toward the cure is to admit we are sick.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

USA--We've Got a Fever

photo by Alex Weimar / flickr

There's a whole lot of craziness going on out there. I'll be glad when this election is over. One of the strangest things happening today is the insistence of some Republicans that they must nail Hillary Clinton to the cross at any cost. And cost it may be.

I'm not all that rah-rah about Hillary but I do know badgering when I see it. And I also know poor losers when they stand before microphones pontificating about subjects they know little about. Of course we need an open society. And of course we need to right wrongs. But I can't even count the number of Bengazhi hearings we have had. How many times Hillary Clinton has endured hours on top of hours answering questions continually from those who are supposed to be giving this country some leadership. I would love to have some of them on the hot seat and let them answer questions about their emails and their private lives. Hmm. It would be quite interesting. Not only have they tried to smear Mrs. Clinton but they have taken on the FBI Director. They have aimed their weapons at Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General of the United States. And now they are cranking up yet another investigation of the Democratic nominee for President. Is this a joke or what?

I'm not talking about voting for Hillary. I am talking about being fair to those that are our public servants. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. She has been a Senator. She was the wife of a President and stayed with him through all of his peccadilloes. Talk about family values. She is no saint. She has made some ridiculous mistakes. If the truth were known I'll bet she wished she had never hooked up that email server in her home.You would have thought that she was engaged in treasonous activity.

While our legislators were busy looking under rocks a grieving nation focused on Dallas and the death of five of our policeman. Legislators--why not try to solve some of the racial problems in our country--why not care more about the hurting than hurting someone yourself.

David Brooks, not exactly a wild-eyed liberal but is a fine writer. In yesterday's New York Times he has written as healthy a piece as I have read lately. He begins by saying: "I never really understood how fascism could have come to Europe, but I think I understand better now." He writes about how scary this time is and how it looks like this great country could run off the rails. He writes about other times in our troubled history when there arose people who tackled difficult problems and made the country better. That's the moving challenge of his Op Ed piece. Read it for yourself. He is a wise man as he studies the thermometer of our country.

I think it was Bill Coffin that said one time when people kept saying: America love it or leave it. He responded. No. Don't leave it. Stay. Stay and make it better. We can't give up on one of the best hopes for the world. Maybe it really does depend on all of us.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Monday, July 11, 2016

Perry Noble--Asked to Leave his Mega Church

Perry Noble
 photo by Helari Hellenum / flickr
Since I have been back in South Carolina the last four years I have heard the NewSpring Church mentioned often. Lately I learned they have 30,000 members and about 17 satellite churches. Right now they are building another satellite for worship in Clemson. Some Pastors have gritted their teeth as they have said the NewSpring name. I have never attended a worship service there but I have observed their worship services on the internet.
Almost every time I hear the church mentioned I also hear the Pastor’s name: Perry Noble. Newspapers this week-end have carried large detailed 
accounts about the Pastor’s forced resignation. The charges are a mite fuzzy but it seems he has an alcohol problem, some marital difficulties and charged with “inappropriate behavior.” The news releases say that he is under psychiatric care. His wife has been quoted as saying that she supports the resignation. 
Churches all over this area have lost members to this church. We in the trade call this sheep stealing. Small wonder that these Pastors find little collegiality with New Spring’s dismissed Pastor. I have often wondered why the church had to have sattelites all over. Why not just establish churches and let them be independent and not under the NewSpring umbrella?
I guess I want to say that you cannot build a church—any church around a particular individual. Almost every time this happens serious problems follow. Mr. Noble was called not the Minister or the Pastor but really the CEO. Whatever happened to the Biblical terms? Remember Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral? Just to name a few. The rock on which you build any church is not the Pastor. Why? We all have clay feet. Some feet are clay-er than others—but if we begin to believe all the good things many say about us—we are headed for a fall. The spotlight is mesmerizing and often intoxicating. It is very easy to get lost in the trappings of ministry.
Families suffer. Marriages suffer. The Person suffers. His/her church staff suffers. The Church suffers. I cannot rejoice in this church’s embarrassment or this man’s demise from his ministry. Thousands that followed him will be disappointed and devastated. Many will drop out of the church entirely. Unbelievers on the outside will say: “See…see—we told you what church was like." 
This man obviously had real talent and much charisma. Most of us Reverends could not build such an empire. The church has done a lot of good. They provided school supplies for disadvantaged children in many schools. They have attracted hundreds of young people that did not attend church. The church at Christmastime has provided each student in several Title One schools with a pair of shoes. Some of these children will never forget those pencils, backpacks and shoes. Years from now they may not remember NewSpring by name but they will recall that back in a  hard time there was a church that really cared for them.
Paul says that we always have the treasure in earthen vessels. And earthen vessels are not much. When we mix up the treasure and the vessel we are in trouble. Every Pastor out there enjoys the spotlight. We love shaking hands at the door and being told we are so great. But we have to remember whose church this is—Christ’s. We also have to remember we really are not Jesus. That’s why a good wife that knows the truth can keep her Husband-Pastor’s feet in the real world. (The same holds true for female Pastors another husbands.)
Pray for our brothers and sisters at NewSpring. Pray for Perry Noble and his family. We are not to rejoice in the wrong, folks, but in the right. We’re all in the same boat—standing in need of prayer. Amen.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Saturday, July 9, 2016

