Why Halloween Sucks

  1. Yes, I said it. This day, the rituals, the costumes, the traditions, the ideas, they all suck.
  2. Children dressing in costumes and asking for candy from strangers is a cultural norm that is well past its prime.  The Great Pumpkin is dead.  Let us move on.
  3. Halloween is really All Hallows Eve, a religious festival that precedes, All Saints Day. It’s a Christian thing with pagan origins (much like Christmas).  Now it’s been commercialized and fetishized into a celebration of fear, death, and early onset diabetes in children.
  4. Adults enjoy Halloween because it creates excuses for mid week alcohol abuse, stupid selfies to post on Facebook, and reasons to wear something made in a Chinese sweat shop now deemed “sexy” by the capitalists at Party City.
  5. Halloween sucks because it forces well meaning homeowners who participate in this absurd ritual to be nice to people who’ve spent no time preparing their costumes.  “Yes, don’t you all look nice?”  No, you don’t look lovely.  You look like you grabbed a flashlight; a pillow case, a sheet, and your mom’s eyeliner.  You look like crap.  You don’t deserve my candy.  You deserve my pity and scorn.
  6. If turning off your light meant you could avoid the whole thing, I would do it. You can’t avoid something that’s infected the whole culture.  We are forced to watch this madness.
  7. Who said putting a rotten gourd on your porch was attractive? Who ever thought this was a good idea?  No one in their right mind!
  8. Do we not have enough death in this world? Let’s pick a day where we make death fun and cute.  How dumb is that?
  9. It’s just a place holder for Christmas. Christmas doesn’t need place holders, especially one that’s so vapid.  Go straight to Christmas if you love it so much.
  10. Halloween sucks because all the witty people who know they’re witty get to foist their wittiness on the rest of humanity with their witty Halloween costumes and we’re asked to bow down to the altar of their wittiness for another year. If I wanted to worship wittiness, I would read Dorothy Parker.
  11. No one wants to live in a bi-polar trick-or-treat world of punishment and reward.  Life like that is a living hell.  Why experiment with such nightmarish stupidity for one day?  Because it’s cute and we’ve always done it, what will it hurt?  Everything, it hurts everything.
  12. Each time a door bell rings and a child says, “trick-or-treat”; Allah, Buddha, Jesus, and Krishna cry.  Angels lose their wings and humpback whales die.

Tales from My Grandma’s Table

Grandma in her pumpkin apron

No one used my grandmother’s front door.  Everyone, friends and family, whether they were black or white, entered through the side door.  The front door worked just fine.  It was right there with a rickety screen and four brick steps which led to the top.  I didn’t know why it was never used.  I always walked through the side door.  Questions about front door usage were above my pay grade.  I was just grateful to be in the house. If required, I would have climbed through a window to get to her kitchen table. Her food was that good.

Grandma kept a towel at the bottom of the front door.  If she or anybody had decided to open the door (from the inside) someone would have to move that towel. No preacher, principal, or vacuum cleaner salesman ever came to that door.  The towel, on occasion, was changed.  Moisture and the occasional accumulation of dog hair mandated laundering the towel.  I suspected, that on towel change day, the might be cracked and the whole are might be cleaned.  If this happened, it occurred while I was at school.

When school was out and dinner had yet to be cooked, I’d show up by the side door in search of food, a place to do homework, and space to reflect on the day I’d finished.  Those three things:  food, a place to study, and somewhere to reflect on my life would all occur in a single spot opposite the side door. The door was only a narrow boundary between where I was going and where I needed to be.  Once the door was open, the distance between the door frame and the kitchen was a little less than a single arm length.  You went straight from the door and doorway (the world) to sitting at the table.  There was nowhere else to go.

Once inside you were already at the table.  The table had always been present.  I couldn’t remember a time when the table wasn’t there; prepared to some degree, ready to receive me (and others).  It wasn’t an antique table.  It was her table.  It functioned as designed.  You could mess it up, stain it with gravy, and spill most anything across its faux grain.  No disaster was permanent.  Like grandma, her table worked all day, every day.  Like God, she worked with whatever was brought to the table.

The table was there, cleared and waiting for your English book and Algebra homework.  Across the kitchen were two windows above the sink, looking at you stare back at them.  On the stove, dinner was cooking.  It was the meal that would feed you, your parents, aunts, uncles, and who ever showed up and needed to eat.  “Surely,” you said, “Grandma, some of that cornbread and those Lima beans need to be tested?”  Lunch time for middle school students was unbelievably early back in the dark ages of the mid- 1980s.

