Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When Dinosaurs Fly (or The Taming of the Shrew)

In celebration of next month’s fifth anniversary of this blog, today and the Wednesdays of February I’ll provide a link to the most visited post of each year. For 2011, that would be: “Faggot”Jesus, with Put Yourself in the Nativity Story a close second.

Just for fun, I thought I’d post this dialogue that I wrote for Midtown Spiritual Community in Atlanta, presented on May 15, 2005. This is for the kid in all of us, a kind of Mardi Gras confection. I haven’t changed a word! You can tell I grew up watching Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History and Fractured Fairy Tales on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

Narrator: Welcome to the primeval forest, inhabited by our evolutionary ancestors that have evolved out of the primordial soup which preceded it. Who woulda thought that such stinking slush could give rise to life? Even primitive forms?
Dinosaur: Hey! Who ya callin’ primitive?
Shrew: Do you have to talk so loud! You woke me up!
Dinosaur: I’m big, so I’m loud, you little shrew.
Shrew: I’m small, but I’m gonna outlive you!
Dinosaur: Who says?
Shrew: Natural selection.
Dinosaur: You mean “survival of the fattest”? Then I’m gonna outlast you and your pointy little snout.
Shrew: That’s survival of the fittest, not the fattest, you Darwinian failure! I’m going to evolve into something wonderful, I just know it.
Dinosaur: If Mother Nature can find you. You’re too small.
Shrew: And you’re too big!
Dinosaur: You’re doomed to eat insects and live in a tree the rest of your life.
Shrew: Maybe my life, but my descendants shall inherit the earth.
Dinosaur: The meek inheriting the earth. I say “ha”! I say “ha-ha”!
Shrew: You’ve gotta have dreams.
Dinosaur: My dreams are of leaving the planet.
Shrew: Becoming extinct?
Dinosaur: No, flying up in the sky. The last syllable of my name is “soar.” I want to soar in the skies.
Shrew: What’s a syllable?
Dinosaur: I don’t know. I don’t write this stuff.
Shrew: So, you’re going to fly?
Dinosaur: That’s my dream and I’m stickin’ to it.
Shrew: Why?
Dinosaur: I’m tired of throwin’ my weight around, that’s why. I’d like to be light as a feather.
Shrew: What’s a feather?
Dinosaur: See these things on my legs? Feathers!
Shrew: How’d you get them? Paste ‘em on?
Dinosaur: No. Born that way. Other dinosaurs made fun of me my whole life. Called me queer ‘cause I was different. But I see it as a step toward divinity.
Shrew: Divinity?
Dinosaur: God-like. To fly would be god-like. I want to be like the gods.
Shrew: What are gods?
Dinosaur: Those lights shining in the heavens at night. Those are gods. I want to reach for the stars!
Shrew: I bet my descendants will get there first.
Dinosaur: Oh what? [MOCKS:] Look, up in the sky! Is it a pterodactyl? A falling star? No, it’s Supershrew! Why would your descendants get there first? I already have feathers.
Shrew: But I already live in trees. And I can jump from branch to branch. It won’t be long before I sprout feathers too!
Dinosaur: What? A sort of “manifest destiny”? You shrews always had a cocky character.
Shrew: Look at you, you big lummox! How ya gonna get that tail off the ground?
Dinosaur: [LOOKS AT HER BEHIND] I’ll need a long runway, that’s for sure. Or a smaller caboose! [DREAMS:] I see myself becoming small and delicate and dainty. I want to sing rather than roar. I want to glide rather than stomp. I want to see far above and beyond this mucky swamp. I want to go south for the winter. [SIGHS]
Shrew: You wanna get smaller, and I wanna get bigger. [DREAMS:] I see myself becoming larger and smarter and powerful. I want to speak rather than squeak. I want to walk rather than crawl. I want to think outside this boxy swamp. And I too want to go south for the winter. [SIGHS] Oh well, I guess that will only happen when dinosaurs fly!
Dinosaur: You say that as if it ain’t gonna happen!
Shrew: I think your dreams are too big. Mine too. It’ll never happen!
Dinosaur: Ya gotta have faith.
Shrew: What’s faith?
Dinosaur: Faith is what I feel when I lay my eggs. I can’t see the next generation, but I know it’s there. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Shrew: That has a nice ring to it. We gotta shoot for the stars, I guess.
Dinosaur: Either that or return to the muck. The sky’s the limit, and maybe not even that.
Narrator: And so Shrew and Dinosaur evolved happily ever after. The tree shrew evolved eventually into human beings, which may or may not be an improvement, and one can still see the mousy shrewishness in human eyes whenever they’re afraid of not surviving and become greedy and controlling. And, despite the megalomania of Shrew, Dinosaur’s descendants flew into the sky first, evolving into the birds of the air, and you can still see Dinosaur’s fierceness in the eyes of the hawk or the eagle or any mother bird protecting her nest. We have yet to see if human beings and birds will live happily ever after. And who knows what they’ll evolve into?


