by Seth Bryant
Re-blogged from: Proclaim Peace

Last week Jenn and I went to Oahu, Hawaii, sans kids. It was an overdue 10-year anniversary trip and second honeymoon.

We had an amazing experience. As someone who loves to snorkel, Oahu was heaven. While Jenn sunbathed on the beach, I spent almost all my time in the water. The diversity of the fish, and their vibrant colors never ceased to amaze me.

While floating in the blue waters of a bay at North Shore, something large came into view. Snorkeling can be relaxing, exciting, and, at times, terrifying—like when a wave threatens to throw you into some rocks, or when a big unknown mass comes swimming your way. In the back of my mind, the Jaws music is always queued up for when something large materializes in the water (usually another snorkeler). As I made out the shape, my fear melted away as I realized that it was a massive sea turtle.

I expected the turtle to swim away, but it didn’t seem bothered by my presence. Instead, the turtle seemed like it was inviting me to follow. Precious seconds turned into minutes as the turtle slowly led me on a tour of the rocks and plants and fish, our bodies floating and moving together as waves rolled over us.

At one point, with the turtle floating directly below me, our bodies aligned, a large wave crashed over us. And I fought against it. The turtle seemed startled by my ungraceful movements. It looked me in the eyes, as if to say, “Don’t fight the waves.” In fact, as I processed this experience later while speaking with Jenn, I told her, “It was like the turtle was speaking to me. Like he had something to tell me.” Jenn asked, “Well, what did he tell you?” I paused, and then it was quite clear. “He told me, ‘Aloha. Be at peace.'”

Commonly used to say hello, or goodbye, Aloha means so much more: peace, mercy, compassion, love. Visiting the islands taught me that it’s a way of life, a way of being–not unlike the idea of shalom.

The turtle was both my guide and messenger in a holy place. I felt like I better understood the experience in Isaiah 6, even if just a little bit. After about 10 minutes, another snorkeler swam up, scaring away the turtle. So I swam back to Jenn, without words to adequately describe the experience or convey how it transformed me.

Strange Ministry

Reblogged from Proclaim Peace

by Seth Bryant, a US Navy Chaplain serving the Marines at 29 Palms, CA

The desert is remote, having a stark beauty punctuated with relentless heat. In God or the Navy’s wisdom, my orders were switched from Okinawa to 29 Palms, so here we are.

I found myself this last week giving suicide prevention briefs inside of an armory, surrounded by M16s, M4s, 9mms, and rocket launchers.  It struck me that this was a most absurd combination, and a most strange ministerial task for a priesthood member of Community of Christ.

That was Thursday.

Come Friday, I attended a safety brief where the Marines were told to have a good time this weekend, but don’t do anything stupid.  For good measure, one of the leader’s threw in his advice on relaxation, telling them to “Go [expletive] somebody this weekend, then come back ready to work on Monday.”  Again, in this moment, it struck me that this was a most unusual place for a member of the priesthood to be ministering.

Aware of my presence, several looks shot in my direction to see what I would do or say.  Once the leader became aware of me among the troops, he then added, “Sorry, chaps!”  Without thinking, I shouted in response, “Use a rubber!”

Good advice?  Sure.  Laughter in response?  Absolutely.

As I walked away, I weighed my response to what would have been a most absurd statement at any other workplace.  Perhaps, if they remembered, my three words might have stopped an unwanted pregnancy or STD.  But I was worried that when I should have been crying repentance, the best I could do was cry prevention.  And prevention seems too much like condoning.  Maybe I’m just relenting, being a realist, when the vision of a redeemed creation shouldn’t bow so easily.  But three words and two seconds were about all I had, and what else was I supposed to do?

I find myself caught in a landscape so foreign to traditional ministry.  It’s a rough place because its occupied by the Marines, men as harsh as the desert about me.  I would have preferred to preach on responsible sexual ethics during that safety brief, using words more in line with the statement just produced by the church.  But I am caught in a strange ministry.

And this strange ministry reminds me that we live in a broken world.  I have, through Christ, renounced the world’s brokenness and embraced the hope of restoration and wholeness.  And yet I belong and minister to a population that is simultaneously our best defense against and best indication of the brokenness.  Some would say that the military only perpetuates the brokenness, rather than solving it.  They’d probably be right.  Still, like two angels on my shoulders, the proud military officer inside of me reminds my tree-hugging idealist self that the freedom for some to dream comes at a terrible cost born by others.  And the tree hugger shouts back, “Live by the sword, die by the sword!”

We can put padding about the sharp edges of our broken world, to avoid getting cut.  But the disjointedness between ideals and reality is bound to frustrate efforts and souls.

Am I frustrated?  Sure.

And yet, in this last week alone, my one-on-one ministry likely, with no exaggeration, averted the most terrible tragedy and disaster that you can imagine in the lives of several persons.  So I keep pushing on, mending and making whole where I can, and padding the sharp edges where I have little choice, hoping that my work is making a difference for the better.

Hear the word of the Lord:
“Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion” (2 Nephi 12:30).

This strange ministry has me in a state which is anything but “at ease,” straining to see a vision of Zion that ever seems on the horizon.  Yet I believe.  Yet I hope.  Yet I labor.