Wednesday, April 25, 2012

If We Were a Christian Nation...

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for use in non-profit gatherings with attribution of author and blog site.

Apologies to those from other countries who read this blog (although you might like what follows!), but I have been pondering what the U.S. would be like if we actually practiced what Jesus taught. I believe that if we followed Jesus as some Americans claim we do or should:

* Those of other faiths and agnostics and atheists would be welcome.
* There would not be a one percent and ninety-nine percent economic divide.
* Politicians, religious leaders, bosses, and schoolmates would not bully others.
* Everyone would have access to marriage.
* Equal opportunities would exist for education and employment.
* Universal healthcare coverage would not be contested.
* We would not be at war.
* Congress would work.
* Preventing and treating AIDS, poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance would dominate our foreign policy.
* Sex education, accessibility to contraception, self-esteem programs, and increased adoptions would lessen unwanted pregnancies and their terminations.
* Scapegoating would be eliminated.
* Immigration would not be an issue.
* Having a black or woman or Mormon president would not be a surprise.
* The poor would not be forgotten and homelessness would be avoided.
* There would be no exploitation, abuse, rape, torture, rendition, or execution.
* Addictions and syndromes could be honestly discussed and treated.
* Global warming would be avoided and green technologies funded.
* The environment and habitats would not be fouled.
* Science and technology would be welcome and humane.
* Animals would not be mistreated.
* Violence and crime would be unheard of.
* The media would have more good things to report.
* The Church would be no less diverse but much less divided.
* Discernment would replace discrimination.
* Love would replace hate.
* Understanding would replace prejudice.
* Dialogue would replace debate.
* Conversations would replace confrontations.
* We would work together to find solutions.
* As Gandhi urged, we would become the solutions we seek.


A glitch with Google worldwide delayed posting of last week’s “Piety on Parade” and subscribers’ reception of it (also handled by Google, though Chris’s e-mail is listed as the sender). Sorry! It has also happened again this week.

Chris will be speaking on “Struggling for Blessings” at 11 a.m. this Sunday during the weekly celebration of the First Existentialist Church of Atlanta.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Piety on Parade

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for use in non-profit gatherings with attribution of author and blogsite.

“Be careful not to parade your piety in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.”

Jesus said this. I’ve thought of it often as I’ve posted 60+ posts on this blog, Progressive Christian Reflections, which could be viewed as my own little piety parade!

This week I’ve been revisiting the Sermon on the Mount as well as Henri Nouwen’s most intimate journal, The Inner Voice of Love. A few days ago I read the above verse and all of Jesus’ sayings about doing one’s spiritual practice in private—you know, not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing in almsgiving, praying in your pantry rather than on street corners, not “babbling as the gentiles do” in prayermaking, and avoiding a dismal face while fasting. That is, if you’re doing it for God rather than human praise.

Then I opened Henri’s journal to his next entry, and, lo and behold:

“You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.”

I LOL at the juxtaposition of seeking “reward from your Father in heaven” with “you have to let your father and father figures go.” Henri’s father survived him by a number of years, so he was bold to put this in print. Indeed, The Inner Voice of Love was coincidentally released on the day of Henri’s death.

The entry is entitled with a “spiritual imperative” to himself, “Stop Being a Pleaser,” in which Henri reflects, “For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. … But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you.”

I thought of the would-be follower of Jesus who implored him, “Let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus’ response sounds harsh, “Let the dead bury the dead,” until you learn that there’s not a corpse awaiting burial, but a very live father to whom the son is beholden until the eventual day of his death. Jesus would not win the hearts of the so-called “traditional family values” crowd by his implication that the commonwealth of God supersedes family obligations.

That’s what Henri is getting at. He only needs to please God.

But I realized as I reflected on all these “father” connections that, though I may have begun my spiritual practices to please God or parents or others, that now I do it to please me, to give myself pleasure. So long an outsider, it gives me pleasure to come inside God’s sanctuary—safe space—in contemplation. I’m not looking for another’s approbation, even God’s—as if God needed me to do this! And I share such thoughts not for reward but to model possibilities for others.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Temple of God's Wounds

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use in worship with attribution of author and blogsite.

Every Holy Week for many years I have travelled to The Temple of God’s Wounds, a small book written in 1951 by the Anglican Bishop of Bombay, ‘Will Quinlan’ nee William Quinlan Lash, a mystic. This past week was no exception. Originally from England, in India the bishop helped found the Christa Prema Seva Sangha (sangha means “community”), which, according to his stub bio in Wikipedia, “sought to live Christianity in a way that was faithful to Indian culture.”

That explains how I received the book during Eastertide of 1988 from the Rev. John Cole, who served in India as a “fraternal worker” (missionary) his entire professional life, immersing himself in its culture and spirituality. John was a sweet and gentle and unassuming man who adopted the speech patterns and body language of the Indian people, complete with their signature deferential slight wobbling of the head. 

John arrived in India the year before Gandhi was assassinated, but never met him because, he confessed to me, his Western reserve initially resisted the cult of personality often associated with Hindu teachers. But eventually India’s spirituality had as much or more effect on John than he on it. He spent his furloughs in the States with the church I served, and so became a friend and confidant and spiritual guide, especially after he retired to southern California.

You can tell that the story of how I came to have The Temple of God’s Wounds is as important to me as the story within the book. It took me a few years before I started using it regularly as part of my spiritual practice for Holy Week. In first person, the book tells the story of a discouraged, worldly but faithful man who is referred by a colleague to a contemplative community “in the West” that neither advertises nor hides its presence, but is accessible to its neighbors for help and prayers. He soon realizes that men and women of accomplishment in the world come there for solace, self-inventory, centering, and strength.