Here’s an earlier post appropriate for the beginning of presidential primary season in the U.S.: Gerasene Demoniac Announces Presidential Bid

Please support this blog ministry 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 © 2005 and 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


What attracted people to the technology that Steve Jobs fostered through Apple is its seemingly personal nature, from user-friendly “personal” computers such as the iMac, to handheld devices like iPods and iPads and iPhones as well as apps like iTunes —putting “I” first—which stands for both “internet” and “individual.” That could account for the worldwide grief at his death, though books, articles, and films document that he was less than warm and cuddly in person.

I’ve witnessed much wringing of hands, wailing and gnashing of teeth over what this technology will do to us, from our reading habits to our social interactions.

It’s well to remember that once there had been similar angst over the proliferation of books, especially novels! When reading was only for the literate, privileged elite, many were suspicious that widespread and frequent reading made possible by the printing press might be detrimental to readers and social structures alike.

As some today fret over the iHunch, that posture adopted by users of laptops, tablets, and cell phones, I imagine there were similar concerns about those hunched over a book. And what about those hunched over in prayer?

What your mother told you is right, good posture is—well, good! Yoga teaches us that positioning the body in intentional poses is spiritually and physically beneficial. And in meditation, aligning the chakras by sitting or standing up straight is vital for spiritual energy to flow through us.

I’ve written in one of my books on spirituality that Christians have our own “yoga” positions, from kneeling in awe or in penitence to, as the first Christians prayed, arms raised, shoulders back, palms facing out, and head uplifted with eyes opened to the heavens.

Our technological gurus similarly advise an upright posture when using our various internet devices: it makes us more open and receptive, more self-affirming, more gracious.

Of more concern to me is the wrangling over what technology does to our reading habits. When I began my blog, I was warned that most people use the internet for information rather than meditation, but that is also true of how people use books, magazines, newspapers, and other forms of media. Even the Bible has been diminished by those reading it for information rather than inspiration.

For a long time I resisted reading a newspaper in other than in its traditional form, turning its pages as the ink rubbed off on my fingers. But undependable delivery and cheaper costs drove me to a tablet, and frankly, I read much more of the paper this way and a wider breadth of articles than before.

And how I read it is up to me, just as certainly as it is up to you. The “i” in iSpirituality might represent more than “individual” and “internet.” It may stand also for “intentional.”

If I read only for information, without reflection, or read only the “objective” news articles and not the opinion pages and research findings, I am spiritually bereft. If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know how often I reference The New York Times in my posts. News requires as much prayerful thought as scriptures.

That’s true of e-mails, posts, and tweets as well. We’ve probably all had the experience of someone telling us they didn’t receive “that” e-mail, though they have responded to another part of it! They just didn’t spend enough time with it, perhaps failing to scroll down for the complete message.

Henri Nouwen pointed out that the root words of “entertainment” literally mean “to keep between,” that is, in a state of tension. Entertainment is fine, he wrote, but if we live our lives solely for entertainment, we will never be able to rest and reflect. So part of my spiritual discipline is to limit my time on the internet, on Facebook, and on my phone to enjoy uninterrupted silence and have time to pray, meditate, write, and engage with those people and things that are physically present.

And in dealing with a challenging e-mail, I often leave my response in my computer overnight to avoid being reactionary. Nouwen also wrote of the spiritual contrast between heartfelt responding and merely reacting.

