Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Preacher Looks Back

photo by David Clow / flickr


If you turn to the end of the book of Deuteronomy you encounter some of the most moving scenes in the entire Bible. God instructs old Moses who was in Moab to go to Mount Nebo. And there old Moses after forty years of wandering in the wilderness looking for the promised land—he stood on that mountain and looked down at the Jordan River. On the other side was the land he and his people had been promised. But Moses’ time was up. He would never set foot on the new land. And so we are given Moses’ final address to his people. What would he say, there at the end? Those last chapters of Deuteronomy are a series of benedictions. after all he has been through—slavery, Egypt, Red Sea, the wilderness years he still goes a thanks to God. This theme of praise runs through all those last chapters of saying goodbye.
Now I am not Moses and I now quite a hundred years old——though some of you might have wondered. But I thought what I might do on my 82nd birthday today is to look back down my own ministerial road. I have served six churches and after retirement, if you call it that I have served eight other churches as interim pastor. And through the years I have picked up here and there some things I think I have learned along the way. Most of these came through experience and some of them came only when God hit me over the head with a two by four. Let me tell you some of the things I think I have learned along the way.

photo by C.P. Lesley
The first thing I have learned is that God is bigger than I ever imagined. God used to be a Baptist--a Southern Baptist--not the American kind. God was white and male, of course. We have drawn that picture from our own culture. We all do that. The Almighty was a Democrat in the forties--and looked a lot like FDR.  But in the eighties for many folk God was a Republican and looked very much like Ronald Reagan. I don’t know who God looks like today. But I discovered, much to my amazement, that somewhere along the way God got bigger. 

I have been quoting John 3.16 all my life. But it was a long time into adulthood until I realized that the book says, the book says: For God so loved the world. The Greek means kosmos--everything. Not just the Church. Not any particular denomination. Not just the liberals or conservatives. God so loved the world that the Lord God gave all of us Jesus. And all my life has been spent trying to get my arms around the length and the breadth and the height and the depth of this love of God that we see in the heart of Jesus. And if sometimes I grow very weary of anybody who tries to exclude and put a fence around God. Trying to  keep God in their little old private back pasture with a bell around his neck. It won't work. Because along the way I have met a bigger God than I ever, ever knew. Nobody can keep this God penned up. God is Maker of heaven and earth. We are all included and nobody is left out. God so loved this world. 

The second thing I have learned the hard way is that there is not but one Jesus. I tell it to people caught in the perfectionist trap who come and sit in the counseling room. Some people along the way have been just furious when they discovered that I am not perfect. Sometimes they say: He got angry. He missed me when I was in the hospital. He's not fulfilling my expectations. I tried for years to jump through those impossible hoops before I finally realized it was just not possible. Sometimes they would say: The church let me down. The church broke my heart. Or how can you stand to be Baptist? Have you looked at the Episcopalians or the Presbyterians or the Methodists or even the Disciples--and to these I could add a whole long list of adjectives that are just adjectives. Never nouns. We're mostly the same.  

People have told me we need to get back to the early church. Early Church? Have you ever read about Corinth or Galatia or Philippi or Laodicea or Pergamum or just about anywhere. The early church is just like the church today. And Reinhold Niebuhr taught us that in our time there is sometimes more of the culture in this thing we call church than Jesus. We look more like the US of A than we do the Man from Nazareth.  Paul taught us we always have the treasure in earthen vessels. Granted sometimes the vessel is a little too earthen--but there is not but one Jesus. 

Don't be too hard on yourself. Perfection is overrated. Don't be too hard on your Pastor or the church. Or even the little girl who takes your order at the restaurant after this service. There is not but one Jesus and we are not God. We need to be kind to one another. 

Which leads me to the third thing that grows out of this. The demonic is underrated. I
photo by Lawrence OP / flickr
used to think when you got saved the battle was over. Little did I know that the battle was just beginning. Paul talks about the powers and principalities or darkness and how we all have to battle them all our lives. Carl Jung first taught me that  we all have a shadow side. Karl Menninger underlined it in his book, Man Against Himself. There is an enemy within our lines that, let go would destroy your life, my life, your marriage, my marriage, your primary relationship, Any good church could be destroyed.

