A Meeting, About A Meeting, About Going Forward: Mansplaining the Way Forward

rothman_mansplain_post

This weekend, our district is gathering to hear our General Conference delegates explain the three options being offered by the Commission on the Way Forward.  I need to make a confession: I’d rather be getting a root canal.  This doesn’t sound like fun.  Don’t get me wrong, United Methodism needs to have this conversation.  I want to get the show on the road.  We need to finish, vote, do whatever, break up, and move on with our lives.  This interminable waiting isn’t healthy for anyone.

It seems all we ever do is talk about what we’re going to do if we get a chance to do something other than more talking.  Frankly, I’m bored of talking and so are the people in my church.  They too want to get on with their religious lives.  The denomination is holding them hostage and no one has the time nor the inclination (except for a few fanatics) to develop the Stockholm syndrome.  Most of the folks I encounter just want to go home, home to a church not ripped apart by culture wars they didn’t start and given the freedom to love whomever is in their midst.

Another reason I’d prefer not to give up a Saturday morning to a command appearance is this:  I have the ability to read.  No doubt, you’ve heard the term “manspslaining”.  Neither I nor my colleagues need to “mansplained” about the three options for Methodism that we can easily read online.  The Commission on the Way Forward is blessed with a propaganda outlay rivaling the operating budgets of most small cities in North Carolina.   It appears to be a waste of valuable resources and time.

Through their videos, press releases, website, articles, and the countless re-sharing of their materials down to the district level; I believe their message is getting through.  If you’re not hearing, learning, and reading this important information it’s because of apathy.  You simply don’t care.  Everyone understands what is at stake.  I’m sure there are many people who’d prefer to keep their head in the sand and not talk about the impending collapse of United Methodism.  Some plan pancake suppers and casually  forget to explain what’s coming down the road.  This, however, doesn’t make the future any less real.  Those leaders are doing their congregations a disservice.  Forcing everyone to listen to the delegates elected three years ago,  those who kicked the can down the road, would be funny if vocations, families, churches, and lives weren’t on the line.  Reading PowerPoint to each other while we whisper revolution from our various moral high grounds.  They say that’s what it (the meeting) won’t (or shouldn’t) be.  Stern instructions will be given in the beginning, “We’re here to listen to the plans, not re-litigate the issue.”  You and I both know that’s what it will become.

I realize meetings like this are an effort to put everyone on the same page regarding our future.  The thing is, we’ll never be on the same page.  There’s no such thing as the same hymn sheet.  That’s part of the problem.  Even in trying to find a way to close the door and shut off the lights, we still want to make everyone come to meetings, talk a little more, and conform to a method.  Is that, in and of itself, and indication that we’ve already failed?

Richard Bryant

Ocracoke UMC

Beacon District

NC Conference

Planet Earth

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Why Halloween Sucks

  1. Yes, I said it. This day, the rituals, the costumes, the traditions, the ideas, they all suck.
  2. Children dressing in costumes and asking for candy from strangers is a cultural norm that is well past its prime.  The Great Pumpkin is dead.  Let us move on.
  3. Halloween is really All Hallows Eve, a religious festival that precedes, All Saints Day. It’s a Christian thing with pagan origins (much like Christmas).  Now it’s been commercialized and fetishized into a celebration of fear, death, and early onset diabetes in children.
  4. Adults enjoy Halloween because it creates excuses for mid week alcohol abuse, stupid selfies to post on Facebook, and reasons to wear something made in a Chinese sweat shop now deemed “sexy” by the capitalists at Party City.
  5. Halloween sucks because it forces well meaning homeowners who participate in this absurd ritual to be nice to people who’ve spent no time preparing their costumes.  “Yes, don’t you all look nice?”  No, you don’t look lovely.  You look like you grabbed a flashlight; a pillow case, a sheet, and your mom’s eyeliner.  You look like crap.  You don’t deserve my candy.  You deserve my pity and scorn.
  6. If turning off your light meant you could avoid the whole thing, I would do it. You can’t avoid something that’s infected the whole culture.  We are forced to watch this madness.
  7. Who said putting a rotten gourd on your porch was attractive? Who ever thought this was a good idea?  No one in their right mind!
  8. Do we not have enough death in this world? Let’s pick a day where we make death fun and cute.  How dumb is that?
  9. It’s just a place holder for Christmas. Christmas doesn’t need place holders, especially one that’s so vapid.  Go straight to Christmas if you love it so much.
  10. Halloween sucks because all the witty people who know they’re witty get to foist their wittiness on the rest of humanity with their witty Halloween costumes and we’re asked to bow down to the altar of their wittiness for another year. If I wanted to worship wittiness, I would read Dorothy Parker.
  11. No one wants to live in a bi-polar trick-or-treat world of punishment and reward.  Life like that is a living hell.  Why experiment with such nightmarish stupidity for one day?  Because it’s cute and we’ve always done it, what will it hurt?  Everything, it hurts everything.
  12. Each time a door bell rings and a child says, “trick-or-treat”; Allah, Buddha, Jesus, and Krishna cry.  Angels lose their wings and humpback whales die.

