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.  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Opening Pandora's Box - Part One

With Ginny and Davie Davidson at the 1978 San Diego General Assembly. 
Virginia West Davidson ably chaired the Presbyterian 
Task Force on Homosexuality and Ordination (1976-1978).*

In honor of Pride month, this is the second 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 I served as the only openly gay member of the former United Presbyterian Church’s Task Force on Homosexuality and Ordination in the late 1970s, many people testifying during our four regional hearings expressed their fear of homosexuality by appealing to the example of a Greek myth. They were afraid that homosexuality would “open a Pandora’s box.”

You might remember the Pandora of Greek mythology who opened a jar, which Erasmus mistakenly translated later in Latin as “box.” She opened the jar or box simply out of curiosity, unwittingly unleashing all the evils and ills of the world.

You could say it’s another misogynistic blaming of a woman for all of our troubles, like what happened to Eve when she ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pandora was also considered the first woman in Greek mythology. What is forgotten in the popularization of this myth is that the jar also contained Hope, and Hope did not escape but was preserved in that jar.

So what were the evils and ills and demons that came out of the particular Pandora ’s Box of homosexuality? In the view of many at the time, their name is Legion, but I will round them to eight in number, as eight on its side represents infinity!

Rather than describe them as demons, evils, or ills, I prefer to refer to them as challenges the church faced. In Part One of “Opening Pandora’s Box” I list four of these; in Part Two, the remaining four. The final post will reflect on the Hope for the church’s reformation that remains in Pandora’s jar.

Our first challenge as a church was xenophobia. That’s the umbrella concern that plagues most of us: fear of the stranger. In Christian tradition, the stranger is the very person we are to greet, to welcome, to offer hospitality, to visit, to provide for, as in “the least of these.”

“All are welcome” has become the church’s marketing catch phrase, but in a workshop on church inclusiveness, those attending were able to come up with a list of more than 40 categories of persons they would prefer not to have sitting next to them in the pew!

Our second challenge as a church was inertia, the tendency of an object following a certain trajectory to continue moving in that direction or, if not moving, to remain at that point. A huge amount of energy must be expended to change an object’s course or position, what our tradition calls metanoia, repentance, an about face, a transformation, a Pentecost, a Reformation.

The church had difficulty even imagining ourselves wrong when it came to homosexuality, let alone change our collective mind.
 
Our third challenge was what theologian Carter Heyward named erotophobia. Despite the body-affirming myths of creation, incarnation, and resurrection, historic and contemporary Christianity has had “issues” with the body, with sensuality, with sexuality, with our earthliness.

Can sexuality be a good created by God for pleasure and relationship, or must it always be tethered to procreation and marriage between a man and a woman? Could we even talk about sexuality within the church—isn’t sexuality in opposition to spirituality?

When a possible change to the denomination’s Book of Order would have added the line “Governing bodies may ordain church officers regardless of sexual orientation,” my then presbytery voted a tie—and I couldn’t help but see God’s sense of humor when that tie was 69 to 69.

But the moderator of the meeting felt compelled to cast a tie-breaking vote, and after showing much discomfort, voted against the amendment because, he said revealingly, of three little letters at its heart: S-E-X!

Our fourth challenge, particularly for those of us who were Calvinists, was pleasure. Can pleasure itself be a good created by God for our delight? I wanted to title my first book of meditations “Biblical Pleasures,” because it contained reflections on biblical quotes. But the very term “pleasure” was considered spiritually suspect.

In a book of prayers entitled Coming Out to God, I wrote of prayer-making as pleasurable, and before publication I was asked to justify this notion, as apparently “pleasure” is automatically associated with Hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure at all costs, and associated with the body—which is seen somehow in opposition to the spirit. 

Body theologian James B. Nelson scandalized the church by declaring that “pleasure is the strongest argument for the existence of God.” In the first congregation I served after seminary there was a church member, a gay chef, who, when offering grace before a meal, would give thanks to God for putting nerve endings in all the right places!

Each of these alone—xenophobia, inertia, erotophobia, and suspicion of pleasure—was barrier enough to prevent the welcome of LGBT Christians in the church, yet there are four others to be described in the next post.

The hope that remains in Pandora’s Box is that each of these challenges will contribute to the reformation of the church.

*I searched through hundreds of my photos but failed to find one I have of the task force that demonstrates it was multi-racial, gender-balanced, and of a variety of ages.

