We Have No Adjectives

If you listen to the Weather Channel, which is all I seem to do of late, adjectives have taken over the scientific forecasting of weather.  The next hurricane, Michael, is perhaps more fear-inducing than Florence. Beyond the terms to which we have grown numb; such as “storm surge” and “eyewall”, we listen for increasing hyperbolic adjectives to modify the strength and category of the storm.  For example, Michael is a “massive Hurricane,” a “strong Category 4”, a “dangerous storm,” and a “deadly formation.”  Fear is traded like currency, like bitcoin or the dollar.  The more alarming the fear, the higher the value of fear becomes.  Fear takes on a priority greater than preparation.  The greater the fear laced images; the more hopeless and helpless people become.  Fear paralyzes and distorts reality.  On a good day, fear can cripple an individual’s ability to respond rationally to stressful situations.  Imagine what happens when you’re told non-stop, on channel after channel, the world is about to end, one adjective at a time?  People stay where they shouldn’t, they place themselves in the path of deadly storm surges, they risk their lives and the lives of their family because the ability to be rational died the moment fear became the dominant metaphor in explaining nature.

When push comes to shove, the church has no adjectives.  The more adjectives we use the more watered down our message becomes.  We are not like the Weather Channel or the broadcast meteorologists.  We have one word, “hope” and there are no adjectives for hope.  All we have is hope.  There is no “massive” hope, “firm” hope, “dangerous” hope, “awesome” hope, “abundant” hope, or “living” hope.   Hope need not be modified.  Hope is hope.  Hope is enough. Hope is what gets you through concentration camps.  Hope brings victims and oppressors to the same table in a Truth and Reconciliation process.  Hope is not wishful thinking.  Hope is Christian living.

Hope is not easy.  Two massive hurricanes in a month’s time do not offer hope.  Encountering the empty tomb was not a hopeful experience.  Had Jesus’ body been stolen?  Before there was hope, there was fear and doubt.  Living into the Resurrection challenges the very notion of hope.  Our hope grows from the darkness of Easter Sunday morning.  Hope begins to take shape in the Resurrection even before we’ve arrived at the grave.  God has gone ahead of us, in the darkness, amid the ruined remains of our flooded lives to start resurrecting Hope.

We don’t find hope on our own.  Hope finds us.  Hope dwells, grows, and is nurtured in community. Through our Baptism, we are brought into a community orientated toward hope.  A compass always points north.  We always look toward hope.  A hopeful community is the antidote toward fear being traded on the open market.

Be safe, evacuate when told, and live hope.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Remarks on Presenting Bibles to Graduating Seniors

1. Sometimes we need to be reminded our past is bigger than the history we believe we’ve inherited. We are recipients of an awesome genealogy from our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and beyond. At some point, the records become scarce. The wisdom keepers of our community pass on. The Bible is a reminder that our story is the common story shared by humanity since the dawn of time.

2. We need to be reminded that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves. There is a big picture and sometimes it’s hard to see when you spend all day (or your whole life) looking at Instagram stories. We are part of God’s story.

3. We need to be reminded that community is important. The Bible points us to membership in a community where we believe that gathering around a higher moral purpose is a good thing. There are all types of communities. Some groups are devoted to sports, fitness, or hobbies. Church is different. For over 2000 years, with this book as our guide, we’ve gathered to say pursuing a higher moral purpose in life, rooted in love, is a good thing. When celebrations happen or tragedy strikes; I can tell you from hard won experience, you’re going to want to be with people who value the Bible. This is because you will be loved beyond the superficiality of thoughts and prayers.

4. We need to write our story. Parts of the Bible are unfinished. Mark’s story of the resurrection ends of Jesus’ disciples finding the tomb empty. They never see Jesus’ body. It’s up to the reader to make the resurrection real.  Christian theology is participatory.  Read the book for yourself.

5. Religion aside, this is the foundation work of western literature. To be an intelligent, well-read person you need to know the Bible to appreciate Shakespeare, Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, and other great writers of modern literature.

