Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Healing Touch


As our pandemic makes us all “untouchables,” I thought this post of June 13, 2018, might “touch” our experience. 

As I get older, I have fewer opportunities to be touched. I knew that about old age even before I got there, and that’s why I’m sitting so close to my mother in the above photograph, my arm around her. I had noticed the need particularly among the older women of our neighborhood church. The passing of the peace was an opportunity for older folk to receive and give full-on hugs. Now I too am grateful for such hugs in greeting or in parting worship. 

Perhaps it’s because we regard older people as fragile. Perhaps because of due respect for the aging process, a reverential aspect. Perhaps because we older people are less attractive or no longer “breeding material.” 

I have written of an experience of lovemaking that restored my sense of lovability in my book, Come Home! The “healer” in that case visited Atlanta last year and I was able to give him a copy of the book, marking the passage and expressing my gratitude. 

But those opportunities are rarer as one ages, even when in a relationship. 

In an email exchange with a friend and reader of this blog concerned about losing the gay parts of himself as he enters an assisted living program, I waxed philosophic about my own situation: 

As a youth I had fantasies. As an adult I had experiences. As a senior I have memories. I need to hold on to my memories even though they don’t have the anticipatory ecstasy of fantasies or the existential bliss of experiences. 

So, simple touch becomes all the more important. 

When I was a kid, I used to love sitting in the car as a gas station attendant cleaned our windshield, enjoying the gentle rocking of the car—oh, the olden days of full service stations! I also enjoyed getting my hair cut, and my initiation rite into manhood was when, after many years, the barber finally honed a straight razor to trim my sideburns. These were gentle and safe ways to have a man touch me, and I found them healing. 

My father enjoyed telling the story of rocking me as a baby while I steadfastly refused to go to sleep. I no doubt simply enjoyed my father or mother’s touch, being held close to their hearts. (As late as my teens, my joke with Mom was that I could still sit on her lap!) No doubt my body remembers and that’s why I enjoy cuddling so much. 

All of this comes to mind because of a transforming incident during my recent contemplative retreat. Though our Roman Catholic hosts were welcoming beyond mere hospitality, their church does not allow offering Communion to Protestants. I do not like this, as you might guess, and I had decided not to go forward to merely receive a blessing. But in moving out of the way to let others in my pew pass by, a smiling sister gently urged me to go forward for a blessing. So I did, crossing my arms to indicate my heresy of being a Protestant. 

I expected the tall and very aged priest to simply make the sign of the cross in the air and say a blessing. Instead, he gently touched my forehead while saying a blessing. The power of his touch jolted me. I immediately felt good inside, and the bliss remained with me for an hour. I could not help but think his power was deeply spiritual. 

The next time I went forward for Communion, another aged priest made the sign of the cross on my forehead with oil, and I did not experience the same jolt of spiritual power. And I realized I couldn’t even remember if the earlier priest had made the sign of the cross on my forehead; I just felt power from the palm of his hand on my head. 

With all the conversation these days about inappropriate touching, by priests and other professionals, I sorrow that this may lead to less healing touch. I remember how my mother’s first graders used to hang on her, begging to be touched and hugged, even after they went on to higher grades. 

Being old, I have during this same time had to go to a dentist, an orthodontist, and an oral surgeon to repair or remove two “virgin” teeth which broke. My dentist praised me as one of his best patients, I think because I have a high tolerance for discomfort and pain, no doubt learned in part as a gay activist in the church! (Smile) 

But their healing touch also made it possible for me to sit still for some difficult procedures. After two root canals, I explained that the orthodontist’s abdomen pressed against my head during the procedure was somehow comforting. I asked if he did that intentionally to calm his patients, but he explained it was just ergonomically sound, otherwise his reach over me would tire his shoulders as he worked on my teeth with the help of the lens of a microscope over my head. 

I thought of Temple Grandin, the autistic expert in animal science who discovered she could calm herself by a device of her own invention that held her and later applied that to an invention to calm cattle on the way to slaughter. There is something calming about being held and touched, whether facing life or death. 

As a progressive Christian, one of my reservations about Jesus being known as a physical and mental healer is that such magical qualities do not fit my desire for him to be known rather as a spiritual mentor and healer. 

