Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"There Is Simply Too Much to Think About"

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. 
–William Wordsworth, 1802
The world is too much with us, and there has never been so much world.              –Saul Bellow, 1959
To say that the world is too much with us is meaningless for there is no longer any us. The world is everything. … What is happening everywhere is, one way or another, known to everyone. Shadowy world tides wash human nerve endings in the remotest corners of the earth.  –Saul Bellow, 1975
And think of us now, forty years later, awash in the internet, 24/7 news cycles, and countless means of communication!

Forgive me, Martin Amis, for stripping these quotes out of your recent profound and complex review of the late novelist Saul Bellow’s collection of non-fiction, There Is Simply Too Much to Think About, edited by Benjamin Taylor. But I wanted to share with my readers that what you identify as a literary problem is also a spiritual one with which most of us are familiar.  I daresay you might agree.

You identify “distraction,” “noise,” and “crisis chatter” as themes of this “pruned and expanded” version of Bellow’s 1994 collection, It All Adds Up. My readers bear witness to those themes in everything from the media to politics, as well as some expressions of worship and religion. But, as you write, quoting Bellow: 
“It is apparently in the nature of the creature to resist the world’s triumph,” the triumph of “turbulence and agitation”—and Bellow’s corpus is graphic proof of that defiance. 
Just, as you say, channeling Bellow, the writer must not lose “eternal naïveté,” always seeing as if for the first time, the reader should welcome George Santayana’s understanding of “piety” as “reverence for the sources of one’s being.”

What you describe as Bellow’s implication that “the essential didactic task is to instill the readerly habits of enthusiasm, gratitude and awe” without falling prey to over-interpretation of literary texts should be heard by all who interpret sacred texts.

What has checked and chastened my own earnestness when it comes to things religious and academic are family members, friends, lovers, congregants, and colleagues whose common sense often makes me laugh at my own seriousness, even if I simply think what they might say!  As you finally quote artist and critic Clive James: 
Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. Those who lack humor are without judgment and should be trusted with nothing. 


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


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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Progressive vs. "Biblical" Christianity

There are many examples in the Bible and church tradition of polemical theological arguments. “Polemical” was one of the first words I learned in college religious studies classes. It simply means defining your position by attacking the viewpoints of others. Think of Paul’s polemic against legalistic Christians in Romans 1 and 2 as one example—all to initiate that epistle’s theme of salvation by grace alone.

Eight clergy of the Fountain Hills (AZ) Ministerial Association are using polemics—apparently in reaction to the lone progressive church in town, The Fountains United Methodist Church—to proclaim their religious views superior to progressive Christianity, casting the latter as opposed to “Biblical Christianity.” Note I do not say their “traditional” or “conservative” views, because, in the long history of Christian tradition, some of their religious positions are relatively recent, having emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This past Sunday, each pastor began a sermon series on six questions they believe to be vital to “real” Christians. All of their questions begin with, “Why does it matter that…?” And their promotional signs read, “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?” Decades ago I warned that when we treat matters of faith as matter of fact we trivialize our religion. “Knowledge” does not make a Christian, faith and compassion do.

As a progressive Christian, I refuse to surrender the adjective “biblical” to those who believe it is an antonym to “progressive.” Anyone who reads this blog knows how biblical I am! And I would argue further that progressive Christianity grew out of the biblical tradition that moved from a concept of a jealous tribal deity to a gracious and just universal God.

Progressive spirituality is at the heart of scripture itself, from the Hebrew prophets calling for justice and peace and care for the poor and marginalized to the earliest Christians’ compassionate love and service among themselves and within their communities, an outgrowth of Jesus’ own ministry and teachings.

So I’ve decided to answer their questions as a progressive biblical Christian!

1.       Why does it matter that God doesn’t change?

Because a God who doesn’t have the option of changing is not much of a god at all. Take away that divine prerogative and you have the idols made of wood and stone that biblical writers deplored, the graven images forbidden in the second commandment that tried to set in concrete God’s Spirit blowing where she will. Now, it’s to some Christians’ advantage to have an unchanging God, because they can claim change is ungodly, demonic, or immoral, but fixing God’s character is to place human limits on the limitless.

2.      Why does it matter that the Bible is reliable?

I had to smile at this one by its avoidance of “infallible.” Progressive Christians could certainly attest to the reliability of the Bible, admonishing us not to be greedy or unfaithful, while encouraging us to share our privilege and power and wealth, to be humble and just and merciful, to love our neighbor and God, to be gracious even as God is gracious—to name a few of hundreds of insights found in scripture. But no, we don’t rely on the Bible as a scientific treatise, an accurate historical record, a rulebook, or literally God’s words.

3.      Why does it matter that Jesus is God?

To me, it matters more that Jesus is a human being, and it seemed to matter to him too, referring to himself as “the son of man.” If we make Jesus God, then we have an excuse not to love and serve as he did, which is an “out” that a lot of Christians take. Better to take the mystic John’s understanding that God’s Word became flesh so that we might all be children of God. What matters is an understanding that we participate in the divine life, that in God we live and move and have our being.

4.      Why does it matter that Jesus was born of a virgin?

Yes, why does it matter?

5.      Why does it matter that Jesus was resurrected?

Actually, I believe the intent of this question is really to ask, “Why does it matter that Jesus was resurrected in a certain way?” I don’t think progressive Christians argue the point of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, which was to affirm that his followers experienced his presence after he was crucified and buried. Scripture is clear, however, that he only appeared to believers. And I believe progressive Christians could also consent to the belief that Jesus lives on in us, the church, and the church beyond the church.

