Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Inner Light

Celebrating a gay couple's wedding in Florida
a few years ago.

A beloved transgender member of Ormewood Church, formerly a member of Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church, died unexpectedly last week, and, in addition to her own outstanding “Message of Hope” about this longtime member, our pastor Jenelle requested me to offer a brief reflection on her life based on our shared love of Star Trek during her memorial service this past Sunday afternoon. Afterward, her lifelong spouse gave me a beautiful Star Trek t-shirt commemorating its various incarnations over 55 years, 1966-2021. 

In recent weeks I had tossed about various ideas for my final post on this blog. Should I re-post an earlier blog about LGBT Pride for this Pride Month or write something new? I’ve decided that this reflection is a fitting way to end this ten-year-long blog. 

Star Trek, The Next Generation, was one of my binge-watched series during the pandemic, and one episode in particular stood out, entitled, “The Inner Light.” For those who want to watch it on Netflix, it is episode 25 of season 5. I had talked with Jenelle about it at the time, and I discovered lots of other people liked it too, receiving awards. 

The episode is simply described: “Picard awakens to find himself in a village where he is a well-known member of the community suffering from a delusion of being a starship captain.” I watched it again to prepare. 

I have come to think of Star Trek as a kind of “biblical stories of the future.” They often relate to something going on in the present, offering meaning and values and purpose, just as the Bible does. 

Spoiler alert, but what occurs in this episode is that the current Enterprise has happened upon an unoccupied alien spacecraft that sends a beam of memory into Captain Picard’s head, causing him to faint, unconscious for half an hour. But during that brief period, Picard realizes a whole lifetime on another planet. No one in his village believes him to be a starship captain, no one affirms his own “inner light,” thus the reason he is considered under a delusion. 

Instead he is recognized as a community leader and scientist who tackles his host planet’s own form of global warming, an unrelenting drought. He is married and has children, and we watch them grow from infancy to adulthood, as Picard and his wife age, and as Picard finally learns to play the flute. 

He eventually finds a solution to the planetary drought and offers it to his community leaders. Come to find out, their own scientists had figured out the same solution, but the local leaders (read “politicians”) refuse to make the hard choice to put it into practice, for fear of the average citizen. Again, his own “inner light,” his own “aha,” is rejected. 

The beam directed into Jean Luc Picard’s inner consciousness is the way the people of this now destroyed planet have finally told their story, perhaps as a warning for those of other planets. The people of the planet have been gone for a thousand years, but their history and their lives have been preserved and now communicated. Their inner light has become Picard’s (and our own) inner light. The parallel with scriptures and sacred texts of every faith handed down to us is clear, at least to me. 

What really moves me about this story is that this is what I experience in every death, including our beloved church member. With every death, we lose a vital (as in “life-giving”) story about ourselves, about life, about the universe, about the nature of things. We will miss their “inner light.” 

I will miss her grin, cheerfulness, intelligence, wit, and welcome. I will miss her story, her own inner light. Surely it was a reflection of the very nature and nobility of God. 

Some outside our welcoming community of Ormewood Church may have written off as delusion her inner light. But she came to understand something about herself, her gender experience and expression, and I would say, something about all of us and about all of our gender expressions. 

Her inner light has brightened our world on her journey into the inner light of God. To quote the opening of Star Trek episodes: “Space, the final frontier…[our] mission is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” 

Hallelujah! Amen! Thanks be to God!

 

Please visit my website: https://chrisglaser.com  

Though this is my final post, more than ten years of posts remain available to you on the blogsite, https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and I encourage you to enjoy them. I regret that I never created an index of post titles, but the search engine in the upper left corner of my blog can help you find posts of interest by typing in a subject, topic, name, scripture reference, religious season or holy day. Or you may work through them by year and month listed in the right column. 

Comments are still welcome on any post. 

Though they may have been written with current events in mind, I intended them each to be read meaningfully at any point in time. It has been a pleasure writing this blog, but now, I believe, is a time for silence, something I considered when writing the Zen series. 

I assure you I am well, content, and thankful to God for this extension of my ministry. Thank you for your interest, comments, correspondence, and contributions. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for recognizing this blog as an “Emerging Ministry” and ProgressiveChristianity.org for reposting many of my reflections, as well as the dozens of Facebook pages that allowed me to provide links to particular posts. I am grateful for the free services of Blogspot, Google, Facebook, and the delivery service, FeedBurner. I am grateful for artist and friend Becki Jayne Harrelson and my husband Wade Jones for their technical and moral support. 

To date, the blog has had 512,500 visits, a count that does not include 500 free weekly subscribers. Subscriptions have always been free and the blog non-monetized (no ads). Permission is granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Donations may still be made through the links provided at the end of this post. Thank you! 

