I Need To Be Folding Bulletins

I should be doing,
Any number of things
Folding bulletins,
Reading the Psalm,
But I am writing a poem,
Because it makes me calm.

— Richard Bryant

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The Church Is Empty Space

As Methodism’s internecine struggles labor on; I’m no longer sure I know what “church” is supposed to resemble. Sure, there are glimpses of what I think I see as church peeking through the fog. Even in those moments, it’s hard to make out the contours and outlines of something definitive and meaningful.

For instance, Christmas Eve was lovely. The kids were up front, they were cute, their message was solid, and we looked like a church. The contrast between darkness and light is dramatic when nearly 200 people sing Silent Night. Then what do I do? I went made the mistake of reading tweets on the internet and watching the news.

The idea of church is up for grabs. Everyone knows what and who we should be. Maybe we’re just a slightly different reflection of the culture we inhabit. Perhaps we are a political movement defined by prayer. I’m not sure we can call ourselves the body of Christ until we look like the people Jesus came to serve.

We are not a building. As soon as Christmas is here, we quickly remove any traces that the holiday was here. We do this from our lives and homes as well. The church building is merely a frame we decorate to acknowledge the fleeting glances of life if the church played a more significant role in our lives. No, we’re not where we sit on most Sunday mornings.

I believe we are the spaces in between. The church is what we cannot see and seldom venture — the carpeted areas where people rarely stand, the unopened closets, the blank places where we tell of marginal people in a marginalized world. That’s the church. The church is not Biblical inerrancy, human-made doctrine, or who wins at Patristic trivial pursuit. The church is not a zero-sum game. No one wins at church. The church has never been about winning.

Who will say “here are the empty spaces”; “these are the places we are saving for the broken people who have nothing other than a need for healing, friendship, and love”? Those few square inches of space are all I am willing to define as the church. When we can take the blank spaces of sanctuary and offer what we do best, we will be the church.

Richard Lowell Bryant

You Are Probably Doing Thanksgiving All Wrong

Do The Same Thing Each Year, You Get The Same Results

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, what is the most important thing to remember? As Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Thou shalt remember to save room for the pumpkin pie sent by the Corinthians.” No, not really. However, there are some important things to recall as we gather for our yearly Thanksgiving dinners.

We could take a look at the mythology of Thanksgiving; the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. Do you remember the stories told in school plays and storybooks? We might recall the annual football games held on Thanksgiving featuring the indefatigable Detroit Lions. Or, it could be gathering your family and friends over a meal and waiting on Uncle Frank to have one too many beers and begin talking about building the wall. But better than all of those, Thanksgiving could be about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving would have nothing to do with the Pilgrims, Squanto, Football, overcooked Turkey, Uncle Frank’s politics, or anything else. What if Thanksgiving was about Thanksgiving?

In the Bible, Thanksgiving meant Thanksgiving. There were no turkeys, football, Squanto, or Pilgrims. I’m not sure Deviled Eggs were kosher. Can anything called “deviled” be holy? Despite this semantic sin, I’m on board with the Devil’s eggs. In Jesus’ day, people were thankful without all of the extra baggage we’ve attached to the idea of being thankful. Their idea of gratitude derived from an appreciation of being alive. We find it hard to appreciate being alive without first confronting the emotional depths of a cat meme or having a relative with a serious illness. Jesus’ followers were able to find gratitude for their daily bread despite their brother having leprosy or their sister’s calling to be a prostitute by the local well. Gratitude isn’t something picked up from comparing yourself to the misery of others; it is our response to God’s presence in the universe.

What if our Thanksgiving was more than a day to prepare for Black Friday deals, overeat, and remind you of how much you dislike some members your family? I know that’s asking a lot. Stick with me on this leap. Without the baggage we usually associate with Thanksgiving, we might actually see Thanksgiving for what it is and what it was meant to be: an opportunity to be thankful.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday. One day a year we officially give thanks as a nation. It is a holiday with puritanical religious overtones where no one goes to church. It is a family holiday where we ask more and more people to leave their families and work on Thanksgiving to satisfy our desire to buy new stuff so we may adequately celebrate the birth of Christ. It’s a secular holiday where societal convention dictates we overeat, watch football, and nap. We do Thanksgiving once a year because the calendar says so. In short, it’s a moral and ethical mess of our own design. The reason Thanksgiving feels forced, blasé, and awkward is that it is forced, commercialized, manufactured, and has nothing to do with real honest to God gratitude or thankfulness.

If you want Thanksgiving to function, it’s got to happen every day of the year and be permanently disassembled from the cookie cutter, one size fits all image of the perfect American holiday. Thanksgiving doesn’t start and end with one blessing around one dinner table at one lunchtime one on Thursday afternoon.

