Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jesus as Sexual Actor

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

The most difficult chapter I wrote in my book on same-sex marriage is entitled, “Sex and the Body of Christ.” But it was also the most satisfying. I didn’t want to write it, but I had to in order to lead readers from the past and sometimes sordid history of marriage to my vision of it as a spiritual discipline, a spiritual practice.

I imagined some kindly old grandmother reading the chapter in her rocking chair, blushing badly and averting her eyes. I unpacked that image in the chapter, recognizing that it was sexist and ageist, but taking particular interest in the word “kindly.” Why would I think of sex as “unkindly”? Why does sex in the Christian tradition get such a bad rap?

According to Genesis, God created us as sexual beings, shaping every part of our bodies, and we walked naked with God in the Garden. According to the Gospels, God put on human flesh in Jesus, undoubtedly anatomically correct. He wasn’t a Ken doll!

Again, according to the Gospels, the body of Jesus was resurrected, and according to the Epistles, our bodies will be too—though I’m hoping my “glorified” body will be hotter than the present one!

Whether you take these stories symbolically or literally, you can still “get” that the Bible is telling us our bodies have sacred worth.

When the apostle Paul addressed sexual ethics, he did not resort to his Jewish training, the rules and regulations on human sexuality in Leviticus, nor the laws of the government, the Roman Empire. Instead he argues sexual ethics from the point of view that we are now members of the Body of Christ. What would Jesus do?

Problem is, most of us can’t think of Jesus as a sexual actor. It’s kind of like thinking of our parents that way! Taboo kicks in.

Yet repeatedly in the Gospels we have stories of Jesus touching and being touched, something the religious elite of the time avoided for fear of being rendered ritually unclean—hence Jesus’ parable contrasting the good Samaritan with a temple priest and lay temple leader who both avoid a wounded man alongside the road from Jericho to the temple at Jerusalem.

I believe we have to re-imagine Jesus, now that we too are his body, and consider how he would make love to someone or how he would like to be made love to. The greater sin to me is when we make love or make church or cast ballots without recognizing we do so as the Body of Christ and that we do so to the Body of Christ.

Tax-deductible donations to this Emerging Ministry may be given online  (click and scroll down) or by mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232, designating in the memo area, “For Progressive Christian Reflections.” Thank you!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Body of Christ

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

One of my favorite images in the Bible is that of our spiritual community, the church, as the Body of Christ. And this past weekend the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge in Roanoke, Virginia, gave me an opportunity to reflect on this image with its members and friends.

Generally I do not move in academic circles, so I’m not sure if it’s still the fashion to identify one’s “social location” at the beginning of a presentation or paper as it was a few years ago. It humbles anyone who might claim to write or speak for one and all, because everyone’s perspective may be limited by their social location. (I must admit to faith in the discernment powers of readers and listeners to decide what speaks to them and what doesn’t without such disclaimers!)

I mention this because I believe one of the consequences of the metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ is that it has helped Jesus transcend his particularity, his social location as a first century Palestinian Jewish male living under Roman occupation. In the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians, the Body of Christ is Jew and Greek, slave and free. In our own words we could say that the Body of Christ is now of every race and place, of every age and culture, of every condition and class, gender and sexuality, of every vocation, education, experience, and skill set.

Jesus transcended his particularity, his social location, by leading and loving us into this community. And we transcend our particularity, our social location, by living and loving in this community. The Body of Christ stretches around the globe and reaches backward and forward in time. Now I think that’s cool!

The problem is, others don’t. They want to silence or censure or shutout those with different perspectives. The classic definition of “liberal” suggests a willingness to consider all views. Church historian Martin Marty has pointed out the liability of being liberal: when liberals rise to places of influence in denominations, they leave conservatives in place. But when conservatives do the same, they ax the liberals! Thus, over time, mainline denominations are being skewed to the right.

One of the points I made in my presentation on progressive Christianity this weekend is that Christian fundamentalists and biblical literalists claim they are the “traditional” Christians, when in truth, they are relative newcomers to the tradition. I believe that much of what today is called “progressive” Christianity is really good old mainstream liberal Christianity.

I have been re-reading Kenneth Leech’s Soul Friend, and in his chapter, “Prayer and the Christian Spiritual Tradition,” he writes:

Frequently…expressions such as “traditional theology” and “traditional spirituality” are used in ways which indicate ignorance of the tradition in its diversity. We are in a situation of breakdown so that what often passes for orthodoxy is simply a current convention, and the most deeply rooted orthodox teachings are seen as some novel theory.

So, while listening to the conservative members of the Body of Christ, progressive Christians must never believe that our positions don’t have multiple roots in Christian tradition!

And when conservative members of the Body of Christ question whether we are members of that body and resist listening to us, we must remind them of Paul’s words to the Corinthians about failing to recognize the Body of Christ:

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be answerable… For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

In context, Paul is talking about discerning the Body of Christ in each other, not in the bread and the cup. When we fail to see the Body of Christ in one another—and I would add, in the stranger as well—we are held accountable.

I delight in the concept of our spiritual community as the Body of Christ because it celebrates diversity while resisting divisiveness.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vacation and Vocation

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Readers are this blog’s only means of support. Tax-deductible donations to this Emerging Ministry may be given online or by mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232, designating in the memo area, “For Progressive Christian Reflections.” Thank you!

Chris hopes to see those of you in or near Roanoke, VA, this weekend at one or more of his events related to the theme “Claim the God in You!” beginning with lunch, Fri. July 13, two events on Sat. July 14, and morning worship Sun. July 15, hosted by the MCC of the Blue Ridge. Everyone is welcome! See details on the church’s website, clicking on the far right box: MCCBR Retreat.


