Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Jesus Preaches in the Temple"


“Jesus Preaches in the Temple” from artist Douglas Blanchard’s series, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, and his book with author and blogger Kittredge Cherry. Copyright © by Douglas Blanchard. Used by permission.

Please join Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church in Atlanta for 11 a.m. Easter worship this Sunday, where I’ll be preaching on “Whose Resurrection Is It, Anyway?”

It took Douglas Blanchard’s painting “Jesus Preaches in the Temple” and Kittredge Cherry’s reflections on his series of 24 paintings of Jesus’ life, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, to remind me that scripture says several times that Jesus taught in the temple in the midst of the Passion narrative. Of course, most of us remember that when Jesus was “handed over” (betrayed) to “the powers that be,” he mischievously asked why they had not arrested him in broad daylight while teaching in the temple.

But I always pictured Jesus teaching to those whose life circumstances would have prevented them from entering the temple, like the man unable to walk asking for alms from Peter and John at the temple gate, told in the third chapter of Acts. In the name of Jesus, it says, they lifted him up “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”

I tended to imagine Jesus preaching to those outside the doors of the temple like this man, and his story serving as a metaphor for their welcome, their strengthened resolve to enter, and their resulting joy.

That Matthew, Mark, and Luke place Jesus’ teaching in the temple just after his angry outburst clearing it of merchants who provided for worshipers’ ritual needs (temple coins and animal sacrifices) suggests he was indeed creating space for temple outsiders.

In an early book, I explained how the space he cleared would have been the space in which those of us who have been excluded and marginalized might have gathered: Gentiles, women, LGBT folk, people with disabilities. I didn’t think of the immediate accessibility he provided those then considered unclean by religious scruples. Matthew specifically claims that those with disabilities then joined him in the temple (21:14)!

Jesus in Love blogger Kitt Cherry (a longtime friend) points out, however, that the artist has not placed Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, but in a Christian cathedral, made clear by the procession of crosses being carried by robed liturgists behind the immediate scene. A variety of people are drawn to Jesus “spellbound” by his teachings while seeming to ignore the formal worship behind them. Kitt asks, what would Christians do if Jesus entered their churches today? And I wonder, would they prefer to rest in peace in their traditions?

Some Christians are fond of asking, “What would Jesus do?” But the Passion narrative asks us, “What would we do?”

How often do we hand Jesus over to “the powers that be”: those who use Jesus to promote political or religious agendas anathema to what he taught? And how often do we pretend we’re not with Jesus, fearful that others might think we’re “one of them.”

And how often do we hang on Jesus’ words, reading and reflecting on what he taught?

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL people.” (Emphasis Jesus’)


Many thanks to Kitt and Doug! I’ve added another of Doug’s paintings to a previous post: Blessed Are the Prophets, a post which also appeared on the website of More Light Presbyterians this past Sunday.

Here are readings for the remainder of Holy Week:

Maundy Thursday:  Judas Kiss
Good Friday:            “Faggot” Jesus
Holy Saturday:         What God Did for Love
Easter Sunday:         Resurrecting Jesus

Progressive Christian Reflections is an authorized Emerging Ministry of MCC supported solely by readers.


Consider using a post or quotes in personal reflection, worship, newsletters, and classes, referencing the blog address when possible: http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite, catalogued by year and month.

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Double Feature

There are movies that I can watch again and again with pleasure because they conjure up for me the “olden” times of my life. The Birds and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? take me back to a quaint California of the early 1960s, my native state. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter take me back to books I enjoyed as a youth, and both were transformative, not only at how I looked at race and disability, but how I viewed myself as an outsider.

Recently I wanted to end a Sunday afternoon with such a movie, and I caught the last half of A Summer Place on Turner Classic Movies. It’s a peculiar story how I first happened to see the film. My occasionally non-conformist mother and a colleague of hers served as tricksters at the rather staid Christian school where they taught and which I attended, playing practical jokes on each other and exchanging funny, mischievous notes.

He suggested my parents and I—10 years old or so—join him to see Ben Hur at a drive-in movie theater. It happened to be half of a double feature with A Summer Place, a movie my parents had reservations about seeing themselves, let alone letting me see this film about lusty, illicit love. I can’t remember if it was shown first, and we had to watch it, or if last, and we stayed because we had already paid for it! (My parents, while generous, were even more frugal than I am!) But we watched the entire double feature.

