Three Chickens and Two Dogs

We have three chickens and two black dogs. The chickens, in alphabetical order, are called Enelle, Mayzelle, and Vernelle. They are all hens and sisters. The dogs, self-appointed protectors of the chickens, are oblivious to social constructs and hierarchy of the English language. So we call them Ruby and Hurley.

While I cannot prove it, I believe the chickens talk to the dogs. I’m not sure the dogs respond or understand. This, however, does not keep the chickens for trying to speak. The chickens have a perpetual need to be recognized. As grandmother said, “An unheard chicken is akin to killing a dead mocking bird.” The dogs lived to listen, not to speak. Yet, if you asked them, they might tell you everything you needed to know. The trick is knowing how to pose the question.

Enelle was the youngest of the chicken sisters. She is in the 10th grade at the Hen House school down the street. Her older sister Mayzelle, by only two years, is also there and about to graduate. Because our farm is remote and their school was small, many of their classes were taught remotely. They watch computer screens displaying hens in faraway places, sitting on eggs, and learning eggonomotry.

Mayzelle’s eggspertise is taking her to Chicken U in the coming months. She won a scholarship from the Friends of Kentucky Chicken Children to attend a program for gifted chickens. This endowment enables her to have full nest and hay in a hen house on campus as well as pay her tuition.

Did I forget Vernelle? No, how could I miss Vernelle? She’s the only chicken within fourteen miles who has dyed her Rhode Island Red Blue. She’s a blue-haired chicken. You can’t miss her. Vernelle is home in the hen house and working at the Feed Shack. I don’t know what they put in the stuff but chickens from around the world keep coming back to peck in their yard.

Peck. Peck. Peck. I’ll have a mocha seed latte with milk.  To go.

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

A Funeral Homily (Jesus, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young)

“Jesus wept.”

John 11:35

Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard
Remember what we’ve said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard

-Stephen Stills and Judy Collins

What do we need to be reminded of today? What might we carry with us as we depart from this service?

A few thoughts come to mind. First, we all encounter loss on our terms. We have gathered together, but the experience is different for each person. Grief is intensely personal and is not a choice.

We cannot opt out of mourning. Grief arrives expected and sometimes by surprise. Sometimes sorrow presents itself when we feel prepared. The truth is we are never ready. Despite efforts to put our ducks in a row and stiffen our upper lips, days like today (and the ones which preceded it) are sight readings. We go out and do our best. One cannot rehearse for grief. You can embrace or ignore try to grief. You can’t lie about its reality. To turn our backs on grief and ignore our emotions is to sever parts of our humanity from a soul that aches for comfort.

Grief isn’t optional; our humanity shouldn’t be either. Acknowledging our sadness is essential. It is also vital we laugh and tell stories. It’s all woven together; an incredible, yet visible opportunity to celebrate and be inspired to live the rest of our own lives.

Services like this remind us of our mortality. As we honor one life well lived, we get the gift of realizing our lives aren’t permanent fixtures on planet Earth. That’s good. We need the occasional swift kick in the mortality pants. We operate under the assumption that if life is good (we even sell t-shirts with that logo), death must be wrong. I’m not trying to make light of suffering, pain, or tragedy. However, I do want to say that there’s something about death which gives meaning to life.

A few weeks ago I downloaded an app to my phone called, “We Croak.” The developers were inspired by a Himalayan Buddhist tradition which teaches that contemplating death five times a day brings happiness. So five times a day, without warning, I receive a message on the phone (like a text message or notification) that says, “Reminder: You are going to die. Click here for a quote.” Most of the time, I ignore it. I admit there are times I don’t want to remember that I am going to die. Then at other instances, when I’m zoned out on Twitter or looking at stuff on Amazon, it suddenly pops up, “Reminder: you’re going to die.” I click on the quote, and it says, “The whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately.”  It’s just what I need to see.

Today, we have the opportunity to see and hear a unique message. Life is fleeting. We should not live life with uncertainty, without compassion, empathy, or moral ambiguity.
Maybe you’re in a rush to make the ferry or merely living in too much of a hurry. The button pops up. You’ll be amazed at how confronting your mortality, beyond this time and place, will change the way you live. That’s one more gift we receive by gathering this afternoon. We have the opportunity to walk out of here and live more meaningful lives.

Many on this island don’t need an app. The truth of your mortality is something you know all too well. Whether it’s receiving a diagnosis or living through loss, you know that life is delicate, even on a good day. The more fragile our lives become, the easier it is to find gratitude in simple gifts. In our weakness, there lies strength. In the exquisite balance of this moment, we can reach out and find a means to say thank you to our friends, our families, and neighbors.  In grief, live joy.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Mending Our Nets

Net Mending, School Road, Ocracoke, Fall 2018

Matthew 4:21-25

21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Sometimes I travel in time by arriving at the church. It happened once again this morning. I got out of my car, looked behind me and saw my neighbor mending his nets. It’s a fairly typical scene on Ocracoke. Many people still make their living by commercial fishing. Net mending is not only a regular occurrence it’s also a practical necessity. Somehow, this morning, it looked a little different. Right across the street from the church, stretched across my neighbor’s drive, was one long net. I thought, “This is what it looked like.” What did what look like? I saw the call to discipleship at ground zero.

Net mending hasn’t changed in two thousand years. The fishermen on the Sea of Galilee mended their nets in the same traditional way as those who fish the waters of Ocracoke. Fishing is fishing. I realized (and I’m not sure why) that I’m standing in the place where Jesus’ disciples made the decision to follow Jesus. It’s not the fishermen mending their nets by the Galilee; it is the action of the fishermen mending their nets. From a place like this Jesus calls people like us. There are no metaphors, similes, or comparisons needed to help our modern minds apply the difficult teachings of the ancient world. All I had to do was walk across the road and wait to be called. Given what’s going on these days, Jesus will be along any minute. I wonder, am I ready to go?

Richard Lowell Bryant