Copyright © 2021 Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

At Most a Lighthouse Can Beam an Instant

A friend caught my surprise when the congregation
applauded my ordination at Christ Covenant MCC, October 2, 2005.

I miss a custom I created for myself when living in Southern California. New Year’s Eve parties left me wanting some more meaningful way of observing the passing of an old year and the welcome of a new year. I did not want to “pray in” the new year as we did in my Baptist church with us kids keeping one eye open to see the sanctuary clock silently clap its hands together on the number 12. 

But the ticking of a clock or the descent of a ball in Times Square felt artificial, so I began watching the sun set as I walked along the beach in Santa Monica every New Year’s Eve. I would spend the time revisiting the events of the past year and imagining what the new year might bring, thanking God for the good and the bad as well as the possibilities. It was something I could do alone, well before the parties. And it felt more natural. 

This bit of shoreline is the sanctuary where, in college, I ruminated on my sexuality, spirituality, and call to ministry. This is where I thought I’d like to be reincarnated as a seagull so I could stay near the shore and see my friends on the beach occasionally! This is where I stumbled onto a gay meeting place long before I knew about gay bars. This is where, on a day off from my church work, I would do a long run and work out on the outdoor gymnastic bars. 

This is a walk I’ve shared with many friends, including some of you, and others you might know, such as John Boswell, Isabel Rogers, and Malcolm Boyd. This is the walk that Henri Nouwen declined, insisting instead that we sit down on my sofa and “have a really good talk”! 

This is where I walked weekly on Thursday evenings with a partner to share whatever was on our minds and hearts. This is where we walked one Easter after worship, ending up at Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy’s hangout, the S. S. Friendship, bumping into an old friend there whose partner we learned had died the previous week, who gave me the Easter message I needed to hear, “He died in my arms. I felt him leave his body. That’s why I’m sure I’ll see him again.” 

This is where I took my mom and her dog for her last walk along the shore a few weeks before she died, where she mischievously chose an ice cream cone over lunch. And this is where at least some of my ashes will be scattered. 

Though I live far from that shore now, I go there often. 

There is no lighthouse there, but in college I composed this poem using the metaphor, which feels all the more apt in later life: 


            To Be the Sea 

The sea beside, I stand alone,

By seasons, wait and search

To be discovered and to discover

In boundless quest.

The sea has all at any time—

No search nor wait.

 

At most a lighthouse

Can beam an instant

Before bowing to the sea.

 

This post originally appeared as “New Year” on January 1, 2014.

Please visit my website: https://chrisglaser.com  

My final post on my blog “Progressive Christian Reflections” will occur next Wednesday, June 30, 2021. More than ten years of posts will remain available to you on the blogsite, https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and I encourage you to enjoy them. I regret that I never created an index of post titles, but the search engine in the upper left corner of my blog can help you find posts of interest by typing in a subject, topic, name, scripture reference, religious season or holy day. Or you may work through them by year and month listed in the right column. 

Though they may have been written with current events in mind, I intended them each to be read meaningfully at any point in time. You may continue to contact me at my email address used by the delivery service or by leaving a comment on a particular post. FeedBurner has announced it will discontinue all subscription services sometime in July, the occasion for my timing. It has been a pleasure writing this blog, but now, I believe, is a time for silence, something I considered when writing the Zen series. 

I assure you I am well, content, and thankful to God for this extension of my ministry. Thank you for your interest, comments, correspondence, and contributions. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for recognizing this blog as an “Emerging Ministry” and ProgressiveChristianity.org for reposting many of my reflections, as well as the dozens of Facebook pages that allowed me to provide links to particular posts. I am grateful for the free services of Blogspot, Google, Facebook, and the delivery service, FeedBurner. I am grateful for artist and friend Becki Jayne Harrelson and my husband Wade Jones for their technical and moral support. 

To date, the blog has had 512,000 visits, a count that does not include almost 500 free weekly subscribers. Once donations were possible, the highest annual income ever was $2,000. Subscriptions have always been free and the blog non-monetized (no ads). Permission has always been granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations may still be made through the links provided at the end of this post. Thank you! 

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

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Literalism vs Spirituality

St. John the Divine in rainbow colors, NYC.

Happy 90th birthday today to progressive Christian author Bishop John (Jack) Spong, who has helped Christians better understand our faith with the help and support of Christine Spong. 

The following post appeared on July 16, 2014. 

The trend of people identifying as “spiritual but not religious” is sometimes a rejection of biblical literalism, religious fundamentalism and official orthodoxy. To me that can be a good thing, and, in my reading of a recent translation from Middle English by Bernard Bangley of the book, The Cloud of Unknowing, very traditional. 