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 & Study Center


The LGBT Religious Archives Network updated my bio on its site earlier this year:

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 7, 2017

The Truth below the Truth

Rev. Bill Johnson was the first gay minister I met,
and he became a role model for me.
I took this photo in San Francisco in the fall of 1972.

In honor of Pride month, this is the first 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. You will notice some references I’ve used before on this blog.

One of the members of Newport Presbyterian Church has written a remarkable “coming out” memoir, The Last of the Good Girls: Shedding Convention, Coming Out Whole. In it, she quotes poet Judith Barrington: “The poet’s job is to write the truth. And then write the truth below the truth.” And that’s what Mary Ann Woodruff has done in lyrical prose and occasional poetry.

I believe that was the job description of the biblical writers, “to write the truth below the truth.” And I believe that’s the job description of preachers, prophets, and professors, “to write or tell the truth below the truth.” And that’s what I hope to do in this and the posts that follow: to talk about the underlying truths regarding the LGBT movement within the church.

Now, trying to tell the truth below the truth led in my seminary days to demythologizing, and in today’s seminaries it has led to deconstruction. That’s well and good if you have someone like the late Joseph Campbell, who could take a myth apart and put it back together again in such a way that its meaning is enhanced rather than diminished.

In the words of Kathleen Norris, “Human beings, it seems to me, require myth as one of the basic necessities of life. Once we have our air and water and a bit of food, we turn to metaphor and myth-making,” she writes. To me, myth is not a story that is untrue, but a story that carries a deeper truth that draws us in. As a 5-year-old once said, a myth is a story that is true on the inside. (Gertrud Mueller Nelson tells this in Here All Dwell Free.) Within the words is a Word with a capital “W.”

So for me, this is an opportunity to find the deeper truth of the LGBT Christian movement, and because I have devoted my life to that movement, it’s very personal—it’s about the meaning of my own life. And because the church has wrestled with the LGBT Christian movement over the past forty years, it’s very personal for the church as well, it’s about the meaning of church life.

What is the inside truth? What is the truth beneath the truth?

Nelson Mandela’s death reminded us of a segment of the South African population known as the “born freers,” those born after the end of apartheid, who have little idea what separation of the races meant, how oppressive was the domination of the white race.

It reminded me of the last book my mother was reading before her death at age 84, Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, a book lauding my parents’ generation for enduring the hardships of the Depression and then World War II.  I had sent her the large print edition of the book for Valentine’s Day because she had watched Brokaw’s television special of the same name, telling me over the phone, “I’m glad our generation is finally getting the credit it deserves.”

Timewise, I was in a like place as South Africa’s “born freers,” having been born five years after the end of World War II, having no direct experience of what my parents went through: separated by the war, living on my father’s army pay, having goods rationed, losing friends and family in far off battles or having loved ones return home with physical and psychological wounds.

And now I have a similar experience, along with today’s church, witnessing young people, “born freers” who will never understand why we struggled so over homosexuality, why it seemed so important, why the church resisted full membership and society resisted full citizenship, why the church refused the ministries and marriages of its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members, and why, when so many gay men were falling to a pernicious disease, there was so much resistance to helping persons with HIV and AIDS.

Younger people who watched this year’s television series about the secular LGBT movement, When We Rise, remarked their surprise at what earlier generations endured. “I had no idea what you went through,” one millennial told her mom.

This post will be the first of four segments for LGBT Pride Month, not so much describing “what we went through” in the church as much as discerning the “truth below the truth.”

What did it all mean, for God’s sake?


I urge you to make a donation 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 & Study Center

Btw, the LGBT Religious Archives Network updated my bio earlier this year: https://www.lgbtran.org/Profile.aspx?ID=4

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, May 31, 2017

Saturday Night Massacre

Our dog chewed on Henri's words.

Recent events in the United States regarding President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey have prompted comparisons to the so-called “Saturday night massacre” in the fall of 1973, when then-President Nixon ordered the firing of the special prosecutor of the Watergate affair, prompting the resignation of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general rather than comply. A newly-appointed acting attorney general then fired Archibald Cox.

That weekend I was taking a personal retreat at Mercy Center along the Long Island Sound. One of the Sisters of Mercy that ran the place confided to me that she thought the only thing left for Nixon to do was commit suicide.