6.      Why does it matter that Jesus is the only way?

I’m tempted to give the same answer that I gave to #4, but readers might feel cheated. In the last answer I mentioned “the church beyond the church,” and what I meant is that I see Jesus at least as frequently outside the church as I do inside the church. I see his spirit of compassion and mercy in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, and a whole assortment of people who do not identify as Christian. In traditional Christian thought, Jesus came to save the world, not just Christians.

Obviously, whole books could be devoted to each of these questions, but this is a blog, not a library! This is my “two cents” worth, my “widow’s mite.”



I’ll be in New York City June 5-7 at Fort Washington Collegiate Church leading two Saturday workshops, “Sex & the Body of Christ,” and “Coming Out as Sacrament,” and preaching on “Your Will Be Done” from the Lord’s Prayer during the 10:45 Sunday morning worship. For details, click here.

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

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"How Do I Become a Christian?"

At a yard sale in our neighborhood a few weeks ago!

“How do I remain a Christian?” is probably asked by progressives more than “How do I become a Christian?”

But I believe the answer is the same for both, and—fair warning—my answer to both questions may not follow the usual or traditional pattern, because I’m less interested in the “Christ” part than the “Jesus” part, less concerned with the theologizing of the Jesus story than the following of the Jesus Way.

“How do I follow Jesus?” would be the way I would put the question.

To follow Jesus is to welcome him into our life, and allow his teachings, practice, and various incarnations/manifestations/expressions to transform us.

In the spiritual life, I don’t believe “teachings” are the same as “laws.” Though obedience is considered a spiritual practice, the word comes from the concept of “listening,” that is, attentiveness, mindfulness, alertness.

Attending to the teachings of Jesus anticipates studying them, but it also requires contemplation and watchfulness in applying them. We may learn the teachings, but contemplating them may transform us, better equipped to watch for ways to apply them in our lives, in our families, and in our communities, whether a community defined by faith or identity or geography. “Watch and pray,” Jesus urged.

In the spiritual life, I don’t believe “practice makes perfect.”  Jesus’ counsel in Matthew, “Be perfect as God in heaven is perfect” may be translated “be mature as God in heaven is mature,” and in Luke, Jesus advises us to “be compassionate as God in heaven is compassionate.”

Growth and maturity and compassion all come from grace, not mere practice, though spiritual practices may open one to God’s grace and the gifts of the Spirit. To feel a breeze, it’s best to open a window, but the Spirit blows where she will.

In the Christian spiritual life, I don’t believe Jesus is found simply in a youngish first century Palestinian Jewish male anymore, but in all who try to follow his spiritual path and in all who may be blessed by his spiritual path—yes, the church, but also beyond the church, no matter the gender, color, ability, sexual orientation, condition, age, nationality, religious preference (or not).

We may “hear” Jesus across the table and across the world, we may “see” Jesus in friends and foes, we may “touch” Jesus in lovemaking and caretaking and caregiving.

Is that all there is to it?

Isn’t that enough?



I hope to see some of you in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 26, the “Community Day” of the 2015 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, for which I will serve on an afternoon plenary panel. Or consider attending the entire weeklong event. Some of you will remember I wrote two posts about helping keynote the 2014 Winter Institute.


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. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Where Have All the Black Men Gone?

A few weeks ago I was stunned by a front page New York Times article headlined,
1.5 Million Black Men, Missing from Daily Life.”

As troubling as the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement have been, they serve as tragic examples of a larger trend of our own “disappeared,” reminiscent of “the disappeared” in the recent histories of Argentina and Chile. 
In New York, almost 120,000 black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life. In Chicago, 45,000 are, and more than 30,000 are missing in Philadelphia. Across the South—from North Charleston, S.C., through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and up into Ferguson, Mo.—hundreds of thousands are missing.

They are missing largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars.
And, the article reports, among the cities with a minimum of 10,000 black citizens, Ferguson, Missouri “has the largest proportion of missing black men.”

So there are disproportionately more black women than black men, a gender gap not found in childhood (nor among whites), but one that widens among those in their 20s and 30s, according to the story. 

Though murders and AIDS deaths have diminished among black men since the 1990s, “rising numbers of black men spared an early death have been offset by rising numbers behind bars.”

“Where is your husband?” Jesus essentially asked the mixed-race woman at the well. Biblical interpreters have been quick to assign sexual shame to the Samaritan woman for having had five husbands and for living with a man who was not her husband, when it’s just as possible her history was the result of economic need, a high mortality rate, abandonment, and the deprivations caused by political subjugation and racial, religious, and gender prejudices.

No wonder she responded so enthusiastically to the good news Jesus offered.

During the ingathering of saints of the Presbyterian LGBT movement that I described a few weeks ago, my friend and colleague, the Rev. Dan Smith, made the observation that many of the men in our movement have also “disappeared” due to AIDS.

Those who once served as gay Christian role models are unknown to subsequent generations, even as they themselves were deprived of role models of earlier generations by a church that required closetedness and a culture which diminished and incarcerated “sodomites.” And, with the Samaritan woman, “the powers that be” assigned their fates to shameful behavior.

Referencing the Samaritan woman reminds me to add that women may be the most “disappeared” of all—not in real numbers, but in real attention.

I mentioned in the earlier post that LGBT achievement in terms of acceptance may be because we are “everywhere,” but women are also everywhere, and it doesn’t necessarily deter sexism or encourage their recognition and advancement. That Jesus would engage a mixed-race woman in one of the most meaningful spiritual conversations in the Gospels is significant.

Prejudice makes many “disappear,” whether from our radar or from our communities. Jesus could be said to have brought us to “mindfulness” of those overlooked or downright oppressed.

Jesus came for all “the disappeared.”




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. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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