Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Love Force

 


Today and next Wednesday I am revisiting two posts relevant to the upcoming U.S. elections. This post appeared on Nov. 7, 2012, but was written on election day, Nov. 6, before results were known.

Mid-October I read in the morning paper about the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the Taliban shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for encouraging the education of girls in Pakistan, and the death of George Whitmore, an African American whose life was never good after a reckless and wrongful conviction for murders committed while witnesses actually placed him in a catering hall where he was employed, watching Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.

Not exactly the stuff of contemplation, you might think.

Yet exactly the reason we need contemplation. In Soul Friend, Kenneth Leech echoes Merton and other contemplatives when he writes:

The contemplative is more of a threat to injustice than the social activist who merely sees the piecemeal need. For contemplative vision is revolutionary vision, and it is the achievement of this vision which is the fruit of true spiritual direction. A spirituality of clear vision goes hand in hand with love. To see with the eyes of God is to see truthfully and lovingly. Such a love is not sentimental or naïve: it is a love which undermines oppression and burns away illusion and falsehood, a love which has been through the fire, a love which has been purified through struggle. It is a love which has known solitude and despair.

I’ve been re-reading insights I’ve underlined in books I read long ago. The morning that I saw the above articles, I happened onto one of Mahatma Gandhi’s ruminations in The Gandhi Reader (ed. Homer A. Jack) on satyagraha, variously interpreted as love force, truth force, and soul force and politically expressed in non-violent direct action. “The force of love is the same as the force of the soul or truth,” Gandhi wrote.

When asked for proof of its existence in history, he replies, “History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul.” He uses the illustration of two siblings arguing. If they go to war or sue (for Gandhi, a lawyer, another form of violence) their quarrel will be remembered, but if their love for one another is reawakened and they reconcile, few notice because that’s as it should be. “Soul-force, being natural, is not noted in history,” Gandhi explains, declaring that what’s true of families is true of nations.

The next day our newspaper carried an article about studies indicating we retrospectively characterize a week or a time in our lives by its peaks rather than intervening constancy, which to me seems to validate Gandhi’s point.

But I would add that satyagraha is revealed in history when love stands up to the test, such as Gandhi’s challenges to injustice through civil disobedience. This may give us a new way of understanding the cross: Jesus’ love force stood up to “the powers that be,” and the crucifixion interrupted the natural trajectory of truth, love, and soul of the inbreaking commonwealth of God, just as it was subsequently interrupted by the persecution of early Christians who tried to live into that commonwealth. Thus Easter is an affirmation of the triumph of truth, love, and soul and non-cooperation with the forces of violence and death.

I schedule my posts on Tuesday for Wednesday publication, so this was put in final form on election day in the U.S., which means I do not know the outcome. Indeed, the outcome may not be known by the time you read this, given the anticipated closeness of the presidential election and the possibility of contested election results.

No matter. Whoever is elected will have to deal with those who want to make a name for themselves or their party or their ideologies by exploiting division and divisive issues—in other words, making history rather than letting the forces of love, truth, and soul bring reconciliation, mercy, and justice to Washington, D.C. As much as I believe in recovery programs and understand alcohol may easily exacerbate orneriness, I long for the time when lawmakers would end their day having cocktails together and trust working together and compromise without looking to give the latest sound bite to inflame their constituencies, satisfy their contributors, promote their ideologies, and enlarge their egos.

What we need in government—as elected officials and voters—are more contemplatives.

 

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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, September 16, 2020

Henri Joins the Circus


Henri catching the wing of a windmill.

To give us a break in the midst of our pandemic and political drama, as well as for my friends and family coping with fire and smoke on the West Coast of the U.S., I offer this to bring a smile to your face.

Attending an international Nouwen conference in Toronto in the summer of 2016, I was reminded of the research Henri Nouwen did for a book he never wrote about the Flying Rodleighs, trapeze artists in a German circus. He wanted it to say something about the spiritual life in more universal (rather than religious) language. So I wrote and posted this children’s story on August 10, 2016. I had fun drawing Henri on a windmill!  It alludes to his early book Clowning in Rome and his later fascination with the trapeze.

Once upon a time there was a wide-eyed boy named Henri. He lived in Holland during a great war. His hands were large, his ears were large, he was clumsy and awkward, and he felt like a clown.