I was there because I had just arranged and hosted the first openly gay speaker at Yale Divinity School: the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches. It was the most “out” thing I had done as I became the first openly gay activist on the campus.

The student body president had fought to prevent Troy’s appearance, telling me that “It’s time we remembered that most of the student body here are white, male, and straight,” apparently also miffed that women and racial minorities were getting attention.

I was warned by others that attendance at the lecture would be slight; as it happened, the large Common Room was packed. Henri Nouwen was the only faculty member I could identify at the gathering, and, as I recall, he asked the most penetrating question. Rev. Perry seemed to please his audience with his genuine faith and passion, as well as his sense of humor.

My book, Uncommon Calling, described my feelings arranging the visit as being like birth pains, and I was exhausted. As a student in Henri’s course (whose lectures became the book Reaching Out), we had been encouraged to take personal retreats, and so I opted for one that weekend at Mercy Center. That fall had been spectacularly colorful in New England: bright blue skies contrasted with the vivid autumn colors of the leaves just beginning to descend from the trees. I could hear the gentle lapping of the Sound on the shore.

It happened that Henri was also spending the weekend there, preparing a sermon, one of a series of three for the university’s Battell Chapel. He gave me the manuscript and asked me to take a look at it, offering feedback. I was thrilled to do so. Henri frequently sought advice from others on his writings, including his students.

When we met to discuss the sermon, we were outside, and as I recall, sitting on big boulders, but this could be my memory playing tricks on me. A comment I made to Henri found its way into what became the book, Out of Solitude: 
A student from California who had to leave many of his good friends behind to come to school at the faraway east coast recently said to me: “It was hard to depart; but if the good-bye is not painful, the hello cannot be joyful either.” And so his sadness of September became his joy at Christmas time. 
Tears are in my eyes as I write this sentence, because to quote the book accurately, I have opened my mother’s copy and saw for the first time that she had written beside the text, “Chris was the student.”

Quite a different “Saturday night massacre” occurred when our dog Calvin ate much of my copy of the book, apparently jealous I was spending so much time with Henri’s books as I prepared my first retreat on his life and writings after his death in 1996.

It was in our conversation about the sermon that I asked Henri what he thought of Troy’s talk. Hesitant to be critical, he finally said that he was looking for something more—how Troy’s spirituality strengthened his resolve to affirm his sexuality. It didn't occur to me that Henri’s wish for more might be personal.

But it did tell me that my own spirituality had to “come out” alongside my sexuality, and that is why my talks to advance the inclusion of LGBT people over the past 40+ years have always included spiritual dimensions. I’ve gone so far as to write that spirituality is the final frontier of intimacy, and that the failure of the church to be inclusive of LGBT people was a spiritual rather than sexual problem.

Beginning next Wednesday, I will be offering four posts during Pride month (June) speculating on what the LGBT movement in the church meant, for God’s sake!

I’ve joked that if the church had not been so concerned with my sexuality, it might have been more troubled (or perhaps more blessed) by my interest in progressive theology and contemplative spirituality!  I sometimes feel as if I’m trying to make up for lost time writing this blog.

It is said that at the height (or depth) of the Watergate affair, Nixon prevailed on Henry Kissinger to kneel with him in prayer. Such a humbling posture could make for better leaders as well as better activists.

View from Mercy Center, October 1973.

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, May 24, 2017

Justice: Delightful Pleasure or Grim Duty?

Given challenging political times, I believe liberals and progressives need to reconsider our strategies to be effective.

Anyone who has read my books or this blog probably knows I believe people are best motivated by the pleasure principle. Better, in the words of The One Minute Manager, to “catch somebody doing something right” than “catch somebody doing something wrong.” Best, in the view of Pollyanna, to know and proclaim there are more blessings than curses in The Bible.

Many of us got so “judged” by the biblical god that we turn around and judge others harshly too.  And this is not just those who are fundamentalist or biblical literalists; liberals and progressives do it too. A progressive friend of mine once said that the word “justice” had become a weapon that we use on those we believe don’t measure up to our standards. And I’ve written before that progressives and liberals can have our own fundamentalism.

Two weeks ago I wrote of multiculturalism and multinationalism as a pleasurable thing, explaining how my spouse and I “delight in finding out the origins of someone’s name, or accent, or heritage.” I added, “This is the pleasure of a multicultural, multinational world.”  I was attempting to lead all of us out of a fear-based nativism by presenting a positive case for welcoming others—into our countries, into our lives, into our neighborhoods and homes.

