Monday, March 27, 2017

Mr. Trump--Failure Goes with the Territory

photo by Mike / flickr

We're hearing a lot about failure these days. The failure of the Health Case bill to pass. The failure of Hillary to win the election. The longest war in our history is a failure.

President Trump loves the word winners. He despises the losers. And yet if I could talk to him today I would say: Mr. President join the club. We all fail.  And it isn't the fact that we fail--it's what happens after the failure. We'll be watching closely to see how Mr. Trump acts since this huge defeat.

We've already heard him begin to point fingers. It was the Democrat's fault. It was Comey's fault for bringing up these stupid Russian charges at the same time. It was Paul Ryan's fault. And if his daughter and husband had not been skiing in Aspen the results might have been different. Of course--the bottom line is that it was Obama's fault for getting us into this mess in the first place.

I've had my share of failures and defeats. And so have you. And it is so painful when you fall down and have a hard time getting up. But defeat and failure goes with the territory. And like Mr. Trump I have looked around and pointed fingers when I have bumped into failure. But when I settled down I began to see that it isn't always them that caused the trouble. Nothing happens in a vacuum. But one day after great pain I sat down and began to wonder: Just what went wrong? Slowly, ever so slowly I turn the finger from them to me. Oh, that hurt. I'm not into self-flagellation--but we have to take responsibility for our own actions. Maybe, just maybe, I could have done some things differently.

I've never had too many failure in my professional life--I'll not get into my personal life. But when the house shook and fell down around me--as I looked inside I began to hate myself. And what I learned from that time in the darkness is that self-hated is a terrible burden to bear. It took a long time but finally I began to forgive myself.

I love the Arthur Miller quote that came out of his broken relationship with Marilyn Monroe. In one of his plays he'd says, "There comes a time when you have to take yourself in your own arms." I think he was right. We don't get very far down the road by beating up on ourselves. And what I discovered was that we take that self-hatred out and point fingers at everybody around us. Except of course us. It makes us into miserable human being to be around. 

photo by Ray Krebs / flickr
The wisest people have learned from their failures. And that is not easy to do. But Leslie Weatherhead was a famous English preacher. He was Pastor when the bombs fell in England and destroyed so many and so much. And he said the most amazing thing. "Of course I love the sunny things when everything goes right--but I have learned more from the treasures of the darkness than I have ever leaned from success. " Dr, Weatherhead got those words from Isaiah 45.3: "I will give you then treasures of the darkness and riches hidden in secret places..." Those words come out of the Exile when Isaiah and his people were far from home and had lost everything.

This is no Norman-Vincent-Peale -whistle-while-you-work advice. Weatherhead went on to say that he had learned more from the treasures of the darkness that he ever learned from the light. Also my advice to our President and to us all is that we have to know that when we fail we might just learn something that would help us all the way down the road.

I remember that I have slowly learned that there's not but one Jesus. And we cannot beat up on ourselves for our stumbles and our foibles. I have learned the hard way that to be a human being is often to suffer and fail. So we have to give up the perfection malady.

I have tried and this has been hard to forgive myself when I have failed. This takes a long time--yet failure is not the end of the road. It's part of the journey. You get up and move on.

Of course we are skittish after failure. After a bad experience in a church when I moved on to another church I remember every time some little something would come up I would think: "Uh oh, I'm gonna fail again." Took me a long time to learned that lesson.

I have learned to look at others with grace and kindness and not so much judgment. We Baptists know a lot about judging and self-righteousness. To learn from failure is to join the human race with our fellow-strugglers. I hope this has made me easier to live with. Hope, I said.

I have learned, looking back that there is a whole of living to be done after failure. There is life aplenty after failure.

One of my friends that I don't see very often wrote these fine words. Maybe they will mean something to you as they have to me. His name is Al Staggs.

"It's good to fail sometimes
so that we do not grow proud of our illusions of 
It's good to fail in the dark
if it makes us look fervently for the light. 
It's good to struggle for reasons
if it prevents us from complacency of mind.
It's good to experience pain
to know that we can still feel.
It's good to cry
to be able to flush out the would's weariness.
Some of what is bad, evil, distasteful,
can be for good
If it causes us to keep searching 
and refining our faith."