But maybe his touch was like that of the priest’s, or that of the orthodontist’s, or that of a hugger, or that of a lover—especially when visited upon so many people who were “untouchables”: lepers, epileptics, the sick, the dying and dead, those with physical or developmental disabilities. Women of his time were considered untouchable during menstruation. Children were assumed unclean, one of the reasons his disciples tried to send them away. 

“Suffer the little children to come unto me” could as easily mean “Suffer those who are untouchable to come unto me.” 

 

FYI-I considered retiring from my blog on its tenth anniversary in February but didn’t want to “abandon” readers during the pandemic! My brother suggested I run “the best of” posts, and I decided to run past posts that still speak to current issues. This will also give me the opportunity to write a new post occasionally. Thanks for your continued interest! 

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

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

How Did Jesus Let Go of His Cross?

"Christ Ascending from the Cross"
by sculptor Huberto Maestas.

I would have been angry. And exhausted. And resentful, bitter, unforgiving. And not just of those who tortured me verbally and physically, spitting in my face, nailing me to that cross, but all those who looked away, pretending it wasn’t happening or worse, that it wasn’t important, and fearful of a similar fate if they defended me. 

Those fair-weather multitudes I fed with spiritual truths and a little boy’s lunch: where were they? Those I healed with prayer and touch? Those I made glad with the egalitarian promises and parables of the kingdom of God among us? 

And my disciples, cowering in hiding! Betrayed, denied, abandoned by those dearest to me, who professed to “love” me. Worse yet, they never seemed to really “get” me, never seemed to understand what I was about, never fully bought into my passion for the world and my compassion for all the little ones in this world. 

No wonder I felt God-forsaken. 

If it weren’t for the women who followed me and that closeted disciple Nicodemus, I would still be up on that cross, to be devoured by the birds of the air and the beasts of the field as my muscles stretched to the breaking point in the heat of the sun, my lungs gasping for air. 

Now, thank God, I can rest in peace. The tomb is cool and dark, the strips of cloth hugging my wounds, the cold stone holding me, my mind and heart at rest, at rest in God. Will anything come of my sacrifice? The way I lived my life for others? The insights the Spirit spoke through my words and my ways? God only knows. 

I’m glad to be away from all the noise and chaos outside. I never want to go back there again. Though, there were moments of tranquility and comfort—going up on a mountain to pray alone with God, Mary anointing my feet with a fragrant oil, the beloved disciple cuddling on my lap during our last meal. I feel sorrow for them, but I can no longer help them. I can’t get out of here; this is it. 

But then to my surprise, God calls me into action again. I rise to the occasion. Each one who witnesses this resurrection is of two minds*, belief and doubt, from the first to the last. Belief will give them hope; doubt will cause despair. But this is how I let go of my cross: I choose to believe.

 

* Matthew’s description of witnesses to the resurrection that some believed while others doubted is better translated that each witness was of two minds. The word used literally means “standing in two places.” That is comforting. 

Thanks to Rev. Ashley Calhoun for today’s photo by Richard Tohline of “Christ Ascending from the Cross” by sculptor Huberto Maestas located at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Castlerock, Colorado.

FYI-I considered retiring from my blog on its tenth anniversary in February but didn’t want to “abandon” readers during the pandemic! My brother suggested I run “the best of” posts, and I decided to run past posts that still speak to current issues. This will also give me the opportunity to write a new post occasionally. Thanks for your continued support! Today’s post is from April 8, 2015. 

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Wounding God


The Asian-Americans who have endured hate crimes during our current pandemic brought me back to this post from the week following Holy Week of 2016, March 30, 2016. This year, 2021, I read The Temple of God’s Wounds earlier in Lent, so in need was I of its spiritual insights and spiritual sanctuary. The friend in recovery mentioned in this post still struggles, and we alongside him, after multiple programs before and after a year incarcerated. 

Something burning in my heart is demanding the oxygen of expression. 

Regular readers of this blog know I am not persuaded by one line of thinking about the crucifixion: I don’t believe God demanded the death of Jesus to forgive our sins. Of the Passion narrative, I’ve written that the crucifixion was our idea, while the resurrection was God’s idea, however we understand resurrection. 

Yet I do believe the story of the crucifixion reminds us that we wound God. 

I know that’s not an original thought—many theologians, contemplatives, writers, and preachers have written about this. But it’s being brought home to me in several ways that culminated this past Holy Week as I read again The Temple of God’s Wounds. 