Admittedly I had intentionally tweaked the beak of those who consider it a “micro-aggression” to ask “Where are you from?” I said as much in the first paragraph.

On one of the progressive Christian Facebook pages where I post the link to my blog posts, I was taken to task by someone—white and well-informed—for my “racist” assumptions that clearly came from my “white privilege.” Ironically, my intention had been to address a nativist rant, and I had referred to white privilege that shields many of us from its sting.

In several back-and-forth volleys, I explained that I exercise discretion in discovering someone’s origins, just as I do in conversation with someone who may not be “out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

But the point of my post was to help others see that multiculturalism can be fun, not just an exercise in a dry diversity training program, not just a grim duty that justice or God requires of us.

There are times when justice may be a grim duty. Even then it can feel good to do what’s right. But if it is most often or always a grim duty, then we might wonder at our motives for pursuing it. If it is not also a delightful pleasure, then we might question our character or values or personalities.

Multiculturalism doesn’t exist for my pleasure or delight, I was told. Now, I have wondered about a kind of cultural imperialism whereby a dominant culture appropriates habits and customs and dress and wisdom of other cultures. As a Hispanic, third-generation Californian friend of mine observed, witnessing a white minister in traditional African garb, “Why do you guys have to take on other people’s cultures?”

My Facebook opponent ultimately retorted with her own brand of “micro-aggression”:  “Check your privilege.”

Weeks ago I considered writing a post about white privilege, but didn’t get beyond my opening illustration. As Wade and I took one of our neighborhood walks, it occurred to me that even in our multiracial community, if we weren’t white, we might be regarded suspiciously as we pointed out features of a house or its yard.

We all have the privilege of welcoming those different from ourselves and celebrating those differences. I do not do it simply because it’s “right” or “just” or “liberal” or “progressive,” I do it because it is beneficial, healthy, wise, and wonder-full. And dare I say it? Pleasurable!

Think what a better world we’d have if everyone felt that way.


Relevant posts:

Please 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, May 17, 2017

Grunion and Grace

Photo thanks to Haris Lakisic at Grunion.org

Total quarter of a million blog visitors as of last week, not including subscribers and followers! Thank you!

With a pickup load of high school friends I traveled to a beach designated a likely site for a grunion run. Grunion are silvery fish that come ashore at this time of year along the Southern California coastline to lay and fertilize thousands of eggs (per couple!) in the sand before they catch the next wave out to sea.

Hundreds of people were gathered on that beach that night, excitedly awaiting the spectacle. Many had buckets for our catches, as I recall, though I’m not sure we intended to do anything with the fish afterward. But the grunion never showed. Maybe the noise and campfires of the partiers signaled them this was not a good place for their mating ritual.

Another group did catch one lonely grunion, however, and generously turned it over to our group so we didn’t go home empty-handed. We all piled into the back of our old pickup for the return home, not entirely disappointed, as the whole point was to spend time together as friends on the beach under a starry night.

Flash forward more than a decade. Back in California after seminary in New Haven and a campus ministry internship in Philadelphia, I was serving a ministry that challenged the church’s long held grudge against LGBT people.

Given the earnest nature of my work, I was held in balance for a while by a very funny boyfriend. Bob Barnes had joined the migration of would-be comics from the Midwest (Ohio, specifically) to try his luck at onstage improv comedy. He could make me LOL before that was a texting cliché.

For example, watching on television the flamboyant and lisping evangelist Ernest Angley lay hands on followers who announced their particular need of healing, one approached wearing a loud red plaid blazer with neon green pants. “Oh God, give me taste,” Bob  mocked.  Once, receiving Communion, the priest eyed him suspiciously. “You Catholic?” he questioned. “From cradle to grave,” Bob quipped without missing a beat. Bob’s friends, also comics, referred to me as “the Pope” because of his upbringing.

Bob also had a romantic side. We had dinner one evening at a popular seafood restaurant beside the beach on the southern end of Malibu. Afterward we walked alone along the shore as the waves crashed at our feet. We began noticing silver flashes, which at first I speculated to be plankton in the sand, a phenomenon I’d experienced before in which I could kick the sand with my foot and see phosphorescent sparks, reminiscent of Disney animation of fairy dust from a wand.