When I went through one of my hard times I took up calligraphy. And I discovered this quote and I have given it out many times. No truer words were ever written.

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lenten meditation: A Prayer for a Hard Time

photo by Melissa Baldwin / Flickr

This morning on there eve of the Health Care vote --thinking of this new budget--I opened my Bible to read the lessons for today. I don't always do this...I should but the everydayness just sometimes covers it all. I remember Carlyle Marney saying, "When I get into trouble I always turn to the Psalter." Today these words from a Psalm spoke to me. Maybe they will speak to you too.

"O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads,
They lay crafty plans against your people;
They consult together against those you protect
They say, 'Come, let us wipe them out as a a nation;
Let the name of Israel be remembered no more.'
They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant...
Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
Let them perish in disgrace.
Let them know that you alone, whose name is the Lord,
Are the Most High over all the earth." (Psalm 83. 1-5,16-18)

                         +             +                   +                  +               +

Maybe Langston Hughes' poem, "Mother to Son" says it in another way:

"Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair,
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places wth no carpet on the floor--
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turning' corners;
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall down now--
For I'se still going', honey,
I'se still climbin'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair."

photo by Linda Dee 2006 / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, March 20, 2017

Meals on Wheels Under Attack

photo by Roger W - Sarasota Meals on Wheels / flickr

Looking over the proposed National Budget I have studied some of the places the Administration plans to cut. The list is long and alarming. School lunches for the needy, National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities, dismantling Americorp, heating subsidies for the poor. Legal Aid for all 50 states. Job training programs will be cut. Block grants that help states with daycare and adoption assistance. But scanning that long list I stopped reading at Meals on Wheels which is also on the hit list. Meals on Wheels?

Volunteers have been delivering meals to older people since the 1950’s—67 years. Last year 2.4 million people received these meals. In protest to the cuts in this program in particular—I discovered that there are 5,000 Meals on Wheels projects in all fifty states. 

The Budget Director is a South Carolinian, Mike Mulvaney, In defense of these cuts in these programs—and Meals on Wheels in particular he responded, “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good…Meals on Wheels sounds great—again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion too. But to take federal money and give it to the states and say, ‘Look we want to give you money for programs that don’t work—I can’t defend that anymore.’”Huh?

Unlike Mr. Mulvaney I know a little something about the Meals on Wheels program. When we l llved in Memphis my wife and a friend went into some of the poorest and roughest part of that city. She came home talking about some of the people she saw every week. They were poor. They were old and lonely. Many of these citizens who lived alone and saw no one all week except the “Meals on Wheels Ladies.” She told me that the visits were just as important as the food. But that for so many of these folk this was the only nutritious meals they had all day. 

Later when we moved to Birmingham—the AIDS crisis was epidemic and scary in the mid-nineties. So my wife began to deliver Meals on Wheels to people HIV positive. Many of them had been abandoned by their parents. Most knew that their chances of living were slim. Just to see a friendly face, especially bringing a hot meal meant much to those whom the larger community felt were untouchable.  Sometimes my wife would call a Doctor the person needed to see. There were occasions when she would call the person’s Social Worker to handle a problem. The Meals on Wheels program opens the door to help in many ways. Thank goodness we have dealt with the AIDS crisis in ways that have helped many live because of the availability of new drugs.

Mr. Mulvaney must not know that we cannot measure such programs but their success. Not showing any results? I dare the Budget Director to follow around some of these volunteers and see how wrong he is. I appreciate Senator Graham coming to the defense of Meals on Wheels. He said, “I think rebuilding the military we all want to do. But you're not going too rebuild the military by cutting  Meals on Wheels.” Only 35% of this program is funded by the federal government and it is such a tiny part of this whole budget.

The Meals on Wheels program is a symbol of many of the cuts in this proposed budget that will weaken the compassion that has run through the nation’s budgets for many years. People all over the world have looked to this country as a place that cares for people. This is one of the reasons that so many would love to come here to live and work.

