Food for Thought-There Is A Dog Under My Desk

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There Is A Dog Under My Desk

There is a dog under my desk,
adjacent to my feet,
I feel her nasty breath,
she is staring back at me!
her wee little head,
looks so sweet,
when she tries to smile
with her canine teeth,
my toes while smelly,
rest comfortably on her belly,
she looks at me like I’m crazy,
I tell her she’s lazy,
life is never boring,
when Ruby is in your story.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Letting Go of Your Inner Narcissist-Meeting Jacob’s God, Thoughts on Genesis 32:22-31

Iconology

If this passage does anything it tells us with no uncertainty that our relationship with God can be both painful and elusive. Once we encounter God, we will be physically and emotionally different people. And yet we still may never be able to put into words what happened.

God is never something or someone we can “pin” down. As much as we try, as close as God gets, God remains both near and far at the same time. God is like a parent, a shepherd, but also a king and creator. God is so close and distant. These images are sometimes side by side in the Bible, in creative tension with one another, and reveal the central aspect of Jacob’s encounter with the Divine; God is with us at the most crucial moments in our lives. How this occurs and the form which this occurs, are questions that Jacob and we will never have answered. Yet the reality of these moments (and this moment) is undeniable.

Our relationship with God is something that happens on God’s terms. This is a story about God coming to us, not us coming to God. For me, this is where this story hits home today. That’s not the way we like to tell our personal religious stories. Face it, we’re narcissists when it comes to relating our own conversions and encounters with God. We sinned, we messed up, we knew we need to change, we met Jesus, then He became our Lord and personal savior and changed our lives. Jesus, God, (however you want to term who you feel most comfortable with) works his way in there at the end and does the divine salvation magic. But up to that point, it’s been all about us and our drama.   Again, my point is, we made the call. We called in a cleaner to work on our carpet after realizing no matter how much stain remover we applied could ever do the trick. We only needed the carpet cleaner, the service professional, for a specific task (to come in at the end), then he could leave. He wasn’t crucial to the emotional crux of our story; how we slaved over those stains, how we almost became comfortable with the filth and grime in our homes, until we saw the light during a carpet cleaning program on television or someone took us to a carpet cleaning seminar across town. My point is this: the focus is always on us and our lives. The action centers on us and decision we took in our own salvation. Jacob’s story and scripture really doesn’t want us think that way. We may know we need God. But the understanding here is that God is moving toward us. God is calling the shots. God is determining the time and place. We have very little, if anything to do with the meeting and encounter that eventually occurs.  If anything is going to occur, if redemption is going to go down, it’s not going to be due to anything we’ve done or said, it’s going to ultimately rest with God.  Jacob is in the dark and God ambushes him.  This should either scare the hell out of you or feel incredibly liberating. As for me, I’m not quite sure where I come down.

God cannot be defined, categorize, or quantified by human means. It simply won’t work. God will only be defined and determined on God’s terms and in God’s time.

Food for Thought-Reflections on Surf Fishing

It is hard to not know how to fish. The hard part and the easy part is the standing there. When you’re surf fishing you’re standing there, with your rod and reel, facing the water, staring into the unknown. It’s a fundamentally different experience from standing on a pier, a bridge, a bank, or even the side of a boat. For this to work, you have to wade into the water and look into the waves that are quickly working their way toward you. Once you’ve cast that line into surf, your position (where you stand) becomes fixed as you slowly wait for the line to work its back toward you and the shore. Standing there, staring at the sea, waiting on this small thread of your dignity snare something living, you’ve placed yourself in one of the most vulnerable positions life has to offer. While you wait upon the fish and while the fish considers your bait (over and above all the other choices on offer at that moment), you are forcing yourself to look into the abyss. When you stare into the ocean and the rhythmic pulse of the waves roll over your shin bones, the simple act of putting a line into the water changes into an existential philosophical journey. At first you notice, my spot of the beach isn’t my spot. In fact, there is no such thing as “a spot”. It goes on for miles. The water before your eyes, the waves holding your line, goes on and on into a limitless horizon. It seems to never stop. In an instant, you and your life and the place where you’re standing seem incredibly small indeed. The longer you stand there, the more the vastness begins to overwhelm you and your whole identity. Soon, the water has defined you. The sand has shifted that you can no longer move your legs. The line you cast is empty. The spell of the sea is momentarily broken.

Food for Thought-Who’s At The Door

face mat bald and glasses

Who’s That At The Door

Who’s that at the door,
was that Ruby’s snores?
Should I turn on my light,
I heard the fish bite at night,
I know it’s nothing very nice,
perhaps the Howard Street Mice,
a press gang of sea-faring rodents,
who take you without notice,
to their wee little ship parked at sea,
where I’ll be forced to eat day old cheese.

