I had the honor this weekend of pastoring the funeral service for a premier guitar player/singer/song writer/producer (you name it) and band member of As Oceans, a rising band out of NC’s local metal scene. The honor was mine to be of service to both his immediate family and the family and friends of the metal community. Wes Bryant was so influential in so many lives, immediately and beyond his immediate surroundings. He was an imposing figure, both in his physical and metaphysical stature. Yet, “Teddy Bear” was the name his former band (Seventh Denial) had given him. He was genuinely interested in everyone he met, and in what was going on in the lives of everyone he met. He was a beloved son, brother, nephew, cousin, and friend. He was my friend.
I met Wes a few years ago, when he was still in high school. Obviously, with our shared interest in all things Metal, most of our conversations were about… Metal. However, there were a few conversations that were not (so much) about Metal. These conversations began when he got his first tattoo. Wes was what you could call “a seeker of truth.” He was very intelligent (he graduated from college with the honor of Cum Laude); a thinker, he had already concluded that their necessarily had to be a God (a First Cause; a Primary Source). It was in relating to this deity that we talked. It was in a constant thirst to know, to relate to God that Wes lived.
“Is God pissed because I got a tattoo?” My reply was that “I don’t think God cares that you got a tattoo, bro.” Before I could continue, Wes said, “But there are those who do care.” His reference was concerning the church. This exchange led to several conversations, all revolving around the contrast of religion and faith. He was concerned that this message would get me in trouble with the church one day. I told him it was “a hill I am willing to die on.” He then said, “It [the message] is what people need to hear.”
Some conclusion that our conversations drew: In Wes’s words, “Being down with God” does not necessitate any religion, as we first suspect; as we have been led to believe. Religion is a result of the human variable. The divine variable is faith. Human religion alienates that which is different than itself. It kills that which it does not understand. Faith, on the other hand, is genuine; it loves; it has integrity, honor, and honesty (with itself and others). Faith demands that God move toward humanity (Christ), contrary to religion’s move toward itself.
Wes lived into this understanding and expressed enough light to warrant the contrast. And when he died, “the message” was still what the people heard. “Throw down your religion and accept the challenge of faith.” The Metal community celebrated Wes the night before his funeral at a local metal club. His band, as well as others played. A canned food drive for the hungry in the community was successful and will be an annual memorial to Wes Bryant. Many commented that night on how they could honestly “feel Wes with them.”
As hundreds gathered around Wes’ body at the funeral, I reminded us of what we experienced at the club the night before. Though Wes strongly disliked “going to church,” here we were, meeting “as the church.” I explained the reality that this body before us was not Wes! For how could he have been with us the night before if he were supposedly dead? No, this before us was but a tent that Wes carried around for 22 years. The reality is that the Church Universal, as the true Body of Christ, is both visible and invisible, and active together at the same time. “Wes lives because Christ lives!” As one observed after the funeral, if it is true that whenever two or more are gathered Christ is present with them, then Wes is there too. It’s true, for the Body (and, therefore, its members) is always with its Head.
As Wes’ crowning achievement, ‘As Oceans’ released their first full-length record, ‘Enough Light to Warrant the Contrast’, just a couple weeks ago. It is available on iTunes and Amazon.