Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Aliens and Immigrants--the Human Challenge

photo by alborzshawn

The Bible is pretty clear about our responsibility to the outsider.

"You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 23.9)

"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19. 33-34)

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some are entertaining angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13.2)

"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25. 40)

When we deal with the immigration problem we need too remember not only the Biblical demand but also the human dimension of this enormous problem. If you listen to the stories of those affected it takes on a whole new light. The New York Times' correspondent, Monica Davey has written a moving piece about a man in West Frankfort, Illinois. In this coal-mining town that voted heavily for Mr. Trump, Juan Carlo Hernandez Pacheco has won most of the hearts in that town. He opened a restaurant years ago. And the townspeople love him. He has been held for deportation despite the letters and phone calls from many of the citizens. He will have to leave behind not only a community that loves him but a wife and three children. Read the story and weep. This story could be repeated many times across this country.

photo by David Woo / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

My Granddaughter's Battle With Anorexia

(I want to share this story about my Granddaughter with her permission. She struggled mightily with Anorexia and she tells her story on her blog. Brave girl to open up her heart and let us in. Hey--we need to give her a standing ovation. She is a Junior studying Nursing at Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, SC.)

I want to share my story with you, although it is not easy. I was a Junior in high school. I was obsessed with track, and loved the idea of getting faster to receive a college scholarship. I was seeing a therapist for family reasons, and we often got on the topic of track. He once told me that if I ate better I would become even faster than I already was. Keep in mind, I was never even the slightest overweight my entire life. In fact, I had chicken legs. I would get told to "eat a burger" at least once a day. So, I did not go on this diet to become thinner, I simply went on it to become "faster." I began to keep a journal of everything I ate. For example, I had written down "Goldfish" as my afternoon snack. I got told that that needed to stop, and I would not become faster that way. I was a 16-17 year old girl, so I thought eating Goldfish as a snack was okay? Well apparently not. I instantly changed my diet.

My diet was fine at first. I did not restrict myself of much. I just ate different things. Not knowing that I had an addictive personality, this got out of control pretty quickly. I never cared about my weight, or my body image; but once I started to lose some weight, and look more "lean" and "athletic", I became addicted to it. My senior year of high school was coming up and my only goal was to get a track scholarship. I would drive an hour away 3 days a week to train with a very special coach I had. On the days I was not with her, I was in the gym, and running on my own. There was no such thing as a day off for me. My food habits remained the same as my senior year started. Every Friday, there would be a football game that I would ALWAYS attend because my boyfriend was on the team. When I think about that football season, I think about how much I would make myself run before each game. I would leave from school and go run for at least an hour. I would go home, get ready for the game, and on my way out the door I would heat up a frozen dinner that had 0% fat in it, otherwise I wouldn't eat it. I would be starving, but I loved it. I would stand all night long at those games thinking about how many calories I have burned.

I woke up one morning for a track meet. I put on my uniform for the first time in a year. It was very baggy on me, and I was shocked. I had no idea how much weight I was losing. I stepped on the scale and it read "102." I am about 5'7'', so 102 pounds is considered underweight, but it was not to the scary part yet. I ran great that day, and my coach told me to keep on doing whatever it is I had been doing, so I did. I had lost my period, my appetite, clothes that fit, my great personality, the ability to sleep, and the ability to be truly happy with life; but I continued to do this to myself because I just could not help it. I got down to about 95 pounds. I did not learn that until recently.

I would make my boyfriend cupcakes a lot, and I will never forget this one time when I took a bite of one. I took one itty bitty bite, and ED** just thought it was the end of the world. I made myself run three and a half miles in the pitch black dark after I took that bite. My mom and step-dad went driving around in the car looking for me, because they were worried. I refused to get in the car, because I knew I had to run this bite of a cupcake off.

I enrolled myself in weight-training with a bunch of football players. I had this second period during my day. One day we were lifting pretty heavily in there, and something happened. I never told anyone this happened, and I was even in-denial it happened to myself in all. I was doing hang cleans at a weight that was probably heavier than I was. I picked up the bar and began my clean. As I lifted it, everything went black. I could not see anything, and I could hear my heart beat VERY loud in my brain. I freaked out. I dropped the bar and just slowly went to the ground. I did not pass out; I was fully awake. I played it off like I was fine and my vision re-appeared eventually. But I knew I wasn't fine, at all. It scared me, but I never thought about it or talked about it to anyone, not even myself. I had ED telling me that was okay and I should be lifting more.

I would work out at the least three times a day, every single day. I had to. I woke up, went to school, I had second period weight-training to burn my breakfast off. Then I would eat my 11 almonds for a snack, and shortly after I would go into the bathroom and do jumping jacks, and ab workouts to burn off the 11 almonds. Then, I would eat my same lunch as I did everyday. I would burn that off at track practice. Sometimes after practice I would go to the gym and workout more. I was starving, I could barely stand up I was so tired, but yes, I would go to the gym. I could not go to sleep until I did 200 jumping jacks and an ab workout. I could not get into the shower until I did 100 jumping jacks.

