Richard’s Ideas for Making It Through The Day

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1. You are better at life than you believe yourself to be. Not the pretend stuff of life, I mean the real, gut level day to day things that make you who you are. Believe better, be better.

2. Take the negative tape, (the “I Suck” playlist) off shuffle and delete it from your phone, device, and from  in between your ears.

3. Whatever “it” is, don’t give up on “it”.

4. Today is just today. Do today. Tomorrow will be its own challenge.

5. Show up and be present: for yourself, because of someone else.

6. Make room for others on your journey. We’re not meant to live or die alone.

7. Set a personal best in smiling or listening.

8. Does your worldview make your happy or miserable? How quickly can you change it?

9. If you truly believe “Life is Good” do more than buy a shirt, enact tangible goodness.

10. Gratitude underlies everything.

Download a PDF of the Ideas Below

Ideas for Making It Through the Day

Richard’s Summer Survival Tips

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1. Be nice for no other reason than niceness itself.

2. Take more deep breaths.

3. Think before you say anything; whether good, bad, or indifferent.

4. When speaking to others, before you speak, ask “how are you?” Try this before you say “how you are.”

5. Recall the last time someone expected you to be perfect and how crummy that felt. Don’t make others feel bad because you hold unreal expectations. This could apply to family members, wait staff in a restaurant, or coworkers.

6. Give people the benefit of the doubt, even if they’re rude or mean. This may be the most difficult one of all.

7. If you’re flustered, think of it like a summer breeze. It will blow through, pass by, and eventually die down. Flustration (the combination of flustered and frustration) is not a permanent state of mind. Sit down, count to ten, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Flustration feeds on fear. The moment you take charge of your surroundings, you deprive flustration of the oxygen it needs to survive.

8. The hymns which talk about joy coming in the morning or at dawn are beautiful but wrong. Joy can come at any time of day. You don’t need a cup of coffee and a sunrise. You need to be a human being open to life without preconditions. You don’t even need a “happy place”. Joy is not dependent on physical geography. If you have a soul, you can find joy.

9. Take out your mental trash in appropriate ways. Sharing our problems and attacking others are two different ways of coping with stress.

10. Remember, you are not alone. You share the world with others. Be aware of the lives of those around you. People love you and care about you.

Maintaining the Status Quo

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It is no easy task to maintain the status quo.  It is hard work to keep a two hundred year old political system in place; one designed by men we never knew, in a time we never lived, and shaped by values we’ve never understood.  Celebrating such an ancient system is much easier than living it.

This is what America does each July 4th.  Independence Day is a collective celebration, a reminder that we have maintained the status quo for one more year.  We do this by engaging in ludicrously expensive displays of fireworks, whose pretty explosions and loud bangs never remind us of how war has become the status quo in post 9/11 America.  We put the status quo on parade.  Sometimes sober, sometimes drunk; we march to a microcosm of our own America, a snapshot of the status quo we’ve grown to know and love, down the main streets of our souls to remind us that we’ve never had it so good, like we do in this time, in this place.

We like to put a lot of energy into maintaining the status quo and you know what? It doesn’t look like we’re any further down the road than we were last year, despite all that time and effort.  We’re still at war, broke, drunk on power, hating each other, and coming apart at the seams.  I’m not sure that’s a status quo worth celebrating.  Perhaps breaking the parade up and moving down side streets to make a new plan, a “runaway American dream” like Bruce Springsteen describes in Born to Run is a better idea.

Springsteen says, “I want to know if love is wild, I want to know if love is real.”  There’s something better than our version of the status quo.   I’m with Bruce. Here’s what I want to tell you:  the Good News of the Kingdom of God breaks apart our carefully crafted, stage managed, well-maintained status quos; even the status quo called the Fourth of July.    Each time we come to celebrate the Fourth of July, we are engaging in the maintenance of the most powerful status quo the world has ever seen.  This is why the church is so important.  The church says, “There is a new way to see the world and those who live in it.”  It’s love.  If we’re not challenging the powerful status quo of our culture, with a message of love,  instead of being co-opted by it, then what good are we?  No good at all.  We will look nothing at all like the movement Jesus created.  “We might as well get out while we young,” to quote Bruce again.

When we gather in church we are not maintaining an illusion of God’s past or a memory of how things were years ago.  We are doing something entirely new.  The beauty of the Eucharistic liturgy is that out of our broken memories, the words of institution weave a pattern of unrevealed newness.  Out of the broken status quo of death, from the maintenance of malaise; we have received a simple new promise.  This new promise asks we remember: you can kill the dreamer but you cannot kill the dream.  What is this dream? For love you do not deserve and life you have not earned; all things will be made right.  We’re going to try and put the pieces back together.  It’s the irony of the broken bread.  By retelling the story of Christ’s broken body, we proclaim the mystery of faith:  we are prepared to be glue in a world determined to tear itself apart.  This is God’s promise, God’s risk, the dream worth dying for.  Sometimes we will fail and at other times succeed.  Our risk is that we try.  In action isn’t an option.

