Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Can We Really Listen to Donald Trump?

A neighbor's timely sign.
"In Jesus every one of God's promises is a 'Yes.'"
2 Corinthians 1:20

Rereading the chapter “Learning to Listen” in Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Everyday People, the question came to me, can I really listen to President Trump?

Just as I wrote that sentence, my mind jumped back to Anne Lamott’s clever observation that, in learning to forgive, we might not want to start with Adolph Hitler. Of course I don’t equate Trump with Hitler, but in terms of extremes, Trump is harder to listen to, say, than a neighbor who is a Trump supporter.

And a personal friend or family member who is a Trump supporter is harder to listen to than a neighbor because I have more invested emotionally, expecting them to be “better.”

That’s also why it is hard for me to listen to fellow Christians who resist the rights of women and gay and transgender people, fail to welcome refugees and immigrants, endorse harsh foreign and domestic policies, hinder proper stewardship of creation, and give uncritical support for military exploits. I expect more from Christians, more compassion, more understanding—including those who call themselves “evangelical,” who claim to bring “good news.”

Let me clarify that for the purposes of this post, Donald Trump is an example of our most troubling political leaders and commentators. He is not a scapegoat, however; he is simply the most prominent among many disturbing figures in this country and the world. He’s a bipartisan choice because he has riled conservatives, liberals, and moderates alike, Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and independents.

Reading the paper I often skip Trump news stories, as well as commentaries railing against him. As a result, reading other articles, I’ve learned more about science, culture, religion, and even government and citizenship. My attitude has been, “This too shall pass.”

Nonetheless, I have daily prayed for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—by name—more than any previous president and vice president in my lifetime. I have prayed for them compassion, wisdom, and knowledge, and I extend that prayer to our electorate, as well as other leaders of our country and the world. Also, religious leaders.

I do read analyses of why we are so divided by political opinions, often posting them for Facebook friends. I am particularly taken with the notion that our vehement opposition is not simply because we disagree, but because we either don’t trust the other side’s motives or don’t share the other side’s values. I also appreciate articles that suggest ways to reach across our differences.

I return to the question, can I really listen to Donald Trump?

The antagonistic and bullying tone of his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks conveys insecurity and insult and incitement rather than thoughtful and wise and helpful analysis. Some commentators have suggested he may be “crazy like a fox,” manipulating the news cycle to some kind of advantage (crazy like Fox News?). I just find him erratic, fragmented, contradictory, and phony.

President Trump makes many of us knee-jerk reactionaries. His supporters automatically cheer, his detractors automatically boo. When we cheer or boo, can we really listen?

Again, never intending to equate the two, for me, trying to listen to Donald Trump is like trying to forgive Adolph Hitler. It is “above my pay grade,” beyond my spiritual capacity.

After all, the Torah teaches us to love our neighbor and confront Pharaoh. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor and give the emperor only what’s required. Early Christians were considered subversive because they refused to recognize Caesar as a god.

So, listening to my neighbors, friends, and family members may be the best I can do in this moment.

I believe if we really listen to one another, we can find in our hearts what we truly value and believe, as well as common ground, then act and vote accordingly. And we can demonstrate love for neighbors by real engagement, not merely getting along.

Saint Benedict’s Rule for monks recommends restraint in speech, not silence. And it’s helpful to remember that, as one interpreter suggests, our speech often “sides with the part of us that resists grace.”

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Body Still Loves to Dance

Dancing Jesus

One of my spiritual practices during Lent turned out to be sorting through boxes of my papers for my archive, a process that continues. I warned readers that this might lead to nostalgic posts! The excerpts here come from a commentary I wrote for Frontiers Newsmagazine, published July 17, 1992.

Exodus International President Joe Dallas gave the opening address at a conference of “ex-gay” ministry leaders and members held at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego June 21-27.

This was an assignment I did not want. I approached the gathering of 500 registrants, to use a biblical phrase, “in fear and trembling.” Maybe it was the uncomfortable memory of my straight and narrow fundamentalist past. Maybe it was the expected conformity of participants, from a dress code (“no tank tops, tight-fitting clothes, immodest bathing suits or skimpy shorts”) to thought code (“Exodus International reserves the right to deny conference participation to anyone whose views are not in agreement with our doctrinal and policy statements”). Maybe it was the workshops on avoiding “impure thoughts” or masturbation as “the ‘M’ word.” Or maybe I just thought they’d all be loony.