Very early one morning I saw a woman doing a walking meditation, such as Buddhists do, pausing after each step taken, perhaps pondering a koan. As I drew closer, I realized the “koan” she concentrated on so intently was, in truth, an iPad. 

Running through the park, I approached a young man sitting in the lotus position, his face downturned in meditation. As I passed by, however, I saw his thumbs busily texting. 

On each occasion, the only hope of my original fantasy was that they were tweeting or texting their spiritual directors or gurus! 

We all know of such impulses to check tweets, messages, e-mails, and news media! C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters comes to mind, in which Screwtape advises Wormwood, his tempter in training, to put into his ward’s head the impulse to take a break just as he’s about to discover something important to his spiritual progress, thus distracting him. 

One dictionary defines vocation as “an impulse to perform a certain function.” Vacation is defined as freedom from such an impulse, a letting go of our compulsions to do things we have always done, a release from doing things the way we have always done them. Thus vacation invites play. 

I’ve known too many people, including clergy, who brag about never or rarely taking a vacation. In my view, vacation is a vital balance to vocation, as necessary to one’s work as sleep and nutrition and compensation. 

Some of us get away from our work by going away, but others of us get away from our work by going within: inside ourselves, listening to that inner voice that is the root of the word “vocation.” 

I’ve been reading a lot about the spiritualities of the desert: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The desert is an excellent place to listen for God’s voice, our own voice, the voice of a lover or friend or calling. Distractions are diminished, silence surrounds, we may breathe easier, we may breathe. 

In deserts, Moses heard God’s voice, Miriam danced, Elijah listened for “a voice of a gentle stillness,” Naomi accepted Ruth’s vow, Jesus pondered his vocation and found lonely places to pray, Amma Theodora identified acedia (spiritual lethargy), Muhammad received his divine mission. 

Progressive Christians have our wilderness too. We are letting go of religious compulsions to rediscover the God of the desert (metaphorically).  

Writing of desert spirituality in Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton concluded that “without the disquieting capacity to see and to repudiate the idolatry of devout ideas and imaginings…the Christian cannot be delivered from the smug self-assurance of the devout ones who know all the answers in advance, who possess all the clich├ęs of the inner life and can defend themselves with infallible ritual forms against every risk and every demand of dialogue with human need and human desperation.”  

Perhaps vacation from religious compulsion is also our vocation.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Readers are this blog’s only means of support. Tax-deductible donations to this Emerging Ministry may be given online or by mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232, designating in the memo area, “For Progressive Christian Reflections.” Thank you!

Our neighbors have a tall, silver, windowless van in which they transport merchandise for their antique business. When I first saw it, I kidded them about whether it contained aliens, or perhaps alien pods to replace people in the complex. Then I clarified that I didn’t mean illegal aliens, but extraterrestrial ones, like the coneheads of Saturday Night Live.

The pods reference was to the 1950s sci-fi classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which extraterrestrial aliens use pods to grow exact duplicates of human beings, but without emotions or individuality. I had always thought it was a metaphor for the conformity of McCarthyism, the anti-communist hysteria I referred to in last week’s post.  But I discovered on the internet that others think it a metaphor for communism itself or any totalitarian state or rigid ideology, such as fundamentalism or even orthodoxy.

Yet what it makes me think of are the body snatchers that found their way into Christian thinking—you know, those who introduced the Greek notion of body-spirit duality that contradicted the Hebrew and early Christian concept of the soul, an indivisible unity of body and spirit. To separate spirit and body meant that the spiritual was higher, eternal, and closer to God in the heavens and the body was lower, temporal, and separated from God, being closer to earth.

Despite four central theological affirmations to the contrary—Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection, and the church as the Body of Christ—Christians got it in their heads that the body was not a locus for divinity. But, as I wrote long before I read it in one of James B. Nelson’s books, we know God through our body or we don’t know God at all.  That I thought my words original suggests how much the work of Nelson and other body theologians had permeated contemporary Christian consciousness.

I thought I had to go outside of Christian tradition to find affirmation of my bodily and earthly experience. That’s why Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek became my second Bible in college: Zorba’s sensual zest filled a gap in my theology. That’s why Romantic Age poets and Process philosophy and Native American spirituality helped me see the sacred in nature’s every turn. And that’s why science from biology to astronomy now inspires me.

Little did I think that God evolving earth and bodies was a cosmic laying on of hands imparting holiness. Little did I consider the metaphor of God putting on human flesh as an incredible affirmation of the body, especially a body willing to touch other bodies with affection and healing. Little did I know that resurrection reclaims bodily experience as having eternal significance. Little did I understand that the concept Body of Christ meant that “the anointed one” transcended being a first century Palestinian Jewish male, becoming a body of every age, race, condition, gender, sexuality, and nationality.

If only I had known of Celtic Christianity then—the notion that Christ walks among us in two shoes—the Bible and Creation, and that sin can be removed by the grace encountered in nature, love, or Christ. If only I had read the Benedictine nun Julian of Norwich (1342-1420), that “Our sensuality is grounded in Nature, in Compassion, in Grace… In our sensuality, God is… God is the means by which our Substance and our Sensuality are kept together so as never to be apart.” In other words, in God our essence and our embodiment are one—the integrity sought in the spiritual life. And if only I had been taught Teresa of Avila’s (1515-1582) insight that now on earth God’s body is our own!

I believe more people could comprehend the spiritual life if they understood that spirituality is not an out-of-body experience, not an other-worldly encounter. Rather, our bodies participate in the divine life, the cosmos is God’s body. “In God we live and move and have our being.”

Beware of the body snatchers!