This Is What Christmas Looks Like

I love the Nativity story not because it is warm and fuzzy, but because of its overall message of perseverance against cruelty. Whether it’s the abject cruelty of Herod’s population policies or the brutality of the innkeepers “no,” at each step of the way, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

That’s the Christmas I know and love. No, this is not the Christmas where you’re worried about perfect food, decorations, or guests. I’m talking about the one where the abject cruelty of the world has attempted to intervene somewhere between God’s love and salvation only to realize that goodness triumphs over evil.

The original Christmas story is an overwhelming experience. To see the forces of light and dark play themselves out can be frightening and exhilarating. Here, before our eyes, the very emotions, ideas, and people in which Jesus spoke come to life. Will we respond in a way consistent with the gospel? Will we do justice amidst the injustice that surrounds us?

The phone rang at my office, mid-morning. The caller id said his name was Eddie. When I answered, he said he was out of gas. Stuck in the parking lot of the Piggy-Wiggly, he might have enough to make it to the gas station down the street. Could I help him? He’d been here for work that fell through, and now he needed to get back home, which was at least a couple of hours down the road.

I met him at the gas station. Eddie was working on checking his oil and power steering fluid. He wanted to take care of this minivan. It was also his home. In the place he parked, he risked the van being broken into at night, damaged, and parts robbed. He needed new windshield wipers.

That would mean a trip to the auto parts store. We drove across the street from the gas station. Eddie was able to find some oil, power steering fluid, and wipers. The men from the shop even helped us install the wipers. If it rained, he could see. His home would be safer on the small, two-lane roads he’d be traveling.

“I’m going to make it,” he said. “I have to keep trying.” I suspect those same words came from Joseph and Mary as they traveled to and from Bethlehem.

Christmas looks like many things. Our sanitized images of mangers, stables, babies, parents, and wise men are one set of pictures. Our love of tradition should not cause us to forget the reality which brings us together in Advent and Christmas. I think Christmas also looks like my encounter with Eddie. It is unpredictable and sometimes tragic. Christmas is good people struggling against poverty, homelessness, and trying to make a place in a hostile world. That’s the essence of the Christmas story found in the Gospels. If we can’t see the modern aspects of the ancient Christmas story, then we’re missing an opportunity to appreciate the Incarnation of Christ. We’ve become a obstacle to the Gospel instead of a means of sharing the message. Nobody wants to be an obstacle, especially at Christmas. Help someone along, past the Christmas barriers we’ve created so that the Incarnation may be the most visible reality in our world.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Word of Encouragement from Richard

Thanksgiving is a time when the word “gratitude” becomes spoken perhaps more than at any other time of year. We are asked to be grateful. Some families have traditions where they go around the table, and each member shares something for which they are thankful. Clergy persons like me encourage our flock to make gratitude a priority, not just on the fourth Thursday in November but all year round. Then someone flips the switch, and suddenly it’s Black Friday.

I remember studying Armenian in Yerevan, Armenia, during the summer of 1998. The noun for gratitude(երախտագիտություն) is one of the longest words in the Armenian language. Sure, there are 16 letters plus words here or there, but this was one we needed to know.

As language students, thousands of miles away from home, we were dependent on the hospitality of others for most of our basic needs. The ability to communicate our gratitude in word and deed was crucial to our experience. We needed to know how to say we were thankful and be understood. It was also important to show thanks in a manner that matched the length and psychological impact of such an important word. As we learned how to say “thank you,” we learned how to be “grateful” in another culture. Getting “thank you” right became as important as spelling and pronouncing “yerakhtagitut’ yun”.

Is there anything we need to learn or relearn about gratitude before we meet up with our family and friends next week?

–Richard Lowell Bryant

The Evolution of Ho, Ho, Ho (A Poem)

He he,
He haw,
Miss MinnHEPearl.
No.
He hi,
Hi he,
Ho hi,
Hi ho,
Ho he,
He ho,
Ho, ho, hi
‘ve got the world on a string,
sitting on a reindeer,
Hi, ho, hum,
Ho, hum, he,
Ho, hi, ho,
Hi, ho, hi, ho,
it’s off to gift we go,
no. No. NO.
Ho, ho, ho?
Yes, we go, go go.

–Richard Bryant

Publicity Photos

I’m just saying,
those publicity photos on the wall,
will not do at all,
I’m just saying,
the 80’s called,
they want their stringy hair back,
the late 70’s called,
those faux dusters still look slack,
the misspelled names department phoned,
the wampum, hawgs, and dawgs have all gone home,
I’m just saying,
these goatees will not do,
the bad facial hair department called you,
you might want to take these down too,
I’m just saying,
the next time they call,
tell them you’re already on the 21st-century ball.

