Job’s Friends

Job’s friends,
numbered three,
good ideas,
they thought to bring,
“Give up,
you stink,
we know you lie,
you screwed up,
end this now,
ask God to die,”
With friends like these,
ready to comment,
eager to please,
who needs the devil,
betting God,
to put on the squeeze?
Silence, block, ignore
three eager dummies,
with whom Job chose
To chat no more.

–Richard Bryant

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When You Mock Victims, You Mock Jesus

When you mock a victim of abuse, you mock Jesus.
When you laugh at the victim of oppression, you laugh at Jesus.
When you whip up a crowd to howl at a victim, you recreate the pain of Good Friday.
When you intentionally hurt someone who is already harmed, you hurt Jesus.
Harnassed evil is ugly and mean,
Jesus weeps.

And I bet all of them standing there,
every last one,
goes to a church,
maybe three times a week,
they call themselves Christian,
and while they laughed,
hoot’d and holler’d
Jesus still weeps.

–Richard Bryant

Things To Think About This Week

Our minds bend toward worry.  How do we use our anxiety productively? Can we direct our fear toward something we can control?  Yes. If we worry about those in need following Hurricane in Florence, we can help those who are suffering in tangible ways.

The new technology that connects and improves our lives is destroying the privacy, security, and safety of real communities.  Our virtual lives make us vulnerable.  How can you take control of your vulnerability?

Outrage is necessary when confronting evil.  Some things in this world are outrageous.  When you see it, call it out.

It can happen here.  It is happening here.

Better isn’t only a goal for politicians and priests.  Better is for each of us, today.  We need to hold ourselves to higher standards.

There are too many places on the planet in political, social, and environmental peril.  It is important those of us touched by hurricanes and erosion talk with those impacted by typhoons and earthquakes.  Our lives are intertwined.   All is not well in this world. None of us is ready for Bishop Elon Musk to establish the Martian Missionary Annual Conference.  We are needed here.

The irrelevance we (as individuals or churches) sometimes feel is not the relevance we experience.  Our lives mean more than we realize or are willing to admit.   Go read your Baptismal vows.

The church is an old idea, an ancient model, trying to survive in challenging times.  We need to talk about Reformation; not as a catchphrase or cliché.  It is time for systemic change.  Every five hundred years or so, the church seems to demand an overhaul, from the bottom up.  Now is the time for Reformation.  However, Reformation is not synonymous with regression.

To resist ecclesial change is to ignore the political, economic, and social upheavals occurring all over the world. The church, beyond the international level, pretends it is too inconsequential to influence the global movements demanding change from governments and entrenched bureaucracies all over the world.  This is not true.  Our conversations in local churches are also reflective of more substantial shifts occurring at the global level.  If we limit one, we impede the other.

The world is not a place we remember one Sunday a year, one Sunday a quarter, or after we receive a particular e-mail from the conference or a general board.  Engagement is our full-time job.  In most cases, our global commitment is a part-time position.    We all suffer as we wait for the next headline from Syria, hurricane, or earthquake. Is something more significant happening, something more disconcerting than we realize?

An echo chamber never lies.  I will prove that I am not an echo chamber.  The world is a painful, sometimes crummy place where the good guys often lose.  If I were an echo chamber, I’d have painted a much rosier picture about the Holy Spirit making all things right. Beware of echo chambers.

What if the way we think of church, Bishops, the Bible, Annual Conferences, committees on ways forward, FBI investigations, the United States Senate,  the Judiciary Committee, and the Supreme Court is part of the problem?

We are the problem we’re trying to solve.

Rev. Richard Lowell Bryant

Jesus H. Christ – What is Jesus’ Middle Name?

Happiness.
Heckled.
Hold on a minute.
Hahaha. Jesus laughed.
Heal at a moment’s notice.
Help someone out.
Hush, I’m about to become parabolic.
Hike, never. Walk always.
How about looking after women and children?
Humility is never overrated.
Hell yes, I love you the way just the way you are.

–Richard Bryant

A Funeral Homily (Jesus, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young)

“Jesus wept.”

John 11:35

Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard
Remember what we’ve said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard

-Stephen Stills and Judy Collins

What do we need to be reminded of today? What might we carry with us as we depart from this service?

A few thoughts come to mind. First, we all encounter loss on our terms. We have gathered together, but the experience is different for each person. Grief is intensely personal and is not a choice.

We cannot opt out of mourning. Grief arrives expected and sometimes by surprise. Sometimes sorrow presents itself when we feel prepared. The truth is we are never ready. Despite efforts to put our ducks in a row and stiffen our upper lips, days like today (and the ones which preceded it) are sight readings. We go out and do our best. One cannot rehearse for grief. You can embrace or ignore try to grief. You can’t lie about its reality. To turn our backs on grief and ignore our emotions is to sever parts of our humanity from a soul that aches for comfort.

Grief isn’t optional; our humanity shouldn’t be either. Acknowledging our sadness is essential. It is also vital we laugh and tell stories. It’s all woven together; an incredible, yet visible opportunity to celebrate and be inspired to live the rest of our own lives.

