Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fear, Flight, Fight, and Fancy--A Revelation

The last two weeks I’ve been reading Revelation again, this time during my morning prayer time. My favorite part? When the Lamb breaks the seventh seal and there is “silence in heaven for about half an hour.”  

Because of the way I was brought up, the Revelation to John has always been the scariest text in the Bible. And confusing—how do you wash a garment white as snow in blood? So it’s a good example for testing a new approach to all scripture. 

Growing up, I read, or heard interpreted, Revelation with fear. And there’s much to be afraid of, like a really bad nightmare, and neither God nor Jesus could comfort me, because they, too, come across as frightening in this depiction. The violence and torture in this book makes Zero Dark Thirty, 24, and vicious video games seem tame by comparison. Many of you might consider Revelation just another example of toxic words that I wrote about in last week’s post. And it’s texts like these in every religion that prompt the more literal among us to forget that spiritual warfare is best treated as a metaphor for the spiritual struggle. 

As I “evolved” as a Christian, I simply took flight from Revelation. After all, even Martin Luther wished it were not in the biblical canon. It was easy for me to ignore it with so much better “stuff” in the Bible, or use the few parts that appealed to me. Its writer was clearly an over-the-top Goth-style drama queen who needed a good editor, one who might have helped avoid the bored and snarky critic in me, muttering, “The end of the world seems endless.” Preferable are end-of-the-world sagas like The Day After (nuclear holocaust) and The Day After Tomorrow (instant ice age due to climate change) that move more swiftly! 

When contemporary Christians began to read it as a description of our times, I fought that notion with biblical scholarship, which teaches that its context was the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, the Beast, and specifically Nero, 666 or 616 depending on which early manuscript one relies on. That explains why the writer seems fixated on retributive bloodshed, burning, drowning, and disease. That’s also why Revelation (and I would say the whole of the Bible) should not be read in a version without footnotes, or worse, a paraphrased version (which means the paraphraser has interpreted the text from their own bias). I’m presently using the New Jerusalem Bible, which has footnotes.  

So, having used three approaches to Revelation—fear, flight, and fight—I find myself now using fancy to understand what the mystic John was trying to reveal.  (Fancy can be used to understand other scriptures too, which is where midrash comes in handy. Midrash, a rabbinical tool of discernment, is a creative re-telling of old stories, sometimes with humor.) 

Think of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Narnia Chronicles, Harry Potter, Avatar, and other literary fantasies, such as fables, legends, science fiction, comic book heroes and graphic novel epics. They all require fancy to watch or read them as somehow “true.” And their truth lies in what they are trying to impart. 

Reading Revelation, I could see George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Dreamworks, Pixar, and like-minded creative fanciers producing it, using current technology to make it seem real. 

Meanwhile, what truths am I gleaning from it? Here’s my list so far: 

1.      The good’s struggle with its opposition is real, externally and internally, materially and spiritually.
2.     The good includes those of “every nation, race, language, and tribe,” a refrain appearing multiple times throughout Revelation.
3.     Empire—world domination—whether as government, corporation, or religion, endangers our soul collectively and individually, as well as all creation.
4.     Idolatry, represented in our time by consumerism, materialism, nationalism, militarism, and ideological and dogmatic certainty, distracts us from what is spiritually vital and eternal.
5.     In the words of the praise song, “our God is an awesome God” who is best understood metaphorically, even in Jesus.
6.     Worship lifts us up, but its central purpose is to honor the holy.
7.     We are surrounded by saints—past, present, and future.
8.    God is on the side of the good and of the future, inspiring, challenging, chastening, comforting, and refreshing creation.
9.     Joy and life, peace and justice, will overcome what opposes them, thanks be to God, who ultimately wins, as do the good.
10.  In trial and triumph, in truth and in time, God is with us. 

Don’t take my word for it, though. Read Revelation yourself, but not literally. Read it with fancy. 


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Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Peace in the Neighborhood

Along one of our morning walks, our dog Hobbes and I pass an old house with two-story-high wooden columns. Recent walks have given me an opportunity to really “see” the house, and in a kinder way than I have before.

You see, during President George W. Bush’s wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, the owner of the house nailed a large sign on one of those columns, declaring, “Thanks Pres. Bush & Our Troops for Kicking Ass!” For me, its angry tone disturbed the relative peace of our neighborhood. I’d prefer to see a yellow ribbon or American flag as a sign of solidarity with our troops and our leaders. Instead I felt a little on edge whenever I passed by.

It reminded me of the power of words to be violent, harsh, and violating. The words I most regret are those I’ve spoken or written in careless anger. (I say “careless anger,” because I believe anger can be good if directed, managed, and channeled properly and constructively.) Studies show that even raising your voice can elicit shame in others.