Using the “off” switch and the “silent” and “sleep” and “shut down” modes on all our devices can be user-friendly and spiritually beneficial.

Just as the internet and its technology may be made personal, iSpirituality may awaken individuals to the worldwide spiritual internet, helping us see the connection of the personal to the universal, the individual to the international. And by “spiritual” I don’t mean other-worldly, non-physical, or immaterial, for the “i” in iSpirituality could stand for “incarnational” as well.

Please support this blog ministry 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 © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Terrible God

Regardless of religion, much of the world worships, believes in, or supposes a terrible deity. This “God” causes or permits death, destruction, disaster, droughts, disorders, disease, and damnation—and these are just the words that alliterate nicely.  This “God” hates homosexuals, privileges males over females, has cursed certain races and religions and conditions, and does not tolerate differences.

Even atheists may harbor such thoughts when they think of the God they don’t believe in.

Most also imagine a highly regulatory God, one concerned with every detail of human life, including diet, clothing, dancing, worship, sex, feelings, thoughts, and what is read, watched, listened to, and talked about.

Religious fundamentalists accept more regulation from God than they would from the most benevolent of governments or institutions.

I don’t think God is in control of everything that happens. Nor do I think God gives a damn about much of what we worry about.

On several occasions on this blog, I have written of my favorite image of God, that of shepherd, whose rod wards off predators, whose staff leads us to green pastures beside still waters, whose familiar voice calls us by name, whose eyes search for us when we get lost, whose arms lift us up and carry us home.

These are the images conjured up by Psalm 23, which I often recite when I am anxious, confused, or simply in need of a good night’s sleep. It is what I recited to our dog Hobbes the morning she passed from our lives. It is part of an improvised “liturgy” the child narrator in one of my unpublished novels recites to remember his beloved friend who died after surgery.

There is a reason Psalm 23 has become a funeral card “cliché”: it comforts us. And this is why early Christians appropriated the then common cultural symbol of a Good Shepherd carrying a lamb to represent Jesus.

A friend, the wife of a pastor in New York City, once told me she thought of a depiction of this Good Shepherd in their sanctuary as too sentimental, until a person with AIDS explained how much strength he gained by gazing on it.

And the only vestige of its old sanctuary preserved in a modern church I served in Los Angeles was a stained glass representation of Jesus as The Good Shepherd. Given that congregation’s history of various ministries to the ‘60s counter-cultural “Flower Children,” ex-offenders, those in recovery, war protestors, the L.A. Free Clinic, those with developmental disabilities, LGBT people, the homeless, and sex workers, this church had put into practice what Jesus told his disciples: “I have other sheep, not of this fold. I must bring them also.”

Jesus and many who followed him resisted the regulatory nature of religion that often excluded “the least of these.”

Not what goes into a person is spiritually relevant, Jesus said, but what comes out of a person’s heart. Judge not, lest you be judged. Don’t worry about what you should eat or wear, but trust in God’s providence. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, even hardship. We have been set free, not for religious restrictions and observances, but for spiritual freedom.

Following the rules isn’t enough: go, sell what you have and give to the poor. Go the extra mile, give your cloak as well as your coat, instead of revenge turn the other cheek, forgive as you have been forgiven, be compassionate as God is compassionate.

Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us, preparing a table for us even in adversity and even in the midst of adversaries, anointing us with oil, overflowing our cups, blessing us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives, as we dwell in God’s house always.

Related post: Beware of the God!

Please support this blog ministry 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 © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Miracle Scrooge

Along with supportive comments, I got some friendly pushback from my post last week in which I expressed doubt about Jesus’ miracles, and I think readers deserve a fuller explanation. One longtime friend kidded that I was being a “spiritual Scrooge,” setting my 21st century mindset against so many who attested to his healings at the time!

My first “date” with my only fundamentalist boyfriend was watching the charismatic healer Kathryn Kuhlman on late Sunday night television in L.A.  Stan Schobert accompanied the singing during the evening services of the MCC in the Valley that I attended the summer I was home from my first year in seminary.

After worship and an evening snack with other worshipers at a nearby coffee shop, he invited me to his home to watch Kuhlman. Thinking he was kidding, I laughed, “I couldn’t think of anything more boring to do!” He smiled and said, “I thought you’d say that,” and I realized he was serious. And so I watched the program with him.

