Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Domestic Baggage Claim

View from our hotel room balcony.

Returning to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport from a brief holiday, the sign directing us to “Domestic Baggage Claim” prompted me thinking about how difficult it is to claim our “domestic baggage.”

Traveling with Wade kept us mindful of the “domestic baggage” we carry even when on a somewhat “carefree” vacation, away from home responsibilities and routines. We know each other so well: I know not to rush Wade off the plane, as is my wont; he knows my propensity for chatter with him and almost everyone we encounter. (He’s pretty good at that, too, when the fancy strikes him.)

He was attending a business conference in Las Vegas, and I tagged along, cashing in mileage to fly free. While he was attending his meetings and obligatory socials, I hung out with my brother and a friend, who came up from Los Angeles to visit while showing me around yet another city that never sleeps.

I had been to Vegas “accidentally” three times before: driving home to L.A. with fellow seminarians who wanted to stop there for a couple of hours to gamble; on a flight from Hawai’i diverted from a fogged-in LAX to LAS overnight; and finally, there with a group of United Methodists and Presbyterians to protest the nearby nuclear test site—all more than thirty years ago when the city was much less “fa-bu-lous” than it is today.

But this was my first intentional visit to the city, though the draw was traveling with Wade for the first time in years, seeing family, and—I must admit—enjoying the hotel amenities. We also dined at two fine restaurants, and took in one show, Cirque de Soleil’s “Love” featuring Beatles music. We never gambled, not out of principle, just that the slot machines looked too complicated, and we have no particular expertise at card games.

A woman whose language I couldn't even identify
kindly offered to take this photo of Wade and me.

The weather app on my phone said I was in Paradise, but the 110-113 degrees it registered told me I was in quite the other place.

My impression was that Las Vegas is the internet incarnated, with all its distractions, diversions, flashing lights, waving banners, demands for attention, bawdy enticements, noisy promotions. We could watch water fountain shows from our balcony, eat at a Mexican restaurant along the Grand Canal (!) as singing gondoliers guided their gondolas past, witness tourists jump off a 108-story casino or slide in a tube through a shark-infested pool.

I enjoyed nursing a glass of chardonnay in the lobby bar as literally hundreds of passing souls satisfied my appetite for people-watching.

But getting back to my topic of claiming our domestic baggage. Both my brother and sister and I are of an age where we can smile at our separate baggage, our different peccadillos, even sometimes laugh and tease one another about them. Birth order, diverse vocational paths, unique personality traits, disappointments, and achievements, even who we might have voted for in the last election. We may still roll our eyes or take exceptions, but we know we are not going to change the other, nor are we going to change the love we have for one another.

We have been one another’s most penetrating critics and strongest defenders, we have suffered and celebrated at each other’s hands, but we are family. The one thing we can agree on is our love for our parents and their love for us, though we recognize their own limitations and vulnerabilities even as they did ours. (The poet W.H. Auden once wrote of the value of viewing God as parent [“father” in his words], because it suggests our bond with God is indissoluble.)

Awaiting our departure at the Vegas airport, Wade and I started chatting with the restaurant server. As it turned out, she had purposely chosen her son’s name as my mother had, Christopher.  And his middle name is also Roy, as mine is. I told her of another coincidence I had experienced with a Delta rep on my birthday years ago (see my post about it). Her name was Chris, and we shared the same birthdate.

I have a feeling that if we chatted more with one another, strangers would find more and more such coincidences, more things we have in common, as well as more differences to appreciate. In a world and a time when there are those who would divide us, it’s time we claimed our domestic baggage, sharing our personal “stuff."

A Native American woman once began a workshop I attended, saying of indigenous peoples, “When we meet one another for the first time, we try to find out how we are related.” This is a good model for us all, I think.

Jesus might have said, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Those who know their mother and father God’s love for all God’s children.”

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Luna enjoying our porch swing.

Others have come to the same conclusion, but in the sixty-six years that I have been given, I believe the essential ingredient of a spiritual life is wonder.