The anonymous author encourages readers to discard what’s not helpful in the book, and so I freely disagree with the writer’s rejection of physical and sensual experience as unspiritual, even ungodly.  This 14th century English monk must not have met the 14th century English nun, Julian of Norwich, who wrote, “In our sensuality, God is…” 

The beliefs of the church regarding creation, incarnation, and resurrection all support a hallowing of bodily experience. As James B. Nelson and a diverse group of other contemporary Christian body theologians have affirmed, we know God through our bodies or we don’t know God at all. Nelson goes so far as to add, “Pleasure is the strongest argument for the existence of God.” 

Yet I wholeheartedly embrace The Cloud author’s understanding that literalism interferes with our spirituality, and he offers many examples. I once wrote that we do a disservice to religion when we treat matters of faith as matters of fact. 

For example, the writer cautions against taking the ascension of Jesus literally. As a college professor of mine once said, “If Jesus had ascended at the speed of light, he still would not be out of the known universe.” 

The Cloud of Unknowing asserts that “the spatial references are only symbolic. … The spiritual realm is always near, enveloping us on every side. Whoever has a strong desire to be in heaven is already in heaven, spiritually. Measure the highway to heaven in terms of desire rather than miles. … Love determines a soul’s location.” 

Earlier the writer explained, “Similar in nature to heavenly bliss, divine contemplation already participates in eternity.” I once wrote that people we recognize as living saints are those who experience God’s commonwealth here and now. Spiritually they have found heaven in their desire to love and serve others. Heaven for me is where God’s will and human will coincide. Saying the Lord’s Prayer (“on earth as it is in heaven”) is a way of aligning ourselves with that greater purpose. That’s why Jesus could say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” or “among us.” 

There are many pearls of wisdom about the spiritual life in The Cloud of Unknowing. Here are a few quotes I underlined in my copy: 

+ Remember your spiritual needs rather than your spiritual achievements.

+ Continue until your prayer life becomes enjoyable.

+ You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God.

+ Loving contemplation destroys our tendency to sin more effectively than any other practice.

+ The essence of contemplation is a simple and direct reaching out to God.

+ Judging others, pronouncing them good or bad, is God’s business. We may evaluate behavior, but not the person.

+ Christ taught us in Matthew’s Gospel that spoken prayers are best when they are not too long.

+ A little prayer of one syllable pierces heaven because we concentrate our entire spiritual energy into it.

+ The person in great distress will continue calling for help until someone hears and responds.

+ The little word “God” can flood your spirit with spiritual meaning without giving attention to particular activities of God.

+ I desire to help you tighten the spiritual knot of warm love that is between you and God, to lead you to spiritual unity with God.

+ Love functions as your guide in this world, and it will bring you to grace in the next.

+ [After meeting our physical needs,] sensuality urges us to take more than we need, encouraging lust.

+ The important consideration is not what you are, or what you have been, but what you want to be. 

Finally, this anonymous monk seems to echo the axiom that spiritual guides remind us of what we already know: 

Writers used to think that humility required them to say nothing out of their own heads, but to corroborate every idea with quotations from Scripture or the [Church] fathers [and mothers]. Today this practice demonstrates nothing but cleverness and education. … If God moves you to believe what I say, then accept my ideas on their own merits. (p 99-100) 

Given its encouragement to surrender certain knowledge of God for intimacy with God, I can’t help but think The Cloud of Unknowing would be a great text for the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. As they say in recovery programs, religion is for people afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there. 

 

My dear friend and longtime supporter of this blog, the Rev. Steve Pieters, will be featured as a character in a film about televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker due out in September of 2021. Her interview with him on national television opened many evangelical hearts to people living with AIDS and more broadly, the LGBTQ community. Watch the trailer.

My final post on my blog “Progressive Christian Reflections” will occur on June 30, 2021. More than ten years of posts will remain available to you on the blogsite, https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and I encourage you to enjoy them. I regret that I never created an index of post titles, but the search engine in the upper left corner of my blog can help you find posts of interest by typing in a subject, topic, name, scripture reference, religious season or holy day. Or you may work through them by year and month listed in the right column. 

Though they may have been written with current events in mind, I intended them each to be read meaningfully at any point in time. You may continue to contact me at my email address used by the delivery service or by leaving a comment on a particular post. FeedBurner has announced it will discontinue all subscription services sometime in July, the occasion for my timing. It has been a pleasure writing this blog, but now, I believe, is a time for silence, something I considered when writing the Zen series. 

I assure you I am well, content, and thankful to God for this extension of my ministry. Thank you for your interest, comments, correspondence, and contributions. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for recognizing this blog as an “Emerging Ministry” and ProgressiveChristianity.org for reposting many of my reflections, as well as the dozens of Facebook pages that allowed me to provide links to particular posts. I am grateful for the free services of Blogspot, Google, Facebook, and the delivery service, FeedBurner. I am grateful for artist and friend Becki Jayne Harrelson and my husband Wade Jones for their technical and moral support. 

