Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Monasticism of the Closet

Free-standing closet from an art exhibit 
in the Berkeley Center of Yale Divinity School, 1973.

“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet…,”Jesus advised in the KJV translation of Matthew 6:6. The NJB renders this “your private room.” I am told that this was a pantry, which would be at the center of a house of Jesus’ time. Like pantries today, it had no windows, so to keep stored food fresh and protected from critters, outside temperatures, and sunlight.

In his book, Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton wrote: “Some people may doubtless have a spontaneous gift for meditative prayer.” Beside it I wrote, “I think I do.”

This is more happenstance or grace than achievement on my part. I can go into a meditative state at will. I use it to begin my morning prayers, or as I approach a tense situation. I even use it when my blood pressure is being checked at the doctor’s office.

I once wrote that it may be sheer laziness on my part: I enjoy having to achieve nothing, to be at rest and at peace, given my busyness, schedule and work ethic. I also have described as difficult sitting with Henri Nouwen meditating on the Host for an hour, but I realize not because of the silence, rather because of the focus and the restless companionship of Henri. Centering Prayer has always seemed busy to me, having to return to one sacred word or phrase over and over again. I have found lectio divina helpful, though, but for the purpose of elucidating a text.

Merton writes that meditation is less about “method” and “system” than cultivating an “attitude,” an “outlook”: “faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust and joy.”

He warns against going simply by feelings, declaring, “A hard and apparently fruitless meditation may in fact be much more valuable than one that is easy, happy, enlightened and apparently a big success.” He suggests the movement of meditation follows the “rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ. Sometimes prayer, meditation and contemplation are ‘death’—a kind of descent into our own nothingness, a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance.”

Thinking of my own contemplative proclivities, I have realized that my version of the monasticism of the desert is my monasticism of the closet, a version of Jesus’ pantry. It was the one place I was “safe” from shaming and bullying, as well as from the demanding and distracting world. I was carefully taught that God loved me; so my closet served as a retreat where I could rest in that love, a love that prompted my coming out in ministry with others. I feel for those who instead got the message that God was a God of wrath and hate that preferred they stay in the closet.

I felt safe enough in God’s love that God and Jesus were the first ones I came out to as gay. That did not mean our “conversations” were not filled with angst and fear and doubt and wrangling. But, thanks to my parents and my church and my Christian elementary and junior high school teachers and my love of scriptures, I grew in trust of God’s love. “When one is simply obeying God, a little effort goes a long way,” Merton writes.

He says that in meditative prayer, God “draws us out of darkness into light—[God] hears us, answers our prayers, recognizes our need, and grants us the help we require—if only by giving us more faith to believe that [God] can and will help us in [God’s] own time. This is already a sufficient answer. … A new realm opens up, that cannot be discovered otherwise: call it the ‘Kingdom of God.’ … But effort is necessary, enlightened, well-directed, and sustained.” (Emphasis Merton’s)

I was blessed with good spiritual directors, from my parents to my teachers, some of whom I only met through their writings.


Today’s quotes may be found in section III of Contemplative Prayer, pages 34-37.

Thank you for your support of this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What Is Your 32nd Floor?

Courtesy of ABC News.

There is a search for the motive of the Vegas shooter, as in any mass shooting. Part of it is that we can’t fathom an irrational act, but part, I suspect, is that we want to find a way to distance ourselves from the act and the actor.

(It’s a bit harder for me to distance myself from the shooter knowing that he graduated from the same Los Angeles area high school and college as my sister and brother and I and lived in our area.)

It’s easier when we can blame an evil act on racism or sexism or fundamentalism or political ideology or ineffective gun regulations or mental health issues, as examples. Did the shooter have an aversion to those who loved country music or just hate that genre? Had he been jilted by his girlfriend or did he have a fatal medical diagnosis or a financial downturn or a narcissistic passion for infamy when fame itself was unattainable?

Every reason gives us a way to exclude ourselves from the possibility of such an evil act.

Though we may never know his mind, we can search our own minds. What is my 32nd floor suite of isolation, anger, bitterness, and envy from which I rain down death-dealing judgments on others below?  When I can’t seem to make “my” unique mark on the world, do I rely on marksmanship to shoot down the ideas, experience, identities, and influence of others?

What is my secret place to which I refuse admittance to housekeepers, whether psychological or spiritual or emotional? What weapons of hurt and chaos and destruction have I hidden there? And how have my weapons become automatic?

I’ve written before that I don’t agree with Jesus that the thought equals the act. “One who lusts has already committed adultery.” “‘You shall not murder,’ but I say do not even be angry with a brother or sister.” I believe one who does not give in to temptation is better than one who does.

