Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thanksgiving and Addiction

This past Thanksgiving weekend was largely given up to work around a friend with mental health and addiction issues. As I considered writing about this, I found myself getting angry, given that every day of the weekend—Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—was largely given over (by multiple people) to attending to this person, one way or the other.

The crescendo of my anger came as I thought of entitling this post, “You Probably Think This Post Is about You,” alluding to the song lyrics, “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” And here I was again, in writing this blogpost, devoting time to the individual in question.

But I realize I am not writing this for that person, but for you, the reader who has, has had, or will have the experience. And for those who think a minister or a friend should not have anger about a loved one with mental health and addiction issues: I daresay you have not yet had the experience yourself. Anger is good for boundaries, for setting limits, for speaking truth to the power of demons overtaking another’s life and those who care.

Jesus himself rebuked crippling demons, disbelieving doubters, even his disciples when they got stupid in his presence.

The friend I write about is the same for whom we held out such optimism upon entering a recovery facility in March of 2016 in a post entitled, “Wounding God.” Despite everyone important to this individual participating in the recovery process at this person’s request, our friend eventually bolted when challenged by a counselor in a group setting. It happened the night I was attending a wedding rehearsal and dinner, and I was on the phone with our friend, who was still in the parking lot of the recovery facility. I urged a return to the group to no avail.

Since then have come many a reconciliation followed by reversals and “episodes,” some of which have been threatening, dangerous, or destructive. An otherwise privileged, well-educated, and gifted person “acting out.”

I believe our friend must exercise responsibility to take prescribed meds, attend therapy, and participate in recovery programs, but there is a factor I’ve observed that may weaken our friend’s resolve. When involved in a restrictive religious environment, everything could be held together tightly, including sexuality. But finally realizing that one can be gay and Christian, all the religious trappings that held everything closely bound together were loosened.

Our friend’s obsessive-compulsive disorder no doubt meshed with a church’s obsessive-Christian disorder, but sexuality, like spirituality, needs room to breathe.

Jesus’ friend Lazarus was neatly bound in funeral swaddling cloths. “Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus commanded. Resurrection requires loosening up, letting go.

The very term religion denotes being bound. But the only thing that should bind Christians is expressed in a song I alluded to in last week’s post:

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love.

To my friends in Southern California, please attend Pat Hoffman’s latest book launch Friday, Nov 30, 5:30 pm, in the Pavilion at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 East Main Street, Ventura, CA 93001. The memoir recounts her ministry of accompaniment with people living with AIDS. My blurb for her book, entitled Summoned and Shaped:

“When the church equivocated in the early years of the AIDS crisis, Pat Hoffman boldly initiated a ministry with persons with AIDS, many of whom were wary of anything religious. This moving and poignant story of how her own life prepared her to gently join them on their journey may help all of us who serve the ‘spiritual but not religious.’”

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

When God Gets Too Big

As a child my parents told me not to take more on my plate than I could eat. When I did, I dawdled at our table after everyone left, expected to finish my meal. I won’t make that mistake tomorrow as we celebrate Thanksgiving in America.

I’m aware of a similar dynamic as I have paused reading The Tao of Physics. Not only the science got a little too detailed for me, but the God in the details got too large, too impersonal and even frightening, more than I could “eat”! My bookmark with excerpts from Psalm 139 kept tempting me to abandon God’s incarnation in reality to welcome God’s intimate presence, “you who formed my inmost being, knit me together in my mother’s womb.” “Comfort food” theology, so to speak.

Maybe that’s why the ancient Hebrews chose to follow one God out of the pantheon of gods polytheism offered. Maybe that’s why the first Christians chose to follow Jesus out of the panoply of prophetic voices in Judaism. It was a matter of focus, a matter of admitting, in the words of Psalm 131:

My heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

I am now contemplating the Psalms in the 130’s, their uplifting poetry a pleasant contrast to dispassionately documented subatomic and cosmic interactions, though still filled with “signs and wonders” (Ps 135:9). I’ve been yearning to walk naked with God in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden, or to share “the sympathizing tear” with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

This coming Sunday is traditionally the end of the Christian calendar, “Christ the King” Sunday, when Jesus is celebrated and elevated as sovereign of the universe. By the following Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we once again await his nativity, a baby born in a barn. Thus I’m following a pattern, perhaps, of being overwhelmed theologically and then discerning divinity in something tiny as an infant. God is indeed in the small things.

The Tao of Physics informed me, in the words of astronomer Fred Hoyle:

Present-day developments in cosmology are coming to suggest rather insistently that everyday conditions could not persist but for the distant parts of the Universe, that all our ideas of space and geometry would become entirely invalid if the distant parts of the Universe were taken away. Our everyday experience even down to the smallest details seems to be so closely integrated to the grand-scale features of the Universe that it is well-nigh impossible to contemplate the two being separated. [p 195-6]

And, addressing Yahweh, Psalm 138:3 reminds me:

On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.

I once wrote a piece entitled “Advent Is a Time to Look for a Star.” It should not surprise us that the star of Bethlehem may portend an answer to a prayer like the psalmist’s.

Dear Readers,

Recently my visitors per post dropped from a couple thousand to around a hundred. Because most come from Facebook, I gather it has something to do with Facebook algorithms. Facebook would probably like me to pay to boost my posts, but I’ve never done that—it feels like “cheating,” and I couldn’t afford it anyway.

