Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Where Have All the Black Men Gone?

A few weeks ago I was stunned by a front page New York Times article headlined, “1.5 Million Black Men, Missing from Daily Life.”

As troubling as the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement have been, they serve as tragic examples of a larger trend of our own “disappeared,” reminiscent of “the disappeared” in the recent histories of Argentina and Chile. 
In New York, almost 120,000 black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life. In Chicago, 45,000 are, and more than 30,000 are missing in Philadelphia. Across the South—from North Charleston, S.C., through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and up into Ferguson, Mo.—hundreds of thousands are missing.

They are missing largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars.
And, the article reports, among the cities with a minimum of 10,000 black citizens, Ferguson, Missouri “has the largest proportion of missing black men.”

So there are disproportionately more black women than black men, a gender gap not found in childhood (nor among whites), but one that widens among those in their 20s and 30s, according to the story. 

Though murders and AIDS deaths have diminished among black men since the 1990s, “rising numbers of black men spared an early death have been offset by rising numbers behind bars.”

“Where is your husband?” Jesus essentially asked the mixed-race woman at the well. Biblical interpreters have been quick to assign sexual shame to the Samaritan woman for having had five husbands and for living with a man who was not her husband, when it’s just as possible her history was the result of economic need, a high mortality rate, abandonment, and the deprivations caused by political subjugation and racial, religious, and gender prejudices.

No wonder she responded so enthusiastically to the good news Jesus offered.

During the ingathering of saints of the Presbyterian LGBT movement that I described a few weeks ago, my friend and colleague, the Rev. Dan Smith, made the observation that many of the men in our movement have also “disappeared” due to AIDS.

Those who once served as gay Christian role models are unknown to subsequent generations, even as they themselves were deprived of role models of earlier generations by a church that required closetedness and a culture which diminished and incarcerated “sodomites.” And, with the Samaritan woman, “the powers that be” assigned their fates to shameful behavior.

Referencing the Samaritan woman reminds me to add that women may be the most “disappeared” of all—not in real numbers, but in real attention.

I mentioned in the earlier post that LGBT achievement in terms of acceptance may be because we are “everywhere,” but women are also everywhere, and it doesn’t necessarily deter sexism or encourage their recognition and advancement. That Jesus would engage a mixed-race woman in one of the most meaningful spiritual conversations in the Gospels is significant.

Prejudice makes many “disappear,” whether from our radar or from our communities. Jesus could be said to have brought us to “mindfulness” of those overlooked or downright oppressed.

Jesus came for all “the disappeared.”




Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is God Too Grand for Us?

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Is God too grand for us? In a word, yes.

God has become so big to me that with the psalmist, I worry, who are we that God is mindful of us?

Progressive Christians (hopefully) have not settled for “a pocket God,” a term introduced to me by Evelyn Underhill biographer Dana Greene, a god we can pull out of our vest pocket like a dependable watch, an anthropomorphized deity that reflects our narcissism as well as our peculiar ideologies. Earth, for us, is not the center of God’s universe. We have theologized the Copernican revolution.

That’s why I was struck by one sentence in The Temple of God’s Wounds that longtime readers of this blog will remember I read day-by-day, chapter-by-chapter each day of Holy Week. Each time I find something freshly insightful as well as things that do not speak to me, but in all my years of reading it, I have only underlined one sentence: 
To break God’s heart is beyond human imagining. 
Can the grand God progressive Christians imagine be so personal as to be heartbroken? What happened to the personal God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Mary and Jesus? What happened to the personal God of the psalmist who wants to “cling” to us, the God whose providence Jesus claims we should trust for our food and clothing like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field?

Do progressives only have left the impartial and somewhat impersonal God of judgment, the God of Micah who commands us “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God,” or the judgment day Christ who separates the sheep from the goats, those who helped “the least of these” from those who  failed to do so?

Can we also find a “warm and fuzzy” encounter with God, such as the beloved disciple cuddling with Jesus or the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair?

Following the lead of contemplatives and mystics and Celtic spirituality, I have repeatedly encouraged “intimacy with God,” believing we can enjoy such intimacy in our prayers and meditation and praise through which we may discover, discern, and disclose God’s proximity in ourselves, our neighbor, our opposition, the stranger.

The God of the Bible is One big enough to create the cosmos as well as the creatures, going so far as to–in the words of the psalmist—shape our inward parts, be with us in every place and condition, and in Christian terms, be welcomed into our hearts and homes and humanity.

Much theology is metaphor, and much of religion is storytelling. Progressive spirituality encourages looking behind, beneath, within and beyond the metaphor, even as our Christian faith challenges us to find the personal in its story.




Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Folding the Labyrinth

Some people do a spiritual practice called walking the labyrinth. My version of this spiritual practice is folding the labyrinth.

A facilitator’s role in spiritual formation programs at Columbia Theological Seminary is not as a presenter but as a maker of everything from coffee to morning and evening prayers—as well as unfolding and folding the fabric labyrinth.

The spiritual formation program is my “local church,” where I encounter fellow believers in search of spiritual understanding and practices, all those things I have wanted to share with congregations and participants in retreats and workshops.

I am not one who “gets” walking the labyrinth, however. But at the end of a recent class I realized I really “get” folding it.