But they weren’t, and I discovered that though gay sex may be verboten, some things never change. Camp humor abounded. People were caring and sensitive and carefully huggy. Haircuts and clothing, though not overly provocative, were still stylish and colorful; in a workshop on masculinity, I heard rumblings of discontent at a suggestion that they rid themselves of their wardrobes and patronize barbers rather than hair stylists. En route to a session, two ex-lesbians were kvetching about one’s lack of punctuality and the other’s lack of patience. And two ex-gay boys next to me in the opening worship were thrilled to find someone with a car: “We need to go to a mall really bad!” one emoted while in the next breath telling his friend, “I really want to be here; I’m longing to be closer to God.”

Ultimately, I’m not sure what I expected, but I did not anticipate everybody would be so “nice” and “normal.” But then, they thought that I thought like they did—that homosexual behavior is sin, an affront to God. Yet in none of the presentations or workshops that I attended—even those designed for the newcomer—did I hear why they thought so: no scripture, no theology. It just was.

Fundamentalists of whatever faith need God to be in control, and on God’s behalf, they are controlling: stressing uniformity over unity, obedience over independence, authority over reason. As do many other Christians, they also believe in spirituality controlling the body’s feelings and needs. These were recurring themes throughout the day, not only in word, but in deed: the design of the presentations and the “workshops” made no provision for questions or interaction among the participants—though individual counseling and laying on of hands were available, and special interest groups, such as one on AIDS, were encouraged.

Faces brightened over those who “left the lifestyle,” and hushed tones described others who “had fallen.” Cheers greeted the introduction or mention of a wife or husband, and nods of agreement met veiled references to Satan. Disparaging references were made to “pro-gay” churches, “sympathetic” media, and a psychoanalytic profession which had caved into “political pressure” from gays. One man drew vigorous applause when, noting that gays were better than their group at “building solidarity,” he suggested that they hold their own “Ex-Gay Pride March.”

The day ended as it began: with a worship of emotionally stirring group singing, led by a church musician who declared that Jesus “took my homosexuality on himself in the cross, and took it to the grave.” In the morning I had felt sad, witnessing these young people giving themselves over to a God whom they thought didn’t like gay sex. I knew that this would be, for most of them, a way station on their way out of the closet and possibly out of the church.

Now I felt sad leaving them, as a camper feels sad leaving a spiritual retreat. We belonged to each other sexually and spiritually, but they did not nor could not know that. Years from now I might meet one in a bar, and he will tell me he was forced to choose his sexuality over his spirituality. The fortunate ones will be those who find their way to a congregation which welcomes them as self-affirming gays and lesbians.

But in the meantime, the music tapped into the erotic energy of the crowd, which stood to sing. Jesus, put your arms around me and hold me; it’s true I love you. Hands began lifting in a charismatic gesture, as if to touch God, as if opening to God’s embrace. I will come, while you sing over me: How I love you, child, I love you.

The beat led to clapping hands and discreet movements of the bodies surrounding me. I noticed that hips loosened in gay dance bars by the pulsing music of Donna Summer or Madonna now swung easily in praise of their Lord.

The Shakers, a Christian cult, got their name from their ritual dances. They, too, did not believe in practicing their sexuality, and perhaps their shaking dances emanated from some deep erotic wish. For no matter how our spirituality might deny it, the body still loves to dance.

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

"I Am with You"

Our backyard tree coming to life.

“I am with you.” God-with-us. Where two or three are gathered. Always.

This is my “aha” of Holy Week. Not original, but deeply felt. I lost myself in these thoughts and feelings that came to me this morning of Good Friday, on the eve of Passover. The stories of both these observances are meant to assure us that God is with us.

God has heard the people cry. Whatever your cry, God has heard it. God is with you. Always.

That’s really all I have to say. But you know me, I want to tell you how I got there.

I almost did not follow my usual Holy Week practice of reading Will Quinlan’s The Temple of God’s Wounds, a chapter per day. I’ve written before of its mystical power for me, though I am not in sync with all its tenets.

This year I coupled these daily readings with the passages of crucifixion and resurrection in the four Gospels. Each day I read a crucifixion text in chronological order of its writing: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. On the days that followed I read the resurrection texts in the opposite order: John, Luke, Matthew, and Mark.

What I didn’t realize is that I unconsciously followed the pattern of The Temple of God’s Wounds. The narrator is instructed to view six paintings, one per day. The first three have to do with the crucifixion, the last three have to do with the resurrection.

On this reading, I once again profoundly embraced the narrator’s need for confession. As regular readers of this blog know, I am not too keen on sin, as it has, in my view, been over-emphasized in Christian tradition, plus many of the things labelled sin do not match my experience of what sin really is. That does not mean I am not aware of how I have failed in my human relationships, my relationship with earth and its creatures, and my relationship with God.

