Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What Is Your Golden Record?

Equinox full moon rising behind the haze in New Mexico.
Photo by my friend Trudie Barreras. Used by permisson.

On this week’s 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, I invite us to consider, what are we—you and I—putting “out there” in the universe?

Week before last Wade and I were fascinated watching The Farthest, a documentary about Voyager I and II, still travelling through interstellar space with a “golden record” intended to depict earth and its inhabitants to extraterrestrial sentient beings. It’s amazingly diverse—amazing given the seeming narrowness of our vision these days. It includes audio greetings in more than 50 languages, a variety of musical offerings, and pictures of numerous plants, animals, places and actions to give the recipient a sense of life on Earth.

And I thought of each of us, what would our golden records be? What would we put out into the universe to represent our individual and communal lives? How would we summarize our life experience in images and words, tastes and aromas, touches and sounds, thoughts and feelings?

I considered St. Ignatius’s self Examen as a possible process to choose what best represents our individual experiences and choices, particularly Jesuit Anthony de Mello’s accessible Testament. Briefer still is my adaptation of his effort for a contemplative retreat, which I share with you in hopes you find these prompts useful in articulating what might be on your golden record:

1.These experiences I have cherished:

2.These ideas have brought me liberation:

3.These beliefs I have outgrown:

4.These convictions I have lived by:

5.These are the things I have lived for:

Numbers 1 and 5 could include images as well as words, though, with a little imagination, images could be included in any category. For example, liberation could have been felt hang-gliding, and conviction could have been the result of a baby’s smile. Outgrown beliefs could be pictured in a stack of books.

Another thought that came to me is that personally, my whole life could be summed up in the mantra that Jesus spoke to Lazarus: “Come out!” Come out of the closet, come to life, come out of your fear, come out of other’s expectations and even your own, come out of shame, come out of “resting in peace,” come out of isolationism, come out of narrow concepts and beliefs, come out and join the party, help the neighbor, enjoy abundant life!

So what is your life’s mantra(s)? And what are the contents of your golden record that you are putting out to the universe?

Only a handful of us may land on the moon. More vitally, all of us have landed on this oasis named Earth. So the question is, to what purpose, to what pleasure, to what hope, to what love?

The link on The Farthest is to the original trailer on PBS. For info on its present venue on Netflix, go to: It is also available on Amazon Prime. (I receive no remuneration for these links!)

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog:
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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Photo copyright © 2019 by Trudie Barreras.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Monastery

A recent selfie!

The day I write this, I realized during my morning prayers that they are my entrance to “my” monastic community. I put “my” in quotes because the community in which I’ve been blessed to participate has never been mine alone, but that of generations of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Native peoples, Celtic peoples, and more—past, present, and future, from every people and culture.

And, in my heart, I join you who read this or who have read anything I’ve written, because you are a part of me as I am a part of you. And you too enjoy the same contemplative community whenever possible.

I guess this all began yesterday afternoon as I went through “Mom’s box” of my life’s souvenirs. Mom saved things that I had forgotten I had written and published, as well as articles about my work and announcements about presentations I had forgotten. And she included a file of my stuff labelled “Chris” in Dad’s handwriting, indicating he had done likewise.

Reading and writing words has been my way into a spiritual community vaster than I ever imagined when I was a child. And it has been my way into discovering a God grander than could ever be “captured” by mere words, even those of the Bible.

As happened this morning, my morning prayers are often a means of continuing conversion and more comprehensive understanding, providing continuity to my (and our) disparate experiences. I continue reflection begun several weeks ago on Benedictine John Main’s Letters from the Heart. He writes of the monastic experience:

More and more it will fulfill its prophetic role by living in the cities where the experience of community and of spirit are all but lost. There, in these modern deserts, it will bloom by the proof of the power of faith and absolute generosity to achieve the impossible in liberty of spirit. “Let the wilderness and thirsty land be glad; Let the desert rejoice and burst into flower” (Isaiah 35:1). [ p 75]

I thought of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the early Christian monastics who went off into the wilderness to pray. Now we, in our own “deserts,” may hear the call to take what I call in my retreats “monastic moments,” opportunities to look inward, to listen to our own hearts, undistracted.

Of visitors to his monastery, Main writes,

They think they will find God in the terms they have imagined until then. But instead they first find themselves—recognized, known, and inexplicably loved. And because of that experience their expectations begin to change. They no longer seek a God of their own imagining. Instead, they begin to expand in the presence of the God they know to be beyond thought or image. [p 72]

And, he adds, “They now realize that God is seeking them. They must simply be still and allow themselves to be found.” [p 72-73]

We are called, Main says, to shape a community where others may also find their way, at the same time recognizing it is not “ours” but God’s. He correctly cites Bonhoeffer’s warning that an idealistic view of community leads only to disappointment, either in God, in others, or in oneself. The Rule of Saint Benedict describes the essence of Christian community as loving people as they are.

