Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Full of Grace and Truth

“Full of grace and truth” has stayed with me this Christmas 2020 season to dispel the gloom of unreformed Scrooges, unredeemed Grinches, and an unrelenting pandemic.

The Gospel writer John used “full of grace and truth” to describe God’s coming into this world through the beloved child and prophet Jesus. John gets credit as a theologian for his elevated prologue beginning “In the beginning was the Word…” but, in truth, we are all theologians, speculating in our own “Tiny Tim” ways about the nature of the universe, of humanity, and the nature of God.

In early Christianity, “theologia” was communion with God, so maybe it’s better to consider John a mystic, a contemplative whose vision revealed a thin place—Jesus—where God’s grace and truth could touch, heal, transform our confusions and delusions and self-elevating pride.

Blending grace and truth, to my very human perspective, is as challenging as mixing divinity and humanity. When I think of those among us full of grace, they seem able to be gracious because they hold their tongues when it comes to truth: “No, you don’t look fat.” “No, your profits are well-deserved.” “Yes, you are super.

When I think of those among us full of truth, they come across as challenging, even judgmental, spoilers, disagreeable. Yes, they are prophets and whistleblowers and much needed in our self-deceptive, aggrandizing, fame- and wealth-driven world, but dinner with them? Heavens, please, no!

But one of the characteristics that makes divinity “divine” seems to me to be its ability to integrate both grace and truth. “Yes, you belong,” grace says. “Yes, you belong,” truth says. In the view of process theologian Daniel Day Williams, belonging is as vital (as in life-giving) as believing. Grace tells us we belong. Truth tells us we belong.

The belonging Jesus proclaimed confirms our place in creation and our citizenship in God’s common spiritual wealth, neither of which is to be taken lightly. That’s grace with a dose of truth.

Happy New Year!



Relevant New York Times columns by Peter Weimer:

The Forgotten Radicalism of Jesus Christ

The Uncommon Power of Grace

How Can I Possibly Believe that Faith is Better than Doubt?

Donations to Progressive Christian Reflections may be given safely by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Tricked by Grace

This was my 200th post, published on December 10, 2014. I recently read that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Merry Christmas!

A few weeks ago I was reading one of Southern writer Flannery O’Connor’s last short stories, entitled “Revelation,” published posthumously in her collection All That Rises Must Converge. She takes the book’s title from Teilhard de Chardin, whose writings as both a scientist and a mystic she greatly admired.

The story is written from the perspective of an older woman who finds herself in a doctor’s waiting room, looking from person to person, engaging in small talk. Her judgmentalism is in high gear as she silently evaluates their appearance, their interactions and lack thereof, as well as sharing aloud the foibles of people in general with another woman. I was especially put off by her frequent use of the “n-word.”  In that brief story I saw the unabbreviated word more often than I have seen it in recent decades.

Needless to say, I too was frothing with judgment (of the protagonist) as the story came to a surprising twist. Without giving the story away, something happens that upsets her certainty about things, and later, watching the sun set, she has an unsettling vision of what was to come: all the people she routinely judged marching nonetheless toward heaven, “battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.” The story continues:

And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

I cried with recognition. I was her. Flannery O’Connor tricked me, even as grace tricks us all. We think we will be saved by our many words—prayers, sermons, posts—or our many deeds—charitable, political, religious. But it’s grace that really saves us.

In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.


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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 16, 2020

Go Toward the Dark

Ladybug season again at our place. 
This one crawled along the book, the pen and then my glasses.

Spiritual gurus admonish us to “go toward the light,” and especially in this winter season of a pandemic, that seems preferable to wallowing in darkness. But a line in a poem entitled “Lux et Veritas” in J. Barrie Shepherd’s latest chapbook, A Poetic Pandemic Christmas Pudding, reminds me of the vitality of darkness.

Contrasting our light displays during this season with the humble lighting of Jesus’ stable cave that allowed “the clear radiance that streamed above, around, beyond that battered-blessed manger,” poet and pastor Shepherd recalls introducing his first granddaughter to “the black-velvet-spread celestial of The Milky Way” “one sparkling island night in Maine”:

Her sheer astonishment made clear that we must

claim our darkness too, if we would glimpse

the glory of the elemental light.

Sunday over Zoom, Ormewood Church had a glimpse of the glory that may come when we “claim our darkness too.” Preaching on Mary’s Magnificat, Rev. Jenelle Holmes shared a recent dark moment in her life and offered her own “Magnificat,” and she has graciously allowed me to share it with you: 

My soul deepens and broadens the Lord’s presence and my spirit rejoices with God who saves me each and every day. God has looked with eyes of mercy on me, when some in the world have looked on me with disdain. God has seen the ways I am held back by others and has handed me support. People call me blessed because God has walked with me on hard roads of rejection, depression and anxiety and anger, and God has carried me through. God’s name is holy and God is a holy space for me. When I could have turned around and cursed God, I took God’s presence seriously and God has honored that with a strong arm of confidence and love.  

