Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Squandering Eternity

If you are looking for devotional material for Advent, may I recommend my own Reformation of the Heart, which leads the reader through each day of Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, and Holy Week. It includes a handy scripture index.

A thought crossed my mind today that I can’t let go of.

It took a virtual eternity to get to me, to you, to our present lives.

We think of eternity as a thing of the future. “Where will you spend eternity?” billboards and bellicose Bible-thumpers ask. Much religion is based on this premise. “Squandering eternity” has come to mean giving up heaven, an everlasting future with God.

But the only eternity we “know” is in the past, the billions of years it took to form the universe, solar systems, planets, inhabitable planets, life, and the forms of life those planets host today.

Eternity has brought us to this moment, the breath I take as I write this, the breath you take as you read this. Squandering eternity is not living up to this moment, not being fully mindful of it, not reverencing all that has come into balance, into play, to make this moment “work,” to create this eco-sphere in which we live and move and have our being, to evolve my/your consciousness to reflect its magnificence.

Much of our lives is denial and distraction. We fill our moments rather than letting them fill us. We’re occupied with our pasts and preoccupied with our futures.

The founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius, believed that, in the Final Judgment, God will not ask what we didn’t do, but rather, “How much of my creation did you not enjoy?

Given our current displays of xenophobia and environmental arrogance, we could ask ourselves, how many of God’s creatures do we not enjoy? And, given various inequalities, how much enjoyment is being denied others?

Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” And it was the Jesuit-educated priest and physicist George Lemaître who gave us the wondrous concept behind the Big Bang. Talk about a singular moment!

I lost my muse in July, our beloved dog Hobbes. Though now she joins me only in spirit for my morning prayers on the deck, I am not bereft of “wildlife,” so to speak. Identical twin cats sometimes watch me from a neighbor’s window.  A hummingbird occasionally flies inquisitively before my face. Almost every morning, a bee gathers nectar from the flowers in our hanging baskets.

I once said the Lord’s Prayer as my eyes followed the bee move from tiny blossom to blossom, as if the bee were praying it. How differently God’s kingdom and power and glory seemed then!

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough,” Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote.

Ignatius defined sin as anything that blocks the love that God is trying to share with you, or blocks your love for God. And for Ignatian spirituality, God is part of everything.

To Ignatius, what bothers God is not our being fully human, but our trying to be God.

Let God be eternal.

Take this moment to wonder that you have come to be after all this time.

Cultural anthropologist Rene Girard died earlier this month. As many of you know, I used his understandings of mimesis, mimetic rivalry, violence, and the scapegoat mechanism in my book, Coming Out as Sacrament. For an excellent analysis of his life’s work, please click here.

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you! Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of a first edition of my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We'll Always Have Paris

Friday I finished helping with a week-long spiritual formation course and found myself reflecting on the instructor’s  explanation of Ignatian spirituality’s concept of “holding things loosely.” He learned this professionally as a church pastor and personally weathering a divorce and as the father of a daughter with a drug addiction.

After a Costco run, I retrieved Wade from the Atlanta airport, returning from a week out of town for work. Then we sat down for our usual evening PBS newscast and learned of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. A Facebook friend posted that he and his wife had just visited the city two days earlier and found it gay and vibrant.

I wept, as I often do watching the news. I wept for those who lost their lives and the wounded and their loved ones, I wept for Paris and for France and for our world. Like most Westerners, I was oblivious to a pair of terrorist bombings that killed more than 40 innocent children, women and men in Beirut the day before.

On the subsequent newscasts and Saturday’s Democratic presidential candidates debate, no one was “holding things loosely”—everyone had either questions or plans on “what we should do” to prevent such violence.

As usually happens, one idea again emerged in the nonstop commentary, that Islamic moderates had to speak out forcefully to rein in Muslim extremists.

Easy to say, hard to do. I remember oh-too-well how little mainstream denominations in this country said or did to rein in religiously-motivated gay-bashing before LGBT people became respectable, or at least acceptable, in their eyes.

No matter your religion, if your god tells you to kill yourself or others, literally or figuratively, that god is what needs to be eliminated from your mind and your heart.

I once wrote on this blog that the young men being attracted to ISIS were as illiterate about the Qur’an as gay-bashers who quoted the Bible when brutalizing transgender people, gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals.