It can be found and expressed in many ways: worship, contemplation, compassion, activism, lovemaking, the beloved community, science, art, nature, and the recognition of the commonwealth of God, to name a few.

But the further away any of these get from wonder, they can become tablets of stone, stumbling blocks, millstones round our necks, a dutiful obligation rather than a pleasurable joy.

As I write this, Luna, our neighbor’s cat, is chasing something in our back yard. I have spent happy moments watching Luna from my home office windows as she approaches our yard with wonder, leaping up the tall, central Bradford pear tree, slinking beneath our hedge of privet shrubs, luxuriating in rubbing her back on our weedy grass.

Curious Luna looking through our back screen door.

From our front porch, I’ve enjoyed watching her go on morning walks with her family (yes, really!): a dog named Lexi, children with a literary and a biblical name, Darcy and Micah, their father Chris, a New Testament professor at Mercer University, and mother Jenelle, who is the organizing pastor of the newly-forming Ormewood Church.

Luna runs ahead and lingers behind, depending on what catches her attention in the moment. She exemplifies wonder. And I realize that we human beings know only a little more than she does about the nature of things.

The morning I write this, I greeted them again from our front porch during my prayers, after reading a couple of psalms and Matthew 18, which includes Jesus’ counsel to enter the kingdom as a child, remove their stumbling blocks, find the lost sheep, confront wrongdoing in yourself and in the community, and finally, forgive from the heart, even as we have been forgiven.
Luna helps me with my bulb garden.
Photo by Wade Jones

In silence I contemplated the very tall and old leafy trees before me, the tiny bird chirping on the railing, the runner going by, the found stones that line our gardens, only a little distracted by the passing cars, some of which take the stop sign at the intersection as a mere “suggestion.”

The week I write this, I awoke each morning to NPR reporting on various catastrophes, a high rise fire, several bombings and mass shootings, the investigation of the administration.

Despite all that, I found myself marveling (yes, I realize how antiquated the gerund) that all I saw before me, including me, has evolved.  What impetus organizes seemingly inert matter into living things, thinking beings, and seems to call for beauty and compassion and wonder?

Luna poking her nose under our grill cover.

A couple of days ago, I read how the liver regenerates itself daily as it carries out so many mysteries that ancients thought it was the seat of the soul.  And not long ago I read how disparate parts of the brain organize the various signals from our eyes into what we “see.”

No wonder the psalmist sang this morning, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of God’s mouth” (33:5b-6).

“Breathe on me, breath of God,” sings the old hymn.  What a sensual yet spiritual request!

“The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”  This popular quote from Irenaeus of Lyons hangs in our hallway, written by the hand of the calligrapher who once graced Mt. Calvary Retreat House in the hills above Santa Barbara before its destruction in the 2008 Montecito fire.

From dust to dust, ashes to ashes, our brief flicker in between is a cause for wonder.

A post in which I describe the “impetus” mentioned above as an “oomph”:

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sexually Active and Spiritually Active

Sandy Brawders and Bill Silver taking a break from "practicing" homosexuality 
during the 1978 United Presbyterian General Assembly in San Diego, California.
Photo by Mark Sick, New York City.

I am aware that saying I have been “spiritually active” has positive connotations for most people, not just people of particular faiths.

“Spiritually active” may bring to mind numerous intimate encounters in prayer with others and contemplation on one’s own, experimentation with a variety of spiritual practices of Christian and other religious traditions, participation in a myriad of worship services, religious ceremonies, and spiritual exercises as well as retreats and classes and studies of the Bible and other sacred texts, and the use of various readings and videos and recordings to deepen and broaden and enhance my spirituality. I could do all these and still be considered “faithful.”

And if I were to say I have been physically active, I might be considered fit and healthy.

But if I were to say I have been “sexually active,” promiscuity rather than fidelity usually comes to mind. And unhealthy rather than healthy.

When Presbyterians began considering ordination for same-gender-loving candidates, we were designated as “avowed, practicing homosexuals.” Bill Silver, whose candidacy for ordination in New York City Presbytery prompted the denominational study, preferred to be called an “accomplished homosexual” rather than one who was merely “practicing,” as he had been in a relationship for a number of years!