You know the kind of corn bread I’m talking about?  Corn bread so hot, made in an antique cast iron frying pan, that when you eat it, you are willing to forgo any idea of dessert if you can have more cornbread.  Pinto beans so fragrant with the aroma of ham, you’re willing eat bean after bean with no thought of the havoc it will wreak on your family later that night.  My perspective was focused on the immediate.  I was hungry and everything smelled good.  School smelled like the nursing home where my granddaddy died.  Grandma’s house smelled like life; were it made from raw ingredients and McCormick seasonings.  I wasn’t interested in waiting until mom and dad got off work or the rest of the family arrived. I was ready eat my fill, taste God’s goodness, and offer my review of what others had yet to taste.  “I don’t know what y’all going to eat but that cornbread was good.”  Don’t worry, she wouldn’t have let me eat it all.  We both knew better.

The Psalms are lived acts of praise.  Any hymn, for that matter, isn’t theology in a bubble.  Good hymns and God derived poetry are rooted in lived experience.  Mysticism might be a factor or the poet could simply relate the emotions he or she feels at the time when God feels closest to their lives.  In either case, they are active, poetic responses, to what God has done, is doing, and will do. Nothing about the Psalms is static.  They, like my grandmother’s table are always ready to respond in love.  There are stories to tell about the past, meals to serve in the present and surface acts as a place to plan the future.  My grandma was a seamstress by trade.  During the day, between meals, she was making cutting patterns for clothes.  Homecoming and prom gowns were designed on this table.  Wedding dresses were altered on this table.  Futures became reality on the table by the door in my grandmother’s house.  The table was sacred place where past, present, and future came together.  That’s what a good Psalm does. Often that means slowing down and seeing the bigger picture.  Grandma’s table is as good a place as any to stop.  Psalms, whether your turn to them or they turn you to them, come one way or another.  Psalms cause you to look beyond the chronological reality of the moment and think about life on God’s time.  To do that, sometimes you need a peanut butter and cracker and a glass of iced tea.  Remember what they say, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

The last four verses of Psalm 90 remind me of the many tales surrounding my grandma’s table.  Verse 17 begins, “Fill us full every morning with your faithful love so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.  Let your acts be seen by your servants; let your glory be seen by their children.  Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us.  Make the work of our hands last.  Make the work of our hands last!”

Grandma’s table and our common stories echo the Psalmists plea to God.  The writer asks to be filled each day with God’s faithful love so that throughout their life, he or she might rejoice and celebrate.  Jesus brought his disciples to a simple table where the stories of God’s love would be transformed into action.  That’s what important here.  What occurs at the table leads to action; both immediate and long term.

I have no memory of my grandmother being unhappy or sad.  I do remember her in countless of moments of rejoicing and celebration.  Like those strong Hebrew words forming a foundation for the table I’m calling Psalm 90 (come, quick, fill, make), grandma’s table was there every day, in the same place, as soon as you walked in the door, so that people might have place to share a story, rejoice in God’s goodness, and then transform goodness into action.  The table was the Psalm and the Psalm was the table. Grandma’s love, memorized recipes, instinctual decisions on the use of spices, and loving kindness toward others filled each person who shared that table with a joy that was seen by generations.  Her actions were observable. Now, as the Psalmist asks, “make the work of our hands last”.

The loving kindness, spit balling the amount flour in the biscuits, and spicing the beans is now up to us.  The lasting impact of her faithfulness and the tales told around her table are in my hands.  Beginning the day with faithful love so others will see God’s acts and glory as a reflection of my celebration and joy now rests with the hospitality and loving kindness I show.  Sure coffee, sweet tea, and egg sandwiches are important.  However, without loving kindness you’ve missed the boat.  Loving kindness is what makes our relationship with God different from any other religion in the history of civilization.

Psalm 90 has become my story.  The table is mine.  It’s a different table but it is still hers.  It’s in the parsonage on Howard Street but it is still hers.  Psalm 90 goes on, as it says, in the first verse, from generation to generation.

Is my table ready?  Am I prepared for who’s coming in at any time of day or night?  Am I ready to listen, cook, serve, and do these things with a Psalm infused joy which reflects the active presence of God in the world?  If not, I’m not living a Psalm 90 life .  If not, I’m just mouthing the words.  If not, I’m  not telling tales from grandma’s kitchen.  I’m recycling lies.  She’d have my behind for that.