But last March’s cover story in The Atlantic begs to differ. “What ISIS Really Wants and How to Stop It” by Graeme Wood asserts that the ISIS movement is very well-versed in the Qur’an. Its intent is to bring in an apocalypse, provoking the rest of the world to a violent confrontation and destroying the freedoms that make cities like Paris so gay and vibrant.

German liberation theologian Dorothee Sölle once struck my survivor’s mentality to the core when she spoke on nuclear proliferation during an interfaith luncheon I attended when I lived in Los Angeles. She said that, in a nuclear war, she would rather be among the killed than among the killers. Why should she be provoked to change her non-violent nature?

I have the same beef with capital punishment. I oppose executions partly because they make us all killers. But I am not a pacifist. ISIS and terrorism of any kind must be confronted, if only because it’s usually the most vulnerable who suffer from their actions. Confrontation may have non-violent forms, which would be preferred, but it will require more, I believe—though we should never equate the “more” with the will of God.

In the Ignatian course we viewed the French film Of Gods and Men, the story of a household of Trappist monks ministering to the needs of Muslims in their Algerian village, ultimately slaughtered by fundamentalist revolutionaries that even their Muslim neighbors feared.  Warned to leave, they followed a discernment process that led them to the “aha” that this was their home, that this was their calling, to serve this neighborhood materially and medically—and so they stayed, despite their peril. They held their own lives “loosely.”

Jesus too knew the risk of “moving into our neighborhood” to proclaim a spiritual commonwealth, not a caliphate, which welcomes us all equally and voluntarily, a commonwealth of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

At the end of the film Casablanca, Rick urges Ilsa to go with her husband to aid him in his vital work of resisting Nazis, despite the great love they had found earlier in Paris. “Ilsa,” he explains, “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

“We’ll always have Paris,” he reminds her.

We’ll always have Paris. It will always be gay and vibrant. And it will always risk the crazies who want to diminish its shine and glow, because liberty to be liberty must hold everything loosely.

Relevant columns:
Ted Cruz and the Anti-Gay Pastor” by Katherine Stewart

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you! Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of a first edition of my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy.

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Is Truth?

“What is truth?” Pilate famously asked Jesus in Gospel writer John’s version of Jesus’ trial. Jesus had just informed the Roman governor of Judea, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

This exchange came to mind as three recent New York Times articles began percolating in my head.

Believing What You Don’t Believe” by professors of behavioral science Jane L. Risen and A. David Nussbaum reports on an experiment in which participants were instructed to label one bowl of sugar “sucrose” and an identical bowl as “sodium cyanide (poison).” Despite the fact that the persons themselves chose which to label, they nonetheless resisted using sugar from the bowl labelled poisonous.

The authors then apply the contrast between fast and slow thinking. The volunteers’ instinct (fast thinking) was not to touch the bowl labelled as poison, and though their reason (slow thinking) might be used as a corrective to realize the labels were by their own arbitrary designation, “People can simultaneously recognize that, rationally, their superstitious belief is impossible, but persist in their belief and their behavior.” They may even try to rationalize their irrational, intuitive decisions.

The article concludes with an illustration of how setting in place a policy in advance can avoid the pitfall of following “a powerful but misguided intuition in a specific situation.”*

How to Live a Lie” by philosophy professor William Irwin questions the “objective reality” of  God, free will, and morality.  He posits that many live by moral or religious or ethical “fictionalism,” voluntarily or involuntarily, and some may understand such fictionalism as “mythologically true,” while at the same time knowing that these constructs are “not literally true.”

All this touches my experience as I have grappled with the reality of God. I don’t want to make the mistake of allowing superstition to determine my beliefs or behavior while, at the same time, I believe myth speaks to the unknowable (or not yet known) in human experience.

The articles converge for me as I consider that setting in place “policies” (as in the first article) about God, morality, and free will can help civilization and us personally. 

The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, “God is love,” equal rights, the separation of church and state, and belief in personal and corporate responsibility have contributed to our culture in positive ways, for example.

But is embracing such policies finding the truth, or rationalization, a kind of mind-game?