The day I shouted "I need help", was the day I am thankful the most for. I came home from track practice, very hungry. I saw my mom cooking with butter...and woah. I started to panic. "Why are you cooking with butter? Butter is bad for you. I am not eating that." I threw a temper tantrum, except I was 18 years old, not 3. I kicked, screamed, and hyperventilated with tears rolling down my face. My mom and sister were watching, and I'm sure they did not know what to do. I hit the counter and yelled "I need help!!!" A few days later, I started therapy and I got told I was "Anorexic."

t was exhausting fighting with ED at all hours of the day. It was exhausting going to endless doctor appointments and therapy sessions. It all felt endless, and none of it was helping. It was just a cycle. I went in, they covered my eyes while they weighed me, I went back into the room, and they told me "well, you have gotten worse." They told me this every single time. I felt like I was getting better, except I was getting worse. I did not understand and I was very sick and very tired of being sick and tired. You wake up every morning with the same ED demanding you to constantly run yourself down.

I finally got that track scholarship I had been dreaming of. I got offers from a few schools, but I picked Limestone College, in Gaffney, South Carolina. Right before I got sent off to school, I was having some family issues, and I became worse than ever. My therapist/nutritionist told me to stop exercising and running. She cut me off from it, although I hardly listened. She told me that if I did not get better, then I could not run in college. I could not even go to college because it would not be safe. I instantly freaked out because I wanted to keep running more than anything. I was scared. I felt like without running and without ED, then I was nothing. I will never forget what my mom wished for on mothers day. I got home from work nagging about when I am going to work out, and she said to me "Libby, all I want for Mother's day is for you to not run today." And I tried it, I really did. We went to dinner somewhere, I did not eat anything there of course. When we got home I remember a rush of anxiety building up in me and ED screaming at me in my head. I had to go running, so I did. I am sure I let my mom down many many times, but she understood I couldn't control this.
Celebrating with friends at an
Eating Disorder walk in Clemson, SC

I went off to college more scared than ever. I did not want to go, but I forced myself. And I believe that if I did not go, then I don't know if I would be alive today. Getting sent off to college while struggling with ED at all hours of the day was HARD. No, hard is an understatement. It was nearly impossible. I knew nobody there, and I felt like I had no one to talk to that really understood what was wrong with me. My coach knew, and offered me people to talk to, but I shut that down. My boyfriend went to school about 30 minuets away, so I constantly would run to him (not literally, lol). If it wasn't for him, I don't know what I would've done. I am extremely thankful for that.

Things were slowly getting better. I started to make more friends that will last a lifetime. You would never find me in that cafeteria, but when you did, I would be eye balling what all my runner friends would eat. They would eat like crap! And I couldn't believe it, but they were still super fast, so I was confused. I thought that maybe I should try that too. I read many books, and wrote a lot during this time. It helped me. I saw a facility in Greenville, and they examined me. They took my heart rate, and it was in the 30s. If you know anything about anything, you know that's scary low. They took it twice to make sure it was accurate, and it was. They called my mom in a panic, making her panic. They told her to make me stop running, and that I needed to go into their facility and stay there for treatment. I immediately went against that. I'm sure I did need that, but I felt as if I did that, I would've gotten worse. My mom listened to me, and trusted me with what I said.

Things were getting better. I started eating things I would have never eaten. I did go through another obstacle when I began getting better. I would eat right before bed. Things like Pop-tarts, or animal crackers. If I ate those before bed, I would starve myself the next day, and it just became a cycle. I was seeing a therapist in Spartanburg and she helped me through this part.

I have never felt more thankful for my support group, still to this day. My mom, dad, step-dad, sister, friends, boyfriend, coaches, doctors, etc. I could go on and on. I really had a big team rooting for me and it makes me happy to make them proud.

It eventually felt "gone." And it pretty much was. I had many distractions, although some of them were not "good" distractions. I blocked out ED for a long time with these distractions, and I lost myself during that process. I am now back on track, I love my life, and I am running well at a healthy weight. I attend USC Upstate now, and my major is Nursing, which I am very passionate about. I will be honest with you though; I still hear ED every single day. His evil demanding voice is not gone, and a part of me thinks he will never be gone. I do still have a hard time looking in the mirror and saying something positive about myself. Part of the reason I am making this blog is to help myself and remind myself how far I have come, and to not go back to the life that almost killed me; oh, and this blog will really piss off my buddy ED, so that is a plus too. 