Back to the reality check Paul gave us. We have the treasure in earthen vessels.  A friend of mine used to say that almost every church he knew had a death wish. Squeeze the treasure too tight and you kill it. Hold it too loose and it slips away and means little or nothing. I have been in some church fights along the way and when the genie gets out of the bottle everything is hurt and crippled and nobody wins. Everybody loses. Everybody. 

In Deuteronomy 30.19 Moses is preparing them for his leave-taking and he says: "I have set before you life and death, choose life that you and your descendants may live..." Keep your eyes open. We all have a shadow side, which can destroy us all. And the antidote is found after Moses said choose life or death. He says: "Love the Lord your God, obey his voice, cleave to him..." Don't take the demonic for granted. It is a serious threat to us all.

photo by no-frills / flickr
The fourth thing that still overwhelms me to this day I have had to learn over and over again. The greatest of these is grace. Paul says: "For by grace you are saved through faith...it is a gift of God lest anyone should boast." I have sat in counseling rooms or left hospital rooms or sometimes funeral homes shaking my head. There is no way, no way they can make it. Life is just too mixed up, too hard, there is no way. And I visit back in the church I used to serve and they tell me they haven't had a drink in eight years. They tell me after the divorce they wandered around but life came back. After cancers or amputations or so many, many hard things like losing jobs or status or whatever--I go back and they're singing in the choir. The kids are doing well. It's been five years since the doctor released me, they say. And all of this is grace. Just raining down on us in the most unlikely of times and in the neediest of moments. The greatest of these really is grace.

Do you doubt it? Look at your own life. After that breast surgery—grace. After that divorce—grace. After that job you lost—grace. After the death of somebody you loved more than life itself—grace. After embarrassment and shame when they found out—grace. After the depression you thought would never end—grace. Standing there looking in the mirror the lines, the years—yoiu mutter: Where did it all go? Grace even then. 

No wonder the favorite hymn around the world is Amazing Grace. With a lump in our throats we sing it, “Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come…” No wonder we call this grace amazing. It leads us all the way home.

photo by Billie / flickr
And this grace talk leads me right into the next thing I have learned. Life is like breath--if you save it, you lose it. And what this means about grace is that we receivers of grace--which is everyone of us--we have this enormous responsibility. As we have been graced--we must now grace someone else. 

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians says: You have been comforted in your afflictions so that you will comfort another in their afflictions. This is not a peripheral thing. This is the heart of our faith. And any praise that stays inside the house, any doxology that only talks about how blessed we are—is a partial gospel. For worship that does not, like Isaiah touches us and asks: “Will you go? Will you go?” is not gospel at all. Watch the pronouns. “I”. “I”. “I.” For any gospel that does not open us up to a larger world is not enough. The gospel of Jesus Christ is self-less. “Not I…" Paul said, " but Christ liveth in me.” The pronouns turn us outward to them.

This is really why we pass these offering plates week after week. We know that life really is like breath—and if we save it, we lose it. On our better days we don't spend everything on ourselves. We save our lives when we lose our lives. Remember the graces that have come to you--and give something back.

photo by ally213 / flickr
The next thing I have learned: Doxology is the best song to sing--and the hardest. Many times I have caught myself singing: "Ain't it Awful." Or "Somewhere over the Rainbow. .." or "Yesterday" which always looks better when it is behind you. 

This Benediction of Moses begins with praise  ends with praise. In the whole last address the theme of: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" runs through it all. The Psalms which was the first hymnbook of the Jews and the Christians was a book of Praise.

I don't know how much energy I have wasted through the years on fretting and stewing and worrying. It put blinders on my eyes. I couldn't see beyond my nose. Just groveling in self-pity: “Me…me…me.” And out there the birds were singing and the crickets were chirping and life was good and grace came and came and came despite my muttering. And I am trying--hard as it is--to sing the Doxology. The folk that sing it and live it are the people I want to be around. The grateful. That's the best Christian witness I know. Say grace my friends, not only before the meal--when you don't forget it or are not too tired. Say grace when you wake up, when you look across at the one beside you, when you open your eyes to another day and another chance. When you stretch and move and do whatever it is you do. Sing your Doxology over it all. I have found it the hardest song to sing--and the best.