But maybe I’m missing Jesus’ point. Even to entertain the temptation distorts my soul, disfigures the beloved child of God that I am. Many of us in this political climate want to return “an eye for an eye,” failing to realize that even that form of justice was intended to limit our retribution, not even the score.

I—and I believe each one of us—was “comped” a suite on the 32nd floor of our minds upon birth where we could wreak our secret vengeance on the world, even if it meant hurting innocent people, sometimes especially if it hurt innocent people. After all, we too were born innocent: it’s the world’s fault that we’ve been injured, ignored, and excluded. Somebody’s got to pay, even if that someone is simply one caught in our crosshairs on a given day.

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. Those shots were shots heard ‘round the world. What happens in Vegas or Paris or Orlando, what happens in Washington or Moscow or Beijing, what happens in Puerto Rico and Niger and Kabul and the West Bank and North Korea reverberates throughout our global web and wounds everyone, distorts our souls, disfigures our outlooks, and disrupts our planet.

These thoughts came to me as I read and reread and read again Thomas Merton’s words contrasting two kinds of monasticism represented in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in Merton’s final book, Contemplative Prayer: 
The conflict between the rigid, authoritarian, self-righteous, ascetic Therapont, who delivers himself from the world by sheer effort, and then feels qualified to call down curses upon it; and the Staretz, Zossima, the kind, compassionate man of prayer who identifies himself with the sinful and suffering world in order to call down God’s blessing upon it.  … Thus the Zossima type of monasticism can well flourish in offbeat situations, even in the midst of the world. Perhaps such “monks” may have no overt monastic connections whatever (p 28). 
We are in an “offbeat” time when we need monks like Zossima—and may I say, monks like you and me—called to identify with the sinful and suffering world in order to bring God’s blessing upon it. 


Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer is one of two texts for a contemplative retreat I will be co-leading for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program at Sacred Heart Monastery, in Cullman, Alabama, April 30-May 4, 2018, entitled “Beside Still Waters.”

Related Posts:
Wounding God (Charleston)

Thank you for your support of this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Saint Francis Feasted on Poverty


On the coincidence of my 32nd birthday and the 800th anniversary of the birth year of Saint Francis of Assisi, my friend Linda Culbertson gave me a beautiful book about him with text by Lawrence Cunningham and photography by Dennis Stock. To prepare for his feast day today, I decided to reread it now, 35 years later. A saint’s feast day is observed on his or her first day in Paradise.

I had thought that Francis’s gentle spirit, from his love of the earth and its creatures to his befriending a ravaging wolf, is just what we need in these days of human-caused climate change and dealing with the ravaging wolves of our time, from fearful electorates to elected officials who feed off their anxieties and fears.

What struck me reading the book this time is how Cunningham clarifies that “the simple life” many of us try to follow is not equivalent to poverty: 
In its essence, poverty means radical insecurity about the basic means of life. Poverty is literally not knowing where the next meal is coming from, or the frantic fear of getting ill because there is no money for a doctor, or the gnawing despair when one recognizes the gap between the next possible time when money will come and the actual needs of the household. It is, in short, a knowledge that the world is not solid, secure, and benign. Poverty is not only want; it is the fear and dread that derives from want (p 58). 
Like many of us, I have only experienced that fear and dread intermittently. That’s why I chose for my ordination (and for my memorial service) my most often read words from Jesus, words of God’s Providence, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. … Look at the birds of the air… Consider the lilies of the field… Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Consider reading the whole text: Matthew 6:25-35.)

But as I contemplate what a chronic experience of such fear and dread can do, I realize what creates ravaging wolves, whether at the polls or in poor neighborhoods. The way Francis befriended a ravaging wolf was by persuading villagers to make sure it is fed and cared for: a social safety net that is mutually beneficial. Francis tells the wolf, “I understand that you did these evil things because of hunger.”

Francis wanted to depend solely on the providence of God, ultimately exemplified for him in the poverty represented in the cross. Joy for Francis came in self-sacrifice, even in—especially in—a world that did not value (and even hated) such service or such servants.

“If one lives purely in the providence of God and after the manner of Christ’s self-emptying, one’s awareness of the world as gift is sharpened,” Cunningham writes. Poverty provided Saint Francis a feast those who are rich often miss.

I think here Celtic Christianity can claim Francis as one of their own, as he viewed the world as a sacrament of God’s presence, and of Christ’s presence. 

For Francis, “cortesia” should characterize our relationship with the world.  For us, “courtesy” is simply “manners,” though in today’s world simple manners would go far toward healing our relationships, politically and personally. 

According to Cunningham, cortesia was far more for Francis: “Cortesia was a way of seeing and a way of acting towards others. … Cortesia is the recognition of rights, duties, gifts, and privileges as they exist in relationship. … The implicit notion in [Francis's] simple observation [of earth as mother] is that the earth is courteous to us…and we, in gratitude, owe an act of courtesy to it.”