On this reading, I also recognized the narrator’s longing not only for transformation, but for an experience of transcendence that left him, in Charles Wesley’s words, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” That came for me with the remembrance that the whole of the biblical witness testifies to God’s steadfast presence. God has not left us alone.

The incarnation is less important to me as a doctrine than as an experience that God has somehow joined us in Jesus’ passion and compassion, offering a life refreshed rather than defeated by wilderness and suffering and death.

The differences in how Jesus’ story is told among the Gospels allow our own differences. We don’t have to subscribe to every “jot and tittle” of those stories to “get” the meaning, the inspiration, of the story that God is with us.

And, as I review the first draft of this post, I realize I overlooked two other “texts” or better, “contexts” that enhanced and influenced my “aha” about God’s presence: my body mending after a severe cold and our yard and the ravine beyond coming to life after winter. These “gospels” speak even to those who do not know Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

“I am with you.” God has heard our cry. God-with-us. Where two or three are gathered. Always.

On this 50th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr: “Keep the Dream Alive!”

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Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, payable to UFMCC and designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Prayer for Holy Week

Michael Christman illustration for Coming Out to God.

You washed our feet, Jesus.
At first we objected,
but you made it clear that to be part of you
we need first to receive your gifts
and serve others the same way.

You gave us bread and wine, Jesus.
We took it for granted,
not realizing what it meant to you,
how it meant flesh and blood,
unity with you and with one another
and salvation for the world.

You said we would betray and deny you, Jesus.
“Not me!” we each cried,
but we all did
in our own way,
leaving you to face your destiny alone.

You asked us to pray with you, Jesus.
We fell asleep
and missed sharing your anguish,
not being compassionate to the Compassionate;
then they took you from us.

You continue to love us, Jesus.
We object, we take it for granted,
we betray and deny you,
and sleep
instead of pray.

Forgive us, Jesus,
for we know not what we do.

From Coming Out to God (Day 52) by Chris Glaser, 1991, Westminster John Knox Press.

Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends was dedicated to those I knew who were living with or had lived with HIV/AIDS and became especially popular in the HIV/AIDS community. A friend who was an artist, who subsequently succumbed to AIDS, provided the cover design and the interior illustrations for the book. I love that his name was “Christ-man”: Michael Christman.

A related reading for Easter: Resurrection Today, Part Two

Your donations are my ministry’s only means of support:
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, payable to UFMCC and designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Are You a Good Narcissist or a Bad Narcissist?

The question that titles this post reminds me of a question put to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Many years ago I played with the metaphor in a sermon for More Light Presbyterians during the Wichita General Assembly, in the wake of the controversy over the Re-Imagining conference where Christian women “dared” to re-imagine God. My sermon title was, “Which Witch is Which in Wichita?”

Narcissism is much discussed these days, from national leaders to everyday postings on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Long before that, I have wondered about my own narcissism in writing a blog. At its inception I intended that it not be about me, but about enhancing the spirituality of progressive Christians—a kind of grounding for who we are, what we believe, and what we do. But I soon found I couldn’t leave myself out of the equation. I need to write about who I am, what I believe, and what I at least try to do.

For years I carried in my wallet the best counsel I’ve received in a fortune cookie: “Your romantic life is interesting only to you.” The thought makes me smile, and keeps me in check when I begin to assume too much about my own experience, not just romantic.

I believe it was the author John Updike* who said writers believe our lives are interesting. That is certainly true for me, but I would qualify Updike’s assertion by saying writers just plain believe that LIFE is interesting. We try, with mere words, to capture or reflect or reveal the wonder, passion, beauty, complexity, humor, and drama of it all. But, to invert Gertrude Stein’s famous phrase, if there is to be a “there there,” we have to put ourselves in the midst and mix of words. I believe this is true even in, and perhaps especially in, writing fiction.

This is not unlike any artist or preacher or performer who needs to be center stage to accomplish their art, proclaim the gospel, or entertain. When any of these persons do not seem to be “present,” they are accused of “phoning in” their performance. So a touch of narcissism—awareness of how we are perceived, how we wish to be perceived, or how we perceive ourselves—is needed to put ourselves “out there” and put ourselves “on the line.”

The current conversation about narcissism wisely distinguishes “good” narcissism from “bad” narcissism. Bad narcissists are those who are so full of themselves and so focused on their own needs, desires, and plans that others are either ignored, derided, destroyed, or exploited. In contrast, good narcissists humbly offer themselves and their stories in hopes of improving others’ lives. (An excellent example of this is Henri Nouwen’s many books on his life events and experiences.)

