Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Spiritual Baggage

In celebration of this month’s fifth anniversary of my blog, the last entry of January and every Wednesday of February I’m providing a link to the most visited post of each year. For 2013, that would be Jesus: Introvert or Extrovert? with a close second, What I Don’t Believe, What I Do Believe.

Please imagine you see before you my roller travel bag…

What you see is the baggage I usually carry with me on a speaking trip—at least, the visible baggage. As you can see, this is a piece of carry-on luggage, which is the sure sign of a frequent flier! I happen to agree that there are two kinds of luggage, carry-on luggage and lost luggage.

Now I didn’t pack this for a trip, but rather, to make some points about spiritual baggage. So let’s see what’s inside, quite literally unpacking our metaphor.

First we find another bag hidden inside. This represents hidden spiritual baggage we carry with us even when we claim to be traveling light as progressive Christians. We may discover hidden dogma: hidden expectations, latent prejudices, unintended biases, beliefs that don’t play well with others.

This may not be from any malevolent intent. The hidden baggage may just be part of our mystery as complex individuals. We stumble when we fail to acknowledge the mystery—that there are things about ourselves or our belief systems and our spiritual communities that are still being unveiled.

What have we here? My mother’s purse! We have unexpected spiritual baggage. How many of us have said we were not going to be like our mothers or our fathers only to recognize a bit of their behaviors or their attitudes in ours? This is true spiritually as well. Unconsciously we incorporate in our souls a bit of the souls of those who shaped us, our spiritual ancestry.

And if we have suffered spiritual abuse, we may spiritually abuse others—that is, force our spiritual views on others. This can be a problem whether we are spiritually traditional or progressive.

If we have been encouraged to think independently about our faith, we are more likely to encourage others in their declarations of spiritual independence. Providentially for me, my mother’s purse represents a woman who read widely, regardless of religious viewpoint, while affirming her own faith.

Look here! A pair of jeans, 31-inch waist. Now, how can I say this in a way that’s nice to myself. I am too full to fit into this pair of jeans! Sometimes in our spiritual baggage we find things that don’t fit us anymore: we’ve become too full, too open to fit into such narrow spiritual clothing. Perhaps we’ve simply outgrown it. Now that doesn’t mean we are superior to someone who would fit this pair of jeans. It just means we’re in a different place.

And what’s this? An extra-large t-shirt! Now this is just the opposite. I’d get lost in this. My spirituality may be a little more compact than it used to be. Maybe I’ve been losing some spiritual weight that held me down, or exercising my spiritual muscles so my soul is leaner and stronger. So I don’t need quite so much room or space or dogma anymore.

And here’s a makeup kit! Oh yes, what we might use to paint a smile on our faces even when we felt down, or put drops in our eyes to give us that misty-eyed expression when we wanted to look devotional or penitential or serious. As we learn more and more that the spiritual life is not about artificial highs or lows, we can leave this item behind.

Here’s something that’s harder to give up: a sorcerer’s hat! This is the hat Mickey Mouse wore in the animated film Fantasia as the sorcerer’s apprentice. It represents magical thinking.
Many of us have associated magic and superstition for so long with spirituality, that this is very difficult to let go of. Even today, if my car doesn’t start, I may offer a little incantation to God to make it go. But I no longer believe that’s how God works in the world. It’s up to me to have the car serviced, or fix the car myself (fat chance!), to take care of the car so that it will work when I need it.

So it is with the spiritual life. Though there are moments of grace that almost feel like magic, the spiritual life requires prayerful maintenance. We need spiritual mechanics (spiritual guides) and soul manuals (sacred texts and inspirational books). And we need spiritual communities to support us in our soul repair and development and customizing.

What you will not find in my bag is the “sword of truth” or the “armor of God.” I discovered long ago that God has no interest in bloody crusades, burning inquisitions, or violent jihads. To me, God is not manifest in violence but in vulnerability, not so much evident in victory as in compassion.

But look here! Now I have more room for clothes that fit, sacred texts and books that guide, and room for gifts for others. Because when we talk about spiritual baggage, what we really mean is excess baggage, baggage that doesn’t work for us any more, that burdens us, leaving little or no room for new spiritual habits or insights.

The less we carry, the farther we can go. In the spiritual life, there are two kinds of baggage: carry-on and lost. Less is often more in the spiritual life.