Monday night of that week I attended the fourth and final class on the themes of the Confession of Belhar, which the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is in the process of welcoming into its Book of Confessions. It was adopted during the days of apartheid in South Africa by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church resisting the government’s separation of the races. 

Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary offered it online, but I attended its meetings in person at the Martin Luther King Center near our home in Atlanta because I wanted to engage in the conversation directly. I thought this would be a way to hear concerns that current movements such as Black Lives Matter raise, but in a context of shared faith. As an aside, I felt very welcomed as a gay man. 

The class was small, about 70% African American and 30% Anglo-European, though the final Monday I was the only white person attending. 

Long before the course I had concluded that there is no way white people will ever understand the experience of black people in American society. The brutalization of slavery and the degradation of racism and segregation that followed (and still follows) cannot be erased, no matter how forgiving African Americans may be and no matter how transformed Anglo-European Americans may become. 

During one class session, we listened to the tape of the families of those murdered in the Charleston church offering forgiveness to their vicious and racist assailant, and I noticed that alongside “I forgive you” were cries of pain and anguish and grief at their loss, calls for repentance of the perpetrator and an expectation of justice for the victims so that “hate doesn’t win,” something the media largely left out in its eagerness to report their forgiveness. 

Their mercy was transforming for South Carolina, bringing down the confederate flag, while affecting broader American sensibilities as well. 

But, as one woman pointed out to me after class, “There was a lot of anger in black communities for how easily they forgave” that young man. Yet hearing their forgiveness while holding him accountable suggested they were not offering cheap grace. 

In class I told the story of participating in a “dog and pony” show at four venues around the state of Iowa for UCC pastors as their denomination was changing its positions on LGBT issues some years ago. One pastor had asked, “Where’s the repentance?” At first we thought he was expecting repentance from LGBT folk, but what he meant was, where was the church’s repentance for its mistreatment of LGBT people? 

I suggested to the class that maybe the church needed something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission where wrongs could be named—the wounding of all kinds of folk because of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Ultimately this is how we wound God. 

By the next session of the course I had learned that several presbyteries have passed “A Healing Overture for the Admission of, and Apology for Harms Done to the LGBTQ/Q Members of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Family and Friends.” Hallelujah! 

When I’ve written on this blog about the need of being forgiving in the spiritual life, I’ve sometimes received friendly pushback from those who have been abused or work with the abused. It’s been pointed out to me that forgiveness in certain circumstances may not always be possible, even may not be a healthy choice.  

In “Forgiveness: The Last Step,” Marie Fortune writes in the context of family violence, “Once justice has been accomplished, even in a limited way, forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity. Prior to justice, forgiveness is an empty exercise.” She points out that Jesus said, “If another sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.” [See Luke 17:3-4 NRSV.] 

That suggests at least four steps toward reconciliation: confrontation, confession, repentance (as in metanoia, an “about face”), followed by forgiveness. Only when justice is served, she writes, is “a victim of violence and abuse…freed to forgive.” 

On Maundy Thursday last week, Wade and I were part of a support community for a friend in a recovery program. After an afternoon meeting with our friend, a counselor, and a dinner out, that evening we attended what was essentially an Al-Anon meeting for support communities of others in recovery. Emotions ran high, as they must have when Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples: communion and hope, but also shared grief and feelings of betrayal, denial, abandonment. 

Some could tell stories in which the recoveries of their loved one held; others told stories of multiple heartbreaking attempts; many acknowledged that they too were powerless over what addictions were doing to their loved ones. I was deeply moved by the love and commitment in that room. I awoke Good Friday morning with involuntary tears streaming from my eyes thinking of them. 

The Twelve Steps are all about truth-telling, another requirement of justice. And the eighth and ninth steps are about making “a list of all persons we had harmed” and making “amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” 

I had thought that I should find some service to attend the evening of Good Friday, when a close friend told us that the day was the 20th anniversary of the death of his beloved partner to AIDS. So he came over and we ordered Chinese take-out. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Good Friday. And I better understood his flash of anger about the Reagans when Hillary Clinton misstated after Nancy’s funeral that they had been instrumental in the “national conversation” about AIDS. 

A blog reader once pointed out to me that Jesus did not forgive those who betrayed, denied, abandoned, tortured, and crucified him, but rather, asked God to forgive them. That makes sense, for only God could administer the justice required for mercy. Could that be how Jesus’ sacrifice came to be understood as expiation for our sins? 