Richard Lowell Bryant

The 95 Methodist Theses

Rev. Richard Bryant hammers the 95 Methodist Theses into the door of Ocracoke UMC

In honor of this weekend’s Reformation Sunday celebrations commemorating the 500th anniversary of the the posting of the original 95 Theses on the cathedral door at Wittenberg, I’ve written a Methodist version of 95 Theses.  Taking the form and structure of the original, these attempt to address the need for reform and renewal in contemporary United Methodism.  I’ve tried to stay true to a few of Luther’s original themes.  Why?  Because the need for “reform” is timeless.

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Richard Lowell Bryant, Master of Divinity and ordinary pastor therein at Ocracoke, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter, email, tweet, or fax. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “This do in Remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), he willed our lives to be examples of life, ministry, and work.

2. These words, “doing” and “remembrance” cannot be understand as referring to the creation of an Anglican Church by Henry VIII or a Methodist Church as a response to spiritual failures of the Anglican Church some two hundred years later.

3. Yet it does mean we are to follow Jesus and continue his ministry in contextual, cultural, and appropriate means.

4. Sin is anything we let separate us from the love of God, whether that love is made manifest in family, friends, work, school, church, or anywhere. We cut ourselves of from God.

5. It’s important to forgive ourselves.  Forgiveness starts with us.

6. No one person can make anything right with a cosmic being.

7. Religious leaders help us understand the power of forgiving each other and God’s redemptive love.

8. Always give the dying and their families the benefit of the doubt.

9. The Holy Spirit forgives in ways we never understand. Step out of the Spirit’s way.

10. No one can say anything definitively about Heaven, Hell, or anything in between. None of us have been there.

11. We make up rules; rules which none one reads, and enforce them when no one is looking. We call this “Christian Conferencing”

12. In order to get people to follow our rules, we wait until they’re on their death beds, in tough jams, and use guilt to see how Christian people really are. That’s wrong.

13. Dead people aren’t Methodist, Anglican, Wesleyan, Catholic, or anything. They are God’s. There are no United Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostals in heaven.  We’re all the same.

14. Allow space for God to work out what’s going on between the living and the dead.

15. Don’t make things worse for people who face serious illness, the loss of loved ones, or stare death in the face. Life stinks for them already. Be present, as Christ would be.

16. Again, we don’t know eternity. We know grace. Focus on that.

17. As fear decrease love increases. Make love greater than fear.

18. Love is not a meritocracy.

19. The assurances we have now are all we’ve got.

20. No one, no identity group, spiritual leader, pressure group know the answer to solving sin, guaranteeing salvation, or filling pews.

21. Those who make such promises are wrong.

22. Those who condemn in this life will probably be proven wrong in the next.

23. If human administered forgiveness is all we’ve got, only the perfect people would be absolved. And no one is really perfect. Thus, forgiveness is worthless.

24. The high sounding promises made by purists about holiness are really deceptions and illusions. Their guesses are as good as mine.

25. The power of the purists, self appointed popes of Methodism, is really in the freedom lay people and local congregations have handed over.

26. We can pray for anyone. Forgiveness and what constitutes sin is God’s business. It’s ultimately not even in God’s book what defines a sinner. It’s what’s in God’s mind. No one knows the mind of God.

27. More money doesn’t guarantee more holiness or freedom from Sin.

28. Money leads to greater greed.

29. Can I say it again, the Purgatory is a joke? Eternity, the afterlife, is God’s business? Let’s focus on the here and now.

30. All we have is the spiritual integrity we possess at this moment.

31. The people who pray constantly to get themselves out of Hell are really less concerned about doing right by the people they are sitting by in church.

32. If you think you can pray yourself out of Hell but then treat people like dirt, you’re probably going to end up in Hell anyway.

33. God is doing great things in the lives that many want to remove from Christian fellowship.

34. Grace is never about penalties and punishment. Grace is about love and a desire to be better than we ever imagined.

35. Coming to terms with our own mistakes as individuals and institutions is part of growing and living. Grace helps us learn from our blunders. Guilt forces us to live in fear and make them over and over again.

36. We don’t need to permission to encounter God and receive the grace we’ve been given.

37. There isn’t a formula or litmus test for salvation or forgiveness. God works and exists beyond the structures we’ve established.

38. Still, we come to Christ’s table to proclaim to each other, each week in Church that we are forgiven. Church is the best place, in the body of Christ, for the priesthood of all believers to share this message with each other.

