Pastoral Prayer for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Gracious God,

It seems as if every week is “one of those weeks”.  There is little time to breathe, think, respond, or react amid the news of more chaos in our world.  We are not separated from the most pressing needs of humanity by our television screens or computer monitors.  In the past week, death came to our door. In this sanctuary we celebrated the lives of two beloved members of our community.  And yet, as we gathered in grief, hospitals in Puerto Rico still lack water and medicine.  Families are no closer to answers as to why their loved ones were murdered Las Vegas.  Firefighters watch the uncontrollable power of nature destroy lives and homes in California.

Suffering does not respect geography, wealth, or any boundary.  Safety is in scarce supply.  The world proceeds as normal but we know something is amiss.  Like a nausea that will not go away, we feel it.  We are the lucky ones because we can pretend everything is fine.  Our children are in school, our water is running, and our homes are not burned to the ground.  Our grief is manageable because our sense of community is strong.  It is not so easy for our neighbors.  It is for them, those whose ideas of normalcy and safety are forever shattered, we pray.  There but for the grace of God are we.

God, we come to you this morning in a spirit of dialogue.  Here us as we clear our minds and open our hearts to the thoughts beyond our words.  Search our souls as we find gratitude and thankfulness among our requests and petitions.  Place within us a desire that forms our prayers into tangible actions.  May our “amen” be the next step in creating a partnership with you to help answer our prayers instead of passively waiting on you to do all the work.  You need us as much as we need you.

Amen

Rev. Richard Lowell Bryant

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Moses Changes God’s Mind

Moses Listens to God’s Plans to Destroy The Israelites Following the Creation of the Golden Calf

As strange as it seems, the story of the Golden Calf is one of those Sunday School stories we all know.  Whether in the movies or in the lesson, it comes right on the heels of the 10 Commandments.  It sticks out for any number of reasons.  In my mind, I’ve never seen the attraction of worshiping a cow; golden or otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a confirmed carnivore.  I love steak, hamburger, meatballs, and most anything you can do with a cow.  I’ve even eaten tongue.  When you’re on a mission trip, to seem polite and gracious, you’ll eat most anything.  However, and with no disrespect to my Hindu sisters and brothers who consider cows sacred, I’ve never once pictured a cow as God.

When I was a child in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, I had no idea that the other dominant religious tradition of the day, Baal worship, often worshiped cows.  Baal, the great multipurpose storm god of the ancient near east, was often portrayed as a cow. That information would have helped.  Not that it would have seemed any less weird but at least it would have made a little more sense as to why they went for the cow statue.  Baal the Cow just happened to be next on the “what can we worship” list.  And my word, weren’t they an impatient group of worshippers?

Where was Moses?  Moses goes up the mountain to meet with the God who led them out of Egypt, saved them from death (repeatedly), fed them, protected them, and has now disappeared for longer than they’ve expected him to be gone.  What do you do in such a situation?  You freak out!  You lose your mind, totally forget everything that’s happened the recent past, ignore common sense, disregard conventional wisdom, decide there’s only one possible explanation for an none other, and decide to act out ignorance against your best interests.  That’s what we do and it’s what the Israelites did.  If God doesn’t meet our timetable, expectations, plans, desires, and options we proclaim ourselves as free agents and make ourselves Gods.

They are lost, marching in the desert in route to the Promised Land, totally dependent on God for everything.  Somehow, they’ve managed to make stops by Jared’s and other jewelry stores on their trip across Sinai.  What do I mean by this?  Notice what the text says about the gold.  Look again at verse 3, “So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron.”  How fashion conscious should you be when you’re a refugee in the desert on the run from the Egyptians and in search of a new country?  How much gold jewelry do you need and who are you trying to impress with your Bronze Age sense of fashion?  The fact they’ve got that much gold on hand and it’s decorative, jewelry even, has always troubled me.  It says something about misplaced priorities and taking advantage of the blessings God’s giving to you.  Would we know anything at all about putting emphasis on things that don’t matter and squandering God’s resources on matters that matter a hill of beans?  I think we do.  The Israelites went from “God’s chosen people” being led by Moses to a group of cow worshiping drunks in the blink of an eye.  Witnesses to greatest miracles God had ever done; splitting of the Red Sea, the plagues on Pharaoh and Egypt, the gifts of food in the wilderness were forgotten in an instant because Moses’ meeting ran over.  They were offended that Moses would leave them.  How dare God do this to them (whatever “this” is); despite doing all of “that” for them (in the past)?