And so he went to clown seminary. He devoted himself to learning all the gestures a clown must use, flapping his oversize hands like birds, extending them at arms’ length in welcome, clapping them rapidly together as if offering multiple expressions of gratitude for everything and everyone he encountered.

He stuck his neck out, squinted his eyes as if to see better, turned a big ear to hear clearly, bowed grandly but deferentially, and stood on tippy-toes to accentuate his already great height when making a point. And he had a huge, goofy grin that revealed his absolute delight at encountering you.

Henri found a costume that accentuated his vocation, and learned how to apply garish makeup that sometimes covered his true feelings.

So Henri joined the circus, following the poet e.e. cummings’ famous advice: “damn everything but the circus.” He travelled hither and yon, over hill and over dale, as the circus wagons kept rolling along.

He stumbled and fumbled and tumbled and somersaulted his way into people’s hearts. “He is just like us,” they said, sometimes smiling in recognition, sometimes deeply moved as his familiar foibles and limitations tugged at their heart strings. His disabilities mirrored our disabilities.

But Henri had a secret wish: to fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Sometimes his height allowed him to catch an arm of a windmill, common in Holland’s countryside, and the uplift took his breath away. He could see great distances and imagine himself flung to the heavens before crashing to earth in a pile of hay, cushioning his fall.

And then Henri met Rodney, a trapeze artist. Rodney was strong and graceful, beautiful and amazing. He was everything Henri wished to be, and  HE COULD FLY! Boy, could he fly, doing doubles and triples midair without a care in the world.

“How do you do that?” Henri asked Rodney, appreciatively. “Being absolutely present in the moment,” Rodney explained. “I let go of everything that can hold me down: my cares, my doubts, my fears, even yesterday’s mistakes. And I trust. I trust the Catcher, and I trust the net. Gravity is not my enemy; it is the friend that brings me home. I can go up toward the skies knowing I will come home. I surrender to the moment and soar, knowing gravity will keep me down to earth.”

Then Rodney added, “It’s the same thing you do when you stumble and fumble and tumble and somersault into people’s hearts—except you do it grounded. Your gravity is compassion. Your home is the heart.”

Henri was stunned. He had never thought of his work in this way. Rodney’s words lifted him up, and Henri felt like this man on the flying trapeze.


My book about Henri:

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Compassion and Community

I took this photo of an 80-year-old Nicaraguan who had just voted in her first free and fair election. She is holding up her thumb that had been dipped in red ink to prevent voting more than once.

On our morning walks in the neighborhood before COVID-19, Wade and I would greet and be greeted by neighbors along our various routes (different for each day). But now that more people are out and about, walking, the new walkers seem less likely to look up from their cellphones or hear our greetings under their earbuds, though the runners still do, I guess because they have seen me run in the neighborhood and we have that connection.

I have supposed we have not yet formed with the new walkers the community needed to be acknowledged.

Last week’s post, “Recovering Compassion,” grew out of my current reading of a 1982 book by Henri Nouwen, Douglas Morrison, and Donald McNeill entitled Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. What I have read since is that these three Catholic Christian authors believe compassion requires community: sensed, actual, and/or geographical.

What I first intended for this post was to suggest my difficulty feeling compassion for those with whom I politically disagree because they are not a part of “my” community. But instead let me describe this phenomenon positively. I feel compassion for Black Lives Matter protestors because the Civil Rights Movement “woke” me about equal justice and opportunity for all and inspired my own pursuit of that for LGBTQ people. And I admire the movement, We Are the 99 Percent, because my dad was a blue-collar Teamster truck driver and we lived on working class wages, despite my mom teaching at a Christian school for sacrificially low wages. And I better understand migrants escaping harsh conditions in Latin America because I have visited a post-Somoza Nicaragua and a post-Pinochet Chile.

And, in fact, I have tried to understand friends and family and fellow churchgoers with whom I share love and memories and values whose political bias opposes or diverges from mine. So true community does allow for diversity as well as compassion.

But I need—we need—to enlarge our sense of community.

The authors of Compassion write:

When we are no longer able to recognize suffering persons as fellow human beings, their pain evokes more disgust and anger than compassion.