I believe it was in the hope of improving others’ lives that Jesus reportedly said, “I, when lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The gospel writer John, the mystic, and patron saint of Celtic Christianity, gives us a Jesus who knows his place in the cosmic drama of “one-ing” us with God. 

Whether or not we believe John’s word of Jesus’ certainty, almost all of the stories we have of Jesus in the Gospels suggest he had a strong sense of what God was asking of him, of us. As we who follow Jesus have our own sense of call deepened, bad narcissism will be recognized as “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1) and good narcissism will be revealed in faith, hope, and especially, love.

*The closest Updike quote to this I could find is from an interview in a Zagreb literary magazine in 1979, later translated in English in The New Yorker in 2009: “Every man’s life is infinitely precious, at least to him, and somehow infinitely interesting. … Maybe the wish to write is somehow connected with…I wish to say that life is sacred.”

On each day of Holy Week this year (March 26-April 1), you might want to reflect upon these earlier posts on Jesus’ Seven Last Words from the cross:

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What Jesus Wants

I’ve been rereading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry for a contemplative retreat I will be co-leading this spring. It’s amazing how much one can get out of what seems a simple little book each time it is read. This time I realized why Henri became popular among evangelical Christians. He emphasizes a very personal relationship with Jesus, so personal that “Christ…lives in us, that he is our true self.”

In the margin beside that assertion I countered, “? not a false self?” In other words, both Nouwen and Merton warned of living the inauthentic or false self. In Merton’s words from Contemplative Prayer, even or especially “the ‘approved way’ may in fact be encouraging us in falsity and illusion.” And, in Way of the Heart, Nouwen warns against “the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition, one restless effort to convince ourselves of our virtuousness.”

I take this to heart because I frequently wonder if this blog is “one restless effort to convince [myself or perhaps readers of my] virtuousness”!

I grew up in a Christian milieu that defined JOY as J.O.Y.—Jesus, Others, You, in that order. “The wisdom of the desert,” Henri writes, “is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.” I put a question mark beside this assertion, too.

I guess that surrender was the idea behind sitting with Henri very early one morning in his first improvised chapel at Daybreak (the L’Arche community of Toronto) silently contemplating the Host for an hour.  Henri fidgeted continually, undoubtedly wrestling with what he called his “banana tree of monkeys.”

I sat, for the most part, still, but found little meaning in the exercise. Have me contemplate a scriptural phrase or story, or a work of art or icon, even a window with a view of nature, and the silence would have been more spiritually fulfilling. Simple adoration of a transubstantiated wafer within the glass heart of a cross was not in my Protestant bag of tricks!

But giving myself to Jesus Christ was. That’s what I thought I was doing at the tender of age of six or seven when I went forward at an altar call. But that meant following Jesus, not losing myself in Jesus. I do believe Christ “lives in us”—for me, the meaning of the Resurrection—but Chris, not Christ, is my true self.

When I served on my seminary’s worship committee more than forty years ago, I disagreed with those members from “higher” church traditions who believed a worship leader should serve only as a kind of “invisible window” to God or Jesus or the Kingdom. This concept might have suited me well: I am grateful that my parents intentionally gave me the name Christopher, because it means “Christ-bearer,” and that my last name, Glaser, comes from a German ancestor who must’ve been a glassmaker.

But at the time, I pointed out to the committee members that Yahweh was the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and his sister Miriam, Jesus and his mother Mary, and that their particular personalities gave very personal faces to the Almighty and God’s Commonwealth.

No doubt my view was influenced by my Baptist upbringing, with much emphasis on personal testimonies, including those of our occasional evangelists or the even rarer visits to one of the late Billy Graham’s “Crusades” in my hometown of Los Angeles.

Twice on this blog I’ve quoted the Hasidic Rabbi Zusya, “In the life to come, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

In his book, Reaching Out, Nouwen suggests, “The great saints of the past don’t ask for imitation. Their way was unique and cannot be repeated. But they invite us into their lives and offer a hospitable space for our own search.”

I feel much the same way about Jesus. What Jesus wants, I believe, is for each of us to manifest God’s glory in our own unique way. We can be members of the Body of Christ, his spiritual community, and still be and become ourselves.

In the life to come, they will not ask me, “Why were you not Christ?” They will ask me, “Why were you not Chris?”

A post for St. Patrick’s Day: Easter Rising

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Warm and Friendly Dream

My dear friend Rev. Steve Pieters brings out the "warm and friendly" in me 
when he took this photo over dinner in L.A. in the fall of 2016.
On his Facebook page he points out the dove on my shoulder!

