Some Confessions in Honor of Saint Augustine

Earlier this week, we remembered the 1665th birthday of one of the most important theologians in the Christian tradition.  Saint Augustine of Hippo, the Neoplatonic philosopher and Bishop of Hippo bridged the gap between late Roman antiquity and the early Church.  We are who we are because of Augustine helped us become.

One of St. Augustine’s early works was The Confessions.  It is a classic work of Christian theology and autobiography.  In short, he defines the genre.  The Confessions may best known for this quote, where Augustine says, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”  What a rascal!

In honor of Augustine’s birth, here are a few of my own Confessions.

  1. After twenty plus years of full-time ministry, I feel awkward and self-conscious when I pray with my hands in the air. I’m more comfortable using my words and leaving my hands down.
  2. Some phrases become part of our entrenched prayer vocabulary. We use them so often they can lose the beauty of their intended meaning. I’m looking at you, “hedge of protection”.
  3. Outside the church, people don’t understand our “insider” language. We shouldn’t make ourselves challenging to understand. We have a vocabulary, by al means. However, everyone should be able to learn as they go.
  4. We need to talk more about Mark 3:20-35. Is Jesus the crazy relative we feel more comfortable trying to contain with our standards of conformity? I think so.
  5. I miss Sunday School. Specifically, I mean coloring pictures of Jesus on Sunday morning. Now I spend my Sunday mornings getting ready for worship. Coloring was fun.
  6. It is possible to take the Bible seriously but not literally? I feel like I say this all the time. Is anyone listening?
  7. Intinction is my preferred method of giving and receiving Holy Communion. It may not be the “old way” (of American Methodism), but it is the “oldest way,” which Jesus likely knew.
  8. Were we to compare United Methodism to a rare wine, I’ll prefer the 1738 Herrnhutt from Saxony. It’s a husky, smooth blend of English and German piety.
  9. A relationship with Jesus is, by default, a personal relationship. You don’t define any of the other meaningful relationships in your life (spouse, children, or parents) as personal. They are simply relationships. Be cautious of jargon (this goes for any part of your life), focus on the substance. Be in a relationship with God.
  10. It is easy to walk past a resurrection moment or to go in search of a Resurrection encounter only to realize; God’s right beside you, riding shotgun, ready to talk, and up for the journey.

Richard Lowell Bryant

I’ve Arranged My Books

I’ve arranged
some of my books,
even the ones,
behind the nooks,
the tall ones,
a few wee tomes too,
antinomianism stands in pride of place,
Zeitgeist waits,
to know its fate,
turning around,
then I see,
I can arrange my books,
in any way,
for they are mine,
bought and paid.

–Richard Bryant

Sitting Down (A Poem)

Sitting Bull, the Sioux medicine man

Sitting down to pray;
letting go,
with nothing else to say,
being there,
listening,
at the end of the day,
pushing back the world,
keeping the traffic at bay,
hearing what’s around you,
the b flat harmony
on life’s first page.
God told Jacob to take a nap,
find holy rocks where your head can lay,
to see the angels walk,
and know God’s about,
standing up,
breaking down,
climbing a tree,
no special pose,
presence is the key.

–Richard Bryant

Paradise Falls By A Dashboard Light (or how I heard Genesis 2 and 3 in Randolph County, NC)

Start at the beginning,
the third page of the book,
two people left behind,
Ready to make a go,
A human start,
When the dinosaurs said no,
Adam and his manly chest,
Eve and her… all the rest,
Out of the mud they came,
country people,
from lower Mesopotamia,
Adam ate with elbows on the table,
A cap on his head,
Outside and in,
Cause he had no Mama,
to name this sin,
“Boy, your manners just ain’t right,
I hope you don’t meet a reptile with a mandolin,
or a girl with an apple who offers a bite.”
Life didn’t get real until it got wrong,
When it got wrong,
it was past making it right.
Two people alone,
Leaving paradise,
Navigating creation
by a dashboard light.

–Richard Bryant

There Is A Hole in My Sock

One of my socks, hole-less, shown solely for poetic purposes.

There’s a hole in my sock,
Whatever will I do,
How can I walk,
With gum and chew,
Or attempt to talk,
While I’m very blue,
As those who gawk,
At the in Argyles in my shoes,
My socks are bound for dry dock,
The only path to choose,
Though not an angry walk,
I’ll pick another two.

–Richard Lowell Bryant

My Two Cents on the Internet and Country Music – A Poem

Take a picture,
In my Waylon Jennings hat,
Snap my chat,
Oh dear,
Is this on the Twitter,
As long as it’s clear,
And I won’t be mistook,
On the Facebook,
While people jet
Around the internets
And I don’t look Haggard,
Like Merle.
But just so,
Like David Allan Coe.

–Richard Lowell Bryant

The Death of Cool On the Island of Diabetic Ducks: An S.P. Wildeman Story

You may recall, gentle readers, previous missives, published here by one S.P. Wildeman.  The same author has been in touch and asked to submit another story.  I have so obliged.