Responding compassionately to what the media present to us is made even more difficult by its “neutrality.” … Whatever the news announces—war, murder, floods, the weather, and the football scores—is reported with the same ritualized tone of voice and facial expression.  … All of this is regularly interrupted by smiling people urging us to buy products of dubious necessity. The whole “service” is so distant and aloof that the most obvious response is to invest no more energy in it than in brushing your teeth before going to bed.

They contrast this with Jesus and God being moved by compassion, biblically described (multiple times) as feeling it in their guts (Jesus) and in their womb (Yahweh).

They offer as a role model the Trappist monk and social critic Thomas Merton whose “knowledge of the suffering of the world came not from the media but from letters written by friends for whom particular events had personal significance. To these friends a response was possible. When information about human suffering comes to us through a person who can be embraced, it is humanized.”

On occasion, Merton invited many of them to gather at Gethsemani Abbey to share and pray together and community was formed.

I have travelled widely and that has piqued my interest in developments in many states, countries, and locales. I am more attentive to their stories on the news or in the newspaper as a result. When a recent U.S. president was elected who had never traveled abroad, I wondered how he could possibly “get” or care about other regions or cultures.

Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community” is larger than we can fathom. The commonwealth of God that Jesus proclaimed is more extensive than our fellow believers. Instead of the Prosperity Gospel prayer to “enlarge my territory” for personal success and wealth, we need the Progressive Gospel prayer to “enlarge my community” and thus our compassion.


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, September 2, 2020

Recovering Compassion

Mosaic along Philadelphia's South Street

For the past four years, I have prayed daily for compassion within our nation’s leadership. So it’s high time I read the only Henri Nouwen book I don’t recall reading, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, co-authored in 1982 with Donald P. McNeill and Douglas A. Morrison.

The copy I’m reading was my gift to my mother on Valentine’s Day, 1993, “remembering your own gracious gifts of compassion,” I wrote in it.

It’s an eye-opening experience, replete with many surprising considerations. Though I’ve written elsewhere that caring for those in need is considered by archaeologists a sign of civilization, compassion is not universally considered the highest human value. There are those who have argued that a compassionate society impinges on the “higher” value of individual freedom. Small wonder Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village was problematic for some!

The authors interviewed many people and many communities to prepare for writing Compassion. Of particular interest to me was their conversation about compassion in politics with the late U.S. Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a progressive of his time:

Senator Humphrey walked back to his desk, picked up a long pencil with a small eraser at its end, and said in his famous high-pitched voice: “Gentlemen, look at this pencil. Just as the eraser is only a very small part of this pencil and is used only when you make a mistake, so compassion is only called upon when things get out of hand. The main part of life is competition; only the eraser is compassion. It is sad to say, gentlemen, but in politics compassion is just part of the competition.”

The authors observe, “Compassion erases the mistakes of life… To be compassionate then means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition.”

Compassion is neither our central concern nor our primary stance in life. What we really desire is to make it in life, to get ahead, to be first, to be different. We want to forge our identities by carving out for ourselves niches in life where we can maintain a safe distance from others. We do not aspire to suffer with others.

Is this the basis of “white grievance”? Do some straight white males see themselves diminished by the ascendance of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color? For the life of me, I can’t work up compassion for those who oppose rights and opportunities for those who have been marginalized. But I can understand those who feel they have been left out of the system because I was for so long as a gay man. Yet perception is not always reality. Leaders who play up that perception to gain power are not honest brokers. They are mistreating the same people they claim to empower.

“Must we simply recognize that we are more competitive than compassionate and try to make the best of it…?” the Catholic Christian authors ask in their introduction. “This book says No…” and then quotes Jesus in Luke 6:36: “Be compassionate as your [God] is compassionate.”

The authors don’t use the terms, but the call of Jesus is counter-cultural and revolutionary: “it is a call that goes right against the grain; that turns us completely around and requires a total conversion of heart and mind. … God’s own compassion constitutes the basis and source of our compassion.”

Here [in the example of Jesus] we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position… On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.

In a time so filled with methods and techniques designed to change people, to influence their behavior, and to make them do new things and think new thoughts, we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other. We have lost this gift because we have been led to believe that presence must be useful.

But what really counts is that in moments of pain and suffering someone stays with us.


I have reordered some sentences within the spirit of the authors.

