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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Everything I Needed to Learn about Mark’s Gospel I Learned from Watching Smokey and the Bandit

 

1. The Good Guys are always in a hurry to get on to the next thing. Whether it is Texarkana, Capernaum, Atlanta, or Jerusalem.  The mission of the Kingdom of God is important.  We have got to keep moving.

2. Jesus turned water into wine. Bandit brought 400 cases of Coors beer. Each man knew what it took to keep the party going.

3. The bad guys never gave up trying to catch them on the finer points of the law.

4. Jesus had Peter. Bandit had Cletus. We all need some like Jerry Reed as our right hand apostle.

5. Sometimes you’ve got to break the law to save the day. This may mean working on the Sabbath or speeding down a back road.

6. You will get there in the end.

7. Depending on other people is crucial. Without your Mary Magdalene, Carrie, Cletus, and others you will never make to the fairgrounds on time. All of the disciples help get you where you need to be and when you need to be there. No Bandit is a solo act.  Disciples work together.

8. The bad guys don’t play fair. Be prepared for anything.  The temptation story is brief in Mark’s gospel but it’s still there.  All that beer in the back of Cletus’ truck could have gone elsewhere.  Temptation and obstruction come in many forms.

9. You need a theme tune. Songs help everything. Let your song be succinct and tell exactly what you’re doing. There’s no doubt, we are heaven bound and down. Has anyone seen my hymnal?

10. Jesus walked everywhere and didn’t have a black Pontiac Trans-Am. If he had, Mark’s gospel would have moved even faster. There’s no time to waste. The kingdom of God is here and now. And Jesus, oh my Lord, he would have out run every Smokey!

*The Gospel Lectionary Texts for this season are from Mark’s gospel.

Pastoral Prayer – January 28, 2018

Gracious God and Astounding Lord,

You come into our presence with authority.  We are once again amazed by your message.  The things you say and do are like nothing we have seen or heard.  Yet, in our complacency, we still manage to take you for granted.  You do not preach with anger or rage.  You speak with an authenticity that reflects your love for us.  For you the law is not a tool to accomplish some distant political end.  In hearing you, we understand that if scripture does not bring us together as sisters and brothers in the kingdom of God, it is impossible to do it on our own.  O Christ, we need you.  Your words come alive with compassion and hope.  They pull us together when we would prefer to be alone and driven by shallow self-interests.  Your words convict us to act, inspire, and do more than we ever thought possible.  When we are bound routine, the rituals of our lives become acts of service and love.

You have heard the names of the loved ones we have lifted this morning; both those spoken and those shared in silence.  They are near and dear to us.  Some we know by name, some by situation, for others, only you Lord, can truly understand their needs. For those suffering pain, loss, grief, fear, sickness, and addiction, we ask that you draw them close to your heart at this time.  Be with their families, friends, and others who support them.  Give them strength to continue on their journeys of recovery toward wholeness and healing.  You rejoice with us in our celebrations and you walk with us in our sorrows.

Hear us now as we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, who taught us to pray…

Richard Bryant

The Story No One Forgot (Mark 1:21-28)

This is one of those stories the disciples probably told for years.  Long after Jesus was gone and when some of those who had originally witnessed the event were dead; people were still talking about their first trip to Capernaum Quarter.  And like a lot of fishing stories, I’m guessing it got bigger each time they told it.  Don’t forget, we’re talking about fisherman from the eastern side of the Sea of Pamlico, they weren’t a regular bunch.  Maybe it’s sometime right after the resurrection or the ascension.  It’s hard for me to keep track of time.  Right now, last week seems like last year.  I do know this:  I can hear Peter telling the story like it was yesterday:

Peter said, “Do you remember the first time me and Jesus went up to Capernaum Quarter to preach?”  He had a bad habit of leaving other people out of his memories.