At the polls last November, I endured the toxic sting of just that, a poll manager who yelled at me, when all I was doing was looking to see if I was in the right line. I had not spoken, I had not tried to get ahead of anyone, but her blast heard round my neighbors in the social hall of my own church shamed me as if I had. When I returned to my place, two women in line with me who witnessed what transpired said, “We think you need a hug!” And though strangers, each one hugged me. Even the sympathy of other poll workers did not alleviate my desire to vote and get out of there as quickly as possible. And it took me several days to shake the venom the woman had injected.

The incident made me think of those of us who grew up with hateful language directed at us because of who we happened to be, the venom injected into our bodies by words that violated our souls, a toxin many of us carry within us to this day. It is hard not to repay evil for evil, a word for a word. A gay activist friend discovered that when he began writing diatribes against his evangelical world; someone from the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change called this to his attention, and now he is a devotee of non-violence in speech and thought as well as action.

When Barack Obama became president, the sign on the house briefly disappeared, and I wondered if the reason was partisan. But soon it reappeared, amended to read, “Thanks, Pres. Obama & Our Troops for Kicking Ass!” At least the homeowner was bipartisan! But it made me feel no more pleasure walking past it.

Now that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is winding down, the sign has recently been removed. The house seems kinder and gentler as we walk past. And the neighborhood feels a little more peaceful.


Rev. Glaser will serve as one of two presenters on a panel, “Spiritual Journeys of Gay Religious Leaders,” at Berry College in northwest Georgia (near Rome) Tuesday evening, January 29, 2013, 7:30-9:00 p.m. in McAllister Hall 119, the science auditorium.

This blog is only funded by your donations. Please click here to make a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you!

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Keep the Dream Alive"

I captured this photo on the Washington Mall during the 1983 March on Washington commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the historic 1963 march at which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

One of the good things about coming out of the closet is that I have a lot of closet space in which to store memories like this. I ran across the photo while looking for several items for Ft. Lauderdale’s Stonewall Museum at the request of my longtime friend, activist and author Brian McNaught.

Looking at the photo now, I wonder where this little girl is today. She would be in her thirties and my hope is that she is in some kind of leadership position—professionally,  as a volunteer, or as a parent.  I even fancy she might be part of the Obama administration, a dream come true for the 1963 marchers and all those marchers who followed in commemorations since.

It makes me nostalgic for the days when “religion in the public square”—marching, speaking, writing, and activism for civil rights and justice and peace from a faith perspective—was welcomed even by non-religious progressives.  Nowadays every time I write such a piece for The Huffington Post, I am stunned by the angry responses from people wary of ANY religion in the public square. After decades of reactionary Christians’ wars on women, LGBT people, peace activists, environmentalists, gun control advocates, atheists, and those of other faiths, even I wish Christians would just shut-up.

But Christians helped transform my youthful conservative views into a mature and open liberal understanding of issues and people. The weekend that Rev. King was assassinated, the youth minister of the Free Evangelical church I attended in high school read King’s sermon, “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” during Sunday evening worship. On the first Sunday I visited the Presbyterian church I soon joined while in college, the seminary intern’s sermon recounted the past decade of the Civil Rights Movement. The senior pastor of the church had earlier preached against an initiative that would have repealed a California fair housing act that eliminated racial barriers to purchasing homes in white neighborhoods.  Morning worship was followed every Sunday by a forum on issues of peace and justice, from school bussing and the Vietnam War to the founding of MCC.

In his sermon, “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” Dr. King spoke of length of days for growth, breadth of human concern and community, and finally, “height or that upward reach toward something distinctly greater than humanity.”  Of those who miss that upward reach, King preached, “They seek to live without a sky.”

“Where there is no vision, the people perish,” Proverbs 29:18 reads in the King James Version. Subsequent translations refer to prophecy rather than vision. I am grateful Rev. King’s prophetic vision gave us the upward reach to “keep the dream alive.”


Thank you to the many who responded to my questions in last week’s post, “Do You Read My Blog?” You made my day! For those who haven’t yet responded, I welcome additional comments.

Photo and words copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes.  This ministry is entirely funded by your donations. Please click here to make a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you! 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Do You Read My Blog?

On the occasion of this 100th weekly post on Progressive Christian Reflections, I thought I would provide a report to readers as well as a request for feedback. Do you read this? How often (guestimate)? How do you use it? Do you share it? Do you have suggestions? Subscribers may simply reply to the e-mail address from which it is sent; others may write me at (note there is no “i” in the name).

Today this blog will have registered 60,000 visits since its creation mid-February of 2011. Visitors come from all over the world, though the bulk comes from the U.S. and Switzerland. (I’m not sure why the latter, unless there is a server in that country that distributes to other countries.) Inexplicably, I’ve had surges from time to time from disparate countries, for example: 30 visitors in a single week from Morocco, 40 from China, 75 from Russia, and 102 from Italy. The Vatican makes an occasional visit.

Many of my posts have been re-posted on other blogsites or in e-newsletters, such as, and I blog occasionally for The Huffington Post and Bilerico.

