Risking the Brokenness of the Body, Part 1

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Progressive Christian Reflections by Chris Glaser: Risking the Brokenness of the Body, Part 1


Risking the Brokenness of the Body, Part 1

Mt. Calvary courtyard

I
occasionally took personal retreats at an Episcopalian retreat house
overlooking Santa Barbara. Mount Calvary was run by the Order of the Holy
Cross. As one might suspect with names like that, there were many depictions of
Jesus on the cross in sculptures, carvings, and paintings.
One
stormy afternoon, sharing pizza and wine in front of a cozy fireplace, one of
the brothers and I discussed the ramifications of the relatively recent
decision of the Episcopal Church in the United States to ordain women. I was
surprised that, despite his liberal views, he opposed women’s ordination. He
did so not because he opposed it per se, but because it would interfere with
any hope of reunion between the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions. “I’d
have no problem with it if Rome ordained women,” he explained.
I
considered the many similar objections to the ordination of lesbians and gays
in my own Presbyterian Church. The impending reunion of the United Presbyterian
Church in the U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church, U.S., which had split over
the abolition of slavery one hundred years earlier, might have been impeded if
the more liberal northern congregations had approved ordination of homosexuals.
So
the constant cry that ordaining homosexuals would split the church was sounded
even more to muster our defeat. (I believe the church would do more to keep its
dwindling fold if it banned ordination of boring preachers and belligerent
clergy!)
Also
fresh in my mind were the recent concerns expressed over the unity of the National
Council of Churches in the United States, if it accepted the membership of the
predominantly gay Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.
As
I considered all these perceived threats to the church as the Body of Christ, I
reflected on the many images of Jesus on the cross in the retreat center.
Repeatedly reminded of the brokenness of our Lord, a response to the brother
who opposed women’s ordination came to me. I rhetorically asked him, “When
Jesus was faced with the choice of doing what was right or keeping his own body
from being broken, which did he choose?”
Paul
wrote to the church at Philippi that Jesus “did not count equality with God a
thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being
born in our likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and
became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
“He
learned obedience through what he suffered,” affirms the epistle to the Hebrews,
which some biblical scholars assert may be the only book in the Bible written
by a woman (Heb. 5:8). But, she explains, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus
offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was
able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (Heb. 5:7).
This
is clearly a different vision of God than the Almighty presented in the Old
Testament. This is a God who, out of sacrificial love, leaves the closet of
heaven to descend to earth and become like us, “tempted in every way as we
are,” willingly living and working among us and dying at our hands—all to bring
us God’s Word of love (Heb. 4:15). This is a deity who risks the brokenness of
the body to call us home to God.
Many
Christians feel uncomfortable with this image of God. They want to believe that
God is all-powerful as well as all-loving. Our imperfect world belies the
possibility that God is both. If God is both, God may be blamed for either
causing or allowing human suffering.
In
his book The Divine Relativity, process
theologian Charles Hartshorne suggests that, facing a contradiction between an
all-loving yet all-powerful God, it would be better to sacrifice our
understanding of God as all-powerful than to sacrifice our understanding of God
as all-loving. We conceive of God as the best possible entity, and when we
think of the best possible person we know, we are more likely to choose the
most loving over the most powerful. Even the Superman hero in comic books is
not attractive because he is super powerful, but because he uses his super
powers for good, in other words, lovingly.
For
many years I found this reasoning worked for me. But then it occurred to me
that perhaps our understanding of power was distorted, for we think of power in
terms of possession and control. In my own loving experiences, I found that my
attempts at possession and control had nothing to do with love, nor did they
bear any resemblance to the spiritual power I witnessed in others whom I
considered more mature in faith.
In
his temptations in the wilderness, Jesus’ response to the Tempter’s offering
him possession and control of all the kingdoms of every age on earth was,
“Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and God
only you shall serve’” (Matt. 4:10). Possession and control do not characterize
God’s power. Love is God’s power. Possession and control is worldly power, love
is spiritual power.
Process
theology understands God as one whose love is persuasive rather than
controlling. Biblically there is much basis for that perception. God leads us
as a shepherd, challenges us in a prophet, models human life for us in Jesus
Christ, influences us as a teacher, empowers us like a counselor, and inspires
us as the Spirit.
This and next week’s posts
are excerpts from the chapter “Risking the Brokenness of the Body” from my 1990
book
Come Home! Reclaiming Spirituality and Community as Gay Men and Lesbians, published by Harper & Row, with added
chapters in its 1998 Second Edition, published by Chi Rho Press. These excerpts
fit well the themes of the present season of Lent. Today, of course, I would
add transgender, intersex, and bisexual people. 
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Copyright © 1990, 1998 and
2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution
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