Other of my posts that reference Saint Francis:

Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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!

Photo (Hawai'i, 1985) and text Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What the World Needs Now Is Grace (Sweet Grace)

Wildflowers in the Swiss Alps, 1973.

Oh, isn’t that sweet? Chris is getting sentimental in his latter years, you might be thinking, out of touch with reality, pining nostalgically for an ideal world of lovingkindness. Next he’ll be composing rhymes for Hallmark cards.

But grace is countercultural, haven’t you noticed? Watch, read, listen, or click the news and you will find much that is ungracious. As a cure and balance, I’ve been paying attention to stories that don’t make it above the fold of the newspaper (for those who remember such a reference), are not “trending” or on the bestseller list:

+A doctor walking twenty blocks through rain to see her 91-year-old Filipina-American patient hours before she died, and the daughters who cared for her.
+A book about Darwin’s understanding that beauty and artful behavior, not just natural selection, influenced the shaping of species. And females had much to say in the process!
+How three friends worked together to prove that upside-down jellyfish sleep, indicating a brain is not required for slumber. (I think not having a brain would help!)
+A columnist’s pilgrimage to the Vatican and a pope who cares about refugees, immigrants, climate change, war and peace.
+Admiration for an unsung Civil Rights activist from the 50s, Rev. Joseph De Laine, involved in Brown v Board of Education.
+Understanding how feminism has positively affected the future direction of philosophy.
+Artists who make a statement with their artwork shortly before they die.

I wanted to title my first book about seeking ordination in the church as an openly gay man, A Profile in Grace. I was tentative about it, though, because it could imply that grace was something I had achieved or was gifted on my own, when my intent was that I, like everyone else, live and love and work by God’s grace. Harper & Row, its first publisher, preferred a title that suggested the story line, and my friend Scott Rogo suggested Uncommon Calling.

But God’s grace is what called me out of the closet and into that uncommon calling, a lifelong ministry of reconciliation between the church and the LGBT community, and more broadly, between sexuality and spirituality.

Grace is tough and truthful and transformative and liberating. It requires strength and honesty and change and freedom. When I have encountered or beheld or experienced or witnessed God’s grace, I have become better, happier, more helpful, and more gracious. Grace begets grace.

We may all be profiles in grace. It is in the glory of God’s grace that each of us discovers who we are created and called to be.


You provide the only income for this blog ministry—thank you! Please go to: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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!

Photo and words Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When You Walk through a Storm

Kirkridge panel about the future of our movement.

When witnessing disaster, the spiritual sage Mister Rogers would say, “Look for the helpers.” A corollary I would add is, “Look for community.”

As hurricane Irma passed over Atlanta, I was reminded of hurricane Opal, which did far more damage to our neighborhood. Though without power, what I most remember is the fun we had afterwards alongside our neighbors cleaning up debris in the street and yards, sharing what food we had in potlucks, grateful that none of us had sustained unrepairable damage or loss.

Of course I realize that those with more devastating losses caused by Harvey in Texas,  Irma in Florida, multiple hurricanes in the Caribbean, and the monsoon rains in South Asia may not have such a rosy response, but my cousin and family rescued by boat in Beaumont may have appreciated “community” in a more vital way.

Some years after Opal, the Atlanta tornado barreled through the adjacent neighborhood of Cabbagetown. Its “sound of a freight train” caused us to shelter in our first floor garage briefly that night. On our walk the following day we witnessed the community helping one another pull trees and branches off cars, houses, and streets, while the Carroll Street CafĂ© provided free coffee.

Historic Oakland Cemetery also got walloped, and out of respect for the dead, whose bone fragments got pulled out of the ground by uprooted trees and whose headstones got toppled by forceful winds, community members worked for months to restore its quaint beauty and solemn dignity.

Wade and Hobbes and I met a woman whose top floor flat’s roof had been taken off, and she was distraught over her lost puppy. A few days later, invited to dinner by a lesbian couple, we told them about the encounter. “They found the puppy!” they told us, “It was on the news. It was hiding under her sofa!” One of the better purposes of media (including social networks) is that they help community form.

Irma arrived in Atlanta the day after I returned from another community, one formed in the more disastrous days of homophobia and heterosexism. During its 75th anniversary of spiritual and political activism, Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center celebrated its 40 years offering sanctuary to LGBT people who struggled with the church and society’s rejection and violence. It was true joy being with people I have known and loved for decades. At one point, an actual rainbow graced the skies outside our meeting room.

I am looking forward to a more broadly interfaith and ecumenical gathering of LGBT saints in St. Louis October 31-November 2, “Rolling the Stone Away.” I hope you will consider attending. You can help young activists hear the stories of earlier generations in the LGBT movement by making a donation to their scholarship crowdfunding:

The Bible is, among other things, a reminder of how communities respond to disaster, hardship, and suffering.