Happy Thanksgiving

Richard Lowell Bryant

Things To Know When Visiting Our United Methodist Church

My Happy Face

1. You’re probably sitting in someone else’s seat.  Ask them to scoot.

2. We provide Bibles. If you bring your own, I’m guessing you’re a Baptist.

3. Turn your phone off.  I will ask to speak with whomever calls.

4. Today is Sunday. We do this every week about 11:00. Give or take.

5. We pray with our mouths, not with our hands.

6. It’s called a bulletin, not a pamphlet.

7. We have one bathroom. I clean it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

8. Our communion bread is Hawaiian. You will love it.

9. If your ferry departs at 12:30, you can leave before the Benediction.

10. We’re glad you’re here.  This is my happy face.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Methodist’s Confessions

I inherited from my ancestors a story about God.

I accepted this bequeathed God as my God.

Faith is a gift, not a mandate.

On receiving of this faith, I understood that I did not possess God nor did God posses me.  God was not something I needed to prove.  God was an experience to live.

I realized I might have personal experiences with God in places like the ocean, forests, or walks home from school,  at church, and moments of serenity while driving home from work.

Within God’s creation, I exist among all life.

I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph the Carpenter and his wife, Mary.

Jesus was a carpenter, teacher, preacher, healer, and instigator of change.

Friend to ill-defined sinners, his life and work serve as role models for every Christian community.

Neither at home among his people or welcomed by the Romans who occupied his country, Jesus found his place among the outcasts. His work with the sick, homeless, impoverished, and marginalized of Galilee provides a foundation for the church’s ministry.

Jesus embodies the totality of God’s love for humanity.

I believe God’s spirit is the unseen reality of God’s presence.  To be open to God’s spirit is to be open to God’s presence working in the lives of other people.

I believe the church is a community and a place to proclaim new life and God’s love for all people; regardless of race, sexual orientation, worth in dollars, or any other factor used to discriminate human beings.  

Richard Lowell Bryant

Confessions of a 44 year old Still United and Still Methodist Curmudgeon

I like to read from my Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible.  I’m pro-NRSV.  I’ll tell you this.  You’ll never find a themed NRSV translation such as the Beaver Hunting, SideCar Racing, Goat Riding, American Idol, Lacrosse Coaching, Pet Grooming NRSV devotional Bible.  You’ll never locate one.  They don’t make them.  Why?  Bibles ought to be Bibles, not lifestyle accessories.   I’m old enough to remember when people knew that instinctively.

I don’t have a cover on my iPad.  Why would I put one on my Bible?

I don’t like to read hymn lyrics off the wall.  If you’re my optometrist and a worship leader who uses song lyrics to test my failing vision, I’ll make an exception.  Otherwise, pick up a book. Books built western civilization.  Do you know where we read about people who wrote on walls (i.e. cave painters)?  In books.

Jesus didn’t use tiny plastic shot glasses. If you want to do communion right, you use the big cup.  Sip and dip.  We call it “intinction.”  It is 2018, ride the wave back to 1st-century Eucharistic authenticity.

No one uses the term “Last Supper” except to describe paintings and what convicts eat on death row.  Methodists have Holy Communion or celebrate the Eucharist.   Maybe the last supper people are the ones holding on to the little shot glasses?

I’m the one leading the worship service, and sometimes I lose my attention span.  Keep it balanced (between sitting and standing) and don’t go over an hour.  Sometimes it can’t be helped.  On most occasions, preachers start repeating themselves because they’re afraid to sit down and shut up.  Thus, extended services can be prevented.

Go to the bathroom before the service begins.  Do you realize how distracting it is to be preaching when you see people just get up and leave?  You don’t know if they’re mad or have to pee.  If you do have to go, leave by an unobtrusive exit.  Don’t march down the center aisle in the middle of the sermon.  Honestly, what are you thinking?

Turn your phone off.  God called me and said to tell you to put your phone on silent.  Who calls people while they are in church?   Apparently, more than I’ve imagined.  People won’t talk to their friends or relatives all week then suddenly, sometime after 11 on Sunday mornings, the phones start to ring.  Reach out, reach out and touch someone.  Just not on Sunday morning between 11am and 12pm!

I would love to talk to you about planning your wedding at 10:55 on a Sunday morning.  No, the congregation will wait.  That’s the best time to ask me anything.

From where I stand, I see everything.  Did I mention gum chewing?  Grown-ups, adults, chewing gum in church.  Spit it out.  What is this, some Disney special where you’ve switched bodies with your children?

I don’t care who lights the candles just as long as they’re lit.  It’s great when the acolytes show up and the schedule is followed.  In the end, are they burning when the first hymn is sung?  That’s what matters.  We need contained fire in the church.

The 44 Year Old Still United and Still Methodist Curmudgeon

(Putting the Protest back in Protestant)