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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, August 26, 2020

House Arrest



On my office file cabinet I have a magnet that scolds, “You’ve been bad. Go to your office!”

Of course this echoes what some of us heard as children, “You’ve been bad. Go to your room!” The isolation, the confinement, and the implied restrictions served as punishment to dissuade us from bad behavior. In more recent times it was called a “time out.”

In the olden days, when I was growing up, it meant no television, no telephone, no play, and for some, no dinner—this in the days when there was only one TV and one phone in the house, and no devices on which to play games or watch something in your room. Do we mistake our present isolation as a kind of punishment?

This is how those most privileged among us might experience the “stay-at-home” confinement of our worldwide pandemic. A slight inconvenience, but a nagging reminder of the dangers of our footloose-and-fancy-free days when we could do just about anything we wanted.

It reminds me of when I was once shushed by a favored aunt as a little boy. Me, trying to be the best-little-boy-in-the-world, an offender?! How could this be?

Now, don’t get me wrong. As an introvert, I appreciate time alone or time with a few. As a spiritual person, I know I am not alone, but surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses before God. As a reader, I enjoy hearing from all kinds of people. As a writer, I am gratified to have people read my stuff. Even this post I feared would sound like whining!

But I’m writing this because I know I am not the only one who feels discombobulated by the necessity of social distancing, limited physical contact, and fearful interactions. When I go to buy our groceries, I feel as if I’m on a risky venture. When I don my mask and sometimes gloves, I feel like I’m getting ready for a walk in space.  

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the prison drama series, Orange Is the New Black, because I find the idea of imprisonment depressing. The earlier prison drama series, Oz, also didn’t appeal to me, despite its erotic male content.

Long ago I had a dream in which I found myself in prison, cut off from all those people I cared about and cared about me. I thought, well, with so much time on my hands, I could get a lot of reading done! But, in the dream, I was too depressed to pick up a book.

Maybe all this reminds me of my years in the closet as a gay youth. Maybe it’s reminiscent of the limitations of an early adolescent political conservatism that was transformed by education and compassion and maturity. Undoubtedly it smacks of the confining Christian fundamentalism that held me down and held me back from truly enjoying the world and even enjoying myself until I was in college.

The apostle Paul had his own fundamentalism to overcome, one that prompted his initial persecution of liberalizing Christians. And he purportedly produced one of his finest epistles while under house arrest in Rome: Ephesians. Concerned with the partisanship within the early church, he eloquently argued that now, in following Jesus, Christians were one, overcoming any “dividing wall of hostility.” 

I pray those who believe in a fair and just representative democracy may share such a vision of unity in our present state of house arrest.


  
Related posts:

I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program with Zoom sessions September 17-19, 2020 entitled 
You are invited! The site’s dates include “reading weeks” beginning August 31st in which you are invited to comment on the texts for the retreat and a final day “Sabbath” for rest and reflection on September 20th.

Donations to this blog ministry may be given safely by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

I Can't Say It Better


My title is a confession that there are times when scripture needs direct absorption without the filter or interpretation of a writer or speaker or “official” biblical scholar, let alone a blogger like me. I don’t think readers of this blog will believe I’m shirking my duties if I share directly with you a psalm that has grabbed my attention and contemplation this week as I, like you, cope with the challenges of a pandemic and a charged political atmosphere.

Those who know me directly or through my work will not need me to point out how and to whom I believe the following verses may apply. You know my mind and my heart and my passion and compassion well enough without need of explicit comparisons to current events and public figures. And both those who don’t know me and those who do have their own counsel at hand to find the following verses comforting and encouraging and applicable to our current situation.

Carl Jung’s synchronicity or the Holy Spirit or both would have it that when I turned to my NRSV last week for solace, I found stuck in its pages a slip from a notepad from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital whose very name welcomes the blessings of both faith and science. Saint Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes and is often depicted with a flame around his head, reflecting his presence at Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit.

As I write this, I glance at Ganesha sitting on the bookshelf beside my desk. Ganesha is the Hindu god of arts and sciences and fresh beginnings, one who removes obstacles (one of the reasons I keep it close to my computer!) and so strikes me as a complement to Saint Jude’s desire to help the hopeless.  