–Richard Bryant

 

*image courtesy Trip Advisor

10 Tips for Better Living

A Pet I Love

1. Change the windshield washer fluid in your car. Yes, this is both a metaphor and a practical admonition. Work on clearing obstacles, smudges, and other icky things blocking your vision. You will be happier and safer.

2. Make all of your expressions of thanks, from the drive-in window to the condolence line, equally sincere.  Gratitude needs to multidimensional and felt for the person hearing the words “thank you” to know you mean what you say.

3. Learn to love a pet.  Love is hard.  A dog or cat (for example) will work with you as you learn.

4. Become a better conversationalist. This means work on your listening skills. Learn how to ask better questions.

5. Don’t let healthy admiration become idolatry.

6. Take care of your body, mind, and spirit.  We need you.  You matter.

7. Wear comfortable shoes.  The journey is long.

8. Keep a record of your days. Whether you call it a journal or notebook doesn’t matter. Leave a record of your time on Earth.

9. Find a way to give joy back to the other people. How can you serve others, give back, and enrich the lives of others in unexpected ways?

10. Take fewer selfies. Share more pictures of the world around you.

–Richard Lowell Bryant

Important Ideas to Remember

1. Listen to the people around you. Honor their journeys. Your life will be better for it.
2. Pass on the kindness you’ve received.
3. Let your Thank You really mean, “I am grateful”.
4. Take fewer selfies. Take more pictures of leaves, trees, and clouds.
5. Stay hydrated.

–Richard Bryant

A Play About Nothing

You may recall, gentle readers, previous missives, published here by 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, theater critic or person, we’ve all met for coffee and coordinated our versions of the truth.
-S.P. Wildeman

I’m never sure where I am these days. So many of the places I inhabit tend to blend together in the darkness. Lit only by second-hand lamps, I am led among frayed extension cords, by one-eyed adult orphans, and through hastily arranged curtains. The villagers, I am told, have taken me to the theater. The play we are about to see is something I created over a decade ago. There were no actors, plot, or scenes. Borrowing mainly from the work of Samuel Beckett, I wrote a play where nothing happened. The curtain remained closed for two hours. Behind the curtain, the audience could hear the occasional sound or see an intermittent light. There might be a clashing cymbal.

Here is my point. Nothing happened. One person (in the early days, it was me) sat behind the curtain, making the noise. After a few of the trendier theater journals reviewed my descent into nothingness, I was able to bring on a few stagehands to bang wooden spoons against my kitchen pots. Eventually, they wanted to be called actors, so I fired them and hired the one-eyed orphans. This was a play without a plot, actors, or any of the conventions of modern drama. I was going to ask my audience to stare at a closed curtain and listen to random sounds for two hours, all in the name of culture.

While the New York critics were harsh, we were huge in France. The French ate this up. The best negative review I’ve ever received came from Le Figaro. “Could less have occurred on stage?” It was a good question. Could I do nothing at all and still call it a drama? Would people pay to stare at a closed curtain with no sound or any physical interaction at all? Yes, I thought they would. I would go for all and nothing.

Why a remote village in northern Togo cobbled together enough Central African francs to buy the rights to produce a 10-year-old American play about nothing was beyond me. I had a theory. I once wrote a book on Dom Deluise as a recurring Christ figure in the Burt Reynolds’ Cannonball Run Story Saga. (I sold 12 copies, 4 of which were to Reynolds himself). Deluise’s comedy was widely revered throughout French-speaking West Africa, with his work featured in film festivals in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Burkina Faso in alternating years.

Let me clear things up. I didn’t know where I was beyond a dank basement and hastily assembled theater somewhere on the northeast side of Togo’s capital, Lome. And even when I’m in Lome and watching a play I wrote, I couldn’t find myself on a map with a GPS if I had to.

One question still vexed me. Had the Togolaise seen any of my work? Did they know what they were getting into? How would they respond to spending their hard-earned money to get nothing in return? Plays about nothing are fine and dandy for first world theatergoers with disposable incomes. I can hear it now, “où est le dialogue?”
Were they expecting DeLuise to be a character?

Finally, someone asked, “When does the funny fat man arrive?”

He’s here, sitting in the corner, a piece of paper in his hand, furiously writing a part for a man named Santa Claus in a Christmas play about nothing.

 

The Late Modern Produce Machine

 

Bienvenue to the
produce machine.
I am broke do tell,
even today,
because I can’t spell:
zookene,
maters,
bale peprs,
taters,
hallo peno peprs,
or
them small blak things,
I confuse with large flies,
that look something like,
Little gray paes with black eyes.

–Richard Bryant