Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Peace of Mind

Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, photo (c) 2018 by Wade T. Jones

In recent troubles and dark days, personal and political, my peace of mind has been “saved” by reading one poem a day by J. Barrie Shepherd, an octogenarian retired Presbyterian pastor but unretired author who this summer sent me his “chapbook” (a small collection of poetry) entitled, If You Don’t Have Twenty Minutes Don’t Stop! The title is a reference to a sign on Chebeague Island off the coast of Maine that graced the garage door of an inveterate storyteller who loved chatting people up.

After floundering for morning prayer reading material following the eventually overwhelming Tao of Physics, which regular readers will remember, I chose Barrie’s brief book of poetry. Initially I read several poems at a time, but soon realized contemplation was better served by reading only one per day. “Be here now!” each poem urged, as poems tend to do, much like pericopes of scripture, exactly what I needed as Wade and I dealt with the vicissitudes of a friend dealing with mental health and addiction issues, even as we in the United States deal daily with a leader like that in our government.

Focusing on one-a-day made me think of that wonderful Psalm 131 (NJB):

Yahweh, my heart is not haughty,
            I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs,
            in wonders beyond my scope.
No, I hold myself in quiet and silence,
            like a little child in its mother’s arms,
            like a little child, so I keep myself.
Let [us] hope in Yahweh
            henceforth and for ever.

Barrie and I have exchanged emails from time to time about this blog, and I am grateful to have his encouragement and readership. I have told him that his books of poetic meditations helped me, early in life, to maintain a steady prayer life. Knowing I had one of his books made me eager to make time in my morning routine to read and reflect and pray. His gifts and those of others whose meditations I have used inspired my own books of meditations and prayers, including this blog to encourage progressive Christians to take time for contemplation.

Longtime readers will remember that I began this blog when I was told by publishers that there was no market for meditation books for progressive Christians because we supposedly don’t take time for contemplation! My first publisher told me the same thing about LGBT Christians when I wrote Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends. Publication of those prayers by another publisher helped create a market, and then my first publisher asked me to write a daily med book for LGBT Christians, which I entitled The Word Is Out.

As we approach and begin a new year and through the season of Epiphany, I’ve decided to  re-present some of my writings for you in the hopes that they will have the same effect Barrie’s poems have had on me during the last several weeks, offering you peace of mind. I begin with Day 10 of Coming Out to God, a book whose prayers are broken into phrases not with any poetic pretensions but to slow the reader down:

All-embracing Spirit,
I don’t know what to say to you today.
It’s like sharing a meal in silence with a friend,
or dropping wordlessly exhausted once home from work.

I do not believe
I will be saved by my words,
though I usually feel compelled
to say them.

I do believe, God,
your grace is sufficient
to save me
even if I were silent.

I believe
I need times
to express your grace
in words.

I also believe
I need times
to experience your grace
in silence.

Intimate Spirit, today
I simply want to be in your presence.
Speak to me in this silence,
and let this silence speak to me.

Copies of either J. Barrie Shepherd’s If You Don’t Have Twenty Minutes Don’t Stop! or his latest chapbook, A Piper Shores Christmas may be purchased @ $10 + $2 shipping by writing: J. Barrie Shepherd, 15 Piper Road, Apt K325, Scarborough, ME 04074. Proceeds go to charities. (Remember, there are twelve days of Christmas to use the latter chapbook!) You may also write him at 

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Copyright © 2018 and Coming Out to God copyright © 1991 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Jesus Returns!

The world tried to keep Jesus at bay.

Obscurity. Poverty. Illegitimacy. Dislocated. Refugee. Semitic. Subjugated by empire. Resisted by clerics. Blasphemer. Heretic. Unpatriotic. Treasonous. Arrested. Tried. Tortured. Executed. Buried.

Odds were against a comeback.

Then the church elevated Jesus beyond reach.

Born of a virgin. Sinless. Messiah. Christ. Son of God. Divinity. Savior. Ultimate sacrifice. King. Godhead. Heavenly. God’s right-hand-man. Supreme judge.

Way out of our league, beyond our capabilities, out of this world.

Sophisticates simply dismiss Jesus.

Myth. Fairy tale. Unrealistic. Idealistic. Impractical. Parochial. Unnecessary. Confining.

Yet Jesus returns.

Jesus returns again and again to every generation, to every nation, to every culture. We may fail to see him because of color, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, and every other way Jesus is manifest in “the least of these” who are ignored by “the powers that be.”

The “second coming” has multiplied exponentially and yet we still miss out when we are distracted, literalistic, pessimistic, cynical, selfish, egotistical, xenophobic, or just plain stupid.

