Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Healing Touch


As our pandemic makes us all “untouchables,” I thought this post of June 13, 2018, might “touch” our experience. 

As I get older, I have fewer opportunities to be touched. I knew that about old age even before I got there, and that’s why I’m sitting so close to my mother in the above photograph, my arm around her. I had noticed the need particularly among the older women of our neighborhood church. The passing of the peace was an opportunity for older folk to receive and give full-on hugs. Now I too am grateful for such hugs in greeting or in parting worship. 

Perhaps it’s because we regard older people as fragile. Perhaps because of due respect for the aging process, a reverential aspect. Perhaps because we older people are less attractive or no longer “breeding material.” 

I have written of an experience of lovemaking that restored my sense of lovability in my book, Come Home! The “healer” in that case visited Atlanta last year and I was able to give him a copy of the book, marking the passage and expressing my gratitude. 

But those opportunities are rarer as one ages, even when in a relationship. 

In an email exchange with a friend and reader of this blog concerned about losing the gay parts of himself as he enters an assisted living program, I waxed philosophic about my own situation: 

As a youth I had fantasies. As an adult I had experiences. As a senior I have memories. I need to hold on to my memories even though they don’t have the anticipatory ecstasy of fantasies or the existential bliss of experiences. 

So, simple touch becomes all the more important. 

When I was a kid, I used to love sitting in the car as a gas station attendant cleaned our windshield, enjoying the gentle rocking of the car—oh, the olden days of full service stations! I also enjoyed getting my hair cut, and my initiation rite into manhood was when, after many years, the barber finally honed a straight razor to trim my sideburns. These were gentle and safe ways to have a man touch me, and I found them healing. 

My father enjoyed telling the story of rocking me as a baby while I steadfastly refused to go to sleep. I no doubt simply enjoyed my father or mother’s touch, being held close to their hearts. (As late as my teens, my joke with Mom was that I could still sit on her lap!) No doubt my body remembers and that’s why I enjoy cuddling so much. 

All of this comes to mind because of a transforming incident during my recent contemplative retreat. Though our Roman Catholic hosts were welcoming beyond mere hospitality, their church does not allow offering Communion to Protestants. I do not like this, as you might guess, and I had decided not to go forward to merely receive a blessing. But in moving out of the way to let others in my pew pass by, a smiling sister gently urged me to go forward for a blessing. So I did, crossing my arms to indicate my heresy of being a Protestant. 

I expected the tall and very aged priest to simply make the sign of the cross in the air and say a blessing. Instead, he gently touched my forehead while saying a blessing. The power of his touch jolted me. I immediately felt good inside, and the bliss remained with me for an hour. I could not help but think his power was deeply spiritual. 

The next time I went forward for Communion, another aged priest made the sign of the cross on my forehead with oil, and I did not experience the same jolt of spiritual power. And I realized I couldn’t even remember if the earlier priest had made the sign of the cross on my forehead; I just felt power from the palm of his hand on my head. 

With all the conversation these days about inappropriate touching, by priests and other professionals, I sorrow that this may lead to less healing touch. I remember how my mother’s first graders used to hang on her, begging to be touched and hugged, even after they went on to higher grades. 

Being old, I have during this same time had to go to a dentist, an orthodontist, and an oral surgeon to repair or remove two “virgin” teeth which broke. My dentist praised me as one of his best patients, I think because I have a high tolerance for discomfort and pain, no doubt learned in part as a gay activist in the church! (Smile) 

But their healing touch also made it possible for me to sit still for some difficult procedures. After two root canals, I explained that the orthodontist’s abdomen pressed against my head during the procedure was somehow comforting. I asked if he did that intentionally to calm his patients, but he explained it was just ergonomically sound, otherwise his reach over me would tire his shoulders as he worked on my teeth with the help of the lens of a microscope over my head. 

I thought of Temple Grandin, the autistic expert in animal science who discovered she could calm herself by a device of her own invention that held her and later applied that to an invention to calm cattle on the way to slaughter. There is something calming about being held and touched, whether facing life or death. 

As a progressive Christian, one of my reservations about Jesus being known as a physical and mental healer is that such magical qualities do not fit my desire for him to be known rather as a spiritual mentor and healer. 

But maybe his touch was like that of the priest’s, or that of the orthodontist’s, or that of a hugger, or that of a lover—especially when visited upon so many people who were “untouchables”: lepers, epileptics, the sick, the dying and dead, those with physical or developmental disabilities. Women of his time were considered untouchable during menstruation. Children were assumed unclean, one of the reasons his disciples tried to send them away. 

“Suffer the little children to come unto me” could as easily mean “Suffer those who are untouchable to come unto me.” 

 

FYI-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 still speak to current issues. This will also give me the opportunity to write a new post occasionally. Thanks for your continued interest! 

Copyright © 2018 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, April 7, 2021

How Did Jesus Let Go of His Cross?

"Christ Ascending from the Cross"
by sculptor Huberto Maestas.

