Photo by Mykola Volkov on

It was a cold, nasty, awful weekend in central North Carolina. I was surprised to see anyone in church on Super Bowl Sunday. It was one of those days where the temperature was hovering in the high 30s, and if it dipped any lower, we’d be blanketed with snow, but that didn’t’ happen. It was just a cold drizzle. I wondered who would get out of bed and drag themselves to church on a day like yesterday. But, as is usual on mornings that begin with such skepticism, I was surprised at what hot coffee, companionship, and a little prayer will do to warm the human soul. We weren’t as full as last week, but overall, those who braved the weather impressed me, and I thanked them for making an effort. 

The wet weather moved east overnight, and the blue skies returned to North Carolina. The winds were still cold, but at least there was no rain. It was dry. We could see the sky and sunshine. Oh, how I had missed the sunshine over the past week. My body and soul needed physical and spiritual vitamin D. If I couldn’t see the sun and blue sky, how on earth could I look for Chinese spy balloons?

This morning as I went to the car to meet my parents for breakfast, I glanced skyward for the first time in several days. Was there anything above the church listening to our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness? I was hoping I might see something I could not spot because of the previous day’s inclement weather. But, instead, I realized yesterday morning: if there’s anything that will change the subject from disaffiliation, it is intelligence-gathering balloons traversing the United States (or North Carolina) from China. So let me say thank you to the People’s Liberation Army for making coffee time about something other than the slow-moving train wreck that is United Methodism. Or, as you guys would say, “谢谢 (Xièxiè).”

The balloons (or objects) raise some interesting theological questions for United Methodists. Our government says the first balloon was equipped with listening and intelligence-gathering equipment. We know for sure that it floated over North Carolina. I wonder what it would have picked up as it went over our Methodist churches and homes during the week it was airborne. What would the balloon have heard us say about our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness? Would the balloon have picked up that those people who say they are so open to welcoming and admitting the stranger, the other, and their neighbors on Sunday morning go straight home and say just the opposite during the week? Would it have picked up that we make ever so slightly racist jokes about Black History month from our places of permanent white privilege while talking about the need for anti-racism as an annual conference priority? Would the balloon have heard us telling our neighbors misinformation about the disaffiliation process? Who knows what the balloon heard? Perhaps that’s why we are so nervous and so ready to shoot them down so quickly.  We can’t let the truth get out. Fire the missiles! Destroy the evidence.

So, we go out on clear days, look skyward, and check to see if someone is listening to what we say and knows our secrets. The answer is yes. Someone does know, and we can’t kill that someone with a Sidewinder missile.

We are in bad shape if we need a Chinese balloon to remind us that God is listening or that we have a conscience.

–Richard Bryant