We Remember the Fallen--Yet Again

photo by Tyler Mebler / flickr

Just a week ago--almost--we celebrated the birthday of our independence. There were  speeches and hot dogs and family gatherings and flags and parades and someone singing almost off-key: "O say can you see.." Less than a week later it has all turned ugly. We've been here before and we will probably be there again.

But it is a time for sadness and a time to remember the fallen. For several years I wrote about our fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Week after week I listed their names and ages and where they came from. Little hamlets and big cities. All colors. Different--yet Americans. They represent our longest war and it still continues. The boxes draped in the flag still come home. And those that do come home sometimes after four-five-six deployments--feel like strangers in a strange land. 

After all these years we are still fighting the black-white battle. There are wars in our streets. Two of those policeman cut down in Dallas were returnees from the war "over there". The man with the gun that killed five policeman and wounded others had come back home after serving his country. Strange. Over there, far from home, they would possibly have been  in the same unit. They would have protected one another. They would have had--as the cliche says--each other's back. Possibly.

Meanwhile back at home this is another story. White policeman killing blacks. Blacks aiming their rifles at decent policeman that try to keep us safe. While the country convulses in agony men, mostly, in tight suits and lousy toupees and representatives of the great state of wherever sat around tables arrogantly asking questions about what--emails! Emails? Maybe they thought if they could just get before the camera and say some smart and ugly things about the Attorney General, back home people would applaud their incivility and ugliness. Even the Speaker of the House has called for yet another hearing. On emails? With the house on fire these that pull the strings and make our laws fiddle while so much of this country really does convulse and burn. Why don't get they get back to work. And when Sunday comes why don't those who stand in pulpits speak out strongly for this country and its madness and its promise. Is there not some word from the Lord in such a time as this? And for those who sit in pews--wouldn't it be something if they walked out into the sunshine and muttered: "We're not going to make America great again--and other ridiculous slogans--we're going to roll up our sleeves and make sure that we stand by the words we almost remembered just a week ago. "We hold these truths that are self evident that all...are to be created equal..."

Sebastian Junger is right. We are supposed to be one tribe. Tribes don't kill each other off--even if they are white policemen or blacks or Muslims or Jews or atheists or born-again Christians or Gays or Republicans or Democrats or Independents or Transgenders or whatever. The word, my friends is all. All. ALL. And let's not forget it. 

The old book says: "Grieve but not as those who have no hope." Pretty good advice for a people in trouble. 