I would have been angry. And exhausted. And resentful, bitter, unforgiving. And not just of those who tortured me verbally and physically, spitting in my face, nailing me to that cross, but all those who looked away, pretending it wasn’t happening or worse, that it wasn’t important, and fearful of a similar fate if they defended me. 

Those fair-weather multitudes I fed with spiritual truths and a little boy’s lunch: where were they? Those I healed with prayer and touch? Those I made glad with the egalitarian promises and parables of the kingdom of God among us? 

And my disciples, cowering in hiding! Betrayed, denied, abandoned by those dearest to me, who professed to “love” me. Worse yet, they never seemed to really “get” me, never seemed to understand what I was about, never fully bought into my passion for the world and my compassion for all the little ones in this world. 

No wonder I felt God-forsaken. 

If it weren’t for the women who followed me and that closeted disciple Nicodemus, I would still be up on that cross, to be devoured by the birds of the air and the beasts of the field as my muscles stretched to the breaking point in the heat of the sun, my lungs gasping for air. 

Now, thank God, I can rest in peace. The tomb is cool and dark, the strips of cloth hugging my wounds, the cold stone holding me, my mind and heart at rest, at rest in God. Will anything come of my sacrifice? The way I lived my life for others? The insights the Spirit spoke through my words and my ways? God only knows. 

I’m glad to be away from all the noise and chaos outside. I never want to go back there again. Though, there were moments of tranquility and comfort—going up on a mountain to pray alone with God, Mary anointing my feet with a fragrant oil, the beloved disciple cuddling on my lap during our last meal. I feel sorrow for them, but I can no longer help them. I can’t get out of here; this is it. 

But then to my surprise, God calls me into action again. I rise to the occasion. Each one who witnesses this resurrection is of two minds*, belief and doubt, from the first to the last. Belief will give them hope; doubt will cause despair. But this is how I let go of my cross: I choose to believe.

 

* Matthew’s description of witnesses to the resurrection that some believed while others doubted is better translated that each witness was of two minds. The word used literally means “standing in two places.” That is comforting. 

Thanks to Rev. Ashley Calhoun for today’s photo by Richard Tohline of “Christ Ascending from the Cross” by sculptor Huberto Maestas located at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Castlerock, Colorado.

FYI-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 still speak to current issues. This will also give me the opportunity to write a new post occasionally. Thanks for your continued support! Today’s post is from April 8, 2015. 

Copyright © 2015 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, March 31, 2021

Wounding God


The Asian-Americans who have endured hate crimes during our current pandemic brought me back to this post from the week following Holy Week of 2016, March 30, 2016. This year, 2021, I read The Temple of God’s Wounds earlier in Lent, so in need was I of its spiritual insights and spiritual sanctuary. The friend in recovery mentioned in this post still struggles, and we alongside him, after multiple programs before and after a year incarcerated. 

Something burning in my heart is demanding the oxygen of expression. 

Regular readers of this blog know I am not persuaded by one line of thinking about the crucifixion: I don’t believe God demanded the death of Jesus to forgive our sins. Of the Passion narrative, I’ve written that the crucifixion was our idea, while the resurrection was God’s idea, however we understand resurrection. 

Yet I do believe the story of the crucifixion reminds us that we wound God. 

I know that’s not an original thought—many theologians, contemplatives, writers, and preachers have written about this. But it’s being brought home to me in several ways that culminated this past Holy Week as I read again The Temple of God’s Wounds. 

Monday night of that week I attended the fourth and final class on the themes of the Confession of Belhar, which the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is in the process of welcoming into its Book of Confessions. It was adopted during the days of apartheid in South Africa by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church resisting the government’s separation of the races. 

Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary offered it online, but I attended its meetings in person at the Martin Luther King Center near our home in Atlanta because I wanted to engage in the conversation directly. I thought this would be a way to hear concerns that current movements such as Black Lives Matter raise, but in a context of shared faith. As an aside, I felt very welcomed as a gay man. 

The class was small, about 70% African American and 30% Anglo-European, though the final Monday I was the only white person attending. 

Long before the course I had concluded that there is no way white people will ever understand the experience of black people in American society. The brutalization of slavery and the degradation of racism and segregation that followed (and still follows) cannot be erased, no matter how forgiving African Americans may be and no matter how transformed Anglo-European Americans may become. 

During one class session, we listened to the tape of the families of those murdered in the Charleston church offering forgiveness to their vicious and racist assailant, and I noticed that alongside “I forgive you” were cries of pain and anguish and grief at their loss, calls for repentance of the perpetrator and an expectation of justice for the victims so that “hate doesn’t win,” something the media largely left out in its eagerness to report their forgiveness. 

Their mercy was transforming for South Carolina, bringing down the confederate flag, while affecting broader American sensibilities as well. 

But, as one woman pointed out to me after class, “There was a lot of anger in black communities for how easily they forgave” that young man. Yet hearing their forgiveness while holding him accountable suggested they were not offering cheap grace. 

In class I told the story of participating in a “dog and pony” show at four venues around the state of Iowa for UCC pastors as their denomination was changing its positions on LGBT issues some years ago. One pastor had asked, “Where’s the repentance?” At first we thought he was expecting repentance from LGBT folk, but what he meant was, where was the church’s repentance for its mistreatment of LGBT people? 