To date, the blog has had 511,000 visits, a count that does not include almost 500 free weekly subscribers. Once donations were possible, the highest annual income ever was $2,000. Subscriptions have always been free and the blog non-monetized (no ads). Permission has always been granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations may still be made through the links provided at the end of this post. Thank you! 

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

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you! 

Learn about Chris Glaser’s life and gay activism in the church.


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Everything You Wanted to Know about God but Were Afraid to Ask!

South African sunset, photo by Wade Jones.

My final post on my blog “Progressive Christian Reflections” will occur on June 30, 2021. More than ten years of posts will remain available to you on the blogsite, https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and I encourage you to enjoy them. I regret that I never created an index of post titles, but the search engine in the upper left corner of my blog can help you find posts of interest by typing in a subject, topic, name, scripture reference, religious season or holy day. Or you may work through them by year and month listed in the right column. 

Though they may have been written with current events in mind, I intended them each to be read meaningfully at any point in time. You may continue to contact me at my email address used by the delivery service or by leaving a comment on a particular post. FeedBurner has announced it will discontinue all subscription services sometime in July, the occasion for my timing. It has been a pleasure writing this blog, but now, I believe, is a time for silence, something I considered when writing the Zen series. 

I assure you I am well, content, and thankful to God for this extension of my ministry. Thank you for your interest, comments, correspondence, and contributions. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for recognizing this blog as an “Emerging Ministry” and ProgressiveChristianity.org for reposting many of my reflections, as well as the dozens of Facebook pages that allowed me to provide links to particular posts. I am grateful for the free services of Blogspot, Google, and the delivery service, FeedBurner. I am grateful for artist and friend Becki Jayne Harrelson and my husband Wade Jones for their technical and moral support.

To date, the blog has had 510,000 visits, a count that does not include almost 500 free weekly subscribers. Once donations were possible, the highest annual income was $2,000.  Subscriptions have always been free and the blog non-monetized (no ads). Permission has always been granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations may still be made through the links provided at the end of this post. Thank you! 

Today’s post appeared on July 20, 2016:

 

Months ago I mentioned on this blog that I had finally picked up Karen Armstrong’s book, A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Perhaps reflective of our desire for theological ignorance, I found it discounted on the remainder table at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble. 

I must admit that, at times, I have been slogging through it, sometimes even setting it aside for days at a time. But I read all such books in the context of my morning prayers, hoping for inspiration along the way, so I just read a portion each day. The book is well-written and comprehensive, but overwhelming in its detailing of our fitful attempts to “know” God. Right now I’m flailing in the chapter on the Enlightenment and actually looking forward to next chapter’s “The Death of God?” Whew, what a relief after all this kvetching! (Apparently, making God a product of reason makes him/her/they more easily dispensable or at least optional. Stay tuned.) 

Of course I’ve read other books on the history of religion, but there were many surprises and aha’s for me in this book. 

Armstrong not only writes of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but also of Hinduism and Buddhism, though to a lesser extent. What surprised me is how various religions often paralleled and sometimes informed one another’s trains of thought. Given our contemporary insistence on religious divisions, I found it consoling that there are historically points of agreement and sometimes civil disagreement. 

There are also periods of dysfunctional fighting within and among religions, and though each have suffered their unfair share of persecution and unpopularity, it seems to me that Jews got the worst of it, long before the Shoah, or Holocaust. Made me more sympathetic to the raison d’ĂȘtre of the state of Israel. 

What struck me also is that all religions have had their intelligentsia—their philosophers and academics and scientists—which has helped shape the religions as we know them.  And that those who tried to make religion only “of the heart,” could be among the most dangerous because of their subjectivity that resisted intellectual scrutiny. 

I had the biggest challenge reading about Islam. I was already familiar—if vaguely—with many of the names and general movements in other religions, but there were so many names and movements in Islam—both unfamiliar because of my lack of education as well as sounding exotic—that it reminded me of a classic Russian novel, having so many characters! 

I found the chapter on the Reformers particularly disheartening, especially Armstrong’s treatment of Martin Luther—at this point I reminded myself that Armstrong is a former nun, but that gave me little solace, given her obvious command of religious history. Calvin came off better, I’m happy to say, given my Presbyterian background, though later development of his thoughts on predestination is scary. 

You might have guessed that I would be drawn to the chapter and segments on the mystics and mystical traditions, by which all religions were blessed. I was already familiar with many, but now to read of their experiences and insights in relation to one another and their respective religious traditions made me esteem them yet more highly. To me, they provide a salvific thread to what was often a brutal enterprise of religion and theology. 

Another salvific thread for me was Eastern Orthodox thinking that we can’t possibly know God as he/she/they is in actuality. Also I liked the idea that God is “no thing,” somewhat of a parallel to what I’ve read of Buddhism’s “no thing.” 

