Sunday, July 30, 2017

Church--What's It All About?

(This Board shows the Pastors of the Iffley parish Church, St. Mary of the Virgin, found in Iffley Oxfordshire, England. It dates back to 1170. I saw this Board in the foyer of the Church I visited and marveled at how long that church has been serving that tiny parish. Despite the ups and downs through the years the beat still goes on in churches around the world.)

Suppose next Sunday morning a Martian landed in your front yard. She would ring your doorbell and introduce herself. And it’s about 10:30—and you don’t have time to talk. You tell her politely that you are getting ready for church and you don’t want to be late. Church? she will ask. What’s Church? And you try to answer as best you can in the few minutes you have left before you get in the car. What would you have said to this Martian standing there with a question on her face. Let me answer this question with a story.

A friend of mine was visiting a Seminary and he walked into a classroom and saw these words scribbled on a blackboard. 
We gather together: 
To tell the story…
To break the bread and take the the cup…
To bring here the things of our lives…
And to lift up our hearts in hope.” 

And that’s about the best definition of what Church is all about than I can think of. And if some Martian knocks on my door—asking this question—I hope I can remember these words. Know a better definition  of church? I don’t.

Let’s unpack those words. For that strange Martian and for us too.


We gather together to tell the story. We all know this—but the problem is that today we are not altogether sure what the story is. The Book says that the story is embedded in this word gospel. Mark when he began his book wrote: This is the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ.  Gospel is good news. And every gospel in its own way tell about the good, good things that Jesus did when he came. 

But the problem is that somewhere along the line from then until now a lot of people are not sure about this gospel and it’s story. All my life I’ve heard it’s not always good news. And out there this morning watching TV or jogging down the road or just reading the paper—they wouldn’t be caught dead in church. Why? They heard nothing but bad news. Don’t. Must. Should. Ought. Wagging a finger in judgment. Used to be it was No drinking…dancing and smoking. Used to be No mixed bathing. Used to be White’s only. Used to be only respectable people. And out there today are a whole lot of people sleeping under bridges in old paper boxes that wouldn’t dare come into a church. Why? They wouldn’t feel welcome. They know that and we know that. Why? They think what happens here is bad news. And how wrong they all are. 

The story is about as far from those ideas as anything I know. It’s not finger-pointing judgment. It’s the reverse. It’s opening your arms wide and staying welcome. That’s the theme of the Bible from beginning to end. In Genesis The Lord God walking in Eden in the cool of the day—weeping, weeping at what Adam and Eve had done.  Or turn to the New Testament. God so loved the world. Huh? The world? Not just the Presbyterians or the Americans or the Legals or the Republicans or Democrats. Not just us white middle-class folk. But God also loved the world and that’s the story. No qualifications.

In Luke’s fourth chapter he tells us what Jesus came to do. In Jesus’ first sermon he took his text from Isaiah 61. 

“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me 
To bring good news to the  poor 
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives 
and recovery of sight to the blind
to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4. 18-19)

Remember the reception he got? People in his hometown were furious. They muttered: “This, this isn’t the story? That's crazy.” Some of them even tried to kill him. But remember his words. Good news. Not bad news. Luke 4.40 says that: “As the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.” We  come here to tell a story and it is good news for all. Not finger-pointing—but Open Arms.


I told my Martian friend that:  We gather together to break the bread and take the cup.
Photo by James Emery / flickr
Some churches take Communion every week. Some monthly or quarterly. But regardless of how often we do this—one of the centerpiece's of almost every Christian Church is a Table. 

]Almost every home has a kitchen table—here in church we have this Table. And around our kitchen tables healthy families eat together and laugh together and celebrate birthdays and so many other occasions. I was in a group one time where we had to answer the question: What is the warmest room in the house where you grew up? You knows what I said. The kitchen. That old Oak table where we gathered day after day. That was the warmest room.

And here we come back to the Table to remember. It is one of the warmest parts of this house, too. For around this Table we take the Bread—we hungry ones—and we remember that this is the Bread that came down out of heaven and that he or she that eats this bread will live forever. There is something here that, as my Mother used to say, “sticks to your innards.” So when we leave here and encounter the hard things—we remember how he broke the Bread and gave it out for the hungers and sustenance of our lives.

We also take the Cup from this Table. And we remember on our better days that he said that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all our sins. So this is a forgiving table. And we remember that here the burdens of our lives can be lifted and we start all over again.  No wonder after we confess our sins here we give everyone what we call the assurance of pardon. “As far as the east is from the west so far has God removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps. 103.12) So this is a remembering place. And we come back to the Table again and again just like we sit down at our tables at home. 