I suggested to the class that maybe the church needed something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission where wrongs could be named—the wounding of all kinds of folk because of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Ultimately this is how we wound God. 

By the next session of the course I had learned that several presbyteries have passed “A Healing Overture for the Admission of, and Apology for Harms Done to the LGBTQ/Q Members of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Family and Friends.” Hallelujah! 

When I’ve written on this blog about the need of being forgiving in the spiritual life, I’ve sometimes received friendly pushback from those who have been abused or work with the abused. It’s been pointed out to me that forgiveness in certain circumstances may not always be possible, even may not be a healthy choice.  

In “Forgiveness: The Last Step,” Marie Fortune writes in the context of family violence, “Once justice has been accomplished, even in a limited way, forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity. Prior to justice, forgiveness is an empty exercise.” She points out that Jesus said, “If another sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.” [See Luke 17:3-4 NRSV.] 

That suggests at least four steps toward reconciliation: confrontation, confession, repentance (as in metanoia, an “about face”), followed by forgiveness. Only when justice is served, she writes, is “a victim of violence and abuse…freed to forgive.” 

On Maundy Thursday last week, Wade and I were part of a support community for a friend in a recovery program. After an afternoon meeting with our friend, a counselor, and a dinner out, that evening we attended what was essentially an Al-Anon meeting for support communities of others in recovery. Emotions ran high, as they must have when Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples: communion and hope, but also shared grief and feelings of betrayal, denial, abandonment. 

Some could tell stories in which the recoveries of their loved one held; others told stories of multiple heartbreaking attempts; many acknowledged that they too were powerless over what addictions were doing to their loved ones. I was deeply moved by the love and commitment in that room. I awoke Good Friday morning with involuntary tears streaming from my eyes thinking of them. 

The Twelve Steps are all about truth-telling, another requirement of justice. And the eighth and ninth steps are about making “a list of all persons we had harmed” and making “amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” 

I had thought that I should find some service to attend the evening of Good Friday, when a close friend told us that the day was the 20th anniversary of the death of his beloved partner to AIDS. So he came over and we ordered Chinese take-out. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Good Friday. And I better understood his flash of anger about the Reagans when Hillary Clinton misstated after Nancy’s funeral that they had been instrumental in the “national conversation” about AIDS. 

A blog reader once pointed out to me that Jesus did not forgive those who betrayed, denied, abandoned, tortured, and crucified him, but rather, asked God to forgive them. That makes sense, for only God could administer the justice required for mercy. Could that be how Jesus’ sacrifice came to be understood as expiation for our sins? 

It is a sacred challenge to administer justice without vengeance. Jesus calls us to go the extra mile beyond retribution (“an eye for an eye”) and love our enemies. But real love holds the beloved accountable. 

The biblical witness is of a God of justice and mercy. Both are required for transformation. But scapegoating is never just, even if it is Jesus as the sacrificial lamb. Justice requires truth-telling, changing our ways, and making amends (penance).  Only then, to paraphrase Psalm 23, can “mercy and justice follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

 

Copyright © 2016 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, March 24, 2021

Jesus as the New Adam

Michelangelo's Naked Christ

I offered this post on May 3, 2017.

Jesus as the new Adam is a trope familiar to Christianity since Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians. It has come to be reinterpreted by others, and perhaps what I present here has already been imagined, as anyone reading this blog knows my knowledge is limited. But I want to offer what meaning came to me as I grappled with the notion of Jesus “dying for my sins” during this recent Holy Week. 

I have flat out written on this blog that the God who is worthy of my devotion would never require the death of any kind of scapegoat as a stand-in for me taking responsibility for my own sins. 

But I have also written that the sacrificial love represented in the story of the cross mythologically conveys the absolute and eternal depths of God’s compassion. Many theologians have focused on the concept of God dying on the cross rather than “his only son,” taking the onus of a demanding, bloodthirsty God off the table. And anyone who has had a terrible sin to forgive of another knows the suffering such compassion entails. 

Longtime readers may remember that one of my Holy Week practices is to read one chapter each day of a short book, The Temple of God’s Wounds, in which the narrator visits a mythological monastery at a turning point in his life. I’ve written that I overlook his transactional understanding of atonement to contemplate other, deeper spiritual wisdom contained therein. 

This time I focused on how difficult it is for him (and  for me) to face that which is absolutely holy. I understand better the “mysterium tremendum,” the “terrible” face of God or, as the OED adds in its definition, of existence itself. 

During our last visit shortly before his death, an elderly dedicated churchman surprised me by his sudden tears and seemingly non-sequitur confession, saying something like, “I hope dear old Mother Church can forgive me for any embarrassment I’ve caused her.” I don’t think this was prompted solely by his having been a closeted gay man. 

Age may make us aware how far we have fallen short, not only of the glory of God, but of the glory of being a child of God, because I found during Holy Week that, along with the writer of The Temple of God’s Wounds, I felt such a need for forgiveness! Now, I know, as an introvert, that even the good I may do can embarrass me; but I’ve done plenty of things I’d prefer not to have in my eulogy! 