**eating disorder

(Want to communicate with Libby? Her email address is: Jennettelibby3@gmail.com)

Libby, her Mama Leslie, her sister Natalie
her Grandmother Gayle

Want to know more about this problem you might want to visit the web site: 

Jennie Schaefer tells her story about her own journey with Anorexia in her books, Life Without End and goodbye ed, hello me.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Installing Jennifer as Pastor in a Baptist Church

This occasion reminds me a funny story. A little boy sat with his mother during the ordination of his Father to the gospel ministry. He kept watching. Watching.  He had never seen so many people in that church march to the front and laid hands on his Daddy's head. He didn’t know what was going on. He asked his Mama, “What are they doing to Daddy?” And Mama said, “Why child, they’re taking his spine out.”

But what I want to say today is that you know Jennifer. She’s worked with you for a number of years. And I think that one of the reasons that you called her was because nobody has been able to take her spine out. A secret: some have tried. Some always try. But Jennifer—your new Reverend-Pastor has her spine intact. 

She has integrity. Beuchner says the task of the preacher first is to tell the truth. The spineless don’t do that. I worked with her for eight months—and not only is she a good preacher—but she tells the truth. And unlike a lot of us male reverends she knows how to speak that truth in love. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that God calls women to the ministry.

She loves this church. There is a church in Atlanta. Inner city. Working with a lot of homeless and poor people. One Monday the Secretary went into the Sanctuary to collect the Sunday bulletins. And she saw a mark on one of the pews. Somebody had scratched something on the inside of one of the pews. She looked close and in a child’s scrawl a little boy or girl had scratched into the pew: “I love this church.” Some boy or girl had received something so precious that they had to leave their offering for all to see. “I love this church.” Jennifer McClung Rygg has been loving this church as long as she has been here. She has scratched her mark in this place already. Even as Associate Pastor she visited many of you in your homes. She has taken the Bread and the Cup out to shut-ins—I know because I have seen her in action. She has held your hands before surgery--and she has hugged some of you when you lost the best person in your life. She has preached often—and she has done a fine, fine job. Maybe one of the best things that Courtney ever did was to take a chance on this woman as Associate. And maybe one of the best things you have done was to ignore the Association and to take a chance on this woman-minister. And you have not been disappointed.

During the eight months I was here she was in charge. And I said: “Yes Ma’m” over and over to this woman preacher. She worked tirelessly when you did not have a Senior Pastor. And she assumed a heavy load of doing all sorts of things here job description did not call for. But she did what had to be done—and she did it with dignity and grace and much hard work. No wonder you called her. You knew here was someone who not only had a spine—but knew how to use it.

But she is more than a Pastor. She is also a sister and a daughter and a friend and a wife and a Mama as well as Counselor and answerer of the telephone in the middle of the night. So remember, folks—you didn’t call Jesus or his Mother. You called Jennifer recognizing that when God spoke years ago that God did a wonderful thing in calling dear Jennifer to the ministry. God did not call her because God wanted to make a statement or some other with-it reason. God called her because he saw in her a chance to let the light shine through her all-human-life until here and there somebody would be changed and somebody would have the scales fall off their eyes and some little six-year old girl sitting out there would see that in this big, big kingdom that God makes no differentiation between males and females. 

So  Pendleton—fertilize her gifts. Give her room to stretch. Help her be a good Mama to Thomas and Caleb. Encourage her to be a good wife to Travis because if the marriage is good—the ministry will not suffer. Hear me. I did not say perfect marriage…I said a good marriage. And you can help that along. 

Jennifer, I have been in this business since 1961. Which means I am about as old as Methusalah. And in my own circuitous pilgrimage there have been days of doubt and heartbreak but not many. Sometimes the human race that called themselves Christians would disappoint me. But you know I cannot remember those angry faces or most of their names. But looking back—all that is minimal. For the names and faces inscribed on my heart are those—and there were many—who graced me. They cheered me along. They forgave my stupidities. They loved me most days. They stretched me sometimes when I thought I could not be stretched. And so as I look back over my shoulder at ministry—even after al these years--Jennifer I am proud, very proud to be a member of this club called Pastor. And one day—years from now—I hope you will look back and count it all joy for what God has allowed you to do here and wherever else you might go.

Langston Hughes was a great poet. And a black man. And he wrote this poem that I want to leave as a challenge to The Reverend Jennifer McClung Rygg and to the First Baptist Church of Pendleton, South Carolina.

“Gather up
In the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved, 
The desperate, the tired,
 All the scum
Of our weary city
Gather up
In the arms of your love—
Those who expect 
No love from above.” AMEN

(These remarks were made at the Installation of Jennifer McClung Rygg as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, South Carolina , February 26, 2-17.)

Jennifer holding little Caleb and Travis holding Thomas.

—Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, February 24, 2017

When America is Not So Great

photo by Thomas Cizauskas / flickr

I heard an NPR program the other day interviewing Japanese adults that were little children when they were incarcerated in World War II. They told about how scared they were. They told about how it felt to leave their homes, their schools--many of their friends. It was one of several dark pages in our history. Looks to me like we have opened yet another dark chapter in 2017. History will not speak well of us nor will those deported and uprooted. Years from now their children will remember that for them the Statue of Liberty is a hoax--at best.

