Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Whose Resurrection Was It, Anyway?

Christian scriptures make a point of saying that Jesus appeared only to believers after his burial. They may not recognize him at first, such as Mary Magdalene supposing he was the gardener, or they may have doubts, such as the story of Thomas, or he may become known to them only after offering him hospitality, such as the travelers on the road to Emmaus.  

A vision of Jesus is only possible with a willing “suspension of disbelief,” a participation in the story, a welcoming of “the anointed one” in our hearts and our minds and our lives, our church and our neighborhood and our world.

Last month, at a Benedictine monastery in Cullman, Alabama, I picked up a book, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, and began using it in my morning prayers. I have found it uplifting because, while Pope John Paul II emphasized the repeated biblical phrase, “Be not afraid!”, Pope Francis finds the central message of scripture to be “that your joy may be full.”

His emphasis is on evangelization, bringing good news over doctrine and rules. To quote Francis, “Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, [Christians] should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’”

He points out that “there are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” later writing that in our preoccupation with the day-to-day business and preservation of the church, “a tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum.”

This is what could have happened to those who followed Jesus had they dwelt on their absolute grief and dejection and disappointment. Mary Magdalene might have remained at the cemetery and the other disciples might have remained behind locked doors for fear of “the powers that be.”

But somehow, mysteriously, mystically, they recognized that Jesus was still with them, showing compassion as he did to Mary, breathing Holy Spirit upon his disciples.  If only we could hear Jesus speak our name, as he spoke Mary’s, if only we could feel Jesus’ breath and take that breath as our own, infused with his Spirit.

Of course we can.

I gave this post the rather cheeky title, “Whose Resurrection Was It, Anyway?” because Christians often forget the resurrection is not all about us—it’s all about Jesus. We get caught up in our fears of death, and want the promise of living eternally, and the resurrection seems to fulfill that promise. But the first Christians were not concerned for their own longevity.

In Jesus, the first Christians had witnessed the kingdom of God in their midst. His words and his deeds, his love and his hope, were alive in them. It wasn’t their lives they were interested in preserving, not even the life of the church—as witnessed by countless martyrs to Christ’s cause—it was the life of Christ they wanted to take into themselves, a life that gave them an eternal perspective, a spacious and gracious perspective that could love and transform the world.

Jesus wasn’t about simply redeeming us. Jesus was about redeeming the world, reconciling the world to its maker, to its lover, to its inspiration. The followers of Jesus, the first Christians, “got” that, and that’s what we need to “get” as well. They saw themselves as the Body of Christ resurrected for the world.

Just as Jesus, they discerned we were all children of God. And just as Jesus, they had the “ah-hah” that we were all God’s beloved children—even before conversion, even without conversion, thus we could love our enemies, we could love those who persecute us, we could love even those who mocked and tormented and tortured and executed Jesus in the most painful and humiliating way: the cross.

“Forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus prayed to God from that cross. And to his disciples on Easter he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

If we plan on retaining anyone’s sins, we’d better be prepared to have our own sins unforgiven, because Jesus taught his followers “if you forgive others their trespasses, your God in heaven will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will God forgive your trespasses.”

Pope Francis calls the church “to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.”

If people are going to see the resurrected Christ today, they’re going to have to see it in us. They’re going to have to see it in those who follow Jesus, sharing and showing and celebrating his compassion and mercy, not just personally and spiritually, but politically and incarnationally, economically and globally.

“Do not hold on to me,” Jesus urged Mary. Jesus can’t be confined, whether to a tomb, to a church, to a doctrine, or even to this world.

But Jesus can be located—in our hearts, in our midst, in our service to the community, in our work for justice and equality and peace. Jesus can be located in the stranger and in “the least of these.”

And with God’s help, Jesus may even be located in church.


This is taken from my Easter sermon for Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Jesus Preaches in the Temple"


“Jesus Preaches in the Temple” from artist Douglas Blanchard’s series, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, and his book with author and blogger Kittredge Cherry. Copyright © by Douglas Blanchard. Used by permission.

Please join Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church in Atlanta for 11 a.m. Easter worship this Sunday, where I’ll be preaching on “Whose Resurrection Is It, Anyway?”

It took Douglas Blanchard’s painting “Jesus Preaches in the Temple” and Kittredge Cherry’s reflections on his series of 24 paintings of Jesus’ life, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, to remind me that scripture says several times that Jesus taught in the temple in the midst of the Passion narrative. Of course, most of us remember that when Jesus was “handed over” (betrayed) to “the powers that be,” he mischievously asked why they had not arrested him in broad daylight while teaching in the temple.