On Blessings

When you think of a “blessing” what do you imagine?  Is it a not so subtle sneeze and someone turning to say, “God bless you”?  Perhaps your idea of a blessing is something more tangible.  You see blessings as palpable things you’ve received from God in response to your prayers.  On the other hand, a blessing may not be a discernible thing yet it’s still a visible response to God’s invisible presence.  We have blessings for homes and babies.  We bless those who coming and going.  We are taught to see food as a blessing which is then blessed by those who eat the meal. There are blessings for living and those who are dying.  The idea of blessing is interwoven in the very nature of our religious language.  We speak in “blessing”.  I wonder, do we know of what we speak and say?  Do we understand what we’re talking about?  I ask because it seems our ideas about blessings are all over the map.

What is a blessing?  A blessing is more than a collection of inanimate words stitched together to invoke and animate God’s presence as in a magical spell.  Blessings, whether between the sneezer and the responder or the diner and pork chops, are relationships.  When we offer a blessing for ourselves or anyone else, regardless of the situation, we are expanding our existing relationship with God to include whomever or whatever we would like blessed.  In effect, we are also creating a new relationship.  Blessings expand our ability to share God’s presence with the world around us.  Secondly, where nothing exists, our words carve space for God to create something from nothing.

A blessing is a “Big Bang moment”; where God’s goodness can expand (between strangers or friends) at light speed in a fraction of a second and alter the course a moment, hour, day, or even a life.  Blessings are daily opportunities, simple verbal frameworks we help build.  Within those outlines, God works with our relationships.  This is why our language, our words, and the simplest, “God Bless You” isn’t solely about common courtesy.  Blessings are the common theology which fuels the kingdom of God when government shuts down, spirits run low, cold weather goes long, and life feels too heavy to bear.

The greatest barrier to our ability to bless is our own imagination.  God is our blessing partner.  In the grand relationship we’ve built with God, the opportunities to bless our friends, neighbors, and communities are endless.  Is there a place where God’s relationship circle can be enlarged to include someone else, either in word or deed?  Yes! This is the basic blessing question.  If you can tell someone they’re blessed, you’re also reminding them both you and God love them.  Blessings are the visible signs of God’s love embodied in Christian community.   Whether it’s clothing, food, or words; those signs are ours to carry.

Blessings can never be measured on a spreadsheet.  While visible and real, they are not tangible items to be owned or displayed.  Our blessings bring us together as a Christian community.  They do not set us apart as individuals.  Blessings lead to deeper relationships with God and each other.  It’s not a blessing if what you perceive as being a blessing doesn’t draw you closer to God and other people.  It’s not a blessing if, whatever “it” is; you can’t give “it” away.  Blessings aren’t meant to be retained.  Remember, there are no U-Hauls attached to the hearse.

Bless you!  God Bless You!  Be a blessing!  May you be blessed!  Share your blessings, a blessing, this blessing, with someone else.  Expand your relationship with God by inviting someone else to share God’s blessings.   Listen to those sneezing.  Look for those crying.  Notice the beauty around your feet.  Bless them all! Go out with an open heart and a watchful reverence.  See what blessings you encounter.

Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

 

Mayberry Isn’t A Healthy Place To Live

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Sara Pulliam Bailey’s trip to Mount Airy spurred some of my own reflections about growing up in small town North Carolina, watching the Andy Griffith Show, and why nostalgia is dangerous.

Mayberry wasn’t all it was cracked up it to be.  To those of us who grew up in North Carolina, in communities which mirrored Mayberry’s ethos and identified with the show, we know the program’s depiction of life in the rural south reflects a version of life in North Carolina which has never existed.

I am fan. I’ve seen every episode.  I think the Andy Griffith show is one of the defining television programs in post-war television.  However, I don’t believe The Andy Griffith Show paints an accurate picture of what life was like in mid-century America, my home state of North Carolina, or holds up ideals to which America needs to return.

I don’t want to return to a segregated America or North Carolina.  Mayberry is a segregationist paradise; white South Africans, Klansmen, and George Wallace would feel right at home.  There are no minorities in Mayberry.  To hold Mayberry up as a model is to implicit hold segregation as the ideal American way of life.  If we argue Mayberry represents a simpler way of life, when things are better; we are arguing that things were better when black and whites lived legally divided lives.  I would have loved to have seen an episode where Andy enforced the desegregation of the local school.