Is that all? The Martian said. Not quite I told her. We come here to deal with the things of
our lives. I think it means that we don’t leave the heavy things we carry outside the door. It’s a thin faith that thinks we can only deal with the happy things here. And some churches today are making a cottage industry out of smile, smile, smile.And do we smile here? And we do celebrate our victories? Of course.  But we also bring with us whatever it is that hurts and pinches and keeps us awake at night. Remember the old gospel song: “Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.”

Once at a Communion service, I asked the congregation to put down down what burdens they had and what they would like God to help them with. And they came to the Table bringing their little lists and left them in an offering plate before they took the Bread and the Cup. They were all anonymous—but these are some of the things they had written.

“God have mercy on me, my sins are too many.”
“There are betrayals every day of my life, but especially, I am aware of those that affect my family and my God—betrayals of envy and impatience.”
“Impatience—inability to cope with different situations.”
“In family relationships and service to mankind, I have been lacking and weak.”
“I have not cared enough for those in need around me. I have remained too caught up in my own personal affairs.”
“I have trouble believing the God is a functional force in the universe ands in the resurrection of Christ.”
“The feeling that is must work to earn the love of others.”
“I have scorned a friend this past week to my shame.”
“For the lack of faith in time of trial and troubles.” 
My downfall—anger, anxiety.”
“Egocentricity and lust.”
“Holding a grudge and remaining bitter.”
“I have not always told the truth.”

Here in this quiet place we can bring the things of our lives knowing that God hears and God listens and God forgives. And knowing this—we know that none of us have room for self- righteousness. We are all the same sinners in need of heaven’s mercy and help.


I could tell my Martian friend was getting figidity. And so I told her: just one last thing. We
come here to lift up our hearts in hope. Hope, she said? What’s that? I told her it might be the most special word we need today. We watch TV, read the papers, listen to all the noise around us and it’s easy to lose hope. My sister-in-law says: “We’re going out just in time.” And there are days when we all feel like that. Hope-less.

Washington in a mess. We wonder about places like Iraq and Afghanistan and North Korea and Russia. We read about immigrants that are too scared to send their kids to school these days. One Muslim man told me that his wife would not go the the Mall by herself. She wears a scarf around her head. She is afraid. But we all have personal troubles. Health issues. Worries about family members. Or my friend who told me the other day his fourteen year old grandson took his life. He told me it happened months ago and is still hurts so bad. 

This was the kind of world that Jesus came into. And what did he do in that troubled time of slavery and poverty and early death and crucifixions and mean Rome breathing down their necks and Caesar stalking around like Jesus Christ.  

Paul wrote some of his most powerful words to the shabbiest church he knew. They were fussing among themselves. They were engaged in all sorts of hanky pankey. Word came that Paul, in prison could be killed by Rome and they said, “See…See—how can we go on.” And this Apostle who had been through it all wrote these words to them: ”Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” A few sentences later he tells them why. “But we have this treasure in clay pots, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” He did not gild the lily. This is how he continued: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” and then just a paragraph later he says it over again:”So we do not lose heart.” The word is hope.

And so for two thousand years I told my Martian friend the church has kept going. Good days and terrible times. Plagues and tears and personal battles and fights in churches and ins and outs and ups and downs. Yet they kept going—and so must we.

For this Jesus who came and still stretches out his nailed-scarred hands and does what he has always done. He brings good news to the poor. He proclaims release to the captives. He recovers sight to the blind…and he lets the oppressed go free…and whatever year it is—whatever is going on—this, he says,  is the year of the Lord’s flavor.

And so somehow in the middle of all their madness and ours—we can find just enough hope to go on. And this is why we have a church…and this is why we keep coming back year after year—decade after decade—generation after generation. 

We meet God here and somehow, like all those others, we find this is enough.

(This sermon was preached at the Pendleton Presbyterian Church, Pendleton SC, July 30, 2017)

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Anorexia and Libby--Second Stanza

About a month or so ago I posted a blog that my Granddaughter Libby had written about the struggle with anorexia. Her brave words must have struck a chord because over 1900 people have read her words she let me post on my blog. Libby has written a second piece about that struggle. I thought you might want to read this second stanza of her journey with ed (eating disorder) and what she has learned. She is doing well--studying at South Carolina Upstate, continues to run on the cross-country team and is making good grades. She works this summer as a lifeguard at a Spartanburg (SC) County Club. She has just been admitted to Nursing School. We are mighty proud of her. Run, Libby run! --rl

Recovery is such a simple word, yet it is the furthest thing from simple. You don't just choose recovery, you have to keep choosing it over and over and over again. We all wish recovery was just as easy as walking into your therapy session and coming out cured; but we all know that's just not a thing. At all. Ever. First off, realizing that you are even worth recovery is an obstacle in itself. "I'm fine. Nothing is wrong. I'm not hungry. I'm not tired. I don't need help. I have this under control." Those are some of the biggest lies I ever told myself. ED constantly told me that I was okay, and that if I stepped into the world of recovery then that would mean I'm of course the last thing I wanted to do was step into that world. I couldn't let go of ED; that was just unheard of in my world. I thought I was nothing without him. Every time someone asked me if I was okay all I wanted to do was talk about it; scream, yell, shout about it... but all I ever did was say "I'm fine."