The morning I am writing this, I awoke at 2:30 a.m., and my mind started bouncing around. I remembered it was my parents’ birthdays, born on the same day one year apart. I gave thanks in prayer for them, then said the Lord’s Prayer, all silently, in my heart as well as my head. As sometimes happens, the prayers “rested” me back to sleep.

And I had a comforting dream.

It began as a funeral, but morphed into a wedding. It began at a church, but morphed into a large living room in a home with family history, not mine, but that of either the bride or groom, and the father of one of them explained what it had meant to the family after the divorce. I knew a few of the people, but in a distant way, as those I might see occasionally. We sat comfortably around the perimeter of the living room on sofas and chairs.

I was the officiant. I felt inadequately prepared, but went with the flow. I’ve written before that I am often working in my dreams, but this was not heavy duty, rather, relaxed and comfortable. To pad the service, given that I had prepared no homily, I began asking the family members about their experience with marriage. The wedding became a kind of group therapy.

As I indicated, the parents of one of the couple were divorced, but both were in attendance and friendly with one another. The other parents had had a long and satisfying marriage. As I encouraged them to speak of their relationships, one of the guests said, not rudely, “Shouldn’t we be about the service? That’s what we came for.” Probably this represented another part of me, schedule and goal oriented, a contrast to the casual part that was enjoying the conversation.

The brother of one of the principals explained that he and his husband, sitting beside him on a sofa, had recently decided to “open” their relationship, and he assumed that I, as a minister, would disapprove. I explained, to the contrary, that I believed every couple had to make their own choices on how to live out their commitment.

“Marriage is hard,” I said, “And a lifelong marriage is tougher still. Isn’t it helpful for married couples to share their experience with the couple being married today?”

And that was how the dream ended. Part way through the dream, I awoke, but fell asleep again, resuming the dream where I had left off, something I don’t recall happening before. Maybe because it was a warm and friendly place.

Of course, with dreams, I usually try to figure out what might have prompted the various parts. Yesterday I read a very satisfying belated Christmas letter from someone I had worked alongside in the church, and it was all about his family, his second wife and her siblings, their separate children and grandchildren. And recently, I had learned a gay couple, friends of ours, had decided to open up their relationship. So that helps account for some of the ingredients.

And the comfortable conversation about all this? Where did that come from?

I’ve written a much visited post about the death of my neighborhood church a few years back, Ormewood Park Presbyterian. I had stopped attending before I began serving other churches. It was not because I did not like the people, it’s that I thought it a terrible waste that we worshiped in the “traditional” pattern, when in fact, I thought we should be talking together about what makes life work for us, what our faith means, and so on.

Now Wade and I have been attending Ormewood Church, a new church start in the same place, in which a part of the service is dedicated to small groups, given a question for the day that relates to the worship. As an introvert, I find this challenging, but as a concept, I find this closer to what a spiritual community should be about. And we’re getting to know our neighbors in a whole new way. No doubt this is the predecessor to the warm and friendly place I experienced in the dream, a place that invites conversation about meaningful things, like marriage.

This will seem a non-sequitur, but I thought of an article I had read earlier in the week by a woman who had anticipated difficulty sleeping in the days following a laparoscopic surgery. She wanted a painkiller, but her doctors in Germany resisted, recommending simple ibuprofen, one telling her that “The pain will guide you. You will know when to rest more; you will know when you are healing. … All you need is rest.”

She explains she knows how to sleep, but not how to rest. Almost Zen-like her anesthesiologist tells her, “Drink a cup of coffee, slowly. And whatever you do, do not get it in a to-go cup. You must sit in one place and enjoy this cup, slowly.”

On my own I am fairly good at “resting in God,” Augustine’s stated spiritual goal, but resting in spiritual community is quite another challenge.

The link in the post takes you to Ormewood Church’s website. For its Facebook page, go to

Your donations are my ministry’s only means of support. This blog continues to be free. But I could sure use donations right now. Thanks, Chris

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

When Are You Gonna Send These File Boxes to the Archives?

Some of my "stuff"!

This blog continues to be free. But I could sure use donations right now. Thanks, Chris

A good thing about being a writer and an activist is that often an archive wants your “stuff,” to allude to the late comedian George Carlin’s riff about why we get an apartment, house, or other living abode: so we have a place to put our stuff!

In my case it’s boxes of papers, sermons, manuscripts, correspondence, articles, periodicals, etc. having to do with my lifelong vocation of changing church attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. And the archive in question is at the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion in Berkeley, California, related to the LGBT Religious Archives Network (LGBTran), and administered by the Graduate Theological Union.