In the last parable Jesus gave he said,”I was hungry and you gave me food…” But it looks like in 2017 in the richest country in the world we might just heed the challenge of Jesus. “Inasmuch,” he said, “As you do it unto the least of these you do  it unto me.”

Someone has said that if you open up your check book and study what you paid and when, you will begin to see what your priorities are. I think as we study this new proposed budget we will also begin to see what kind of a people we truly are. 

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Health Care Debate--Please Explain


One of the problems about this debate over Health Care is its complexity. I fault the Democrats and the Affordable Care Act for not explaining in laymen's terms what this Health Care program was all about. Twenty bullet-points on the highlights and brief paragraphs would have helped us immensely. Consequently many people who did not understand ACA hate it. Big government rules again! Over 20 million people received health care that did not have it. Abolishing this program will throw millions of people uninsured once again. 

If the changes made in Health Care by the Republicans are so good--they might well do what the Democrats did not do with their Bill. Give us 20 bullet points on what your bill means. Prove your points for the person on the street. Mr. Trump has called Health Care more complicated than we thought. He is right. No one would disagree with this. It is very hard to simplify complicated issues I know--but the people of this country need to know what their legislators will support  and why.

Today I read a Letter to the Editor in the New York Times by a Pediatrician in Seattle. It is worth reading. Check out Dr. Elizabeth Meade's letter. The letter is worth pondering.

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, March 16, 2017

This Health Care Bid-ness

Wise Prophet Ken Sehested published this on Prayer and Politics--which I recommend to everybody.

Are we gonna let millions fall through the cracks? There was a whole lot of talk during the hoopla over the Affordable Health Care Act about Death panels.

Well--ignore millions and see what happens.  Trumpcare or maybe we ought it Deathcare will be a shame for this country. Colin Powell said of other crazy things: "If we break it we own it."

By the way--Nicholas Kristof, columnist for "the lying New York Times" has written a great article about this health care dilemma. Good good reading.

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lenten Thoughts: Wear it Till it Fits!

photo by MHS Wildcat / flickr

As I move through Lent--for some reason I remember a story that I heard once from the President of Princeton Seminary. It seems that David Hubbard who was then President of Fuller Seminary told of an incident that really happened in his life. Dr. Hubbard was given a tee shirt one day by Tom Landry who was then Coach of the Dallas Cowboys. It was a big shirt and emblazoned across the front in large letters it read: "Dallas Çowboys." The next day one of Tom Landry's scouts took Dr. Hubbard to play a round of golf. He wore the big tee shirt. The caddy kept looking at Hubbard's tee shirt. Hubbard was not a young man but the caddy asked, "Do you play for the Dallas Cowboys?" Dr. Hubbard laughed and said, "No. I don't play for the Çowboys." The caddy said: "I would give anything in the world to play for the Dallas Cowboys." Dr. Hubbard said, "Why don't you talk to this man here. He's one of the scouts." So they talked about what was involved as the game moved on. When they finished Dr. Hubbard turned to the scout and said, "I think I'm going to give him my tee shirt tp the caddy--but it looks awful big." It was Extra-extra large. So he turned to the caddy and said, "You know I would give you my tee shirt but I don't think it would fit. It's too big." The caddy said, "Mister,  give it to me. I'll wear it till it fits."

Wear it till it fits. Hmm. I love that story. All my life I have been following the Lord Jesus mostly. Like everyone else--like Thomas in the Bible--I believe and sometimes I don't believe. Even after all these years the tee shirt still doesn't fit. No wonder there has been a lump in my throat when I've sung: "Prone to wander, Lord--Prone to leave the God I love." Because faith, for me,  like those
photo by Ryan Woolies/ flickr
Israelites has been for me an up and down thing. I've asked over the too-muchness of my life or somebody else's--the old question: "Why, Lord why?" And I've pulled off the too-big tee shirt and cast it aside. Why the wrong headedness of Trump? Why that war in Afghanistan seems to be an unending war? Why all those Syrians keep fleeing with nothing but a little sack they could carry--while I sit here in a house of too many rooms and more than I will ever need? I remember Annie Dillard asking Paul's question: "O death where is thy sting--O grave where is thy victory? " And a friend answered, "Honey,  just about everywhere." Yep--that's true. Just about everywhere. And my faith flickers like the stub-end of a candle.