Manufactured Belief

There are some arguments that aren’t worth having.  I’m not going to argue with the devil about racism or the appropriate way to protest racism.  Especially now, since the devil has outsourced his own brand of evil to bots and trolls working in Saint Petersburg.  I’m not going to shout down a white supremacist because well funded Russians with an excellent command of English and knowledge of American politics bought enough Facebook ads to anger both liberals and conservatives.  To tell you the truth, I’d prefer not to talk about God with anyone who claims to know God personally.  Anyone who claims to know the intent of the founders when writing the second amendment isn’t someone I want to debate.  In this moment, when America is swimming in fear, bathing in righteous indignation, and distracted by every new Tweet; I’d like to stop talking to everyone.  I don’t know who pushed your buttons.  You don’t know who pushed your buttons.  Even more, you don’t know who flipped their switches before they pushed your buttons.

Your anger, while seemingly well founded to you, was probably manufactured in Moscow.  Why is this so hard to believe?  While it’s not the Manchurian Candidate by any means, there are a group of ill intentioned individuals exploiting vulnerabilities in our broken democracy.  Maybe it’s just a writer whose idea was sent on a whim and the story was picked up in a Facebook news feed.  Once it’s in the feed, the soulless algorithms running the platforms that shape what we see then trigger our basest emotions.  The vicious cycle of wash, rinse, and repeat continues.  Our knowledge, the weak hold we possess on reality is nothing more than someone else’s ideas that we’ve been led to believe are ultimately our own.  If we are angry, it is because we have rightly been offended.   This has been the working assumption in a bipolar America.  This is not the case.

We have been told to be angry, hurt, and disrespected.  If you are not angry, other aspects of your identity as an American are suspect.  These are the orders American’s receive 140 (or 280) characters at a time or in various ads and posts.  When it happens enough, you start to believe the lies you’re being told, even the lies you know are false.  We’re all someone’s puppet if we allow the strings to be pulled or the buttons to be pushed.    As the subjects of constant noise, distraction, interference, and emotional manipulation; it is hard for many of us to determine what we believe apart from what we are told we must believe.

Where does the church fit in?  The clergy and the church have a history (and a present) of telling people what to believe.  Each week, we recite a statement of faith, the Apostles’ Creed.  This is a statement of belief.  In other ways, we tell our congregations what they must believe in to be considered an orthodox, Bible believing, Jesus-loving Christian.  Some would say that’s part of the job.  I want to relinquish this part of my job.  I no longer want to tell people what they must believe.  I don’t want to serve a congregation full of puppets who respond to the emotional strings I pull or buttons I push.  I want to cut the cord.

It’s always scared me to claim to speak on behalf of God or claim that God gave me a message.   I’m not afraid of many things, but that level of presumption frightens me.  So I ask:  Is it possible, in worship or through the Eucharist, to clear out the clutter and let the church listen to a God who’s not telling us what to believe but how to experience the kingdom?  For this to happen, we have to get out of God’s way, stop pretending we have  all of the answers, and start reminding each other of how good it is to be loved.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Niemoller Moment circa 2017 (First They Came)

First they came for athletes calling attention to police brutality and racism. I did not speak out.
Because I was never brutalized for being white.
Then they came for the dreamers, bi-lingual achievers, and immigrant families. I did not speak out.
Because I was handed the American dream.
Then they came for anyone who disagreed with their version of reality, religion, and life. I did not speak out.
Because I could not find something to Tweet.
Then one Sunday morning, they came for me.
The church was empty, the streets were bare,
And there was no one left to speak for me.

–Richard Lowell Bryant

Unpopular Opinion: Is This How Civilization Collapses?

Between our power outage on the Outer Banks and Hurricane Harvey I’ve been thinking:  How is civilization going to end?  I don’t mean, “How is the world going to end?”  A pandemic or asteroid will answer that question.  My query is more along the line of Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.  How is American Civilization (and Western civilization for that matter) going to collapse?

We saw some civilizational collapse during Hurricane Katrina and we’re seeing it on larger scale with Hurricane Harvey (simply due to the size of the storm).  A window to the future has opened and we’ve received a snapshot of what has yet to be.  This is what it will look like.  Perhaps, this is what it is.  Maybe it’s not a dystopian glimmer of what’s coming.  Is it what it appears to be, the present?

I believe we’ve reached a point of no return.  And from this precipice, no single factor is going to push us over the edge.  The uneven distribution of wealth in society, the environment, and competition for natural resources (just to name a few) are all working together to do us in.  Like ancient Rome, our empire is stretched too thin while fighting unwinnable guerrilla wars in places Alexander the Great couldn’t hold.