I know that spirituality is to be experienced in community, but when I have tried to fold the labyrinth with another, I find conflict and distraction. “No, I think it should go this way.” “Shouldn’t we read the directions again?”

I prefer to follow the folds in the fabric. I read the directions long ago, but I find the easiest and surest way to fold the labyrinth is by letting its creases guide me.

Virtually everything else I do as a facilitator is done with others, from reading assigned texts in preparation, working with a presenter’s theme and imagining attendees’ responses to and participation in the morning and evening prayers, ensuring the availability of coffee, tea, water, meals, and snacks as the class proceeds, enjoying presentations and conversations with participants.

But folding the labyrinth I prefer to do alone. After all, walking the labyrinth is also done in solitude. While attendees are meeting in their small groups for the last time, I fold and reflect in silence. Though the outcome is always the same, I take satisfaction when the wrinkles are smoothed out and the labyrinth is folded into a shape compact enough to fit in its box.




Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Crowd of Witnesses

Rock Stars and Prophets "Ordain" Chris Glaser

From the outside, and our need to simplify, especially in the media, key figures seem to be responsible for movements. Sometimes they are suffering scapegoats and sacrificial lambs, sometimes charismatic leaders and compassionate saints.

But from my vantage perspective of more than four decades devoted to the LGBT movement, I repeatedly realized that our movement is a collective and mutual inspiration. Perhaps that is why we have achieved relatively so much so quickly—plus the fact that we and our allies are in every family and neighborhood, every race and culture, condition and class, every vocation, business, and organization, of every political and religious stripe.

That realization was confirmed once again by last week’s ingathering of some eighty souls of the LGBT movement in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. at the church’s conference center in Stony Point, New York. The denomination’s presbyteries have recently approved a constitutional change permitting same-gender marriage, and we had every reason to celebrate.

Thanks to the organizational skills of That All May Freely Serve’s current evangelist, Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, and a host of volunteers, a major contribution from a pastor as well as donations from others, and the enthusiastic hospitality of Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase and their staff as well as the volunteers of the center’s multi-faith community (which included a three-tiered wedding cake and the tastiest and healthiest food I’ve enjoyed at any retreat or hotel facility), Rock Stars and Prophets: Generations of Justice and Love will be remembered not only as a historic event, but one that was healing and hopeful and just plain fun. Of course TAMFS’s founding evangelist, the Rev. Janie Spahr, and its former Regional Partnership Coordinator and later Minister Coordinator, the should-be-Rev. Lisa Larges, were also responsible for the event’s success.

And I will remember it as the place of my fourth ordination, thanks to the Rev. Katie Morrison, who, along with Ray, were the first openly lesbian/gay persons to be ordained by their respective presbyteries years before the prohibition on LGBT ordination was lifted.

Rev. Laurene Lafontaine, who recently reclaimed her calling as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church, passed to Katie a beautiful, needlepoint stole created in 1993 by the late Louise Thompson for the first openly LGBT person to be ordained in the denomination. Spontaneously, Katie decided it should go to me, and she led the gathering in a blessing of my ministry with the laying on of hands.

I had approached the four-day gathering eagerly but with reservations, fearing what feelings might arise. During the planning, I urged that everyone who attended should hear from everyone there. I spoke on a panel of activists from the early days of our movement, and the next morning took my turn for a brief videotaped interview conducted by Warren Cooper, a gentle and kindly videographer. As I left the taping, involuntary tears came to my eyes.

Now, as I stumbled toward Katie, those tears returned, and I had a sense of unreality. At a time when I might feel vindication, I instead felt stunned and unworthy. I looked in Katie’s smiling face as people gathered around and laid hands on me. She then led us in a blessing. 

My first ordination was as an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Van Nuys, California, in 1972. I had almost walked out, because the interim pastor mistakenly used the old questions for ordination that included the “infallibility” of scriptures. But I stayed, privately assenting only that the Bible served as God’s word to me, the newer version of the ordination vows.

My second ordination was a surprise, at the hands of the annual LGBT retreatants at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Pennsylvania, led by the Rev. Darlene Garner, a fellow speaker, and now, three decades later, the Elder who oversees MCC’s Emerging Ministries that includes this blog! They did so because I had been dropped as a candidate for ordination by the Presbyterian Church in 1978 when its policy prohibiting the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers was instituted.

My third ordination came in 2005 when I served as interim pastor of Christ Covenant MCC of Decatur, Georgia. The MCC Moderator, my friend, the Rev. Nancy Wilson, gave the sermon and led the ceremony, and several of the people at last week’s gathering came from afar to participate. In giving me the charge, the Rev. Erin Swenson had encouraged me to “dance with the one who brung you,” in other words, serve faithfully within MCC, whose polity allows my dual affiliation as a Presbyterian. I was taken by surprise when the gathering offered a prolonged ovation.

As I look at the photo Believe Out Loud’s James Rowe took of my fourth ordination, I am pleased to see very little of me in the picture. Instead you see all the people around me, reaching out their hands in blessing, representing all those who have shaped my soul throughout my life, including those who have passed on.

I am grateful for such a crowd of witnesses!



Reading this New York Times article made me think of the “incandescent souls” who  help make us who we are: “A Moral Bucket List—What Kind of Adventures Produce Goodness, Rather than Build Résumés?”

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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