The Light Beam Rider” by biographer Walter Isaacson celebrates the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Einstein, he observes, was able to advance science by beginning with what he called “Gedankenexperimente,” “thought experiments,” or what we might colloquially call daydreaming or mind-games.   

The author gives pertinent examples, and then concludes, “That ability to visualize the unseen has always been the key to creative genius. As Einstein later put it, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’”

This week, helping with a spiritual formation course on Ignatian spirituality, I am learning that imagination plays a key role in its understanding of prayer.

Could all this mean that the imagination and thought experiments of mystics, theologians, and ethicists are “key to creative genius” and of more value than “certain”  knowledge about God?

Could that be why the teachings of spiritual founders like Jesus have captured our own spiritual imaginations?

*I just learned last week on the fascinating PBS series, The Brain with (neuroscientist) David Eagleman, that this is known as a “Ulysses’ contract.” Ulysses had himself tied to the mast so he couldn’t sail his ship onto the rocks when he heard the seductive sirens’ song.

Find out how you can support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of a first edition of my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy.

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fleshing Out the Soul: James B. Nelson

I will be using some of Nelson’s insights this Sunday, Nov. 8, in a talk on “Grounded Spirituality” for the 11 a.m. service of the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church in Dahlonega, GA, followed by a free workshop entitled, “Spiritual Self-Exam.”

The proudest moments of my life have sometimes come serendipitously. Conducting a workshop on LGBT pastoral issues during a conference for Christian ethicists, someone asked me what book I would recommend to help congregations dealing with such issues.

I didn’t even have to think about it. I answered, “James B. Nelson’s book, The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality. Or is it, Masculine Sexuality and Male Spirituality? I can never remember.”

Laughter erupted in the classroom. “Why don’t you ask the guy with the question?” someone said, “That’s Jim Nelson.” I laughed too, but I was proud that I had unintentionally paid him a great compliment.

We had never met, but I once subbed for him when his mother’s death prevented his speaking to our annual Presbyterians for Lesbian & Gay Concerns luncheon at General Assembly. I had been doing a lot of presentations about the relationship of spirituality and sexuality, and the group’s board prevailed on me that day to take his place, though I had brought none of my speaking notes.

I spent that morning reassembling from memory what I had recently been talking and writing about, and I gave one of my rare extemporary speeches. The response was positive, and I was feeling good about myself until someone on the board felt the need to put me in my place by saying, “You know that’s all from James Nelson.”

I didn’t know, and I was too embarrassed to say that I had not yet read any of his books! When I subsequently did, I was further embarrassed to realize that a quote of mine I thought to be original, and had actually published, was really Nelson’s: “We know God through our bodies or we don’t know God at all.”

What that says to me is that Nelson’s ideas had somehow permeated my universe, seeping its way into my thinking through conversations I was having in the church and with colleagues. That to me is the greatest compliment to his life and work, that his ideas would become part of the very fabric of contemporary theological discussion.

Of course there are dozens if not hundreds of body theologians today, but he was among the first along with Carter Heyward and others to help many of us claim an embodied spirituality, and we grieve his recent death at the age of 85.

In college I had thought I needed to go outside my own Christian tradition to claim my body, my sensuality and sexuality, and the beauty of creation. That’s why, as I wrote in my first book, Uncommon Calling, Kazantzakis’ novel, Zorba the Greek, became my “second Bible.” The nominal “pagan” Zorba’s sensual zest for the world awakened in me a spirituality far from how I had been reared, spirituality as “pie in the sky when you die by and by.”

I knew little of earth-oriented Native American spirituality, and nothing of Celtic Christianity, which, with Body and Process and Liberation and Feminist theologies have served as correctives to my thinking of spirituality as an out-of-body experience.

I have used so many of Nelson’s insights and analyses—properly credited of course!—in my books and my talks and on this blog that I can’t imagine doing what I do without him. I refrained from reviewing all my underlining in his books for this post, however, lest I be tempted to offer more than my favorite Nelson quote:

“Pleasure is the strongest argument for the existence of God.”

Last week’s post prompted a reader to ask a question about this blog’s statistics: Since January, donations have totaled $1,470, free subscriptions are nearly 600 weekly, and visitors from all over the world number between 3000 and 4000 per month.

Find out how you can support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of a first edition of my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy.

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