Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016

  "Remembering the stable where for once in our lives 

     everything became a you and nothing was an it."
                                    --W.H. Auden

Merry Christmas


Roger Lovette

Friday, December 23, 2016

No Room in the Inn--Still? Maybe Syria Doesn't Count.

Photo courtesy of Freedom House / flickr

Thomas Mann said of great literature: “It is—it always—however much we try to say it was.” And this is why we open the old book and read the Christmas story. It is not only about “once upon a time…” it is about the here and the now.

The once upon a time tells about a country where a mad king ruled. Herod was terrible. On the first Christmas—blood ran through the streets and babies were killed by the thousands. Israel was invaded by Romans who kept the cursed Jews under their thumb. It was a world of inequity and injustice. A world where crucifixions were the rule of the day. In many ways it was a terrible time to live. And in that darkness there came a tiny light. It seemed so small and inconsequential that unless your were careful you would miss the miracle. Most did. But a pregnant girl-woman and her husband trudged along a road to pay taxes. The young woman was in her last stages of pregnancy. And the trip must have been hard. A donkey trudging along on a rocky, rocky road. When they got to Bethlehem the young husband tried too find a place to stay, The book says simply that they were told, probably more than once: There was no room in the inn. But someone provided a drafty barn where animals stood in steaming dung. And there is the most mundane of places the word became flesh and would dwell among his people. 

And now. In almost that same country—shepherds do not keep their flocks by night. Bombs fall. Some citizens have known nothing but war and death and terror their whole lives. Like that other Christmas story blood ran through the streets. Thousands have been killed. Millions have fled for their very lives. How many have gotten on those rocky boats and how many have perished just looking for safety. Their homes have been bombed. Their loved ones killed. We call them refugees. Immigrants. They have no place to go except some tent cities—and town after town—and country after country shake their heads and say: No room. The greatest country in the world is full of inn keepers that make sure there is no room here.

We Christians will read the old story this Christmas time. We shall think of Herod and the kings that fled from his clutches and the young couple just looking for a place of safety and comfort. The drafty barn provided little comfort. And days later the couple wrapped up their new born and fled for their lives too. Will we Christians see the “is-ness” of this story. Will we even see the faces of those fleeing for their lives. Will we see the tent cities and the fear and longing and the heartbreak and the grief.

There is little room in our land for these people. Our new king promises to keep the doors shut and all us citizens safe. But what of all those others? What does that old story say to us today. When the history of our churches are written—when the history of our country is written—what will they say about us.

We cannot turn aside and forget our brothers and sisters that suffer in so many place. The old story of no room in the inn does not have to be our story too. The light is supposed to shine in the darkness and the darkness is not supposed to put it out.

photo courtesy of Freedom House / flickr

--Roger Lovette/

Christmas Funnies--Everybody Needs a Laugh

Photo by Randy and Diana Wright (their cat)

Need a laugh this Christmas? Probably. Every year my good Doctor-friends the Andy-Regina Harrell's  send a list of the questions they have had to answer from their kids in 2016. They send a list about every Christmas--and they are great. Thanks to the parents--but especially the questioners: Andrew (11), Carolyn (9) and Parker (4). Thanks Harrell's for who you are and what you have shared this year.  Questions:

What animal only has eyes and nose?
Why do Christmas cards have the ages of the children but not the ages of the dads and moms?
Can you cook what you did for dinner last night again real soon, only make a lot more of it?
 Why do they sing YMCA at weddings?
Mommy, when you were born had cake, presents, and wrapping paper been invented yet?
Why don't they make pencil erasers bigger?
Do babies come out when it is their birthday?
 Do ducks have to take a bath?
What does the T in T-shirt stand for? Is it top?
Did you know I don't like naps because they take too long and there is nothing to do but sleep?
Which one kills more people, alcohol or tobacco?
Do angels have to go to the bathroom?
Did you know the days are short because all you do is eat breakfast, eat lunch, eat supper, and then put on your pajamas? What are we having for lunch?
Why do fingernails turn white at the end?
What do the traffic lights do at night while everyone is sleeping?
So if you can't rent a car until you are 25, is that why Daddy rents our cars since he is WAY over 25?
Did you know I can color with a sharpie marker and not sharp myself?

photo by Ben Askins / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Christmas Story Worth Reading

photo by Charlotte Tai / flickr

(Liz Smith told me her favorite Christmas story years ago. I had her funeral January 2014. Artist, teacher, on the right side of all the issues that matter--as Mary Oliver said about her own life: "I don't want to be someone who just visited this world." Liz Smith was not a visitor.)