In Coming Out as Sacrament, I suggested that it is in such vulnerability that we may experience God coming near to bring deliverance, healing, and resurrection—often through one another, often through one another’s stories.

The book included this wonderful story from holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: 
In The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel tells the story of a rabbi who averted a disaster for his people by meditating at a certain spot in the forest, lighting a fire, and offering a prayer. The next time catastrophe approached, one of his disciples went to the same site, offered the prayer, but did not know how to light the fire—and still miraculously avoided disaster. Later, another rabbi went to the sacred spot, but knew neither the prayer nor how to light the fire; yet it was enough to save his people. Finally, another rabbi, in a similar desperate situation, knew neither the prayer, the fire, nor the place, but he could tell the story, and that retelling again prevented calamity. … Wiesel concludes, “God made [human beings] because [God] loves stories.”* 
Throughout its history, Kirkridge has been the “campfire” around which activists of all kinds have told our stories, including those in the LGBT Christian movement. St. Louis will prove to be an even more expansive opportunity for LGBT religious activists to shape community and share stories.

This is vital as we resist renewed attacks on us, and transform a world that does not yet view us favorably.

In facing disaster, look for helpers and for community.

Meet me in St. Louis!


P.S. Like scripture, we have our own “begats.” Stony Point Center’s 2015 “Rock Stars and Prophets” begat Kirkridge’s “40th Year Celebration of LGBTQ Lives” which begat St. Louis’s “Rolling Away the Stone.”  For a video of my personal narrative recorded at Stony Point, go to: https://vimeo.com/172131713


*Page 50 of Coming Out as Sacrament, paraphrasing Elie Wiesel in The Gates of the Forest (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966).

Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Church that Wants Me

Church along our walk in Cabbagetown,
a neighborhood of Atlanta.

“In your dreams,” you might be saying in response to this post’s title. And that’s exactly where I found it: in my dreams.

The morning I write this I awoke from a warm and friendly dream of being “courted” by a small but vibrant congregation who wanted me as their pastor.

Many of the churches I have been a part of throughout my life, either as member or minister, have been troubled. Three challenging congregations “in transition” as they say, had attributes that made me love them, but to counter their darker sides with humor, I associated them, more or less privately, with classic films or a television series.

In one I saw parallels to director George Cukor’s 1939 comedy-drama, The Women, based on a Clare Boothe play—a film filled with gossip, rivalries, jealousies, sniping, betrayals, as well as fierce loyalties.

Serving a congregation in which I followed an extremely popular pastor, I felt like the second and less attractive and stylish and poised wife of Laurence Olivier in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic tale, replete with mystery, dark secrets, homoerotic longings, and nostalgia for a lost grand past.

Another church was so full of surprises that I saw a parallel to a TV series I was watching at the time, 24 (starring Kiefer Sutherland), a series with continual twists and turns and revelations.  As with the series, each week in this congregation I’d be amazed and disturbed, and say, “I didn’t see that coming.”

I have been a guest speaker for a number of congregations that seemed, on a visit, welcoming and healthy. Though churches put on their best face for visitors, I usually can discern trouble by speaking with a congregation’s leaders and members, or the hosts who have welcomed me to stay in their homes. So healthy and happy congregations are out there.

It was this kind of congregation I dreamed about. Granted, it may have been my brain attempting to balance the very negative dream the night before about a presbytery meeting gone awry and vicious!

On further reflection, however, I realized the dream was not just a wish but a reality. That week I’d received a number of positive responses to this blog, whose readership is the largest congregation I’ve ever served!

And there are no board meetings, no committees, no commute, little overhead, no buildings or plans to build one, no bills, no pledge drive, no dress code, no conflict among members, no begging for volunteers—the list goes on and benefits both you and me. (Of course it also means this ministry realizes very little income—apparently those things are what churchgoers are paying for!)

Without complaint, I can get political, critique or reinterpret Christian tenets, explore other religions, read and talk about spirituality and the contemplative life (you’d be surprised how many churchgoers don’t like that!), and be as queer as I choose to be—not to say I don’t wonder “was it something I said?” that prompts someone to “unsubscribe” or attendance to go down. You, the reader, always have the option to skip or delete, read or respond or share my thoughts.

I miss face-to-face encounters, but sometimes e-mail exchanges are more intimate and profound and informative than the usual chit-chat during coffee hour, and they come from all over the world. And I supplement this blog community—as I hope that you do—with other people, communities, causes, and conversations.