Those who wish me harm through rejection or fear or ignorance, God has dealt with in the privacy of their hearts. Those who have sought to harm me by using their voices of privilege, even in the church and in my family, God has shouted over them that I am loved and that I am who I was created to be.  

And as I look to my neighbors who are without homes, I have seen God’s people provide shelter. As I look to my neighbors who have lost their jobs, I have seen God’s people write checks. As I look to my neighbors who are lonely and isolated, I have seen God’s presence ignite ideas and rhythms of faith. As I look to my neighbors who have experienced one setback after another, I have seen God provide one day after another.  

And the rich, the powerful, the ignorant: God will show them the emptiness of their greed. They will be hungry for the good work of God.  

And as I think of how God helped ancient Israel escape Pharaoh, how God has helped the barren experience new life and the dead come back to life, and the marginalized be handed a voice, I remember God’s mercy forever, in every generation, even my own, even in 2020. My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices with God who saves me each and every day.                                                                                    –Rev. Jenelle Holmes

Having lived in a metaphoric dark closet during my childhood and youth as a gay kid, I knew where the light was—it was outside my protective, defensive, even necessary shell. The glory of God and my own glory lay beyond my captive, seductive defenses and others’ captive, destructive offenses. Remember Jung’s suggestion that religion is a kind of defense against God? My closet—my and others’ rigid conceptions of God—kept me from God’s glory. 

My most recent “aha” about who God is, is that God is the glory at the climax of the prayer Jesus taught us: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” That glory is unknowable but visible in the infinite wonders of the universe, in myriad forms of life, and in human compassion and imagination. This is the prophet Isaiah’s “light that shines in darkness.” It is the “shekinah” of Yahweh’s divine presence. It is the glory that brightened Moses’ face and lifted Mary’s soul, as well as our own souls through Immanuel, God-with-us.

I pray this glory for you as you approach this Christmas: 

God bless you and keep you;

God make God’s face to shine upon you,

and be gracious to you;

God lift up God’s countenance upon you,

            and give you peace.  Numbers 6:24-26

Then we may attend to this summons in another of Barrie’s poems, “The Coming of the Light”: “Look deep into this gentle fire, and then go forth to bear it, far and tender, to wherever infants, cold and frightened, tremble in the dark with no bright star, no kings to greet.”


For your own copy of poet and pastor J. Barrie Shepherd’s holiday chapbook: A Poetic Pandemic Christmas Pudding, please send a check to J. Barrie Shepherd at 15 Piper Road – K325, Scarborough ME 04074. Copies will be signed and can be inscribed by request. Or order though his email: $10 per copy plus $2 postage. Proceeds go to food pantries in his area of Maine.

Donations to Progressive Christian Reflections may be given safely by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Contemporary Magnificat © 2020 by Rev. Jenelle Holmes, used by permission. 

Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

A Comfort Dream

Good neighbors!

As last week’s post published at 5 a.m. last Wednesday, I was awaking from what I would call a comfort dream. A beautiful Southern California day found me walking a favored walk, along the steep cliffs that line the coast in Santa Monica, overlooking the beach far below. It was here and on the sands below that I occasionally sorted out life as a young man—not to say I resolved everything or anything, but it gave me a place to walk and run, think and pray. Now living in Atlanta, this is the West Coast feature that I miss the most.

It was the place I began to reconcile my sexuality and my spirituality, my love of nature and my love of God. My first book, Uncommon Calling: A Gay Man’s Struggle to Serve the Church, described it as a welcoming and gracious sanctuary for all of me in a way the church was not yet. 

Harper & Row changed the subtitle I had, A Gay Christian’s Struggle to Serve the Church because the publisher feared that in those “early days” of the movement “gay Christian” might sound like an oxymoron! After four printings, the book was passed on to Westminster / John Knox Press, which accepted the original subtitle.

In the dream I enjoyed something along the Santa Monica business strip that was not and is not there: a several level store called Pickwick’s, a beloved old Hollywood bookstore where I used to enjoy browsing and buying books to read. I still have Pickwick bookmarks, which were inserted in every book I purchased there. I was introduced to Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers in high school. It was among the countless books that encouraged my own writing vocation.

I forget who it was who said this—a writer, no doubt—that heaven should be a beach with a big library. I would add at least a wine bar, and there was a bar near the gay beach in Santa Monica, the S. S. Friendship, once frequented by writer Christopher Isherwood and his partner, artist Don Bachardy, who lived up Chautauqua Canyon, named no doubt for the adult education and social movement in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

So, in my dream, I was essentially in heaven. I believe it was Gertrude Stein who said of readers, “They have no need of heaven, for they have had books.”

Anyway, in the midst of our pandemic and the stress of the U.S. election process, my dream offered much needed comfort. That it came just as my last post was published seemed somehow auspicious. In that post I wrote of the integrity of science and religion, of nature and spirituality: calling us to remember we’re all in this together as inheritors of billions of years of evolution from the Big Bang to the common wealth and the common responsibility we share.