I have a depiction, acquired in Egypt, of a Pharaoh being weighed on scales opposite a feather. The tradition was that if the Pharaoh’s heart was heavier than a feather, he could not enter eternity.  Few if any of us could pass such a test! 

I have been reading The Islamic Jesus by Mustafa Akyol. A reader and contributor to my blog had asked me if there was a book I was eager to have in my library. Having just read a review of this book, that’s what I asked for. What’s remarkable to me is that the Qur’an, while not supporting Jesus’ divinity, reveres him as a prophet, like Moses and Muhammad. The writer suggests that this was the view of the Jerusalem church and its Jewish Christians led by James and represented in Christian scriptures by the epistle of James, which does not refer to the divinity of Jesus and famously includes, “Faith without works is dead.” This contrasts with other Christian emphases on mere belief, and specifically belief in Jesus’ divinity and substitutionary atonement. 

Thus I realized that progressive Christians have that in common with the early Jewish Christians, not to mention Muslims and Jews. We may or may not hold to Jesus’ divinity, and consider that doing justice and practicing charity and showing mercy are what the Lord (i.e. God) requires of us. 

For me as a progressive Christian, Jesus is the “new Adam”—not the innocent and perfect and beautiful (and initially sexless) Ken and Barbie doll of Adam and Eve; rather the tried and tested, unappealing and vulnerable and wounded one, acquainted with sorrows and grief, the bearer of the sins and injustices of the world—political, religious, and personal. Treasonous and blasphemous, betrayable and deniable, because compassion was all he held dear. 

Thus he knows the trouble I’ve seen, the trouble I’ve gotten into, and the trouble I’ve caused, not just personally but throughout the world. He is the real human being that Adam and Eve could not even imagine in their innocence and privilege. They were rough drafts, prototypes, not as fully human. 

So when Jesus prays, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” it seems genuine, true, and possible. 

 

Copyright © 2017 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. 

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Easter Rising and Saint Patrick

 

Today I will fix my traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots. 

I’ve always loved the story of Patrick, an English youth enslaved by the Irish, who, after escaping, became a priest and returned to evangelize his former oppressors. And, in How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill asserts Patrick was “the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery.” 

Yet even more I love the stories of how Christianity blended with the earlier Celtic spirituality of the British Isles to offer a spiritual alternative to Rome/Hierarchy/Augustine/Original Sin/Organizational Man/ Peter.  

Celtic Christianity, whose model was the beloved disciple whose head rested on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper “listening for the heartbeat of God,” offered more equality between male and female leadership and less differentiation between clergy and laity, permitted married and unmarried clergy, innovated the use of soul friends/guides, believed redemption was possible through either sacraments or nature, recognized and valued the theophanies of the natural world, and recognized that everyone was a child of God, created in God’s image. 

If only that characterized the global church today! 

I fancy that I may be related spiritually and politically to Ireland, not just biologically. My Irish ancestral name is Plunkett. In the 17th century, Archbishop Oliver Plunkett, Primate of All Ireland, became its last Roman Catholic martyr. Canonized in 1975, he is regarded as Ireland’s patron saint for peace and reconciliation. 

In the 20th century, young poet and journalist Joseph Plunkett was one of the instigators (all ultimately executed by firing squad) of the Easter Rising of 1916, whose centennial I was reminded of by reading Timothy Egan’s column, “Irish Spring.” 

Egan reminds readers, not only of the Irish struggle for independence, but of its seven-century history of having its culture disrespected and the resulting poverty, starvation, and injustice it endured. The “troubles” of Northern Ireland, he writes, were finally (mostly) resolved by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. 

As a progressive Christian, I appreciate the spiritual and political woven together in me/us like the intertwining strands depicted on Celtic symbols, from the Celtic knot to the Celtic cross. I like to think that Oliver’s spiritual fealty and Joseph’s political passion might be “genetic,” and that I may have inherited my spiritual/political bent. 

What strikes me is that the Easter Rising, which occurred during Easter Week (which is not Holy Week but the week following Easter) may have had spiritual inspiration in the story of Resurrection. And that the Good Friday Agreement may have had spiritual impetus in the story of Atonement. 

I wrote in my second book that the nexus of politics and faith is the cross. Every time we enter a church and see a cross or crucifix, we are confronted with a political reality, because the cross was a political solution of empire. So the political is at the heart of our spirituality. We cannot ignore it, nor can we segregate these two realms. 

Jesus was a political victim, not a theological one. It doesn’t mean his sacrifice is any less noble or godly or transforming. 

As I wrote in Coming Out as Sacrament, the crucifixion was our idea, not God’s. God’s will is made known in resurrection—always resurrection, however we understand it. 

 

I offered this post on March 16, 2016. It has been amended to reflect being reposted today, St. Patrick’s Day. We've just passed a half-million visitors, not including five-hundred free weekly subscribers! 

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! 

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Temple of God's Wounds

The cross at Mt. Calvary Guesthouse.