By comparison, Armstrong explains how talkative Christianity became in the West, with its emphasis on doctrine and systematic theology. Instead, in Eastern Orthodox understanding, we need silence to understand/experience God, which I believe is central to a spiritual life. Of course, then we might come back to a religion “of the heart” and the subjectivity that is potentially dangerous. But communing with God was to be of the mind as well, and within the context of a spiritual community and a spiritual tradition that can serve as correctives. 

As a progressive Christian, two other things were of particular interest: 

First, literalism was rare and “untraditional”: there was a deep respect for and valuing of the place of myth in all religious traditions. Myth and storytelling reveal something deeper about our human experience than can be explained. To take them “literally” is to do them and us and even God, a disservice. 

And second, those who treated others badly and judgmentally were doing so out of their anxiety and fear of an angry god too demanding to please. 

Once the Bible begins to be interpreted literally instead of symbolically, the idea of its God becomes impossible. To imagine a deity who is literally responsible for everything that happens on earth involves impossible contradictions. The “God” of the Bible ceases to be a symbol of a transcendent reality and becomes a cruel and despotic tyrant. (p 283) 

Could it be that a deliberately imaginative conception of God, based on mythology and mysticism, is more effective as a means of giving his people courage to survive tragedy and distress than a God whose myths are interpreted literally? (p 286) 

Armstrong suggests the benefit of discovering God using “the imaginative disciplines of prayer and contemplation,” and the danger of assuming God as a “fact.” (p 291) 

In one of my earliest books and again, in one of my posts on this blog, I wrote that we can get into trouble when we treat matters of faith as matter-of-fact. 

 

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

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you! 

Explore Chris Glaser’s books.


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Where Your Treasure Is

Chris at Kirkridge. Photo taken by Brendan Fay.

 “Master, you are wonderful! You have renounced riches and comforts to seek God and   teach us wisdom!” 

“You are reversing the case!” The saint’s face held a mild rebuke. “I have left a few paltry rupees, a few petty pleasures, for a cosmic empire of endless bliss. How then have I denied myself anything? I know the joy of sharing the treasure. Is that a sacrifice? The shortsighted worldly folk are verily the real renunciants! They relinquish an unparalleled divine possession for a poor handful of earthly toys! … The world is full of uneasy believers in an outward security.” 

I chuckled over this paradoxical view of renunciation—one that puts the cap of Croesus on any saintly beggar, whilst transforming all proud millionaires into unconscious martyrs. 

Paramahansa Yogananda tells this story about Bhaduri Mahasaya on page 63 of his Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) that I am presently reading. In a previous post I referred to Yogananda as founder of the Self Realization Fellowship whose grounds in southern California I frequented in college. While the supernatural experiences of Eastern tradition reported in this book are hard for this Westerner to believe, the philosophy is persuasive and powerful. 

While I have not attained the saint’s dispassion toward rupees and “earthly toys,” many if not most of my colleagues in ministry will identify with the saint’s preference for the spiritual life. To whatever degree we have “gone without,” given the culture’s greater monetary valuing of other professions, we have realized our greater dependency on spiritual treasure—the satisfaction of pastoral care, of preaching and writing, of attending to matters of the heart and soul rather than simply to matter and materialism. 

A church member once told me that she was well into adulthood before she understood that ministers were paid! And I’ve met people who think spiritual leaders should do what they do for the sheer joy of it, unlike other vocations. 

“Worldly people do not like the candor that shatters their delusions,” Bhaduri Mahasaya explained to Yogananda. The gurus Yogananda writes about receive rupees in their slippers from followers. And though I am not a guru, I am grateful that a few of my readers have put rupees in my slippers! 

When I was ordained by MCC in 2005 after a professional lifetime denied ordination by the Presbyterian Church simply because I’m gay, I chose for the Gospel lesson Jesus’ words on God’s Providence from the Sermon on the Mount, which reads in part, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly [Creator] feeds them.” It is the scripture that gets me through the tough times when I do not rise to the level of a saint’s disposition!

This post was published July 24, 2013. 

Copyright © 2013 Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Mosquito Consciousness

 


As we approach mosquito season, I thought you’d enjoy this post from August 3, 2013, reflecting on a story in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, a book I set aside when it became “too magical” for me but have recently picked up again and finished reading with greater appreciation. Incidentally, this is the only book Steve Jobs had on his iPad when he died, and those attending his memorial service received a copy of it at his request.

Sometimes my spiritual life is just plain spooky. 

The morning I write this, my morning prayers on the deck were interrupted by the presence of what I thought to be a mosquito. Now I am considered quite juicy in the mosquito community, unlike my partner Wade, who never needs to use insect repellant as I do to keep the little vampires at bay. And though I had administered that sacred ointment, I thought it possible a missed spot might be too inviting. My heavy New Jerusalem Bible came in handy and dropping it on the pest proved fatal. 