– Richard Bryant

 

Food for Thought-Sunset on the Island

Do you know what the waves said to me,
As I watched the night descend upon the sea,
It’s ok to feel this way,
It’s not trite to be cliche,
When you realize how small you are,
How large the ocean seems,
When you consider the metaphors,
One almost feels redeemed,
Able to decide forevermore,
To live as if this is no dream,
Because,
It’s ok to feel this way,
It’s ok to see the unknown,
It’s ok to wait for the dark,
It’s ok to come back home.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Off the Wagon

dodge

Off the Wagon

Little did I know,
when I told The Lord
let’s go,
he’d put me on the wagon,
take away my happy pills,
and try to cure what sin ills,
now over empty bottles of gin,
my redeemed vehicle from sin,
a 52 black Dodge with a busted front end,
I’m living out of control,
in one hand a Bible,
the other my soul,
now I’m driving at night
without any lights,
down dangerous roads,
in places where rednecks and drunks won’t go,
asking Jesus if he’ll tell,
was Dante right,
cause this place is cold as Hell,
just hoping I won’t get flattened,
next time I’m thrown from the wagon.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought- On My Parabolic Nerves-Sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Sixth Century Icon of Christ, St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

Sixth Century Icon of Christ, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

What are these parables about? They keep coming at breakneck speed.  Yes, we get it.   Jesus knows lots of open ended wisdom stories about dudes with seeds, enemies who grow weed, men with pearls, and people who are ready to sell stuff and burn things.  This week we have five parables.  Count ‘em, one, two, three, four, five.  Get your metaphorical thinking caps on.  Make sure your allegorical seat belts are secure.  In the event of the loss of meaning due to sudden metaphor collapse, masks will fall from the sanctuary ceiling.  Please put your own on first before explaining any metaphors to those beside you.  Are we ready!

My first question of the morning: Are parables the best way to do something? I can imagine that some people thought yes and some people thought no.  The key to getting a parable is listening. And most people probably didn’t listen.

Do you remember the television show “Home Improvement”?  It starred Tim Allen as “Tim the Tool Man” Taylor.  Tim had his own local “home improvement” television show called “Tool Time”, sponsored by the Binford Tool Company.  He and his trusty sidekick “Al”, would build things, repair things, and overhaul the most mundane of ordinary items.  Can you put a 250 horsepower engine on a birdhouse? Yes, Tim would do it, often to disastrous consequences.  The highlight of the show was Tim’s conversation with his wise, worldly, and well-traveled neighbor Wilson. Wilson lived over the back fence and was always partially obscured. You could only see his eyes.  Wilson knew just the right thing to say to Tim. Tim didn’t often understand. In fact, Tim rarely understood on the first go.  Tim’s usual reply to Wilson was this, “unh?” Depending on how confused or confounded he was, the longer the “unnnh?” became.  The same reply was used when his wife Jill asked probing questions about anything. Tim, who added a chainsaw to the front of my car? “Unnh?”

I think a number of people, when then heard Jesus’ parable, often had Tim’s reaction.
They said, “Unnh?”  Weeds? Tares? Who? What? Unnh?

After all, parables may not the best way to give directions.  If I’m going away for the weekend and want to get someone to look after Ruby, would l get you to dog sit and then tell you her habits and needs by telling a parable?

Would I start off by saying, “the care of Ruby may best be compared to ….”  No. I wouldn’t do that. I would come right out and say. She needs to be feed a cup of food twice a day.

So why, in the name of all that’s holy does Jesus teach in parables? Why do the Gospel writers tell us that at once, you can picture the disciples, with their pensive little faces looking at Jesus and in the next moment, they are lost, hands up, going, “Unnh?”

Why does he say parables are his preferred method of teaching?

1. First of all, the people around him, fisherman and farmers alike were used to listening to parables.

Parables and stories like Jesus taught, about wheat, fish, seeds and such had been around for centuries. They were like the dirty jokes that never seem to die. The ones people have been telling on front porches for years.

They were stories that everybody knew and everybody could relate to. Somebody knew somebody who owned a field. Somebody knew somebody who planted a mustard tree. Somebody knew somebody who had wheat and weeds in their field.

2. Jesus changed the emphasis ever so slightly from what people were used to hearing; so they would pay attention.

This is what confused some people.

This is what threw them for a loop.
Maybe they had missed the point all along.
Maybe they needed to go back and listen to him again.
Perhaps their priorities were all wrong.
They need to listen as closely as possible to what Jesus says.

3. What is Jesus saying in today’s parabolic litany?

The first thing Jesus is saying is the kingdom is worthwhile.

It is something of value. Despite conventional wisdom, i.e. the mustard seed shrub.

Most people would want to pull up the mustard seed shrub.
The mustard seed shrub is like kudzu. It is an out of control shrub that starts small, quickly takes over in areas where it is not wanted, and becomes impossible to manage for those in charge.

He says we’re that out of control weed (we are the weeds in this case), like the Kudzu, that is taking over slowly but surely, the big powerful Roman empire (both of then and now) and just when you think you’ve got us managed, you realize you can’t stop us, we’re everywhere.
Instead of the tiny seed becoming a mighty tree like the cedars of Lebanon, it becomes a lowly bush. This is not some tiny seed that grows up into a big tree. This is the image Jesus wants us to challenge with us this morning.