Half my office and half my personal closet and most of an attic storage space and some of our crawl space is devoted to storing this stuff. And though Wade would be justified, he only occasionally asks me the question that titles this post. Instead, it’s me that keeps harping on the question to myself as I walk around file boxes to get to my desk.

When I moved temporarily to San Francisco to serve First MCC as interim pastor, I sent 25 boxes of files to the archive. What remained was material I thought I’d someday make into a scrapbook (not going to happen!) or might need for future projects or could use to remind myself that I once was somebody! But also—look of chagrin on my face—were boxes of piles rather than files.

Y’see, I used to be pretty good at filing things, but I only have two file cabinets, requiring boxes. But more to the point, once I’ve finished with something, I’ve lost interest. George Lynch once told me I should never give a sermon twice, because I was obviously bored with it in my second delivery.

I would let finished projects pile up on my desk until, in a sprint of cleaning, I would sweep them off my desk into a box to sort through later, something that rarely happened. Now I know archivists love such archaeological “digs”—or so I am told—but I’m not convinced poring through unopened bulk mail or trying to figure out why I saved the odd printed matter would be to anyone’s liking. And they might miss something relevant. There may be things too personal to share or photos I’d like to hang onto. Books, as well—given that sometimes a volume from my library has sunk into the quicksand of my working detritus.

So what’s keeping me from going through these boxes of piles and files?

First of all, it’s just plain overwhelming. So many file boxes and so little time! And every artifact has the potential of sending me off on a reverie of remembrance of times and people and events past, not always happy, not always sad.

Recent research reports that the perfectionism of younger generations has increased dramatically. Perfectionism can prevent one from even starting something if it’s not going to be perfect. But I only want to prepare my papers reasonably well—let the archivists do the “perfecting.”

A few posts ago, I shamed myself by admitting that earlier last year I had read “most” of Alan Burdick’s Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation (2017). My wise friend, Jim Mitulski, once told me that if you don’t make it past the first 50 pages of a book, you’re never going to finish it. But I had made it within 20 pages of its end, and perhaps thought the 40-page bibliography and index meant 60 pages to finish. So this week I completed reading it.

What I found was the author’s own wondering why he took so long to complete writing the book. He references Saint Augustine, for whom “a syllable, sentence, or stanza in motion was the embodiment of time; unfurling, it stretches between past and future, memory and expectation…” Then he writes:
Hypothetically, the same is true of a book: as long as it remained in motion, the author’s present would never end. You can see where this logic is headed. Immortality was a book that was perpetually unfinished. (p 257)
Now I have wondered if my procrastination with the file boxes is some sort of fear of shoveling dirt into my own grave. The author J. D. Salinger sent 60 boxes to his archive three weeks before he died. Have I been afraid that sending the remaining boxes to my archive would simply be punctuating my absence from the active life? (No, I won’t go so far as to say it would mean my death, like the grandfather when his clock stopped ticking!)

I have hoped for some kind of “after life” in which some cute gay researcher might be passionate about my papers and do some kind of thesis about me and my work. That would likely backfire, as future judgments might render me some kind of “dinosaur,” as Bill Johnson once referred to us LGBT “pioneers.” God knows that even now, I have not been considered transgressive enough by some Queer thinkers. (Though our transgressive president should teach us this is not always a “good.”)

But I’ve come to the conclusion that my dilly-dallying is the same phenomenon that caused me to sweep this material into boxes in the first place—I’ve finished with it. I want to do something new. I’d rather write this post for my blog than return to things I’ve done or left undone.

Fair warning though—when I finally go through these boxes, you might wish I hadn’t, as I might find things that prompt nostalgic posts!

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

An Early Christian #MeToo and #TimesUp Movement

Reading Laura Swan’s The Forgotten Desert Mothers as the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and the like-minded #TimesUp movement (that also includes equal opportunity for women and minorities) were getting underway, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels with the women who, alongside the Desert Fathers, went out into the desert to pray, only to be overlooked and overshadowed by a patriarchal version of church history.

I am re-reading Swan’s book in preparation for co-leading a contemplative retreat with Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program director Debra Weir, which I referenced  in last week’s post. It is one of two texts we selected for the course, the other being Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer.

It does not in any way diminish their genuine religious devotion to be struck by how many of the women evaded sexual abuse, forced or arranged marriages, and culturally-expected duties of women in the fourth and fifth centuries by pursuing their callings/vocations. And though, like MeToo and TimesUp, it was often women of privilege and wealth and education who initiated the exodus from mistreatment and exploitation, the monastic communities they founded became refuges for the poor, the sick, the marginalized, orphaned, abandoned, mistreated, and homeless.

