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. 

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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:

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!