Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In the Shadow of the Moon

Solar eclipse at your feet!

The coming solar eclipse on August 21 prompts me to tell a story on myself from a partial eclipse some years back, here in Atlanta. I believe I wrote about this in one of my books, but I can’t tell you which one!

I was out running toward the middle of the day when it seemed a little darker than it should be with a cloudless sky.  Then I remembered that the moon was going to be passing between the sun and earth on this day, and apparently at that time.

As I ran, I noticed on the sidewalk beneath my feet tiny crescent shapes of light that appeared to be coming through the leaves overhead, and I laughed to think I was witnessing the eclipse in miniature. I wrote it off to my overactive imagination; probably the sun always filtered through leaves like that, and I had never before noticed.

Months later, in Madison, Wisconsin, I was in the home of a young lesbian couple. At my feet played two tow-headed children, a boy and a girl, and I learned that each woman had given birth to one, with the help of the sperm of gay partners, friends of theirs living on the West coast. It was a remarkable reimagining of what family could be!

I happened to look over at one woman’s home work space, and noticed pinned above her desk several newspaper photos of crescent shapes of light like I had seen during the eclipse. Her photo appeared in one of the news articles beside this phenomenon. As it turned out, she was a meteorologist and she confirmed that what I had “imagined” was in truth, reality!

“It’s like when you put a pinhole at one end of a shoebox to see an eclipse,” she explained. “The light at the other end of the box is what you saw many times over on the sidewalk beneath your feet.”

In his book, Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore wrote that imagination is the most underutilized spiritual gift. Saint Ignatius believed that imagination is needed in the spiritual life, and those who have tried his rigorous Spiritual Exercises know the necessity of the imagination in accomplishing them.

Every human endeavor requires imagination. Whether you’re bagging your groceries or developing the theory of relativity, creating a work of art or doing a house repair, imagination opens us to new ways of accomplishing our tasks, being creative, and understanding the universe.

Albert Einstein’s imagination prompted him to suggest that light could bend, demonstrated by Arthur Eddington in documenting the “shifting” positions of two stars during a solar eclipse, an early confirmation of the theory of general relativity.

The Psalmist’s imagination prompted an expectation that God is with us, even in “the valley of the shadow.”

And poet Mary Oliver advises us to “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

My scientific knowledge is, like all other aspects of my knowledge, probably dated. But a few years ago it was reported that astrophysical and cosmological measurements have suggested that the universe is 4% atoms, 25% dark matter, and 70% dark energy, a mysterious energy unrelated to dark matter that holds everything together.*

What that says to me is that we are only seeing with our eyes the manifestation of 4% of what’s here, the 4% of the universe that consists of atoms. We can’t see the 25% that is dark matter, or the 70% that is dark energy.

So, in this cosmic “shadow of the moon,” imagination may take us beyond our eclipsed knowledge and awareness, whether our own imagination or that of visionaries: scientists, artists, mystics, prophets, poets, lovers, and children.
  
Solar eclipse reflected through leaves.

*Thanks to Dennis Overbye’s reporting in The New York Times.

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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, August 9, 2017

Rediscover Your "Ox Mountain"


Living in China during the fourth and third century BCE, Meng Tzu* (Latinized by the West as “Mencius”), following in the footsteps of his sixth century spiritual ancestor, Kung Tzu (Confucius), represented their shared belief in the essential goodness of human beings and our “basic tendency to love” with the memorable Parable of Ox Mountain.

My paraphrase: 
Once upon a time there was a great forest on Ox Mountain, near an urban area. Residents of the city came and cut down all the trees, and the forest was no more. But nature tried to reclaim the forest, and the stumps sprang green shoots. The people, however, let their flocks loose to graze on the mountain, and they ate all the new growth. Their children and grandchildren never knew there had once been a grand forest on Ox Mountain, because now it appeared barren and desolate. 
In his 1967 book, Mystics and Zen Masters, (an unread copy of which I discovered a few weeks ago in one of those free libraries popping up in neighbors’ yards), Thomas Merton presents Meng Tzu’s conclusion: 
So too with man: he is naturally inclined to virtue, but his actions, in a greedy and grasping society, so completely destroys all evidence of his innate goodness that he appears to be naturally evil. 
This parallels the understanding of sin and human nature in Celtic Christianity, which I’ve written of admiringly.