The central task he is assigned is the contemplation of seven paintings—one on each day—in the central circular sanctuary. Three have to do with the crucifixion, three with what follows, and the seventh with a vision of their meaning. Each bear witness to God’s wounded love.

It took me a few years of reading this little book to refrain from trying in vain to picture the author’s detailed descriptions of the buildings, which I can’t follow. Instead of exteriors, I am more interested in the interior life. His life in that week is enriched by walking the surrounding hills, tending the courtyard garden, visiting the sick and dying in nearby villages, sharing silence and worship, conversing with spiritual guides in the community, and reading helpful spiritual writers.

I also learned to set aside any discomfort I had with any Christian concepts that I may not embrace and accept the central truths about the spiritual life being revealed in this story. In other words, just like reading the Bible, I am looking for the “inside” story in the storytelling—what is intended to be conveyed in the particulars.

Each time I visit The Temple of God’s Wounds, with its central courtyard cross pierced with nails for each of Jesus’ five wounds, I think of the retreat house in the hills above Santa Barbara that I visited from time to time when I lived in southern California. Mt. Calvary was run by the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross. It too had such a cross at the heart of its central courtyard.

My last two opportunities to visit there before it was destroyed in the Montecito fire of 2008 proved spiritual metaphors. The first, I wanted to show my partner and my family members who live nearby the spectacular view Mt. Calvary afforded of Santa Barbara and its shoreline. But my family members wanted us to see a still more spectacular view, and took us to a ridge high above Mt. Calvary, which, given the haze and the height, precluded good vision. The second, on the way home to Atlanta after my interim ministry in San Francisco, was my last opportunity to show Mt. Calvary to my partner and our dog, and we enjoyed a breathtaking view.

This contrast reminded me that the higher up you are does not guarantee an inspiring view.  The Vatican, an ivory tower, a corporate ladder do not assure anyone a better perspective. Success, wealth, even fitness do not ensure vision. The successful but searching narrator of the bishop’s book gives further evidence of this.

That’s why we need centers and stories like The Temple of God’s Wounds.


Rev. Chris Glaser is available to speak, preach, teach, consult, and lead workshops and retreats. For possible topics, explore the many posts on his blog, and his Speaking Topics page on his website,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What God Did for Love

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. 

My partner gave me a rose bush one year. It was a lovely little bush in a green ceramic pot. It had tiny red roses that were meant to signify his love for me. As the original blooms finished their life spans, new ones grew in their place. The budding eventually stopped, but the leaves were still pretty and green. That is, until some parasite started nibbling them. Before I figured out what to do, the leaves were all gone. But it was a determined little plant, and on its own grew a second set of leaves. Again they were devoured by some unseen pest. Finally, I accepted that it was dead, and I stuck the pot and the lifeless roots, stem, and branches under the deck.  

The following spring, just before Easter, I discovered that the rosebush had come back to life under the deck! After blooming twice, after losing and growing new leaves twice, I thought this plant was over and done with. But there were new leaves! Could rosebuds be in its future? It proved a providential illustration to a congregation I was serving going through a transition.  

It also reminded me that God, out of love, has built resurrection into the very nature of things. We are blessed with a glorious resurrection of trees and plants and gardens each spring, and this year the wonder has come a little earlier. Other ancient religions celebrated this annual, natural regeneration. Traces of this are found in our own tradition as early as Cain’s supposedly “unacceptable” offering of produce through the condemnation of the fertility rites of the surrounding cultures, and, positively, from the Psalmist’s celebration of  nature to Jesus seeing God’s providence at work in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  

The whole of the biblical story is about what God did for love. The Bible is essentially a love story about a passionate and compassionate God who came down, first from abstraction, “the heavens,” then from a mountain of expectations (Mt. Sinai) to descend as one of us—finally, into a grave of self-sacrifice. And the climax of this love story is resurrection, for “God so loved the world....” 

I believe the crucifixion was the result of human rather than divine will; God’s will is manifest in resurrection. God’s preference isn’t death or suffering or sinning (the latter of which is simply resisting the will of God, which is love). God enjoys us alive and pleasuring and loving. That’s why the preferred imagery of Christians in our first three centuries consisted of life-affirming symbols: the fish, the lamb, and the shepherd—not the cross. (See James Carroll’s book and documentary, Constantine’s Sword, for how the cross became our central symbol.) 

In the Gospel of John two intimates of Jesus first believe the resurrection: the “beloved disciple” who sees the empty, still-wrapped death cloths, and “believed” without further proof, and the beloved disciple Mary, who, weeping in the garden, mistakes her vision of Jesus for the gardener. 

The scriptures are clear that only believers saw Jesus, and even among those believers who saw him, some doubted. And apparently there was a diversity of belief, much as there is today, about the nature of the resurrection: some stories suggest a spiritual resurrection, other stories suggest a physical resurrection, and still others, a bit of both. 

Doesn’t matter how we receive the story. What matters is its transforming effect on the early disciples and on the world and on us. Though their “success” would generate its own set of problems, both for the church and the world, a tiny fraction of a single percent of the population was in four short centuries to spread throughout and alter the very Roman Empire that crucified their rabbi. 

So, are we ready for resurrection?

For more on my views of the crucifixion and resurrection, see the chapter “God Comes Out” in my book, Coming Out as Sacrament. 

You may also wish to read my post from last year, suggesting the crucifixion as a hate crime against the Jews by the Romans, “Faggot Jesus.”