Meeting recently with Debra for planning our retreat, I told her I was in awe how much the women sacrificed to follow the Christian way of giving up their possessions, land, and financial resources to the poor, denying themselves even the simplest luxuries like beds, food, and other-than-simple clothing for the sake of their spirituality and their sense of justice.

Some of them cross-dressed to escape and avoid detection, joining male monastic communities as supposed eunuchs, or traveling to distant and unfamiliar places where they were unknown. Others simply resisted their family’s wishes and practiced their asceticism in the family home or on family-owned property. Many led their family members into Christian faith and practices themselves.

Unlike their male counterparts, fewer of their sayings have been preserved in the church’s memory, but what is preserved is their benevolence, their service to others, saintly attributes, and sincere devotion.

Quoting Joan M. Petersen, “Their delight was in self-control; their glory was to be unknown; their wealth was to possess nothing… Their work…consisted only of attention to the things of God, prayer without ceasing, and the uninterrupted chanting of the Psalms.” The “things of God” included the upbuilding of the Christian community and its ministry to the world in the name of Jesus, serving “the least of these.”

Decades ago John Boswell taught me that LGBT people of earlier times were drawn to monastic communities for similar reasons. These were places where they were not expected to marry, and where they could find opportunities to serve the greater good. Though Boswell recognized the church had a patriarchal bias in terms of its leadership and teachings and history, he questioned the impression that it was only men who shaped the church and its theology. Men who dominated the culture and religion, he observed, were reared by women, taught by women, related to women, influenced by women, sometimes married to women, and served in spiritual communities alongside women.

One of multiple examples of this was how Gregory of Nyssa, considered one of the early Christian theologians, was absolutely influenced and inspired by Macrina the Younger, his elder sister, who encouraged his baptism and his memorialization of her community’s monastic way of life in the Short and Long Rules. Macrina was following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Macrina the Elder, who worked closely with the local bishop. According to Swan, he and his brother Basil “acknowledged [Macrina the Younger] as the primary influence in their theological education, and each finally embraced ascetic and monastic observance.”

When the church became entwined, sometimes strangled, by the culture of the Roman empire, the Desert Mothers and Fathers sought to “re-member” the Christian community’s countercultural roots. After all, its teacher, Jesus, was executed by Rome; it faced accusations of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6); its acts of compassion contradicted a worldview of self-interest; and it suffered persecution for refusing to bow to the gods of Rome, including the emperor, considered a god. Christians then were considered “atheistic” because they believed in only one God!

#MeToo and #TimesUp are countercultural movements that resist a world in which women are demeaned and exploited. In a church that has often followed the culture’s lead in the treatment of women, these movements should remind us of our own countercultural roots in which we are “no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female…for all of you are one… (Galatians 3:28).”

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Beside Still Waters

This week marks the seventh anniversary of beginning this weekly blog!

 “Be unconstructively in the presence of the sacred.”

Try this on for Lent, the forty day period leading to Holy Week, which begins today, Ash Wednesday:

“Be unconstructively in the presence of the sacred.”

How long has it been since you allowed your Good Shepherd to give you rest in green pastures beside still waters, restoring your soul? The “still waters” of the 23rd Psalm are waters gentle enough to drink from to safely quench our thirst; the Hebrew means “waters of rest.”

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust.

Nothing compares to a contemplative retreat in a monastic setting, surrounded by fellow pilgrims and an authentic monastic community. Trying to capture that ethos once more, I read again the reflections I wrote after a men’s contemplative retreat at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, and a Hildegard of Bingen retreat at Sacred Heart Monastery, also in Cullman.

The respective experiences elevated not only my spirit but my prose, and I’m certain this post will pale in comparison—both to the experience and to the poetry required to capture the rhythms of words, songs, and silence of a monastic community.

O Lord, open thou my lips.
And my mouth shall show forth thy praise.

Especially welcomed to join the sisters in the chancel area of the church at Sacred Heart, and given their gentle guidance in saying the offices that punctuate their day, helped us taste the pleasure and the power of reciting psalms and prayers together. We thus stepped carefully into a stream of a centuries-old tradition.

As I wrote in one of my papers, the contemplative retreat unveiled again for me how the multitude feeds the boy with the modest lunch, the reverse of the boy whose peasant’s lunch fed the multitude through the blessing of Jesus. I felt surrounded and nourished by “so great a cloud of witnesses.”