It is a sacred challenge to administer justice without vengeance. Jesus calls us to go the extra mile beyond retribution (“an eye for an eye”) and love our enemies. But real love holds the beloved accountable. 

The biblical witness is of a God of justice and mercy. Both are required for transformation. But scapegoating is never just, even if it is Jesus as the sacrificial lamb. Justice requires truth-telling, changing our ways, and making amends (penance).  Only then, to paraphrase Psalm 23, can “mercy and justice follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

 

Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!



Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Jesus as the New Adam

Michelangelo's Naked Christ

I offered this post on May 3, 2017.

Jesus as the new Adam is a trope familiar to Christianity since Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians. It has come to be reinterpreted by others, and perhaps what I present here has already been imagined, as anyone reading this blog knows my knowledge is limited. But I want to offer what meaning came to me as I grappled with the notion of Jesus “dying for my sins” during this recent Holy Week. 

I have flat out written on this blog that the God who is worthy of my devotion would never require the death of any kind of scapegoat as a stand-in for me taking responsibility for my own sins. 

But I have also written that the sacrificial love represented in the story of the cross mythologically conveys the absolute and eternal depths of God’s compassion. Many theologians have focused on the concept of God dying on the cross rather than “his only son,” taking the onus of a demanding, bloodthirsty God off the table. And anyone who has had a terrible sin to forgive of another knows the suffering such compassion entails. 

Longtime readers may remember that one of my Holy Week practices is to read one chapter each day of a short book, The Temple of God’s Wounds, in which the narrator visits a mythological monastery at a turning point in his life. I’ve written that I overlook his transactional understanding of atonement to contemplate other, deeper spiritual wisdom contained therein. 

This time I focused on how difficult it is for him (and  for me) to face that which is absolutely holy. I understand better the “mysterium tremendum,” the “terrible” face of God or, as the OED adds in its definition, of existence itself. 

During our last visit shortly before his death, an elderly dedicated churchman surprised me by his sudden tears and seemingly non-sequitur confession, saying something like, “I hope dear old Mother Church can forgive me for any embarrassment I’ve caused her.” I don’t think this was prompted solely by his having been a closeted gay man. 

Age may make us aware how far we have fallen short, not only of the glory of God, but of the glory of being a child of God, because I found during Holy Week that, along with the writer of The Temple of God’s Wounds, I felt such a need for forgiveness! Now, I know, as an introvert, that even the good I may do can embarrass me; but I’ve done plenty of things I’d prefer not to have in my eulogy! 

I have a depiction, acquired in Egypt, of a Pharaoh being weighed on scales opposite a feather. The tradition was that if the Pharaoh’s heart was heavier than a feather, he could not enter eternity.  Few if any of us could pass such a test! 

I have been reading The Islamic Jesus by Mustafa Akyol. A reader and contributor to my blog had asked me if there was a book I was eager to have in my library. Having just read a review of this book, that’s what I asked for. What’s remarkable to me is that the Qur’an, while not supporting Jesus’ divinity, reveres him as a prophet, like Moses and Muhammad. The writer suggests that this was the view of the Jerusalem church and its Jewish Christians led by James and represented in Christian scriptures by the epistle of James, which does not refer to the divinity of Jesus and famously includes, “Faith without works is dead.” This contrasts with other Christian emphases on mere belief, and specifically belief in Jesus’ divinity and substitutionary atonement. 

Thus I realized that progressive Christians have that in common with the early Jewish Christians, not to mention Muslims and Jews. We may or may not hold to Jesus’ divinity, and consider that doing justice and practicing charity and showing mercy are what the Lord (i.e. God) requires of us. 

For me as a progressive Christian, Jesus is the “new Adam”—not the innocent and perfect and beautiful (and initially sexless) Ken and Barbie doll of Adam and Eve; rather the tried and tested, unappealing and vulnerable and wounded one, acquainted with sorrows and grief, the bearer of the sins and injustices of the world—political, religious, and personal. Treasonous and blasphemous, betrayable and deniable, because compassion was all he held dear. 

Thus he knows the trouble I’ve seen, the trouble I’ve gotten into, and the trouble I’ve caused, not just personally but throughout the world. He is the real human being that Adam and Eve could not even imagine in their innocence and privilege. They were rough drafts, prototypes, not as fully human. 

So when Jesus prays, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” it seems genuine, true, and possible. 

 

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

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!