Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"All that Is Less than God Is Not Enough for Us"

The morning I write this, religion is all over the morning paper, and not in a good way. Muslim extremists cast a shadow over Islam and the world, French Jews feel unsafe and are considering emigrating to Israel, Mormons are threatening to excommunicate yet another church member who supports ordaining women and same-sex marriage, Scientology has a full page ad decrying an upcoming HBO documentary with a story in the business section describing the controversy, and Duke University withdraws support for Islamic calls to prayer from their chapel tower due to threats. The only positive religious story is Pope Francis visiting the Philippines.

I felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t imagine writing another post for this blog as I intended. My work here seems so inconsequential.

But then I continued reading The Complete Julian of Norwich, a new book and translation by Father John-Julian, OJN, and specifically the 14th century Dame Julian’s “showings,” the Middle English word for “revelations.” She lived and wrote confined by choice in a one-room anchor-hold which was about the size of my office, and yet she speaks to me and countless others seven centuries later. Her era like our own looked for a personal experience of the sacred.

The past few days I’ve been dawdling over a couple of sections, each about the length of a blogpost, which have profoundly moved me, prompting me to read them again and again. Though I could never hope to write with such authority, I can unapologetically offer readers the insights of this contemplative and mystic.

In one of her “showings,” God holds up something about the size of a hazel nut, explaining, “It is all that is made.” You may grimace at the stretch, but my mind went immediately to the cosmic marble that exploded into the multiverse; in others words, the Big Bang.

She continues, “In this little thing I saw three characteristics: the first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third, that God keeps it. But what did I observe in that? Truly the Maker, the Lover, and the Keeper, for, until I am in essence one-ed to [God], I can never have full rest nor true joy.”

About the world’s distractions, she writes,“For this is the reason why we are not fully at ease in heart and soul: because here we seek rest in these things that are so little…” She concludes, “All that is less than [God] is not enough for us.”

Wow, I thought, this is not only the spiritual quest, but the scientific quest as well. “All that is less than God is not enough for us.” We can’t be satisfied with insufficient metaphors for God, as we have in religion; we can’t be satisfied with incomplete explanations of all that is, as we have in science. Our lifelong quest is for the hidden God, the unknowable, the mystery from whence all that is, is.

According to Father John-Julian, she follows the insight of Thomas Aquinas “that the soul naturally seeks the Good, but is diverted by not perceiving the true good, and settling for less.”

In the section that follows, Julian explains that intermediaries—whether saints, sacraments, even Christ himself—are only efficacious because their source is “the goodness of God,” which is what makes us, loves us, and keeps us. Even so, religion is only efficacious when sourced by God’s goodness.

Some might think it presumptuous to assume benevolence of God or if not God, the cosmos, but giving us life, time, and place, as well as a magnificent outer space to glimpse, is surely not anything less than good.

I doubt she knew the teachings of the fourth century Desert Fathers and Mothers, yet she also understands prayer as changing us, not God, “for the goodness of God is the highest prayer, and it comes down to the lowest part of our need.” It is in this context she describes God as our “Lover.”

To think how I winced when I first heard LGBT Christians pray to God as “Our Lover”!

Because we cannot fully comprehend God, we “remain in spiritual contemplation, with everlasting wonder at this high, surpassing inestimable love which Almighty God has for us...”

She offers a prayer: 
God, of Thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough to me,
and I can ask nothing that is less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.


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Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers.

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Words as Weapons

My weapons of choice are words.

A friend once told me that, as a youth, he would torment his brother verbally until his less articulate sibling hit him. Then he’d get sympathy from his parents and his brother would get in trouble. Think “Billy Budd” and the otherwise innocent Herman Melville character’s fatal blow against a harassing shipmate.

Freedom of speech is one thing. License to offend, bully, denigrate, deprive, manipulate, panic, incite is another. Think falsely crying “fire” in a crowded theater or “hellfire” from a pulpit. Think “n-word” or “faggot” or “towel-head” in any context. Think “misrepresentation” or “stereotype” or “innuendo” in the media.