As if an incarnational exclamation point on this scientific and spiritual truth, Friday afternoon close friends/neighbors/members of Ormewood Church “res-erected” Wade’s and my mailbox after being dashed to the ground by falling trees a few weeks back, an urban version of rural barn-raising followed by socially-distanced wine on our deck.

In the meantime, Vicki, our mail carrier, had kindly walked the mail to us on our front porch or to the mailbox’s temporary location leaning against a Japanese maple that survived the earlier onslaught.

Photo by Cathie McBeth.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Thank God for Science and Religion!

Homemade sign in a neighbor's yard.

Sunday night I had a dream about anticipating a college science exam the next morning and being unprepared—unstudied of class notes and unread of class texts. It’s the standard post-school nightmare that I haven’t had for decades.

I guessed the cause was my plan to write this post Monday about Jeremy Narby’s book, Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge, which I’ve referenced in two recent posts. There was a quote I needed to find which required my rereading all my underlined and checked segments—as it turned out, a delight for my morning prayers that day.

Those who know me as an activist, author, and minister may be surprised that in high school I was a member of Phy-Chem-Bios, my high school science club. What may surprise others, given the present (and I’d say ludicrous) divides between science and religion is that our faculty advisor was both science teacher and an evangelical Christian, one so dedicated that he had qualms about his future family inheritance of a nationally-known beer company, given his abstinence.

(One of my biggest “aha’s” reading Karen Armstrong’s A History of God was how scientists of times past were often people of faith, especially in Islam.)

The awesome insight I wanted to share with you was “that the human brain has many times more connections than stars in our galaxy” [p126]. That’s an “aha” from the inside out, or rather, way, way beyond!

The human brain…contains about one hundred billion nerve cells, or neurons. Each neuron can form thousands of links with other neurons [p126].

Furthermore, the brain is not limited to the skull. My gut alone contains about one hundred million neurons capable of learning, remembering, and responding to emotions, just like the larger brain in my head [p129]. … Having a gut feeling is not just a metaphor [p130].

Admittedly, this may be dated science, given the 2005 publication date, but it still gives me appropriate pause to wonder at the universe. I’ve remarked before about feeling the weight of billions of years of Big Bang stardust coalescing into stars and planets and systems that can give rise to life and its subsequent evolutions, including you and me.

I think of all the neurons I have wasted!

The word “religion” has a verbal ancestor meaning “to bind” together, and there are many ways to be bound—by conviction, community, commitment, commonality. For believers, Creation is added to the list.

Narby is not a creationist but rather appears to believe that matter and energy have a lifeward direction, life that requires inherent intelligence of some kind. And viewing other creatures as mere machines denies our material relationship with them, giving rise to exploitation, abuse, misuse, and more. Calling him a “shaman among scientists” [p49], Narby credits Darwin for demonstrating that relationship through his discernment of evolution.

Recent squabbles for “personal freedom” as science recommends wearing face masks and social distancing to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus reminds me of the HIV/AIDS pandemic when a few, citing “pandemic fatigue,” claimed their personal freedom to ignore safe sex practices.

As an activist described this “right” to an audience, Roman Catholic scholar Daniel Helminiak became distraught and finally spoke out, “If you get infected, you will expect others to care for you, friends and family and volunteers, first responders and health care workers. And you will prompt rising costs of health insurance and health care that fewer will be able to afford.”

Religion and science remind us that we are all in this together, that we belong together, bound together in this marvelous universe and this most amazing life.


Related Posts:

In Memory of Trees

Contemplation in Science

Donations to Progressive Christian Reflections may be given safely by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Contemplation in Science

Anthropologist Jeremy Narby’s book, Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge, which I referred to two weeks ago, reminded me of the role of contemplation in the scientific quest.

I’ve written before about Einstein’s famous “thought experiments” by which he developed explanations for natural phenomena, comparing them to the imagination Saint Ignatius felt was needed in the contemplative life.

In a chapter entitled “Plants as Brains,” Narby reports the work of Anthony Trewavas, a biologist at the University of Edinburgh, which he summarizes:

Plants have intentions, make decisions, and compute complex aspects of their environment. … When attacked by herbivores, some plants signal for help, releasing chemicals that attract their assailants’ predators. … When a plant is damaged, its cells send one another electrical signals just like our own pain messages [p 83-4].

Trewavas prefers to use the word “compute” to “think” when applied to plants [p87] and disputes the long held scientific position that plants are passive because they do not move, explaining “it requires an equating of movement with intelligence. Movement is an expression of intelligence [p85]” speculating that “plant communication is likely to be as complex as within a brain [p93].”

I will leave all of that for scientists to hash out. What interests me as a contemplative wannabe is Trewavas’s process developing such thoughts, “I find it’s only by long periods of doing nothing but think that suddenly facts start coming into your mind [p90].”

