Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Domestic Baggage Claim

View from our hotel room balcony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sexually Active and Spiritually Active

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How so?” I asked, sincerely puzzled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

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