In my book, As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage, I wrote how, of all the Hollywood movies about Jesus, I prefer Ben Hur, because the film never shows Jesus directly, but rather, depicts how he affected people—which is what I believe we have in Christian scriptures as well. I like this less literal and more indirect way of portraying Jesus.

Obviously it’s strange pairing this quasi-religious film with an incredibly secular film about older star-crossed lovers who leave their disastrous marriages to marry, and their teenage children who fall hopelessly in love, played by (to me, adorable) Troy Donahue and (to me, lucky) Sandra Dee. (When he died in 2001, I was saddened to learn that, after a serious bout with drugs and alcohol, his “summer place” was New York’s Central Park, before getting sober and getting on with his life.)

But the double feature awakened the double feature of my own life. Yes, I liked Jesus and things religious. And yes, I liked Troy Donahue, and things romantic. Religious or romantic, love would eventually come to me spiritually and sexually, thanks be to God!


Ever wonder why, after teaching at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, prolific Christian author Henri Nouwen spent the last ten years of his life as part of the L’Arche community, built around people with disabilities? Come find out as I lead a weekend retreat at Kirkridge May 2-4: “Henri Nouwen’s Road to L’Arche.”

Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:      Spiritual Yearnings
Friday:            Vacation and Vocation
Saturday:       If Jesus Read The New York Times

Holy Week
Palm Sunday:           Blessed Are the Prophets
Monday:                    The Temple of God’s Wounds
Tuesday:                   Spiritual Struggle [First full day of Passover]

Progressive Christian Reflections is an authorized Emerging Ministry of MCC supported solely by readers. 


Consider using a post or quotes in personal reflection, worship, newsletters, and classes, referencing the blog address when possible: http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite, catalogued by year and month.

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Single Unified Force

Those of you who follow this blog may have already guessed that I sometimes use The New York Times ScienceTimes for a kind of lectio divina. The day I am writing this, my text was the exciting observation of “Ripples from the Big Bang”: “faint spiral patterns from the polarization of microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang,” believed to be evidence of the theory of inflation, the force behind the original cosmic explosion that became our universe, dating back to a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second of our cosmic “grand opening.”

I gravitated to the phrase, “a single unified force,” that predated the Big Bang: 
Knowing inflation’s identity could be crucial if scientists are ever to unwind cosmic history back to the beginning, when they suspect the universe was ruled by a single unified force instead of the four distinct forces we know today: gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. 
To me this is as awesome as anything found in the first chapter of Genesis! And also mythological in its best sense: not an untrue narrative as most people misunderstand myth, but a narrative with intensely deep meaning for human imagination.

I had heard the Big Bang began with something the size of a marble, but this article suggests something infinitesimally smaller: “a subatomic quantum speck.” I have speculated in the past that this “marble” or “speck” could be the origin of our spiritual intuition that we are one: one with each other, with all creatures, with earth and stars, with all that is. The spiritual yearning for unity, overcoming dualism and differentiation, is really, I have thought, a nostalgic wish to return to the womb of this “subatomic quantum speck” and its “single unified force”—the “good ol’ days” of the cosmos.

Yes, I am probably overstepping my intellectual abilities as well as my education. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I might as well stick both feet in my mouth by confessing that, after a career of objecting to dualism, especially of body and spirit, I’ve never quite understood that dualism is by definition a bad thing. When I was ministering to people losing their bodies or their friends to AIDS, the separation of spirit and body came in handy to let go.

And I didn’t quite understand how a duality necessarily implied a hierarchy; why couldn’t a duality be like yin and yang, where one side is part of the other and vice versa? Or why couldn’t it be like the explanation of the Trinity where each part is a dimension of the one God—you know, just as a daughter can be a sister as well as a mother? (I was reminded this past weekend during a course on Hildegard of Bingen that she viewed the Trinity as inseparable: when one was present, all were present.)

In child rearing, differentiation is a preferred outcome. Only dysfunctional families desire a child to be a uniform expression of parents. Even so, differentiation of the cosmos has given us everything from black holes and supernovas to our pets and lovers. Differentiation, I would say, is a good thing.