Half of Narby’s book consists of detailed footnotes that undergirds or sometimes questions his text. I find these details occasionally hard to understand, as I am clearly not a scientist, but I can appreciate their gist. I’m not a footnote kind of guy, but I find these footnotes awesome and well worth the read. It’s there that I found these thoughts from W. I. B. Beveridge, written in 1950 under the title The Art of Scientific Investigation:

The most important prerequisite is prolonged contemplation of the problem and the data until the mind is saturated with it. … The mind must work consciously on the problem for days in order to get the subconscious mind working on it [p 206].

Diversions and distractions are to be avoided, but idle time can be useful and fertile. This made me think of Vincent van Gogh’s idle time after being dismissed from his pastoral position by church hierarchy dismayed at his lack of social distance from his parishioners. It was then van Gogh thought he might take up drawing and painting, hoping his paintings would have the same consoling effect the Christian faith once offered.

Beveridge continues:

Most people find intuitions are more likely to come during a period of apparent idleness and temporary abandonment of the problem following periods of intensive work. Light occupations requiring no mental effort, such as walking in the country, bathing, shaving, traveling to and from work, are said by some to be when intuitions most often appear… [p207].

That’s the way I work, by spending a little “idle” time that allows thoughts or feelings, patterns or analyses to “bubble up.” In college I read process philosopher Henri Bergson, who suggested that along with rational thought we needed intuitive thinking. Intuition may simply be the subconscious mind offering an insight or solution from its hidden depths.

To me, that’s the gift of contemplation in the spiritual life as well.


For Thanksgiving in the U.S. tomorrow, please see last week’s post: Thanksgivings

My friend and blog reader J. Barrie Shepherd is offering a holiday chapbook:

A Poetic Pandemic Christmas Pudding “a plump and spicy concoction of words, phrases and images to evoke the many flavors and aromas of the yuletide feast. P.S. Add brandy to ignite.

Proceeds go to food pantries in his area of Maine. $10 per copy plus $2 postage. Send check made out to J. Barrie Shepherd to 15 Piper Road – K325, Scarborough ME 04074. Copies will be signed and can be inscribed by request. Or order though his email:

Donations to Progressive Christian Reflections may be given safely by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2020


As we huddle in our homes, alone or with immediate family and/or pets, fearful of the usual gatherings that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s bring because of the coronavirus, it may be more of a challenge to feel gratitude this year.

Whenever I feel cause to complain, as happened in the calamity described in last week’s post, I immediately think of all those people who have far more to complain about throughout the world. It makes me feel that I have no right even to mention my “suffering,” as if I am whining like a child in a grocery store denied a treat.

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen declared that we should not compare sufferings, saying, “Your suffering is your own.” I am not so sure, but in the moment of loss and deprivation and pain, the focus is on your suffering or my suffering or the suffering we witness daily in the news. Our individual experience of suffering opens us to understanding the suffering of others.

Many of us believe that to be a spiritual person is to practice compassion, literally “suffering with” one another. It is a practice, not always a feeling, though the practice may lead to feelings as well as actions to assuage the suffering.

Jesus was the first spiritual founder to teach me this. But it’s also true of the Talmud and the Buddha and the Quran and the Vedas, to mention a few spiritual paths that sensitively deal with suffering.

Our sufferings could be, as I’ve written in other contexts, our “wounds with a view,” our opportunities to be thankful for the people and things, events and opportunities we are missing for now as well as our window onto others’ suffering.

Some of us are missing people who will never return, but we can yet be grateful that they have touched our lives, our bodies, our dreams, our hopes. I am the sum of all who have touched me, and I celebrate them whenever I think of them with love and joy and gratitude and whenever I touch others with love and joy and gratitude.

Despite our loss of five wondrous trees at the end of October, two from our neighbors’ yards and three from our own, the month began rather well observing Wade’s and my birthdays, our anniversary, and the anniversary of my lifelong-sought-for ordination. Our pastor Jenelle and her husband Chris (also a pastor) secretly hung the banner above on our front porch as a surprise from our Ormewood Church friends. (Their daughter tried to help, but she kept giggling, I am told.)

Our friends and neighbors Sonja and Jody and Cathie and CJ gathered with us for a socially-distanced outdoor dinner celebration under colorful parasols in Sonja and Jody’s yard. People driving by thought it was a fabulously festive new restaurant opening. (See photo below.) They also rescued us and Wade’s chili when we lost power on Halloween.

We received cards and calls and messages from family and friends. For all our “cloistered” experience, we never felt absolutely alone. And in a day and age of cellphones and flatscreens and tablets and laptops, we had Zoom church and conversations and plenty of programs to watch. Think of historic pandemics with none of these outlets (or maybe I should call them “inlets”)!

I had my blog to write and readers to correspond with while Wade worked online from home. I also led an online retreat on Henri Nouwen for Columbia Seminary’s Spirituality Program, synchronistically based on his book Reaching Out.