​I knew I needed help. The voices inside my head were literally killing me. I felt paralyzed, and I felt nothing; the only thing that would put a smile on my face was if my stomach was growling and if I was shaking from hunger. Depressing, I know; but that was the truth. I had friends and family constantly telling me that I needed help and that if I got it, then I would be free. But I just could not do it, until I got to my breaking point. I would go to my annual doctor's appointments and they would name everything that will happen to me if I did not gain weight, one of those things included death. I wanted to be free from this more than anything, I truly did.

One day, the voices along with the anxiety attacks got so bad that I screamed I needed help, and shortly after, my mom got me help right away. I went to my first therapy session, and I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was. I remember her blindfolding me while she weighed me, and then measured everything on my body. I was confused, because I did not think I was even that skinny. I also remember asking her a bunch of questions like, "wow, so you're saying if I eat pancakes, I still won't become fat?!" You guys are probably laughing at that question as you're reading this, but that was a legitimate concern for me. I loved pancakes dude, but I wasn't allowed to ever eat them because of ED. After leaving the session, I felt a little better. I had a professional dietician telling me that I will not become fat if I ate pancakes...I mean that's like the greatest news ever. After leaving that session, I thought I would go home that week and be able to eat pancakes, or really just eat whatever I wanted...but ED had other plans for me.

This is probably when I realized most that I had a problem. I did not realize I was addicted to this behavior, until I tried to stop. I wanted the pancakes, or the cookie, or the flipping salty chip for crying out loud, but ED wouldn't let me, and of course I listened. I thought to myself, "dang Libby you are really stuck." I wanted to recover more than anything in the entire world, but I couldn't. The therapy sessions continued, but I just kept getting worse. Each week I was supposed to challenge myself and eat a "scary" food...but I would never do it. NO way. I thought that I could still hold onto parts of my eating disorder while working to be recovered, but that's just a bunch of booty; because that little part will always be there and when something slips up, that little part willblow up. I would have eating disorder specialists look at me in the eye and say "Libby you will die if you keep this up much longer." You'd think that would make me wake up and change everything right? Well, nope. I was involved in more than one therapy sessions a week. One of the sessions was with a group. I only went one time, and I cancelled every other time we were supposed to meet. I came up with some lame excuse in my head and convinced myself I couldn't go to it...when in reality I could have totally gone, I was just too scared.

Months went on, and as I have previously explained in my story on the home page, I did get better; so
I won't go into the details again. Recovery is the best thing that has ever happened to me, because without it, I obviously would not even be writing this right now. Recovery to me is never-ending. Ya I don't spend most of my time in therapy sessions or doctors appointments anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't still struggle. That doesn't mean "poof! you're cured." It has gotten easier of course, and  have learned through recovery how to deal with the thoughts. This blog is a part of my recovery journey. It's very easy to "miss my eating disorder," but when I write about it and share it with the world, it reminds me that I have come such a long way, and that going back to that life that almost killed me, would probably kill me this time... and none of us want that am I right?

​That doesn't go to say that relapsing isn't okay, because it is totally and completely okay, and normal.I  relapse to this very day; but I don't ever give up on the fight. There is no cure for an eating disorder; it will never be gone forever. But you can chose to take those small steps forward rather than backwards; there will be an easier day, a true meaningful smile across your face, and most day there will be a mirror that does not matter to you anymore. ​If you have this illness you will probably carry it for the rest of your life; so it's your decision to let it kill you, or fight like hell and make a good story out of it. No food will ever hurt you the way an eating disorder will.

You are allowed to scream, and cry, and struggle, but whatever you do, do not ever give up. There is always light at the end of that dark tunnel.

​​If we "fail" at anorexia, we win ​at life. Remember that. We don't choose anorexia, but we sure as hell can choose recovery, so please do it. Whatever it is you may be struggling with...depression, anxiety, bulimia, anorexia, etc...just tell it to screw itself because it is not welcomed here. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. I am living proof of saying that recovery was more than worth it. ​And by the way, choosing to step into the world of recovery does not mean you're weak, it means you are one of the brave souls that admitted they needed help.

​Thanks for reading,

​P.S.- I can now eat pancakes without having a total freak there's another reason why recovery is worth it.