So--with Mr. Trump's new orders to deport illegal immigrants--we are a long way from the dreams of what America looks like for the deported and much of the world. President Obama shares part of this shame when he deported thousands. Mr. Trump simply continues and extends this practice. 

Under the banner of Homeland Security it is said that we must protect ourselves from the outsiders. Funny--we have had more violent attacks from citizens of our own country than we have any others. Of course--that does not include September 11th. To President Bush's credit he reminded us that we could not paint the people of the Muslim faith as our enemies. That seems like a long time ago. The Southern Poverty Law Center continually tells us that hate crimes directed to all sorts of outsiders has jumped astronomically just in the last few years. The new President has fanned of fear continually. Fear does not make for a good faith or for a good country. We see things through a glass darkly.

So--as we load up supposedly the criminal element--the rapists and murderers and send them back from where they came from--we are tearing up the lives of thousands of innocent people. They simply came here to be safe, to find a place where their dreams might come true, and the possibilities for the future would stretch out endlessly. 

What many of these decent people have found has been a nightmare. I keep saying it but nobody who has committed no crime should not feel safe in this country. And every night many Hispanics and Muslim brothers and sisters are scared as they live under our stars and stripes.

I have been thinking about those that we deport. One day they are working on a job--and the next day on a bus heading back to the places they fled. 

What do they leave behind? 
Old cars they were so proud of. 
A TV they bought at the Goodwill. 
Toys for the children. 
A refrigerator that held food for the family. 
Closets with shirts and pants and underwear and shoes and socks. 
A four room apartment bigger than anything they had ever lived in. 
They leave behind a safety they thought they had found to return to many places of violence and poverty. 
Many of them have little money in their pockets. 
They did not even get their last playcheck.

We--the American people--have dropped them off on the other side of the border. Many of them carry nothing beyond the clothes they are wearing. They have no laces on their shoes and no belts on their pants, because of fears those can be used to commit suicide.
Deplortees must figure out how to reunite with relatives--some many hundreds of miles away. Many are simply dropped off in Mexico which is not even the country of their origins. 

I remember Carlyle Marney once saying that he had not asked God to fix the race problem  in this country for twenty years. He said why would you ask God to fix a problem when God had an absolute majority of churches dotted almost on every corner. Should we ask God to fix this unjust problem of human cruelty and misery?Across this land the Almighty has an absolute majority of Christians. We will be judged by our silence and our ineptitude.
And the message we seek to proclaim will be watered down and ignored as the hypocrisy that it truly will be.

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Trust? Today--How?

photo by purple javatroll / flickr

A Mother told me this funny story that really happened. She had a little box of Scripture verses shaped like a loaf of bread on the kitchen table. And as she sat with her little boy they would take out a Scripture verse and read it and talk about it. One particular morning the little boy took out a tiny card that read: “I will trust and not be afraid.” That afternoon she took her son to see the movie “Oliver Twist.” In the film there is a very scary scene when everything on the screen is very dark and someone is being hanged—and is twisting in the wind. Little Davie stood up in the darkened theatre and said out loud: “I will trust and not be afraid.” And he sat down and wet his pants. 

This has a familiar ring to me. How about you? We come here on Sunday and it is easy to believe. We say together: “I will trust and
photo by Fred Dawson  LRPS/ flickr
not be afraid.” And then reality intrudes. You get in your car and go home. And you turn on the TV. Looks like all hell is breaking loose. You hear about ISIS and terrorism. Too many 21 year olds coming home in boxes. Some scandal in Washington. Or your back hurts and you have to go to the Doctor. Or maybe you have a fight with somebody you love. Or you get up one morning and the blahs hit you in the face. You read the Obituary column in the back of the paper and you notice underneath too many of those pictures—they are the same age as you—ooh. A child breaks our heart. 

And our response? You know. You know. We’re like little Davie—we say we trust and will be not afraid—and when all these scary things hit us in the face we begin to think: Where is God? Reckon this stuff is really true. Doesn’t seem like it most days. We all wonder don’t we. Will we make it through all this stuff. Where is God?

It happened to the Israelites. They had been dragged hundreds of miles into exile. And they hated that strange place. Strange food. Weird customs. And their kids were beginning to date some of the Babylonians. They wanted to go home. And one day after years of exile their prayers were finally answered. So they made the journey back across the desert until they got home.  And what did they find? A mess. Before the Babylonians had left years before they had destroyed just about everything. It looked like Alleppo must look. People, those that had been left--were living in these bombed-out places. The fields where they had grown luscious crops—were just covered in stones and weeds. Why even the Synagogue was mostly destroyed. And they began to mutter: Where is God? Why did this happen? Or worse—where do we go from here? Like little David—they too trusted and thought they believed—but hmm. Not so sure. 