39. Sometimes, the smartest church people in the world don’t understand the obstacles they create toward freely and easily encountering God’s grace. That’s on us.

40. People of faith who know they’ve done wrong have no problem asking God and each other for forgiveness. We create an environment of grace and love where the asking and the living make reconciliation easy. We have a structured time where each week we “pass the peace” and bring God’s shalom into our lives. No one else does this.

41. When we pray we also pray that we will put our prayers in to action.

42. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. We need to do things. Acts of mercy and sacrifice make our prayers a reality.

43. Giving to the poor and needy are crucial to Christ centered discipleship.

44. Love builds on love. The more love you show, the more people see the love of Christ in the world.

45. The more we look past ourselves and see the needs of others, the better off we will be.

46. Always keep back something to give away. You never know when the next hurricane or tragedy is around the corner.

47. Give to the things you choose to support.

48. Prayers matter, money buys water and food; God can do something with whatever we offer.

49. Trust that our stewardship, mission, and ministry are a partnership with God.

50. We are not building anything for our glory.

51. Our glory is not seen in the work we do but in the lives we’ve impacted.

52. We don’t trust in endorsed Bible studies and DVD teaching sets.

53. It’s better to listen to our own stories and trust the experiences of the people around us.

54. In stewardship season, we talk a great deal about the needs of money but we rarely talk about the corrosive impact money has on our society as a whole.

55. We celebrate our need for money and what money can accomplish but rarely ask “Why has the church afraid to talk about health care costs, student loan debt and the real financial issues that touch our congregations?”

56. People know very little about the state of the church finances and the best we’ll offer them on how to manage their own is a Dave Ramsey course.  We can do better.

57. We should do a better job talking about the church’s role in the global economic system.

58. It’s easy to assume that the church’s investments (say in fossil fuels) make sense and are ethical. This is not always true.

59. John Wesley had a commitment to working with the poor and treating them as ministry priorities. Do we share the same financial priorities consistent with our time?

60. We may make the same declaration in words but do our deeds consistently match a Wesleyan ethic of helping the poor.

61. It’s clear in the social principles and the Book of Discipline our hearts are in the right financial and ethical direction when it comes to spending and service. Has this message reached the local church? I don’t think so.

62. The most valuable gift we possess is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must keep giving this away.

63. It’s a hard gift for some to accept. It calls the world and dominant power structures into question.

64. It makes the last first and the first last.

65. The Gospel calls into question wealth, power, position, and privilege.

66. We are caught up in a net which forces us to examine our own lives.

67. Demagogues, dictators, and fascists have little room to stand in the light of Jesus’ clear teachings about loving one’s neighbor.

68. When the world is placed in the light of the simple beauty of the cross; the clarity and contrast become apparent. The world goes one way and Jesus goes another.

69. Those who want complacency with the world are guilty of collusion with evil.

70. If you preach Jesus; the risk is greater, the break is permanent, and there is no return.

71. Once you speak this truth, there is no going back.

72. Methodism is a house divided.

73. The strain upon our pre-fabricated Tudor timbers is great.

74. Within that house are many rooms with many ideas.

75. Ideas thunder around the rooms. Those who contrive futures rooted in dreams from God they cannot verify seek sin and find it.

76. If John Wesley and his brother Charles were now to be found among the United Methodists, they would find the class meeting a relic 18th century practice and themselves too progressive for many in their own denomination.

77. I say on the contrary that greater graces come from love not division.

78. We have placed a greater emphasis on the Book of Discipline and its precepts than the Holy Bible.

79. We have disregarded centuries of universally accepted higher criticism and Biblical scholarship in favor of 19th century Biblical literalism to inform our debates on key matters such as human sexuality and nationalism.

80. Therefore, the United Methodist Church is making policy decisions by using interpretations of scripture and policy documents written with interpretations that do not reflect the broadest spectrum of academic or religious opinion.

81. The result has led the United Methodist Church to adopt policy which discriminates against gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans. Couching this discrimination in religious “culture war” language and flawed translations of scripture, the church has made this issue as emotive as possible and virtually guaranteed a schism between conservative and liberal elements in the church.

82. Why does the church not simply change the language? Institutions are slow to change. When churches split, it’s usually seen as a failure. When a bad marriage ends, it’s usually seen as a good thing for everyone involved. The church thinks it’s better than the people they minister to. That’s irony! Until we realize we’re not, we’ll suffer and the LGBTQ community will suffer most.

83. Since same sex weddings are legal in the US for all couples, weddings should be legal for all couples in United Methodist Churches. We are above the law. That sends an awful message.  We look unwelcoming and arrogant.

84. Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors is a joke. It’s a lie. We didn’t mean it when we ran the campaign and we sure don’t mean it now. I would love it to mean something.

85. I try for it to mean something but for me to really put that program to practice, it would get me in a great deal of trouble.

86. We spend too much time patting ourselves on the back and giving awards to Methodists for the things we should be doing as a matter of course.

87. There’s such a thing a self-promotion and shameless narcissism. We cross that line far too often.

88. What a blessing it would be for every United Methodist to really do the Three Simple Rules.

89. Stop living in fear of Schism. Do ministry today.

90. However, don’t live with your head in the sand. Confront reality head on.

91. Comfort the laity in these times of uncertainty.

92. Bring peace where there is no peace.

93. Point to the Cross.

94. Don’t argue with zealots. “But Jesus said,” Is always a better reply than “John Wesley said”.

95. This is more than any of us can handle. However, we’re not alone.

Rev. Richard Lowell Bryant

On the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

What John Can Learn From Martin

As we approach this weekend’s celebration of “Reformation Sunday” which marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I’ve compiled a list of 10 items that “John” (a Methodist) could learn from “Martin” (a Lutheran).

1. Sometimes you need to say what needs to be said. Drop the fancy Wesleyan theological language and speak clearly.
2. Your critique of institutional religion shouldn’t be incremental. Rip off the band-aid and move on.
3. Stand up to the powers at be. In the words of the late Tom Petty, “don’t back down”.
4. Once your critique goes on the cathedral door, the hazards are more than being relegated to outdoor pulpits or dirty looks from other clergy. You’re risking your life.
5. Don’t be anti-Semitic.
6. It never looks like a “Reformation when you’re in the middle of it.
7. Let the church leave you.
8. Educate the clergy and let them have families.
9. Liturgical worship (in everyday day language) can educate and inspire.
10. It’s never about us.

Richard Lowell Bryant

No More, No Less (Exodus 33:12-23)

How much of anything can we see?  We only see what our eyes perceive.  Our ability to see and understand is limited by our ability to see and our brain’s ability to comprehend what we see.

For example, let’s take the ocean.  Let’s all go down to the beach, on a clear day like today, and look out across the waves toward the horizon.  What do we see?  There’s the ocean as far as the eye can take you.  The clouds go into the sky.  The sand stops at the water’s edge.  As we gaze forward, there might be a boat, a bird, or a plane.  More often than not, there’s nothing.  The vast expanse of the sky blends into the ocean.  From where we stand, this looks like, “this is all there is”.  We know this isn’t true.  Despite the fact it’s a beautiful day with unlimited visibility, our eyes work pretty good (some of us have glasses), we know that beyond the horizon there’s more water, more land, and even more people.  Because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there.  They are there.  We only see a portion of the world around us.

Advance the clock by twelve hours.  Sometimes what I’m talking about is a little easier to grasp in the dark.  The clear morning at the beach has become a clear sky evening.  Blessed as we are with little light pollution, on such evenings we can look up and see Milky Way.  The galaxy looks immense.  On a clear night, as I’m describing, you can see thousands, maybe even millions of stars.  The few million stars we see are billions of miles away.  In just a quick glance, we are seeing the tiniest of tiny slivers of the galaxy and the larger universe.  From our vantage point on Earth, this is all we are able to see.  We will never see any more.  Sure, you can move to the southern hemisphere or the South Pole and you’ll see a different set of stars.  But that set of starts you’re seeing at the South Pole or in Auckland, New Zealand is as small as the ones we see on Life Guard Beach.   No matter where we look, we can only see the smallest fraction of the known universe.  From where we are, minus the telescopes, billion dollar budgets, a friendship of Elon Musk, rocket engines, spacecraft, and high tech equipment (I’m talking just us):  this is as much of the universe and space as we will ever encounter.  And that’s ok.  We still know space is there.  We have a relationship with the world beyond Earth even though we’ve never been past the atmosphere.  We understand a great deal about the universe solely from observing the tiny sliver of eternity hanging over our heads.

You go to the beach and you realize:  you are not alone.  You’re seeing a small portion of a much bigger ocean.  At night, the stars above your head are but a fraction of an ancient reality older than the idea of keeping time.  This is what happens to Moses in today’s scripture when he encounters God.  It happens to us and sometimes we don’t even know it.

