Lucky To Be Alive

 

It’s not Christmas unless an ambulance comes to the house.

How do I put this?  Sunday night, the evening of the third Sunday of Advent, my wife nearly had a stroke. Neither she nor I am the type you’d peg as typical “stroke victims.” She just turned fifty, and I’m not quite 45. Though it is stressful to be a pastor (or married to one) in a denomination currently in the midst of an identity crisis.

Our three daughters stood watching the paramedics attach leads to their mother’s chest. We were all helpless. I answered questions, brought them her medicine, and waited for the next step. I had no time to pray. I didn’t know what to pray for. My mind was a jumbled mess of emotions. I wanted the girls to remain calm. I wanted their mother to survive whatever was happening. At this point, we didn’t know what brought her to this point. We were all frightened. The EKG gave us an answer. That being said, blood pressure spikes, especially when they roar past certain well-established norms, specific ratios are indicative of one thing: an imminent stroke or worse. I’d never seen numbers so high. I was terrified.

Bring those numbers down. I found a prayer. It wasn’t elaborate or related to Advent. In fact, it was a personal and selfish prayer. I do not apologize. The prayer was in the imperative. I wanted an answer now. Waiting, patience, and all those things I teach on Sunday mornings; at this instance, they equated to death. I wasn’t in the mood for listening and longing. Please God, show me life now, in color returning to my wife’s face.

The numbers came down. Numbers our doctor said she had rarely seen before. The numbers still scare me. This is how I know that my wife is fortunate to be alive. Today we live like there is a tomorrow. We live like our numbers matter.  That’s all we know to do.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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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

What Do We Do Next? (A Post Florence Reflection)

What can we do now? We’ve got a variety of options. For the time being, we are confined to watching and waiting. The situation with the roads and the ferries which link us to the world around place us in a precarious position. Although we suffered limited damage, compared to others, we can’t be reached or reach out. This will soon change.

I am reminded of one of the underlying messages of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We cannot immediately fix things, but we can sit in the ditch with others. This is an idea which emerges from within the story. A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by thieves. The road, while open and traveled, was known to be dangerous. Victims regularly reported robberies, assaults, and murders. Roving gangs of thieves were known to work the roads, hiding in wait to ambush unsuspecting travelers.

For whatever reason, this man made the decision to walk the Jericho road alone. Before sunset on the first day, he was spotted, followed, and attacked. The ambush was swift and easy. Stripped and beaten, he was robbed of his material possessions. Luke tells us he was “half-dead.” I’ve always gotten hung up on the idea of being “half-dead.” After storms like Florence, Matthew, and witnessing humanitarian crises in the former Yugoslavia, Armenia, and Liberia; it really makes sense. Following a disaster, war, or severe illness we are beaten down, robbed of our material goods, our sense of self-worth, and we feel half alive. Somewhere between living the life we thought we knew and the present we’re experiencing, life is only a fraction of what we once experienced or defined as a whole.

Our house may be half full of water, or our bodies may be half full of cancer or our lives may be half full of love. For whatever reason, circumstances descended upon the road we were traveling and left us in a place we never thought we would be.

Now that we’re here, half dead in the ditch, who are we waiting on? Is it the Good Samaritan? Are we waiting for someone to solve our problem, fix our situation, and bring us back to “full” life? Or does our healing take a different form? Perhaps someone will come alongside us and be present with us in our half-ness, not try to fix us, and offer empathy and companionship even while we’ll still sitting in the ditch.

I hope so. The Samaritan encounters the wounded man. Because of prejudice and ritualized discrimination, he lives half a life as a way of life. Notably, he arrives on the scene after others have observed the reality of suffering and chosen not to help. For reason of piety, arrogance, and pride, they decided not to get involved in the sufferings of others. The Samaritan made a different decision.

We know about the Samaritan taking the man to an inn and offering to pay for medical care. However, what came first? Before he arranged for his care, he bandaged his wounds. Before dressing his injuries, he sat in the ditch and listened. The Samaritan is merely present with the man’s needs without trying to solve any more significant issues. Perhaps both men needed to sit together in the ditch and weep before the substantial question of restoring wholeness could be asked.

The story of the Good Samaritan is not only a parable of doing the right thing. It’s also about becoming vulnerable sitting with each other in moments of great pain and weakness. Many people (even before the hurricane) were in such places. It’s easy to be the hurricane, death, emotional, relationship, insurance, chainsaw, flooding expert. Tragedies are full of “Captain Obvious’ of the Moment”.  You can pontificate and tell people everything you know about the crisis without really opening yourself up to actually listening to the pain of the people you’re talking too. It’s harder to stop talking and listen.

A Wedding Homily for Later This Afternoon

Saint Paul makes a valiant attempt to compare love to the other spiritual gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit.  By means of contrast, love is the greatest gift of all, out pacing prophecy, speaking in tongues, and even faith.  We kind of get that, don’t we?  Love is a big deal.  However, if you’re not readily familiar with prophets, tongue speakers, and really faithful things; love only seems kind of important.  To really get how important love ought to be, we need our own equivalents to prophecy, tongues, and first century ideas of faith.  I think this would help clarify this passage we’ve all heard hundreds of times.

Let me tell you what I love.  I love tomato sandwiches made from fresh tomatoes grown out of my parent’s garden.  I love those sandwiches to be made with Duke’s Mayonnaise.  I love grits.  I love bacon prepared in my grandmother’s cast iron frying pan.  I love the understand genius of Conway Twitty.  I love driving by little country churches between here and where I grew up and thinking, “I bet there’s some good preaching going on in there Sunday mornings.”  I love looking off into the distance where a corn field meets the tree line.  I love going to the Waffle House on Friday afternoons when people get off work and listen to them talk about their week so I can shape my prayers.  I love all these things.