When Liz lived in Columbia, South Carolina her Sunday School class decided to do something for the prisoners at the Woman’s Prison outside the city. Liz twisted arms and got her Sunday School Class to buy, wrap and label all the presents according to prison regulations. Her thought was to deposit them to the prison authorities and be on her way. But the Warden suggested that she stay a few minutes and meet some of the prisoners. The gifts would be given to those who received no mail or presents. She said after she was searched the huge iron doors creaked open and found herself in the locked prison gate.

Inside one of the first people she gave a gift to was a black woman named Geneva. The woman asked Liz to be her invited guest at the annual Christmas pageant that would be held the next week. Liz didn’t want to go. She was too busy. Her shopping wasn’t done and she had a drop-in at her house. But she kept looking at Geneva who had nobody else. So she agreed to go against her better judgment.

On the Sunday before Christmas Liz found herself in a long line of cars that turned into the prison gates. After she showed her pass, searched again she was led to a small auditorium. She looked around at the strangest assortment of people. Old, winkled family members. Middle age folk. Some very young—and a few crying babies. They were dressed in fur coats and some in overalls. Black and white. Rich and poor. 

On the stage there was a makeshift cardboard stable decorated with pine boughs. In the center was a manger made from an orange crate nailed to wooden legs.

Suddenly a large black lady in a long white robe and a big red bow came through the side door and sat down at the piano. Everything became quiet as she began to play “Away in a Manger” with a real gospel beat. A host of black and white angels dressed in white sheets and make-shift wings took their places behind the manger. They began whispering and suddenly one of them went running back stage. Later Liz learned that they had forgotten the baby Jesus and some angel went to the rescue. 

Mary and Joseph came on stage and positioned themselves. And Liz said she was speechless when Mary came out. She looked so much like her own blonde daughter. And she remembered jMary was serving time as an accessory to the murder of a highway patrolman. Joseph, with a fake beard came out—all the characters were female.

Suddenly the strains of “While Shepherds  Watched their flocks by Night” began and down the aisle were white-sheeted shepherds with shepherd’s crooks. They knelt by the manger.

As she heard the sound of turning pages from the piano Liz wondered what would come next . As “We Three King of Orient Are” was banged out, there marched down the aisle bearing perfume bottles and a small jewelry box the kings. Some child yelled, “There’s Mama!” In the middle of the kings proud Geneva marched down the aisle. When she saw Liz she smiled and waved as she found her place.

After they had presented their gifts and the angels sang lustily, “Joy to the World” the formal part of the pageant was over and the audience clapped and clapped. Everybody stood up as “Silent Night” started. They all began to sing. By the second verse, Liz said, the singing was muted. Everyone was crying. Old men trying to hold back the tears, Wiping her eyes the pianist played on and on. 

Liz asked me, “Do you know why we were all crying? Everybody there.  Prisoners and matrons, invited guests and family members.” She said, “I think I know why they were crying.” And in the long Southern drawl she answered her own question: “And in the region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them…and the angel said, “Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.” “I think,” Liz said, “that’s why we were all crying.” 

(I sat on the bed with Liz just before she died. She had been sick for weeks and had been in and out off the hospital. 89 years old--and shared as could be. She said that day: "I've got to get out of this bed and write some thank-you notes." Liz--this is one of your many thank-you notes you gave us all.)

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Go to Church Christmas?

 Around the world there will be a great pause this week-end. For most of us—the fortunate—work will cease and Christmas Eve we will don our finery, collect our coats and settle down in a church pew somewhere. Down the row beside us almost all the family is here. Our children, grandchildren and some of their friends. Great pride swells. Where does that lump in the throat come from?

The room darkens. Ushers light the long tapers up and down the aisles. An evergreen tree with its tiny white lights and silver symbols almost touches the ceiling. We are surrounded by Christmas. The crowd begins to settle down. 

From somewhere in the back we hear the mournful singing: “Come O Come Immanuel…” A family comes forward and lights not four, but five candles in the Advent wreath. And we stand on the edge of yet another Christmas.

We begin to do what we have always done. We sing the carols we know by heart. We bow our heads in silence as someone prays. A robed minister reads the old words: “The light shines in the darkness…”

We hope it is true. Across the aisle sits Helen who lost her only  son in a plane crash while her husband slips away with Alzheimers. On the back row John fidgets. He lost his wife on a vacation this past summer. Divorced Mary sits close to her two children. Looking around there are rows and rows of grey-hairs. But also squirming children people in wheel-chairs and a handful of young couples—oblivious to it all.  

We have come from around the corner and far away to sit in this semi-dark place. One and all come not just because it is tradition and Mama said we will come. We come not just to hear the music and see the festivity or endure the sermon. Whether we know it or not almost all of us come for something deeper.

Hoping after a long hard year and a world in disarray—that the promised light that shines in the darkness—will touch us and all those down our row and everyone. Hoping that beyond the bills and aches and dull-grey days that light will cover our darkness. We sing again: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Dear God make it so.

So much of our world convulses. There are millions hungry and as homeless as that couple that once trudged toward Bethlehem. And yet on this not-so-silent-night we hope that beyond our fears that the promised light will shine in our darkness and the darkness everywhere. Maybe, despite it all, maybe this is why we come. 

--Roger Lovette / 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Happy Birthday--Gayle

I love that quote that says: "She was the brightest thing in the store window." Still is. And today is her birthday. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have dragged her around to a whole lot of places and she has always been herself and always had a mind of her own. While I was out somewhere trying supposedly to win souls--she was back home trying to raise two kids, teach 40 piano students and get ready for supper. How did she do it? Who knows. She put up with a lot from her Preacher husband and strange churches sometimes and pushy members that wanted her to jump through their hoops. She never did. She kept her integrity and still does. Never prayed in public, never taught a Sunday School class--but is the best Christian I know. 

Roberta Flack has this wonderful song, "The first time I ever saw your face..." And if I could carry a tune I would strike up that song right now. From that first time...I was struck by lightning. Still am. I wish her mucho happiness not only for today but for all the days that follow.

 --Roger Lovette /

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent: The Familiar

Why do we keep coming here?
Year after year.
It's kind of crazy--really.
Staggering down the steps with the heavy boxes.
Dragging out the old tattered Christmas tree. 
Wondering if lights work 
and where are those special ornaments
we seem to have lost.
Standing on ladders, reaching high
to hang the green-colored wreaths.
Sending cards--with stamps as high as they are.
Thinking of menus 
and table settings 
and who will be here.
Moving all the stuff off the mantle--
to stretch lights, of all things 
and garland 
and greenery.

Why do we keep coming here?
Thinking again of mangers
and stars 
and shepherds
and over-filled rooms.
We've been here so often
we know it all by heart.
We move past bills 
and TV terrors
and political disappointments
and sad obituary notices
and aching backs
To see what folk have always seen--
Not much, really. 
Just hay 
and starlight
and common names 
like Mary and Joseph
and of all things
a baby. 
Just a baby.
  --Roger Lovette

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Advent: The Hope

101 year old woman lights the Advent Wreath, 2014
photo by John Donaghy / flickr

One of my mentors, Carlyle Marney used to say, "When I get in trouble I always turn to the Psalter." Good advice for any of use pilgrims. During Advent this year the Common Book of Prayer has helped me once more. Under the Second Sunday in Advent the reading from the Psalms is Psalm 38.

I started reading and I almost stopped. This election has hit me hard. I have some friends that are very sick. Being 81 years old is not exactly a tea party. And Psalm 38 is a gloomy passage: "There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin."(via. 3) The writer continues: "For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me." (vs.4) Maybe the old writer just got carried away--Understatement. "My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes--it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off." (vs. 10-11) I waded through fourteen verses like this.

And then--liked a tiny light--maybe the two tiny lights of Advent--began with the fifteenth verse of this Psalm. "But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer." And maybe that's what Advent and faith are all about.

This Bible is realistic. More than the National Enquirer purports to be. The book deals powerfully with the hills and the valleys of our lives and the writers do not leave out the crooked places or the sins or the exiles or the terrible disappointments. But thank God the book does not stop there. Neither does faith. Neither does Advent. And neither does hope. Buechner says that if Paul were writing today he would change that Corinthians chapter. He would say today: Faith, Hope, Love--but the greatest of these is Hope.

