Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What Jesus Wants

I’ve been rereading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry for a contemplative retreat I will be co-leading this spring. It’s amazing how much one can get out of what seems a simple little book each time it is read. This time I realized why Henri became popular among evangelical Christians. He emphasizes a very personal relationship with Jesus, so personal that “Christ…lives in us, that he is our true self.”

In the margin beside that assertion I countered, “? not a false self?” In other words, both Nouwen and Merton warned of living the inauthentic or false self. In Merton’s words from Contemplative Prayer, even or especially “the ‘approved way’ may in fact be encouraging us in falsity and illusion.” And, in Way of the Heart, Nouwen warns against “the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition, one restless effort to convince ourselves of our virtuousness.”

I take this to heart because I frequently wonder if this blog is “one restless effort to convince [myself or perhaps readers of my] virtuousness”!

I grew up in a Christian milieu that defined JOY as J.O.Y.—Jesus, Others, You, in that order. “The wisdom of the desert,” Henri writes, “is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.” I put a question mark beside this assertion, too.

I guess that surrender was the idea behind sitting with Henri very early one morning in his first improvised chapel at Daybreak (the L’Arche community of Toronto) silently contemplating the Host for an hour.  Henri fidgeted continually, undoubtedly wrestling with what he called his “banana tree of monkeys.”

I sat, for the most part, still, but found little meaning in the exercise. Have me contemplate a scriptural phrase or story, or a work of art or icon, even a window with a view of nature, and the silence would have been more spiritually fulfilling. Simple adoration of a transubstantiated wafer within the glass heart of a cross was not in my Protestant bag of tricks!

But giving myself to Jesus Christ was. That’s what I thought I was doing at the tender of age of six or seven when I went forward at an altar call. But that meant following Jesus, not losing myself in Jesus. I do believe Christ “lives in us”—for me, the meaning of the Resurrection—but Chris, not Christ, is my true self.

When I served on my seminary’s worship committee more than forty years ago, I disagreed with those members from “higher” church traditions who believed a worship leader should serve only as a kind of “invisible window” to God or Jesus or the Kingdom. This concept might have suited me well: I am grateful that my parents intentionally gave me the name Christopher, because it means “Christ-bearer,” and that my last name, Glaser, comes from a German ancestor who must’ve been a glassmaker.

But at the time, I pointed out to the committee members that Yahweh was the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and his sister Miriam, Jesus and his mother Mary, and that their particular personalities gave very personal faces to the Almighty and God’s Commonwealth.

No doubt my view was influenced by my Baptist upbringing, with much emphasis on personal testimonies, including those of our occasional evangelists or the even rarer visits to one of the late Billy Graham’s “Crusades” in my hometown of Los Angeles.

Twice on this blog I’ve quoted the Hasidic Rabbi Zusya, “In the life to come, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

In his book, Reaching Out, Nouwen suggests, “The great saints of the past don’t ask for imitation. Their way was unique and cannot be repeated. But they invite us into their lives and offer a hospitable space for our own search.”

I feel much the same way about Jesus. What Jesus wants, I believe, is for each of us to manifest God’s glory in our own unique way. We can be members of the Body of Christ, his spiritual community, and still be and become ourselves.

In the life to come, they will not ask me, “Why were you not Christ?” They will ask me, “Why were you not Chris?”

A post for St. Patrick’s Day: Easter Rising

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Warm and Friendly Dream

My dear friend Rev. Steve Pieters brings out the "warm and friendly" in me 
when he took this photo over dinner in L.A. in the fall of 2016.
On his Facebook page he points out the dove on my shoulder!

The morning I am writing this, I awoke at 2:30 a.m., and my mind started bouncing around. I remembered it was my parents’ birthdays, born on the same day one year apart. I gave thanks in prayer for them, then said the Lord’s Prayer, all silently, in my heart as well as my head. As sometimes happens, the prayers “rested” me back to sleep.

And I had a comforting dream.

It began as a funeral, but morphed into a wedding. It began at a church, but morphed into a large living room in a home with family history, not mine, but that of either the bride or groom, and the father of one of them explained what it had meant to the family after the divorce. I knew a few of the people, but in a distant way, as those I might see occasionally. We sat comfortably around the perimeter of the living room on sofas and chairs.

I was the officiant. I felt inadequately prepared, but went with the flow. I’ve written before that I am often working in my dreams, but this was not heavy duty, rather, relaxed and comfortable. To pad the service, given that I had prepared no homily, I began asking the family members about their experience with marriage. The wedding became a kind of group therapy.

As I indicated, the parents of one of the couple were divorced, but both were in attendance and friendly with one another. The other parents had had a long and satisfying marriage. As I encouraged them to speak of their relationships, one of the guests said, not rudely, “Shouldn’t we be about the service? That’s what we came for.” Probably this represented another part of me, schedule and goal oriented, a contrast to the casual part that was enjoying the conversation.

The brother of one of the principals explained that he and his husband, sitting beside him on a sofa, had recently decided to “open” their relationship, and he assumed that I, as a minister, would disapprove. I explained, to the contrary, that I believed every couple had to make their own choices on how to live out their commitment.

“Marriage is hard,” I said, “And a lifelong marriage is tougher still. Isn’t it helpful for married couples to share their experience with the couple being married today?”

And that was how the dream ended. Part way through the dream, I awoke, but fell asleep again, resuming the dream where I had left off, something I don’t recall happening before. Maybe because it was a warm and friendly place.

Of course, with dreams, I usually try to figure out what might have prompted the various parts. Yesterday I read a very satisfying belated Christmas letter from someone I had worked alongside in the church, and it was all about his family, his second wife and her siblings, their separate children and grandchildren. And recently, I had learned a gay couple, friends of ours, had decided to open up their relationship. So that helps account for some of the ingredients.

And the comfortable conversation about all this? Where did that come from?

I’ve written a much visited post about the death of my neighborhood church a few years back, Ormewood Park Presbyterian. I had stopped attending before I began serving other churches. It was not because I did not like the people, it’s that I thought it a terrible waste that we worshiped in the “traditional” pattern, when in fact, I thought we should be talking together about what makes life work for us, what our faith means, and so on.

Now Wade and I have been attending Ormewood Church, a new church start in the same place, in which a part of the service is dedicated to small groups, given a question for the day that relates to the worship. As an introvert, I find this challenging, but as a concept, I find this closer to what a spiritual community should be about. And we’re getting to know our neighbors in a whole new way. No doubt this is the predecessor to the warm and friendly place I experienced in the dream, a place that invites conversation about meaningful things, like marriage.

This will seem a non-sequitur, but I thought of an article I had read earlier in the week by a woman who had anticipated difficulty sleeping in the days following a laparoscopic surgery. She wanted a painkiller, but her doctors in Germany resisted, recommending simple ibuprofen, one telling her that “The pain will guide you. You will know when to rest more; you will know when you are healing. … All you need is rest.”

She explains she knows how to sleep, but not how to rest. Almost Zen-like her anesthesiologist tells her, “Drink a cup of coffee, slowly. And whatever you do, do not get it in a to-go cup. You must sit in one place and enjoy this cup, slowly.”

On my own I am fairly good at “resting in God,” Augustine’s stated spiritual goal, but resting in spiritual community is quite another challenge.

The link in the post takes you to Ormewood Church’s website. For its Facebook page, go to

Your donations are my ministry’s only means of support. This blog continues to be free. But I could sure use donations right now. Thanks, Chris

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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.

Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.