To me, freedom of speech is for responsible use, not a license to say anything we damn well please. Because words may serve as weapons too. Virtually all the injuries I have inflicted or endured have been done with words (and sometimes the withholding of words): hurting, offending, rejecting, excluding, profaning, degrading—the list goes on.

I’m not talking censorship here—I’m talking self-restraint and respectful engagement. If there is little or no respect for the opponent, at least respect for those who might be caught in the crossfire.

Jesus was concerned with thought as much as deed, and so addressed the violent use of words: “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” He says this in the context of the obviously grievous sins of murder, anger, and offense contrasted with the virtue of reconciliation. (Matt. 5:21-24)

The epistle to the Colossians urges, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God,” and advises, regarding “outsiders”: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt [spiritual understanding], so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Col. 3:17, 4:6].

Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa, non-violence, included words equally with deeds. He wrote, “Non-violence is therefore in its active form good will towards all life. It is pure Love. I read it in the Hindu scriptures, in the Bible, in the Koran.”

In a subsequent essay, he exchanged the word love for benevolence, “Non-violence in its positive aspect as benevolence (I do not use the word love, as it has fallen into disrepute) is the greatest force because of the limitless scope it affords for self-suffering without causing or intending any physical or material injury to the wrong doer. The object always is to evoke the best in him.”

He then goes on to say, “To practice non-violence…is to bring heaven upon earth. There is no such thing as the other world. All worlds are one. There is no ‘here’ and no ‘there.’”

Christian agape is benevolent love that may be visited even upon adversaries in Jesus’ view and in light of the spiritual commonwealth of God, whether Yahweh or Allah.



Insightful articles:

MCC invites you to fast and pray tomorrow, January 15, the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  You are welcome to leave messages and prayers on a special Facebook page or on a special page of MCC’s website.


When leaving a comment on this blog, a URL is requested but not required to submit your response. 

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers.

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Watch Your Language!

A memorable episode of the old sitcom Frasier featured a scene from the dog Eddie’s perspective. The human conversation about him was unintelligible except when he heard his name or the few words in his vocabulary like “treat,” “walk,” “food,” and so on. A parallel scene from the father Martin’s perspective listening to his psychiatrist sons using psychological jargon revealed the same babble interspersed with words he understood.

This is the way I feel about 100 pages into Stephen Hawking’s (with Leonard Mladinow) The Grand Design. I experienced the same thing 95 pages into his book, A Brief History of Time, and I was reading the illustrated version! Suddenly everything gets more complicated as he connects QED with QCD and GUT (Grand Unified Theory), quarks and Feynman diagrams, baryons and mesons and asymptomatic freedom.

There are too many subatomic particles in the air! I can’t keep up!

I got a laugh when I mentioned in a workshop at a Unitarian Universalist Church that in Christian worship I hear traditional jargon, and say to myself, “Why did they say that? What does it mean?” My subtext is: How does it enhance the experience? Is it intelligible to an outsider?

Some like to mock Scientology’s terminology, but Christianity’s lingo is just as weird to the novice, yet because those in our culture have heard it so often, we take it in stride. I’d like to avoid specifics, because each example will offend someone for whom the phrase has taken on positive connotations. But at the risk of losing you, here goes one example…

What does it mean, for instance, to say, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost”? When I was baptized at the tender age of six and asked, just before my full body immersion, if I believed in this trio, I was stumped. I thought baptism meant I would belong to God and Jesus forever. I wasn’t certain who the Father and Son were, and I’m not sure I knew of the Holy Ghost.

I know some of you will now think, well, he was too young to be baptized, to give consent. Blessedly my pastor knew better, and told the congregation so before he dunked me. He knew I wanted Jesus in my heart and God in my life. More sophisticated theology would come later. And besides, I gave more consent than infants who are baptized.

But why do we need to do everything in the name of the Trinity? Why is it said so often, as if this incantation sacralizes everything? First, it excludes other possible manifestations or faces of God. Second, it’s an exclusively male grouping, unless you know that the Spirit is feminine in one testament and neuter in another. And why not include Mary, the mother of Jesus? Who gave God sole custody?