A good thing about calling this “Progressive Christian Reflections” is that I can be as progressive as I want to be, as Christian as I am, and offer my reflections to you in the hopes they spark your own. And I am grateful I can do this under the auspices of MCC, Metropolitan Community Churches, as one of the denomination’s Emerging Ministries.

So, no wonder it’s a dream job. Thanks for reading!



Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Self-Examination and Childhood Quirks

With Celtic Cross at Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta.
Photo by Wade Jones

This weekend I am looking forward to seeing those of you coming to Kirkridge for its Celebration of LGBTQ Lives over the past 40 years. One or two places are available, but call rather than register on the site: http://www.kirkridge.org/?e=event&eventId=26746&rDate=1504878949

My recent post critiquing white supremacy prompted a reader to provide a link to his Facebook post about his own white privilege. It was a remarkable self-examination, profoundly confessional, that would inspire all white people to consider our unearned advantages in this world. I believe his thoroughgoing analysis can lead to positive action.

But I have known others stymied by over-analyzing themselves, and I have tried to avoid this myself.

I had a friend in a congregation I served who had trouble committing himself to any church event, program, or mission. He would always say, “I’m re-examining my priorities.” He would miss or leave early or show up late for a meeting or day-long workshop or weekend retreat because he could never fully commit himself. Even when he enjoyed a long-term relationship, he and his partner had date nights for outside encounters.

When I was a child I had what my family kindly referred to as a benign “quirk,” occasionally looking up for no apparent reason. It was only toward the end of my mother’s life that I explained why. Every time I had a sinful or uncharitable thought, I would look up to God, asking forgiveness.

It is said that Martin Luther was so fastidious accounting for his sins that his confessor grew frustrated and impatient. It was this very obsessive practice that may have led him to his breakthrough about being saved by faith in God’s grace alone.

I had to give up my childhood quirk for similar reasons. Not only was it burdensome, but one I had to practice surreptitiously in public, even though I attended a Christian school, lest I be written off as just too weird! I had to trust God’s grace.

According to Thomas Merton, though examinations of conscience were practiced by Stoics and Pythagoreans, and played a role in Rabbinical and Muslim spirituality, it did not appear to play a role in early Christianity.  After the twelfth century it began to play a much larger role.

In between, after the Roman Emperor Constantine’s embrace of the faith in the fourth century, self-examination seemed needful as church and world colluded and collided.

Merton writes in Mystics and Zen Masters: 
St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory recommend a daily examination of conscience. Yet St. Gregory attributes more importance to habitual self-custody, living in the presence of God, and a general spirit of prayer, than to psychological self-analysis at fixed times (p 160-1; italics Merton’s). 
He claims that the monastic tradition emphasized “discernment of spirits” to reign in “passionate thoughts from which faults may arise,” rather than “examination of dubious psychological motives” after a fault has been committed.

What I substituted for my quirk of “looking up” was beginning my day in prayer and not concluding my prayer with “Amen,” so I was in God’s presence all day. I had no idea that I was practicing St. Gregory’s “habitual self-custody, living in the presence of God, and a general spirit of prayer.”

I can guess what you, the reader, are making of all this: “What a spiritually precocious child!” Or, “What an obsessively religious child.”

But, rather than precocious or obsessive, spiritual or religious, I think I—as a fearful, introverted, sensitive, and queer child—was simply looking for the safety of God’s presence.

The truth is, I always know God is present, even when or especially when that challenges my thinking or behavior, actions or attitudes. In my better times, I also “feel” God’s presence.

Thus I find Celtic spirituality to my liking in its emphasis on “thin places” on earth where heaven and the sacred can be revealed and witnessed, and I am grateful for body- and earth-centered spiritualities that resist separating spirituality from bodily and earthly experience, and I appreciate the mythological import of the stories of Creation and Incarnation and Resurrection which all recognize the holiness of our bodies and our earth, and I am thankful for liberation theologies which challenge me to seek justice for every body and all creation.

I confess my sins have all come from my failures to recognize God in all, including myself.


With colleague Debra Weir, I will be co-leading a contemplative retreat open to all April 30-May 4, 2018, at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama, entitled “Beside Still Waters.” Sacred Heart is a welcoming community and a beautiful place. Please come!

Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Butterfly Effect

Partial view from our deck.

Those familiar with chaos theory may be thinking that’s what this post is about: how something so small as the flutter of a butterfly in one part of the world may cause dire weather elsewhere. This was a metaphor used in a paper by Edward N. Lorenz for the notion that one slight event can affect a complex system. Chaos theory was the theme of one issue when I edited Open Hands. (Click on the highlighted phrase and scroll down to my opening essay. Note designer Jan Graves’ creative arrangement of the columns.)

But if the flutter of a butterfly may have disastrous results, a butterfly that is still can have peaceful effects.