Then we realized it was grunion coming ashore, a few at first, and then by the hundreds. The crashing waves were full of them and then the beach was covered with writhing, copulating grunion as far as we could see in the moonlit night. Bob and I shared a look of absolute delight as we stood there, transfixed by this natural wonder that neither of us had ever seen and would never see again.

The last time I saw Bob was when I spoke on a college campus in Ohio, where he had returned, now living with AIDS. For our visit, he had put together an elaborate platter with a variety of cheeses and roasted vegetables, my first time eating roasted garlic. We had a wonderful visit, his easy smile and laughter, as always, uplifting my spirit. After his death I would learn from his partner that they had spent his final days in a treatment facility along the shore where they could hold each other watching the sun set over Lake Erie.

When I decided to write this post after reading a recent article on grunion, I intended to suggest that Bob and I had an experience of grace that night serendipitously happening onto grunion running ashore, contrasting it with the unsuccessful effort with my high school friends to witness such a miracle.

But as I finish this post, I realize everything mentioned was an experience of grace: my friends in youth gathered in anticipation; my opportunities participating in ministry and in a movement; the smiles and laughter that Bob gave freely and prompted easily; the remembered glowing sparks of plankton in sand; our dinner and walk and conversation along the shore as well as the silver flashes of flopping grunion; our last visit and the platter Bob so painstakingly prepared; the lover that held Bob in his final days and the sunsets they shared; and now, my memories of all of these.


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, May 10, 2017

"Go Back to Your G--D--- Country!"

In some perhaps too tightly wound circles, it is considered a “micro-aggression” to ask “Where are you from?” or “Where are your ancestors from?” The prejudice of those who think this way is that the questioner has a hostile intent.

But Wade and I delight in finding out the origins of someone’s name, or accent, or heritage. This is the pleasure of a multi-cultural, multi-national world.

Lazy Eye, a recent gay film, mentions the classic Harold and Maude. The unusual relationship between a morbid young man and a vivacious old woman—a Holocaust survivor, no less—contains a scene in which they are walking among daisies as she explains her love for flowers. He grimly observes, “They’re all the same.”

“No, each one is different,” she points out, naming how so.  “Much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this,” as she holds up one daisy, “but allow themselves to be treated like that.” As she gestures broadly, the camera pulls back to show them sitting in a veterans cemetery covered with identical grave markers.

I would say that too many of us have a “lazy eye” when it comes to appreciating differences and diversity.

Nelson Mandela insisted on a staff that mirrored the diversity of the new South Africa when he became its president. He and the people he represented had more than a little right to exclude those Europeans who had come to their country and excluded them from rights, privileges, and participation in government. But he insisted on modeling the necessary collegiality among the races to bring his post-apartheid nation together.

This was brought home to me as I read the memoir of an Afrikaner whom he chose as his personal assistant, Zelda la Grange. The book, Good Morning, Mr. Mandela, was lent to me by the twin sister of one of our close friends. They are themselves Afrikaners, but she resides in South Africa, while he is a naturalized citizen of the United States.

A few weeks ago, Wade and I were enjoying drinks and dinner out with him when he described an incident at a market here in Atlanta.  He was checking out, and his order included the last banana cluster on the shelves. “Are you going to take those bananas?” an older woman behind him in line questioned. Taken aback by her accusatory tone, our ever polite friend explained in his accented English, “Yes, but I’m sure they have more in the back.”

Angered, she stormed off, admonishing him, “Go back to your goddamn country!”

“Go back to your goddamn country!”

He said he was stunned beyond belief.  “Why would bananas be so important?” he wondered, aghast.

Mocking her rhetoric, this became the toast of the evening. More than once, we lifted our glasses, laughing, saying in unison, “Go back to your goddamn country!”

Admittedly her nativist rant was less damaging to three privileged white men, but still, to a foreign born citizen like our friend, it must have stung.

In that moment, she proved herself to be less of an American than our friend.


Please 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, May 3, 2017

Jesus, A New Adam

Jesus as the new Adam is a trope familiar to Christianity since Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians. It has come to be reinterpreted by others, and perhaps what I present here has already been imagined, as anyone reading this blog knows my knowledge is limited. But I want to offer what meaning came to me as I grappled with the notion of Jesus “dying for my sins” during this recent Holy Week.

I have flat out written on this blog that the God who is worthy of my devotion would never require the death of any kind of scapegoat as a stand-in for me taking responsibility for my own sins.