And God was always to be found as I daily prayed for humanity’s deliverance from this virus as well as for the election of compassionate leaders.

My hope is that we all make the most of our Thanksgivings!

That's Wade to the right.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

In Memory of Trees

The tree that was (in spring)

A few days before Halloween, Wade and I were awakened one very dark and early morning by a loud swooshing sound followed by a thud that shook the house. A neighbor’s (and our pastor’s) very tall oak fell across the yard of the neighbor between us and into our backyard, taking out two fences (ours was brand new!) and a good portion of our only tree there, compliments of the winds and rain of Hurricane Zeta, which took down 350 trees in Atlanta.

The Bradford flowering pear, doomed eventually to split anyway by its very nature, was the sixth tree over 26 years that I have planted in the backyard. Each full-grown tree fell or was irreparably damaged due to a variety of natural circumstances, including drought, storms, and high winds: a maple, a cottonwood, a weeping willow, and two cypresses.

Our pastor's daughter and cat Luna
strolling toward our backyard in the distance.
Photo by Rev. Jenelle Holmes.

Probably related to the earlier storm, a very old and tall oak fell late afternoon on Halloween across our street to our front yard, demolishing our crepe myrtle and dogwood and burying our fountain and its flower bed. Thanks to the pandemic (how often do we get to use this phrase in a favorable way?), no trick-or-treaters were endangered.

In both cases, our yards got the top part of the trunk with all its branches, making quite a mess. Ironically, this season our lawns and yards had never looked so good, and now—! Where we live, where the tree lands is the landowner’s responsibility, and homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover tree removal except at the very point it intersects with a structure.

Tree across Berne Street, our front yard on the right.

This event coinciding with the fearful pandemic and the contentious election, the biblical character Job came to mind. And, given how we were feeling about our yards, the phrase, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

Virtually all who saw our wreckage said it’s a blessing we were not injured and that our house was not damaged. A couple of passersby and several friends told us we must have had someone watching over us. One older black neighbor, Mary, cried to see the damage, grateful to find we were not hurt, and Wade realized she needed a masked-but-non-socially-distanced-yet-assuring hug.

Several neighbors/friends/members of Ormewood Church helped us clean up what we could before we brought in the “big guns” of a tree service to clean and remove the debris this week. One of them loaned us a generator to keep our fridge running during two periods without power. As Mister Rogers always said, in times of crisis, “look for the helpers.”

View from our front porch.

You know my penchant for observing synchronicity, what some call coincidence and others name miracle. When all of this happened I was finishing up reading Intelligence in Nature during my morning prayers, researched and written by anthropologist Jeremy Narby. He compares the wisdom of indigenous animist shamans in the Amazonian rainforest of Brazil with worldwide scientific research discovering intelligence in other animals (not just the human animal) and in plants and microscopic creatures.

God knows a virus can outwit much of our national leadership!

Another bit of synchronicity: friends recommended and we watched (and also recommend) a Netflix documentary entitled, My Octopus Teacher, about a relationship of an octopus with a South African diver. Narby reports that “Octopuses have the largest brains among invertebrates, and scientists have noted their intelligence (p73).”

Narby explains that “intelligence” comes from words meaning “choosing between (inter-legere) and implies the capacity to make decisions.”

Anthropologists have pointed out that some cultures have no concept for intelligence, while others define it in ways surprising to Westerners, for example in terms of good listening skills, or a strong sense of ethics, or the ability to observe, interpret, and negotiate the social and physical landscape (p44).

In my view, then, intelligence is what spirituality is all about, especially “good listening skills.” For me prayer and meditation require good listening, not just for God’s “still, small voice” but to ourselves and one another in our own decision-making.

I grieved for the lost trees. The one in back outside my office window especially served as my “axis mundi” during morning prayers, my center of the universe. Just as trees send chemical warnings to other trees of impending predators, I’ve wondered if these fallen trees were trying to warn us of how we are endangering our climate, we who are the most invasive predatory species.

Sitting on the back-deck seconds before the tree across the street came crashing down, something jumped on my sleeve, grabbing my arm. Startled by either its talons or claws, I jumped up, dislodging whatever it was, a bird or a chipmunk. I never saw it. Then I heard Wade shouting from inside the house as I heard a splintering groan.

I wonder if the creature on my arm was simply escaping the disaster or was flung over our roof.

Or was it trying to warn me?

Damaged tree from my office window.

Related post: I Live in a Forest Called Atlanta

Donations to Progressive Christian Reflections may be given safely by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

"Take Heart, It Is I, Do Not Be Afraid!"

The anxious uncertainty of the U.S. elections coupled with the anxiety of the worldwide pandemic prompts me to reprise the February 1, 2017 post entitled “You Can Walk through a Storm.” I schedule posts on Tuesday for Wednesday publication and thus have no idea how the election will turn out, but there may be a protracted process calming the electoral waters, thus the need to reach out to One who can “still the waters.”