As I reread the Golden Calf, I’ve come to see it less as story about idolatry.  It’s more a commentary on what happens when we let our priorities and expectations become so unrealistic and narrowly focused, not only do we leave God out of our lives but we ruin relationships with other people.  In other words, things have to be the way we’ve decided, there can be no alternatives, this person is acting this way and because of motivations we’ve already decided have to be the case.  There are no other factors that might impact this situation, decision, or this person.  It has to be as I have determined it.  It’s not gone according to my plan.  Moses has not arrived.  I don’t care that he’s been with God, if that’s really true.  Has anyone seen is Facebook status lately?  Did he really check-in on the top of Mount Sinai?  As a result I’ll do what I have to do. I’m going to make my metaphorical Golden Calf.  What’s so frightening about this story is how quick and how often that change in God’s people can occur.

The second half of this passage turns darker and makes me uncomfortable.  What do you do about this?  I’m asking an open-ended rhetorical question.  I don’t know.  What does God do about his people, those in whom he has heavily invested, that are now ungrateful, drunk, impatient, cow worshipers?  This is not an easy question to answer.  Think of everything God’s done to get them to this point.  Consider the cost in human lives alone.  Does God go all Toby Keith on the chosen people and put a boot up their ass?  Should God order up a Predator Drone armed with Hellfire Missiles and wipe every last one of them off the face the Earth?

The short answer is yes.  The text is clear; murder is God’s first instinct.  When we act like short sighted, self interested, impatient, narcissists God’s initial impulse (as recorded here in Exodus) is to kill us all.  I told you it turned darker.  To paraphrase John Donne, “death, be not proud” but it will be quick and easy.  God says to Moses, “I’ll start from scratch with you”.

Here’s where I imagine Moses feels like General John Kelly trying to keep the President’s Twitter machine under control.  Moses says, “God you can’t send that Tweet”.

This is what troubles me:  God makes argument for murdering the people he has professed to love and already saved from certain death.  “They’ve already abandoned the path that I have commanded.  They’ve made a metal bull calf for themselves.  They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it.  I’ve seen how stubborn they are.  Now leave me alone!  Let my fury burn and devour them.”

Nothing God said is inaccurate or wrong.  The Israelites have done all these things.  Two points I’ll raise:  they’ve not killed anybody and you could have seen this coming a mile away.  This should have surprised no one, least of all God.  The Israelites had been moaning, murmuring, and complaining since they left Cairo.  However, these aren’t reasons to kill everyone you love.  He’s simply restating the facts.  Yes, God is angry.  We’re all angry and disappointed.  Since September 6th when we watched the tiny island of Barbuda leveled by Irma or on September 20th when Maria hit Puerto Rico and on October 1st when 58 people died on a Sunday night in Las Vegas; we’ve been angry and disappointed.  Tragic and brutal deaths are all too common both here and around the world.

Moses knows that more death isn’t the answer.  Scripture says, “Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, ‘Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt?’  Calm down your fierce anger.  Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people.”

Calm down your fierce anger and change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people.  Moses doesn’t hold his tongue.  It’s nice to think about someone who will speak truth to power.  Moses is speaking truth the ultimate power.  We like to talk about the fear of the Lord.  We forget that what that really means is “respect”.  Fear doesn’t mean to be afraid of God.  If Moses had been “afraid” of God, he would have been an accessory to the murder of innocent people who didn’t deserve to die.  Had Moses been unwilling to tell the Emperor that he had no clothes, where would we be today?  Let the utter profundity of the passage sink in for a moment: Moses (a man) told God (the God) that God was wrong.  God admitted God was wrong.  God changed God’s mind.  That last verse is the most crucial verse in this entire story, it’s the one you need to remember:  “Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he would do to his people.”

If God can be wrong, we can be wrong.  If God can learn a lesson and relent so can we. If God can err on the side of life, grace, and inclusion; how about us?  What are some of the things we think we’re so invested in, things that we become fighting mad over, that are black and white for us, and matters of which we’re so certain we’ll never change our minds?   God changed God’s mind.  What would happen if you changed yours?  How would the church look different?

God Being God

If you have any doubt as to the uniqueness of our species among all those which populate the planet; you need only stand by an open grave and watch a family place the remains of a loved one into the earth.  This is what makes humanity different.  We grieve, feel loss, and mourn the deaths of those we love.  It’s been this way since we made the jump from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens.   Thousands of years ago, before our ancestors decided we needed to explain why we were here and developed primitive cosmologies to understand what happens after we die; all we knew how to do was mourn.  Grief came to us instinctively; as did our desires for shelter, food, and relationships.