I love the story of the little boy that was learning to mow lawns. He could hardly wait for the grass to come up in the springtime. It would be the first time to cut the lawn all by himself. And so Spring came and he did a wonderful job in his yard. And then he stood by his neighbor’s fence and looked over at his tall grass that needed cutting. The neighbor saw him and said, “Would you like to mow my lawn?” The little boy nodded. “Oh yes.” And then man said, “How about three dollars.” And the little boy turned and walked away with his head down. The man couldn’t understand. “What’s wrong?” And the little boy said, “Mister, I ain't got but two dollars to give you.”

Looking back I feel like I should have been paying the church for the high privilege of being able to do what I do. Unlike Moses on Mount Nebo I hope I have whole lot of living yet to do. But I have learned a powerful thing along the way. Paul said it to his beloved friends at Philippi. And if I had a Benediction, like Moses, this would be it. “I am sure that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Thanks be to God!

(This was my 82nd birthday and I was trying to find something that might be appropriate for this occasion. So I preached this sermon at the Mount Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC.)




--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I'm Back--Sorta

I've been gone for thirteen days to Ireland. Great trip with Brendan Vacations. Bus trip with 48 others. I will keep this travelogue short. Some parishioner snarled, "Don't talk about your trips. Nobody cares--and you'll just bore them or make them envious." Another similar funny: Pulpit Search Committee said, "We want a Pastor whose wife does not play the piano...who has never studied Greek...and has not been to  the Holy Land."

But it was refreshing to get away from the Trump Mobile even though it still seeped into TV over there. People I met in Ireland shook their heads and wonder about our President.

Getting back it looked like the chaos just continues and piles up.

Funny thing about Ireland. The whole country is besotted in holy places, shrines and churches. And yet--so very few people go to church at all. I wonder often if those that continue to wed the political game with Jesus in our country are not paving the way for a church with empty pews and an even more muted voice in society. Will we have courage to stand with Immigrants, with Transgenders, with public schools, with the poor, speak about gun violence and those millions still without health care? Will we raise our voices when ethics are thrown out the window and lies pile up on top of lies.

As theory told me about that million in Ireland that died in the Potato famine from
     photo by Laura Rosep/ flickr

1845-1852. I couldn't help but think of all those lucky ones who braved more than we will ever know too cross the choppy waters in tiny boats to get to this country, Remember our story?  The Irish were despised when they arrived--many worried about them taking our jobs and were just frightened of these foreigners with strange accents.


Jesus is more than a catchy slogan and certainly more than a photo shoot.




                            I keep thinking about that old poem by T.S. Eliot:

                                 "Remember the faith that took men from home 
                                  At the call of a wandering preacher.
                                 Our age is an age of moderate virtue
                                 And of moderate vice
                                 When men will not lay down the Cross
                                 Because they will never assume it.
                                 Yet nothing is impossible, nothing,
                                 To men of faith and conviction.
                                 Let us therefore make perfect our will. 
                                 O God, help us."
                                    --T.S. Eliot, found in "Choruses from 'The Rock'" 

--Roger Lovette/ rogerlovette.blogspot.com




Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With You--Really?


photo by Kate Mereand-Sinka / flickr


I have a friend who lost his wife this past week. I have been thinking about him a lot. I have whispered some prayers for him and his family. What does this do? I do not know. Prayer is a mystery.

I do know that when I had a friend who lost his little daughter years ago I wrote him a note. I have no idea what I said—but weeks later he wrote me back saying, “Thank you for what you did not say.” Maybe this friend neck-deep in grief did not need the usual cliches. Maybe none of us do. In our well-meaning anxiety to help—we usually say too much. 

There is a rule in writing stories and such. It goes like this: “Show...don’t tell.” Maybe our grieving friends and neighbors do not need any words right now. And yet we do need to express—to show—our love and concern. Show? Hug. Pray. Take a casserole months later. They probably get too much food when their loved one first dies. They tell me often. “What in the world am I going to do with all this food in the refrigerator and freezer. There’s only me.” 