Every Holy Week for many years I have travelled to The Temple of God’s Wounds, a small book written in 1951 by the Anglican Bishop of Bombay, ‘Will Quinlan’ nee William Quinlan Lash, a mystic. Originally from England, in India the bishop helped found the Christa Prema Seva Sangha (sangha means “community”), which, according to his stub bio in Wikipedia, “sought to live Christianity in a way that was faithful to Indian culture.” 

That explains how I received the book during Eastertide of 1988 from the Rev. John Cole, who served in India as a “fraternal worker” (missionary) his entire professional life, immersing himself in its culture and spirituality. John was a sweet and gentle and unassuming man who adopted the speech patterns and body language of the Indian people, complete with their signature deferential slight wobbling of the head.  

John arrived in India the year before Gandhi was assassinated, but never met him because, he confessed to me, his Western reserve initially resisted the cult of personality often associated with Hindu teachers. But eventually India’s spirituality had as much or more effect on John than he on it. He spent his furloughs in the States with the church I served, and so became a friend and confidant and spiritual guide, especially after he retired to southern California. 

You can tell that the story of how I came to have The Temple of God’s Wounds is as important to me as the story within the book. It took me a few years before I started using it regularly as part of my spiritual practice for Holy Week. In first person, the book tells the story of a discouraged, worldly but faithful man who is referred by a colleague to a contemplative community “in the West” that neither advertises nor hides its presence, but is accessible to its neighbors for help and prayers. He soon realizes that men and women of accomplishment in the world come there for solace, self-inventory, centering, and strength. 

The central task he is assigned is the contemplation of seven paintings—one on each day—in the central circular sanctuary. Three have to do with the crucifixion, three with what follows, and the seventh with a vision of their meaning. Each bear witness to God’s wounded love. 

It took me a few years of reading this little book to refrain from trying in vain to picture the author’s detailed descriptions of the buildings, which I can’t follow. Instead of exteriors, I am more interested in the interior life. His life in that week is enriched by walking the surrounding hills, tending the courtyard garden, visiting the sick and dying in nearby villages, sharing silence and worship, conversing with spiritual guides in the community, and reading helpful spiritual writers. 

I also learned to set aside any discomfort I had with any Christian concepts that I may not embrace and accept the central truths about the spiritual life being revealed in this story. In other words, just like reading the Bible, I am looking for the “inside” story in the storytelling—what is intended to be conveyed in the particulars. 

Each time I visit The Temple of God’s Wounds, with its central courtyard cross pierced with nails for each of Jesus’ five wounds, I think of the retreat house in the hills above Santa Barbara that I visited from time to time when I lived in southern California. Mt. Calvary was run by the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross. It too had such a cross at the heart of its central courtyard. 

My last two opportunities to visit there before it was destroyed in the Montecito fire of 2008 proved spiritual metaphors. The first, I wanted to show my partner and my family members who live nearby the spectacular view Mt. Calvary afforded of Santa Barbara and its shoreline. But my family members wanted us to see a still more spectacular view, and took us to a ridge high above Mt. Calvary, which, given the haze and the height, precluded good vision. The second, on the way home to Atlanta after my interim ministry in San Francisco, was my last opportunity to show Mt. Calvary to my partner and our dog, and we enjoyed a breathtaking view. 

This contrast reminded me that the higher up you are does not guarantee an inspiring view. The Vatican, an ivory tower, a corporate ladder do not assure anyone a better perspective. Success, wealth, even fitness do not ensure vision. The successful but searching narrator of the bishop’s book gives further evidence of this. 

That’s why we need centers and stories like The Temple of God’s Wounds. 

 

I posted this on April 11, 2012, without the photo above, which depicts the cross at Mt. Calvary mentioned in the post. 

Copyright © 2012 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, March 3, 2021

If Jesus Read The New York Times


If Jesus read The New York Times, he would not see a world so different from his own, except in externals. He would still see the poor, the hungry, and the marginalized. He would recognize military occupations, tribal warfare (even in Washington), and rulers who acted like gods. He would experience déjà vu as he read about a variety of attempts at world domination, this time not by the Roman Empire, but by corporations, governments, religion, even terrorists. Misogyny, patriarchy, racism, and xenophobia would not surprise him. And misuse of God’s creation has been with us since Eden. 

Religious battles, spiritual abuse, clergy misconduct, religious hierarchy, fundamentalism, exclusivity, scapegoating, judgment, and self-righteousness—he challenged all of these in his own time.  Wealth and greed in its myriad expressions (money, property, possessions, knowledge, ancestry, etc.) he has already testified as  stumbling blocks to entering God’s commonwealth. 

Drones have replaced crosses, weapons of mass destruction have replaced the swords we were to beat into ploughshares, AIDS has displaced leprosy, terrorist acts by individuals and governments alike have more “sophisticated” expressions—but all still intimidate the human spirit. Equally harmful, they may distract us from the life of the spirit. There’s even been a recent slaughter of the innocents. 