But I always pictured Jesus teaching to those whose life circumstances would have prevented them from entering the temple, like the man unable to walk asking for alms from Peter and John at the temple gate, told in the third chapter of Acts. In the name of Jesus, it says, they lifted him up “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”

I tended to imagine Jesus preaching to those outside the doors of the temple like this man, and his story serving as a metaphor for their welcome, their strengthened resolve to enter, and their resulting joy.

That Matthew, Mark, and Luke place Jesus’ teaching in the temple just after his angry outburst clearing it of merchants who provided for worshipers’ ritual needs (temple coins and animal sacrifices) suggests he was indeed creating space for temple outsiders.

In an early book, I explained how the space he cleared would have been the space in which those of us who have been excluded and marginalized might have gathered: Gentiles, women, LGBT folk, people with disabilities. I didn’t think of the immediate accessibility he provided those then considered unclean by religious scruples. Matthew specifically claims that those with disabilities then joined him in the temple (21:14)!

Jesus in Love blogger Kitt Cherry (a longtime friend) points out, however, that the artist has not placed Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, but in a Christian cathedral, made clear by the procession of crosses being carried by robed liturgists behind the immediate scene. A variety of people are drawn to Jesus “spellbound” by his teachings while seeming to ignore the formal worship behind them. Kitt asks, what would Christians do if Jesus entered their churches today? And I wonder, would they prefer to rest in peace in their traditions?

Some Christians are fond of asking, “What would Jesus do?” But the Passion narrative asks us, “What would we do?”

How often do we hand Jesus over to “the powers that be”: those who use Jesus to promote political or religious agendas anathema to what he taught? And how often do we pretend we’re not with Jesus, fearful that others might think we’re “one of them.”

And how often do we hang on Jesus’ words, reading and reflecting on what he taught?

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL people.” (Emphasis Jesus’)


Many thanks to Kitt and Doug! I’ve added another of Doug’s paintings to a previous post: Blessed Are the Prophets, a post which also appeared on the website of More Light Presbyterians this past Sunday.

Here are readings for the remainder of Holy Week:

Maundy Thursday:  Judas Kiss
Good Friday:            “Faggot” Jesus
Holy Saturday:         What God Did for Love
Easter Sunday:         Resurrecting Jesus

Progressive Christian Reflections is an authorized Emerging Ministry of MCC supported solely by readers.


Consider using a post or quotes in personal reflection, worship, newsletters, and classes, referencing the blog address when possible: http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite, catalogued by year and month.

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Double Feature

There are movies that I can watch again and again with pleasure because they conjure up for me the “olden” times of my life. The Birds and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? take me back to a quaint California of the early 1960s, my native state. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter take me back to books I enjoyed as a youth, and both were transformative, not only at how I looked at race and disability, but how I viewed myself as an outsider.

Recently I wanted to end a Sunday afternoon with such a movie, and I caught the last half of A Summer Place on Turner Classic Movies. It’s a peculiar story how I first happened to see the film. My occasionally non-conformist mother and a colleague of hers served as tricksters at the rather staid Christian school where they taught and which I attended, playing practical jokes on each other and exchanging funny, mischievous notes.

He suggested my parents and I—10 years old or so—join him to see Ben Hur at a drive-in movie theater. It happened to be half of a double feature with A Summer Place, a movie my parents had reservations about seeing themselves, let alone letting me see this film about lusty, illicit love. I can’t remember if it was shown first, and we had to watch it, or if last, and we stayed because we had already paid for it! (My parents, while generous, were even more frugal than I am!) But we watched the entire double feature.

In my book, As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage, I wrote how, of all the Hollywood movies about Jesus, I prefer Ben Hur, because the film never shows Jesus directly, but rather, depicts how he affected people—which is what I believe we have in Christian scriptures as well. I like this less literal and more indirect way of portraying Jesus.

Obviously it’s strange pairing this quasi-religious film with an incredibly secular film about older star-crossed lovers who leave their disastrous marriages to marry, and their teenage children who fall hopelessly in love, played by (to me, adorable) Troy Donahue and (to me, lucky) Sandra Dee. (When he died in 2001, I was saddened to learn that, after a serious bout with drugs and alcohol, his “summer place” was New York’s Central Park, before getting sober and getting on with his life.)

But the double feature awakened the double feature of my own life. Yes, I liked Jesus and things religious. And yes, I liked Troy Donahue, and things romantic. Religious or romantic, love would eventually come to me spiritually and sexually, thanks be to God!


Ever wonder why, after teaching at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, prolific Christian author Henri Nouwen spent the last ten years of his life as part of the L’Arche community, built around people with disabilities? Come find out as I lead a weekend retreat at Kirkridge May 2-4: “Henri Nouwen’s Road to L’Arche.”

Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:      Spiritual Yearnings
Friday:            Vacation and Vocation
Saturday:       If Jesus Read The New York Times

Holy Week
Palm Sunday:           Blessed Are the Prophets
Monday:                    The Temple of God’s Wounds
Tuesday:                   Spiritual Struggle [First full day of Passover]

Progressive Christian Reflections is an authorized Emerging Ministry of MCC supported solely by readers. 


Consider using a post or quotes in personal reflection, worship, newsletters, and classes, referencing the blog address when possible: http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite, catalogued by year and month.

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Single Unified Force

Those of you who follow this blog may have already guessed that I sometimes use The New York Times ScienceTimes for a kind of lectio divina. The day I am writing this, my text was the exciting observation of “Ripples from the Big Bang”: “faint spiral patterns from the polarization of microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang,” believed to be evidence of the theory of inflation, the force behind the original cosmic explosion that became our universe, dating back to a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second of our cosmic “grand opening.”

I gravitated to the phrase, “a single unified force,” that predated the Big Bang: 
Knowing inflation’s identity could be crucial if scientists are ever to unwind cosmic history back to the beginning, when they suspect the universe was ruled by a single unified force instead of the four distinct forces we know today: gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. 
To me this is as awesome as anything found in the first chapter of Genesis! And also mythological in its best sense: not an untrue narrative as most people misunderstand myth, but a narrative with intensely deep meaning for human imagination.

I had heard the Big Bang began with something the size of a marble, but this article suggests something infinitesimally smaller: “a subatomic quantum speck.” I have speculated in the past that this “marble” or “speck” could be the origin of our spiritual intuition that we are one: one with each other, with all creatures, with earth and stars, with all that is. The spiritual yearning for unity, overcoming dualism and differentiation, is really, I have thought, a nostalgic wish to return to the womb of this “subatomic quantum speck” and its “single unified force”—the “good ol’ days” of the cosmos.

Yes, I am probably overstepping my intellectual abilities as well as my education. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I might as well stick both feet in my mouth by confessing that, after a career of objecting to dualism, especially of body and spirit, I’ve never quite understood that dualism is by definition a bad thing. When I was ministering to people losing their bodies or their friends to AIDS, the separation of spirit and body came in handy to let go.

And I didn’t quite understand how a duality necessarily implied a hierarchy; why couldn’t a duality be like yin and yang, where one side is part of the other and vice versa? Or why couldn’t it be like the explanation of the Trinity where each part is a dimension of the one God—you know, just as a daughter can be a sister as well as a mother? (I was reminded this past weekend during a course on Hildegard of Bingen that she viewed the Trinity as inseparable: when one was present, all were present.)

In child rearing, differentiation is a preferred outcome. Only dysfunctional families desire a child to be a uniform expression of parents. Even so, differentiation of the cosmos has given us everything from black holes and supernovas to our pets and lovers. Differentiation, I would say, is a good thing.

I’ve used the metaphor of an expanding delta at the mouth of a river, spreading fertile soil and water to a broader expanse, to affirm the church’s diverse expressions as a good thing, rather than seeing it as the Body of Christ “broken” once more. And I apply this same principle to broader spiritual and religious diversity.

In my view, all of these are additional “ripples from the Big Bang,” and I look on them and consider them good. It’s only bad when we think our ripple is superior, or the “one way,” or the only way, or the “crown” of creation. Diversity is good. Evolution—biological and social—is good. Multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-disciplinary, multi-species, multi-ecologies—all are good.

Being united is also good, but absolute unity would cause the universe to collapse on itself, and we and everything we know and everything we have yet to discover would disappear.

Given the diversity of you readers, I would also consider it good to have pushback and feedback. Most everything I’ve written (not just here) raises issues for somebody out there. My ignorance far exceeds my knowledge, my imagination overreaches my scholarship, reality is way beyond my grasp.

I take comfort in the first Genesis creation story, in which Yahweh repeatedly pronounces everything created “good.” The ancient Jewish story is on to something, I believe.


Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:      It’s a Small, Small World
Friday:            Everybody Has a Story
Saturday:       Peace in Jerusalem
Sunday:          Treasure in Earthen Temples
Monday:         Our Mother
Tuesday:        The Thoughtful Pause  

Progressive Christian Reflections is an authorized Emerging Ministry of MCC supported solely by readers.


Consider using a post or quotes in personal reflection, worship, newsletters, and classes, referencing the blog address when possible: http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite, catalogued by year and month.

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