There are over 300 subscribers and followers. (If you subscribed and do not receive this weekly, try subscribing again and respond to the follow-up e-mail verifying your subscription, and check your spam filter.) Between 100 and 200 now visit the site each day, perhaps reading more than one post. But few comments are placed on the blog itself; a few more come to me directly from subscribers responding to a particular post.

Since last spring when donations became possible, I am aware of six contributors who have given a total of $215.  Btw, if you have made a contribution and not received a handwritten “thank you” note from me, please let me know. Your donations are this ministry’s only financial support. If you’d like to contribute, please click here. Thanks! And please consider inviting me to speak or lead an event.

Told by a publisher that there was no market for meditations for progressive Christians, I decided to give away reflections through this blog. It is free, both to visit and to subscribe. And it is not “monetized” (no ads) to avoid distractions to readers. I post the link on 20-30 relevant Facebook pages each Wednesday morning, as well as to my 2100+ Facebook friends. I encourage all to distribute the link and the posts freely, and to use the posts not only for personal reflection, but for readings in worship or conversation-starters in classes.

I am grateful that Rev. Elder Darlene Garner and Metropolitan Community Churches authorized this blog as an Emerging Ministry in the spring of 2012. MCC receives a tithe from donations in gratitude for handling contributions. MCC has served the broader church throughout its 44-year history as an ecumenical, inclusive, and progressive witness to Jesus and his message of God’s commonwealth.

Writing the blog is a fulfilling form of ministry for me, and I am grateful for you who read it. I believe it’s time for the spirituality of progressive Christians to come out of the closet. We are as spiritually motivated as our often more vocal sisters and brothers in the faith. And we need to be fed and uplifted spiritually.

Early on I mentioned Jesus telling his disciples a parable so that they “might pray always and not lose heart.” It was the story of a woman seeking justice from an unjust judge, who finally gives in to her repeated cries for justice just to be rid of her. I hope progressive Christians take this parable to heart, and never give up seeking justice and mercy and peace, as well as an inclusive church, interfaith dialogue, and fresh ways to understand and interpret our faith.

P.S. Last week’s post also appeared on The Huffington Post, where it has received 470 “likes” and over 500 comments. Click here to see it, and please scroll down to find the comments.

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

God Is Not a Control Freak

God is not a control freak! Evolution should be enough to prove this point. Evil too. And free will.

And yet, when faced with tragedies, such as Sandy or Newtown or AIDS, many people expect God to be at “his” control panel avoiding them. There is much theological handwringing in commentaries and blogs, even by—or especially from—those uncertain about God’s very existence.

With his book, The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God, Process philosopher-theologian Charles Hartshorne helped me shed my need to believe in a God in absolute control when I was a college student in the early ’70s.  Who are you most likely to love, he posits, the most loving person or the most powerful person? Most of us would opt for the most loving. So it is with God.

Do we want a God who is all-powerful or all-loving? We can’t have both and be satisfied with a God who permits the Holocaust, genocide, war, and tsunamis.

But by the time I published my second book (1990), Come Home!, a book reclaiming Christianity for LGBT people, I found I wasn’t completely satisfied with this resolution, one that gets God off the hook for bad things happening to good and bad people. I had come to the realization that love is God’s power.

Our human notion of power is distorted, I came to believe, a notion of power that’s about coercion rather than persuasion, control rather than compassion. And a central thread of the Bible depicts a God of persuasion, a Good Shepherd more than a king, a Servant more than a master, Empowering more than in power. Yes, there are biblical texts that depict God and even Jesus as king, master, in charge—but that’s more our need than God’s, in my view. God demonstrates leadership, that gift of persuading us to do the right thing, to practice the way of justice and mercy. That’s the power of love.

The final phrase of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is “deliver us from evil.” Putting this request last indicates to me its importance. When I began saying the prayer daily, I thought I was praying that God would keep evil things from happening to me. But now I believe—no, now I know that I am praying that I root out the potential for evil in myself: my indifference, my cruelty, my selfishness, my inattentiveness, my ignorance, my insensitivity, my sins. I should have “gotten” this long ago by the phrase that precedes “deliver us from evil”: “lead us not into temptation.”

I have also come to believe that everything that happens to us—good and evil—is an opportunity for what Thomas Moore calls soul-shaping, and what Henri Nouwen described as turning negatives into positives, the one-time alchemy of the photographer. The apostle Paul understood this when he said “nothing can separate us from the love of God” in the same epistle to the Romans that he opined “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” In a mirrored understanding of the first sentence, everything may connect us to the love of God. Faith gives us a context of meaning in which even the evil we encounter may transform us into more loving and therefore more godly beings.

The public is invited to Henri Nouwen: The Wounded Healer, a spiritual formation course led by Rev. Chris Glaser, a student and friend of the late Christian author, Feb 28-Mar 3, Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA. No prerequisite course is required. Glaser’s book, Henri’s Mantle: 100Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy, is available on Amazon.

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes.  This ministry is entirely funded by your donations. Please click here to make a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you!