But I have also written that the sacrificial love represented in the story of the cross mythologically conveys the absolute and eternal depths of God’s compassion. Many theologians have focused on the concept of God dying on the cross rather than “his only son,” taking the onus of a demanding, bloodthirsty God off the table. And anyone who has had a terrible sin to forgive of another knows the suffering such compassion entails.

Longtime readers may remember that one of my Holy Week practices is to read one chapter each day of a short book, The Temple of God’s Wounds, in which the narrator visits a mythological monastery at a turning point in his life. I’ve written that I overlook his transactional understanding of atonement to contemplate other, deeper spiritual wisdom contained therein.

This time I focused on how difficult it is for him (and  for me) to face that which is absolutely holy. I understand better the “mysterium tremendum,” the “terrible” face of God or, as the OED adds in its definition, of existence itself.

During our last visit shortly before his death, an elderly dedicated churchman and beloved professor surprised me by his sudden tears and seemingly non-sequitur confession, saying something like, “I hope dear old Mother Church can forgive me for any embarrassment I’ve caused her.” I don’t think this was prompted solely by his having been a closeted gay man.

Age may make us aware how far we have fallen short, not only of the glory of God, but of the glory of being a child of God, because I found during Holy Week that, along with the writer of The Temple of God’s Wounds,  I felt such a need for forgiveness! Now, I know, as an introvert, that even the good I may do can embarrass me; but I’ve done plenty of things I’d prefer not to have in my eulogy!

I have a depiction, acquired in Egypt, of a Pharaoh being weighed on scales opposite a feather. The tradition was that if the Pharaoh’s heart was heavier than a feather, he could not enter eternity.  Few if any of us could pass such a test!

I have been reading The Islamic Jesus by Mustafa Akyol. A reader and contributor to my blog had asked me if there was a book I was eager to have in my library. Having just read a review of this book, that’s what I asked for. What’s remarkable to me is that the Qur’an, while not supporting Jesus’ divinity, reveres him as a prophet, like Moses and Muhammad. The writer suggests that this was the view of the Jerusalem church and its Jewish Christians led by James, and represented in Christian scriptures by the epistle of James, which does not refer to the divinity of Jesus and famously includes, “Faith without works is dead.” This contrasts with other Christian emphases on mere belief, and specifically belief in Jesus’ divinity and substitutionary atonement.

Thus I realized that progressive Christians have that in common with the early Jewish Christians, not to mention Muslims and Jews. We may or may not hold to Jesus’ divinity, and consider that doing justice and practicing charity and showing mercy are what the Lord (i.e. God) requires of us.

For me as a progressive Christian, Jesus is the “new Adam”—not the innocent and perfect and beautiful (and initially sexless) Ken and Barbie doll of Adam and Eve; rather the tried and tested, unappealing and vulnerable and wounded one, acquainted with sorrows and grief, the bearer of the sins and injustices of the world—political, religious, and personal. Treasonous and blasphemous, betrayable and deniable, because compassion was all he held dear.

Thus he knows the trouble I’ve seen, the trouble I’ve gotten into, and the trouble I’ve caused, not just personally but throughout the world. He is the real human being that Adam and Eve could not even imagine in their innocence and privilege. They were rough drafts, prototypes, not as fully human.

So when Jesus prays, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” it seems genuine, true, and possible.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Resurrection Today - Part Two

Today’s post is adapted from the chapter, “Healing AIDS,” in my book, Come Home: Reclaiming Spirituality and Community as Gay Men and Lesbians (Harper & Row 1990, Chi Rho Press 1998).

During one Holy Week, I found myself immersed in grief at the widespread experience of death from AIDS in our community. A close friend infected with HIV and searching for spiritual hope commented on a 1989 Newsweek survey, “If half the clergy doesn’t believe there’s an afterlife, why should we?”

My pastor’s sermon on Easter Sunday was the kind of sermon I would have given, the kind that I have given in the past. Humorously confessing a desire to avoid heresy and controversy, she chose not to discuss whether there was a physical or spiritual resurrection of Jesus.

Instead, she focused on the question put to Mary Magdalene as she wept in the garden of his tomb. Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Mary’s grief blinded her at first to a vision of a living Christ. I recognized the connection with my present grief that was blinding me to a living God who is “God of the living, for all live to God,” in the words of Jesus refuting those who didn’t believe in resurrection.