On the side of the slip of paper that bears the logo and name of St. Jude Hospital, I long ago wrote down the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday, but on the back I wrote Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40. So last week I turned to Psalm 37 and ruminated on it during my morning prayers on the days since. I encourage you to read the entire psalm, but here are some of its verses with few and minor inclusive language changes. If the title “Lord” troubles you, feel free to substitute another metaphor, such as “Holy One.”

Do not fret because of the wicked;
  do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
  and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
  so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
  and you will be given the desires of your hearts.

Commit your way to the Lord;
  trust in God, and God will act.
Yahweh will make your vindication shine like the light,
  and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for God;
   do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
   over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
  Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
  but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

The wicked plot against the righteous,
  and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
  knowing that their day is coming.

The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
  to bring down the poor and needy,
  to kill those who walk uprightly;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
  and their bows shall be broken.

Better is a little that the righteous person has
  than the abundance of many wicked.
The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
  but the righteous are generous and keep giving.

Though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
  for the Lord holds us by the hand.
For the Lord loves justice
  and will not forsake God’s faithful ones.

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord,
  who is their refuge in time of trouble.


I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

Donations to this blog ministry may be given securely by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Scripture copyright © 2010 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Church and World Re-Imagined



A recent editorial about our new nuclear arms race, “The World Can Still Be Destroyed in a Flash,” on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings reminded me of my post on August 13, 2014.

Last week’s anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminded me of a deeply moving visit to a church that had faced a difficult transition.

Nearly 30 years ago I led workshops for a congregation in the state of Oregon. The next day, the pastor who was hosting me took me to “his” church—not the congregation he pastored, but the one he attended when he just wanted to be on the receiving end of ministry. As we drove through the hamlets and villages of the state, he told me how this church experienced a crisis when its sanctuary burned down to the ground and they had to decide what to do—whether to rebuild or buy another property.

My new friend continued his story as we drove into what appeared to be a motel and parked in its parking lot. The church decided, he said, to practice what it preached, and instead of building some grand new sanctuary with the insurance money, to purchase this motel instead. Services were conducted in what had been the motel’s large lobby, and its rooms were made available to the homeless.

As if that were not enough, the speaker that day was a survivor of Hiroshima, it being the 40th anniversary of the bomb being dropped on his city. Some of you may know that Hiroshima was not so much a military target as a spiritual target, intended to strike a demoralizing blow to the Empire of Japan.

As the gentle, elderly man rose to speak, I was mindful that my father, en route to Japan during WW II, was said to have been saved from actual combat by the dropping of the bomb. Eventually my father saw the devastation of Nagasaki firsthand, debarking from his troop ship in its harbor. Soon, as part of the occupying forces, he was welcomed into one family’s life in another part of the country, to whom my family sent packages of goods long after his return to California. At the same time, a Japanese-American family down the street from us, who became friends, had been among those sent to a so-called “relocation center” during the war.

The dignified survivor stood behind the pulpit. He carefully pulled his notes from the pocket of his suit jacket, and unfolded the silk scarves in which they were wrapped. The effect was that of unveiling the Holy Grail.

He spoke of being a child in school when the blast occurred; of hearing planes overhead and taking cover; of being burned by the flash and bloodied by flying glass, yet having somehow survived radiation poisoning. He described losing family and friends, either immediately or eventually. He told us of the physical devastation to the city and to his own body.

Yet he did not speak of recrimination. He spoke of redemption. Having seen the horror of war, he had devoted his life to peace. And that was his gospel to us that morning. Peace. Peace on earth, good will toward all. In that former motel lobby, I both saw and heard the gospel of peace and redemption.


Click here to see the original post with additional relevant links.

I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

Donations to this blog ministry may be given by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wonder


Yesterday’s New York Times editorial about human endeavors reminded me of my post of July 12, 2017 about “Wonder.” As I work this week preparing a schedule for a virtual spiritual formation at-home retreat I thought it would give me a respite timewise and offer you a respite from our challenging political and pandemical times. Enjoy!

Others have come to the same conclusion, but in the sixty-six years that I have been given, I believe the essential ingredient of a spiritual life is wonder.

It can be found and expressed in many ways: worship, contemplation, compassion, activism, lovemaking, the beloved community, science, art, nature, and the recognition of the commonwealth of God, to name a few.