I was reminded of these observations during the Committal portion of the first of the two funerals I’ll lead this week.  Twenty family members and friends gathered in Thomas’ yard by a small flowerbed.  Here, his ashes would be interred for eternity.  Once Thomas’ son in law secured the box that contained his remains, each member of the family was invited to place a single flower in the grave.

I said the words I usually say at moments like this.  The greatest testimony of the Resurrection was the testimony of the witnesses.  Though this moment seems final, you now become witnesses to Thomas’ post –resurrection life.  We make resurrection a reality.  Go and tell his story.  I stepped back.

Chad placed the box in the location they’d prepared.  Pam, Thomas’ wife, came with the first rose.  Slowly, as they felt ready, the others walked forward.  It was late afternoon, the sun was setting, and the exhaustion among the family was palpable.    For what seemed like an eternity, they wept and looked into the dark sandy hole, where a simple wooden box contained the remains of a son, brother, husband, grandfather, and friend.

It was then I realized we’ve been here before.  We might as well be on the Siberian tundra thirty thousand years ago, mourning the death of a nomadic chief.  Nothing has changed.  Death, grief, and mourning looks no different today than it did when we first discovered our humanity.  Loss feels same today as it did to our earliest ancestors.  This felt real.  Life had ended, death was being confronted, and the void of eternity was in a flowerbed by our feet.  Somehow a connection was made between the living and the dead.

Unlike the service I’d led a couple hours earlier, where there seemed to be no connection to the larger issues of life, death, or eternity.  We read scripture, poems, and sang hymns.  I’m not sure how that helped anyone.  I’m saying this as the person who wrote and put the service together.

I saw the glazed looks on the faces of the grieving family and among the packed congregation.  I stuck to the script.  I wondered, as I often do at funerals, what do these words actually say about life, death, and hope?  I think I’ve read them so many times they’ve become lost in translation.  I looked out at the congregation and I was certain no one was listening.  They pretend to listen because they know, “this is what he says at every funeral”.  I do lots of funerals.  Many of them can probably repeat my lines as well as I can.  It’s true.

The flowerbed was different.  I had a front row seat as sixty thousand years of human history, evolution, and theology found its best common denominator.  God was present in the liturgy of time, actions, tears, and silence.  God was working in this dark moment despite my best efforts to explain Jesus preparing places in a mansion, picnics by still waters, and resurrection appearances.  It is nice to be reminded that God was part and parcel of the human story even before we felt the need to call God a Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim.  If God is anything, God is before.  God is in the rituals we can’t define as a “liturgy”; whether it’s because our ancestors were still learning to speak or we are overwhelmed with grief.

It was a blessing to see God, unfiltered and unplugged, at work, without the labels we feel hell bent to apply.  I was humbled by the opportunity to watch God be God.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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

Saving The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)

How do we save the 10 Commandments from those who want to worship pieces of broken stone?  Is it possible to save the 10 commandments from some who want to violate the essence of the commandments they claim to love by shaping an idol out of prohibitions against idolatry?  Are the 10 Commandments worth saving in 2017?

America hasn’t turned her back on the 10 Commandments.  Despite last Sunday night’s carnage, those who helped save countless lives were honoring God’s commandments.  If you’d pulled those people aside and asked them to quote, recite, or name any of the 10 Commandments (or other laws in the Old Testament) you might not have gotten a stellar result.  But that doesn’t matter.  They were living out the commandments.  They were honoring their parents, God, and bearing true witness to their neighbors with their life saving actions.  They didn’t need them etched in stone on a court house lawn.  When it mattered, it was on their hearts.

If the 10 Commandments and the place of Judeo-Christian morality are threatened in our society, it’s from those who say they love the 10 Commandments most.  How’s that for irony?  What can we do?  First, we can learn what gave rise to these “ten words” in Israel’s journey from Egypt.  Secondly, we can hear these words as messages of hope instead of warnings of punishment and division.  Lastly, we can see the free will and choice which governs each and every commandment.  God has given us the ability to choose and live as free beings.  We are not robots, automatons controlled by God’s puppet strings.  We can make choices and posses moral autonomy.  The answer to America’s spiritual and moral crisis isn’t forcing people to sign or obey the 10 Commandments.  No one like religion, no matter how moral it may seem, pushed in their face and shoved down their throat.  If they did, some churches would be bursting at their seams.

There’s some debate as to whether the first commandment really counts as a commandment.  It’s more of a statement of purpose and clarity that tells us (the reader) about why the words that follow are important.  Listen to this, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Is it a commandment?  Is it a calling card?  Is it merely a statement of fact?  Why does God keep bringing up a) Egypt and b) out of the house of slavery?