There’s a wonderful biblical story about the disciples seeing Jesus strolling on a stormy Sea of Galilee. Peter decides to join him, only to falter, frightened by the strong wind, and begins to sink. He cries to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Jesus comes to the rescue, chiding him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I was helping with a spiritual formation course on discernment the week of the U.S. election in 2016. The morning after, sensing the downcast feelings of many if not most of us, instructor Marjorie Thompson (Soul Feast) began the class with a rhetorical question, “Does God still reign?” As I recall, she repeated it a couple of times for emphasis, smiling. “Does God still reign?” To the participants, however we felt about the election results, the answer was obvious. Yes, of course, God still reigns.

It reminded me of a visit to the Capitol Hill office of Mary Jane Patterson, the Presbyterian Church lobbyist in Washington, D.C., during the Reagan presidency. An African American longtime activist on behalf of all kinds of progressive causes, the plaque prominently displayed on her desk grabbed my attention, “This too shall pass.” My inquiry about it brought a mischievous smile and a twinkle of an eye to her face, and without a word, she communicated her hope about future administrations.

Teilhard de Chardin, whose essay “A Note on Progress” was the subject of my post last week, did not come to his faith in the future in a storm-free place, but rather, as a stretcher bearer in the trenches of World War I.  In Christ of the Celts, J. Philip Newell reminded me of that:

As Teilhard wrote after the harrowing Battle of Ypres in 1915, “More than ever I believe that life is beautiful.” … As he agonized over what was happening between the nations and personally despaired about the direction of the world, he heard himself being addressed by Christ, “Ego sum, noli timere (It is I, be not afraid).”

These were the words the disciples heard when they witnessed Jesus walking on the waters of the storm on Galilee, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Fellow Jesuit scholar John McNeill (The Church and the Homosexual) experienced Christ also on the battlefields, that of World War II.  As I wrote on this blog on the occasion of his death:

Being silenced by the church and then ousted from the Jesuits gave him the opportunity to fulfill a greater calling than he originally anticipated when, as a starving prisoner of war during WW II, a slave laborer, at risk of death from a vigilant SS guard, tossed him a potato, making the sign of the cross. John dated his priesthood from the moment of that courageous and compassionate act.

During the spiritual formation course on discernment, a participant came to me, her fear palpable, wondering what the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence could mean for her and her partner. I had met this couple when they attended my course on Henri Nouwen earlier in the fall. I tried to assure her, but I’ve found similar apprehension among all kinds of people, even among likely Trump voters, who fear what this administration bodes for us.

It deeply troubles me how my hopes and so many others’ hopes in the future have been dashed.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” was my high school principal’s favorite song, and, with the school choir, The Chanters, I would sing it with passion and pride whenever we performed it for him. James B. Taylor, an African American, was very popular with students, faculty, and parents, but had been prevented from buying a home for his family in the neighborhoods surrounding the school, and this was in “liberal” California in the 1960s!

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Carousel begins, and “though your dreams be tossed and blown,” concludes with the assurance, “You’ll never walk alone.”

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

“Does God still reign?”

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"One Nation Under God"

My post of January 25, 2012 is applicable to the new Supreme Court justice and the upcoming U.S. elections.

God does not unite the United States of America. Otherwise our nation would exclude Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and those uncommitted to any theological viewpoint.

Rather, Enlightenment values, such as liberty, equality, and inherent human rights unite the U.S.A. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries which inspired our founders emphasized reason, science, religious tolerance, and freedom from political tyranny. One could readily see how these values are rooted in both Judaism and Christianity, but to make of our founders evangelical Christians is historically untrue.

We eschew theocracies when Islamic in nature; why would we seek a theocracy that is Christian?

I am not one who believes those who hold religious values should not express them in the public square—after all, religion-based civil rights and antiwar movements have appropriately challenged our national conscience. So do the pro-choice, anti-abortion, and anti-capital punishment movements.

However, I for one would like to see a candidate for elected office conclude a speech not only with “God bless America!” but also “God bless the world!” Yes, I know, I’m a political Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone!” But it would demonstrate a kind of religious humility, as well as keep those who believe in God mindful that “the whole world,” in the words of the spiritual, “is in God’s hands.”

A January 18th [2012] op-ed essay in The New York Times (“For God So Loved the 1 Percent…” by Kevin M. Kruse, a Princeton professor of history) reminds us of the origin of “one nation under God” in Lincoln’s hope expressed in his Gettysburg address that “this nation, under God, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln’s use of the phrase “under God” called for the kind of humility I describe above, especially of both sides of a divided nation. But, Kruse explains, a version of the phrase, “freedom under God,” surfaced in the 1930s and 1940s in an attempt by corporate leaders to use conservative clergy to derail Roosevelt’s New Deal and give God’s imprimatur to unregulated capitalism, despite the recent Depression. Eventually, in 1954, “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance.

