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?

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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 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.