And then I stumble into church and it's Communion Sunday. And as the people row by row stand in line to receive the Bread and the Cup--I know so many of them. Some of them have faced unbearable problems. Suicides. ALS. Losing their best friend with Alzheimer's. Bankruptcies. Cancer. Cancer. Cancer. Or just hobbling down the aisle on a cane--him and her--leaning on each other. And I feel the tears. Why do they keep coming here after all they have been through? Surely it isn't what the atheist's say--wishful thinking. No. They have found something that have kept them going. And all over again I look for the tee-shirt and put it on. God knows it still doesn't fit. But this Lent I will keep hoping that maybe, just maybe one day it might not be so big.

And so, like all the others I get up out of my seat and stand in line, too. Hoping as I take that tiny piece of bread and baptize it in the cup--maybe I'll be able once again to sing the rest of the old song: "Here' s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above." And this--the third week  in Lent--this is what I am thinking of. Fitting. Failure. Hope.

photo by George Martel / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Health Care--Listen to the Stories

photo by Montgomery County Plan / flickr


We've got a health crisis in this country. We've had it for a long time. The Affordable Care Act opened the door. It was far from perfect--but for the first time in our history the country finally promised health care for all. Despite all sorts of political roadblocks--20 million people who had been uninsured now have health care. Many for the first time. 

photo by Sage Ross / flickr

When Social Security was first passed into law there were a lot of complaints and many problems. Many politicians from then until now--hated Social Security. But after much work--we do have a system that helps people in this country enormously. Before Social Security there was no safety net. Watch carefully in the near future--all those antigovernment folk who have always hated Social Security will not point their guns in this direction. But back to health care.

The question is Health Care a right or is it simply a luxury for those who can afford it? Trump Care is said to leave out over 15 million people. The Office of Bureau Management and the Brookings Institute give us these figures. Republicans mostly are trying to discredit the this Bureau and the Brookings Institute. When these opponents do not get what they want they chip away at the recognized sources whom we have looked to for a long time for fair truth.                                                                                                      

We heard a lot during the Affordable Care Act debate about death panels. Doctors and hospitals that would decide who would live and who would die. This did not happen. It was a scare tactic. But if any plan put forth in health care does not cover the people of this country and especially those in need--there will be no picking and choosing of who lives and who dies--all those not covered will simply quietly slip away.

Listen to the stories that are out there. Listen to the pain. Listen to those who very much a part of who we are as a people.

Diana B.
Diana became ill in 2012 and started missing work. She was fired and lost her health insurance. In 2013 she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Because she was weak her friends helped her file for disability and started helping her sell off personal possessions to pay for some minimal care. In May of 2013 she said she was refused disability and had to re-file. She died in October 2013. ACA Healthcare was not yet available.

Donna B.

I lost my job with the NASA Space Flight program in July 2013 and used Cobra for health insurance. Because Cobra was so expensive (over $700/month) I had to drop it. I signed up for insurance on in December 2013. I never experienced any of the problems with the online system, but then, I was an IT person familiar with software systems. My health coverage with Florida Blue started on January 1 2014.

On March 21, 2014 I went to the emergency room because I could not breathe. On March 24, I was told I had stage IV lung cancer. I was the first cancer patient in Brevard County to be prescribed one of the new target drugs for patients with the ALK receptor. When the cancer mutated again I was placed on another new target drug in January 2015. I was still using a Florida Blue health insurance plan through the I have been on this target drug now for over 2 years and have great quality of life.

We heard a lot when the Affordable Care Act was being considered with the words: Death Panels. It was a scare tactic. But if we do not cover the people of this country, especially those who are in
need--the Death Panel scare will become a real reality. Although I no longer qualify for any assistance, I was able to keep the same insurance privately. Without insurance I would be paying $8,300/month just for the drug. Thank you, President Obama!