So this is the setting of our Scripture today. Found in Psalm 56. It was written either during those terrible exile days or in the post-exile days when they went back home to nothing but enormous disappointments. And in this gloomy time this is the word God sent. Will you listen?

Read Psalm 56. It’s a prayer. A prayer to Almighty God. 


In 1-4 it is a cry for help. You may have heard the story about this guy who fell off a cliff. And he grabbed hold of a vine and just dangling and he'd looked down and it was a long way down there. And so he prayed: “Oh God help me! Help me!” And a booming voice spoke and said: “I will help you. Just let go of the vine and I’ll take care of you.” He looked back down. No way. And he looked up and said: “Is there anybody else up there?” 

“Be gracious …O God…for people trample on me…all day long foes oppress me…and then again: my enemies trample on me all day long. And in the middle of this he wrote: “O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you…In  God I trust…I am not afraid.”

So from then until now we have this trust-faith problem. We’ve got all this stuff going on—but God, we are going to trust you. But guess what? That is not the end of the story. It never is. 


For in verses 5-7 all trust we find in 1-4 disappears. And uncertainty takes over. 
Translated he wrote: Is there anybody else up there? Scary time. “All day long they seek to injure my cause…even my thoughts are against me…Lord, they stir up strife…they lurk…they watch my steps. They hope to have my life. The writer ended this section by praying: “O God!We’ve prayed it too, haven’t we? We don’t know what to say about all this stuff that looks like we’re going to drown in. Like them we say: “Oh God!” Or maybe: “Is there anybody else up there?”

I think what the Psalmist was trying to say that if you are a person of faith—doing all the right things—trying your best to color inside
photo by Amber Case / flickr
the lines—you bump into all these problems. There is something we call: prosperity gospel. And people are following this message in droves. Some of these churches on TV are so big that it looks like Clemson playing football. Except it’s Sunday. The music is up-beat. Everybody on the stage is pretty. The Pastor is handsome and has a lot of hair. Beside him with long blonde hair—usually—is his beautiful wife. And he stands up smiling from ear to ear. He says: God wants you to be rich. God wants you to drive a big car and live in a house like I do. (Which by the way has 6 bed-rooms and a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi.) Just follow the steps I give you, he says…and you will be swimming in success. Just give your money—as the plates are passed—God is going to take care of you.

And out there under the balcony is a little girl who just got divorced. Her ex doesn’t pay regularly for her and the two kids. She doesn’t know what she is going to do. Maybe the Preacher, she thinks,  is right if I just give and pray God is going to take away all my problems. On the second row down front a man just heard two days ago that he has cancer. And he is scared out of his wits. He hasn’t even told his wife—because if he tells her it is going to seem even more real. And the Preacher with his Brooks Brothers suit on—saying God is going to make you successful. And then there is Mary. Mid-way back she is worried to death about her son. She told her neighbor: “You know I thought when he grew up it would be simple and not so complicated.”  “Ha” she says.

There is a whole lot of religion that’s like this.  Follow me, they say Jesus said, and everything will be fine. Just fine. And if you are having trouble—well, there must be something wrong with you and your faith. You just have to believe. Where do they get such a message? That Preacher never preaches on Psalm 56 and if he does—it just zeroes in on “I will trust and not be afraid.” 

Just come on down here and join this church and everything will be fine. I don’t think he  preaches on Job either. And there is not a Cross in the house. Because it is a negative symbol.And all the songs have to be upbeat.

Well, we can just go home now and be depressed. Except we haven’t finished reading the Psalm. 


Verses 8-13 give us the rest of the story. For here we find a reassertion of trust. 

Listen. Listen. I love the way The Message puts it. It’s Eugene Peterson’s translation. And this is the thing that kept the light burning for those in Exile and those that stumbled back home to all those ruins. Listen.

”You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights., Each tear entered in your ledgers, each ache written in your book.” Now back to the NRSV: "My enemies retreat when I call on you…because deep in my heart I know that God is for me. In  God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?" I love the ending verse: “For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.”

Do you see what is happening here? He doesn’t brush aside all the hurts and troubles and bad lab reports and terrible headlines. No. They are always part of life and none of us will get out of this life without some scars. But God gives his people hope. 

Frederick Buechner once said that Paul wrote about Faith hope and love but the greatest of these is love. And Buechner says:  If Paul was writing today he would say: Faith, hope and love—these three—but the greatest of these is hope. I think he is right. 

This is what kept them going. Hope. A trust in God that no matter what happens—and it will be a lot. But even then we will not be afraid because God is with us. It isn’t because we read the Bible through in one year. It isn’t because we give and we should. It isn’t because we are smart and know how to work it out. No. It’s a grace that comes to us when we need it.

