Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When You Walk through a Storm

Kirkridge panel about the future of our movement.

When witnessing disaster, the spiritual sage Mister Rogers would say, “Look for the helpers.” A corollary I would add is, “Look for community.”

As hurricane Irma passed over Atlanta, I was reminded of hurricane Opal, which did far more damage to our neighborhood. Though without power, what I most remember is the fun we had afterwards alongside our neighbors cleaning up debris in the street and yards, sharing what food we had in potlucks, grateful that none of us had sustained unrepairable damage or loss.

Of course I realize that those with more devastating losses caused by Harvey in Texas,  Irma in Florida, multiple hurricanes in the Caribbean, and the monsoon rains in South Asia may not have such a rosy response, but my cousin and family rescued by boat in Beaumont may have appreciated “community” in a more vital way.

Some years after Opal, the Atlanta tornado barreled through the adjacent neighborhood of Cabbagetown. Its “sound of a freight train” caused us to shelter in our first floor garage briefly that night. On our walk the following day we witnessed the community helping one another pull trees and branches off cars, houses, and streets, while the Carroll Street CafĂ© provided free coffee.

Historic Oakland Cemetery also got walloped, and out of respect for the dead, whose bone fragments got pulled out of the ground by uprooted trees and whose headstones got toppled by forceful winds, community members worked for months to restore its quaint beauty and solemn dignity.

Wade and Hobbes and I met a woman whose top floor flat’s roof had been taken off, and she was distraught over her lost puppy. A few days later, invited to dinner by a lesbian couple, we told them about the encounter. “They found the puppy!” they told us, “It was on the news. It was hiding under her sofa!” One of the better purposes of media (including social networks) is that they help community form.

Irma arrived in Atlanta the day after I returned from another community, one formed in the more disastrous days of homophobia and heterosexism. During its 75th anniversary of spiritual and political activism, Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center celebrated its 40 years offering sanctuary to LGBT people who struggled with the church and society’s rejection and violence. It was true joy being with people I have known and loved for decades. At one point, an actual rainbow graced the skies outside our meeting room.

I am looking forward to a more broadly interfaith and ecumenical gathering of LGBT saints in St. Louis October 31-November 2, “Rolling the Stone Away.” I hope you will consider attending. You can help young activists hear the stories of earlier generations in the LGBT movement by making a donation to their scholarship crowdfunding:

The Bible is, among other things, a reminder of how communities respond to disaster, hardship, and suffering.

In Coming Out as Sacrament, I suggested that it is in such vulnerability that we may experience God coming near to bring deliverance, healing, and resurrection—often through one another, often through one another’s stories.

The book included this wonderful story from holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: 
In The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel tells the story of a rabbi who averted a disaster for his people by meditating at a certain spot in the forest, lighting a fire, and offering a prayer. The next time catastrophe approached, one of his disciples went to the same site, offered the prayer, but did not know how to light the fire—and still miraculously avoided disaster. Later, another rabbi went to the sacred spot, but knew neither the prayer nor how to light the fire; yet it was enough to save his people. Finally, another rabbi, in a similar desperate situation, knew neither the prayer, the fire, nor the place, but he could tell the story, and that retelling again prevented calamity. … Wiesel concludes, “God made [human beings] because [God] loves stories.”* 
Throughout its history, Kirkridge has been the “campfire” around which activists of all kinds have told our stories, including those in the LGBT Christian movement. St. Louis will prove to be an even more expansive opportunity for LGBT religious activists to shape community and share stories.

This is vital as we resist renewed attacks on us, and transform a world that does not yet view us favorably.

In facing disaster, look for helpers and for community.

Meet me in St. Louis!

P.S. Like scripture, we have our own “begats.” Stony Point Center’s 2015 “Rock Stars and Prophets” begat Kirkridge’s “40th Year Celebration of LGBTQ Lives” which begat St. Louis’s “Rolling Away the Stone.”  For a video of my personal narrative recorded at Stony Point, go to:

*Page 50 of Coming Out as Sacrament, paraphrasing Elie Wiesel in The Gates of the Forest (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966).

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, September 13, 2017

The Church that Wants Me

Church along our walk in Cabbagetown,
a neighborhood of Atlanta.

“In your dreams,” you might be saying in response to this post’s title. And that’s exactly where I found it: in my dreams.

The morning I write this I awoke from a warm and friendly dream of being “courted” by a small but vibrant congregation who wanted me as their pastor.

Many of the churches I have been a part of throughout my life, either as member or minister, have been troubled. Three challenging congregations “in transition” as they say, had attributes that made me love them, but to counter their darker sides with humor, I associated them, more or less privately, with classic films or a television series.

In one I saw parallels to director George Cukor’s 1939 comedy-drama, The Women, based on a Clare Boothe play—a film filled with gossip, rivalries, jealousies, sniping, betrayals, as well as fierce loyalties.

Serving a congregation in which I followed an extremely popular pastor, I felt like the second and less attractive and stylish and poised wife of Laurence Olivier in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic tale, replete with mystery, dark secrets, homoerotic longings, and nostalgia for a lost grand past.

Another church was so full of surprises that I saw a parallel to a TV series I was watching at the time, 24 (starring Kiefer Sutherland), a series with continual twists and turns and revelations.  As with the series, each week in this congregation I’d be amazed and disturbed, and say, “I didn’t see that coming.”