According to a recent survey, the #1 burning issue in voters’ hearts and minds this [2012] election is the increasing wealth gap between the 1 percent and the 99. Now there are those who are resurrecting the phrase “one nation under God” to declare how ostracized that 1 percent feels!

Jesus told a parable of a good shepherd leaving the 99 to seek one lost sheep. Let’s hope this doesn’t get reinterpreted to mean abandoning the 99 percent to appease and coddle the 1 percent.


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Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

God and the Emperor

Congressman John Lewis quote and mug shot on our street.

This is a guest post from our pastor, the Rev. Jenelle Holmes, from her sermon of October 18, 2020 to Ormewood Church over Zoom. Used by permission.

Then the Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, [asking] “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  (See full text, Matthew 25:15-22, NRSV.)

As we inch closer to the election, any scripture that mentions anything political is bound to hit harder. This particular story about Jesus has been used as a political defense throughout history. It’s been used to defend a separation of church and state: give to the emperor, king, or president what is theirs and to God what is God’s. It’s been used to bolster the defense of high taxation when people start to grumble. It’s been used to support the argument that Christians must submit to the powers of government, just like they submit to the powers of God.

As you can tell—it is truly a very useful story for people in power.

However, before you use this passage in these ways you need to know exactly what was going on between the Herodians, the Pharisees, and Jesus.

This story in the book of Matthew happens in the dead center of Holy Week. Jesus has entered Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey, thrown out the money changers, and offered some radical teachings that challenge those in power. All of this is leading up to the Friday of Jesus’ crucifixion. In the meantime, the religious leaders are closing in on Jesus.

And the identity of the different leaders play a really important role in understanding Jesus’ words. The Pharisees must be really desperate to get rid of Jesus because they are partnering with the Herodians, their enemies. The Pharisees are religious rule followers. They want to do their religion correctly. The Herodians, on the other hand, are the region’s ruling people for the Roman empire and have been known to make Jewish rule-following tough.

Case in point: the Jewish folks do not want to own, use, or touch the denarius coin used for the tax to Caesar. This coin not only has a graven image on it (a religious no-no), it also reads “Caesar is the son of God.” Well, the tax that the Herodians collect is exactly one denarius--so the Jewish folks HAVE to touch them.

And now the ambush. After a little false flattery the Pharisees ask Jesus a trick question: Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?

Trick question. First, revisit what you now know about the denarius. If Jesus says yes, we should pay the tax, the Jews would feel betrayed by Jesus. They would claim Jesus is siding with the empire that forces them to break their religious laws. But if Jesus says that Jews should not pay the tax because of religious reasons, he is a traitor to the empire and in very deep trouble with the Herodians.

It’s a trick question. The answers of yes or no will land him in hot water either way.

But Jesus musters a rather clever response: Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Now, to the non-Jewish listener, this is a decent and satisfactory answer. The emperor gets his money and the people get their God. The Herodians most likely see this as a compromise between the state and the church, a binary of sorts that suits them just fine.

But, to the first-century Jewish listener, especially a Pharisee, there would have been no binary in this answer. Jesus answered this question in just as tricky a way as it was asked. Jesus’ final statement is “to God the things that are God’s.” Do you know what the Bible says are “God’s things?” ALL OF IT.

In fact, Psalm 24, which was used at the entrance to the temple, starts like this: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. No Pharisee would have missed Jesus’ meaning when he says we should “Give to God the things that are God’s.” All things are God’s--even that denarius.

So while the Herodians see a nice division of labor in Jesus’ response, so too do the Pharisees see his play on words and cannot condemn him.

All things are God’s things.

And for us in 2020 this offers some insight and perhaps comfort.

In a political time like ours, where it’s easy to see people dividing up their lives based on power and political party, it is all the more important to remember that all that we have and all that we are, are ultimately to live in and grow out of the love of God. There is no binary where Christians get to divide some of our priorities to the state and some to God. That type of quarantine does not exist.

As my friend Rev. Dr. Richard Floyd says, “we only give to Caesar what can be done as a faithful service to God.” We only give to our government, to our communities, what can be done as a faithful service to God. God is our first loyalty and our first calling. In what is perhaps our most momentous and divisive election in the history of our nation, we as Christians are called to only give to Caesar what can be done as a faithful service to God. There is no part of our lives that can be lived outside of the scope of God’s reign. All things are God’s things.

And while saying that all things are God’s things is an exhortation to live a certain way, it is also a declaration of comfort. It is a declaration that God’s love knows no bounds. The Heidelberg Catechism proclaimed this comfort long ago: What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

When you feel pulled in different directions, disappointed in the loyalties of others or maybe even yourself, when you are exhausted by all the graven images being tossed around, know that in the end you can rest in the comfort that your life belongs to God. The loyalties on earth cannot tear you apart, you are made whole and wholly made by and for God.


