Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pride Is Faith

Today this post is appearing on my blog and that of Believe Out Loud, which will be running selected posts beginning today. Thanks be to God and to all those who made possible the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage announced after this posted!

“Pride is faith in the idea that God had when God made us.”
–Isak Dinesen, nee Karen Blixen

I often quote this insight from Blixen’s memoir, Out of Africa, during LGBT Pride Month.

This morning on Atlanta’s public radio station, an interview reminded me of the religious objections to Atlanta’s Pride Parade, formerly in June, the month that marks the anniversary of New York City’s famed 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, considered the birth of the modern LGBT movement in the United States. (I personally prefer to think that our contemporary movement began nine months earlier—a good gestation period!—with the founding of the Metropolitan Community Church on October 6, 1968.)

Charles Stanley, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church, was unhappy with the Pride parade’s route down Peachtree past his church. He once declared AIDS was “God’s curse” on gay people, the interviewee reminded listeners. Confrontations between church members shouting Bible verses and holding anti-gay signs on its steps and the offended marchers prompted the church to hire security guards to stand between the marchers and the church edifice, one subsequently torn down when the congregation retreated from urban life to the suburbs.

Across the street, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, though to this day hampered by a denominational ban on any support for LGBT Christian causes, decided to pass out cups of water to the marchers.  Their senior pastor, Mike Cordle (misnamed in the interview as “Mark” Cordle), had decided to resurrect a dying city church by reaching out to the LGBT community.

Writing of this in my 1994 daily meditation book, The Word Is Out (Oct 25), I quoted Mark 9:41, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose their reward.” As one of those marchers, I wrote, “We may not have known we bore any resemblance to Christ, but these Christians saw Christ in us. Their reward was that we saw Christ in them.”

My late mother in California resisted the increasing volume of her Baptist worship, sometimes choosing instead to watch Charles Stanley on television. On one of her visits to Atlanta, she asked if I would take her to worship at First Baptist Church to hear Dr. Stanley.  I didn’t want to spoil her image of him, but I gently said that I thought he was anti-gay. She said, “Oh, he never says anything negative about homosexuality on television.” Being my chief supporter, that would have soured her view, having stopped watching Florida preacher James Kennedy because of his anti-gay rhetoric.

A gay African American neighbor, who once sheepishly admitted attending First Baptist Church, told me at the time, “They never broadcast his anti-gay sermons.” But I did not tell Mom, and dutifully took her to worship at their new location, a Big Box building with a church-like interior that was a cross between the perfection of Disneyland and the artificiality of a Hollywood set, which of course, it was. His sermon, itself a mix of pop psychology, self-help, and the gospel, was interesting and not objectionable. I encouraged Mom to wait in line afterward to have the book she had just bought in the church gift shop signed by Dr. Stanley. He was gracious as I fumbled with Mom’s camera to take a picture of them together. For her, he was a rock star.

The fall before she died Mom confessed to me that she had always known God loved everyone, but she had never understood that God loved her specifically and individually until then. I said in mock dismay, “Mom, haven’t you been reading my books?!” Yet Dr. Charles Stanley was partly the reason for her spiritual insight.

Both Rev. Stanley and Rev. Cordle would go on to have public marital problems.  I already knew the latter’s compassion toward gay people, but I hoped the former’s trouble might sensitize him to those who are judged for their sexuality.

I hoped Dr. Stanley might have learned Karen Blixen’s corollary to her insight about pride:

“Love the pride of God beyond all things, and the pride of your neighbor as your own.”

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Forgiving God

I believe that we need to forgive God for not being the God we first imagined.

These words of mine echoed back to me from one of the final papers of a weekend spiritual formation course I recently taught. I had followed Henri Nouwen’s insight about forgiving other human beings for being unable to love us with the “perfect love” of God with my own view that we also need to forgive God for not being the God we were taught.

I thought about this just this morning while reflecting on a particular psalm’s view of God. The god of the psalmist was the one I had been taught but not the one I have come to believe in. While in other psalms my experience recognizes the psalmist’s inability to adequately comprehend God’s wondrous nature, the psalm I read this morning was a little too sure of who God is.

In the past weeks, I’ve re-read three unpublished novels I’ve written, and yesterday completed reading my earliest long fiction attempt, a 70-page novella begun in high school, completed in college, and polished for a course in seminary.  All but one of these works use some autobiographical elements, though played with, adjusted, or completely re-imagined.

But this flashback halfway through my novella Tommy actually happened: 
“You know who the tooth fairy is, don’t you, Tommy?” Peggy had just heard the amount the fairy had left for his tooth.

Tommy wanted to guess; he had some idea, but wasn’t sure. Some suspicion, that’s all.

“It’s your parents.”

“I know.” He had suspected, not known. He wished he hadn’t been told. Now that he knew, he made an easy connection between his parents and Santa Claus. They were Santa Claus as well. The fun was taken out of everything.

Tommy didn’t tell his parents his new knowledge right away, not wanting to hurt them. Destroying the myth his parents so fondly propagated might spoil his relationship with them. During a later argument, however, he used it as a weapon to hurt them in an undefinable way. Then, locking himself in the bathroom, he cried.
Many people think “destroying the myth” might spoil their relationship with God. Some have even used their knowledge of the myth to reject God altogether. Others try to “hurt” God in their anger at the misrepresentation.