I’ve used the metaphor of an expanding delta at the mouth of a river, spreading fertile soil and water to a broader expanse, to affirm the church’s diverse expressions as a good thing, rather than seeing it as the Body of Christ “broken” once more. And I apply this same principle to broader spiritual and religious diversity.

In my view, all of these are additional “ripples from the Big Bang,” and I look on them and consider them good. It’s only bad when we think our ripple is superior, or the “one way,” or the only way, or the “crown” of creation. Diversity is good. Evolution—biological and social—is good. Multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-disciplinary, multi-species, multi-ecologies—all are good.

Being united is also good, but absolute unity would cause the universe to collapse on itself, and we and everything we know and everything we have yet to discover would disappear.

Given the diversity of you readers, I would also consider it good to have pushback and feedback. Most everything I’ve written (not just here) raises issues for somebody out there. My ignorance far exceeds my knowledge, my imagination overreaches my scholarship, reality is way beyond my grasp.

I take comfort in the first Genesis creation story, in which Yahweh repeatedly pronounces everything created “good.” The ancient Jewish story is on to something, I believe.


Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:      It’s a Small, Small World
Friday:            Everybody Has a Story
Saturday:       Peace in Jerusalem
Sunday:          Treasure in Earthen Temples
Monday:         Our Mother
Tuesday:        The Thoughtful Pause  

Progressive Christian Reflections is an authorized Emerging Ministry of MCC supported solely by readers.


Consider using a post or quotes in personal reflection, worship, newsletters, and classes, referencing the blog address when possible: http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite, catalogued by year and month.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bill Maher's Fundamentalism

This post appeared in last week’s Huffington Post, receiving over 200 “likes” and over 200 comments.

I am a Bill Maher fan. My partner and I regularly watch the political comedian’s show on HBO, and we share his political leanings. Though he doesn’t quite “get” the need for or role of myth, he fulfills the traditional and mythological role of “fool to the king,” using barbed wit to speak truth to power. And he expresses the anger and frustration many of us progressives feel toward “the powers that be.”

Saturday night before last we attended his live performance here in Atlanta. The friends I accompanied wondered how his religious barbs might affect me. All I could say was that I agreed with most of them, mainly because he was not directing them at the religion I practice.

For example, I agree that religion and science are mutually exclusive categories, but it’s not an either/or choice, for each serve different purposes. Some of the most respected theologians and contemplatives have been scientists, doctors, and mathematicians themselves. Personally, my faith would not be as vital and progressive were it not for scientific discoveries and revelations.

Though Bill Maher thinks he is dissing all religion and spirituality, he actually attacks what I would call grade school religion. He even hinted at some respect for the new pope, whom I would describe as representing graduate school religion and above.

His reference to “the Jewish fairy tales” of Hebrew scriptures sounded unintentionally ironic to me, given that the Jewish prophets played the same role of playing “fool to the king,” speaking truth to power, and could be said to be the moral and spiritual basis for Maher’s own criticism, both of political leaders who fail the poor and marginalized, and religious leaders who place priority on worship and purity over justice and mercy, as well as his desire to set a fire under the electorate to do something about it. Another Jewish prophet, Jesus, did much the same.

Rather than give credit to Mother Teresa’s ability to doubt her faith, referencing her posthumously published letters, Maher used it as “proof” that religion is a crock of ----.

Psychiatrist and spiritual explorer M. Scott Peck once defined evil as “the unquestioned self,” the inability of an individual or institution to even imagine being wrong. Thus I believe that in faith, doubt is a virtue. Just as in science.

Maher’s certainties about religion mirror the certainties of fundamentalists, rather than the whole of faith. I believe he would appreciate Bishop Jack Spong’s quip, perhaps quoting someone, “Religion is like a public pool. Most of the noise comes from the shallow end.”


Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:     The Benefit of Doubt
Friday:           A New Underground Railroad
Saturday:      "One Nation Under God"
Sunday:         The Making of You
Monday:        Dust and Glory
Tuesday:       Piety on Parade  

Progressive Christian Reflections is an authorized Emerging Ministry of MCC supported solely by readers. Please click here for more information or to make a tax-deductible donation. Thank you!

Consider using a post or quotes in personal reflection, worship, newsletters, and classes, referencing the blog address when possible: http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite.

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