I heard Alex Haley tell this story one day. He said when he was a little black boy growing up in Henning, Tennessee that he would get so down. And one day with his head down sobbing at the kitchen table, his Grandmother put her hand on his shoulder and said: “Alex, we don’t know when Jesus will come—but he will always come on time.” And that’s what we need to take home with us when we leave. And we may go back go some hard things—but we do not go alone. Despite it all—Jesus will always come on time. God is here.

Several years ago my brother and I decided to take a cruise together. Just us. We’d never done anything like that. And so we went to the Caribbean with a whole lot of people. And every night we would go down to the auditorium where they were doing Karaoke. It was a hoot because all these people who couldn’t carry a tune got up and just slaughtered some song. But once in a while there would be someone who really could sing. 

In the middle of everything—people would yell out: “We want Bill. We want Bill to sing and we want him to sing: “I Believe I Can Fly.” And out of the darkened theatre there would come this fifty-something man. Fat and not too good looking. Hair thinning. His face looked like life had not been good to him. But he took the mike and he began to sing. And it was beautiful.

"I used to think that I could not go on
And life was nothing but an awful song
But now I know the meaning of true love
photo by Amarit Opassetthakl / flickr
I'm leaning on the everlasting arms
If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it
I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly ."

And the crowd would go wild and give him a standing ovation.

Every night without fail—as the drinks would be served and some of the people there were more than tipsy—somebody would yell out:” We want Bill and we want him to sing: “I Believe I Could Fly.”

And Bill would waddle up on the stage and begin too sing. Maybe he was singing for himself. Maybe he was singing to that crowd—some half-drunk. I saw some people wiping away tears. Maybe he was singing to us all: “I Believe I Could fly…I believe I could fly.” 

Long ago people hanging on by a thread—found this stubborn hope. It kept them going through exile and wars and death and failing crops and a Holocaust when they lost 6 million of their loved ones. But on Sabbath—they would trickle in year after year—crisis after crisis—and sit down—believing maybe, maybe, despite it all, they could fly after all. And the thing that kept them going was that little verse that we all need to hang on to. “I will trust and not be afraid.

photo by evil nick/ flickr

(This sermon was preached at the Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC,
                                                  February 19, 2017)

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Friday, February 17, 2017

Staying Healthy in an Unhealthy Time

photo by Les McKee / flickr

Those of us having a hard time with politics these days are scratching around trying to find ways to keep our heads up and not run down the street screaming. It isn't easy. But maybe it never has been easy in a time of difficulty.

One thing for sure moaning and groaning won't do it. Stoking the fires of resentment and fury won't really help. Watch news 24/7 surely is not good medicine. Neither is sticking our heads in the sand and acting like everything is coming up roses. It ain't. We know that.

What helps? Carlyle Marney once said: "When I get into trouble I always turn to the Psalms." Not bad advice. Turn to Psalm 56 ands a whole lot of other places. The theme in this Psalm is: "I will trust and not be afraid." The setting was the exile or those terrible days when they stumbled back home to nothing but a crumbling homeland. Trusting in tough times is not easy.

Good books help if you're a reader. Music might lift you up. Going to church on Sunday and looking around at the stained glass windows, whispering prayers in the silence helps me. Seeing here and there people who have had a tough, tough time still standing and walking down the aisle to take the bread and the cup--these not-so-foolish things keep me going. Yesterday I saw a buddy I haven't seen in a while. "Where you been?" He said, "I've had a brain tumor, big as a baseball--and I just got out of the hospital. They say it might take 18 months to get back." He was changing his clothes and beginning to work out. I'm leading a Grief Support Group and around that table grief splatters on that round table and touches us all. Suicide. A child's death. A mother with Alzheimer's. A motorcycle accident. After weeks and weeks they begin to mend--just a little. Healing, like grace, comes slowly. I remember their faces when I turn from the news.

Somebody, in another hard time, asked her friend, "With all this mess going on--what keeps you going?" He replied: "I rejoice in the smallest of victories." Not bad advice. Standing with a group of 500 at a rally to remind ourselves what America is all about. Reading columnists that refuse to cow-tow to the party line. Politicians, rare these days, who stand up and say what's crazy--when it is. Reading Letters to the Editor--and thinking, Well, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Calling a Senator's office. Talking to a friend who agrees with you in nothing--and yet is your friend in everything. Whatever we can do to keep your perspective clear and clean--maybe that's the task of us all.

Sometimes movies help. Sometimes. My wife and I went to see "Lion" the other day. Strange title. I wasn't exactly sure what the film was about. We left almost two hours later wiping away the tears and touched to the core. This little five-year old Indian boy, living in abysmal slums goes with his brother to take a train--the brother tells the little boy to wait until he comes back. The brother never comes. So in desperation the boy sneaks into a train hoping to find his brother. He travels hundreds of miles. Gets off knowing no one. Five years old. He finally winds up in an orphanage. An Australian family adopts him. He is surrounded by love and care. Yet he still remembers his Mama and his brother and home so far away. Twenty years pass. Now grown he begins to try to find the little place he called home. Every day he thinks about his brother and his Mother. After months and months of searching he finally discovers his little village on the Google map. He returns home. Wanders down the little make-shift streets. Finds his old house. And then he sees his Mama and she sees him. It is a great, great moment. His brother had died. But he was home finally. He asks his mother what his name, Saroo meant. The Mother said, "Lion." At the end of the film we see the real boy-now-man with his real Mother. The man who was that little boy directed this film--and the the story is true. No wonder it is up for Academy awards.