Moses is friends with God.  God loves Moses.  Moses is under tremendous pressure.  He coming up with plans, ideas, and activities to keep his people interested as they journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Sometimes they become distracted and don’t listen.  Over the past couples of weeks, we’ve heard stories about Moses bringing the 10 Commandments down and while he was away meeting with God the people became impatient and started worshiping a Golden Cow.  He frustrated.  Moses wants God to help him.  Long ago, well before they left Egypt, God promised to be by Moses side, to be his friend and partner on this journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Right now, Moses feels like he’s doing most of the heavy lifting on his own.

God wants to remind Moses:  you are not alone.  I am with you and by your side.  Often times, we don’t see the friends walking right beside us or realize that others are there to help.  Look to your left and right, behind you and in front, what do you see?  You see other people, don’t you?  The other people looking at you see you!  God has placed these people beside you, alongside your path, for your journey.  Who knows where you’re headed?  God does and God has sent people to walk with us.  God is with and within the people all around us.  But sometimes our perspective limits our ability to see God at work, God being present, of God helping us out right beside us.  Sometimes the beach just looks like the beach.  We forget we’re looking at the Atlantic Ocean and on the other side of that ocean are other continents and people.  Our vision of what God can do is limited by where we stand and sit and by the habits we fall into.  In this passage today, God is trying to change the way Moses’ sees reality.

Moses wants reassurance and God wants to give it Moses.  Here’s how Moses puts it, “Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and you people unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on earth?” Moses is saying, “We want to know that you are with us.  We need to know that this thing we’re doing is real.”

We’ve all had that conversation with God at one point or another.  It might have been on the beach, under a nighttime sky, or even before a test at school.  You’ve turned to God and said, “I’m with you and I need some sort of idea that you’re with me.  Is this journey we’re on, this pilgrimage we’re walking, or this life we’re leading the real thing?” That’s a God 101 kind of question.  This isn’t the type of question you ask over a cup of Earl Grey on your back porch.  Moses isn’t treating God like a book he pulls out of the back of the pew once a week to read for comfort and good words.  Moses is saying, I want to take this book with me everywhere I go.

How does God answer Moses’ question?  What does he say that will confirm, “Yes, this is the real thing”?  Interesting enough, it’s the same thing that happens to us when we go to the beach on a beautiful day or look up at the sky on a clear night.

First of all, God says that God’s outward actions through Moses will be based in kindness and compassion.  As Moses is kind and compassionate, God will kind and compassionate.  People will see a kind and compassionate God through our kindness and compassion.  Doesn’t that sound like something Jesus might say? God’s goodness will be reflected through the way we treat other people.  If you (or the world for that matter) want to see God, embody these qualities.  Do these things and treat people with kindness and compassion.  God is saying, “I can best be seen in my people by those people acting kindly and compassionately toward others.”  No statues, cows, or idols.   Try being nice, God says.  It so simple, it’s hard to believe.  That’s the first thing.  That’s why I wanted you to look around.  God is the kindness and compassion of those who surround you.

Secondly, God tells Moses that God will reveal God’s presence to Moses.  Here’s the catch, God is so amazing it would be too much for one person to encounter.  The rule is, according to God, you can’t look at God head on.  Moses will only see God’s back.  God will place Moses in a safe place, “a crevice”, protect him with his hand, and pass by.  Moses will only see the tiniest, of tiny slivers of God’s presence.  I ask you again, “Isn’t that all we see?”  Whether it’s the ocean or the stars, all we ever see of creation is but a fraction of what we know actually exists.  Aren’t we OK with that?

People talk about going out into the woods, on the water, or other places to encounter God.  They say they don’t need the church.  I’ll tell you the God’s honest truth.  No one is encountering God in the woods, on a boat, or even in church.  The most we’re ever getting is what Moses got:  a glimpse of God’s back, a minuscule fraction of a whole that none of us can comprehend.  Where we get into trouble is thinking that glimpse is all there is and all we need and our perspective ends at the horizon or the limits of the Milky Way.  If for no other reason, we need this place, this church to remind us our perspectives are usually wrong and God’s is much wider than we ever imagined.

Richard Lowell Bryant

My Proud, Beloved Infidel

I saw a man wearing a shirt identical to this earlier today.

We’re all unfaithful,
To one thing or another,
God, women, whiskey,
cigarettes brands and two bit songs,
Or beer to cheap to pour in glasses to dirty to wash,
But I’ve never been proud to be unfaithful,
To somebody else’s God,
My hands are full,
Disappointing my own.

–Richard Bryant