But the farther away any of these get from wonder, they can become tablets of stone, stumbling blocks, millstones round our necks, a dutiful obligation rather than a pleasurable joy.

As I write this, Luna, our neighbor’s cat, is chasing something in our back yard. I have spent happy moments watching Luna from my home office windows as she approaches our yard with wonder, leaping up the tall, central Bradford pear tree, slinking beneath our hedge of privet shrubs, luxuriating in rubbing her back on our weedy grass.

From our front porch, I’ve enjoyed watching her go on morning walks with her family (yes, really!): a dog named Lexi, children with a literary and a biblical name, Darcy and Micah, their father Chris, a New Testament professor at Mercer University, and mother Jenelle, who is the organizing pastor of the newly-forming Ormewood Church.

Luna runs ahead and lingers behind, depending on what catches her attention in the moment. She exemplifies wonder. And I realize that we human beings know only a little more than she does about the nature of things.

The morning I write this, I greeted them again from our front porch during my prayers, after reading a couple of psalms and Matthew 18, which includes Jesus’ counsel to enter the kingdom as a child, remove their stumbling blocks, find the lost sheep, confront wrongdoing in yourself and in the community, and finally, forgive from the heart, even as we have been forgiven.

In silence I contemplated the very tall and old leafy trees before me, the tiny bird chirping on the railing, the runner going by, the found stones that line our gardens, only a little distracted by the passing cars, some of which take the stop sign at the intersection as a mere “suggestion.”

The week I write this, I awoke each morning to NPR reporting on various catastrophes, a high rise fire, several bombings and mass shootings, the investigation of the administration.

Despite all that, I found myself marveling (yes, I realize how antiquated the gerund) that all I saw before me, including me, has evolved.  What impetus organizes seemingly inert matter into living things, thinking beings, and seems to call for beauty and compassion and wonder?

A couple of days ago, I read how the liver regenerates itself daily as it carries out so many mysteries that ancients thought it was the seat of the soul.  And not long ago I read how disparate parts of the brain organize the various signals from our eyes into what we “see.”

No wonder the psalmist sang this morning, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of God’s mouth” (33:5b-6).

“Breathe on me, breath of God,” sings the old hymn.  What a sensual yet spiritual request!

“The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”  This popular quote from Irenaeus of Lyons hangs in our hallway, written by the hand of the calligrapher who once graced Mt. Calvary Retreat House in the hills above Santa Barbara before its destruction in the 2008 Montecito fire.

From dust to dust, ashes to ashes, our brief flicker in between is a cause for wonder.


For several photos of Luna, see the original post.

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Rest in Peace, Rise in Glory


If anyone deserves to rest in peace and rise in glory, it is our Congressman, Representative John Robert Lewis.

He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, he got into “good trouble,” he served his Lord and his country well.

A few days before he died last week, I wrote on Facebook that in every encounter Wade and I had with him, he made us feel as if he were there to see us! And he really saw us, engaged with us, wanted to know “how are you doin’?” He didn’t look around to see if there was someone else to greet. He was solidly there, pleased to listen.

I put this on Facebook because we had just been moved watching the documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble.

Wade was so charmed by him that he on two occasions invited him to our home for dinner. And Congressman Lewis said yes, he’d love to come. I felt like the centurion who said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” Lewis was a Civil Rights Movement icon and I did not feel worthy. Our place is small and modest. What would we serve? Whom invite? Should it be a campaign fundraiser? We did not pursue it because of my reservations.

I am grateful Rep. Lewis lived to see the latest incarnation and proliferation of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Lives Matter. He seemed to share my view that all movements are led by subsequent generations. Younger people see things and know things and feel things that us older folk may miss.

Please permit an aside. I don’t like the facile categories and generalizations applied to different generations. I think they are a weak media invention and new occasions for prejudice. This week a columnist described being called to task as a “Baby Boomer” who had dreamed of a new and better world in the 60’s, “Okay, Boomer, why didn’t you finish the job?”

The truth of the matter is that all the activists I knew and worked with in the 60’s and 70’s and beyond have never stopped working for a better world. Many problems cannot be “fixed” in a single generation.