Looking back we all know that there have been  terrible ups and downs in our land. From time to time we have all been dislocated. This does not brush away the hard time we are in or the heartbreak of all those dragged from their homes and sent back to the country they fled from. Yet--the old Scripture keeps coming back to me. "I will trust and not be afraid." Our trust is uneven at best. Yet--in a hard time--like those Israelites years ago maybe we need to find ways not to be afraid.

As the Rally ended in Greenville the other day--someone came forward with a guitar. And he began to play, "We Shall Overcome." And blacks and whites and immigrants and people of all ages, domestics and professors began to sing: "Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day." Let's keep remembering the song and the Psalm and Saroo who made it against incredible odds. Maybe, things being as they are, we really can trust--and maybe, just maybe we will not be afraid.

photo by evil nick / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Happens When the Church Takes the Bible Seriously

photo by UNHCR / flickr
When the history of the church in our time is written wonder what Matthew 25 - "I was a Stranger and you took me in..." will mean looking back. The LA Times, a secular newspaper writes about a Church in the Bible Belt that decided they did not have a  choice--they had to follow the Red-letter words of Matthew 25: "Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these...you do it to me." I guess you can call this fake news or maybe there is just a conservative church out there that has decided to do what Jesus wants. 

Once upon a time when was Pastor we took in 13 Vietnamese refugees. I think it did more for us than it did for them. One of our members provided a house. The WMU--God bless them--took these folk on for a project and showered them with love and supplies. I don't know where they or their children are today--but I hope they remember a church on College Avenue in South Carolina that took them in when they had no other place to go.

Reckon churches everywhere ought to follow this church in Fort Worth (of all places) Texas?

I remember a Poem Ernie Campbell, then Pastor of  the Riverside Church once quoted. It is still current and challenging today.

What, finally, shall we say
In the last moment
When we will be confronted
By the Unimaginable,
The One
Who could not be measured
or contained
In space or time
Who was Love
What shall we answer
When the question is asked
About our undeeds
In his name—
In the name of him
For whose sake we promised
To have courage
To abandon everything?
Shall we say
That we didn’t know—
That we couldn’t hear the clatter
Of hearts breaking—
Millions of them—
In lonely rooms, in alleys
     and prisons
And in bars?
Shall we explain
That we thought it mattered
That buildings were constructed
And maintained
In his honor—
That we were occupied
With the arrangements
Of hymns and prayers
And the proper, responsible way
Of doing things?
Shall we tell him
That we had to take care
Of the orderly definition
     of dogmas
So that there was no time
To listen to the
Of the little ones
Huddled in corners
Or the silent despair
Of those already beyond
Or, shall we say this, too:
That we were afraid—
That we were keeping busy
     with all this
To avoid confrontation
Wih the reality of his
Which would lead us to
That it was fear that
     kept us
Hiding in church pews
And in important boards
     and committees
When he went by?
                     —Ursula Solek

(Read further--the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church (Marietta, Georgia) has taken  in 7 Syrian  Refugee families. It was so amazing for this secular media that 60 Minutes featured the church some time ago. May their tribe increase.)

photo by UNHCR / flickr

--Roger Lovette /rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Church--Where is It?

"We moderate and polish the world's thinking, and name it Christian. The church embodies the upside-down kingdom. Whatever the world admires is probably not good, according to kingdom values. The church is always anti-empire.

What the church does is provide a place where pain can be touched and where the vision for a new world can be lifted up and held before the people."
    --Gordon Cosby

If you leave Main Street in Greenville, turn left on College Street--drive past the Greenville Art Museum--drive not far on Buncombe Street you'll come to a part of town not so ritzy as some parts of Greenville. Turn right on to Rutherford Street and you'll see a church. It's called Triune Mercy Center--funny name for a church. We parked and moved toward the doors. A smiling black man who looked like life had not been good to him--greeted us and handed us a bulletin.

Up the steps and into the doors to the Sanctuary we were welcomed by another black man. Well, this is a surprise, I thought. I had read the Pastors's powerful book, The Weight of Mercy which told the story of Deb Richardson-Moore's pilgrimage as Pastor of this church. I had wanted to visit this congregation since I had heard about the church four years ago when we moved back to South Carolina. They minister to homeless folk, the drug-addicted and the destitute.  But looking around there were a whole lot of people that could have been in anybody's church. The place was packed. Here and there I saw a few people I knew. Sure enough I could see people who looked like they had so little. But they didn't look uncomfortable or out of place. This was their church. There were sitting side by side with men in ties and women carrying Michael Kors' purses. 