I grew up in the heyday of another faith healer, Oral Roberts. But though my family members were fundamentalist Baptists, we didn’t take him seriously. When our television wasn’t working (which was often) we joked that we’d turn on Oral Roberts and lay hands on our set and pray for its healing.

Kathryn Kuhlman was another Christian faith healer who made the rounds of public venues like the Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles. People would line up by the hundreds in a wide variety of cities to see her, hear her, and seek her healing touch.

Stan explained that he had attended some of her gatherings, once with a skeptical friend with a brain tumor. Kuhlman would call out her healings from the stage, and she pointed to Stan’s friend, who was unknown to her, and said “accept your healing of cancer.” She came back to him several times as she called out other miracles in the house, insisting that the resistant friend accept this healing.

Kuhlman always urged people to get medical confirmation of their healings, and though Stan’s friend was not convinced, he returned to his doctors at UCLA, who found the tumor had disappeared.

Stan himself had once been touched by Kathryn Kuhlman, and the next thing he knew he was on the floor of the stage area. He said he didn’t know what hit him, but he felt as light as a feather and sublime peace, then he was on the floor, being helped up by her “body guards,” who were there to make sure other people’s bodies were not injured when they fell.

During a particularly hot August he took me to see her myself. I had been to the Shrine for concerts, and knew it to be poorly ventilated at the time, with inadequate air conditioning. I was very warm as we awaited her to come on stage, singing gospel songs to the musical stylings of her pianist Dino, a kind of evangelical Liberace. 

Despite the heat, when Kuhlman finally entered the hall, I suddenly felt cool as a cucumber. Maybe they had switched on the AC, but the effect was so immediate that it left me amazed. She proceeded to give a terrible “sermon,” and then began calling out miracles.

Days later, Stan and I went to a Mexican restaurant managed by the father of a child who had reportedly been healed by her. When we expressed interest, he and his wife sat down in the booth with us, and recounted the story in detail, then treated us to appetizers and margaritas.

At the time I thought, though she didn’t have the gift of preaching, she may indeed have had the gift of healing.

All of this is to say, I do have an open mind about such things.

A friend who is a physician once told me that he liked to spend time with his patients, talking about their lives. He discovered that 80% of the time, what they came in to see him about actually reflected what they were going through emotionally or spiritually. Just paying attention to what was going on in their lives enormously aided whatever medical treatments he might offer.

Though many ailments may be dismissed as “psychosomatic,” I don’t believe that that makes someone’s illness and its healing any less real—at least, to the patient.

In Jesus’ day, illness was often associated with “demons” and “unclean spirits,” thus could be cast out. The power of suggestion that one can be so easily relieved undoubtedly worked to the advantage of the many healers of Jesus’ time. Maybe Jesus had spiritual insight into this phenomenon when he pointed out to some of those healed in his presence that it was their faith that made them well.

I heard Norman Cousins speak during a conference at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles about research he and others were doing at UCLA on the many chemicals the brain emits, some of which foster healing, since he himself was restored after a life-threatening illness.

All this is to say that what we might consider a miracle may someday be explainable without resorting to other than “natural” means. To me, that makes the original event no less miraculous.

When my father died of cancer, my mother thought that her prayers had not been effective, that somehow she had failed. This is a liability of “magical thinking.” I tried to assure her, perhaps unconvincingly, that her prayers had made her a better caregiver to the love of her life. Today I would add that knowing of her loving prayers gave him comfort and whatever healing is possible as one suffers and dies.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers believed that prayer was the place, not of changing God’s mind, but of our own transformation.

Stan Schobert’s faith later saw him through many challenges, including recovery from a serious cocaine addiction, and finally, his death from AIDS. When I last caught up with him by chance at a coffee shop in the Castro, he was the happiest he had ever been, despite his struggle with HIV.

Ultimately, whatever healing Jesus offers now comes through his teachings, the Spirit, and our own tender, loving touch.

A reading for Epiphany (today): Summer Christmas

A reading for Orthodox Christmas (tomorrow): Meanings of Christmas

Please support this blog ministry 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!

Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of a first edition of my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy.

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