I learned that the morning I write this during my reading and prayers on our deck, which blessedly looks out at a ravine verdant with shrubs, kudzu, and very tall, leafy trees on either side of a narrow creek.

A small butterfly or large moth landed on the other side of an arm of a wooden chair beside me. I saw it land, but had to peer over an edge of the arm to see the tips of its wings and large round eyes. Otherwise it was hidden. I liked that it made no difference if it was a moth or a butterfly for its effect on me.

The motionless creature prompted me to remain still, lest I scare it away. (Wade has noted how still I can remain in bed at night, even when I lie awake, my brain going at full speed. Sometimes I silently do the verbal part of my morning prayers, which may return me to a peaceful sleep.)

My lack of movement gave me opportunities to observe:

+the gently creeping fingertips of light on the leaves of trees as the sun rose;
+the flicker of moisture in the mulch beneath the bird bath, then the rare drops that created it dripping from a crack in its basin;
+Luna the cat hanging on to the top of a neighbor’s fence while batting away at something on a shrub;
+a majestic hawk flying overhead in the blue sky, wings spread wide;
+the humid and warm stillness of air suddenly becoming a gentle, cooling breeze;
+the wisps of clouds moving swiftly above me;
+the unusual hush of the cicadas.

My very long pause seemed a proper preparation for resuming my reading of Thomas Merton’s Mystics and Zen Masters, which I referenced three weeks ago. I began by re-reading phrases and sentences I had underlined the previous day, and decided to share them in this post, as I did when I wrote of reading the mystical Cloud of Unknowing, leaving the reader to relate it to your own experience.

Merton describes the Tao Te Ching written by the mystic Lao Tzu. What follows are Merton’s words; but words in quotes are from the Tao.  I’ve made the language inclusive, but their relevance stands on its own:

+ The sage and the wise ruler are those who do not rush forward to aggrandize themselves, but cherish, with loving concern, the sacred reality of persons and things which have been entrusted to them by the Tao.

+ In the Tao, “which is queer like nothing on earth,” are found three treasures: mercy, frugality, and not wanting to be first in the world.

+One of its most astute sayings is that in a war the winner is likely to be the side that enters the war with the most sorrow. “To rejoice over a victory is to rejoice over the slaughter of others… Every victory is a funeral.”

+ “Heaven arms with love / Those it would not see destroyed.”

+ One “reaches” the Tao by “becoming like” the Tao, by acting, in some sense, according to the “way” (Tao). For the Tao is at once perfect activity and perfect rest.

+ The way of the Tao is…the way of supreme spontaneity, which is virtuous in a transcendent sense because it “does not strive.”

+ As soon as a human being becomes aware of doing good and avoiding evil, he or she is no longer perfectly good.

+ For Lao Tzu, if one were to be righteous, that one should first of all fly all thought of righteousness, and put out of one’s mind any ideal image of oneself as a “righteous person.”

+ The way of the sage is the way of not-attacking, not charging at one’s objective, not busying oneself too intently about one’s goals.

+ Taoism is not complete non-action but rather non-activism. It is supreme activity, because it acts at rest, acts without effort. Its effortlessness is not a matter of inertia, but of harmony with the hidden power that drives the planets and the cosmos.

As Merton understands the Tao, it is neither quietistic nor a doctrine but a “wisdom” and a “way of life.” He concludes of the West, “It is absolutely essential to introduce into our study of the humanities a dimension of wisdom oriented to contemplation as well as to wise action.”

Reflecting on these words underlined yesterday, I felt no need to go on to the next chapter of the book. The butterfly was still there; I was there, still. 

I pulled out my phone to take a picture of the butterfly for you, the reader of this intended post, but the moment I stood, it flew away.

Its flutter may wreak havoc elsewhere, but its rest had kept me in the tranquil eye of the storm.


Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

White Supremacy: Fifty Shades of White?

Courtesy The Star.

Since the Unite the Right demonstrations and counterdemonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, I have alternated between rage and tears.

Why do Jews become an automatic scapegoat? Why are blacks and Muslims and immigrants viewed as “stealing” our country? Why are liberals the “bad guys”? Why has the Confederacy become for some the icon of American values? Why should Anglo-Europeans have a corner on American culture?

When it comes to white supremacy, I want to ask which hue of white? Off-white? Ivory? Cream? Eggshell? Almond? Vanilla? Manila? Navajo white? Are freckles allowed? How many? How deep a tan is permitted? Would I have to be an albino to qualify? White supremacists should consult interior designers and fashionistas to list fifty shades of white that are welcome in their movement.

All those classified as “white” come from cultures and countries that managed to create angry divisions all on their own, long before they stepped onto the global stage to conquer and colonize and “civilize” peoples of color, including the only Americans who can claim they were here first, Native Americans.