A  common lament I hear in my Grief groups is that people surround you when you lose someone you love. The house is crowded with many folk. But—very soon the funeral is over, people begin to disperse. And weeks, months later you sit in the house by yourself. Maybe this is the best time to show. These grievers are hungry for somebody to drop by. 

Write a note months later also. By that time the cards and condolences will have slowed down to a trickle or stopped.  If you knew the person well that died—send this friend a favorite memory you have of them. Let them know that everyone grieves differently. You might also reassure them that what they are feeling is natural and part of the grief journey. There is no fixed time table for when you lose someone. All of us are different. And men and women and children, too all grieve differently. 

Show. Take them to lunch. Give them plenty of room to move around. Don’t make too many demands. “We have not seen you in church lately.” 

I wish I could strike: “Our thought and prayers are with you…” Everyone says it so glibly when tragedy happens.  And deep in our hearts we know that our thoughts or our prayers won’t be around very long. We turn the TV on. We watch the ball game. We are horrified with what is happening (or not happening) in Washington. We worry about our check book or our too-tight trousers. No. Let’s be honest Of course we cannot say: “Our thoughts and prayers won’t be with you…” that’s cruel. Let’s just quit saying what really is not true. And if, months from now—or on some painful anniversary or birthday or other holiday—we reach out and do what we can—now that is helpful and healing. 

Right now we have a great opportunity to move beyond the thoughts and prayers. Texas...Florida...South Carolina...Puerto Rico...Mexico. Show. Volunteer. Send a check. Write your Congressman and make sure those in Washington continue to respond. Beatt he drums at church. Put real muscled on those thoughts and prayers. 

Of course we can pray if we really mean it. The energy of God really is released in ways do not understand at this time and in other times too.  We lift up him or her or them to the care of the Father and Mother too. And quiet and unseen like the wind Jesus talked about—somehow those who lose someone are carried along in ways we do not know or understand.

But you’re smart. You can figure out how to show and not just talk. For one day we shall all walk this lonesome journey. And we will need showing, too and not as much talk.


I love the little poem that Mary Oliver has left us:

                                                    “Someone I loved once gave me
                                                     a box full of darkness.  

                                                     It took me years to understand 
                                                     that this, too, was gift."

                                            

photo by Wayne / flickr



--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com



Saturday, September 23, 2017

I Want You to Meet My New Hero: Beth Reynolds

Beth in Baltimore after her surgery.


Every once in a while you meet someone that makes you believe in the goodness of God all over again. Let me introduce you to Beth Reynolds, my neighbor and my friend. It was months after I met her that I began to learn about her journey.

We sat on her porch one September morning. Surrounded by her flowers and a multitude of plants—she opened up her heart and shared with me her long and circuitous story.

Her real trouble began about nine and a half years ago. She was an Educator with a PHD. She had held a multitudes of positions through the years from teacher to Principal to Superintendent to Consultant.

 And suddenly it all turned sour. Every day at work things got worse. She agreed to help a professional friend in her district. That job change turned into a nightmare. In hindsight every day she found herself having to make decisions between the right thing and what her new supervisor demanded. The stress was enormous.

She began to experience physical problems. At first she said it felt like the blood was draining from her head. She experienced her first seizure six months after assuming her new position. She was taken to the Emergency room—where her heart rate had dropped to 40. The Cardiologist recommended a pacemaker immediately. 5 weeks later the symptoms returned. Still having seizures she saw a second Cardiologist who told her that the pacemaker was a missed diagnosis. She needed no pacemaker. But this Physician discovered that she did have a condition called near cariogenic syncope—which meant her brain was sending her heart the wrong signals. Another round of medications did not help--the seizures continued. Next a Cardiologist at Emory University also tried unsuccessfully to bring her seizures under control. 

As she dealt with work and seizures both her parents died in 2010. She changed jobs thinking perhaps this would help. The seizures continued increasing in strength and frequency.