Ironically, the LGBTQIA Movement of which I have been part nearly DID “finish our job,” accomplishing more goals than I ever thought possible in my lifetime. That’s why we now have the luxury, opportunity, and responsibility of “intersectionality,” better understanding and expressing and addressing the relationship of all peace and justice and equality issues.

I was deeply touched by an outstanding LGBTQIA activist writing that my first book helped him realize that “I was possible.”  That is why I am so beholden to the Civil Rights Movement: it helped me realize that “I was possible.”

I doubt I have ever had the courage of John Lewis, willing to non-violently endure a fractured skull on the Edmund Pettus bridge. But I am glad I got to touch, as it were, “the hem of his garment.”

Representative Lewis loved this early mug shot,
displayed at a restaurant in our neighborhood.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mary Trump's "Frankenstein"


Watching Mary Trump’s interview by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last Thursday about her book on the shaping and misshaping of her uncle, the President (Too Much—Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man), I remembered a post I wrote on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein October 26, 2011. Our society has minted a number of “Frankensteins” who are underdeveloped in compassion, the trait that unites us with God. As I wrote then:

The Christian teacher Abelard of the twelfth century explained the atonement this way: witnessing Jesus suffering on the cross awakens in us that which makes us one with God: our compassion. Compassion is our link to divinity. To witness suffering—whether firsthand or through the media—may draw out our divine urge to hold and help the vulnerable.

My concern in re-presenting this reflection is not, per se, political, but rather, to remind us how “Frankensteins” are made, not born. I take the Celtic Christian view of original innocence—that yes, we may be marred by sin, but we are not sinful at birth, as the concept of Original Sin would have it.

From my 2011 post:

A few years ago I watched for the first time the Kenneth Branagh film, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  It prompted me to read Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, discovering that the film reflects many of its insights. The creature who has been given his creator’s name in the public mind is not the monosyllabic grunter of gay director James Whale’s 1931 film classic (whose own story is the content of another worthy film, Gods and Monsters), but an eloquent philosopher on being a creature abandoned by his creator and rejected by fellow creatures.

Asking for a mate “as hideous as himself,” the creature explains to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, “If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I should return them an hundred and an hundred fold; for that one creature’s sake, I would make peace with the whole kind!” His creator writes, “His words had a strange effect upon me. I compassionated him, and sometimes felt a wish to console him; but when I looked upon him, when I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened, and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred.”

Branagh’s movie version of the creature’s words captures the sinister consequence of being denied: “I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” And only then concludes, “For the sympathy of one human being, I would make peace with all.”

I concluded my post with this pastoral illustration:

I attended an ordination in San Francisco which featured two pastors giving “the charge” to one who would be serving as a chaplain and director of a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at a local hospital. The Presbyterian pastor gave an eloquent but long commendation whose content I do not remember. The MCC pastor gave a memorable two-point counsel. “The people you’ll be serving,” she said simply, “Basically want to know ‘Am I alone?’ and ‘Am I loved?’”

“For the sympathy of one human being, I would make peace with all.”

We are all creatures. We each have love in us the likes of which can scarcely be imagined and rage the likes of which can hardly be believed. If we cannot satisfy the one, we might indulge the other.



I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

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Copyright © 2011 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Flower's Tears

The flowers I was contemplating.

I had a great idea (or so I egotistically thought) for a justice/politically-minded post last week that would have pleased many of you, but I decided “what the world needs now,” as the song goes, is Zen! Last Wednesday and today I am revisiting two posts that are Zen-like in orientation, one from 2018 and this one from 2016. I pray they bring peace to our troubled souls!

I had just read a quote from landscape artist Thomas Cole: “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it? We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly.”

A woman on public radio announced Beethoven’s pastoral sonata, #15.

Then I heard something drop. I looked up from my tablet and realized the bouquet of flowers in front of me was losing petals. The before-dawn early morning was so quiet I could hear a petal fall.

This prompted me to compose this poem:

A flower’s tears
are the dewdrops
that drip, orb by orb,
as sun rises.

A flower’s tears
are the raindrops
that stream, string by string,
as storms rage.

A flower’s tears
are the petals
that drop, one by one,
as life renews.

