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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Judas Is An Innocent Man (John 12:1-8)

 

Fake News from the Rennaisance

It’s one of my perennial Lenten and Easter questions. Why does Judas one of history’s greatest traitors? Here’s where my well-informed readers will tell me, “He turned Jesus in for thirty pieces of silver. Judas is like Benedict Arnold.” (The words in quotes are to be read in a less than flattering voice.) Yes, you are correct. Judas ratted out our Lord and Savior. Riddle me this, Bible readers, wasn’t that the plan? Jesus was supposed to die at Passover. Clues that someone was going to betray Jesus are littered throughout John’s gospel-like seagull poop. Jesus knew betrayal was his way into the hands of both the Roman and Jewish authorities. Some scholars posit that he even planned his betrayal with Judas. Someone had to do it. Yes, if we accept the narrative which has dominated Christian tradition for two thousand years, you don’t get Easter without a Judas. So why do we beat up on Judas and turn in him to money stealing thief whose misplaced priorities only come to light just before Jesus’ final Passover?

I know why. Every good story needs a villain. John, whose lesson most of us will read this weekend, is a poetic anti-Semite who decides to make Judas his boogeyman. Count me out, John. I will not play your blame game. It all sounds like a weird setup for a scapegoat, especially when the plan calls for a scapegoat. Aren’t we better than this? I would hope so, but I know we’re not. We are only as good as the lectionary allows us to be. We’ll follow the script and go along to get along. That’s what we do. We’d instead follow John’s dialogue to the letter than consider the consequences of atonement without Judas. How will we feel morally superior and self-righteous about ourselves when he scolds Mary about the use of the perfume? Who will we hate and blame for Jesus’ death? It can’t be our fault.  We create modern day Judas’:  immigrants, racial minorities, people of different sexual orientations, and the list goes on and on.  Of course, let’s find new people who we can label as betrayers of Jesus.  Then we can keep living in our castles of denominational happiness, washed in the blood of the lamb we didn’t kill.  We never take own up to our sin.  Sound familiar?  Spoiler alert:  I call this mainline Protestantism in the United States of America.

We will say anything and find anyone to absolve ourselves of responsibility of in Jesus’ execution. Like alcoholics who have yet to hit bottom, we will blame everyone but ourselves: it is Jesus, the Romans, or the Temple authority’s guilt. No, it is not the case. Because we were afraid to die, we denied knowing the one thing we could never forget. It’s on us. We killed Jesus.  Judas is an innocent man.

Richard Lowell Bryant

The Unraveling of Lent

Lent is unraveling. Two weeks ago, a couple of people walked about of one of my sermons.  They just got up and left. No, they weren’t late for a ferry or sick with the flu. My words made them uncomfortable. In this season of polarization, maybe these kinds of incidents are inevitable.   We are being pulled in many infinite directions.  There seems to be no end in sight.

The denomination is coming apart so why not Lent.  Easter, the season which Lent will eventually give way to, will be marked by a great schism between heaven and earth. The temple curtain will be torn in two. Life will be ripped from death. On Easter Sunday morning, the universe will give way, and the void of the empty tomb will reveal the Resurrection.

Lent is about seeing what separates us from the disciples we hope to be and the God we’re trying to serve. If we’re not careful, lent demands we come apart at the seams. We will be asked to unravel completely. This is because Easter is not a restoration or a patchwork quilt of emotions and life. Instead, the resurrection experience is a whole encounter with renewal. No one is the same after an Emmaus Road conversation. Easter doesn’t put the pieces back together. Your perspective from the inside out. This is why Lent is an unraveling. The fifth Sunday of Lent and the approach of Palm Sunday feel grim, frayed, and fraught with dismay. What did I expect?  Lent is where the rubber meets the road. Jesus is going to die, and it’s not pretty.  It’s capital punishment we’ve made into our central religious ritual.  Sunday is a long way away. It’s getting to be time for the gut check. Am I on for the entire ride?  We’ll see.

Richard Lowell Bryant

April 1st, 2019

Dear Friends:

After much deliberation and talking with a proof texter,  I have decided to become a Biblical literalist. If the Bible says it, it must be true. Here’s a brief summary of some of the literal truths I now accept: the earth is 6,000 years old,  Adam and Eve lived with Dinosaurs, two of every animal boarded and lived aboard a single boat for forty days and nights, mass murder in the name of God to conquer any piece of land is OK, slavery is divinely ordained, and much more. All of these ideas, I’ve gleaned from my new King James Bible which I read and accept as the literal word of God, much like the Quran is the word of Allah dictated to Muhammad. Hopefully, my new position will make it easier for me and my evangelical sisters and brothers to be friends with our Islamic sisters and brothers. The benefits of being literalists are too numerous to count.   We have so much in common!