Make no doubt about it, Jesus is making a bit of joke here. The kingdom of God is like a pungent smelly bushy weed. The man is truly funny. But he is also letting the powers at be known while God’s reign seems small and insignificant; it would soon take over the world.

4) The next thing Jesus wants us to be thinking about is this: the Kingdom of God is worth going after. It’s worth searching for and seeking after.

If we operate from the premise that the Kingdom of God is all around us; what are we doing in here?

The kingdom of God is out there! The people we meet in the world we encounter, that’s the kingdom of God.

It’s worth the effort of leaving our comfort zones, our preconceived ideas, and hopes that God will fill this place up based on our own good looks and charm.
The benefit of putting ourselves out there, on the evangelical and kingdom of God line far outweigh any of the fears, drawbacks, or concerns we think we are holding onto.
What we’ll receive in return, whatever that is and whenever that is, will be immeasurable, when compared to the joy we think we know at this moment.
This is good but it can be so much better.

5) The last thing Jesus is trying to tell us in his retelling of these traditional stories is this: there is joy in the seeking, finding, and living in the kingdom of God.

While we are out searching for the kingdom, while we’re out discovering new aspects of God’s grace and love, it’s supposed to be a joyful activity. Joy is supposed to be at the heart of what we’re doing.

Look at how happy these people in parables are. Look at the elation in their lives. They are overcome with happiness at finding what they sought; which is the kingdom. Where is the joy in our lives? Do our lives reflect the joy which motivates the journey we are undertaking and the life we are living?
Are we willing to let go of the transient joy of this world for the limitless joy that Christ offers?

Food for Thought–Questions You May Be Afraid to Ask About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Questions You May Be Reluctant to Ask About the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

1. Does this go back to the Bible? Is this some modern outplaying of Biblical prophecy?
Answer: No. What we’re watching now has everything to do with the creation of the State of Israel by the United Nations, the subsequent decolonization of the Middle East, and the way that process was  mishandled.

2. Does this have anything to do with the 1967 Six Day War? Yes. It’s as if the war never ended. It is as those who lost East Jerusalem have never accepted Israel’s victory in that war. You’ll hear the term “pre-1967” borders thrown around quite a bit.

3. Do most Palestinians have antipathy toward average Israelis? No.

4. Do most Israelis hate their neighbors? No.

5. What about these settlements? In certain contested areas of land, Israel is continuing to build new homes and settle families in these areas. The people settling in these areas are usually very devout Orthodox families who believe do believe in the Biblical commands to settle the land. Here, theology and politics clearly overlap. These settlements would be the first areas in any negotiation that the Palestinians would probably want back. They would be the last areas the Israelis would want to give back. Those settlements which have been returned were done so at great political and social cost to the government and wider society. Any images of troops moving whole families out of their homes hardens Israeli public opinion against dialogue with the Palestinians, especially after a period of bombing like the one we’re experiencing now.

6. Can your opponent today be your ally tomorrow? Yes. Go read your Bible.

7. Is this conflict within this conflict as cut and dry and as black and white as some would like to make it? Of course not.

8. Is the goal to let the people of the Middle East, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian decide their future without western influence? Yes. Colonialism made this mess. Will other forms of colonialism fix it? No.

Food for Though-A Devotion on Isaiah 56:1-8

A Devotion on Isaiah 56:1-8

By Richard Bryant

56 Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.

I meditate on the words: Maintain and Justice. I pray to do what is right. I ask for my salvation to come. I wait for the revelation of my deliverance. I ask, what will the revelation of my deliverance look like? Am I prepared for what I’ll see?
How am I maintaining justice today? Am I doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord? Am I ready for my salvation? Again, I ask, am I aware and ready to see the revelation of my own deliverance?

2 Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.

Does my face reflect such joy and happiness? Do I go about my day with happiness by holding fast and keeping the Sabbath? Am I honoring God by honoring my life and God’s commandments? Do I take time, even in the midst of this busy summer season to give myself a break and give God a few minutes? Do I turn the cell phone off, shut down the computer, and step back from the world so I can step toward God?

Again, I meditate on the words: Maintain and Justice. I pray to do what is right. I ask for my salvation to come. I wait for the revelation of my deliverance.I listen to the words of the prophet. I do not put words into his mouth. I let his images fill my mind.

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

Meditate and pray upon this: what the Lord has given will not be cut off. We are connected to God. We can try to cut ourselves off from God but God will not disconnect from us. We become monuments to what God has done in our lives. Pray upon God’s connections and monuments in your life.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

Will I do as he says and live as he says? Will our house be called a house of prayer for all peoples?
Again, I meditate on the words: Maintain and Justice. I pray to do what is right. I ask for my salvation to come. I wait for the revelation of my deliverance.