Copyright © 2020 by Rev. Jenelle Holmes. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author, venue (Ormewood Church, Atlanta) and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Forgiveness and Neighborliness

Our neighbor Mary took this slip from
her rosebush and rooted it for us.
Reminds me of The Little Prince.

In recent weeks I’ve been writing about the relationship of community and compassion. Last week I summed up my post, “Loving our neighbors as ourselves requires first recognizing them as neighbors.”  That post also explained the role of confrontation on behalf of our neighbors. This post from October 22, 2014 talks about how forgiveness plays into neighborliness.

I recite the Lord’s Prayer daily, and often the most challenging phrase for me is the second part of “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Though I’ve received everything I have from a generous and gracious God, it’s hard to let go of grudges and wrongs and the feeling that others owe me something or that somehow I have unfairly missed out.

Or if I pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I think about how often I impinge on God’s territory by profaning the sacred, by judging or pre-judging others, by invading the space of one of God’s creatures, by polluting God’s property: earth, water, and air; or by playing God—a role which, in all modesty, I play rather well. 

To the poor who followed Jesus, “forgive us our debts,” must’ve sounded pretty good. It sounds pretty good to us today, weighed down as we are with loans, credit cards, church pledges, expectations from elderly parents or children of any age or our beloved pets, not to mention Comcast bills.

To the sinners who followed Jesus, “forgive us our trespasses” or “sins” must’ve sounded pretty good. It also sounds pretty good to us today, burdened by moral failings, hurt we’ve inflicted on those we love most, toes we’ve stepped on or boundaries we’ve crossed, injustice we’ve ignored.

Thank God, there’s a lot of forgiveness in the Bible, and, according to Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann, longtime oracle of Columbia Theological Seminary, forgiveness may involve money, land, power, politics, morality, and religious pretensions.

Religious scruples are what the late-converted apostle Paul often addressed. Paul when he was Saul was a Torah fundamentalist who followed every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses, not simply the Ten Commandments on which it’s based, but all the interpretations, applications, court rulings, and explications of Mosaic Law.

As we know from our own Christian tradition, no one can claim the moral high ground better than a self-righteous legalist, traditionalist, or fundamentalist. As an aside, Brueggemann also points out that no one can claim the moral high ground better than a self-righteous liberal, progressive, non-literalist such as myself. All of us tend to equate God’s views with our own, what Brueggemann calls “the cunning little secret of certitude.”

And that’s the tension in the early church—legalists wanting other Christians to follow the Laws of Moses, including dietary restrictions and Sabbath observance, and others who experience freedom in Christ as to such spiritual beliefs and practices. Paul comes down on the side of freedom in Christ, but urges all Christians to respect and regard one another’s positions. Paul is truly a recovered fundamentalist, but doesn’t twist others’ arms to come to 12-step meetings of Legalists Anonymous.

“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?” Paul rhetorically questions the Romans, and then observes, “It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

Christians have entered into a covenant with Jesus and with one another that requires the interweaving of our lives, beliefs, and practices. Every strand is needed to create the fabric of our spiritual community, one that hopefully reflects Jesus’ meaning for our neighborhood and for the world.

Discussing the Ten Commandments in his book of essays, The Covenanted Self, Brueggemann affirms that the first three commandments about Yahweh give rise to the other seven, which all have to do with living in community, being good neighbors, and loving the neighbor as oneself.

In awe of God, we are called to, in a sense, privilege the neighbor to be truly neighborly and faithful to God. We are to consider their needs, their beliefs, their practices above our own needs, beliefs, and practices. It’s like what is said about marriage, each partner must give 150%. 50% doesn’t cut it, not even 100%. But if we strive to give 150% we are more likely to make a marriage or a spiritual community work.

That requires forgiveness—forgiving that the other is not all we expected, forgiving mistakes and ignorance and insensitivity, forgiving wrongs and inabilities and limitations. And forgiving ourselves these things as well. We are not perfect people. We are forgiven people.

Our model is Jesus, of whom our Christian tradition says that he emptied himself to be a servant. Jesus emptied himself into the neighbor, Brueggemann asserts, and urges us to “imagine that neighborliness is more important than good economics or good politics or good morality or good orthodoxy.” While accepting that challenge, I would add that truly good economics, politics, morality, or orthodoxy must be based in neighborliness.

In Living Buddha, Living Christ, the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of a woman who invoked the name of the Buddha hundreds of times a day for ten years, but “was still filled with anger and irritation.” Noticing this over the years, a neighbor knocked on her door and called to her. Annoyed, she struck her meditation bell hard to make it clear she was chanting. The neighbor called again and again, and finally the woman shouted, “Can’t you see I’m invoking the name of the Buddha? Why are you bothering me now?”

The neighbor responded, “I only called your name twelve times, and look at how angry you have become. Imagine how angry the Buddha must be after you have been calling his name for ten years!”


Related posts:

Recovering Compassion

Compassion and Community

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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.