Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Can We Really Listen to Donald Trump?

A neighbor's timely sign.
"In Jesus every one of God's promises is a 'Yes.'"
2 Corinthians 1:20

Rereading the chapter “Learning to Listen” in Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Everyday People, the question came to me, can I really listen to President Trump?

Just as I wrote that sentence, my mind jumped back to Anne Lamott’s clever observation that, in learning to forgive, we might not want to start with Adolph Hitler. Of course I don’t equate Trump with Hitler, but in terms of extremes, Trump is harder to listen to, say, than a neighbor who is a Trump supporter.

And a personal friend or family member who is a Trump supporter is harder to listen to than a neighbor because I have more invested emotionally, expecting them to be “better.”

That’s also why it is hard for me to listen to fellow Christians who resist the rights of women and gay and transgender people, fail to welcome refugees and immigrants, endorse harsh foreign and domestic policies, hinder proper stewardship of creation, and give uncritical support for military exploits. I expect more from Christians, more compassion, more understanding—including those who call themselves “evangelical,” who claim to bring “good news.”

Let me clarify that for the purposes of this post, Donald Trump is an example of our most troubling political leaders and commentators. He is not a scapegoat, however; he is simply the most prominent among many disturbing figures in this country and the world. He’s a bipartisan choice because he has riled conservatives, liberals, and moderates alike, Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and independents.

Reading the paper I often skip Trump news stories, as well as commentaries railing against him. As a result, reading other articles, I’ve learned more about science, culture, religion, and even government and citizenship. My attitude has been, “This too shall pass.”

Nonetheless, I have daily prayed for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—by name—more than any previous president and vice president in my lifetime. I have prayed for them compassion, wisdom, and knowledge, and I extend that prayer to our electorate, as well as other leaders of our country and the world. Also, religious leaders.

I do read analyses of why we are so divided by political opinions, often posting them for Facebook friends. I am particularly taken with the notion that our vehement opposition is not simply because we disagree, but because we either don’t trust the other side’s motives or don’t share the other side’s values. I also appreciate articles that suggest ways to reach across our differences.

I return to the question, can I really listen to Donald Trump?

The antagonistic and bullying tone of his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks conveys insecurity and insult and incitement rather than thoughtful and wise and helpful analysis. Some commentators have suggested he may be “crazy like a fox,” manipulating the news cycle to some kind of advantage (crazy like Fox News?). I just find him erratic, fragmented, contradictory, and phony.

President Trump makes many of us knee-jerk reactionaries. His supporters automatically cheer, his detractors automatically boo. When we cheer or boo, can we really listen?

Again, never intending to equate the two, for me, trying to listen to Donald Trump is like trying to forgive Adolph Hitler. It is “above my pay grade,” beyond my spiritual capacity.

After all, the Torah teaches us to love our neighbor and confront Pharaoh. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor and give the emperor only what’s required. Early Christians were considered subversive because they refused to recognize Caesar as a god.

So, listening to my neighbors, friends, and family members may be the best I can do in this moment.

I believe if we really listen to one another, we can find in our hearts what we truly value and believe, as well as common ground, then act and vote accordingly. And we can demonstrate love for neighbors by real engagement, not merely getting along.

Saint Benedict’s Rule for monks recommends restraint in speech, not silence. And it’s helpful to remember that, as one interpreter suggests, our speech often “sides with the part of us that resists grace.”


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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, April 11, 2018

The Body Still Loves to Dance

Dancing Jesus

One of my spiritual practices during Lent turned out to be sorting through boxes of my papers for my archive, a process that continues. I warned readers that this might lead to nostalgic posts! The excerpts here come from a commentary I wrote for Frontiers Newsmagazine, published July 17, 1992.

Exodus International President Joe Dallas gave the opening address at a conference of “ex-gay” ministry leaders and members held at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego June 21-27.

This was an assignment I did not want. I approached the gathering of 500 registrants, to use a biblical phrase, “in fear and trembling.” Maybe it was the uncomfortable memory of my straight and narrow fundamentalist past. Maybe it was the expected conformity of participants, from a dress code (“no tank tops, tight-fitting clothes, immodest bathing suits or skimpy shorts”) to thought code (“Exodus International reserves the right to deny conference participation to anyone whose views are not in agreement with our doctrinal and policy statements”). Maybe it was the workshops on avoiding “impure thoughts” or masturbation as “the ‘M’ word.” Or maybe I just thought they’d all be loony.

But they weren’t, and I discovered that though gay sex may be verboten, some things never change. Camp humor abounded. People were caring and sensitive and carefully huggy. Haircuts and clothing, though not overly provocative, were still stylish and colorful; in a workshop on masculinity, I heard rumblings of discontent at a suggestion that they rid themselves of their wardrobes and patronize barbers rather than hair stylists. En route to a session, two ex-lesbians were kvetching about one’s lack of punctuality and the other’s lack of patience. And two ex-gay boys next to me in the opening worship were thrilled to find someone with a car: “We need to go to a mall really bad!” one emoted while in the next breath telling his friend, “I really want to be here; I’m longing to be closer to God.”