You can help me—if you like a particular post, please share it with your friends and/or groups. Subscribers have an email option and a “share on Facebook” link and Facebook also provides a “share” option, or, if you are on the blogsite,, you will find tiny icons at the bottom of a post for various ways to share it by clicking on one.

Finally, subscribers may now have to click on “show images and enable links” to see the photo(s) provided in each delivered post and to use links.

I am also aware that some of us have missed delivery of some posts, including me! Check spam filters and be sure your server allows delivery, though it may be a fault with the delivery system.

Thanks for your patience and support!


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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

My Grandmother, Another Kind of Veteran

[This image can be enlarged on some devices for easier reading.]

My maternal grandmother in Kansas wrote this letter to my mom and dad in California as U.S. involvement in WW II was unfolding. She references her youngest son, Roy, and eldest son, Lee, and a son-in-law’s mother (Mrs. Huston), as well as my sister Sharon, who was my parents’ only child at the time.

Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada) this past weekend, marking 100 years since the end of WW I, “the war to end all wars,” reminded me of this letter, proudly given me by my mother many years ago, and I’d like to share it with you. For the sake of privacy, I am not including my grandmother’s name.

This letter reminds us that “veterans” of war are not only those who serve in the military, but their parents, spouses, and families as well. To recognize them, I believe, should not diminish but rather enhance the sacrifices made by those who serve in the armed forces and diplomatic corps, the Peace Corps, the CDC, and service-oriented NGOs.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Tree of Life

Sunday morning, I read of Western science and Eastern spirituality agreeing that everything, every thing is interrelated, and dynamic, in ceaseless change, and that anything that seems unchanging is illusory.

Sitting on our deck, I look up from my book and experience this truth firsthand: leaves drop one by one from the tree in our backyard against the backdrop of a vibrant blue sky and an intensely green lawn on this crisply cool fall day that has followed the weekend rain. The azaleas are in lively red bloom as the dead brown leaves collect.

Last week I witnessed an old friend dying in a hospital bed. The next day around 3 a.m., I awoke in my own bed thinking of him, unconscious, mouth agape, yet breathing on his own, and I felt for him. And I also thought, this could be me or Wade or my sister or brother. Later I would learn he died within the hour I unknowingly sat vigil.

That had been a hard week, nation-wise. Probably world-wise too, if we Americans could look beyond our own troubles to see others’ suffering as well. It was a week that started with the federal government planning an attack on the rights of transgender and intersex people, continued with pipe bombs mailed to progressive leaders from a right wing fanatic, included another hate crime against blacks, the disenfranchisement of voters in advance of the midterm elections, troops being sent to intercept those on a pilgrimage for asylum, and a week that ended with a massacre of Jews worshiping in their Pittsburgh synagogue, Tree of Life.

As I read the news story of the Tree of Life, I could not stop crying. It may have been grief accumulated over that week, but I think also it is the grief that accumulates over generations of virulent anti-Semitism, unintelligible to me. Several of those who died there were survivors of the Holocaust.

My LGBT community and its allies have often gladly utilized the work of the late Yale medieval historian John Boswell, documenting the treatment of Queer people in Europe and the church through the Middle Ages. But many miss the overall theme of his short life’s work, which was the treatment of minorities at the hands of majority cultures. Maybe his work was inspired by horrific scenes he witnessed as a youth as an “army brat,” like the heads of a hated group stuck on spikes along a road in the Middle East. Undoubtedly it was also inspired by his own experience as a gay man.

On one of his several trips to give the Lazarus lectures in Los Angeles that I organized, we arranged a lecture at UCLA that I took him to. He began the talk by announcing he would be describing the treatment of a minority in medieval Europe. He wanted the audience to discern if he was talking about the mistreatment and prejudices of Jews or of gay people. His ironic conclusion was that his description covered both groups!

When asked about gay rights in another context, he said it would be better if the LGBT community fought for rights across the board rather than for just ourselves, because it was too easy for a dominant culture to pick off one group at a time, as is happening now in the U.S. with transgender and intersex people, as well as current immigrants.

Boswell’s most memorable story came during that same series in a lecture entitled, “Why Bicycle Riders?” Just before WW II, A British gentleman and a German Nazi were forced to share a room. The German went on and on about all the troubles the Jews were causing. As he listed each false “truth,” the British gentlemen egged him on as if he were agreeing with him. Finally, at the end of the German’s diatribe, the Britisher adamantly agreed, “Yes, all the troubles of the world are caused by Jews and bicycle riders!”

The German looked surprised and confused, and asked, “Why bicycle riders?” To which the British man simply said, “Why Jews?”

Yesterday I eulogized my friend, Thom Hayes, as “good, civil and kind.” I said that if all people were like him, the midterm elections wouldn’t be such a worry for us. I said that if our national leaders were like him, they would talk out their differences over coffee or drinks. I said that if world leaders were like him, they would go to lunch rather than to war.

Thom was unassuming, I said, but he did assume everyone just needs somebody to see them as a person with their own story and a desire for human connection. A mutual friend had told the story of him and Thom getting stuck somewhere, and decided to enter a biker bar, in which the gaily dapper Thom proceeded to meet everyone in the place before they left.

Everything is interrelated, and dynamic, in ceaseless change, and anything that seems unchanging is illusory. Those of us who are “good, civil and kind” must lean in to change history’s trajectory. God’s kingdom come!

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