Violence comes neatly packaged in celluloid and video and digital formats, but the violent games of the Roman circus might also have been considered “wholesome” fun in their time. The internet provides just the latest opportunity for greedy lust to overrule the better natures of our hearts. Prisons, at least in the West, are more humane, but those in the U.S. house a higher percentage of the population than in Jesus’ time. 

So Jesus’ calling still has relevance, as he quoted Isaiah, “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of the vision we need, and to let the oppressed go free.” 

And his calling to us still resonates. “Give to the poor.” “Feed the hungry.” “Provide shelter.” “Welcome strangers.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Love your neighbor.” “Love your enemy.” “Do not judge.” “Pray in secret.” “Seek, and you will find.”  “Do not be anxious.” “Blessed are the merciful.” “Avoid anger.” “Do good to those who persecute you.” “Avoid revenge.” “Forgive as you have been forgiven.”  “Don’t shut others out of the temple.” “Woe to religious leaders who tie heavy burdens on others.” “Be compassionate as God in heaven is compassionate.” “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” 

If Jesus read The New York Times, I believe he would lament over the world as he did over Jerusalem, “You who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” 

I offered this post on March 6, 2013. 

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! 

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


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Crazy Man in the Basement


The intimacies offered me in conversation and pastoral counseling as well as my own self-knowledge have convinced me that many and perhaps most of us live with a crazy man or a crazy woman in our basement. Perhaps that was the intended metaphor of Charlotte Bronte’s Gothic novel, Jane Eyre, that had a deranged relation imprisoned secretly in an upper room or attic. 

Yet I think my “crazy person in the basement” concept suggests something more basic to our nature than our upper regions, more visceral than conscious.  This is the one stoking our furnace and fueling our engine down below, so to speak. When one escapes, the host makes news, and endures judgment from those of us who think “we are not like them.” 

What occasions this rumination was watching an entertaining romantic comedy about a British retirement home for gifted musicians entitled, Quartet (2012).  A character’s frontal lobe has been damaged and so cannot edit himself, bluntly expressing indelicate feelings, observations, and thoughts coming from, one could say, his crazy man in the basement. 

What you read on this blog I carefully edit, because writing my posts is like working without a net—after all, I have no editor or copyeditor as I have had with all my other writings. Thus I read and review each post multiple times to make sure it says what I want it to say as well as to avoid misunderstandings. 

But my whole life—and I would suggest others’ lives—is a product of similar, careful editing. I cannot speak for others, but Christ, culture, and Chris are primary editorial filters for me. I follow Jesus as spiritual guide, and he represents specific views of God, so Christ is also my God filter. Multiple cultures serve as editorial filters for me: spiritual, ethical, theological, literary, social, scientific, liberal, marginal—the list goes on. Most in need of explanation is “Chris,” but all this means is that my life must reflect and reveal what I believe about myself, and I believe this is common for most of us. 

The crazy man in my basement is one who resists Christ, culture, and Chris. This is the one I sometimes meet when I become angry or anxious, infatuated or lustful, greedy or envious or vengeful, obsessive or pious, one who is fearful and fearless, vulnerable and arrogant, clueless and clever. 

Christian mystics from the Desert Fathers and Mothers to the more contemporary Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating have recognized that the crazy man or woman in the basement rears his or her unwelcome head as our spiritual lives progress. Like the demons who asked Jesus, “What have you to do with us?” so our shadow selves emerge in the presence of God’s light, needing redemption and healing. This is considered a natural progression in spiritual growth. 

Some keep the crazy person in the basement, often secretly, preventing their shadow side from encountering Jesus’ or God’s TLC.  Some externalize and scapegoat the crazy person, attempting to restrain the demoniac as the Gerasenes did, or allowing him to exile and stone himself naked and vulnerable among tombs, failing to recognize that “he is us.” (See Mark 5:1-20 and my post, listed below, “Exorcising Demons.”) 

I believe what is needed is an honest encounter with the crazy man or crazy woman inside each of us. Only then may we come to ourselves, and through spiritual practices and the help of a spiritual community, spiritual director, or soul friend (anamchara), find our right minds.

 

Related posts:

Exorcising Demons

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

I offered this post on July 17, 2013. The photo is a selfie from 2015 after skin cancer surgery.

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!

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Photo Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite. Consider using a post or quotes in your congregation’s or group’s newsletter, including the blog address: https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dolphins & Sharks


“Look, over there, there are dolphins in the water!”

Somebody shouted this to me as I began a several-mile run along a beach during a vacation. This stranger was absolutely right. Three dolphins playfully leapt up out of the water and, in tandem, we raced down the South Carolina shoreline for almost an hour. And most of that hour I reflected on that moment when the gracious abandon of a stranger, who might not otherwise have greeted me, alerted me to one of God’s wonders.

Running for me is a time to meditate. Like a Buddhist walking meditation, its rhythm gives me peace and a place for thought. And what I thought was that this stranger had played the preacher—that this is the purpose of any exhortation—to awaken us to such wonders.  Because I believe each one of us may serve as a minister, it occurred to me that this is our role, to shout,

“Look, over there, there are dolphins in the water!”