The church looked predictable.  Stained glass windows like my home church had 70 years ago. The pulpit was in the center. There was a piano and an organ and band instruments. There was a tiny cross-stitched panel on an easel. On the Communion Table were beautiful flowers. Behind the pulpit up high was a large stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden. I liked that.

The bulletin surprised me. I don't know what I expected--but it was almost a typical Methodist worship service. At least this is what I thought. A man came forward with a guitar and sat on a stool and began to sing. It was haunting and it was beautiful. There was applause which would be a theme that ran through the service. The Pastor welcomed everyone in  a relaxed loving kind of a way. She asked a black man toward the back to stand and she thanked him for his art work on that easel at the front. More applause.

As the service moved along there were Biblical readings and responses and hymns that everyone knew. The man with the guitar sang several times. More applause. When it came time for the offering four black men looking rough came forward as ushers. As the Pastor held up the Offering bags--and prayed--this was followed by more applause. She had reminded us that how fine life is and how grateful we were to be alive.

As the Pastor began her sermon you knew she was a good communicator. Warm and loving she laughed and said she was going to
she was going to preach a sermon she had preached there three years before. The title of her sermon was "From the Epistle Known as Sports Illustrated." Hmm. I wondered   where this would go. She told a story she had read once in Sports Illustrated.  It was about a young man who had a hard time with reading. He was great at football. And he could have played for the NFL but he flunked out of college. His Daddy said, "Well, I guess you can be a ditch digger." But he didn't. He wound up was a High School Coach and had an incredible influence and won game after game. The whole town worshipped him for what he had done for that school, the players and their town. He moved on later to a terrible school whose winning almost any game was nonexistent. She linked her sermon to I Corinthians where Paul told his friends that we cannot be judged by human standards. This man had an incredible influence on many and certainly was never was ditch digger. She said none of us are losers. She hammered that home powerfully and I found tears in my eyes.

She was reaching out with her arms and told us that all of us were loved and we counted. She said that the world talked a lot about losers--but in the kingdom of God all of us count are loved by God. When she finished--the applause swept through the room. That happens in few sermons. Everybody there must have gone away feeling like we had been graced and we had heard a mighty word about worth and dignity and love. Despite it all none of us are losers. 

The church serves lunch every Sunday and a different congregation in town is in charge of the meal.The bulletin said that almost every day of the week there are meetings for Alcohol or Narcotics and the Porn Addicted.

I read in the paper that afternoon that the Greenville Hospital Association provides a traveling van that moves around the city and treats sick people who have no insurance and few resources. One stop in their mission is always Triune Mercy Center.

Mainline churches almost everywhere are having a difficult time. Atheism is on the rise. More and more folk are disenchanted with today's church. The Evangelicals who have jumped on the Trump Bandwagon has diluted the message of our Lord. Small wonder our influence is waning. What is obvious is that vast silence from most pulpits about  the injustice and cruelty that is coming from the highest places of our government. Interestingly there was no mention Trump or where we are as a country in that service at Triune. But we all knew from that solid gospel service that all really do matter and that in a dark world there is still a very good news. 

My wife and I left moved and touched by that experience. I did not know what to expect before we went. I was surprised at so many touches of the mainline church that I saw in that building and in that service. But that hour made me glad again to be on this team where, on our better days, we still beat the drum for justice and righteous and love for all God's children. Not a loser among us. 

Langston Hughes, the great African-American poet expressed it. And as we think of this month of Black History I think his words are important.

"At the foot o' Jesus,
Sorrow like a sea.
 Lordy like yo' mercy
            Come drifting' down on me.

At the feet o' Jesus
At yo' feet I send.
O, ma little Jesus,
              Please reach out yo' hand."

(You might want to read the Triune story in Deb Richardson-Moore's fine book, The Weight of Mercy: Monarch Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2012)

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Know Anybody That's Narcissistic? Hmm.

photo by Dave Brewer/ flickr
(Wise Man, Good Friend Kerry Capps put these words on his Facebook page. You might want to check him out.) -rl

Narcissistic personality disorder is one of several types of personality disorders. Personality disorders are conditions in which people have traits that cause them to feel and behave in socially distressing ways, limiting their ability to function in relationships and other areas of their life, such as work or school.
If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don't receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having "the best" of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.
At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection.
Many experts use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. This manual is also used by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:
Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
Exaggerating your achievements and talents
Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
Requiring constant admiration
Having a sense of entitlement
Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
Taking advantage of others to get what you want
Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
Being envious of others and believing others envy you
Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
Although some features of narcissistic personality disorder may seem like having confidence, it's not the same. Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others. -- Mayo Clinic

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com