To be a paradise, did you ever notice the number of thieves and con artists who make their way through Mayberry?  What was it about this sleepy village which made them prey to criminal activity?  Studies show that older, lonely, desperate, indebted people are more likely to fall victim to scams than others.  Mayberry was a community of older people.  This we know.  However, viewers were often presented with the image of a healthy community where everyone knew and looked out for each other.  This wasn’t the case.  Gossip was rampant, isolation was common, and many families were often on the brink of economic collapse.  The few wealthy individuals in the town were willing to manipulate the city’s debt to increase their own share of political power in the community.  These were the reasons Mayberry’s way of life was always at risk.  No one really looked out for each other.  Businessmen were willing to gamble with the lives of their employees.  Only Andy’s use of shame and guilt created any sense of morality larger than the community’s own self-interests.  This was not a healthy place to live.

I currently serve a small community much like Mayberry.  I live in rural North Carolina.  The local school has no cafeteria.   Our children come home for lunch each day.  No one locks their doors at night.  I’m the pastor of the cute white church.  People sit on their porches at night, play their guitars, and sing folk songs.  We have an extremely limited presence of law enforcement.  Our town drunks are both beloved and belligerent.  Paradise is word frequently used to describe where I live.  “How it used to be,” is why people come here.  Even in our modern day Mayberry, we’ve had heroin dealing, suicides, and an alleged sexual assault all this past year.  Mayberry has real problems, problems that would be easy to ignore and a lifestyle even easier to idealize.  Except, on the journey from ignorance to idealization, real people get hurt and some even die.  Andy doesn’t show up in the end to make it all better.

While we’re wistfully longing for the past, the world is going to hell.  It’s not going to get any better by hoping the status quo returns to flawed versions of the nonexistent past.  The Kingdom of God, the one Jesus said was coming, doesn’t look like Mayberry.  If you want a TV show analogy, I’d say it’s going to look like the Beverly Hillbillies.

Food for Thought-10 Ideas About How Joy Wins

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1. Joy stands out from what it surrounds.
2. Joy is portable.
3. Joy is easily shared.
4. Joy puts no limits on who may participate in its sharing.
5. Joy is visible from all directions.
6. Joy contains a greater joy.
7. Joy creates community.
8. Joy creates more joy.
9. Joy is patient, waiting for you.
10. Joy wins.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas on Preparing for A Hurricane #Joaquin #HurricaneJoaquin #Ocracoke #OBX #community #Hurricane

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1. I’m living in a community (one of many on the east coast of the US) facing a hurricane. Hurricanes are natural disasters. This means they grow out of and are formed from nature. Despite our best attempts and growing scientific knowledge we cannot control natural disasters. We may attempt to manipulate nature yet we cannot control it. No matter how many generators we buy, boats we own, or rain boots we buy; we aren’t controlling the uncontrollable. We may feel like we have control but this is a delusion.

2. In order to find clarity in an environment where we have little to no power, we need an extraordinary mindset. A mindset which focuses on acceptance. The mindset of focus and acceptance is not an ideology of limits but a belief in the opportunities presented by a limitless universe. What do we do with what we’ve been given by nature on our doorstep? Will we be overwhelmed, empowered, or washed away?

3. Every storm in unique. Every storm in our lives is unique. Whether it’s named Joaquin or Katrina or Category 2 or 4; every storm is different. We all experience storms differently. Some people downplay fear and emotion. Others get anxious and scared. Treat all fear as real. Don’t downplay someone’s experience because your own life has been down a different road. Value all storms. Storms are different all the way around. Respect different reactions.

4. During a disaster, take time to build community. If you haven’t met your neighbors now would be a good time to do so. Let nature pull you closer together.

5. We have a choice whether to be wrapped up in hurricane hysteria. Even when the winds are blowing and doom appears imminent. The choice is ours. What choice will you make? To help others, to make the most of what opportunities arrive, to listen to others, or build a personal mythology of fear?

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas / Things My Grandmother Taught Me

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1. Always have extra food on hand. Something, anything to offer a guest a small measure of welcome hospitality. Be prepared to feed as many people as possible.

2. A cup of coffee will go a long way to create the right space in which to listen to how someone’s day went.

3. Her to do list depended on maximizing the least amount of meager  resources. Grandma needed others to give her a ride. As such, she knew how to make a to do list and get what mattered most when she had access to a car. She prioritized and made the most of her time and resources.

4. She made friends with all of her neighbors. She taught me race didn’t matter. People were people.

5. It’s OK to ask for help if you don’t know the answer to a question. Find a dictionary or person who might know the answer, if you need to, ask for help.