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When You Lose a Son

A friend of mine just lost his high school grandson from suicide. He had been troubled for a long time but nobody knew that this would happen. Someone said of another's suicide: "he died of sadness." I have said that the depression which brings on suicide is like cancer--it gets hold of someone and they see no way out. But for the young to do this just as life is starting out seems doubly sad.

I wrote my friend today and said I want to recommend a sermon Bill Coffin once preached at Riverside after his son died in an auto accident. The sermon is splendid and has helped a great many people.

Also I recommended two books which I know a lot of people have found helpful. The first is by Nicholas Wolterstorff, who taught (or teaches) at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The book is named, Lament for a Son and tells the sad story of Nicholas' 25 year old son, Eric who died in a mountain-climbing accident. Henri Nouwen once wrote of this book: "Wolsterstorff helps open the flood-gates for those who cannot articulate their pain...This little book is a true gift to those who grieve..."

The second book is Richard Lischer's, Stations of the Heart. He has taught for over thirty years at Duke Divinity School. This book is about his son, Adam's bout with cancer. Here we find the story of one last summer and the young man who lived it as honestly and faithfully as possible. This is an unforgettable book about life and death and the terrible blessing of saying good-bye.

Wolsterstorff's Benediction at his son's funeral is worth pondering.

"When we were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, we were baptized into his death and buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. Those who believe in him, though they die, yet shall they live."

His Benediction closed with these words:

"Into your tender hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your beloved servant, Eric. Acknowledge, we pray you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your abiding mercy, into the rest of your everlasting peace, into the glorious company of those who dwell in your light. And may your kingdom of peace come quickly."

Enough said.

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Donald Trump Stole One Preacher's Church

photo by Marie Longhin / flickr

Brett Younger is a talented preacher-writer. He writes this terrific (that is if you are not right wing) article on how the Pressident hijacked his home church in Mississippi. Read his words. They are great. Many of us could say the same thing about where we grew up and the place where we first found our hearts "strangely warmed." Funny I don't remember any American flags lining the walks outside my church in the fifties. We did not drag politics into the Sanctuary even though later I knew we were silent on some issues (like race and injustice). Yet despite it all one day I read Paul's words written to that troubled, troubled church at Corinth--he reminded them that "we are not peddlers of God's word like so many..." (II For. 2.17), He did not stop there. Paul also reminded that fledgling congregation that "we have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us." (II Cor. 4.7)

The late great Carlyle Marney used to say: "Boys, (this was before we opened the door to women reverends--which is a good thing) if they ever learn Jesus was a Jew we're going to be in bad trouble." And I would add: "If many churches realize that Jesus and his disciples were not Republicans we too, are going to be in a mess of trouble."

I miss Bill Coffin. I wonder what he would say about all those fat Evangelical preachers surrounding Donald Trump the other day and praying for this serial adulterer, this serial liar and this thin-skinned man that has yet to lead this country. Nary a negative word would they say about him. Years before Trump became our King,  Coffin wrote: "It behooves us North American Christians to realize what the German churches learned too late some forty years ago: it is not enough to resist with confession, we must confess with resistance."

photo by ART4TheGloryOfGod / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

HEALTH CARE--Listen to the Stories

photo by Miguel Discort / flickr

When I read this letter I wanted to share it with you. If we listen to the people...if we listen to their stories...we will know that this Bill to "replace" the Affordable Health Care Bill will be a disaster for millions of people. 

To date--the bill has not passed...we're not talking about politics or Democrats or Republicans--we are talking about human beings. The manner in which we deal with this problem will reflect the kind of people we truly are. 

"Dear Roger,
I am one of 317,000 South Carolinians who has gained health care coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act.  Before Obamacare, I had not been able to see a doctor for over 20 years. 
When I finally had insurance and could see a doctor, I was diagnosed with cancer.  Without the Affordable Care Act, I would have died.  After a grueling treatment regimen, I am scheduled for surgery next week.  If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my life will once again be in danger.
I need your help.  And I am far from alone.  Senate Republicans have been working behind closed doors on a secret plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and today they're revealing their version of Trumpcare.  As it turns out, it is a whole lot like the House version of Trumpcare, which would have taken health insurance away from more than 400,000 South Carolinians
Lives are literally at stake, including my own.  Let's keep up the fight together.
 Sam Martin
Former SCDP State Executive Committeeman, Newberry County"

Nicholas Kristof, great columnist for the New York Times has written two great articles about this attempt to dismantle the Affordable Health Care Act. The first relates too the Drug War and what will happen if this new Health Care Bill is passed. 

The second article by Kristof listens to the stories about Health Care as it relates to women and Planned Parenthood. And so should we. Use your influence to express how you feel about this subject.   

--Roger Lovette /