However, if I don’t have love for my wife or my family, my grits are tasteless and bland, no matter how much salt and butter I add.  If my love for my wife and family are absent, I won’t hear a word that Bible thumping preacher says.  Without the love of my wife, the frying pan will never be seasoned and the bacon won’t be crispy.  The love for my wife is what makes the flavor of the tomatoes come alive once they’re off the vine.  Kevin and April, love is the greatest gift of all.  It is a big deal.  As you become husband and wife today, I challenge you to think of the most important things in your life.  Ask yourselves, what do you love?   Whatever they are, they’ll never be as meaningful without the others loving presence.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Morning Devotion for May 11th, 2017

Morning Devotion at Ocracoke United Methodist Church (May 11th, 2017)

Drawing Close

The more aware we are of God,

The more we feel God’s presence.

God is closer to us than we know.

The distance narrows with each step we take.

Look around and see.

I welcome the opportunity to be in this space.

 

Life

I know I do not fully understand this gift I’ve received.

When you speak to me, do I understand what you tell me?

In my moments of doubt and fear, do I realize I’m being comforted and reassured?

I want to see you in my world; in the lives of others, in the beauty that surrounds me.

Place me in the path of the grace, grace to free me from preoccupations.

 

Awareness

No matter the hour of day or night, I can be in your presence.

Time is no barrier to your care.

In this place or in a distant land, all I need do is to speak your name.

I may be angry, frustrated, sad, or lonely.  You love the real me in this real place.

 

Conversation with God:

A relationship with God requires talking and listening.  Thank you for listening to me.  It is hard for me to sit still and listen even for 10 minutes.  Yet, as I am here, I know I can be completely honest with you about the totality of my life.   You absorb my anger and wipe away my tears.  You laugh at my jokes and smile at the love I have found.

I can go no further on my own.  Help me to cede myself to your care.  May I live in reckless, grace filled abandon.  May I recognize your presence and love in everything I see and do.

 

Blessing and Benediction

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

As it was in the beginning

Is now and ever shall be,

World without end.

Amen

 

Food for Thought-How Methodism Came To Ocracoke: From the Diary of Chief of Big Vern Ojibwasen, formerly of Green Bay, Wisconsin

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Do you know how United Methodists first came to Ocracoke?  After the collapse of the world’s first high tech start-up, the other Lost Colony (the one they don’t mention in the history books) found itself held captive by a group of directionally confused Ojibwa Indians.   The Ojibwa are native to the upper Midwest.  However, a small band of Ojibwa fishermen purchased defective GPS devices from rogue Canadian traders at a flea market in Saskatoon.  Hearing of a great angling opportunity somewhere to the south, they traveled to what we today call “Memphis”, turned left and ended up near Swan Quarter, North Carolina before they realized something was wrong.  This looked nothing like their bootleg GPS’s depictions of the Gulf of Mexico.  While they were heading toward water, this wasn’t the “great sea” they hoped to find.

Out of frustration more than hostility, the lost Ojibwa’s captured the bedraggled colonists fleeing Walter Raleigh’s second failed cat breeding experiment on Ocracoke Island.  The Ojibwa chief, Big Vern Ojibwasen, later said in his diary, “We thought if we got a bunch of people together, who were from this part of the country some of them might be able to help us get back home.  One of them had to know how find Wisconsin on a map.”

The colonists had never heard of Wisconsin.  They knew nothing beyond Ocracoke; they were first time settlers in the New World.  Everything was new to them.  Delaware, Virginia, and Pennsylvania were as foreign to them as those new craters NASA keeps finding on the south side of Mars.  Though challenged geographically by their isolation and having spent their formative years in Europe, the colonists did know about religion.

Many claimed to know God personally, although a few were more comfortable with an indirect relationship.  In the midst of their captivity, the head of the colony, Captain HoHigh McGenericCelticLeaderMan, decided on a plan.  The colonists should try to convert the Ojibwa to Christianity.  If everyone was of the same religion, perhaps we could all live in peace and even go back to Ocracoke with a larger, more sustainable community.  The waters around the island were teeming with fish.  These guys knew fishing.  Chief Vern’s brother Floyd had a truck, trailer, and a fishing canoe on the trailer.  HoHigh’s people knew feral cat breeding.  Captain HoHigh reckoned the only thing standing between their captivity and fishing prosperity was teaching the Ojibwa about Jesus!  But how would they evangelize without Bibles or a church?  Liturgical dance!  Captain HoHigh and the gang had once danced from Milan to Minsk as part of the “Methodists Missionaries for a More Muscular Methodist Movement” Movement.  This was before they became cat breeding colonists.

The first missionary work in this area of eastern North Carolina was by Methodists, who brought liturgical dance to a group of geographically misplaced Midwestern Native Americans.  Whatever their dance moves, it worked.  Dance freed their bodies and souls.  The Ojibwa and Methodists returned to repopulate the Island of Ocracoke.  Once there, they fished, danced, and established the Third United Methodist Church.  Why the “Third” Methodist church?  Methodists are humble, down to earth people.  Records indicate the first parish council was concerned about sending the wrong impression with the word “first” or “second”. Fearing they might seem haughty or arrogant, the church settled on “third” as a compromise solution.

Over the years, a church building was built and pastors were appointed.  The second pastor, a Reverend B. Lack Bearde was decapitated in a freak fencing accident.  It’s always been difficult to find steady musicians over the years at Third United Methodist Church.   In the 1800’s, they hired a young man from France named Mr. Claude Debussy.  He only stayed four months.  The congregation complained; his preludes went on and on forever.

Now you know the rest of the story.