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

 

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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.

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas for August 13th, 2015

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1. Locate your purpose in something surrounding you. It’s there, in an object, a person, an animal, or even a tool. Is there a pencil nearby? Are you able to write something down? This might be a note of encouragement, an idea, a plan, or a priority? Can you cook someone a meal? Might you care for someone or something other than yourself? Locate your purpose, for today, beyond yourself.

2. Anytime we download software or buy something new over the internet (usually) we have to agree to terms and conditions. What are your terms and conditions? Do you have reasonable or unreasonable terms and conditions for the life you lead? If you were to peel away all of the unnecessary obstructions, what would be the terms you’d like to live on? Would they be determined by family and friends? Where do wealth, money, and possessions figure into your terms and conditions?

3. In order to locate your purpose and move beyond yourself today, do you need to leave anything behind? Is something holding you back, biases, unrealistic terms, poorly formed ideas, or mental clutter? What do you need to put down to move forward?

4. What’s guiding you to find your purpose? Are you going to be guided by your values, advice from others, immediate necessities, or competing priorities that would like to replace your purpose? If your values go first, everything else becomes much clearer.

5. There is a path to a better world waiting for you take it toward some pressing need. Your purpose is moving you forward. Will you follow?

Remember, be courageous and kind and know that you are loved.

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas for July 19th, 2015

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1. Read a book on Middle Eastern history and watch less television about the Middle East

2. Complain less, find something tangible to do which dials back the negativity

3. Remember it takes two people to gossip

4. If you can do something in person, do it in person

5. Is kindness something for the kids, public television shows, or how you actually treat other human beings?