I was sitting at our dining room table, a very solid oak sturdy-legged altar that once served as Wade’s grandfather’s butcher block. Long before we met, Wade had painstakingly sanded (and sanded) and refinished this table that seats four and can be extended by way of built-in leaves for eight just as comfortably. On all five windows of the pentagonal room hang patterned stained-glass, framed in various shapes in wood whose peeling white trim contrasted with the colors of their homes that no longer stand.

The morning I write this, I rose so early that my usual place for morning prayers was too dark to read, so I chose this alternate sanctuary.

And then I read: “Henri taught me that the characteristics I had identified with religion are just the outer circle. What really matters is a fundamental attitude of seeking to do something that is valuable to yourself and to the world.” Henri Nouwen’s nephew Marc van Campen wrote this in Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen.

Moved by awe at this magical moment, I thanked God that life is filled with such opportunities to experience the world “as if for the first time” and then to express that mystery in writing, in art, in service.

“Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it? We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly.”



I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"A Flower Does Not Talk"

One of our orchids.
I had a great idea (or so I egotistically thought) for a justice/politically-minded post that would have pleased many of you, but I decided “what the world needs now,” as the song goes, is Zen! Today and next Wednesday I am revisiting two posts that are Zen-like in orientation, one from 2018 and the second from 2016. I pray they bring peace to our troubled souls!

The whole world today, both East and West, seems to be going through a period of convulsion, a time of travail, as it seeks to give birth to a new culture. There cannot be one simple cause for the tensions in so many parts of the world, but one of the major factors may be that while remarkable progress has been made in the use of new scientific knowledge, we human beings have not developed sufficiently spiritually and ethically to meet the new conditions.

It is most urgently required, therefore, that we must work to create a new human culture by striving for a truer understanding of humanity and a higher level of spirituality.

This seems to echo the observations of Teilhard de Chardin, writing just after World War II, and speaks to our own time nearly two decades into the 21st century. But it comes from a book written in 1970 by Zenkei Shibayama, a Zen master and then abbot of Nazenji Monastery in Kyoto, Japan. The book is titled, A Flower Does Not Talk: Zen Essays, and was translated into English by one of the author’s disciples, Miss Sumoko Kudo.

I took this from my bookshelves very early morning of the Saturday I write this, a little more than a week before leading a contemplative retreat, which I should continue preparing for, but I prefer to write this post, to be published a week after the retreat. The title possibly appealed to me because I am a little anxious about my impending leadership. In her helpful book, Be Still: Designing and Leading Contemplative Retreats, Jane E. Vennard writes that the best way to lead contemplation is to be a contemplative. A flower that does not talk seems a good role model.

As I read Shibayama’s preface and Daisetz T. Suzuki’s introduction, I wondered how I had never read this book that has sat alongside my books of Eastern wisdom for at least three decades. I was moved to find that the introduction was the famous D. T. Suzuki’s last writing, having completed it the day before he took sick, dying the day after that at the age of 95.

Only when I sat down to write this post did I see “Culbertson” handwritten on the title page and realize that this was either a loan or a gift from my friend, Linda Culbertson, recent executive of the Presbytery of the Pacific.

Suzuki evokes a smile with his very first sentence, “Zen claims to be ‘a specific transmission outside the scripture and to be altogether independent of verbalism,’ but it is Zen Masters who are most talkative and most addicted to writings of all sorts.” As a would-be contemplative who obviously loves words, I find this comforting.

He then writes how Zen Masters enjoy bringing their readers “to bewilderment with their apparently irrational and often irrelevant utterances.” I underlined “bewilderment” because yesterday I used a fanciful version of the word preparing a guided meditation for the retreat, writing, “We will flee from the familiar to the wild-ness and bewilder-ness of the wilderness.” Suzuki asserts that their purpose is to lift students to “the higher way of observing things.”

“Zen tells us to change or reverse our usual way of understanding,” he writes. “Zen always aspires to make us directly see into Reality itself, that is, be Reality itself, so that we can say along with Meister Eckhart that ‘Christ is born every minute in my soul,’ or that ‘God’s Isness is my Isness.’”

Yet the author, Abbot Zenkei Shibayama, cautions in his preface, “We should not too easily conclude that there is just one Truth, and that East and West are after all the same.”

Hallelujah!

The book’s title is that of the author’s poem:

A Flower Does Not Talk

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
            the whole of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

I think I’ve found my personal reading for the retreat.


I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

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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.