Ultimately, I’m not sure what I expected, but I did not anticipate everybody would be so “nice” and “normal.” But then, they thought that I thought like they did—that homosexual behavior is sin, an affront to God. Yet in none of the presentations or workshops that I attended—even those designed for the newcomer—did I hear why they thought so: no scripture, no theology. It just was.

Fundamentalists of whatever faith need God to be in control, and on God’s behalf, they are controlling: stressing uniformity over unity, obedience over independence, authority over reason. As do many other Christians, they also believe in spirituality controlling the body’s feelings and needs. These were recurring themes throughout the day, not only in word, but in deed: the design of the presentations and the “workshops” made no provision for questions or interaction among the participants—though individual counseling and laying on of hands were available, and special interest groups, such as one on AIDS, were encouraged.

Faces brightened over those who “left the lifestyle,” and hushed tones described others who “had fallen.” Cheers greeted the introduction or mention of a wife or husband, and nods of agreement met veiled references to Satan. Disparaging references were made to “pro-gay” churches, “sympathetic” media, and a psychoanalytic profession which had caved into “political pressure” from gays. One man drew vigorous applause when, noting that gays were better than their group at “building solidarity,” he suggested that they hold their own “Ex-Gay Pride March.”

The day ended as it began: with a worship of emotionally stirring group singing, led by a church musician who declared that Jesus “took my homosexuality on himself in the cross, and took it to the grave.” In the morning I had felt sad, witnessing these young people giving themselves over to a God whom they thought didn’t like gay sex. I knew that this would be, for most of them, a way station on their way out of the closet and possibly out of the church.

Now I felt sad leaving them, as a camper feels sad leaving a spiritual retreat. We belonged to each other sexually and spiritually, but they did not nor could not know that. Years from now I might meet one in a bar, and he will tell me he was forced to choose his sexuality over his spirituality. The fortunate ones will be those who find their way to a congregation which welcomes them as self-affirming gays and lesbians.

But in the meantime, the music tapped into the erotic energy of the crowd, which stood to sing. Jesus, put your arms around me and hold me; it’s true I love you. Hands began lifting in a charismatic gesture, as if to touch God, as if opening to God’s embrace. I will come, while you sing over me: How I love you, child, I love you.

The beat led to clapping hands and discreet movements of the bodies surrounding me. I noticed that hips loosened in gay dance bars by the pulsing music of Donna Summer or Madonna now swung easily in praise of their Lord.

The Shakers, a Christian cult, got their name from their ritual dances. They, too, did not believe in practicing their sexuality, and perhaps their shaking dances emanated from some deep erotic wish. For no matter how our spirituality might deny it, the body still loves to dance.


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Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, payable to UFMCC and designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

"I Am with You"

Our backyard tree coming to life.

“I am with you.” God-with-us. Where two or three are gathered. Always.

This is my “aha” of Holy Week. Not original, but deeply felt. I lost myself in these thoughts and feelings that came to me this morning of Good Friday, on the eve of Passover. The stories of both these observances are meant to assure us that God is with us.

God has heard the people cry. Whatever your cry, God has heard it. God is with you. Always.

That’s really all I have to say. But you know me, I want to tell you how I got there.

I almost did not follow my usual Holy Week practice of reading Will Quinlan’s The Temple of God’s Wounds, a chapter per day. I’ve written before of its mystical power for me, though I am not in sync with all its tenets.

This year I coupled these daily readings with the passages of crucifixion and resurrection in the four Gospels. Each day I read a crucifixion text in chronological order of its writing: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. On the days that followed I read the resurrection texts in the opposite order: John, Luke, Matthew, and Mark.

What I didn’t realize is that I unconsciously followed the pattern of The Temple of God’s Wounds. The narrator is instructed to view six paintings, one per day. The first three have to do with the crucifixion, the last three have to do with the resurrection.

On this reading, I once again profoundly embraced the narrator’s need for confession. As regular readers of this blog know, I am not too keen on sin, as it has, in my view, been over-emphasized in Christian tradition, plus many of the things labelled sin do not match my experience of what sin really is. That does not mean I am not aware of how I have failed in my human relationships, my relationship with earth and its creatures, and my relationship with God.

On this reading, I also recognized the narrator’s longing not only for transformation, but for an experience of transcendence that left him, in Charles Wesley’s words, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” That came for me with the remembrance that the whole of the biblical witness testifies to God’s steadfast presence. God has not left us alone.

The incarnation is less important to me as a doctrine than as an experience that God has somehow joined us in Jesus’ passion and compassion, offering a life refreshed rather than defeated by wilderness and suffering and death.

The differences in how Jesus’ story is told among the Gospels allow our own differences. We don’t have to subscribe to every “jot and tittle” of those stories to “get” the meaning, the inspiration, of the story that God is with us.

And, as I review the first draft of this post, I realize I overlooked two other “texts” or better, “contexts” that enhanced and influenced my “aha” about God’s presence: my body mending after a severe cold and our yard and the ravine beyond coming to life after winter. These “gospels” speak even to those who do not know Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

“I am with you.” God has heard our cry. God-with-us. Where two or three are gathered. Always.


On this 50th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr: “Keep the Dream Alive!”

Your donations are this ministry’s only means of support:
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, payable to UFMCC and designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

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