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. 

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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.  

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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. 

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