There’s something about the shore that gives us permission to talk to strangers. I think it’s the elation, even the ecstasy, that we experience in nature—whether manifest in shores or dolphins. It awakens the child in us that freely enters the commonwealth of God.

The stranger speaking to me about the dolphin was purely gratuitous, an occasion of grace. He had nothing to gain by it other than the thrill of sharing the experience. But I proclaimed his gospel to all I passed in my run along the beach,

 “Look, over there, there are dolphins in the water!”

The next day, our last full day along the shore, it rained. And instead of wading into the Atlantic, I waded into all those e-mails I had avoided all week. It was sobering, to get back to business. There’s nothing natural about sitting in front of a laptop, reading a screen and plucking keys on a keyboard.

And I had another thought. Earlier in the week on the beach we had met a couple who alerted us to a shark in the water. It occurred to me that our job as “ministers” (remember, all of us) is not only to point out the dolphins, but warn others about the sharks.

Many of us got too many sharks growing up in our churches and too few dolphins. Like the preacher in the novel and movie Pollyanna, egged on by Pollyanna’s stern and bitter aunt, we heard preachers who focused on the curses found in scriptures rather than its blessings. Pollyanna, the orphan of missionary parents, who herself had every right to be bitter, pointed out to this preacher that there are many more blessings than curses in the Bible, many more dolphins than sharks.

Progressive Christians recognize the sharks infesting the waters of our faith tradition: biblical literalism, fundamentalism, prejudice, exclusion, patriarchy, condemnation, and so on. It’s important that we warn others to stay out of these waters. But it’s equally vital—or all the more vital—that we point out the dolphins of our faith tradition: grace, mercy, justice, compassion, inclusion, blessing, wonder, storytelling, and spiritual truth.

“Look, there are dolphins in the baptismal water!”

 

This week marks the tenth anniversary of beginning my blog with this post from February 16, 2011.

There’s been nearly half-a-million visitors, not including an average of five-hundred free weekly subscribers.

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!

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

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Mindful of the Gaps


Enjoy this blog more by going to the link provided in the first paragraph!

National Public Radio featured a report about why certain popular pieces of music spontaneously set people to dancing.  The occasion was Pharrell Willliams’s “Happy” going viral on the internet as people around the world videotaped themselves dancing to the music, even at risk to themselves, such as in Iran, where six teens were arrested for posting their video.

The neuroscientists interviewed have theorized that it’s the gaps between sounds in certain pieces of music that invite us to move, providing the “space” and motivation for our bodies to respond.  I think something similar happens spiritually in the gaps reciting liturgies or the Lord’s Prayer.

The mantra of the London subway, “Mind the gap,” could become in sacred music and liturgies, “Be mindful of the gap,” the silences out of which spiritual movement comes: the pauses in liturgies and psalms and eloquent scriptures (such as 1 Corinthians 13 or 1 John 4) as well as the intervals between notes and beats and rhythms and vocals in everything from Gregorian chants to Gospel songs. 

In my book, Communion of Life, I named it “the thoughtful pause,” the quiet and the calm required to absorb what has gone before (say, in a poetic or musical phrase) and to respond, anticipating what may come next. I believe prayer, contemplation, retreats, and (I’d like to believe) this blog may serve as “thoughtful pauses” that compel us to dance spiritually.

The lead neuroscientist, Maria Witek of Aarhus University in Denmark, explained during the NPR story that “Gaps in the rhythmic structure, gaps in the sort of underlying beat of the music—that sort of provides us with an opportunity to physically inhabit those gaps and fill in those gaps with our own bodies.”

Surveys found that the most effective drum patterns in getting people off their feet, she says, were “not the ones that have very little complexity and not the ones that had very, very high complexity, but the patterns that had a sort of a balance between predictability and complexity.” That balance of predictability and complexity may be needed in our own liturgies, readings, sacred songs, and sermons.

The anonymous fourteenth century author of the spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing could be considered among the world’s first bloggers, given the brevity of its chapters. Written for English monks, this mystic observed, “You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God. This brief moment produces the stirring that embodies the greatest work of your soul.” (Contemporary English translation by Bernard Bangley.)

Alongside music, the cadences of many preachers, the “call and response” of some African American worship, and the antiphonal responses of the Daily Office may all provide gaps that invite us to fill them with our spiritual dance—and by that I don’t mean “disembodied,” but one that moves our bodies as well as our souls.

When I was in college, the choir of our church sang a catchy Caribbean song. Our staid congregation stayed in their pews, smiling appreciatively, but resisting an urge to rise and sway and clap. To paraphrase Jesus, “If these Christians remain seated, the pews themselves will dance.” That didn’t happen, but when the choir finished, someone spontaneously cried out, “Do it again!”

And they did!

 

I recommend the current film on Netflix, Sound of Metal, about a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing, for its spiritual subtext. This post originally appeared June 11, 2014.

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!

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


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands



 

As we approach the tenth anniversary of this weekly blog, I thought current readers would appreciate one of my earliest posts, from April 6, 2011.