As part of the study, the research arm of the denomination conducted a survey to discover what Presbyterians thought of the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” As a member of the denominational task force on homosexuality and ordination, I tried, in vain, to persuade them to change or explain the language, pointing out that Presbyterians would probably oppose the ordination of “avowed, practicing heterosexuals” as well. 

“Avowed” carried negative connotations, reminiscent of “avowed communists,” and “practicing” did not immediately suggest those in monogamous long-term covenant relationships.

Another phrase was sometimes used, equally problematic: “sexually active.” This description may reinforce the fear and envy of heterosexual men that the straight body theologian James B. Nelson wrote about in his book The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality: that gay men were having sex all the time, the male ideal!

After my first book was published, part memoir and part accounting of the denominational struggle, a pastor came to me during a General Assembly, commending me for writing the book, but telling me it reinforced the notion that gays are promiscuous.

“How so?” I asked, sincerely puzzled.

“Well, you mention several relationships during the course of the book [which spanned the first 38 years of my life!]. You explain how various things like homophobia and the closet interfered with those relationships, but still, my congregation would not understand.”

I responded, a bit taken aback, “You mean to tell me that straight people don’t have a series of relationships before they marry?” (I could’ve added, “or even after they marry,” as serial monogamy is quite acceptable.)

For me, I didn’t really begin dating until I was in seminary and later while serving my first congregation. Back then, what straight people experienced in adolescence was denied lesbians and gay men until adulthood and often later in life.

This prompted a fellow seminarian to caustically quip to a mutual friend that while he was dating one woman, I was seeing “Tom, Dick or Harry.”

All of this post’s pondering has been prompted by my going through hundreds of my personal photos, looking for pictures I might use on this blog. I also ran across pictures of men who have touched me emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually. Each had his turn shaping my soul, teaching me how to be a better person and how to improve my relationship skills.

I have become a better lover and partner and spouse because of them. Also, a better Christian.

The vast majority of photos reminded me of family, friends, pets, colleagues, teachers, campuses, communities and congregations who did the same, along with places, events, jobs, and situations that also shaped my soul.

I have lived a “promiscuous” life, grateful for all those who have touched me, figuratively and literally.

Through it all, God and Jesus have been faithful companions with whom I could pour out my soul, whether in ecstasy or loneliness.  As for all of us, God shaped me in my mother’s womb, but also in the womb of church and relationships. And Jesus taught me that I was being born again and again and again.

To read the June Pride series, click here and scroll down. They will appear in reverse order.

To read the June 2016 Pride series, click here and scroll down. Click here for the final post of that series which appeared at the beginning of July.

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Transforming Negatives to Positives

Bill Silver with his cat in his New York City 
rooftop garden, which he cultivated. 
I believe I took this picture in the late 70's or early 80's.

In honor of Pride month, this is the final of four posts adapted from a Meekhof Lecture I gave at Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue (WA), January 11, 2014, regarding the meaning of the LGBT movement for the broader church. Next week, a postscript to this series: “Sexually Active and Spiritually Active.”

When Union Theological seminarian Bill Silver came out as gay, sending celebrative birth announcements to all of his friends, and New York City Presbytery asked the 1976 Baltimore General Assembly for “definitive guidance” as to how to handle his candidacy for ordination to the Presbyterian ministry, they opened this Pandora’s jar of challenges: xenophobia, inertia, erotophobia, pleasure, progressive interpretations of scripture, gender dysphoria, ordination, and marriage.

Yet I believe that all of these challenges have proved blessings for the church. They have given a sometimes dysfunctional church an opportunity to talk about needful things: our fear of being inclusive, our resistance to change, our discomfort with embodiment and sexuality, our mixed feelings about pleasure, our differing interpretations of scripture, our gender dysphoria, and what ordination and marriage mean to us.