I have been a guest speaker for a number of congregations that seemed, on a visit, welcoming and healthy. Though churches put on their best face for visitors, I usually can discern trouble by speaking with a congregation’s leaders and members, or the hosts who have welcomed me to stay in their homes. So healthy and happy congregations are out there.

It was this kind of congregation I dreamed about. Granted, it may have been my brain attempting to balance the very negative dream the night before about a presbytery meeting gone awry and vicious!

On further reflection, however, I realized the dream was not just a wish but a reality. That week I’d received a number of positive responses to this blog, whose readership is the largest congregation I’ve ever served!

And there are no board meetings, no committees, no commute, little overhead, no buildings or plans to build one, no bills, no pledge drive, no dress code, no conflict among members, no begging for volunteers—the list goes on and benefits both you and me. (Of course it also means this ministry realizes very little income—apparently those things are what churchgoers are paying for!)

Without complaint, I can get political, critique or reinterpret Christian tenets, explore other religions, read and talk about spirituality and the contemplative life (you’d be surprised how many churchgoers don’t like that!), and be as queer as I choose to be—not to say I don’t wonder “was it something I said?” that prompts someone to “unsubscribe” or attendance to go down. You, the reader, always have the option to skip or delete, read or respond or share my thoughts.

I miss face-to-face encounters, but sometimes e-mail exchanges are more intimate and profound and informative than the usual chit-chat during coffee hour, and they come from all over the world. And I supplement this blog community—as I hope that you do—with other people, communities, causes, and conversations.

A good thing about calling this “Progressive Christian Reflections” is that I can be as progressive as I want to be, as Christian as I am, and offer my reflections to you in the hopes they spark your own. And I am grateful I can do this under the auspices of MCC, Metropolitan Community Churches, as one of the denomination’s Emerging Ministries.

So, no wonder it’s a dream job. Thanks for reading!

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, September 6, 2017

Self-Examination and Childhood Quirks

With Celtic Cross at Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta.
Photo by Wade Jones

This weekend I am looking forward to seeing those of you coming to Kirkridge for its Celebration of LGBTQ Lives over the past 40 years. One or two places are available, but call rather than register on the site:

My recent post critiquing white supremacy prompted a reader to provide a link to his Facebook post about his own white privilege. It was a remarkable self-examination, profoundly confessional, that would inspire all white people to consider our unearned advantages in this world. I believe his thoroughgoing analysis can lead to positive action.

But I have known others stymied by over-analyzing themselves, and I have tried to avoid this myself.

I had a friend in a congregation I served who had trouble committing himself to any church event, program, or mission. He would always say, “I’m re-examining my priorities.” He would miss or leave early or show up late for a meeting or day-long workshop or weekend retreat because he could never fully commit himself. Even when he enjoyed a long-term relationship, he and his partner had date nights for outside encounters.

When I was a child I had what my family kindly referred to as a benign “quirk,” occasionally looking up for no apparent reason. It was only toward the end of my mother’s life that I explained why. Every time I had a sinful or uncharitable thought, I would look up to God, asking forgiveness.

It is said that Martin Luther was so fastidious accounting for his sins that his confessor grew frustrated and impatient. It was this very obsessive practice that may have led him to his breakthrough about being saved by faith in God’s grace alone.

I had to give up my childhood quirk for similar reasons. Not only was it burdensome, but one I had to practice surreptitiously in public, even though I attended a Christian school, lest I be written off as just too weird! I had to trust God’s grace.

According to Thomas Merton, though examinations of conscience were practiced by Stoics and Pythagoreans, and played a role in Rabbinical and Muslim spirituality, it did not appear to play a role in early Christianity.  After the twelfth century it began to play a much larger role.

In between, after the Roman Emperor Constantine’s embrace of the faith in the fourth century, self-examination seemed needful as church and world colluded and collided.

Merton writes in Mystics and Zen Masters: 
St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory recommend a daily examination of conscience. Yet St. Gregory attributes more importance to habitual self-custody, living in the presence of God, and a general spirit of prayer, than to psychological self-analysis at fixed times (p 160-1; italics Merton’s). 
He claims that the monastic tradition emphasized “discernment of spirits” to reign in “passionate thoughts from which faults may arise,” rather than “examination of dubious psychological motives” after a fault has been committed.

What I substituted for my quirk of “looking up” was beginning my day in prayer and not concluding my prayer with “Amen,” so I was in God’s presence all day. I had no idea that I was practicing St. Gregory’s “habitual self-custody, living in the presence of God, and a general spirit of prayer.”

I can guess what you, the reader, are making of all this: “What a spiritually precocious child!” Or, “What an obsessively religious child.”

But, rather than precocious or obsessive, spiritual or religious, I think I—as a fearful, introverted, sensitive, and queer child—was simply looking for the safety of God’s presence.

The truth is, I always know God is present, even when or especially when that challenges my thinking or behavior, actions or attitudes. In my better times, I also “feel” God’s presence.

Thus I find Celtic spirituality to my liking in its emphasis on “thin places” on earth where heaven and the sacred can be revealed and witnessed, and I am grateful for body- and earth-centered spiritualities that resist separating spirituality from bodily and earthly experience, and I appreciate the mythological import of the stories of Creation and Incarnation and Resurrection which all recognize the holiness of our bodies and our earth, and I am thankful for liberation theologies which challenge me to seek justice for every body and all creation.

I confess my sins have all come from my failures to recognize God in all, including myself.

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!

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.