During recess in the second grade, my friend Mary and I enjoyed swinging as high as we could on the swing set, singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” It’s a great song of comfort, basically affirming that, no matter what, God is holding us. Note the song doesn’t say God is in control, just that God is there for us. And I still believe that.

These days we have a better grip on what it means for God to hold the whole world because we have the internet and a 24/7 news cycle. Now we too have the whole world in our hands every time we log on.

The narrator in my as-yet-unpublished mystery novel so reveres the internet that, just as many of us only visit God on Sunday mornings, he only visits the internet on Saturday mornings. Comparing it to touching the forbidden Mt. Sinai, he drolly writes: 

The internet is such an awesome god—so extensive we can only glimpse a part of it, so powerful that it has crashed many a computer, so desirous that many humans and their marriages have been sacrificed on its local altars. Okay, I’m a little over the top here, but it’s an amusing analogy, don’t you think? 

My point is, like any powerful and overwhelming god, the internet must be approached guardedly, with respect, on appointed days and at appointed times, lest we take it for granted (as if our computers are always up) or believe we can domesticate it (making it entirely user-friendly). 

Just as the ancient monastics limited human intercourse of all kinds, even so, those of us who practice an ascetic lifestyle must limit our intercourse with the internet, lest it lead us into idolatry or distract us from reality. To switch mythological metaphors, the internet is the Medusa’s head of our time, a face whose tresses are cables rather than snakes, but still able to turn men to stone. 

Demonstrating a similar reverence, only recently has my spell-check stopped correcting me when I fail to capitalize the word “internet,” though it never corrects me when I fail to capitalize “god”! 

A retreat leader once scandalized my progressive theology—you know, the theology that tells you to have the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other during your morning prayers—by observing the omnipresent news cycle hooks us in other people’s stories before we know our own story for the day. And, during a retreat I was leading on finding space in our busy lives to rest in God, a woman had the “aha” moment that she was busy even in her prayers, listing the world’s concerns, as if the whole world were not already in God’s hands! 

Now more than ever, we have the whole world in our hands. And more than ever, we need to step back, take a breath, take moments of Sabbath rest, and resist the temptation to use Eden’s apple or the Silicon Valley’s Apple to be like the gods. 

Yet we are not absolved of responsibility. Now, also more than ever, the internet gives what we do and say the power to transform the world for good or for ill. 

We’ve got the whole world in our hands. If we are God’s, then that should be a comfort rather than a concern.

 

Copyright © 2011 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 in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Caesar and God


“Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s”

Last week’s post was declined by at least two mainstream Christian Facebook pages that had always seemed to welcome my free, ad-free weekly posts. The admins who declined them determined them “political,” unsuitable for their Christian audience. One even claimed that spirituality had nothing to do with politics!

As long as everyday Christians avoid the marketplace of ideas, extremist Christians will seem the prevailing voice of Christianity and/or the church. As Bishop Spong has said, religion is like a public pool: all the noise comes from the shallow end.

My post challenged a reactionary politician’s rejection of one of my Celtic Christian spiritual saints, Pelagius. Yes, he was declared a heretic, but initially by the State and not by the Pope at the time. In J. Philip Newell’s words in Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality: 

Two attempts were made to condemn [Pelagius] in 415, but twice Pelagius was acquitted by the Church in Palestine. In 416 Augustine and the African bishops reacted by convening two diocesan councils, at which Pelagius and his Celtic friend Celestius were condemned. In the following year the Pope himself convened a synod in Rome to consider the conflict; here Pelagius’ teaching was declared entirely true and orthodox. 

In an attempt to reconcile Pelagius’ emphasis on our essential goodness with Augustine’s emphasis on the prevalence of evil, the Pope wrote to the African bishops, “Love peace, prize love, strive after harmony. For it is written, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  

The Pope’s guidance was not heeded by Augustine [who championed the concepts of “human depravity” and “original sin”] and the Western Church began to lose sight of the essential God-given goodness of the human. This loss would have implications for the Church’s perspective on the world, as a fundamentally unholy realm [p 20]. 

When tested by religious leaders about the relationship of faith to empire, Jesus famously said, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” Of course, in our faith, everything belongs to God. Some conservative/reactionary Christians instead see Jesus drawing a line between religion and politics, citing the apostle Paul’s dictum about obeying authorities.  Progressive Christians, on the other hand, see Jesus declaring the political realm also an avenue for welcoming the kingdom, or commonwealth, of God. 

So many political advances would not have been made without Christian and more broadly religious investment: more humane treatment of those who break the law, which led to establishing prisons and reform movements instead of inflicting physical punishment or death; the abolition of slavery and the much later Civil Rights Movement; the establishment of social safety nets to alleviate poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of education. 

Jesus was crucified for his political views, even if betrayed by religious colleagues. The cross was an execution by the state, the Roman Empire. If it were for religious reasons, he would have been stoned. 

Some of our present religious colleagues would like to silence or betray those of us with progressive views on refugees, immigrants, racial justice, women, LGBTQ people, peace, and justice. Theirs should not be the only Christian voices heard in the media and on social networks.

 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you! 

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