Services like this remind us of our mortality. As we honor one life well lived, we get the gift of realizing our lives aren’t permanent fixtures on planet Earth. That’s good. We need the occasional swift kick in the mortality pants. We operate under the assumption that if life is good (we even sell t-shirts with that logo), death must be wrong. I’m not trying to make light of suffering, pain, or tragedy. However, I do want to say that there’s something about death which gives meaning to life.

A few weeks ago I downloaded an app to my phone called, “We Croak.” The developers were inspired by a Himalayan Buddhist tradition which teaches that contemplating death five times a day brings happiness. So five times a day, without warning, I receive a message on the phone (like a text message or notification) that says, “Reminder: You are going to die. Click here for a quote.” Most of the time, I ignore it. I admit there are times I don’t want to remember that I am going to die. Then at other instances, when I’m zoned out on Twitter or looking at stuff on Amazon, it suddenly pops up, “Reminder: you’re going to die.” I click on the quote, and it says, “The whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately.”  It’s just what I need to see.

Today, we have the opportunity to see and hear a unique message. Life is fleeting. We should not live life with uncertainty, without compassion, empathy, or moral ambiguity.
Maybe you’re in a rush to make the ferry or merely living in too much of a hurry. The button pops up. You’ll be amazed at how confronting your mortality, beyond this time and place, will change the way you live. That’s one more gift we receive by gathering this afternoon. We have the opportunity to walk out of here and live more meaningful lives.

Many on this island don’t need an app. The truth of your mortality is something you know all too well. Whether it’s receiving a diagnosis or living through loss, you know that life is delicate, even on a good day. The more fragile our lives become, the easier it is to find gratitude in simple gifts. In our weakness, there lies strength. In the exquisite balance of this moment, we can reach out and find a means to say thank you to our friends, our families, and neighbors.  In grief, live joy.

Richard Lowell Bryant

10 Reasons Why People Leave Church

1) They were never really “there” in the first place. The church was a way station between soccer practice, scouts, and the other stops in our over-scheduled lives. Church seems, for a time, like the right thing to do. After a while, the incessant moralizing and demands to volunteer grow difficult for many people to manage. Other parts of their lives, like volunteering (at school) comes without the tinges of guilt and people talking about (however occasionally) heaven and hell.

2) Ritualized singing is awkward. The only other places on earth where people sing together, en masse, the same songs, are English football games. Church shares this unique commonality with football hooligans from Leeds and Liverpool. The strangeness of singing either repetitive praise choruses or 18th-century hymnody, in public, may rub the modern person the wrong way. If someone is hurt, broken, and seeking purpose in their life; enter our building and sing with strangers! That’s a big ask.

3) Have you seen what I wear on Sunday morning? I dress like Dumbledore. That may strike folks not used to traditional liturgical worship as odd. This could run a few people off. Harry Potter fans love it! My Ordinary Time stole is a Slytherin scarf.

4) We fight like cats and dogs in meetings over really inane stuff. Have you been to a church meeting lately? If people want to fight, they’ll eat dinner at home with their kids.

5) People find new churches. We have to compete with the gym church, the football game church, the golf church, the fishing church, the boat church, and any number of things people worship. These other churches provide community, potlucks, and they don’t ask you to sing.

6) Some people are fickle and mean. When their meanness gets exposed, people leave.  I think this works both ways.  People leave when they encounter meanness and hostility.  Some also leave when they realize their meanness won’t be tolerated in a Christian community.

7) People join political parties, fishing teams, alumni associations, golf clubs, and social groups; yet they don’t like the idea of traditional denominations having a larger institutional identity.  When the church becomes more than a bland, generic, or cookie cutter version of every other church, they leave.

8) It takes a boatload of money to keep us going.  Even the smallest church is expensive to run.  People decide to spend their money elsewhere.  It’s the economy, stupid.

9) People leave the church because you didn’t cast their child in the Christmas play.  Most times it is not unanswered existential questions about suffering, the preacher’s politics, or anything so grand.  It’s the little things.

10) People leave the church because they read too many Dan Brown novels.  They believe the worst about Christianity and we don’t give them any reason to think any differently.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Mending Our Nets

Net Mending, School Road, Ocracoke, Fall 2018

Matthew 4:21-25

21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Sometimes I travel in time by arriving at the church. It happened once again this morning. I got out of my car, looked behind me and saw my neighbor mending his nets. It’s a fairly typical scene on Ocracoke. Many people still make their living by commercial fishing. Net mending is not only a regular occurrence it’s also a practical necessity. Somehow, this morning, it looked a little different. Right across the street from the church, stretched across my neighbor’s drive, was one long net. I thought, “This is what it looked like.” What did what look like? I saw the call to discipleship at ground zero.

Net mending hasn’t changed in two thousand years. The fishermen on the Sea of Galilee mended their nets in the same traditional way as those who fish the waters of Ocracoke. Fishing is fishing. I realized (and I’m not sure why) that I’m standing in the place where Jesus’ disciples made the decision to follow Jesus. It’s not the fishermen mending their nets by the Galilee; it is the action of the fishermen mending their nets. From a place like this Jesus calls people like us. There are no metaphors, similes, or comparisons needed to help our modern minds apply the difficult teachings of the ancient world. All I had to do was walk across the road and wait to be called. Given what’s going on these days, Jesus will be along any minute. I wonder, am I ready to go?

Richard Lowell Bryant