When we gather as God’s people, God is not demanding we take a risk to recall the past but to act decisively and bust open the future.  Of course that’s what we’re supposed to do; it’s much easier said than done.  The status quo has a powerful inertia pulling us back to our assigned spots to carry out our responsibilities.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  We can muck up the status quo.  Throw a wrench in the machine. Start by listening to God’s dream instead of watching the nightmares of the recycled status quo.

I Want A Chocolate Chip Cookie

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There better be a shop,
Or some kind of store,
A place that makes the stuff,
You know,
With sliding front doors,
Selling the food I really need,
The ones l like,
Huge and round,
Which demand,
Two big and blue
Furry hands,
A cookie,
A chocolate cookie, man
I need something sweet,
Tell me please,
How to get to Sesame Street.

–Cookie Monster
(aka Richard Bryant)

Things I Enjoy Doing

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1. Discussing the daily (often minute) changes in climate and weather with my neighbors.  I do enjoy talking about the abundance or lack of rain.

2. Telling the people who ride golf carts down my street to slow down.

3. Walking into the hardware store and pretending I know what I’m looking for.

4. Imagining inventive ways my dogs might try to kill me.

5. Mailing myself oversize postcards so I receive a postage due notice and personal correspondence through the US Mail. (This enables #1 to occur.)

Homicidal Gravity Strikes Again, or Maybe I’m Just Crazy

A few weeks ago, I opened a sermon with the oft quoted but rarely cited dictum from Benjamin Franklin regarding the certainty of death and taxes.   In the days following the shooting in Orlando, United Methodist Insight published my essay entitled, “We Are All Mortal”.  In this article, I wrote about the certainty of death.  I am fascinated by the idea of certainty.  Yet, if we take a moment and consider how wrong we’ve been (as the human race), I’m almost certain we would never be certain again.

Other than death and taxes, what’s the one thing most of us can be certain of?  Think hard and beyond the love of your significant other, pet, or the next sunset.  Those too are not guaranteed.  If you said gravity, you’d be correct.  If we’re sure of anything, it’s that gravity exists, does what it does, and will always do the same thing.  I was reminded of this unhappy certainty only a week ago.  Armed with my new Fitbit, I was exercising.  I was walking a well-defined route around the island, designed to help me get a jump on my daily goal of 10,000 steps.  It was early Monday morning when I turned the corner along “British Cemetery Road”.  There are two cemeteries along the road, one British (a Commonwealth War Grave) and one belonging to a local family.  This road is flat, well-paved and free from any obstructions.

One of the names on a head stone facing the road caught my eye.  “William E. Williams”, I said out loud.  That sounded like a funny name.  I started making up silly combinations in my head.  I wondered if William ever ran for office did he make his signs to read, “William E. “Bill” Williams”.   It seems like many local politicians when running for tiny rural offices; if they’re named William, invariably put “Bill” in quotes beside their name.

That’s when I fell.  I placed one foot in front of the other and the second foot took me down.  Gravity grabbed hold and forced me flat on my face.  My knee was gashed and bleeding, I couldn’t walk.  (A tetanus shot was forthcoming.) Something was off with my right wrist because it didn’t want to help me move, roll over, or push up.  I was down for the count.  As such, being that I am geographically at sea level, I am certain I slammed into the pavement at 9.8 m/s2   .

Or did I? How certain am I?  I could be wrong.  I might be crazy.  If anything has changed, over the past two thousand years of human history it is our understanding of gravity.  Do we believe what we know today will be the sum total of our gravitational knowledge in five hundred years?  You’d be crazy to say yes.

Aristotle’s view of gravity was the “thing”, set in stone, and people were killed for believing anything else.  This lasted for two thousand years.  Until Isaac Newton comes along with his story about an apple; then Einstein appears nearly four hundred years later with more ideas and our ideas about gravity keep changing.  The big point is that Newton was basically right and for twenty centuries, humanity was collectively and objectively wrong.  We couldn’t have been more wrong about something we were so certain about which we were right.

If we can believe an idea as collectively true yet objectively false for twenty centuries, why would we assume that our understanding of gravity or even religion couldn’t change?  We’ve only known Newton’s laws for 350 or so years and given our track record of massive wrongness, how can we argue what we believe to be right today will be empirically correct forever?