Andy, his brother, called out from the back of the room.  “There were eleven of us there, you dingbatter[i], we all remember.”  More than anything in the world, Peter hated being mommicked[ii] by his younger brother.  He especially disliked being called a dingbatter.

“I ain’t no dingbatter,” Peter said.  “I was born’d and raised right here in Tiberius just like you and our momma, our daddy, and our momma’s daddy, and daddy’s momma.”

James yelled from the back of the room, “He’s messing with you, you rock headed dingbat”.  (Jesus began the tradition of calling Simon Peter “Rock”.  He was sturdy, strong, and a little thick at times.)  James and his brother John fought like Peter and Andrew.  Somehow, with Jesus gone, James managed to help keep Peter’s fragile ego in check.

Yes, they all remembered.  How could they forget?  Peter continued, now reluctantly acknowledging the presence of ten other individuals.

“We walked into the synagogue.  It was nothing like the little teaching rooms we had.”  He paused for dramatic effect.  Peter wanted them all to remember their tiny one room Torah school houses where a traveling rabbi came once a week, on the Sabbath, across the lake, to teach them how to read scripture.

“This was one of them real fancy places.  They had chairs and everything.  People could sit down and actually pay attention to what was being said.”  Their own synagogue never sprang for benches, chairs, or pews.  Hence their overall amazement at houses of worship with adequate and comfortable seating.

He went on.  “I don’t know if they knew Jesus was coming but when we walked into the room everybody stared at us.  Whether it was the fish smell, we looked like tourists, or people knew Jesus was the visiting Rabbi, I never figured it out.”

“It’s because you didn’t sign the guest book,” said Philip.  “We all put nametags on and you were the only one who didn’t have a ‘Hello My Name Is’ sticker”.

Peter was used to tuning Philip out.  “We stood out like a sore thumb.   I don’t know if that’s what caused them to ask Jesus or like I said, if they knew he was coming.  But at some point, after the Torah reading, the Rabbi there pointed right at him and said, we got this young, up and coming teacher from over in Nazareth-mouth and he’s here with us today and I’d like to ask him to say a word on the text.  That’s when it got crazy.”

“I mean, I thought Jesus was amazing when he with us; you know, his people skills, his listening ability, and they way he made you feel like you’re the most important person in the world.  But this was different.  Put him in front of a crowd, the man was electric.”

Peter was really wound up.  “He connected with the whole group but at the same time with every person as an individual.  Do y’all remember what that was like, the first time you ever heard or felt that?  Sometimes I think we forget.”

Thomas, who never said much of anything, mumbled something from back of the room.  “I noticed it.”  “He made me think about God in ways I’d never considered before.  I’m naturally a skeptic but I couldn’t argue with this.”

“Everybody there was just like ol’ Tom,” said Peter.  “They were a murmurin’, a thinkin’, a reflectin’ on what they were hearin’ like they’d never been to synagogue before. That’s what they were sayin’ outloud.  This guy is unlike anybody we ever heard before.”

I don’t want to brag but they used words like “amazed”, “teaches with authority”, and “astounding”.  The kind of phrases you’d see advertising a movie, except these weren’t from small papers no one had ever heard of and those words represented the consensus of the entire room.

Jesus wasn’t like the radio, TV, and internet preachers.  He knew what he was talking about.

Peter paused a second time for an even greater length of time.  He wanted to pretend he was the only one who knew what was coming. “We’d never seen anything like this before.  If this is what fishing for people was going to be like, if it was going to be this easy, man were we glad we said yes.  This was easier than hauling in nets and everybody loved us.”

“They loved him,” said James.  “You were standing in the corner.”

“Yeah,” said Peter.  “They loved him until it got weird.”

“When the going gets weird, the weird go to Capernaum Quarter.”  I think that’s the town motto.

“So there we were; loving the Lord, having a good time with Jesus’ teaching and his authority when out of the clear blue this fellow who’d been in the crowd jumps ugly.  I mean he was crazy, shouting, and swearing like a drunken fisherman.  In fact, I’ve been a drunken fisherman and I didn’t know such words existed.”

