Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"A Trust beyond Betrayal"

Readers, happy second anniversary! This weekly blog began on February 16, 2011. Below today’s post I’ve listed the “top ten” posts, those most visited since “Progressive Christian Reflections” began. Contributions to this ministry are welcome. Thank you!

The presentation I refer to in this post is now available on YouTube (18 minutes).

A campus is often a fearful place to speak. I am more likely to be challenged for my religious views than for my sexual orientation. But early in the 20th century, Martha Berry founded a Christian school for enterprising rural boys in northwest Georgia that has blossomed into a co-ed college that welcomes religious values. Invited to speak by Berry College as a gay Christian to (as it turned out) 160 students and members of the faculty and administration, I feared that conservative and fundamentalist students might play “gotcha” with scripture or outright condemn me.

Instead, I was asked questions by those truly seeking answers, those who actually listened and tried to understand my point of view, even when they disagreed. During the reception that followed, the conversation continued, and one young man asked me to elaborate on something I had said toward the end of my presentation: “As is often true in the spiritual life, along the way I have let go of things and beliefs and practices I no longer need to have faith in God, that can even get in the way of complete trust in God.” And I explained that’s why I embrace progressive Christianity, letting go of incomplete and confining images of God—why the second of the Ten Commandments forbids such images. I concluded, “I like to say that the less one believes, the more faith is required.”

This last sentence had puzzled the student, and I tried to explain this phenomenon further, but unsatisfactorily, in my own judgment.

In preparation for teaching a weekend Spiritual Formation course on the Christian writer Henri Nouwen at Columbia Theological Seminary, I am re-reading the three books I’ve assigned to the class. One is Can You Drink the Cup?, a distillation of the spiritual life written in Henri’s final year of life. Reflecting on the crucifixion, when Jesus felt most abandoned, Henri writes, “Jesus still had a spiritual bond with the one he called Abba. He possessed a trust beyond betrayal, a surrender beyond despair, a love beyond all fears.”

This would have been a fine example to illustrate my point “that the less one believes, the more faith is required.” Stripped of his believing disciples and adoring multitudes and even religious certainty, betrayed and denied and offered up to death by his own, tried and judged and tortured by the religious and political establishment, accused of blasphemy and treason and arrogance, and finally lifted up on a cross of shame, suffering, and death, Jesus “possessed a trust beyond betrayal” in his spiritual intimacy with God.

Progressive Christians have voluntarily followed Jesus’ sacrificial model, letting go of the trappings of religious certainty—the so-called “fundamentals,” including biblical inerrancy, as well as restrictive orthodoxy and religious exceptionalism—to nakedly trust in God as our spiritual hope and in Jesus as our spiritual guide as we quest for truth and justice, kindness and inclusiveness.

Lent, which begins today, Ash Wednesday, is a good time to let go of all hindrances to “a trust beyond betrayal,” whether doubts or sins or untenable beliefs.

May I suggest reading posts from this blog (using the archive in the right rail of the blog site) as a possible daily exercise for this season of preparation for Holy Week?

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes.

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