Are we to believe our answers are the final answers?  And by this, I mean our answers to any of the great issues of our day.  If the answer is “yes”, it means our society is at the end of the process which has defined what it means to be alive.   “Because it is there,” said Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, when asked, “why do it?”  Today, there is nothing “there” because we no longer accept “there” as valid physical or emotional places.  We believe we know “there” and all there is to say about it.  We cannot be wrong.  The possibility does not exist.

However, the moment you acknowledge the smallest chance of being wrong about something like gravity, everything else is on the table.  If I am wrong about gravity, if collective human wisdom was so misplaced, what else is up for grabs?  You could be wrong about everything, right?  As I lay on the unforgiving pavement, bloody and swollen, I realized:  perhaps now is time to give up on the idea of being right about anything at all.  Maybe this is where I need to be.  It’s better to be wrong than obsessed with my own sense of rightness.  Thank you, gravity.

Jesus was in the “wrong” business.  His central premise was to be Newton to the Pharisees’ Aristotle.  Forget the scripture where he says, “I haven’t come to overturn the law.”  Those are only words.  Look at his actions.  Everything he does asks this question:  “What if the way you’ve been thinking about God for thousands of years is wrong?”  At the end of every parable is an implied question, “What if you’re wrong in how you think about God’s priorities and values in the world?”  It is, with Jesus, the more we embrace our capacity to be wrong, the closer we get to a starting point within the Kingdom of God.

If everyone knows they’re right, where does that leave us?

Or, I could be wrong.

From The Howard Street Version: 1 Kings 19:1-15a

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1 Kings 19:1-15a

Ahab ratted Elijah out. He told his wife Jezebel everything Elijah had done to her precious prophets of Baal.  He spared no detail, the killing with the swords and the fireball from the sky.  This made Jezebel right angry.  I mean she was fighting mad.  She told one of her errand boys to take a message to Elijah.  Here’s what she said, “I don’t care what happens to me, I don’t care if it kills me to do this but by this time tomorrow you’re going to be as dead as my prophets you just killed.  Love, Jezbel.”

This scared the crap out of Elijah.  He ran for all he was worth.  He knew this woman was going to kill him.  He left town right away, boarding the next ferry, going to Swan Quarter in Hyde County.  It was more than his Duke intern could take.  The intern stayed behind in Ponzer while Elijah made the lonely day’s journey across Lake Mattamuskeet.  Elijah was sick and tired.  After a day, he sat down under a solitary cedar tree and said, “I give up Lord, just take me now.  I am no better than all those preachers who went before me and failed.”  Echoing Fred Sanford’s desire to have the big one and join Elizabeth, Elijah muttered himself to sleep under the solitary cedar tree.

One the morning of the second day, a messenger from God showed up to cook him breakfast.  “Get up, Eat something!” the messenger said.  Elijah opened his eyes to see pancakes and orange juice prepared right by his cedar tree pillow.  This wasn’t what he expected.  As he was hungry and like pancakes, he ate heartily and went back to bed.

The Lord’s messenger and short order cook showed up again.  This time he had additional food and more instructions to eat.  “The further you go out the harder it’s going to get.  You’re going to need your strength for the journey.”  Elijah needed to eat enough to keep him going for 40 days and 40 nights.  He had a long way to walk until he got to a mountain on the other end of the state.  On his path there were no rest stops or drink machines.  In this time you walked straight through until you got to where God told you to go.

The holy mountain, somewhere north of Asheville had a cave.  Elijah thought he’d be safe there.  Once he got inside, he heard the voice of the Lord ask him, “Elijah, why are you here, why have you come all this way?”

Elijah replied, “Things aren’t going too well for me right now.  I really do love the Lord but I can’t keep the God thing going all by myself in Israel.  All of my colleagues have been killed and I’m the only preacher left to do the work.  Now they want to kill me too!”

The Lord told him to go out and stand by the edge of the cave; he was thinking about making a personal appearance.  The first thing that happened was a strong wind blew through the mountains, like a hurricane, and tore up trees and rocks.  But the Lord had nothing to do with the wind.  After the wind, an earthquake hit.  It was rough and tumble with rocks falling too.  The Lord wasn’t in the earthquake.  When the earthquake was done, a forest fire blazed through burning everything in sight.  God wasn’t in that either.

After the fire, however, there was a tiny thin sound.  The Lord was in that sound.  The Lord asked his first question to Elijah.  “Why are you here?”

I love the Lord, but I can’t keep this God thing going all on my own.  My friends are dead and now they want to kill me.

The Lord said, “Get up, go back through Mattamuskeet to the Outer Banks.”

 

Excerpted from the Howard Street Version, a modern translation with a down east brogue, by Richard Bryant