In desperation she contacted Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2012. There she was told that she needed to see a Neurologist. She was diagnosed as having simple-partial adult epilepsy. The Specialists told her she was lucky. In her seizures she never had convulsions or lost consciousness. They prescribed another round of medications to bring the seizures under control. Nothing worked. Amazingly she continued to do productive work. 

Then in the winter of 2013-14 she had pneumonia six times and an Immunologist diagnosed a second problem: immune deficiency.  Here body was not producing enough antibodies to fight off infections. There is no cure for this condition but through immune system boosting drugs she began infusions first at her Doctor’s office  and then weekly at home.  As she battled the immune deficiency she continued to have eight or nine seizures a day.

On a trip back to John Hopkins the specialists determined that the frequency and the severity of her seizures were beginning to cause cognitive brain damage which terrified  her.  Major surgery was recommended if she was to stop additional brain damage. Tests discovered an area of her brain the size of a golf ball that was causing her seizures. She needed cranial surgery to remove or dissolve that area of the brain. 

When she agreed to the procedure at Hopkins she knew the risks were enormous. The operation could produce a stroke, her speech could be affected and her motor faculties could be impaired. So in June of 2017 she had what the physicians called laser ablation surgery. None of these risks came true. She came through the surgery and after recuperating for several weeks she returned home and to work. Then seizures now are much fewer but her short-term memory was affected and she developed little tremors. John Hopkins continues to monitor her to determine if these side effects she is experiencing are temporary. 

For nine and a half years she has been on an emotional and physical roller coaster.  I asked her what kept her going? Many people would have just given up in despair. She told me she had grown up in a Baptist Church and in the fourth grade she was baptized. This became the beginning of a journey that continues after all these years. “I have found,” she said, “all the complicated and scary changes I have been through have opened doors to a deeper faith.” Every morning Beth sits on her porch praying, reading her Bible, meditating and discovering a strength she never thought was possible.

I asked her what has helped her along the way. She said, “So many and so much.” Beth said the Bible talks about entertaining angels unawares and she has found those angels throughout her journey. Her current church and Pastor have been amazingly supportive. Her friends have helped immensely.  But she said, “I couldn’t have done this without my family—my husband Barry of 44 years and our three sons and five grandchildren. They have kept me going.”


As her professional career is winding down Beth has not stopped living. She serves on several committees, she is a member of her church’s choir and has found a new challenge is working in prisons throughout South Carolina. Beth goes into maximum security prisons all across the state and works with 15-16  inmates at a time. She uses her skills as a Educator to stretch the horizons of the prisoners. “It is amazing,” she says “ to see the changes in these men who will be in prison for the rest of their lives.”

One of the hardest things for any of us is to face are those times when our lives are wrenched out of our hands and we have no control. Beth has faced these enormous challenges for nine and a half years and continues to live hopefully and productively. 

Her courageous journey reminds me of a poem by Patrick Overton: 

“When we walk to the edge of all the light we have
and take a step into the darkness of the unknown,
we must believe that one of two things will happen—
There will be something solid for us to stand on,
Or, we will be taught how to fly.”
                          --from The Learning Tree


Beth has learned how to fly in the stormiest of weather. I left her porch that September morning knowing that I had a new hero. Her name is Beth Reynolds. 


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Evangelicals--More White...More Male...More Jesus?



I grew up in as Southern and as Baptist a church  as you could find. Deep in the heart of Georgia. My church was a mill church--where the folk there (except the Superintendent) were poor but with enough pride to keep our heads up. In the fifties of course we were white and if you had polled the congregation you would find that most, if not all had voted for Franklin Roosevelt because he had helped them in a time of great need.

But it was there I first heard the name Jesus. Sunday was one of the most important days in my week. We went to Sunday School and church. We went back in the Evening to something we called Training Union. And believe it or not we even had Sunday evening worship. Something good and whole and very fine happened to me somewhere in those growing-up years. I received a lot of affirmation in that church.When as a nine year old boy I walked down the aisle one Sunday night and said yes to the faith walk--I can still remember that evening. Like Martin Luther years and years ago said when he had a bad patch: "I have been baptized!"--my baptism took--even though back then I did not even know who Martin Luther was.