Everything which follows will be about two things: creating contrast and perspective between Egypt (in the past) and your life now (in the present).  Memory is a funny and fickle thing. How did we get here and what was it really like in the place we left?  So much depends on your perspective.  God calls Egypt “a house of bondage”.  If you grew up in Egypt, weren’t one of Pharaoh’s slaves, middle class with a house down by the Nile, you probably disagree with God’s characterization of Egypt as a “house of bondage”.  It might even offend you.  You were never in bondage.  You never owned any Hebrew slaves.  Your family never owned slaves.  That was Pharaoh’s business.  Egypt was a house of prosperity, agriculture plenty, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps do it yourself can do attitude people.  I totally disagree with God’s characterization of Egypt as a “house of bondage”.  How you see a place, depends on your perspective.  Now that the Israelites were removed from that place, he wanted them to remember their perspective.  The further you travel from a crummy situation, the more likely you are to view the hardships of the past through rose tinted lenses.  “It wasn’t all that bad.  At least we had food on a regular basis.”  This is exactly what they were doing.  Imagine people walking up to Dr. Martin Luther King, mid march in Selma saying, “Dr King, you know slavery wasn’t all that bad, Jim Crow wasn’t all that bad, at least with segregation we weren’t getting beat with clubs.”  God and Moses were worried about this.  The same thing was happening to them.

These commandments will be centered on their perspective as former slaves in Egypt.  What God wants to prevent is any situation that leads them to become like those who kept them in bondage.  This is how we get the 10 Commandments.  God says, “You were slaves.  These are the major qualities and characteristics of the people who kept you bondage.  I don’t want you to become like those who held you in slavery.  Everything that comes next whether it’s about murder, adultery, or theft is a response to this initial impulse.  The Egyptian system was corrupt.  Death and deceit defined Egyptian dynasties.  Children would poison their parents to sit on the throne.  If you wanted your neighbor’s property or wife, kill them and take it.  Israel was to be different.

These words are a condemnation of power, corruption, and human bondage.  Egypt is what you become, those are the values your society reflects when you treat human beings like property.  God is now saying, here on Sinai, there is an alternative to the brutality, corruption, murder, and devaluing of human life you’ve witnessed in Egypt.

You’ve seen the National Geographic Channel specials.  Egypt was full of idols.  Everything, including cat were worshiped.  Families were torn apart by dynastic rivalries and as for taking a day off, slaves never got sick leave.  The Egyptians made the Louis XIV’s court at Versailles look chaste when it comes to ideas of fidelity in marriage.  Life, in the mud pits making bricks or on the battlefield fitting the Hittites, was worthless.

What if, instead of reading these commandments as negative statements, telling us what we cannot do or as direct orders, we see them as signs of hope?  Again, imagine the darkness from which the Israelites emerged.  The idols, the dysfunction, the death, and the constant devaluing of anything beyond the superficial moment called “now”.  If there was a way to wipe the slate clean and live a simpler life, which focused on a life based ethic, wouldn’t you call that hope?

There are idols and there are idols.  You know what you worship and love.

Would I talk about you that way?

God values what you do and your work, so much so that God also deems rest to be a sacred gift.  That’s really what that commandment is saying.

Honor your father and your mother.  Remember what connects you to your past, present, and future.

Life is precious.

Boundaries matter.

You can steal so many things other than an ox or an ass.  You can steal joy, happiness, and peace of mind.

You need your neighbors. Don’t alienate your friends.

Each of these commandment points to a relationship.  The 10 Commandments create community.  It pushes us to think about God, our community, and the people around us.  We don’t observe the 10 Commandments as a solitary exercise.  Once we begin to interact with these ideas we are inevitably brought into a larger community.  We are compelled to take the risk of sharing with our neighbors, trusting our friends, looking after each other parents, and working together because we’ve accepted this idea:  God offers us hope and hope comes with risk.

God creates perspective and then offers a choice for the Israelites.  Israel should not be Egypt. And unlike their work in Pharaoh’s mud pits, they have a choice as to how they will engage with these commandments.  They are not machines, robots, or computer programs run by an algorithm.  They have free will.  If God wanted us to be pieces on a divine chess board blindly following God’s will there would be no need for commandments or free will.  These would be forced commandments.  In a world of forced commandments, there is no free will.  You do what you’re told. There are no options.  That’s not God.