                                          And now a story from Canada. 

My story. December 27, 2016 I couldn’t breathe, so I went to the Walk-in-Clinic across the street and they suggested the Emergency Department immediately. January 4, 2017 I decided to go to Emergency. Up until last week, which made it 6/7 weeks, I’ve had chest X-rays, blood tests, ultrasound on the thyroid, stress test on the heart, echo-cardiogram, more blood tests. All it cost me was the bus tickets to get to the various places. Since I had breast cancer three years ago I have a mammogram every year. In January I had my third one, clear, and also picked up my pills, free. Because cancer is rampant in the family I have become involved in genetic testing. If it proves that it is hereditary, I will be given the opportunity to have a hysterectomy and all my relatives will be given the opportunity to be involved in the family decision and will be offered counselling. Because the pills I take for cancer leech the bones of calcium I get a bone marrow density test every year. All this because I was triaged for shortness of breath. Now on the other hand, I have knees that are not working properly. Orthopedist says that there may be a growth on one of them. Because it is not an emergency, I have to wait for an MRI on it. May take a few months. We triage, but get the care we need. Free.

All I paid for all of this was bus tickets. Sometimes friends drove. I have stock in American medical insurance companies. I’m making money on your health.

I live on my pension as a public school grade teacher. I have investments, but don’t use them. I spent 10 weeks in the Mediterranean last year. Don’t skimp or cut corners just to save. ( I do because I don’t want to waste.) My taxes are probably higher than yours, but I still have a great life. Where did I go wrong?

photo by Sage Ross /flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Lenten Words: Antidote for a Hard Time

photo by Ana Karenina / flickr

Somewhere in a place I cannot now find I remember a story that Frederick Buechner told. It seems that this man who was married was anything but a good husband. As the time wore on he became more and more abusive. Finally in desperation she left him and divorced him. She could not get out of her head all the monstrous things he had done to her. Years went by. She heard that he had started a new life. He had a new family. He had a good job and was well-liked by all those that knew him. As she heard about this man who had hurt her 
so--she could not let all the pain from back there go.

One day, years after their parting she met him. He looked good. People loved him. He was a pillar in the community. And all the betrayals and the meanness and the pain. surged up again. She couldn't help herself. She railed out: "They don't know you. They don't know you at all. The monster you are. All the terrible things you did to me. You are a hypocrite--and you are wearing as mask."  "Take it off," she said, "and left people see you for who you really are." Slowly the man reached up and began to peel off his mask of many years. She stood open-mouthed not able to say a word. He had worn the mask so long that he had become the mask he wore.

This Lenten season for some reason I remember that story. All of us, deep down are sinners. Nobody knows us like we know ourselves. The old book is right, "All we like sheep have sinned and turned to our own way..." Deep in our hearts we know this. For we have sinned--fallen short--again and again. But the promise is this: We become what we give ourselves to. And if behind the real self we take on what Philippians called: whatever is true...,whatever is honorable...whatever is just and pure and pleasing and commendable...who knows? We might just become the things we give ourselves to.

This Lenten season maybe we need to ponder this story until it fills our hearts. Paul ended those above words with these: "...think about these things. Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you."

I don't know about you but I could use some peace in my life there days. It is a hard time. The old quote seems appropriate: "Be kind. For everyone you know is fighting a hard battle."

There are masks and there are masks. Maybe the old Gospel song is right after all:

"Turn your eyes open Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of glory and grace."

photo by The Manic Macrographer / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Friday, March 3, 2017

Balm for our Gilead - Lenten Thoughts

Photo by Katey / flickr

Several times a year I lead grief groups. We sit around a table and they pour out their pain and loss. Suicide. Alzheimer's. A motorcycle accident. Old age. Death after years of terrible suffering. Most, if not all of them, are burdened down with the too-muchness of life. They open up their hearts to one another and in some strange way many of them begin the healing journey. Which is in itself long and hard. 