Though my pastor’s Easter sermon was excellent, provocative, and comforting, it did not make me celebrative that day. Who was my friend infected with HIV looking for, and whom did I seek? Someone who would tell us that God loved us, loved us eternally, gave us life eternal.

My lover and I walked along the cliffs and beach of Santa Monica that afternoon. Santa Ana winds had cleared the sky, and the air was cold and crisp, the sea blue and choppy. But, unlike previous walks in this flood of God’s natural grace, the beauty did not heal my troubled soul.

At the end of our walk, we entered a bar named the S. S. Friendship to get some warming coffee. This had once been the gay writer Christopher Isherwood’s neighborhood hangout.  Sitting down, I looked across the room at a vaguely familiar face. “John?” I said, just as he asked, “Chris?”

We had not seen each other for over five years. Typically, on seeing an old friend in our community, I thanked God to find him still alive. George and I invited him and his friend to join us. He seemed relaxed and content, and I was happy to discover that he had been with a lover for five years with whom he had bought a home. With so much death in our neighborhood, I enjoyed finding him well and happy and in a relationship.

He shared his spiritual journey. He reminded me that he had begun as a Catholic. I remembered that he had been a Lutheran shortly before joining the Presbyterian Church. Now he told us that most recently he’d been attending the Church of Religious Science.

“I got something I needed in each church, without getting involved in the garbage of each denomination,” he admitted. I envied, admired, and resented his ability to avoid the garbage, myself feeling buried in the Presbyterian refuse of committee meetings, petty bickering, and outrageous injustice toward gays and lesbians.

As I asked him about his lover, he said simply, “He died last week.” “AIDS?” I asked, astounded that even this idyllic picture could be shattered. “Yes,” he said. “He was diagnosed two years ago, and he used what time he had left to help others. It was wonderful to see. We had a good time together. I have no regrets. He died in my arms. I felt him leave his body. That’s why I’m sure I’ll see him again.”

As we later took our leave and I hugged John goodbye, I whispered in his ear, “Thank you for giving me the Easter message I needed to hear today.” I had somehow heard the gospel in a gay bar. Just as Mary had been called by name and thereby recognized the risen Christ, so I had been called by name and thereby witnessed a resurrection.



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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, April 19, 2017

Resurrection Today - Part One

Beverly Wildung Harrison was a delightful twentieth century theologian that I held in high esteem. Our paths crossed occasionally, but the first encounter I remember distinctly was a cocktail party near New York’s Union Theological Seminary where she taught. I was finishing my service on a Presbyterian Task Force on Homosexuality that was split on the ordination of “avowed, practicing homosexuals.”

She laughingly asked me if it was true that a member of the opposition on the task force had been paid a million dollars to serve as consultant on a film about the antichrist, The Omen. It was the first I had heard of it. She was right about the consulting, I later discovered, but the compensation was greatly exaggerated.

I tell the story to set in context a later conversation we had over brunch when I served a congregation in West Hollywood. A relative of hers, knowing her as a renowned feminist and body theologian, had been quizzing her about whether she believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus. Finally, with her usual “cut-to-the-chase” practical style, she said to him, “Really, does it matter to you, living in the twentieth century, whether Jesus’ resurrection was a physical or spiritual encounter?” He allowed as to how it didn’t; that a spiritual experience of Jesus’ presence was satisfying enough.

One of my college professors recounted his ordeal seeking ordination before a church committee determined to discover if he shared their understanding of resurrection. “Tell me this,” one queried, “if you were present at the tomb on that first Easter morning with a Polaroid camera, would you have been able to take a picture of Jesus coming out of the tomb?” The professor thought a moment, then replied, “Yes, but only if the camera were equipped with the lens of faith!”

As Christians, we stumble over the resurrection when we confuse a confession of faith for a statement of historical fact. It is when we treat matters of faith as matter-of-fact that we miss the mystery, the meaning, and the extraordinariness of our faith. Peter pointed out that only people of faith were given sight of the resurrected Jesus: “God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:40-41).

From the first Easter, Christians have held different views on the nature of the resurrection. The author of the gospel of John apparently believed that Jesus’ body was transformed spiritually, leaving his shroud in place. Several resurrection stories in the other gospels confirm this physical transcendence, reporting Jesus’ request not to be held, his appearance through locked doors, and his disappearance after breaking bread.

Others suggest Jesus’ bodily presence as he eats with the disciples or encourages Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and his side. The latter story combines physical presence and mystical vision, for though the disciples are able to touch Jesus, he appears in their midst through locked doors.

