I came to know God through people,
(How else does one come to know God?
We are not born with a knowledge of the divine.)

Methodist people,
taught me their vision of God,
a God of America, Jesus, and Jesse Helms,
but under the steeple,
where they confirmed,
and a Bible they gave,
I started to read
and my stomach churned.
This was not a God
In whom I
naturally believed.
But this was in the past
And was I told I must,
Keep calm and carry on,
context was everything.

After all,
in whom did I trust?
In Jesus Christ and his righteousness.
We weren’t literalists,
or fundamentalist nuts
But it was there,
in the text.
It bothered,
I was scared.
I didn’t know how to answer
For a God who didn’t care
chattel slavery
or human rights.
Israel’s God, the Canaanite Sky God,
El, Elohim, El-Shaddai,
The God of Horeb, Sinai
Smoke, Thunder,
Promises and Death,
Restoration and Renewal
Silence and questions,
Religion taken for granted,
Accepted at the value
Of God’s unseen face.

Twenty-plus years later,
I can’t keep up the pace.
I’m on running fumes, Maverick.
My answers are contrived,
sometimes nonexistent,
often delayed and hesitant.
My family doesn’t want to go to church,
with those think themselves exempt
who say they love their neighbors but still show contempt.

Who are my neighbors,
that came to know God,
who read single verses,
and became irate?
Who told them this was okay?
Sinners in the hands of angry teachers,
and they came to know,
the same God?
The God I thought I knew?
None of us do.
We are all making it up
as we go along.

Tell no one, or we’re all through.

The Levitical priests in the 8th century BCE
who carved words
for illiterate shepherds who to read
They, too, were wrong:
To ban loving relationships between people of same gender,
To tell me that I can’t order my shrimp extremely tender,
To prevent me from ordering a sweater with a blend of polyester.
But the next chapter tells me to love my neighbor.
The Book of Leviticus says all four,
Why do we pick one to enforce and another to ignore?
Is it just to be mean?
Despite humanity’s many valedictions,
United Methodists have never learned to live
among the Bible’s most common contradictions.
That reality has killed us.
Now I am alone
standing in the pulpit,
staring at the pew,
where my wife and daughters once sat,
wondering how long it will be,
before I, too, will leave?

Will I have a home in a broken UMC?
Will it be worth it to remain?
I know what they say,
just when I’m almost out of pain,
someone offers to top me up.
And here we are again.
Despite any vote,
that goes for or against, up or down, left or right
we’ll all have to pay.
When will I stop preaching sermons that I hope will not offend,
or be misconstrued
but encourage us to face scriptural contradictions with faith, not fear,
and examine the injustices printed in our “perfect” Book,
“condoned” by our God, hiding within?
Will I ever stop feeling like a fraud,
giving weekly lip service to the God
so many of my sisters and brothers came to know and will not shake?
No one wants to hear the other side of the story.
I am fighting a losing battle.
I know when I’m licked.
I’m pretty well close to done.
I’ll call a one-man, one-vote, disaffiliation conference.
Then we’ll see.
Tick-tock, tick-tock.

–Richard Bryant

One thought on “MANIFESTO: The Moderately Mad Preacher Liberation Front (with apologizes and gratitude to Wendell Berry)

  1. Your pain has been radiating off the screen for weeks. I hurt for you, but I won’t pretend to put myself in your shoes, even though we share some common concerns. Just know I have and will continue to pray for you to experience moments of grace and peace in God’s presence. May wisdom and clarity come as you look ahead. Your people are lucky to have you, even if they don’t know it.



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