After weeks of discussion and sharing I asked them to sit down and write three thank-you notes to people who had helped shape their lives. I told them not to write those who sent casseroles and such--but I asked them to expand the circle. Write those who have helped make them who they are.  I hoped in the act of remembering for just a few minutes they would move beyond the pain of their grief and remember those who helped so much along the way.

This Lenten season why not take time from whatever you are engaged in to remember. To maybe write three notes or spend some time just thinking of those faces and how they talked and what they did for you. However today they make you smile. Living or dead--resurrect these who made life sparkle for you. You may just want to lift them up to the Father and be glad.

Maybe such an exercise will save some of us from the thus-and-so-ness of life. Which, my friends is plenty today.

--Roger Lovette /

Immigration Overkill

photo by Purblind / flickr

Two nights ago I listened carefully as President Trump recognized people whose loved ones had been killed by illegal immigrants. He did not mention all the others that have been killed by citizens of this country. Listening to the President one would think that illegal persons are committing most of the violent crimes in this country. Not so.

We should grieve when any loved one is killed. And those whom Mr. Trump recognized have been through enormous pain--and some may be crippled for the rest of their lives. But to say that most undocumented people in this country are criminals is simply untrue. Fanning the flames of fear is not a healthy way to any leader to act.  

Read the story of this writer from Australia , Mem Fox* who was stopped by our immigration officials and treated horribly. She writes about others in the room where she waited and how they were treated. I would like to think this is an isolated case--but I am not sure. I do know that this is not the way Americans should treat our guests--we assume they are guilty until they are found to be innocent.

Read Mem's story. These days I am sure this painful experience could be repeated over and over. We cannot demean people and treat them less than humane because somebody, somewhere may just be a terrorist. Isn't this ammunition for ISIS when they see the way we are treating many innocent people?

*Mem Fox is a celebrated children's author who was visiting the US for her 117th time. Suddenly she was at the mercy of Us Immigration officials. Read her story and weep.

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lent--the Journey Begins


All of us have favorite places and special spots. In the not-so-sleepy town where I live--they keep coming back year after year. Not just to football games or Alumni week-ends--but I see them walking down the street, pointing out some college building to one of their children. Spending time in the Sports shops to take aback home a little pierce of something that really matters. 

I think they keep coming back because something special happened to them here. Friendship. A love affair. Meeting the one you hope to live with for the rest of your life. Maybe it was some kind of hinge-turning moment when you sat in a class and suddenly lightning struck and you have not been the same sense. 

I took the picture you see at the beginning of this piece. In fact I took photographs over and over from different angles. More than that--year after year I would stand and look at this aluminum statue and marvel at its power. It stands behind the Trinity Church on Mercer Street in Princeton, New Jersey. Jesus bears the cross. His hand is outstretched bidding whomever would to follow him. 

I spent over thirty years in the summer attending an Institute down the street from this statue. And as the years rolled by and I changed in so many ways--I always walked up Mercer Street and stood and pondered the power of this statue.

I can't tell you the pull of that sculptured artistic rending--I only know that for me it is holy ground.  I have wept there. I have asked forgiveness there. I have just sat looking. I have prayed there. And I have come away so many times a little different. How? I do not know.

But this I know whatever happens and whatever life brings or fails to bring--I remember an aluminum statue and an outstretched hand and when I remember I can go on.  

Lent is the season of turning inward. Of looking past all the debris of everyday. Not evading all that is out there--and that is an understatement. But today I can still see the aluminum Jesus--and I grow quiet and hopeful and moved as if for the first time.

I hope somewhere you have such a place. It doesn't have to be religious in the regular sense. But a place where you breathe deep and touch wonder maybe for a just a moment and then move on. 

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday Thoughts

Well, it’s Ash Wednesday and Christians the world over will move down to some church, slip inside and sit in the quiet. They will come to little churches and big. And after the Hymns and Prayers and silence—they will be invited to come forward and receive the Ashes. Strange custom. Yet year after year like so many others I stand in that line. 