Jesus advised, “It is more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” To soften the meaning of his “hard saying” about the rich, it has been explained that the “eye of a needle” referred to a particular gate through the city walls of Jerusalem which was so low and narrow, camels had to be relieved of their baggage to enter. Though this interpretation is not considered valid by biblical scholars, the metaphor works for the purpose of this post.

We still need carry-on spiritual luggage: those insights that have helped us along the way, the vision that helps us put the puzzling jigsaw pieces of our lives together in a framework of meaning. Admittedly, some of the pieces don’t quite fit together. They overlap or fit awkwardly. But we’ve done our personal best. And we have a spiritual community to help.

Many readers of this blog observe Lent, a period of fasting, or letting go of something. This Christian season, which begins today, may be an opportunity to consider the spiritual baggage we need to lose as well as that which we need to “carry-on.”

Related posts:

Readings for Ash Wednesday (today):

A reading for this first week of Lent:

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by 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!

Copyright © 2005 and 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Racial-Ethnic Oscar

In celebration of this month’s fifth anniversary of my blog, last week and the Wednesdays of February I’m providing a link to the most visited post of each year. For 2012, that would be: The Magic Kingdom (also the most visited post of all five years), with A Pragmatic Guide to Prayer coming in second.

In the controversy over the lack of black nominees for Oscars, one Academy member facetiously asked if we were now to have an ethnic category “for your consideration.” I doubt very much that the man who asked the question is racist; after all, he has a black adopted daughter and black grandchildren.

But what he missed entirely is that there is already a racial-ethnic category at play in the making of films, let alone the Academy Awards: Caucasians are favored in every category, from audiences to those who get to do the films, which to me is the crux of the problem, not just that other racial-ethnic groups are thereby excluded from consideration for awards.

Affirmative action has often been misunderstood to mean that unqualified people should get a job over qualified people. Affirmative action, rather, is better understood as providing opportunities for equally qualified applicants who are underrepresented in the industry they wish to enter.

Equal rights have also been twisted by dominant cultures to mean “special rights.” How many times have I had to argue with even the most open churchgoers that LGBT people, in seeking equal rights, were not requesting “special rights,” but the rights afforded every other citizen of our country, including the right to marry. That so many legislators and judges are now trying to curtail that right under the guise of defending religious freedom is reminiscent of the many ways the dominant white culture has tried to undermine civil rights and voting rights of African Americans.

I’m also surprised that many people have difficulty with stronger sentences for hate crimes. A crime is a crime is a crime, they think, when refusing to consider how a hate crime is a crime intended to harm and intimidate a whole segment of our citizenry, not to mention that hate crimes are characteristically far more brutal and wounding.

LGBT people have made tremendous strides in a historically relative short period because we had the advantage of being part of every family, neighborhood, congregation, congressional district, and political party. While African-Americans are yet to be fully integrated (i.e., welcomed), LGBT people began “integrated” even when not always welcomed. Knowing LGBT people personally as well as seeing us in film and on television helped our culture understand who we are.

When my mother visited me in Philadelphia in 1976, I took her to several plays, including one at the historic Academy of Music that featured Billy Dee Williams as a fiery Martin Luther King Jr. I was stunned to discover we were among a handful of white people in the packed theater. Why weren’t more white people interested?

Better was seeing The Color Purple at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood years later. For the first time, I saw a theater filled with black people and mostly white gay people, given the black and lesbian themes of the film.

Not just in the South where I live now, but in every city I’ve lived or travelled, it’s still true that 11 a.m. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week, so Christians can’t really get on our high horse—even progressive Christians—and preach what we don’t practice.

And Washington and Wall Street and corporate offices, whose whitewashed tombs house overwhelmingly white and male power structures, cannot effectively legislate, invest in, or inspire a diversity they do not represent.

So I welcome Hollywood’s agonizing over what it can do to remind us “black lives matter.” This is a step toward recognizing the diversity that makes a country great.

Blog readings for Black History month in the U.S. (February):

Other relevant posts:

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by 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!

Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When Dinosaurs Fly (or The Taming of the Shrew)

In celebration of next month’s fifth anniversary of this blog, today and the Wednesdays of February I’ll provide a link to the most visited post of each year. For 2011, that would be: “Faggot”Jesus, with Put Yourself in the Nativity Story a close second.