To me, Meng Tzu’s experience gets magnified in a media culture, and magnified exponentially in our own time of a 24/7 news cycle on a global internet stage (or platform, if you will) in which the worst news gets our attention. Mahatma Gandhi once illustrated the problem with an example of two people locked in a dispute who resolve things peacefully, so do not get the attention they would draw if they fought publically or took the matter to court.  Gandhi suggested that’s why we have a skewed perspective on human nature. The good, the peaceful, the loving, the compassionate is not “news” because it aligns with how we believe things ought to be.

All of this flies in the face of what many of us are feeling these days, as we see fists raised angrily in the air in opposition to many of the values and people we hold dear.

But Meng Tzu, Merton writes, lived also “in an age (like ours) of war and chaos” (Parenthetical observation Merton’s).

Kung Tzu (Confucius) had not, according to Merton, entertained any sort of “sentimental humanitarianism.” Rather, he believed that people “could be good, but that for them to actualize these potentialities they had to live in a society that fully respected their hidden goodness, respected them as persons, with sacred and God-given rights, and educated them in the same respect…”

This sounds like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “beloved community.”

Merton explains that Kung Tzu’s understanding of personal development is very different from that of the West: 
Here we come closer to certain modern and pragmatic misconceptions concerning the development of the person: that is, the development of aggressiveness, of astuteness, of attractiveness, of diplomatic skills; in a word, the ability to succeed.  ‘Personality’ in this sense is the power to impose yourself and your wishes on others. For Kung Tzu, wisdom by no means consists in imposing your will or your ‘personality’ on somebody else, and making him serve your own ends by domination or by flattery. It is not that this is ‘wrong’ according to some abstract standard, but before all else it is unhealthy because it is unreal. The man who acts like this is untrue to himself and at the same moment, by the same token, untrue to heaven, whose will is embedded deep in his very heart. He can only act so because he has failed to get to the root of good action. He does not really know himself (p 63). 
Sorry for such a long quote! But I wrote “WOW!” in the margin beside this conclusion, because it opens my eyes to the stark contrast between views about the development of a person. It reminded me of Merton’s critique of the “false” or “inauthentic” self that too often characterizes our personhood. He writes of the feeling in his book Contemplative Prayer: “A sense that one has somehow been untrue not so much to abstract moral or social norms but to one’s own inmost truth” (p 24).

Merton earlier clarified that Kung Tzu does not describe “heaven” as a metaphysical concept but “a transcendent and objective reality,” parallel but more down-to-earth and anthropocentric than what his contemporary, mystic Lao Tzu, referred to as the Tao. Being in line with it brings order to chaos, harmonizing “with the ultimately real.” And it requires both religious community and sacred ritual, Li (“rites’), the way of life that gives “visible expression of the hidden reality of the universe”—in my view, a kind of living sacrament, which gives me new appreciation for the Christian Eucharist, whose central element could be said to be sacrificial love, another organizing principle bringing harmony out of chaos.

The Confucian ethic, Merton writes, “is the fruit of spiritual awareness. Thus, moral action is at the same time contemplative and liturgical.” Wow again!

My post on The Lord’s Prayer explained that it helps me align myself with the universe, so to speak: “Thy will be done in my earth and on this earth as it is in heaven.” For me, heaven is where human will is in sync with God’s will.

Our own “Ox Mountains” may have been deforested by the actions of the world and of ourselves.  Contemplation is an opportunity to let seedlings grow, replenishing our natural state. As the Ox Mountain Parable declares, “The moisture of the dawn spirit / Awakens in us the right loves, the right aversions.” 


*I am using Merton’s spellings of these names. I hope to explain the title “tzu” in a future post.

With colleague Debra Weir, I will be co-leading a contemplative retreat open to all April 30-May 4, 2018, at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama, entitled “Beside Still Waters.” Sacred Heart is a welcoming community and a beautiful place. Please come!

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Transgender Tweet


I had another post halfway prepared for today, but an image came to mind I could not dismiss in the face of President Trump’s tweet on banning transgender people in the United States military, a means of communication that seemed to trivialize both the armed services as well as transgender people.

Many years ago I was attending a men’s retreat led by Franciscan author Richard Rohr on the campgrounds of Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  Rohr’s theme was the need for men to be initiated into manhood to avoid our sometimes loutish and confused and even violent behavior as adults.

If, as in some other cultures, men were taught how to be men through ritual and education from their elders, guidance about what it means to be a man could diminish the bluster, bullying, and aggressive ways that men today use to claim our manhood. For Rohr and the hundreds of men gathered from all parts of the world, it’s never too late for such initiation.