(I myself used to reduce the Trinity to their functionality: Creator, Reconciler, Sustainer, but that too seems unsatisfying, incomplete and much too impersonal.)

I know, I’m just being difficult, like a parishioner who puts an anonymous petty criticism in the church suggestion box.

Progressive religious intellectuals have a similar problem with holy gobbledygook. I was given an article by a scholar for publication in a magazine I edited. I could make out what was being said (I can read academese). But I thought it could have been said in a paragraph rather than the 20 pages I received, and I doubted my readers would appreciate the author’s complicated and convoluted reasoning with multi-syllabic words that sounded recently devised. So I published an intelligible excerpt!

Okay, so now I’ve offended everyone. Undoubtedly someone will say, take the beam out of your own eye before addressing the splinters in others. Mea culpa. But we need some kind of modern day Pentecost to proclaim a gospel that others can grasp. Come, Holy Spirit!


Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers.

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hounds in Heaven


My name is Hobbes. I’m a 15-year-old female retriever mix. I’ve watched my human do this over 200 times, so I’ve decided to mark this post myself. It’s taken me a few weeks because I type slower than he does. Be grateful that I have substituted this for the post he wrote, which was just not right for New Year’s Eve: all about the gloom and doom of this past year—y’know, disease, torture, rendition, racism,* guns, rape, climate change, war, you name it.

The occasion? Pope Francis’s statement while comforting a child in the death of his dog: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”** He said this several weeks ago, but as I said, I type slowly and I like to chew on things for a while, the canine form of contemplation.

Paradise would not be paradise for my humans if I wasn’t there. As it is, I bring them a little heaven on earth, if I may say so. Remember, if Eve hadn’t come along, animals were made to be Adam’s companions, and we would never have let them be fooled by that snake. Eden was idyllic for us, too, as Adam and Eve were both vegans before The Fall. We too yearn to return to that Paradise in which all animals, including humans, will get along.

Of course Mr. Pope stirred up controversy, because what he said suggests that animals have souls. How can humans not see my soulful expression in the photo that accompanies this post? And what makes humans think they have a soul and we do not? Isn’t that presumptuous?

My late brother Calvin wrote about his philosophy in a book, Unleashed: The Wit and Wisdom of Calvin the Dog. In his chapter “On Evolution,” he questioned that dogs descended from wolves, but never doubted humans descended from apes. He asserted: 
Rather, I believe that I and other dogs were created by God and made in God’s image. We are God’s mirror reflection. That’s why God backwards spells dog. Isn’t that one of the first things you English-speaking humans notice, the spelling thing? And who else but God loves as unconditionally as a dog? We don’t care who you humans are or what you humans do, as long as you take some time to be with us, praise us, worship us, and do our bidding occasionally. Isn’t that godlike? Even when you treat us badly or forget we’re around, the minute you turn about and give us the attention we deserve, we lick your faces and give you comfort. Isn’t that divine? 
Beware, all those who mistreat or abuse animals in this life or allow us to be treated badly by others, because heaven will seem like hell to you, not because we are vengeful (that’s a human thing) but because you will feel so ashamed!

Instead, consider my brother’s hope for the world this New Year: 
Avoid that misnamed “dog-eat-dog” world (after all, we’re not cannibals) and drool over a dog-sniff-dog world in which we smell one another’s delicious scents, see the wonder of all creation, dig out a safe lair for all (especially puppies), perk up our ears at worthy lead dogs, take opportunities to rest and play and nest, and sense the presence of our Mother Dog watching over all of us.
Then together, as one pack, we can sniff out life’s buried treats.


*I have a bone to pick with humans. Why breed so much diversity among us dogs, but resist diversity among yourselves?
** This is Chris adding this editorial note. I didn’t have the heart to tell Hobbes that the quote was subsequently attributed to Paul VI! She loves Pope Francis’s choice of name so very much! -CG

See Hobbes referenced in The New York Times by clicking here!

Posts that have gone to the dogs:

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Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a pet-friendly denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers.

Copyright © 2014 by Hobbes and Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of authors and blogsite. Other rights reserved.