Richard Bryant, Proprietor, Richard’s Food for Thought

Note to the reader: Everything in this short story bears a resemblance to someone living and something dead. Whether man or machine, fowl or person, we’ve all met for coffee and coordinated our versions of the truth.
-S.P. Wildeman

In May of 1979, I live by selling bootleg seersucker suits from the back of a yellow 1975 Volkswagen Sirocco. We had both seen better days.  The car and I reeked of low-grade diesel fuel. This was before the environmental movement hit fuel swing – pun intended. Driving anywhere was a dirty business for motorists and Mother Earth.

The seersucker suits, in all their wrinkled glory, however, were immaculate. Their finely tailored cuts (designed to fit any gentlemen) and thin blue lines were crafted by the best Russian tinker, tailors, soldiers, and spies. With their help, I was going to be America’s next men’s clothing giant. They guaranteed it. American’s would love the way Russians thought they should look. Who was I to second guess their advice?

On a cold morning in Moscow, using only the letters in my Captain Crunch cereal, I spelled out the letters of the clothing brands I could duplicate. My company was to be Trooks Trothers. I’d open a chain of stores called Barks and Bencer to sell Trooks Trothers suits. This was the only business plan I thought I would ever need. After all, “cool” wasn’t about who you wear, it’s about whom people believe you are wearing. Labels only mattered to a point. With only $2.74 remaining to my name, I returned to the only place I thought might be cool enough to buy seersucker suits from Russia on the cheap.

Long story short, it was one heck of a drive. Before it was all over, I drove the car and nine different boats; the last of which was a ferry. I should have known something was wrong the moment I arrived at the ferry terminal. Everyone was leaving. I was the only person going over to the island. What could be wrong? No one seemed to know. It was when I arrived that I noticed the ducks. Something was amiss with the ducks. Broad groupings of ducks milled aimlessly, up and down the center of the street, quacking loudly at friend and foe alike. What traffic remained on the island came to a halt. Nothing moved north or south, left or right, and up or down because of the ducks.

From a distance, they appeared harmless enough. Come on, who’s afraid of a duck? A duck exudes the gentle air of waterborne bunny rabbit with a beak, or is that my Pepsi fueled imagination talking? I’d driven (without fear or common sense) from Russia to the Outer Banks with no memory of a bridge at the Bering Strait or Oregon Inlet. I was held for 29 days by Rohingyas on the north end of Burma. When my parents refused to pay the ransom, even my captors realized I was worth less than the distinguished blazers in the back of my cheap German car. Today was different. These ducks, they scared me.

In the parking lot of the community store, where a large crowd of mallards had gathered, the ground was littered with Kit Kat wrappers, M and M bags, and Reese’s Cup containers. These birds were mainlining chocolate. While across the street and down the road, another group stomped about like angry teens realizing their fake ids are not good enough to buy vaping products.

Might they be diabetic? Yes, these were diabetic ducks. Everywhere, chocolate-covered quacks for help came from bushes, ditches, and roadside glens.  What does one do for ducks overdosing on Toberlorone?  I didn’t know.  On occasion, I ate duck.  I was not a speaker of duck dialects.  They ignored my pleas to “Stop Eating the Chocolate”.

Airborne veterinarians don’t come cheap. In fact, they don’t come at all. Someone eventually reached a level one trauma center with a helicopter. They promised to send a veterinarian with a kayak.  Neither the kayak or the doctor arrived.  Morning showed up right on time.  The ducks, however, were gone.   Local news reports place them somewhere south of here, north of there, and looking for their next oversized Kit-Kat fix.

Even though years have passed, if the winter wind is just right, I hear plaintive quacks for duck insulin.  While I did not know them personally, the emotional bond remains.

When it was all said and done, I learned one thing: no one wants to buy chocolate stained seersucker suits, regardless of how cool they make you feel.

Grammar of the Veneer

the broken language of the multitude;
spoken in fragments of
mistranslated verbs,
dangling from places,
where participles work cheaply,
scrimping on rotten nouns,
adverbs given for nothing,
subject and object never agree,
sentences wait to be made whole,
matched with one another,
incomplete linguistic chains,
dependent clauses unable to survive,
families of distorted pronouns,
heard between here and there,
migrating chains of words,
stopped in sentences,
we refuse to read.

–Richard Bryant

Things You Can’t Live On All Alone

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  It is, however, a gathering of items when taken separate or together, one might not sustain oneself, on any single item alone, in any meaningful way.

  1. Bread
  2. Salt
  3. Pickles
  4. Radishes
  5. Pickled Radishes
  6. Salty Pickled Radishes
  7. Ketchup
  8. Onions
  9. Liver
  10. Liver and Onions

Parallelism and Prayer

 

Gracious God,

Evening falls,

Night calls,

We gather,

Because we’d rather,

Find ourselves together,

Than living apart,

Where our spirits depart,

Bring us around some table,

Happy and able,

To find gratitude,

Among our attitudes,,

More than near

We know you are here,

Amen.

— Richard Bryant