I’ve experienced each option at one time or another.  Not only have I needed to forgive God for not being what I thought, I need to forgive myself for being inadequate to the task of “capturing” God.

Related posts:

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Violence--What to Do?

I’ll be guest speaker at the First Existentialist Congregation at 11 a.m. this Sunday, June 16, 2013, reflecting on “Spiritual Fathers and Mothers,” 470 Candler Park Dr. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307-2113.

I would think regular readers might have hoped for a little “bucking up” in this blog after one or more of the recent acts of violence we’ve experienced either firsthand or through the media. I did write about Newtown, but not about the Boston Marathon bombing. You see, West, Texas had their devastating explosion and Syria and Iraq were  experiencing deadly attacks about the same time, and I couldn’t ignore their suffering. Then the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh. And more recently we have the killer tornado of Moore, Oklahoma.

And these examples are simply set against the daily violence throughout the world among and between peoples, nations, and religions, not to mention the violence visited hourly upon the environment and animals and habitats.

I’d guess that in a single evening of watching television, from news to ubiquitous crime dramas, the average viewer witnesses more violence than many once experienced in a lifetime, save those in war zones or crime-ridden neighborhoods. What to do?

Can we adopt the position of a Buddha-like character in my (unpublished) mystery novel Angus Dei simply that “Violence is”? Philosophically that’s safer, until violence happens to us or those we care about.

Can we rise above violence? Given that violence may come with any vote, purchase, tax, commodity, meal, etc., rising above violence hardly seems possible. An average citizen and consumer may be as guilty of violence as any army of Genghis Khan!

And for Jesus, the mere thought was equivalent to the deed. I feel the most violent after watching the news: I know exactly what to do with or what should be done to opponents and oppressors, Congress and criminals. That’s why I try not to wield my sword—my pen or my computer—in the evening!

And, after reading the morning paper, that’s why I need morning prayer time to recover my equilibrium and recoup my energy and generosity.  Presently I am once again using the Psalms to do that, but I am jumping over the parts calling for vengeance or vindication or the destruction of enemies. My training suggests that this is politically or spiritually incorrect, as I should be praying the psalms on behalf of those who are crying out for justice at the expense of their oppressors. Though I do lift those enduring violence in prayer, after morning prayer I don’t want to feel like I do after the evening news or an episode of Criminal Minds or The Newsroom.

During a retreat I led, the most significant thing that got said came from a woman who had the “ah-hah” realization that she was spending so much time listing justice concerns in her prayers that she had no room for “resting in God.”

“When I awake I shall be filled with the vision of you,” Psalm 17:15b (NJB) greets God. This could be our mantra in preparation for facing the world.

Alongside the psalms I am using the contemporary “psalms” of J. Barrie Shepherd from his recent book Between Mirage and Miracle. In the aptly-titled “Catch of the Day—Chebeague Island, Maine,” he compares his morning prayer to lobster boats going out to sea at dawn: 
Their dream, as mine—
afloat upon a steep and surging mystery—
to lure and catch a portion of life’s bounty,
a momentary savoring, at least,
of an elusive sweetness that lies hidden
in the old, encircling deep.
Related posts:

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Priest for the 21st Century

Though priest, sociologist, and novelist Andrew M. Greeley lived most of his life in the 20th century, he was ahead of his time in his vision of what the Roman Catholic Church is and what it could be, especially in the United States.

As a “renegade” Protestant, I valued his protests against hierarchy, elitism, corruption, and cover-ups, such as the one surrounding pedophile priests. I’m not aware of an equally prominent Protestant figure who parallels his brutal directness and public airing of dirty clerical laundry.

I did not always agree with him (who did?), but I often agreed with him, and I greatly appreciated the audacity with which he brought scientific study to religion as well as matters of faith to both academia and popular literature.

Peter Steinfels’ obituary in The New York Times and its subsequent editorial does him justice, but only Greeley’s own writings can offer a full explanation of his life and times. Steinfels correctly summarizes his work: 
If there was anything tying Father Greeley’s torrent of printed words together, it was a respect for what he considered the practical wisdom and religious experience of ordinary believers and an exasperation with elites, whether popes, bishops, church reformers, political radicals, secular academics or literary critics.

And then: 
Before religion became creed or catechism, he said, it was poetry: images and stories that defy death with glimpses of hope, and with moments of life-renewing experience that were shared and enacted in community rituals.
 For me, too, it all begins with poetry, images, and stories… 
“The theological voice wants doctrines, creeds and moral obligations,” Father Greeley wrote. “I reject none of these, I merely insist that experiences which renew hope are prior to and richer than propositional and ethical religion and provide the raw power for them.”
Preach it, brother! This is not far from my Baptist upbringing that taught me that personal experience is crucial to one’s faith. In my own struggle with the Presbyterian (and broader) church, it was such experience that prompted many Christians to question the church’s attitudes toward LGBT people, while opponents decried and denied personal experience as having moral or spiritual authority. And experience collected, organized, and evaluated, as a sociologist like Greeley did, is science.

Given our own “renegade” status as progressive Christians, our spiritual grounding is strengthened by poetry, images, stories, and experience—the stuff of reflection and contemplation.

Rev. Greeley was careful not to say or do anything that might prompt his silencing by authorities. If he were really free to speak, I wonder what else he might have said.

Posts from this blog that reference Father Greeley:

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite