Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Church and World Re-Imagined



A recent editorial about our new nuclear arms race, “The World Can Still Be Destroyed in a Flash,” on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings reminded me of my post on August 13, 2014.

Last week’s anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminded me of a deeply moving visit to a church that had faced a difficult transition.

Nearly 30 years ago I led workshops for a congregation in the state of Oregon. The next day, the pastor who was hosting me took me to “his” church—not the congregation he pastored, but the one he attended when he just wanted to be on the receiving end of ministry. As we drove through the hamlets and villages of the state, he told me how this church experienced a crisis when its sanctuary burned down to the ground and they had to decide what to do—whether to rebuild or buy another property.

My new friend continued his story as we drove into what appeared to be a motel and parked in its parking lot. The church decided, he said, to practice what it preached, and instead of building some grand new sanctuary with the insurance money, to purchase this motel instead. Services were conducted in what had been the motel’s large lobby, and its rooms were made available to the homeless.

As if that were not enough, the speaker that day was a survivor of Hiroshima, it being the 40th anniversary of the bomb being dropped on his city. Some of you may know that Hiroshima was not so much a military target as a spiritual target, intended to strike a demoralizing blow to the Empire of Japan.

As the gentle, elderly man rose to speak, I was mindful that my father, en route to Japan during WW II, was said to have been saved from actual combat by the dropping of the bomb. Eventually my father saw the devastation of Nagasaki firsthand, debarking from his troop ship in its harbor. Soon, as part of the occupying forces, he was welcomed into one family’s life in another part of the country, to whom my family sent packages of goods long after his return to California. At the same time, a Japanese-American family down the street from us, who became friends, had been among those sent to a so-called “relocation center” during the war.

The dignified survivor stood behind the pulpit. He carefully pulled his notes from the pocket of his suit jacket, and unfolded the silk scarves in which they were wrapped. The effect was that of unveiling the Holy Grail.

He spoke of being a child in school when the blast occurred; of hearing planes overhead and taking cover; of being burned by the flash and bloodied by flying glass, yet having somehow survived radiation poisoning. He described losing family and friends, either immediately or eventually. He told us of the physical devastation to the city and to his own body.

Yet he did not speak of recrimination. He spoke of redemption. Having seen the horror of war, he had devoted his life to peace. And that was his gospel to us that morning. Peace. Peace on earth, good will toward all. In that former motel lobby, I both saw and heard the gospel of peace and redemption.


Click here to see the original post with additional relevant links.

I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

Donations to this blog ministry may be given by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing 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 © 2014 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wonder


Yesterday’s New York Times editorial about human endeavors reminded me of my post of July 12, 2017 about “Wonder.” As I work this week preparing a schedule for a virtual spiritual formation at-home retreat I thought it would give me a respite timewise and offer you a respite from our challenging political and pandemical times. Enjoy!

Others have come to the same conclusion, but in the sixty-six years that I have been given, I believe the essential ingredient of a spiritual life is wonder.

It can be found and expressed in many ways: worship, contemplation, compassion, activism, lovemaking, the beloved community, science, art, nature, and the recognition of the commonwealth of God, to name a few.

But the farther away any of these get from wonder, they can become tablets of stone, stumbling blocks, millstones round our necks, a dutiful obligation rather than a pleasurable joy.

As I write this, Luna, our neighbor’s cat, is chasing something in our back yard. I have spent happy moments watching Luna from my home office windows as she approaches our yard with wonder, leaping up the tall, central Bradford pear tree, slinking beneath our hedge of privet shrubs, luxuriating in rubbing her back on our weedy grass.

From our front porch, I’ve enjoyed watching her go on morning walks with her family (yes, really!): a dog named Lexi, children with a literary and a biblical name, Darcy and Micah, their father Chris, a New Testament professor at Mercer University, and mother Jenelle, who is the organizing pastor of the newly-forming Ormewood Church.

Luna runs ahead and lingers behind, depending on what catches her attention in the moment. She exemplifies wonder. And I realize that we human beings know only a little more than she does about the nature of things.

The morning I write this, I greeted them again from our front porch during my prayers, after reading a couple of psalms and Matthew 18, which includes Jesus’ counsel to enter the kingdom as a child, remove their stumbling blocks, find the lost sheep, confront wrongdoing in yourself and in the community, and finally, forgive from the heart, even as we have been forgiven.

In silence I contemplated the very tall and old leafy trees before me, the tiny bird chirping on the railing, the runner going by, the found stones that line our gardens, only a little distracted by the passing cars, some of which take the stop sign at the intersection as a mere “suggestion.”

The week I write this, I awoke each morning to NPR reporting on various catastrophes, a high rise fire, several bombings and mass shootings, the investigation of the administration.

Despite all that, I found myself marveling (yes, I realize how antiquated the gerund) that all I saw before me, including me, has evolved.  What impetus organizes seemingly inert matter into living things, thinking beings, and seems to call for beauty and compassion and wonder?

A couple of days ago, I read how the liver regenerates itself daily as it carries out so many mysteries that ancients thought it was the seat of the soul.  And not long ago I read how disparate parts of the brain organize the various signals from our eyes into what we “see.”

No wonder the psalmist sang this morning, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of God’s mouth” (33:5b-6).

“Breathe on me, breath of God,” sings the old hymn.  What a sensual yet spiritual request!

“The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”  This popular quote from Irenaeus of Lyons hangs in our hallway, written by the hand of the calligrapher who once graced Mt. Calvary Retreat House in the hills above Santa Barbara before its destruction in the 2008 Montecito fire.

From dust to dust, ashes to ashes, our brief flicker in between is a cause for wonder.


For several photos of Luna, see the original post.

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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, 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, July 29, 2020

Rest in Peace, Rise in Glory


If anyone deserves to rest in peace and rise in glory, it is our Congressman, Representative John Robert Lewis.

He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, he got into “good trouble,” he served his Lord and his country well.

A few days before he died last week, I wrote on Facebook that in every encounter Wade and I had with him, he made us feel as if he were there to see us! And he really saw us, engaged with us, wanted to know “how are you doin’?” He didn’t look around to see if there was someone else to greet. He was solidly there, pleased to listen.

I put this on Facebook because we had just been moved watching the documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble.

Wade was so charmed by him that he on two occasions invited him to our home for dinner. And Congressman Lewis said yes, he’d love to come. I felt like the centurion who said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” Lewis was a Civil Rights Movement icon and I did not feel worthy. Our place is small and modest. What would we serve? Whom invite? Should it be a campaign fundraiser? We did not pursue it because of my reservations.

I am grateful Rep. Lewis lived to see the latest incarnation and proliferation of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Lives Matter. He seemed to share my view that all movements are led by subsequent generations. Younger people see things and know things and feel things that us older folk may miss.

Please permit an aside. I don’t like the facile categories and generalizations applied to different generations. I think they are a weak media invention and new occasions for prejudice. This week a columnist described being called to task as a “Baby Boomer” who had dreamed of a new and better world in the 60’s, “Okay, Boomer, why didn’t you finish the job?”

The truth of the matter is that all the activists I knew and worked with in the 60’s and 70’s and beyond have never stopped working for a better world. Many problems cannot be “fixed” in a single generation.

Ironically, the LGBTQIA Movement of which I have been part nearly DID “finish our job,” accomplishing more goals than I ever thought possible in my lifetime. That’s why we now have the luxury, opportunity, and responsibility of “intersectionality,” better understanding and expressing and addressing the relationship of all peace and justice and equality issues.

I was deeply touched by an outstanding LGBTQIA activist writing that my first book helped him realize that “I was possible.”  That is why I am so beholden to the Civil Rights Movement: it helped me realize that “I was possible.”

I doubt I have ever had the courage of John Lewis, willing to non-violently endure a fractured skull on the Edmund Pettus bridge. But I am glad I got to touch, as it were, “the hem of his garment.”

Representative Lewis loved this early mug shot,
displayed at a restaurant in our neighborhood.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mary Trump's "Frankenstein"


Watching Mary Trump’s interview by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last Thursday about her book on the shaping and misshaping of her uncle, the President (Too Much—Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man), I remembered a post I wrote on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein October 26, 2011. Our society has minted a number of “Frankensteins” who are underdeveloped in compassion, the trait that unites us with God. As I wrote then:

The Christian teacher Abelard of the twelfth century explained the atonement this way: witnessing Jesus suffering on the cross awakens in us that which makes us one with God: our compassion. Compassion is our link to divinity. To witness suffering—whether firsthand or through the media—may draw out our divine urge to hold and help the vulnerable.

My concern in re-presenting this reflection is not, per se, political, but rather, to remind us how “Frankensteins” are made, not born. I take the Celtic Christian view of original innocence—that yes, we may be marred by sin, but we are not sinful at birth, as the concept of Original Sin would have it.

From my 2011 post:

A few years ago I watched for the first time the Kenneth Branagh film, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  It prompted me to read Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, discovering that the film reflects many of its insights. The creature who has been given his creator’s name in the public mind is not the monosyllabic grunter of gay director James Whale’s 1931 film classic (whose own story is the content of another worthy film, Gods and Monsters), but an eloquent philosopher on being a creature abandoned by his creator and rejected by fellow creatures.

Asking for a mate “as hideous as himself,” the creature explains to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, “If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I should return them an hundred and an hundred fold; for that one creature’s sake, I would make peace with the whole kind!” His creator writes, “His words had a strange effect upon me. I compassionated him, and sometimes felt a wish to console him; but when I looked upon him, when I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened, and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred.”

Branagh’s movie version of the creature’s words captures the sinister consequence of being denied: “I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” And only then concludes, “For the sympathy of one human being, I would make peace with all.”

I concluded my post with this pastoral illustration:

I attended an ordination in San Francisco which featured two pastors giving “the charge” to one who would be serving as a chaplain and director of a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at a local hospital. The Presbyterian pastor gave an eloquent but long commendation whose content I do not remember. The MCC pastor gave a memorable two-point counsel. “The people you’ll be serving,” she said simply, “Basically want to know ‘Am I alone?’ and ‘Am I loved?’”

“For the sympathy of one human being, I would make peace with all.”

We are all creatures. We each have love in us the likes of which can scarcely be imagined and rage the likes of which can hardly be believed. If we cannot satisfy the one, we might indulge the other.



I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

You may support this blog by clicking here. Please scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!


Copyright © 2011 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.