Just for fun, I thought I’d post this dialogue that I wrote for Midtown Spiritual Community in Atlanta, presented on May 15, 2005. This is for the kid in all of us, a kind of Mardi Gras confection. I haven’t changed a word! You can tell I grew up watching Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History and Fractured Fairy Tales on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

Narrator: Welcome to the primeval forest, inhabited by our evolutionary ancestors that have evolved out of the primordial soup which preceded it. Who woulda thought that such stinking slush could give rise to life? Even primitive forms?
Dinosaur: Hey! Who ya callin’ primitive?
Shrew: Do you have to talk so loud! You woke me up!
Dinosaur: I’m big, so I’m loud, you little shrew.
Shrew: I’m small, but I’m gonna outlive you!
Dinosaur: Who says?
Shrew: Natural selection.
Dinosaur: You mean “survival of the fattest”? Then I’m gonna outlast you and your pointy little snout.
Shrew: That’s survival of the fittest, not the fattest, you Darwinian failure! I’m going to evolve into something wonderful, I just know it.
Dinosaur: If Mother Nature can find you. You’re too small.
Shrew: And you’re too big!
Dinosaur: You’re doomed to eat insects and live in a tree the rest of your life.
Shrew: Maybe my life, but my descendants shall inherit the earth.
Dinosaur: The meek inheriting the earth. I say “ha”! I say “ha-ha”!
Shrew: You’ve gotta have dreams.
Dinosaur: My dreams are of leaving the planet.
Shrew: Becoming extinct?
Dinosaur: No, flying up in the sky. The last syllable of my name is “soar.” I want to soar in the skies.
Shrew: What’s a syllable?
Dinosaur: I don’t know. I don’t write this stuff.
Shrew: So, you’re going to fly?
Dinosaur: That’s my dream and I’m stickin’ to it.
Shrew: Why?
Dinosaur: I’m tired of throwin’ my weight around, that’s why. I’d like to be light as a feather.
Shrew: What’s a feather?
Dinosaur: See these things on my legs? Feathers!
Shrew: How’d you get them? Paste ‘em on?
Dinosaur: No. Born that way. Other dinosaurs made fun of me my whole life. Called me queer ‘cause I was different. But I see it as a step toward divinity.
Shrew: Divinity?
Dinosaur: God-like. To fly would be god-like. I want to be like the gods.
Shrew: What are gods?
Dinosaur: Those lights shining in the heavens at night. Those are gods. I want to reach for the stars!
Shrew: I bet my descendants will get there first.
Dinosaur: Oh what? [MOCKS:] Look, up in the sky! Is it a pterodactyl? A falling star? No, it’s Supershrew! Why would your descendants get there first? I already have feathers.
Shrew: But I already live in trees. And I can jump from branch to branch. It won’t be long before I sprout feathers too!
Dinosaur: What? A sort of “manifest destiny”? You shrews always had a cocky character.
Shrew: Look at you, you big lummox! How ya gonna get that tail off the ground?
Dinosaur: [LOOKS AT HER BEHIND] I’ll need a long runway, that’s for sure. Or a smaller caboose! [DREAMS:] I see myself becoming small and delicate and dainty. I want to sing rather than roar. I want to glide rather than stomp. I want to see far above and beyond this mucky swamp. I want to go south for the winter. [SIGHS]
Shrew: You wanna get smaller, and I wanna get bigger. [DREAMS:] I see myself becoming larger and smarter and powerful. I want to speak rather than squeak. I want to walk rather than crawl. I want to think outside this boxy swamp. And I too want to go south for the winter. [SIGHS] Oh well, I guess that will only happen when dinosaurs fly!
Dinosaur: You say that as if it ain’t gonna happen!
Shrew: I think your dreams are too big. Mine too. It’ll never happen!
Dinosaur: Ya gotta have faith.
Shrew: What’s faith?
Dinosaur: Faith is what I feel when I lay my eggs. I can’t see the next generation, but I know it’s there. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Shrew: That has a nice ring to it. We gotta shoot for the stars, I guess.
Dinosaur: Either that or return to the muck. The sky’s the limit, and maybe not even that.
Narrator: And so Shrew and Dinosaur evolved happily ever after. The tree shrew evolved eventually into human beings, which may or may not be an improvement, and one can still see the mousy shrewishness in human eyes whenever they’re afraid of not surviving and become greedy and controlling. And, despite the megalomania of Shrew, Dinosaur’s descendants flew into the sky first, evolving into the birds of the air, and you can still see Dinosaur’s fierceness in the eyes of the hawk or the eagle or any mother bird protecting her nest. We have yet to see if human beings and birds will live happily ever after. And who knows what they’ll evolve into?