One challenge that was not in that initial Pandora’s Box that the church feared was HIV and AIDS, which highlighted our fears of disease and death. In its fear of homosexuality with its attendant challenges, too many in the church thought of AIDS either as God’s punishment or as a natural, even deserving curbing of what they considered unnatural.

What AIDS did—and I would quickly add my belief, not by divine plan—what AIDS did was reveal the heartlessness of too many but not all Christians, as well as the compassion of many, many lesbians and gay men, who came to the aid of the sick and dying of all kinds, and the failure of both government and society to care for marginalized or undervalued citizens.

AIDS also opened church doors for many to come out as LGBT or as families, friends, and allies of the LGBT community. Only as the church realized it too had AIDS did it recognize, in Mother Teresa’s phrase, “Christ in a distressing disguise.”

So what is the Hope left in Pandora’s jar? I have no idea what Pandora’s Hope might be, but I have many ideas about “the Hope to which God has called us,” in the words of the apostle Paul, and the Hope to which Jesus called us in the Gospel of John, “that we may be one,” even as he is one with God and with us, as well as his promise of Holy Spirit as Paraclete: an advocate for victims, for the marginalized, for the undervalued.

A couple of verses in the first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans got overused over the past four decades as a weapon to resist and reject same-gender loving people. If only we had concentrated on the rest of Paul’s letter, which celebrates God’s grace revealed by Jesus.

Jesus said that what comes out of a person’s heart is what is spiritually significant, spending his time with religious outcasts, challenging the religious authorities who excluded them, sending his spirit upon the Church at Pentecost, a Spirit that spoke in the languages of strangers, a Spirit that would baptize unjudaized Gentiles into a community that grew spiritually and numerically by incorporating more and more diversity throughout the past two millennia.

“Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” the apostle Paul thus affirmed in Romans. “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.”

In his book, Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore says that everything we experience, good and bad, shapes our souls. I believe this is another way of saying “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” We have a context in which to make sense of all that we experience. One context is our relationship with God. Another context is God’s purpose, as we know it through the teachings of Jesus.

One of The New Yorker magazine’s quips once quoted a title of a hymn in The Presbyterian Hymnal followed by a reference to its meter: “God Is Working His Purpose Out” on one line, and on the next, Purpose Irregular. The magazine’s wry comment was, “How true.”

So how do we understand God’s purpose opening Pandora’s jar, unleashing the challenges of the church dealing with homosexuality? What might God’s purpose be in revealing our xenophobia, inertia, erotophobia, suspicion of pleasure, resistance to progressive biblical views, gender dysphoria, and defensive and exclusive attitudes about ordination and marriage?

In the days when most film processing meant transforming negatives to photographs, Henri Nouwen used the metaphor for the spiritual life as transforming negatives to positives. Thus our fear of the stranger may be transformed by another Pentecost embracing diversity and “the least of these.” A vision of God’s Spirit in LGBT people may overcome our resistance to change, causing us to welcome the progress of the inbreaking kingdom or commonwealth of God.

Sexuality and pleasure may be opportunities to refresh our belief in creation, incarnation, and resurrection. Progressive interpretations of scripture will lead us to the truth beneath the truths, the Word (with a capital “W”) within the words. Overcoming our gender dysphoria will liberate us from restrictive gender expectations. And lastly, we may finally let go of our defensive and exclusive postures regarding ordination and marriage, enabling more people to enter either or both of these blessed estates.

I believe that everything can connect us to the love of God in Jesus, including diversity, progress, sexuality, pleasure, progressive biblical interpretations and theology, freedom from gender expectations, and the membership, ministries, and marriages of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. That is the hope to which God has called us.

And we may take comfort that the past 40 year sojourn in the wilderness of homophobia has led us to a better place, if not a Promised Land. We should not regret what has been, but rejoice at what will be.

I urge you to make a donation to and/or attend these once-in-a-lifetime ingatherings of LGBT saints and allies:

Oct 31-Nov 2, 2017
St. Louis Airport Marriott

Sept 8-10, 2017
Kirkridge Retreat & Conference Center

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail 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!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.