Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Coming Out as Resurrection

I realized how appropriate this earlier post is for National and International Coming Out Day October 11. Wade and I celebrate our birthdays and our anniversaries this week, both of first meeting in 2000 and of our wedding in 2015 after the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-gender marriage. Atlanta, where we live, observes Pride this weekend, inviting us all to take pride in who we are, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, national origin, abilities, religion, and more!

Approaching Easter, I found myself in a kind of Holy Saturday malaise—you know, that dreary interim when Jesus is in the tomb, and all is lost. I read again the narratives around the empty tomb, the resurrection stories, one Gospel each day. I wanted to encounter the risen Christ. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

Then it occurred to me that I was looking for a literal resurrection, like Thomas demanding to see the prints of the nails in Jesus’ hands and feel the wound in his side. In truth, the stories that most appeal to me are the mystical ones, like the Emmaus disciples experiencing Jesus in the kerygma of “opening scriptures” and the sacrament of breaking bread.

The literal miracle I was overlooking was what came out of that empty tomb: a new faith and spiritual community that would attract much of humanity and change the world; a fresh understanding of God and, to take it personally, a fresh understanding of myself. “God brought us to life with Christ,” in the words of Ephesians 2:5 (NJB). I recognized the resurrection of Jesus in countless others, thanks to his passion and compassion.

Coming out of the closet helped me better grasp resurrection. I know how differently life and God and the world are experienced when free of confinement, restriction, and hiddenness. Everything is new and seen/felt/heard/smelled/tasted as if for the first time. It’s wonderful and terrifying, uplifting and burdensome. It calls for an entirely different way of being, acting, speaking, and loving.

It entails both freedom and responsibility. Its heights and depths make one soar and sink at the same time. It helps one focus and broaden all at once. Suddenly, when first coming out, I was in the “rapids” of my life excursion, exhilarating and frightening, both limiting and opening possibilities, tearing me away from safer shores and hurling me toward the unknown. “Thar be dragons there,” I feared.

In my 1998 book Coming Out as Sacrament, I used “coming out” as a hermeneutic for biblical interpretation. One reviewer groused about my introducing yet another hermeneutic, or lens, through which to view scripture, but I believe “the more the merrier,” the greater the opportunity for diverse populations to understand and apply the spiritual wisdom of the Bible to their own lives and the lives of their communities.

I boldly asserted that the Bible was God’s coming out story.  After all, in Christian tradition, self-revelation is how we know God. From the burning bush to Jesus of Nazareth to the Holy Spirit, all awareness and knowledge of God comes at divine initiative. I suggested God came out of the closet of heaven to dwell with us and even dwell within us.

The empty tomb may be understood as a kind of empty closet. “Do not hold on to me!” Jesus told the weeping Mary in another one of those mystical resurrection stories. “Do not hold onto me!” each of us says to peers and colleagues as Jesus calls us from confining beliefs, practices, prejudices, perspectives, and expectations.

Jesus goes before us into Galilee, or any region or culture or community or vocation or workplace or movement in which we live and move and have our being, if only we have eyes to see and hearts to feel. With his dearly beloved Lazarus, he challenges us, “Come out!”

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog:
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Faith, Reason, and Virtue: The Religion of Utopia

Last week’s post on Thomas More’s Utopia promised this week I’d focus on the religion of the Utopians. Some of you might have been puzzled by Mildred Campbell’s understanding of More’s Christian humanism as a “fusion of faith with the pagan belief in reason and virtue…a kind of humanitarian deism which abhorred religious intolerance.”

“Isn’t that what we progressive Christians believe?” you might have asked yourself, “What’s pagan about reason and virtue?”

Though I’ll get to that, I first want to point out what I’ve been saying all along on this blog. Progressive Christianity is not new, it is traditional. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who say that our ideas are some kind of contemporary accommodation to modern day values and beliefs are mistaken. Actually, they are the new kids on the Christian block.

Let me clarify that when I use the term “evangelical” I mean the political movement bent on enforcing their limitations on belief and behavior. I happen to consider progressive Christians as evangelical in the traditional—since Jesus—sense of the term, as bearers of good news (gospel).

American founding fathers and mothers are best described as humanitarian deists, in my view, not as fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. Their faith was as much informed and inspired by the Enlightenment (Reason) as the classical concepts of virtue and truth. They may have read some Bible stories literally, but they recognized truth and virtue beyond its pages and valued human reason.

So now I get back to explaining Campbell’s reference to More’s faith, mirrored in that of his Utopians, as being combined with “pagan belief in reason and virtue.” More was influenced by Plato, a “pagan” only because anyone who was not Christian was so-called, and frankly, in Plato’s defense, he preceded Christ by four centuries. But Plato has something in common with the monasteries of More’s age as well as the first church: his support of communal property. More believed deeply in the ideals of monastic orders, which included shared property.

Not surprising then, that More’s “mouthpiece” explaining Utopia, the mariner Raphael Hythloday, would explain that in Utopia there was no private property. (See last week’s post.) There were other monastic influences on the religion of Utopia, including the belief that meditation and worship focused better in the shadows of worship centers, lit by candlelight and stained-glass windows. But in Utopia, women could be priests, though reserved for the widowed and very old.

What is surprising is how Utopia itself came to be. It makes me think of our own religious and political divisions in this country and beyond. Its predecessor nation was so divided by religion and religious quarrels, King Utopus could use their divisiveness against them to conquer the country. (Think, win the election!) Their religious divisions resulted in political divisions that prevented their unifying to fight him off! Thus, when he assumed control, he decreed freedom of religion, believing that “God likes and inspires a variety and multiplicity of worship” and further, that such freedom would increase rather than diminish religion.

Utopians did resist those who refused to believe in the human soul, or who believed “that the universe is carried along by chance without an over-ruling providence,” disallowing them from public service, but no more, “for [Utopians] are persuaded that no one can make himself believe anything at will.”

When the mariner’s colleagues introduced Christianity they gained some converts (especially Utopians appreciated that early Christians held all things in common). But one whose zeal and testimony “began to wax so hot on his subject that he not only praised our religion above all others, but also utterly despised and condemned all others, calling them profane, and the followers of them wicked and devilish and children of everlasting damnation,” was punished not for his different beliefs but as “an inciter of dissension among the people.”

The most and wisest number [of Utopians]…believe that there is a certain divine power, unknown, everlasting, incomprehensible, inexplicable, far above the capacity and reach of [human] wisdom, dispersed throughout the world, not in size, but in virtue and power. … To [this God] alone they attribute the beginnings, the increasings, the proceedings, the changes and the ends of all things.

One person commented on last week’s blogpost about Utopia that she had read the book as “dystopian” rather than “utopian,” because of its seeming inability to incorporate all human conditions. But, like what I said about saints not being perfect: utopian treatises point the way without necessarily arriving.

The preamble to the U. S. Constitution includes the high-minded goal, “in order to form a more perfect union,” and we’ve been trying to get there ever since!

I will be co-leading a contemplative retreat April 27-May 1, 2020 to which you are welcome:

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog:
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.