I like the way Pamela Hawkins puts it: "Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light too make their way to us, even when we still stand in cold darkness; but hope also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being. With hope, closely held interior thoughts are gently turned outward; deep desires, perhaps long hidden in secret corners of our heart, might be lifted up to the light."

All this reminds me of the words I heard Alex Haley say one night when he talked about his book, Roots. He said when he was a little boy in Henning, Tennessee he would get so depressed. And one day he had his head down on the kitchen table sobbing. He told that his Grandmother came over to him, put her arm around his shoulders and said, "Alex, we don't know when Jesus will come, but he will always come on time."

And that Grandmother was right. Alex Haley was a great writer. His book, Roots won a Pulitzer Prize, was translated into 37 languages. 130 million people watched the TV series that was made from his book. He helped African Americans get in touch with the richness of their history.

What does this have do with Advent and the Psalm I mentioned? Everything. Life is hard. This election makes many of us lose heart. Often we despair. Yet we still light candles and whisper prayers. And deep in our hearts, despite it all we really do believe that Jesus will always come on time.  

photo by fabfotofx / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent Meditation: The Waiting

photo by brett jordan / flickr
Looking back I think one of the hardest parts was the waiting. Waiting for the baby. Well, that's the Daddy-to-be talking. Maybe for the Mama-to-be the hardest part was the nauseating morning sickness. The smell of even the precious coffee you could not take. Maybe the welling in your stomach. The soreness in your breasts. What does a Daddy-to-be really know?

Boy or girl--then we did not know. Would everything be all right--then we did not know. But the waiting--the incessant waiting. Women seem to do the waiting better. The Daddies-to-be well, not so. Waiting was not in our job description.

From that old promise that went all the way back to who was it? Abraham. "I will make you a great nation..." Or old Moses, with thinning hair standing on the edge of what-he-could-only-see. Over there--over there--it would happen. Or maybe King David or his pathetic son Solomon. They too waited. And we could add dear old Isaiah with his misty-eyed promise: "Comfort ye...comfort ye...every valley shall be exalted and every hill be made low." And so they waited before the Exile they feared and the Exile they endured--and the heart-breaking return to a crumbling land. Yet they waited.

And Mary waited. And Elizabeth. And poor, wondering Joseph. And mad kings that thought the waiting was over. Well, not quite. And the Shepherds with their less-than-minimum-wage--and the three kings with their stocks and bonds. They waited too.

And then when the waiting was over--how strange it ended. In a cow stable with a hole in the roof and steaming dung--everywhere. And dirt-poor and with no-room-in-the-inn--he came. The tiny fingers and little toes. Reaching for his mother's breast. No power there. Only a wisp of a child that might just end up like all the others. Probably never a King with stocks and bonds. Hopefully not a Shepherd with no minimum wage. Maybelike his father a carpenter. 

And so Mary and Joseph waited and the book is silent during all those waiting-growing-up years. And then one day he, like us, struggled with his own demons. He, like us ate and ached and longed--and lusted? Surely not. He wasn't anything like he was supposed to be--what valleys and hills would be exalted--and what crooked paths would be made straight?

He toppled no kings. He led no revolutions. He did not cure all the diseases. He did not make everything great. And it all ended--it seemed on a hill far away when his Mother wept and wondered was this what all the waiting brought?

We still wonder--don't we. We have hung our wreaths and put up the Christmas tree and hauled all the dusty ornaments from the attic. We've looked over the Christmas card list. And, of course, the women folk wonder about the food and the beds and a less-cluttered house.

And yet--as gloomy as this Christmas seems to so many of us--we still wait. For the wolf to lie down with the lamb and the leopard to lie down with the kid. We wait for everyone to sit under his own fig tree and study war no more. We wait for peace on earth and goodwill to all. All? All. We wait.

And so once again like all those through the ages--we wait. He will not come as we expected. He will do not do our bidding. He will, like always, be at the heart of it all--but in  his own way. Quiet. Silent. Whispering...whispering "I will be with you."

And one day the waiting is over. And the baby comes. And all is so different than we imagined. But better--far, far better than anything we could even dream in the waiting.

photo by GP Witteveen/ flickr

--Roger Lovette /