When we are listening, God speaks to us in a myriad of ways, and God was echoing all over the place at both monasteries and their grounds. Silence, scripture, songs, lectio divina, the Daily Office, readings, prayers, homilies, teachings, and conversations offered me voices from the past (memories, tradition, spiritual guides) as well as from the present (fellow pilgrims, colleagues, fellowship). Even the silence was deafening. And outside, the sounds, smells, sights, breezes, warmth of day, coolness of evening of the natural setting completed the feel of God’s embrace.

The afternoon that began our 24 hours of silence midway through the contemplative retreat, I spent much longer in the sanctuary of the church than I imagined I would. I pleasured in the profound silence. I started constructing my final paper in my mind, but then reminded myself that this was not what the silence was for.

The silence was simply to be unconstructively in the presence of the sacred. To be “useless.” To welcome the “schola” (“free time”) of “scholar.”

That silence unveiled a second kind of silence for me, the need for Sabbath, a time of no work, no activity, no planning, only recreating, allowing myself to be re-created and refreshed and renewed, hopefully in God’s presence. Since that experience, I’ve given myself some slack in my ever-present need for accomplishment, turning off my laptop to avoid work and the internet from time to time, relaxing my workouts and runs, reading more for fun than I’ve done in the past.

Peace! Be still!
Be still and know that I am God.

Come, join us beside the still waters of the Sacred Heart Monastery April 30-May 4, 2018. I will be co-leading a contemplative retreat with Debra Weir, Beside Still Waters, to which you are welcome. For more information, click on the title or copy and paste into your browser:

For previous posts to read for Lent, click on or copy into your browser:  (Scroll down for multiple posts. At the end of the collection you will find a couple of posts included simply because they used the word "lent"!)

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Fundamentalist Memory Hole

Aristarchus, in the third century B.C., clearly established a heliocentric picture of the solar system that was well understood and accepted by the Greeks. … Yet Ptolemy, five centuries later, turned this on its head and proposed a geocentric theory of almost Babylonian complexity. The Ptolemaic darkness, the scotoma, lasted 1,400 years, until a heliocentric theory was reestablished by Copernicus.
–Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness, p 204
Christian fundamentalism (which has parallels in other religions and ideologies) arose at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century in America and Great Britain in reaction to liberal theology and modernism. One might say it is parallel to Oliver Sacks’s above description of the regression that misguided science for centuries, imagining a solar system with Earth rather than the Sun at its center.

My post last week described a scotoma simply as a blind spot, but it can be more than that. It can be what Orwell called a “memory hole” which sucks acquired knowledge out of the room, an amnesia of, in the case of fundamentalism, a spiritual tradition that experienced a diversity that recognized scripture as an element of faith but not its sole author. Biblical literalism was at odds with earlier and subsequent ways of interpreting scripture.

This is my beef with fundamentalism—not that it isn’t a useful way to reclaim the biblical story, but that it claims to be the ONLY way to read scripture, dismissive of our own progressive Christian interpretations.

I am glad to have been raised as a Christian fundamentalist and biblical literalist: it gave me a knowledge of the Bible and a certainty and guidance I needed as a child and youth. But I ultimately found it confining, not only of me personally as a gay man and a political liberal, but of me spiritually, bereft of much church tradition and teachings and reflections of the church doctors and saints, theologians and mystics.

That upbringing also resisted science and culture and other faiths, though more so today than when I was growing up. More than ever today, fundamentalism sucks acquired knowledge out of the room, even that of fellow Christians like myself who remain faithful to Jesus without fear of hell or certainty of heaven, without subscribing to all Christian doctrines, and while trying to welcome insights from science and other cultures and religions.

I know the pain that fundamentalists feel when challenged, or when disappointed in those who do not similarly “believe,” as I felt that as well. Unlike some progressive Christians, I try not to express animus toward fundamentalists or fundamentalism, save when they try to theocratize our politics and political institutions. I am truly a liberal in the classic sense, trying to welcome as many viewpoints and perspectives and knowledge as possible.

And I agree that scriptures have to be taken seriously, even authoritatively, but not literally. A literal interpretation, I believe, actually does a disservice to scripture. It can miss the depths and richness and complexity of the biblical conversation about the meaning of it all.

And, as Jesus said of the Sabbath and the fundamentalism of his day, the Bible was made for humankind, not humankind for the Bible.

For Black History Month in the U.S., I invite you to read and/or circulate Black Lives Matter and Black Museums Matter. For more such posts, use the search engine on my blogsite or click on the following words to search for “black” or “Civil Rights,” and scroll down for multiple posts. 

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.