The economic stratification in America and throughout Western Europe is unsustainable.  Concentrated wealth in a small percentage of individuals and corporations will eventually lead to more of the present:  unaffordable lives.  Rents will be too high to pay, illnesses unable to be treated, food to expensive to be bought, and children to expensive to be raised.   Work will not be done because no one will be able to afford the basic necessities of life to do any work.

The resources allocated to the poor are not enough to maintain the basic underpinnings of the economy.  Given the impact of a massive economic and environmental disaster, civilization could collapse quickly; especially when the military we depend on to maintain law and order is fighting terrorists in Pakistan, not filtering water or flying missions in Houston.  At some point the legions of volunteers will return to work in their own communities, for their own economic well-being.  In a nation drowning in debt, addicted to a sixteen year war in Afghanistan, and afraid to address health care reform; how are we not on the verge of societal collapse?  The answer to that question is usually, “because neighbors still help neighbors”.  When the food runs low and the guns are drawn, the line between looting and scavenging disappears.  It’s good to see people helping people.  It’s also hard to argue with the math when you can’t pay the bills.

As recovery efforts begins, we are about to witness competition for limited environmental and economic resources.  Land will be inhabitable.  Jobs will be scarce.  Some people will never go back to the homes they once knew.  Refugee populations will be resettled across America.  Germany knows what this is like.  Bosnia’s experienced this. America’s new to the internally displaced people game.

Nothing will ever be the same again.  More hundred year storms will come next year and the following year.  The military guarding our streets will become a permanent fixture in American society.  Let’s pray there’s not another housing crisis akin to the one in 2008.

The death spiral which ended with Rome’s collapse at the hands of the Visigoths didn’t begin in 410 AD.  It was a long, slow ride.  The questions for me are this:  Where are we on our ride?  How much longer?  Is it me, or is it getting faster?

Richard Lowell Bryant

Yes, In World War II Documentaries They Keep Covering the Holocaust

Yesterday,  my wife was at her job in the local public library.  Someone returned a multi-volume DVD set about the history of World War II.  Called “The World at War”, it’s a seminal work in documentary film-making.  The twenty-six episode series looks a bit dated now but it is still one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Recorded in the late 1960’s and early 70’s (when many of the participants were still relatively young men), it was first broadcast in 1973-74 on ITV in the United Kingdom. The narrator was none other than Sir Laurence Olivier.  They interviewed everyone they could find from top to bottom.  From the grunts in the trenches to the scientists who made the first Atomic bombs.  As war documentaries go, it’s the gold standard.  Germans, Japanese, Americans, and Holocaust survivors talked for hours.

The guy who returned it didn’t like it.  Here’s how she recounted the conversation.  She shared this because it was a little unnerving.

He said, “It won’t no good”.  “It won’t about WW2, it was all about Jews! Every other scene they would come back to the Jews!”  It’s as this point he saw the look of horror on her face.  “Now, I have empathy for them but that wasn’t all it was about!”  If you were in Auschwitz or Buchenwald, that was certainly what it was all about.

Jewish communities all over Europe, in the east and the west, were destroyed.  Yes, all encompassing war documentaries do return time and time again to the death of six million Jews in the death camps of Europe.  We were taught in homiletics that every sermon we preach is, in one way or another, delivered in the shadow of Auschwitz.   How is it possible to preach the goodness of God in the face of such horrific evil?  The Holocaust is hard to avoid.

Why do people fear the rise of fascism in America? It is because ordinary people appear so cavalier about the greatest evil in the 20th century.  It happened too easily in a place no one ever predicted; where everyone believed they had empathy for one another.  We have reason to be concerned.  Right now, despite what you’re seeing in Texas, American empathy is in short supply.   Would neighbors love neighbors without a Category 4 hurricane?  That’s the test of Christian love.

I’ve walked through death camps.  I’ve stood in the place where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed.  I’ve been to the Holocaust Museums in Jerusalem and Washington.  We cannot say these two words enough:  never again.  We must never forget.

Now, it’s my job to reach out to this man and invite him to church.  I’d like to introduce him to the Rabbi I keep coming back to week after week.  His name is Jesus and I love him.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Rev Richard on the Relationship Between Science and Religion

1. I believe there’s no contradiction between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. I love them both.  Blessed are the peacemakers who see creation as evolving.

2. Cosmologists, physicists, and astronomers are unable to identify dark matter. It’s there, it’s doing something. They know it’s there.  But they’re also prepared to be proven wrong because so much of the research on dark matter is built on algorithms and conjecture. Theologians know grace is out there. We know grace is active. We proclaim the reality of grace.   However, our best definitions of grace are limited by the brain’s ability to comprehend the idea we’ve defined as “God”. How prepared to be proven  wrong are we about some of our long held assumptions?  Are we that different?

3. Genesis isn’t a science textbook. Jurassic Park isn’t a documentary.

4. An intelligent designer would have excluded hurricanes. Seriously.

5. No matter how hard I pray, the island where I live will eventually be reclaimed by sea level rise. My church will be underwater. Perhaps it’s time to listen to science.