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogsplot.com

Monday, July 4, 2016

No Room in the Ark

photo by John Scalzi / flickr
For years we have been hearing about the Creation Museum which was under construction in Williamston, Kentucky. Mr. Ken Ham who is the dreamer behind this project believes that the earth was created in six days and the earth is only 6,000 years old.

The Park will open July 7, 2016 and he estimates that at least 1.4 million people will come there annually. He disagrees with most reputable scientists that say the earth was at least 4 billion years old. If my math is right that is quite a difference from 6 thousand years.

The reputed replica of Noah's ark is under construction now. It is the size of one and a half football fields and is as high as a seven story building. Recently the state of Kentucky revoked the tax rebates of the museum after learning that Mr. Ham would require employees to sign a statement of faith that would exclude people who are gay or did not accept his particular (and peculiar) Christian creed. Mr.Ham won the battle in court. He has said of gays, "I don't think we would kick them out (for holding hands in the museum)" but he could understand gay guests not being comfortable in his museum.

Not only will gay folk feel uncomfortable in this theme park--but a whole lot of members of the animal kingdom could not find a place in this man's ark. Reckon Mr. Ham knows that a multitude of species in the animal and insect kingdom engage in homosexual or bi-sexual activity. If this is the case what happened to all these animals during the first flood. Surely Noah did not let them in. But if they were swept away--where did they come from?

Zoologists tell us a whole lot of the species is showing some attraction to their same sex and it would be hard to classify them as gay, straight or bi-sexual. Here are some (not all) of those guilty of casting maybe more ehan a wistful eye at their own sex. 

Giraffes...Bonobos..Chimpanzees...Flamingos...Dolphins...Snails...Vampire Bats...Sea Lions...Killer whales...Penguins...Sheep...and billions of bugs and spiders. The list seems to go on and on. If this is true--perhaps this ark could be a mite smaller since so many would find no room on the boat.

This ark is intended to serve as a vivid reminder that, according to the Bible, God sent a flood in Noah's time to wipe out a depraved people, and God will deliver a fiery end to those who reject the Bible and accept modern-day evils like abortion, atheism and same-sex marriage. "We're becoming more like the days of Noah in that we see increasing secularization in the culture, "Mr. Ham said.

On this July 4th I am reminded that the Constitution says "we, the people." Everybody. We cannot whittle down the we to suit our ideas or our prejudices. 

photo by Jim Hickcox/ flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, July 1, 2016

Donald Trump and Jesus: Second Verse

I don't want to bore you with further words about Donald Trump's alleged conversion. Bringing you up to date--his headquarters has been strongly silent about his recent Damascus Road experience. If I am sarcastic it is because I have yet to see any evidence of a heart-felt change toward all the people he has bashed, made fun of and generally just written off. Muslims, crippled journalists, women, the Washington Post, Mexicans  and anyone who disagrees with him. The list goes on and on. If I see indications of change toward so many people--I will certainly recant.

The dream of America was that everybody here would be safe and live without fear or intimidation. Now we know that our history is very spotted on this dream--yet the dream is still with us as we approach yet another July 4th. This day is not about hot dogs and hamburgers and a day off--it is about looking long and hard at the people we are and the people we want to be. It is really a day not just of independence--but more a day of inter-dependence.

Bill Coffin used to say: "It is important that our churches be courageous and creative, not sanctuaries for frightened Americans, which is to say recruiting grounds for authoritarian figures and movements that bear the earmarks of an emerging fascism."

My hope is that there is slowly emerging voices that speak against those that bash the weak and voiceless. Cal Thomas, Columnist is not exactly what you would call a liberal. He wrote a telling article in response to Mr. Trump's recent conversion. This writer seems to be right on target.http://calthomas.com/columns/trumps-conversion

Out there across the land I hope refugees, Mexicans and other Hispanics, the jobless, the hopeless, college student with horrendous college loans, all our troops there and at home, and white Americans that feel enormous frustration also, may God, on this Independence  day bless us all.

Courtesy of Flickr

--Roger Lovette /  rogerlovette.blogspot.com