With all these variant descriptions of the resurrection, it’s safe to say Jesus’ first followers were not nailed down to a bodily interpretation! If the early Christians were not of one mind as to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection, why should Christians today expect uniformity of belief?


Watch for next week’s post, “Resurrection Today - Part Two.” The final five paragraphs of today’s post are adapted from the chapter, “Manifesting Christ’s Glory,” in my book, Come Home: Reclaiming Spirituality and Community as Gay Men and Lesbians (Harper & Row 1990, Chi Rho Press 1998).

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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, April 12, 2017

Futuring

Jesus' agony in the garden may be seen 
in the twisted trees of Gethsemane.

I once witnessed someone become distressed when it was suggested that Jesus might have been able to tell his disciples on which side of the boat to cast their nets because he could see a school of fish from his vantage point on the shore. For that person, it “destroyed” the miracle.

And a 7th grade teacher at my fundamentalist school got very upset when my oral book report included a character’s thought that the food with which Jesus fed the multitude might have been food that the crowds had brought but kept hidden lest they be expected to share. For her, it became less of a “miracle.”

That Jesus had the common sense of a fisherman to look for a dark patch near the surface of the water and the prescience to know his followers would share what food they had are, to me, examples of “futuring,” having knowledge of what is to come. And such abilities are often associated with contemplation, serious thought about the nature of things, as well as practical application of ancient and modern wisdom.

Some of you will be relieved to know that this may be my last reference to Teilhard de Chardin’s The Future of Man, which I’ve been reading during morning prayer. This has not been my only source of meditation, as I am usually reading several books during any given period. But it has both lifted me up and caused a “downcast spirit within me” as I’ve considered his optimistic view in the light of so much distressing news in this and other countries.

But as a Jesuit and a paleontologist, he shares the long view of human history. He sees the future in terms of our evolutionary past, that what took millions of years to evolve may still have millions of years to mature and further evolve. That he could do so in the midst and aftermath of two world wars suggests we may share his faith in the future in our own difficult times.

In a sense, he too sees the fertile “dark patch in the water” that Jesus saw, and has the prescience to know we already hold the resources to address our common human concerns, just as Jesus had by providing food to eat and food for thought to a multitude.

Which brings us back to Jesus, our exemplary contemplative, whose time in the wilderness and whose prayers in lonely places gave him perspective and hope. He could see a realm beyond religion and Israel and Rome, a “kingdom not of this world” yet “in the world” and “among us” when healing and reconciliation occur, where mercy and grace are experienced, and as compassion informs our every choice, political and spiritual.

He saw those who needed “catching” for this new world (“the harvest is plentiful, but the harvesters are few”), and knew offering his own “loaves and fishes” would prompt others to share ours. He warned of trials and tribulations to come, foreseeing his own martyrdom and that of his followers, while promising to be with us through the ages.

One could say that his “last supper” with his loved ones served also as the “first supper” of the world to be, as he offered meaning to what was to come this holy week and the means by which to hold the community together afterward, by remembering through shared bread and wine, rituals and words. A recent social science study reveals that shared ritual increases trust even among strangers.

These six Wednesdays I have offered memes of contemplative prayer and of contemplative life. I consider myself a “contemplative-wannabe,” wanting to incorporate these practices into my life more and more: remembering, solitude, unceasing prayer, holding myself “in quiet and silence,” spiritually struggling like the psalmists, recognizing the sacred everywhere and in everyone and in everything, treating life as a pilgrimage, and anticipating the possible.

Many progressive Christians hope to do the same: we realize that without a strong spiritual center we can neither transform ourselves nor the church nor the world.

Like other “contemplative-wannabe” writers, I take comfort in John of the Ladder, a seventh century ascetic of forty years, who wrote: 
If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere words, let them teach…For perhaps, being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practice what they teach. 

Previous posts in this contemplative series:
Remember the Gift – The role of memory in contemplation
“Peace! Be Still!” – The prayer of the Desert Mothers and Fathers
Rage to Ecstasy: Praying the Psalms – Monastic use of the psalms
Altars in the World – Contemplative vision of the sacred everywhere and in everyone
Pilgrim’s Progress – Pilgrimage as an aid to contemplation

The next two Wednesdays: “Resurrection Today: Parts One and Two”

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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.