God gives the Israelites free will to choose to accept or ignore the 10 Commandments.  This is a far cry from those in our own country who want to reinstall and remount the 10 Commandments in public squares.  God placed these words on a single tablet and then gave humanity a choice.  Nothing was forced on anyone.  These words defined Israel’s relationship with God but more importantly they framed how they saw themselves in relationship to each other.  These “ten words”, as the Rabbi’s refer them, reflected the choices they made and the people they hoped to become when they had a land of their own.  If the 10 Commandments are going to mean anything to Christians in 21st century America, we’re going to need to step back and realize:  they work best when we choose to follow them not when ordered to do so.  They should be written on our hearts not in stone in front of buildings.  And finally, do they draw us closer together and not further apart.  If they’re not doing these things, you might as well not read them in first place.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A United Methodist’s 10 Commandments

1. You must have no other books before the Book of Discipline.

2. Do not make an idol of anything, even John Wesley and the Book of Discipline. Thus, ignore commandment 1.

3. Do not use John Wesley’s name in vain to make theological arguments to fit your political agenda.

4. Remember when Annual Conference was both fun and holy?

5. Honoring your Wesleyan fathers and mothers doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the past.  Creativity doesn’t mean tearing up your parent’s grave.

6. Do not kill good ideas in the name of unity, tradition, and keeping the peace.

7. Do not commit adultery with every church growth fad, Bible study, and culture war issue which hits your inbox.

8. Do not steal anyone’s joy. Our greatest crime is the weekly theft of joy.

9. Do not bear false testimony about anyone; especially Jesus of Nazareth. Tell the truth about Jesus.

10. Don’t look at your friend’s church, fellowship hall, budget, and fancy setup. Make the grass grow green on your side of the fence.

Rev. Richard Lowell Bryant

Oh The Humanity!

We are always poised between the known and unknown.  Whether physical, literal, or metaphorical; something is taking aim at our lives.  It could be that rock on the highway you didn’t see coming.  Who knows?  Our next moment is not promised.   Risk is all around us.

It takes courage to stand up at moments like this, moments like today, when risk feels so distant.  Days when the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and everything seems right with the world but we know, not far away, people are hurting in unimaginable ways.  It takes strength to get up when everything appears right with our world.  Why? Because appearances can be deceiving.  The world, our communities, the body of Christ is interconnected in ways we barely understand.  No one suffers alone.  Our human capacity for empathy drives us to care for people we’ve never met or seen.  We feel the pain and loss of strangers because their stories mirror our own.  It doesn’t matter what color they are, who they voted for, or if they think a wall is something you put in your back yard or along a southern border.  The ability to love and care for those we see injured, abandoned, and bereaved is not an American or even uniquely Christian quality.  It’s part of being human.

Over time, we’ve attached patriotic and religious words to our humanity.  In an effort to allow one to subsume the other, we’ve merged our religiosity with our humanity and our patriotism with our national identity.  That’s not an authentic reflection of who we are as people.  We’re living in a peculiar time and place.  Because of our anxieties, Americans are uncomfortable with the idea that evil cannot exist without a motive.  We’re equally uneasy with the notion that our goodness as Americans wasn’t caused by splicing the DNA of George Washington’s men at Valley Forge, with Ernest Hemingway’s, and Billy Graham’s which every American receives before enrolling in Kindergarten.   In short, evil must have a reason and Protestant American Manly Goodness is simply part of who we are.

We understand the world, morality, right and wrong by putting everything between these two poles.  Sunday night, the poles were removed and Americans responded as humans; not as country fans, Christians, Republicans, Democrats, or gun owners.  No one needs to justify heroism in terms of any allegiance to a type of music, political party, cause, or tribe.  Saving lives is the human thing to do.  Being human, caring for others is the right thing to do.  When the chips are down and we’ve heard this time and time again, it didn’t matter who was hurt, no one deserved to die.

Humanity played the central role in saving lives and redeeming the story which will ultimately be told about the Route 91 Harvest Festival.  Does that make the deaths any easier?  Will it heal the pain?  No.  I do think it shows the possibility of people from different backgrounds seeing beyond the labels and identities they’ve so readily assumed (or been burdened with) and carried for the past three decades.  If we want to live in a country where people aren’t regularly murdered by men with automatic weapons, it’s going to take dealing with our anxieties about evil and realizing our goodness is limited by our egos.  And the person who’s got your back, the person who will drive you to the hospital if you’re ever shot or heart attacked, may be Hispanic, African American, Gay, Laotian, illegal, driving a truck, perhaps a Subaru, loves country music, voted for Trump, does Yoga, line dances, or maybe voted for Jill Stein, hates cats, loves dogs, and that shouldn’t matter at all to you.  You love them no matter what!   We’re in no position, not now, not ever, to be turning down friends.

Richard Lowell Bryant