Why do we do this? Many reasons. But after another year—mostly this year of ups and some downs—but moving much too fast, I come back. Nobody knows us better than we know ourselves. “Rend your hearts,” the old Priest says, “and not your garments.”It would be much better to rend our garments. To tear the hell out of our clothing or throw some favorite vase against the wall. Or do a hundred push-ups or write a check. Maybe promise to attend church every week. Read my Bible during this season. Quit smoking. Watch your anger. Whistle while you work. Be kind to strangers. Do something extra around the house. That would be easy or, shall we say, easier.

But rending our hearts that’s an entirely different matter. My old College Dictionary says that Rending means to pull or tear apart. To disturb. Distress the heart with painful feelings. To cleave. To chop. To fracture. Maybe it means to do some looking on the inside. The places where nobody else can go. Maybe it means to stir up all those things in there we would just as well ignore. 

We look at Donald Trump and say: He’s disturbed. He’s a narcissist. A bully. Not a nice person. I take none of these labels back. But all these are distractions on Ash Wednesday. I don’t stand in the line and wait my turn because of the President—any President. Neither do I stand in line because my stomach turns when I think of all those dispossessed and frightened here and around the world. No. I stand in this line with my own rendings. No distractions here—or there shouldn't be. I am not here too look at that gorgeous woman in front of me or the old man shuffling on a cane. Or that handful of young people that are back there. I am not here to wince when some Lay Liturgist mispronounces some word. God knows it is hard to brush away all the distractions. 

photo by John Ragai / flickr

But this is the meaning of our own personal deep down rendings. To know that these ashes mean that I am really dust and to dust I shall one day return.  That tears at the tissue of my heart. My own finitude. My own vulnerabilities. All those outside things that invade my very being that I cannot change. The dust. As the old AA prayer says: To accept what I cannot change. Germs. A lousy President. A country in disarray. ISIS and all the rest. A back or feet that hurt. Getting up on the wrong side of the bed in a funk. The old black dog of depression that comes when I least expect him. 

My wife says, looking around says: ”Why is there so much dust in this house?” But in this line I ask, maybe just for a moment, why is there is so much dust in my own life. I need that 51st Psalm. “Have mercy upon me O lord, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out all my transgressions.”  I need what I find here surrounded by this little cluster of folk like myself. I need to be reminded of my own transgressions. Dust. All those things that I work so hard to ignore. All the dust that just keeps coming. Here at least today—and maybe this whole Lenten season I will attend to some of my own personal rendings. My own personal dust which I really would liked to wipe away once and for all.

But it keeps coming, this dust. And I keep transgressing. I come back year after year because like the old Priest said to the farmer, “We fall down and we get up.” “”We fall down and we get up.” All of us. So I’m here to be reminded of all the fallings—so many, Lord so many. And some of the fallings hurt like hell. And some are downright embarrassing. The Prodigal knelt down and whispered, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you and I am no longer worthy to be your son.” Dust. Not only dusty feet. But that Prodigal like me covered with dust and from head too toe. 

I remember the story. The boy was kissed by the old Father. The boy felt those arms holding him close. The boy surprisedly found his nakedness covered with something mighty fine. The boy found home for the first time in a long, long time. 

This Ash Wednesday line is the great leveler. No pecking order here. Just folk. Some young. But mostly old. Liver spotted. Propped up with a cane. A man in a wheel chair. A ten-year old child. A woman with a tremor. And in the middle here am I. 

Every year I keep coming back and standing in this line. The Priest marks my forehead with the smudge of a cross. I go back and sit down. It’s quiet. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I come. But maybe I come to be reminded of the rending. My dust. My transgressions. The burden of just living. The hatred of being 81 for God’s sake. The terrible truth that one day I shall return to dust.

But in this Ash Wednesday place I hear those other words. Mercy. Steadfast love. Forgiveness. Grace. Unconditional love. Like the boy kneeling before the Father. I remember the old story. The kiss. The ring. The robe. The laughter of the old man. Maybe, just maybe, this too is why I come.

--Roger Lovette /