I also believe God is as much like me as I’m like him. God confirms all my biases, suppositions, and ideas. As a literalist, I know that God loves who I love and hates everything I hate. I never get challenged. God never challenges me.  This is the best religious experience of my life. Everything fits with what I already believe. Why did it take me so long to end up here? I know why. Those stupid progressives are messing it up for everybody, encouraging people to think for themselves, making people uncomfortable with rational thought and common sense. What would the church look like if we all applied ration and reason to our faith? Who knows, we might look more like Jesus. Can you believe that guy, boiling down the entire Old Testament (613 commandants) down to one? Love your neighbor as you love yourself. That’s a prescription for societal rot and communal decay. No sir, that’s not a religion I want to be part of anymore. I want that old time, washed in the blood, word for word religion. That’s why I’m now a literalist. If the Bible says it, it’s good enough for me.

Happy April 1, 2019,

Richard Lowell Bryant

Six Questions for Post General Conference United Methodism

1. Why now, after the general conference, are there a plethora of well-meaning plans and proposals to create a progressive United Methodist Church?  That’s like filling out your NCAA bracket after the tournament begins.  We needed it last weekend.

2. Shouldn’t this have been done over the past two years?

3. We knew what was going to happen at the General Conference. Why is anyone acting surprised, shocked, or amazed that bigotry won?

4. Did anyone really believe the delegates from Africa or the former Soviet Union would vote for the One Church Plan? If you did, you live in a fantasy world. We saw this coming and we (as progressives) were unprepared. We act shocked at something we knew would occur at least one year ago.  Would you invite delegate from Brunei and expect them to vote for a pro-LGBT plan?  No. Yesterday, the tiny Sultanate adopted the death penalty for persons convicted of participating in same-sex relationships.  Their version of Sharia law is the Traditional Plan on steroids.  Many of the African countries where Methodism is so strong have similar laws.  Yet, we’re “disturbed” at the outcome of the General Conference vote?

5. Do we have ourselves to blame? Somewhat, we are at fault. We can look forward to more meetings and more money being spent to determine a “way out” while our clergy and congregations live in limbo.  Talk about hell on earth.

6. What’s next? PowerPoint presentations, songs, proposals, and stasis. Someone has to take the step. Methodism as we knew it is over.

Richard Lowell Bryant

The Day After Today

Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again.

–John McCain

Today.

You know what I thought going in? Today was supposed to be the day after everything was decided. From here forward, every day in Methodism would be the day after February 26th. Perhaps, it still is. Methodists are the people who ran from a monster truck rally.  February 27th, the day American Methodism became something it was never intended to be. Yes, today is the tomorrow we can’t forget.

Those who were elected to the General Conference; whether by name id, popularity, or on their qualifications to represent their annual conference would come back home with the good news. Today was the day that Methodism would welcome everyone, officially, into the open arms, doors, and minds of the United Methodist Church. Today was the day to officiate at wedding services for black gay women who wanted to marry gay Hispanic women. Today was the day to move forward and free of the threat of sanction. Our LGBTQI family seeking ordination would walk into boards of ordained ministry and be questioned like their straight sisters and brothers. Today was to be a new day. Instead, today is just like yesterday and tomorrow will be just like today.

For almost three weeks, some of United Methodists have continued to wait on a tomorrow that remains under debate. However, there are other Methodists who received their Utopia and have checked in at the front gate. My church isn’t invited to their party. I’m not sure they’d let my friends, colleagues, and parishioners in the door.  That’s a pity.  We have more in common than they realize.

Our today, the perpetual moment of expectant hope, so familiar in seasons like Advent and Lent, is making us less hopeful and frustrated. Instead of feeling liberated by the gift of spiritual reflection, I feel little need to ask God, “What’s next?” There doesn’t feel like much of an immediate future. Another conference, decision, judicial council ruling, or threat of schism, will do no more than they have already done; they will bring us to today, unable to see tomorrow and longing for a yesterday which never existed.

At the moment, I believe, we are well and truly broken.

Maybe tomorrow…

Richard Lowell Bryant