Yet I immediately felt regret taking a life. I’m one of those people who take spiders and other critters (roaches excepted) outside where they belong and liberate flies and wasps from entrapment between windows and screens if I can, though the latter I do at some risk, for a sting sent me to the emergency room a few years back, in an ambulance no less.  

Examining the remains on the back cover of my Bible, I was no longer certain it was a mosquito, and the best I could do was hope that I had sent it on to its next and hopefully better life! Before you think what a gentle and kind person I must be, all of this is a little disingenuous because I am by no means a vegetarian. But though I can eat meat, I could never kill the animal who provided it. 

As you will remember from an earlier post, I am reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s autobiography, and today he finally found his primary guru, Sri Yukteswar. And here’s where it gets spooky, or synchronicitous or miraculous if you like. In answer to his devotee’s concern about mosquitos, the guru tells him, “Is the whole world going to change for you? Change yourself: be rid of the mosquito consciousness.” 

During one teaching session, however, the teenage Yogananda is distracted by a mosquito and, as it proceeded to dig “a poisonous ‘hypodermic needle’” into his thigh, he raised a hand to swat it, but then remembered ahimsa (non-violence). Yuksteswar  offered a puzzling response, “Why didn’t you finish the job?” 

When asked if he agreed with taking a life, the master replied, “No, but in your mind you had already struck the deathblow.” He went on to say that ahimsa means removal of the desire to kill, then explains, “This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under a similar compulsion to feel anger or animosity,” thus “overcoming the passion of destruction.” 

Of course the context verifies that “harmful creatures” applies only to dangerous insects or threatening wild animals. Yet even in that context, one is best not driven by anger or animosity. Jesus said something like this when he added to the commandment “You shall not murder” the more far reaching “if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” Or added simple lust to “You shall not commit adultery.” 

If only I could achieve mosquito consciousness, realizing that they too, in the words of Yukteswar, “have an equal right to the air of maya,” I could leave them be and save money on bug spray. Maybe in my next and better life!

 

Copyright © 2013 Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Free Time

 

Our neighbor Luna enjoying our bird bath.

Perhaps nothing sounds better on a schedule than “free time.” But it can be a source of anxiety for many—how will I fill up that time? Will I be bored? Will the moments be wasted? What am I to do? 

To be honest, though I have no problem spending leisure time with friends, when alone I have difficulty with leisure time. I like to work, I like to be constructive, I like to do things, I like to grow. But the idea of free time does sound luxurious. I love the popular song by Bruno Mars, “Today I Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything.” I wish I could live its ideal! 

In a video I use during my retreats on Henri Nouwen, Henri talks about how proud we are of being “busy, busy, busy,” buzzing these words like a bee! We brag about it to others, “Oh yes, I’m very busy.” I’ve met clergy who needed to go into detail about how busy they were to counter the misconception that they only work one hour per week! Henri describes our need to be “occupied,” or if not occupied, “preoccupied,” which he jokes as “occupying a space before you even get there”! 

This tension between work and idleness is why I begin my workday with morning prayers. There’s a lazy part of me that is attracted to a time when I don’t have to accomplish anything, and so this is a seductive way to begin my workday. Sure, I read various things during that time, but the goal is to spend time in reflection, meditation, and prayer. It can last anywhere from five minutes to two hours, depending on the day’s agenda. 

A counseling professor in seminary told of being assigned a child by the courts for therapy. Each visit, the kid said nothing, but wandered around the office looking at things in silence. In frustration, the professor told the child that he would ask the courts to assign another therapist. The child cried, “But I like coming here!” Astonished, the therapist asked why. “You’re the only adult who leaves me alone,” the child replied. 

Free time is perhaps the only time that leaves us alone. One possible origin of “scholar” is a word that means “leisure, rest, or free time.” Though most of us worked our way through various schools, we understand that luxury of having been students. I’ve never stopped being a student, though I did not go into academia as a vocation. And maybe that’s partly why I didn’t—I didn’t want my “free time” regulated, occupied, or preoccupied.

 

This post appeared September 4, 2013. Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

"Nothing Soft about the Quest for a Significant Life"

 


Why I Write This Blog

[Four years into writing this blog, I posted this on February 11, 2015.]

On this week’s fourth anniversary of the beginning of Progressive Christian Reflections, I am reminded that motivations are myriad for doing anything. “What’s my motivation?” actors ask to play a given scene, as if a single motivation suffices for any human action. We are more complex than that! (Read Dostoyevsky!) The reasons I’ve given in the past for writing these reflections still apply, but every week, actually every day, I find new reasons.