When I said I thought I had been called to the ministry they rejoiced with me, asked me to preach. That first sermon (like many others I have preached) was dreadful. But they cheered me on. And the Scriptures I learned and the hymns I sang--and the faces that surrounded me are all with me until this day. When I went away to college they sent me money. They gave me an  expensive book they thought might be helpful. And when I was ordained in that same church--they laid hands on me and whispered that they would pray for me. I have no doubt they meant it.

photo by Haldean Brown / flickr
But through the years--beginning I guess in High School and later--I began to change. I opened my eyes to the racial problem. I saw the hatred in many white folks eyes. I listened as our Maid Nancy told me about some her struggles. But she was my first counselor.

A little later I discovered my best friend was gay. I hardly knew what that meant but I shocked. Little did I know how very hard it must have been to stay locked in a closet away from his family, his church and friends like me. He never told anybody until much, much later. I received a call one night saying he had been murdered. So the scales of understanding something of gays began to slip off m eyes.

I met Catholics in High School that were as strong a believer as I thought I was. I had been warned by my Baptist brothers and sisters that they probably would go to hell. I learned this was not so. So slowly my world view expanded. Almost all my teachers along the way were female. Our grade school principal was female. Most of my teachers at church and school were female. And one of the teachers who listened to me in High School and pointed the way to  a bigger world was, of course, female.

I discovered that Jesus was not white or American or could even speak our language. The door
cracked wider. Until my evangelical heritage of white and male and Jesus just did not seem to go far enough.

I took poor people to the Jewish Doctor in Southside, Virginia. And he loved them and treated them with dignity--and took little money from them--he knew they had so little. Reckon, I wondered if he might just make it into the Kingdom--he was so kind and loving.

photo by Merl Green / flickr
But enough of me. When I look out at a evangelical world today I tremble. So many well-heeled Pastors--mostly white--and almost all male--have embraced Mr. Trump that I grow dizzy. When I read the religious credentials of so many of the Trump officials I an appalled at their attitudes. About health care for all, about their excusing the President's treatment of women, of ignoring his lies, and the poverty of his values--his despising of Muslims and Mexicans and almost all immigrants--how in God's name can they follow this man? I don't know where we are going as a country--but I do know that if Evangelicals continue to applaud the values of people like Trump--fewer and fewer will turn toward those churches whose primary loyalty is to a very narrow American flag. To dilute the gospel message is serious business.

photo by Weirs Coetser / flickr
Read Mr. Kiriakou's article on our CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. It is scary. Read The Nashville Statement where 150 Evangelical leaders have written-in pompous and hallowed terms how gay folk are not really first-class citizens--and surely not Christian. Read Nancy Sehested's fine response to such drivel. She calls her remarks: "Tired of Being Mean."You might want to read Nicholas Kristof's fine piece about Jesus dialogue with Rev. Baaker (he's still around) about Baaker's comments that if Trump is impeached it will start a civil war.

I love the church. I have served it for over fifty years. And across the country and world churches of all stripes--evangelical included-- lift burdens and reach out in love and provide hope and help to many.   I ache at all those who have given up on the church. Atheism is on the rise. It is understandable when we link the universal gospel to some political party or to some flag. We are bigger than this even though many have joined the bandwagon of culture over Christ.

A Church secretary of an inner city church went into the sanctuary on Monday to collect the bulletins and whatever else had been left behind. As she moved through the sanctuary she saw words scratched on the inside of a pew. Looking closely the word said: "I love this church." Some little child had left his or her mark for all to see. Even after all these years--I still try to scratch in those words wherever I go. But the words have nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats.


photo courtesy of KOMUnews / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com



Saturday, September 9, 2017

September 11th - Let us Think Hard and Long

photo from peoples world / flickr


If we are wise we will use this weekend to look at where we are and what kind of people we are. Nothing stays won anywhere. Yesterday's deals must bee updated. Not once. Again and again. The old Constitution must be read through the eyes and turbulence of today. Not yesterday. Maybe this is a testing time. The way we respond may just tell us who we really are after all.