Jesus is as near to you as yourself. As near to you as another person and creature and landscape and horizon. As near to you as the deepest need, the greatest joy, the most passionate love, the most inspired art, the most enduring peace. Jesus is everywhere, if only we taste, touch, smell, listen, look, feel, think, contemplate, and breathe.

Jesus is as natural as we are. And we have as much potential to be his presence and recognize his presence in others when we make room for him in our schedules, provide for him in our economies, and allow his values to shape our policies and politics.

Move aside, headlines and headliners! Jesus returns.

According to the Gospel according to Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis’ real life friend and fictionalized protagonist:

Christ is born, my wise Solomon, my wretched pen-pusher! Don’t go picking things over with a needle! Is He born or isn’t He? Of course He is born, don’t be daft. If you take a magnifying glass and look at your drinking water—an engineer told me this, one day—you’ll see, he said, the water’s full of little worms you couldn’t see with your naked eye. You’ll see the worms and you won’t drink. You won’t drink and you’ll curl up with thirst. Smash your glass, boss, and the little worms’ll vanish and you can drink and be refreshed! 

This post appeared December 24, 2014. Merry Christmas everyone!

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Copyright © 2014 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas for the Spiritual but Not Religious

This is an excerpt of my sermon for Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marietta, Georgia this past Sunday, December 9. Many thanks to my friend Jeffrey Jacoby and the worship committee for the invitation! I found the congregation vibrant and friendly. For the bulletin cover I created The Centering Thought: “What if everyone had told me I had a spark of divinity in me when I was born?” For the Chalice Lighting, I wrote:

Light comes into the world
through every baby born.
May we do everything possible
to let that light shine,
openly, honestly, imaginatively,
so other lights may be inspired
with wisdom, compassion, and awe,
bringing our world out of the shadows
and into the rainbow that is light’s spectrum.

You don’t have to listen to me to recognize over and over again how Christmas has become culturally relevant—just watch the Hallmark Channel and Netflix Christmas movies, Christmas mixes on radio stations, as well as media reports of compassion and kindness toward the under-appreciated and underprivileged that are more plentiful at this time of year to know that the spirit of Christmas can lift everyone’s boats, regardless of belief.

It’s believed that the observance of Christmas that we have come to experience in the West was expanded by Charles Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol,” a favorite of mine—so much so that last year a commercially well-received film about Dickens’ creation of the story was entitled, “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” In all his novels, Dickens promoted social justice and equality while casting a critical eye on the treatment of the poor in England. As a child, he himself had spent time in a poorhouse that incarcerated those without resources, and his writing of “A Christmas Carol” prevented him and his family from sharing a similar fate.

Every Christmas season there are some Christians who gnash their teeth at the “commercialism” of Christmas. “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas,” they say, verbally and on their bumper stickers, without realizing the success of Christmas marketing is that the story of Christmas is so universal. Its “good will to men and women” and “peace on earth” and “joy to the world” speak to people of every faith and of no religion at all.

Christmas has become about more than Jesus. It’s about the lifting of the human spirit. It’s about kindness and compassion and the glory of being alive!

Years ago, the late sociologist, novelist and Catholic priest Andrew Greeley reported from his scientific surveys that the reason Christians are more likely to attend church in this season is simply because they love the nativity story, not because they hold to the theological assertions of the church about who Jesus was.

This is a very important point—even Christians themselves are not necessarily drawn by theological propositions, but by how the Christmas narrative touches their hearts: an unwed pregnant Mary threatened with scandal, a reluctant Joseph, a sweet baby in a manger, whose life is threatened by the government and whose family has been displaced by governmental policies, a star of hope overhead drawing sages from afar, and more angels and dreams per cubic foot of any biblical story, influencing Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, and still others. This was the original Christmas pageant!

Like all mythological stories, there are parts of the Christmas tale that are fanciful or exaggerated, unbelievable or unverifiable. Those who told these stories wanted to convey meaning rather than history. They were looking backward from their experience of what Jesus had achieved in his life and ministry, his extraordinary teachings, his healing touch, his compassion and grace, his humility and faithfulness. The Christmas narrative was devised in hindsight, what should have been the world’s welcome of one who would transform so much of the world.

Yet the few stories of Jesus’ birth are found in only two of the four gospels. Notably, the first gospel about Jesus written, Mark, included none of these stories—either because they were already well known or, more likely, because they were unknown to Mark or unnecessary to Mark’s story. The last gospel written, that of John, also contains none of these stories. John is the most mystical of the four gospels, and the author’s interest is in explaining the cosmic purpose and nature of Jesus. He grandly describes Jesus as God’s Word made flesh, an embodiment of God’s hope for the world.

It is the gospel writers of Matthew and Luke who give us the nativity stories of how Jesus was born. You will probably recognize parallels in this story to our world today.