Richard attracts men who are justice-oriented and seeking to deepen their Christian spirituality. As a gay man, I found them either non-homophobic or self-consciously working on their homophobia and heterosexism, as well as their sexism. A few were gay themselves.

So when one young man followed me out of the initial gathering at the retreat, wanting to talk, I assumed I was going to hear yet another story of a gay Christian trying to live his faith and his identity. We had gone around in that first meeting introducing ourselves, and I had mentioned my ministry as a gay Christian.

Instead, here in the midst of a gathering of men learning to be men, and Christian men, he explained that he believed he was transgender and hoped to talk with me about it. I can still picture his face, modest and almost apologetic in asking my time and counsel.  I was moved by his situation, training for Catholic priesthood, and hope that he had, as I like to pray, “the best possible outcome.”

The truth is, in my wide travels as a gay Christian activist, I have met many more self-identified transgender people than bisexual people—a surprise to me, because I have always assumed there are many more bisexual people along the sexuality continuum than there are gays and lesbians.  Beyond just listening to their stories and showing my support, I have been able to suggest transgender resources and mentors.

I once wrote a kind of initiation rite for LGBT Christians entitled “Coming Out: A Witness to the Resurrection.” Males are not alone in needing a ritual to affirm their identities.

Some years earlier, at an LGBT retreat, also at Ghost Ranch, one retreatant told me the story of coming upon a garbage can on the grounds emitting wild sounds. He almost did nothing, so afraid of what might jump out if he were to look inside. As it turned out, he was able to free a frenzied squirrel that had fallen into the can and could not escape without help.

What a metaphor for coming out! Someone inside us may feel trapped by the confines of our bodies or our cultures or our faith communities. We may emit wild noises in our panic to be who we are; others may be afraid to come near to help.

Tweets coming from the White House are scary and mean, demeaning and hateful. The person inside might have benefited from an initiation rite that taught him that being a man does not need to entail aggression, brutality, greed, lust, winning at any cost—or even winning.

Right now, though, he sounds like a squirrel raging in his own garbage.




Helpful curriculum for congregations: Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities

The Coming Out ritual is in chapter seven of Coming Out as Sacrament.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Psalmist, Judas, and Today's Politics


“I never knew what the psalmist meant by ‘enemies’ until I came out in the church,” a seminarian told us. Her poignant words hung in the air, resonating in the experience of the small support group of LGBT Christians.

I’ve been revisiting the Psalms, and must admit many of them no longer touch me as they once did when facing opposition in the church. The praising and awe-filled ones still uplift me; but many more sound whiny, petulant, and self-absorbed—especially those attributed to the king: reminds me too much of the self-pitying tweets we’ve been exposed to lately.  I also cannot claim the innocence or the righteousness before God that many psalms do.

I believe it was Bonhoeffer who recommended understanding the psalms that plead for justice as voiced by someone else in the world more needful than we. But even this act of the imagination has taxed me during my morning prayers.

Until last night.

We watched Netflix’s Get Me Roger Stone, a film about a master of political dirty tricks, one arrogantly proud of his lies and innuendo and misinformation to elect his clients and betray their opponents.  And this morning I read Psalm 64 (NRSV), which I believe speaks to this betrayal of both the righteous and the innocent: 
Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
            Preserve my life from the dread enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
            from the scheming of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
            who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting them from ambush at the blameless;
            they shoot suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
            they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, “Who can see us?
            Who can search out our crimes?
We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.”
For the human heart and mind are deep.

But God will shoot [God’s] arrow at them;
            they will be wounded suddenly.
Because of their tongue [God] will bring them to ruin;
            all who see them will shake with horror.
Then everyone will fear;
            they will tell what God has brought about,
            and ponder what [God] has done.
Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord
            and take refuge in [God].
Let all the upright in heart glory. 
Then I turned to my continued reading of Matthew, which happened to be the passage about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. Judas tells his “clients”: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” The footnoted alternative, “Other ancient authorities read righteous,” seems truer. “Righteous blood” seems more valuable than “innocent blood,” as it suggests the life of someone who, against all odds, has done what was right and good and just.

That would be Jesus, in Matthew’s story. In our own story, that could be compassionate and justice-seeking leaders besmudged by false accusations.

“I would rather be among the killed than among the killers,” I once heard the German theologian Dorothee Sölle tell an anti-nuclear arms gathering in Los Angeles. She clarified, saying something like, “I wouldn’t want fear to change my nature as non-violent.”