I share with you a poem boy a Muslim man. His words make me think. His name is Tamman Adi. Listen closely to what he says:

Hitler’s song was “Jewish terrorism.” It created the Holocaust.
The media keeps singing “Islamic terrorism.”
“Terrorism experts” keep singing “Islamic fundamentalism.”
Do they want a holocaust against Muslims?
Hey journalists, you know better.


photo by Nathan Rupert / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Dreamers and September 11th

photo by jphillipobrien / flickr



The Sunday following the day the Towers fell I was preaching in Huntsville, Alabama. After the sermon an Usher came and said, “There’s a young man back here that would like to speak to you.” He was dark-skinned. Obviously from some middle-eastern country. The first thing he said was, “I hope you don’t hate all of us.” Strange way to open a conversation. And then he poured out his pain. He was from Iraq. He was a student far from home. A Muslim. He was so embarrassed at what had happened. He told me that in that long week since the towers fell some people had been ugly to him. Some said little but they just looked like they hated him. I still remember his words, “I hope you don’t hate all of us.” I tried to
photo by Marion Doss / flickr
assure him that I didn’t hate him and neither did many others. I said that we did not hold him responsible for had happened. I said we were glad he was in our country and hoped things would go well for him. He shook my hand and left. I have often wondered where he is today.

His haunting question comes back to me today. “I hope you don’t hate us.” The Dreamers are asking that same question sixteen years later. There are 800,000 young people working, studying and longing for a better life. They have won scholarships. Some have worked three jobs and are still in school. Their parents fled poverty and fear just to come to a place that was safe and they could start over. They came with little sacks and bundles. They brought with them two, five and seven year olds. They found work and a life of safety. Most of them have worked hard and are proud that their little ones grew up and have had chances they never had. 

DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—opened their doors to the future. After paying a hefty fee every two years, those qualified for this program could receive Social Security cards, get a driver’s license, pay taxes and be admitted to many of our colleges. There are over 7,000 South Carolina Dreamers. 

photo by Susan Melkisethian / flickr
In Greenville and all over this country they and their supporters have taken to the streets. Ana Tepio was brought here when she was six year’s old. She says, “I have never been outside of Greenville. I’ve studied here, I’ve graduated from here…I’ve been here forever. It’s the only place I know as home.” Her story could be duplicated many times. America is the only home many of them know. Many can only speak English. 

Dismantling this program will leave these 800,000 young people in limbo. Will we send them back to places they do not even know? Some have bought homes. As students they will just be forced to leave schools and suspend their educations. They will lose jobs, driver’s licenses and the opportunities that America provides for our young. 

The Attorney General of the United States, speaking for the President says this program will be dismantled if nothing is done in six months. He has joined with some State Attorney Generals saying that DACA is unconstitutional and that we must stand by the rule of law. Our South Carolina Attorney General has joined this group. This “rule of law” has a strange familiar ring. We heard these words in a time of slavery. We heard the same words when women did not have the right to vote. We heard the words as we struggled to desegregate our schools. We even heard the words when your football teams would only admit white players. Gays heard “the rule of law” as they came out of the shadows simply to be who they were. We cannot hide behind the rule of law when people’s dreams are dismantled. When the twin towers came down 327 people from foreign nations were killed that day. They were Americans too.

Our President has sent mixed signals on this important matter.  He has said he cannot support the Dreamer’s. He has also said that he loves them. Strange logic. Instead of making a firm decision to stand up for these 800,000—he has abdicated his responsibility and pushed this matter over to the Congress. These young people must wait six months to find out their status and their futures. This is a terrible place to be.

What kind of a people are we? Cruel. Mean-spirited. Rigid and heartless. I think not. On this day when we remember that terrible time when America was turned inside out—we came together as one people. Labels did not matter. We dug through the debris. We found bodies. We had funerals. We wept over and over. It hardly mattered what color we were or what we believed. 

This is the America I still long for. What would I tell the young man today who asked me years ago if we hated him. And what shall we tell all these frightened young people who look to us for an answer. Love is not what we say. Love is what we do. And hate is not an American value.


photo by Wally Gobetz / flickr


You might want to read Sarah Jaffe's great article about some of the  casualties of DACA. Two young people open their hearts. 

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com