And white “civilization” could not make it on its own, but depended on slavery and spreading their empires to succeed, exploiting the resources of other civilizations that were not recognized as such. Granted, Anglo-Europeans were not alone in the world doing this, but why elevate any civilization that did so?

And for those white supremacists who claim “Christian” as their religion: Jesus was a Jew from the Middle East, and more than two-thirds of the Bible are Jewish scriptures. Even most of the New Testament was written by Jews.

Jesus lauded faith where he found it: the Gentile centurion who sought healing for his servant, the Good Samaritan who rescued one who had been brutalized, the Samaritan woman at the well to whom he revealed his mission, the Jewish widow who gave all she had to the Temple treasury, even, after a little hesitation, the Canaanite woman who sought mere crumbs.

From the cross, Jesus assured a criminal that they would be together in paradise, and he prayed God’s forgiveness for his executioners.  For generations, white supremacists have mocked Jesus by burning crosses to terrorize people, acts of domestic terrorism.

From those who claimed President Obama was not born in the United States to those who lynched minorities, whether by rope, weapon, or jury, white supremacists are anything but supreme. They are threatened not by external factors, but by their own insecurities and inadequacies.

On the radio Sunday, I heard an African American theologian say we must not believe anyone is beyond redemption. From her lips to their hearts.


Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In the Shadow of the Moon

Solar eclipse at your feet!

The coming solar eclipse on August 21 prompts me to tell a story on myself from a partial eclipse some years back, here in Atlanta. I believe I wrote about this in one of my books, but I can’t tell you which one!

I was out running toward the middle of the day when it seemed a little darker than it should be with a cloudless sky.  Then I remembered that the moon was going to be passing between the sun and earth on this day, and apparently at that time.

As I ran, I noticed on the sidewalk beneath my feet tiny crescent shapes of light that appeared to be coming through the leaves overhead, and I laughed to think I was witnessing the eclipse in miniature. I wrote it off to my overactive imagination; probably the sun always filtered through leaves like that, and I had never before noticed.

Months later, in Madison, Wisconsin, I was in the home of a young lesbian couple. At my feet played two tow-headed children, a boy and a girl, and I learned that each woman had given birth to one, with the help of the sperm of gay partners, friends of theirs living on the West coast. It was a remarkable reimagining of what family could be!

I happened to look over at one woman’s home work space, and noticed pinned above her desk several newspaper photos of crescent shapes of light like I had seen during the eclipse. Her photo appeared in one of the news articles beside this phenomenon. As it turned out, she was a meteorologist and she confirmed that what I had “imagined” was in truth, reality!

“It’s like when you put a pinhole at one end of a shoebox to see an eclipse,” she explained. “The light at the other end of the box is what you saw many times over on the sidewalk beneath your feet.”

In his book, Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore wrote that imagination is the most underutilized spiritual gift. Saint Ignatius believed that imagination is needed in the spiritual life, and those who have tried his rigorous Spiritual Exercises know the necessity of the imagination in accomplishing them.

Every human endeavor requires imagination. Whether you’re bagging your groceries or developing the theory of relativity, creating a work of art or doing a house repair, imagination opens us to new ways of accomplishing our tasks, being creative, and understanding the universe.

Albert Einstein’s imagination prompted him to suggest that light could bend, demonstrated by Arthur Eddington in documenting the “shifting” positions of two stars during a solar eclipse, an early confirmation of the theory of general relativity.

The Psalmist’s imagination prompted an expectation that God is with us, even in “the valley of the shadow.”

And poet Mary Oliver advises us to “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

My scientific knowledge is, like all other aspects of my knowledge, probably dated. But a few years ago it was reported that astrophysical and cosmological measurements have suggested that the universe is 4% atoms, 25% dark matter, and 70% dark energy, a mysterious energy unrelated to dark matter that holds everything together.*

What that says to me is that we are only seeing with our eyes the manifestation of 4% of what’s here, the 4% of the universe that consists of atoms. We can’t see the 25% that is dark matter, or the 70% that is dark energy.

So, in this cosmic “shadow of the moon,” imagination may take us beyond our eclipsed knowledge and awareness, whether our own imagination or that of visionaries: scientists, artists, mystics, prophets, poets, lovers, and children.
  
Solar eclipse reflected through leaves.

*Thanks to Dennis Overbye’s reporting in The New York Times.

Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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 © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rediscover Your "Ox Mountain"


Living in China during the fourth and third century BCE, Meng Tzu* (Latinized by the West as “Mencius”), following in the footsteps of his sixth century spiritual ancestor, Kung Tzu (Confucius), represented their shared belief in the essential goodness of human beings and our “basic tendency to love” with the memorable Parable of Ox Mountain.