Here’s an earlier post appropriate for the beginning of presidential primary season in the U.S.: Gerasene Demoniac Announces Presidential Bid

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by 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!

Copyright © 2005 and 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


What attracted people to the technology that Steve Jobs fostered through Apple is its seemingly personal nature, from user-friendly “personal” computers such as the iMac, to handheld devices like iPods and iPads and iPhones as well as apps like iTunes —putting “I” first—which stands for both “internet” and “individual.” That could account for the worldwide grief at his death, though books, articles, and films document that he was less than warm and cuddly in person.

I’ve witnessed much wringing of hands, wailing and gnashing of teeth over what this technology will do to us, from our reading habits to our social interactions.

It’s well to remember that once there had been similar angst over the proliferation of books, especially novels! When reading was only for the literate, privileged elite, many were suspicious that widespread and frequent reading made possible by the printing press might be detrimental to readers and social structures alike.

As some today fret over the iHunch, that posture adopted by users of laptops, tablets, and cell phones, I imagine there were similar concerns about those hunched over a book. And what about those hunched over in prayer?

What your mother told you is right, good posture is—well, good! Yoga teaches us that positioning the body in intentional poses is spiritually and physically beneficial. And in meditation, aligning the chakras by sitting or standing up straight is vital for spiritual energy to flow through us.

I’ve written in one of my books on spirituality that Christians have our own “yoga” positions, from kneeling in awe or in penitence to, as the first Christians prayed, arms raised, shoulders back, palms facing out, and head uplifted with eyes opened to the heavens.

Our technological gurus similarly advise an upright posture when using our various internet devices: it makes us more open and receptive, more self-affirming, more gracious.

Of more concern to me is the wrangling over what technology does to our reading habits. When I began my blog, I was warned that most people use the internet for information rather than meditation, but that is also true of how people use books, magazines, newspapers, and other forms of media. Even the Bible has been diminished by those reading it for information rather than inspiration.

For a long time I resisted reading a newspaper in other than in its traditional form, turning its pages as the ink rubbed off on my fingers. But undependable delivery and cheaper costs drove me to a tablet, and frankly, I read much more of the paper this way and a wider breadth of articles than before.

And how I read it is up to me, just as certainly as it is up to you. The “i” in iSpirituality might represent more than “individual” and “internet.” It may stand also for “intentional.”

If I read only for information, without reflection, or read only the “objective” news articles and not the opinion pages and research findings, I am spiritually bereft. If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know how often I reference The New York Times in my posts. News requires as much prayerful thought as scriptures.

That’s true of e-mails, posts, and tweets as well. We’ve probably all had the experience of someone telling us they didn’t receive “that” e-mail, though they have responded to another part of it! They just didn’t spend enough time with it, perhaps failing to scroll down for the complete message.

Henri Nouwen pointed out that the root words of “entertainment” literally mean “to keep between,” that is, in a state of tension. Entertainment is fine, he wrote, but if we live our lives solely for entertainment, we will never be able to rest and reflect. So part of my spiritual discipline is to limit my time on the internet, on Facebook, and on my phone to enjoy uninterrupted silence and have time to pray, meditate, write, and engage with those people and things that are physically present.

And in dealing with a challenging e-mail, I often leave my response in my computer overnight to avoid being reactionary. Nouwen also wrote of the spiritual contrast between heartfelt responding and merely reacting.

Using the “off” switch and the “silent” and “sleep” and “shut down” modes on all our devices can be user-friendly and spiritually beneficial.

Just as the internet and its technology may be made personal, iSpirituality may awaken individuals to the worldwide spiritual internet, helping us see the connection of the personal to the universal, the individual to the international. And by “spiritual” I don’t mean other-worldly, non-physical, or immaterial, for the “i” in iSpirituality could stand for “incarnational” as well.

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by 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!

Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.