Nor can we let anger change us or our methods.

“Hate is more motivating than love,” is one of Roger Stone’s axioms.

A case in point: a few verses after Judas’s betrayal in Matthew’s gospel, the fickle crowds, roused by Jesus’ enemies, elected the volatile and violent Barabbas over the peaceful and compassionate Jesus.

I pray to God that I may hate injustice rather than those who inflict it, hate “alternative facts” rather than those who promote them, hate the lack of compassion rather than those who fail at empathy.

But…

Self-righteous straight Christians claimed (and many still claim) about LGBT people that they “hated the sin, but loved the sinner.”  But we knew this was misinformation.

And Holocaust survivors should not be expected to hate anti-Semitism rather than those who inflicted theirs.

That’s why the psalmist is so honest, so truthful, so real while saying of those “shooting from ambush at the blameless”:

“Because of their tongue God will bring them to ruin.”


P.S. After watching Get Me Roger Stone, watch HBO’s The Words that Built America to get the bad taste out of your mouth.



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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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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wonder

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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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: 
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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, 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.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opening Pandora's Box - Part Two

Though our movement was serious, we had a lot of fun along the way!
With James D. Anderson, editor of our newsletter, and Sandy Brawders, 
a candidate for ordination who came out at the 1978 General Assembly.
In those days, newsletters were the lifeblood of the LGBT Christian movement.
Photo by Mark Sick.

In honor of Pride month, this is the third 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.

When the LGBT movement first blessed the church decades ago, churchgoers feared opening “Pandora’s Box,” which, in Greek mythology, was really a jar that contained all kinds of human evil, which I prefer to call “challenges.” But it also contained Hope with which to face the eight challenges represented by our movement. I wrote of four last Wednesday: xenophobia, inertia, erotophobia, and pleasure. Today I write of the final four.

Our fifth challenge: progressive interpretations of scripture. During most of the 20th century the progressive Christian movement was less defined because, I contend, mainstream-established Christianity was itself progressive.

Only as biblical literalists and fundamentalists and evangelicals grew in influence in society and in the church did progressive Christianity appear to be a minority position, I believe.

You can’t read Fosdick, Evelyn Underhill, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, the Niebuhrs, Teilhard de Chardin, Dorothy Day, John Robinson, Pope John XXIII, Hans Küng, William Sloan Coffin, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Reuther, James Cohn, Letty Russell, Desmond Tutu, Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen—just to give multiple examples, and not recognize them both as progressive and influential in the 20th century church in America.

The problem was, though, that out of compassion or for the sake of job security or simply because of sheer sloth, much of what we learned in seminary did not get communicated from pulpit to pew. I would say that’s why Bishop Spong is such a lightning rod in the broader church: he’s spilling the beans about what most of us learned in seminary!

Our sixth challenge was gender dysphoria. Some of you may know that for a long time those whose understanding of themselves did not match their designated gender were diagnosed as having “gender dysphoria.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “dysphoria” as “a state of unease or discomfort; an unpleasant state of mind marked by malaise, depression, or anxiety.” I would say that now describes much of the church in relation not only to its transgender and intersex members, but to all who do not neatly fit gender expectations, such as lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men, and ever more contemporary women and men who are shaking up gender roles.

Our seventh challenge revolved around ordination. I used to joke that trials for ordination virtually replaced heresy trials! That was when we often determined what is orthodox in our beliefs and behaviors.  Now of course there are more church trials, and most of them seem to be about our differing views on homosexuality.

But what does ordination mean when all Christians are called to be ministers? Are ordinands to be “holier than thou”? Do the sins of the celebrant affect the sacraments offered? (Calvin said “no.”) When a governing church body discerns that gifts for church leadership are present, shouldn’t that be enough?

Our eighth challenge was marriage, which, as some pointed out, should’ve been discussed before the question of ordination. In the discussions on homosexuality and ordination throughout the church, there would be audible gasps if someone even suggested the possibility of same-gender marriage. We’d be talking about ordination to our spiritual leadership, but marriage was untouchable.

When the 1991 Presbyterian Study on Human Sexuality questioned heterosexual marriage as the paradigm or model for all sexual relations and instead suggested an ethic of justice-love that would govern sexual relations including those of marriage, much of the denomination went ballistic. I was at the Baltimore General Assembly that discussed the report, and the feeling among some delegates seemed to be, “We’ll give you ordination, just give us back marriage”!

So what is the Hope left in “Pandora’s Box”? Find out in next week’s post!


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.