My paraphrase: 
Once upon a time there was a great forest on Ox Mountain, near an urban area. Residents of the city came and cut down all the trees, and the forest was no more. But nature tried to reclaim the forest, and the stumps sprang green shoots. The people, however, let their flocks loose to graze on the mountain, and they ate all the new growth. Their children and grandchildren never knew there had once been a grand forest on Ox Mountain, because now it appeared barren and desolate. 
In his 1967 book, Mystics and Zen Masters, (an unread copy of which I discovered a few weeks ago in one of those free libraries popping up in neighbors’ yards), Thomas Merton presents Meng Tzu’s conclusion: 
So too with man: he is naturally inclined to virtue, but his actions, in a greedy and grasping society, so completely destroys all evidence of his innate goodness that he appears to be naturally evil. 
This parallels the understanding of sin and human nature in Celtic Christianity, which I’ve written of admiringly.

To me, Meng Tzu’s experience gets magnified in a media culture, and magnified exponentially in our own time of a 24/7 news cycle on a global internet stage (or platform, if you will) in which the worst news gets our attention. Mahatma Gandhi once illustrated the problem with an example of two people locked in a dispute who resolve things peacefully, so do not get the attention they would draw if they fought publically or took the matter to court.  Gandhi suggested that’s why we have a skewed perspective on human nature. The good, the peaceful, the loving, the compassionate is not “news” because it aligns with how we believe things ought to be.

All of this flies in the face of what many of us are feeling these days, as we see fists raised angrily in the air in opposition to many of the values and people we hold dear.

But Meng Tzu, Merton writes, lived also “in an age (like ours) of war and chaos” (Parenthetical observation Merton’s).

Kung Tzu (Confucius) had not, according to Merton, entertained any sort of “sentimental humanitarianism.” Rather, he believed that people “could be good, but that for them to actualize these potentialities they had to live in a society that fully respected their hidden goodness, respected them as persons, with sacred and God-given rights, and educated them in the same respect…”

This sounds like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “beloved community.”

Merton explains that Kung Tzu’s understanding of personal development is very different from that of the West: 
Here we come closer to certain modern and pragmatic misconceptions concerning the development of the person: that is, the development of aggressiveness, of astuteness, of attractiveness, of diplomatic skills; in a word, the ability to succeed.  ‘Personality’ in this sense is the power to impose yourself and your wishes on others. For Kung Tzu, wisdom by no means consists in imposing your will or your ‘personality’ on somebody else, and making him serve your own ends by domination or by flattery. It is not that this is ‘wrong’ according to some abstract standard, but before all else it is unhealthy because it is unreal. The man who acts like this is untrue to himself and at the same moment, by the same token, untrue to heaven, whose will is embedded deep in his very heart. He can only act so because he has failed to get to the root of good action. He does not really know himself (p 63). 
Sorry for such a long quote! But I wrote “WOW!” in the margin beside this conclusion, because it opens my eyes to the stark contrast between views about the development of a person. It reminded me of Merton’s critique of the “false” or “inauthentic” self that too often characterizes our personhood. He writes of the feeling in his book Contemplative Prayer: “A sense that one has somehow been untrue not so much to abstract moral or social norms but to one’s own inmost truth” (p 24).

Merton earlier clarified that Kung Tzu does not describe “heaven” as a metaphysical concept but “a transcendent and objective reality,” parallel but more down-to-earth and anthropocentric than what his contemporary, mystic Lao Tzu, referred to as the Tao. Being in line with it brings order to chaos, harmonizing “with the ultimately real.” And it requires both religious community and sacred ritual, Li (“rites’), the way of life that gives “visible expression of the hidden reality of the universe”—in my view, a kind of living sacrament, which gives me new appreciation for the Christian Eucharist, whose central element could be said to be sacrificial love, another organizing principle bringing harmony out of chaos.

The Confucian ethic, Merton writes, “is the fruit of spiritual awareness. Thus, moral action is at the same time contemplative and liturgical.” Wow again!

My post on The Lord’s Prayer explained that it helps me align myself with the universe, so to speak: “Thy will be done in my earth and on this earth as it is in heaven.” For me, heaven is where human will is in sync with God’s will.

Our own “Ox Mountains” may have been deforested by the actions of the world and of ourselves.  Contemplation is an opportunity to let seedlings grow, replenishing our natural state. As the Ox Mountain Parable declares, “The moisture of the dawn spirit / Awakens in us the right loves, the right aversions.” 


*I am using Merton’s spellings of these names. I hope to explain the title “tzu” in a future post.

With colleague Debra Weir, I will be co-leading a contemplative retreat open to all April 30-May 4, 2018, at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama, entitled “Beside Still Waters.” Sacred Heart is a welcoming community and a beautiful place. Please come!

Please support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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!

Photo and text Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.