Today’s reason is being stunned and stumped by a cover essay in a recent New York Times Book Review entitled “Among the Disrupted” by Leon Wieseltier, a contributing editor for The Atlantic and recently resigned literary editor of The New Republic, which was “disrupted” by a new boss wanting to go digital.

I am stunned by insights I agree with and stumped by things in it I don’t quite understand. I have read it multiple times, each time underlining phrases and sentences that give me an “aha” moment or that I need to puzzle over. If I read it many more times, the whole essay will be underlined. (I can’t read without a pen in hand, btw!) It stirred controversy, judging by letters in response and an article in the Observer.

If I had to summarize it in 25 words or less, it’s about our contemporary confusion of technology with meaning. As the author suggests, “The character of our society cannot be determined by engineers.” [2021 interjection: one of our dearest friends is an engineer! -crg]

Ridiculing “transhumanism,” the notion that computers and the internet “will carry us magnificently beyond our humanity” overcoming distinctions “between human and machine,” Wieseltier instead questions if we are just having another wave of posthumanism:

The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of life must be explained in terms of the material dimensions, and that nonscientific understandings must be translated into scientific understandings if they are to qualify as knowledge, is increasingly popular inside and outside the university, where the humanities are disparaged as soft and impractical and insufficiently new.

The late Charles Townes, the Nobel laureate physicist behind the maser and laser who was also awarded the 2005 Templeton Prize for contributing to our understanding of spirituality, “saw science and religion as compatible, saying there was little difference between a scientific revelation, like his maser brainstorm, and a religious one,” according to The New York Times. Quoting from a 1966 essay:

“Understanding the order of the universe and understanding the purpose in the universe are not identical, but they are not very far apart.”

The parallel in my field are those who study, research, and teach religion “objectively” outside any personal faith. We need such “engineers,” as long as we take what they say with a grain of salt, which, as I mentioned quoting Colossians a few weeks ago, means with “spiritual understanding.” Early Christian catechumens were taught the meaning of baptism and Communion only after they had received those sacraments, because it was believed they could not comprehend what they had not first experienced. Spiritual understanding is an inside job.

Wieseltier asserts, “Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life. All revolutions exaggerate, and the digital revolution is no different.” 

We live in an internet world “in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability. … Digital expectations of alacrity and terseness confer the highest prestige upon the twittering cacophony of one-liners and promotional announcements.” 

Wieseltier’s solution is to “regard the devices as simply new means for old ends. … The new order will not relieve us of the old burdens, and the old pleasures, of erudition and interpretation. … Never mind the platforms. Our solemn responsibility is for the substance.” 

His answer is a welcome of humanism and the humanities, concluding, “There is nothing soft about the quest for a significant life.” 

I would add a welcome of spirituality and religion, also because there is nothing soft about a quest for a significant life. 

Entertaining these concepts and welcoming this conversation are additional reasons I write this blog.


Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking here.  Thank you!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Why Progressive Christians Need Contemplation

Wade took this photo of me resting
on one of our bike rides.

Jesus told his disciples “a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart,” and, in his earliest known correspondence, the apostle Paul advised the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.”

The first Christian contemplatives took the notion of “praying always” to heart, and went out into the desert to pray, to preserve the “edge” of Christian faith even as church and state colluded in the fourth century. As Thomas Merton explained in The Wisdom of the Desert, 

The Coptic hermits who left the world as though escaping from a [ship]wreck did not merely intend to save themselves. They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the power but even the obligation to pull the whole world to safety after them.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers believed prayer was not about changing God’s mind or heart, but about their own transformation. God brings justice and mercy into the world one person at a time. Thus prayer and contemplation serve as grounding for those of us who seek the transformation of the world. This passion for transformation is one dimension of progressive Christianity. 

A second dimension is that we use our minds, our critical faculties, to approach our faith—texts, tradition, history, present, and future. But in the use of our minds we must not lose heart. We are not spiteful children who run around proclaiming “There is no Santa Claus!” to innocents. We are faithful people who affirm spiritual truths without literalist trappings. It is true that much progressive Christianity is about demythologizing and deconstruction. But in so doing, our hope is to recover the ancient meanings of the stories of our faith tradition, as well as their meaning for today. 

One way of recovering the ancient meanings of our faith tradition is through prayer and reflection. To participate in the biblical dialogue about God, meaning, virtue, and so on with our hearts as well as our minds is to be an authentic and integral part of an ancient tradition that was diverse in its viewpoints, heterodox in its theologies, and multiple in its expressions. 

A third dimension of progressive Christianity is that we plumb the depths of our faith even as we value other faiths, including agnosticism and atheism. Our multicultural world—not as different from the ancient world in its diversity as is often thought—offers opportunities for dialogue, not only across religious and cultural boundaries, but across disciplinary boundaries as well, as I recently wrote on this blog. Science, for example, is not an adversary, but an aid in understanding the world, religion, and spirituality itself.  The way of art and literature is another.           