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are.  You are the holy one from God,” said the angry man.

First thing Jesus did was to tell him to shut the Hell up!  He was a demon after all.  “Silence,” Jesus says.

Peter pauses for a third time.  “Do y’all remember how Jesus told him to shut up?”  With each time Peter told the story, the man became crazier and crazier.  His demons grew stranger.  In one version, he’d be foaming at the mouth.  Another time, his eyes would be red and he’d be barking like a dog.  Truth is, the man was sick, sad, and possessed.  Yes, they remembered.  How could they forget?  No one would ever forget Jesus telling a demon to “shut the hell up”.  Speaking harshly, that’s what your Bible says.  Peter always laughed at how the Bible cleans up “his” story.

“The man, demon, or whatever it was inside of him didn’t want to give up that easy.”  Some of the disciples didn’t think Jesus could do it by words alone.  They weren’t sure he wouldn’t have to be drug out of there and taught a lesson.  But that wasn’t how Jesus operated.  That’s not what this story is about.

How did Jesus operate?  On one level, it’s about Jesus shattering the line between routine and ritual.  He’s come into this synagogue, a place of established tradition and practice, and mixed it up so much so that a choice becomes clear:  Jesus’ way is different from what’s being offered at the present.  His way is not just astounding and amazing.  It’s also rooted in authority; it’s backed up with scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  Jesus’ teaching makes sense and works on multiple levels.

Jesus’ astounding teaching and general level of awesomeness is something that we easily forget and take for granted.  And like the man with the issues, the man who cries out in anger, we’ve heard everything Jesus has to say (and done so for the bulk of our lives) and we still need our catharsis.  We need our silencing moment.  We need to be made clean.  My question is this:  how is it with your demons this morning?

Our Bibles refer to this man as “unclean”.  In Greek that translates as a-cathartic.  You know from English that if you place an “a” in front of a word it negates its meaning.  An atheist is someone who is not a theist, someone who doesn’t believe in God.  If something is amoral, it is not moral.  If something is not cathartic, it’s not released; it’s pent up in anger and frustrations.  We talk about the need for catharsis after trauma and other powerful emotional events.  Jesus enables the man to go through a catharsis.

Here’s the thing:  we all need to be able to go through a catharsis with Jesus from time to time.  What’s that confrontation we’re going to have with Jesus that’s going to put us in a healthier place?  We may not be the guy jumping up and screaming, “What have you to do with us?” but that doesn’t mean we don’t need the catharsis, to be released from our own demons, and make some kind of acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is the holy one of God.

dingbatter 

  1. An uplander who has come to eastern North Carolina.

Usage notes

The term is used by residents of eastern North Carolina, including residents of Beaufort (originally for people from any place farther west than Morehead City).

mommick 

  1. To harass or bother (someone or something).

 

Thank you to Clarence for helping inspire this and most every sermon I try and sometimes preach.  

-Rev. Richard Bryant

Take off Your Hat, Mr. Reverend Please

You keep asking me,
“take off your hat”,
were I to remove,
my source of cranial heat,
this thing on my head,
a green, plaid cap,
worn since I went bald,
I’m dearly afraid,
of what I’ll be called,
“You with no hair”,
“go the other way,
there is an awful glare”
Children and trees,
Mothers and bees,
Will sit, knit, and stare.

–Richard Bryant

Grammar of the Veneer

the broken language of the multitude;
spoken in fragments of
mistranslated verbs,
dangling from places,
where participles work cheaply,
scrimping on rotten nouns,
adverbs given for nothing,
subject and object never agree,
sentences wait to be made whole,
matched with one another,
incomplete linguistic chains,
dependent clauses unable to survive,
families of distorted pronouns,
heard between here and there,
migrating chains of words,
stopped in sentences,
we refuse to read.

–Richard Bryant