Jesus was born in troubled times. As part of the Roman Empire, his people and his country of Palestine were not allowed control of their own land. His parents, though poor, had to deal with the unequal tax plan of a demanding ruler—Caesar Augustus—requiring their migration from the ghetto of Nazareth to Bethlehem, where his pregnant mother and doting father ended up homeless.

But they, like all parents, believed there was something special about the baby born to them in a cave used as a stable. Maybe he might be the one to deliver his people from bondage to Rome, like their ancestor Moses delivered them from Egypt in the exodus. Maybe he might be the one to unite his people from their partisanship, like their ancestor King David united the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. Maybe he just might be the one to save the whole world. You know how parents dream!

So Mary sings of their vision for their child who might possibly transform life as they knew it:

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
[God] has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts,
Bringing down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifting up the lowly,
filling the hungry with good things,
and sending the rich away empty.

Talk about ending income inequality! Talk about removing unjust, arrogant rulers! Talk about empowering the marginalized!

No wonder King Herod, a collaborator with their Roman oppressors, was terrified that he might be displaced, and tried to destroy the child. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would have to flee for a while to Egypt, migrants fleeing the terror of their homeland.

No wonder that poor shepherds had a vision of an angel declaring, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day a Deliverer.” Then a vision of a multitude of angels singing, “Peace on earth, and good will among people!”

No wonder that astrologers from the East came from afar at the sight of a new star in the heavens! They believed the world’s fortunes were about to change.

No wonder that poor shepherds and privileged magi alike came to his crib to pay him homage, the latter with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Ultimately, what the Christmas story affirms is the vital importance and necessity of spirituality in our world. Almost every founder of a spiritual path has such stories told about them, either of their birth or of their lives. Those we might name as saints from old or saints of our own time have wondrous stories told about them as well.

And I daresay that everyone here has stories of wonder to tell—how you came to be here, in this world and in this congregation. If only we all had been told when we were born of our divine spark, of our sacred worth, of how we participate in divinity, what a different world it would be!

That, I believe, is the Gospel of the Unitarian Universalist tradition. You value all spiritual paths and everyone’s spiritual life.

As Tiny Tim, the most vulnerable and marginalized character in Charles Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol,” might say in the spirit of Christmas, “Bless us, everyone!”

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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, December 5, 2018

The Disruption of a Child

God has been imagined in a myriad of ways, but for me, one of the most profound images of the deity is fantasizing God as a child.

Almost any parent will tell you that having a child will disrupt your life, waking you at all hours, interrupting your plans for the day or your life, on occasion breaking your heart with their discoveries of human limitations and frailties—including your own—and their willfulness and resistance to your best of hopes.

All this, and yet a child has promise, promise of companionship, promise of an unbreakable bond, promise of a better future for the world.

That’s why the Christmas nativity stories speak to me.

And to think of God as vulnerable, weak, needing care and protection, so that the promises of God may be fulfilled! This is the spiritual life for the followers of Jesus: to be attentive to Jesus’ incarnation of God as compassionate, fatherly and motherly (think of the “Our Father” and the mother hen gathering her brood), creating and nurturing the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiving the crucifiers—remember, all these things Jesus asked of God in prayer. Jesus was the embodiment, God was the inspiration.

These thoughts came to me Sunday as I was part of a cluster of congregants (alongside similar clusters) creating Chrismons, symbols of the Christ, for our “Chrismon tree” at Ormewood Church: chalices, crowns, crosses, and more. Half of our cluster would be identified as “children,” but we were all children, both at heart and in reality: somebody’s children as well as children of God. We enjoyed the interruptive playfulness of creation in the midst of worship.

Children are welcome in our services, and though their drawing and coloring can sometimes distract from our pastor Jenelle’s or our seminary interns’ theological insights, many of us believe that their “disruptions” open our hearts to the serendipity, creativity, refreshing playfulness of God.

A dropped crayon rolling on the floor can be as much an occasion for joy as a spiritual insight.

And yet we did not miss a central message in Sunday’s sermon, that despite everything going on in our troubled world, we are to lift our heads in hope, in action, in resolve. “Stand up and raise your heads,” was the repeated sermonic refrain from Jesus in Luke 21:28, to which Jenelle would plaintively but rhetorically ask, “Really?” in a kind of litany contrasting the admonition with one trouble after another in our world.

Raising our heads in hope, in action, and in resolve is the ultimate disruption of the status quo, “the powers that be,” the way things are.

Jesus was the great Disruptor, challenging empire, income inequality, self-righteousness, political and religious authority, vengeance, and indifference.

May we follow his lead.

Photo courtesy of  The African American Lectionary.

This Sunday, December 9, 2018 I will be speaking for the 9:45 service of Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Marietta, Georgia, on “Christmas for the Spiritual but Not Religious.” The public is welcome!

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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.