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

A First Look at Luke 20:27-38 (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers)

 

There are many intricate theological points highlighted by this week’s Gospel reading.  However, I believe the text can be summarized as follows: how does Jesus deal with bullies, those who antagonize him publicly, those who seek to trap in him in unwinnable arguments, and those who have no intention of listening to his message?

The Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection, are not interested in Jesus’ answers. Their goal is to make Jesus look foolish by responding to their outlandish setup of a question. What can we learn from this encounter?

  1. Debating the furniture of Heaven or the thermostat in Hell is a lose/lose proposition. No one knows the realities of Heaven and Hell. John Milton and Dante have done more to shape our images of the underworld than anything in the Bible. The truth: none of us know. We’ve read passages of scripture that give us a vague idea. The truth is, we don’t know. Like so much, we go on faith.
  2. The Sadducees absurd questions weren’t designed to be answered. If you encounter something similar, Ignore them. That’s what Jesus did. He doesn’t get down into the weeds.
  3. Realize the difference between now and eternity. For human beings to set the rules for Heaven, in any meaningful sense, is taking power away from God. God sets the rules, especially in eternity.
  4. When Jesus was answering this question with the Sadducees, no one but Jesus understood the resurrection. Jesus redefined the meaning of the resurrection. You can’t debate people if one side is talking about apples, and you’re discussing oranges.
  5. If you’re laying verbal traps for people to “catch” people with whom you disagree, you’ve already lost. We don’t get other people into Heaven by asking trick questions. That’s called being a jerk.  Resurrection is God’s business.
  6. The Sadducees ask the patriarchy question of the week, “Whose wife is this?”  In their set-up attempt to bait Jesus, the “woman” is still treated like property in death.   No, just no.

We Need A Whistle Blower in the UMC

We need a whistleblower. We, the United Methodist Church, that’s the “we” in question. Just like the anonymous complainant who first drew attention to the possibility of a quid pro quo between the United States and Ukraine, the United Methodist Church needs someone who’s listened in on the phone calls and seen the documents. It’s no longer enough for us (clergy and laity) to observe from a distance, behind locked doors, or wait for the perennially re-elected delegates to our quadrennial popularity contests to tell us, “We did the best they could. The other forces of reactionary literalism were far too strong to overcome Jesus’ love for all people.”

Those days are over. Instead, we need someone who will leak the transcripts, documents, and phone calls. Whether these leaks come from the Council of Bishops, General Conference, or the Deep State which runs Methodism between conferences, it doesn’t matter. Someone who wears a dangly name badge, flies to countless meetings, and features in denominational publications should officially spill the beans. We’re tired — those of us in local churches are wary of these struggles, we want to get on with our lives. The denomination needs to be set free of this literalist warfare so we might have a chance of surviving as Christians. The ship called Methodism is broken, a little corrupt, and doesn’t need to perpetually gather in search of ideas worth saving because we’re afraid to taking Jesus at his word when he says to love one another.

I’m convinced there are audio recordings as well as documents that tell the story: Methodism as we know it is dead. Secondly, the Bible is a living, breathing collection of stories. A living Bible which shares Jesus’ message of love for all people might be the only thing that saves the embers a dying Methodism.   If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will keep some form of the Methodism we know alive.

We must be set free. I urge a whistleblower to come forward, bring the documents, and other powerful witnesses to testify. Once we are free, we will chart our course. First, let’s stop lying to ourselves. Someone, please, blow the whistle.

Richard Bryant

Common Prayer for an Ordinary Wednesday in October

Madonna and Child, Burgaw United Methodist Church

Gracious God,

Hear our prayers,

They are sometimes muffled, silent, and nonexistent.

Yet, we come before you today, taking one step into the next moment.

In this moment, we embrace the dignity you give us as children of God.

In this instance, we stand as forgiven people.

We acknowledge we are no different, no better, and no worse than all of the redeemed who we encounter each day.

Wipe the stain of righteous indignation from our hearts.

Forgive us of choosing one sin to love and another to hate.

Forgive us from doing church yet forgetting Jesus.

Heal those who are broken in body, mind, and spirit.  You know their needs in ways greater than we can express.  Where ever they are, in homes, Hospices, Hospitals, offices, cars, schools, or churches; send your spirit.

O Lord, hear our prayers,

Amen

Richard Bryant

How Methodist Is Jesus

Boxes from which Jesus escaped

Jesus is a great Christ. In fact, he’s the best Christ.  However, I think he would be a horrible Methodist.  By today’s evangelical standards, Jesus wouldn’t be “church” leadership material. He’s a little squishy on the crucial theological issues of the day. Jesus doesn’t love the sinner and hate the sin. He loves unconditionally.  I’ve never seen Jesus forward a meme asking anyone to type “Amen”.  Truly, the man is not a distinction drawer. This would make some people uncomfortable.  People like his disciples.

Mark 9:38-41 illustrates how poorly Jesus would fit in with contemporary Methodists. The disciples have come to Jesus with a complaint. “We’ve seen others doing things in your name, people casting out demons. But here’s the thing, Jesus. We don’t know the guy. He doesn’t hang around with us. He seems to be someone who’s heard about you and is now off doing is own thing.” Speaking like keepers of the institutional flame, the disciples want to know why this man is doing Jesus-like things without going through an official board or a litmus test of theological orthodoxy.

Jesus’ answer gives him away. It tells me he wouldn’t be a “good” United Methodist. (Official Methodism has structures designed to limit people from operating outside the system.) Jesus says, “Don’t stop him.” Not only does Jesus want the disciples to refrain from hindering this man, he reminds them, “whoever isn’t against us is for us.” The apathetic masses, Jesus says, those millions who don’t go to church or do church differently are actually for us.

The disciples are wondering: How can those who are indifferent to us do any tangible good (for the kingdom) in the long run? People who aren’t against us may be for us, yet they don’t pay our apportionments. The disciples want to know how Jesus would report this at Charge Conference.  Jesus certainly isn’t a United Methodist.

No, Jesus doesn’t sound like a Christian, United Methodist, Evangelical, or anything else. He’s none of those things. Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ. He will not fit into the boxes we’ve built.  Thank God. That’s the way it should be. Now, more than ever, we need to work with people who are different from us and realize the guy working in Jesus’ name who makes us uncomfortable IS Jesus.

Richard Lowell Bryant