Just as some Christians seem to have lost their minds, progressive Christians cannot lose our hearts. As Jesus said, “What benefit is there if, in gaining the whole world, we lose our soul?” We are not modern-day Gnostics who believe our “secret wisdom” will save us. Rather, we believe that knowledge frees us from superstition, sentimentality, and the “elemental spirits” that the apostle Paul confronted in Galatians. Our faith is not stupid, nor is it heartless. Prayer and meditation afford us the opportunity, as the Desert Mothers and Fathers taught, for words to descend from our minds to our hearts. Thus prayer and contemplation must become a fourth dimension of progressive Christianity. 

We may feel overwhelmed by the diversity of texts and traditions about Jesus, about God. Biblical scholars discuss the authenticity and accuracy of these accounts. Theologians debate their authority and application. Contemplatives reflect on their inspiration for the present. 


These thoughts have been further clarified from my post on the blog of Episcopal Divinity School around the time I began my own. 

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

This post appeared August 17, 2011. I considered retiring from my blog on its tenth anniversary in February of this year but didn’t want to “abandon” readers during the pandemic! My brother suggested I run “the best of” my posts. This will give me the opportunity to write a new post occasionally. Thanks for your continued interest! 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Pragmatic Guide to Prayer

I took this photo in India.

Prayer is unfamiliar territory to many people, even those reared in spiritual communities. Many fear they’re not up to the task, having heard eloquent prayers of others. Some progressive Christians doubt the effectiveness of prayer. So I thought I’d jot down some simple guidelines from my reading and experience to prompt but not limit readers’ personal practice and experience of prayer. Take these suggestions less as prescriptive than descriptive. And if any sound too preachy, just go on to the next! 

Prayer takes you to another place. There are many ways of saying this. Prayer may lift you up, take you deep within, broaden your horizon, make you feel close to God and all that is, or all of the above. The vital thing is that, in your spiritual imagination, your perspective changes, enlarging or focusing, withdrawing or connecting, detaching or more deeply involving. And it brings us into proximity with our better selves. 

Prayer consists of words, silences, and actions.  Most of us know about words and silences in prayer and meditation, but actions may prove a new understanding. I believe that Martha in the kitchen preparing a meal could be praying as much as Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and pondering his words. And I don’t mean Martha is saying the rosary while cooking, but that cooking itself may be a form of prayer when conscious intention is there, as is true of acts of justice and compassion. To stretch our imagination further, I believe lovemaking may be a form of prayer. 

Prayer is presence, mindfulness, and listening. Prayer is a time to be attentive to surroundings, people, feelings, the day’s expectations, God’s hope for you—listening for God and your inner voice in all of them. Repetition of short scriptures (such as “God is love.”) or meditative chants may help one’s focus. 

Readings are helpful to praying regularly. What helped me keep to a regular prayer time was the use of reading material that made me want to sit down and set aside time for reflection—that’s why half of the dozen books I’ve written consist of daily meditations. Scriptures, books of prayers or reflections, spiritual or theological or biblical treatises, and even op-ed opinion pieces have proven aids to meditation and prayer. Others may find poetry, art, or music helpful. 

Saying the Lord’s Prayer is sufficient. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples has every ingredient needed in prayer. Having said it daily for most of my adult life, I still wonder at how new meaning comes to familiar phrases, given where I am and what my experience is. I see it less as a prayer asking for things like bread and forgiveness than as a way of aligning myself with the inbreaking commonwealth of God, in particular being gracious as I have received grace. As Thomas Keating has recommended, if one can’t pray anything else, say the Lord’s Prayer. 

Less is more. Too many words, too many “issues,” too many confessions, too many requests make prayer burdensome and more of a duty than an experience of God’s grace and love. An abundance of thanksgivings can lighten the load, as long as they are not simply obligatory. 

Prayer transforms you, not God. The Desert Fathers and Mothers held this view; prayer is about our transformation, not God’s. When we pray for someone who is ill or in prison or mistreated, I do not believe God “fixes” these things, but that we become better caregivers, liberators, and advocates. 

Enjoy being God’s beloved child. Join Adam and Eve walking naked with God unashamedly in the Garden, Isaiah comforted and dandled on Mother God’s knees, and Jesus hearing “You are my beloved on whom my favor rests.” Prayer is the pleasure of basking in the glory of God’s unconditional love, remembering God’s best hopes for us and the world.

 

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

FYI- This post appeared November 14, 2012. I considered retiring from my blog on its tenth anniversary in February but didn’t want to “abandon” readers during the pandemic! My brother suggested I run “the best of” posts, and I decided to run past posts that speak to our current experience. This will also give me the opportunity to write a new post occasionally. Thanks for your continued interest!  

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion.

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!