I will again be co-leading a 5-day contemplative retreat April 27-May 1, 2020 in Cullman, Alabama, through the Spiritual Formation Program of Columbia Theological Seminary. It is open to the public.

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Children of Stonewall--and the Kingdom!

Our group at Creative Camp.

This past Sunday I stumbled offering the Moment for Mindfulness at Ormewood Church about the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. I had originally planned to do it from notes, but decided to write it out so I would say precisely what I intended briefly. But I momentarily lost my place, I guess because I rarely do public speaking these days.

But I did get in my thought that the several-day-and-night 1969 resistance of drag queens, people of color and LGBT folk to the harassing bar raids of New York City police officers served as a “foundational myth” of our present-day movement. As such, it’s been useful for political and, I’d say, spiritual organizing and mobilization.

Yet our contemporary movement did not begin there. In the U.S., it began long before when Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, a lesbian activist group. It began in 1964 with the foundation of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual in San Francisco. It began nine months before Stonewall when the Rev. Troy Perry and 12 brave souls founded Metropolitan Community Church in 1968. It began with the work of people like Bayard Rustin, Christine Jorgensen, Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and many more, as well as multiple social, political, and religious groups building an activist base. This is true in other nations as well.

All resistance movements, however, can trace their roots to ancient times, to yes, even biblical times. Our pastor, Jenelle Holmes, gave an artful sermon on Rizpah’s resistance, protecting the bodies of her dead sons (2 Samuel 3:7; 21:1-14), drawing parallels to Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, creating a foundation that helped pass hate crimes legislation, Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till, insisting on an open coffin so the world could see his battered body, lynched after he was falsely accused of flirting with a white woman, and last week’s photograph of a drowned Salvadoran migrant, Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, on the shores of the Rio Grande River.

I can’t recall Jenelle “losing it” in a sermon, but tears came as she approached its final page. And she wasn’t the only one. She turned it into an occasion for lament, and instead of our usual small group discussions, provided three holy spaces for our responses: one with candles to light for lives lost to injustice, another with prayers for justice we could read silently to God, and one for writing cards to legislators expressing our grief for lives lost in our country due to injustice. Many visited more than one of the three stations.

A few weeks ago, we held a “Creative Camp,” Ormewood Church’s version of Vacation Bible School, for our own and our neighbors’ children. I helped with the 2-4-year-olds, all boys, and I saw where notions of “Original Sin” as well as “Original Innocence” came from! Yet I was moved by their willingness to buy into the program, so to speak, though our most prolonged conversation was about farts, ha!

The experience no doubt prepared me to be moved, at the end of the service honoring the ripples of Rizpah’s resistance, when Jenelle’s nine-year old daughter, Darcy, presented me with the artwork to the right, depicting my partner and me. I learned later she had done the same for a lesbian couple in the congregation, Ceej and Cathie. I lost it. Tears of grief, of gratitude, of hope.

 She represents for me the children of Stonewall and more broadly, the children of the Kingdom of God.

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Three Meditations for Pride

West Hollywood Pride, 1979.

Meditations selected from my 1994 book, The Word Is Out.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to [God], throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. 
Exodus 11:14

As Jews celebrate Passover in remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt, so we celebrate gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride month, week, and day, as a remembrance of our deliverance from spiritual and societal bondage.

A straight minister invited to deliver the sermon at a gay pride worship service approached me for advice. “I’ve always been taught that pride was a sin,” he said, perplexed.

I explained that I believe shame, not pride, is more of an issue for people today. False pride, or hubris, may itself be an expression of deeply felt shame, the need to puff oneself up because of low self-esteem. Current theories link shame to many of our personal and social ills. Then I told him that one cannot apply a concept of the sin of pride to a marginalized people like us who have always been taught that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Isak Dinesen (nee Karen Blixen) wrote in her book Out of Africa, “Pride is faith in the idea that God had when [God] made us.” Lesbian and gay pride simply expresses “faith in the idea that God had when God made us.”

We celebrate our faith in your idea in making us, Creator God. 
We pray others will share our faith and our pride.

Atlanta Pride, 2005.

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Mark 11:9

What a day of pride! Yet a day of humility, too, for Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was heralded by everyday people, not local officials or dignitaries. But it was a moment of kairos—a spiritual turning point. And it was so powerful that, as Jesus said to the religious fundamentalists objecting to the revelers, “If these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40).

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is how I praised God for my first encounter with a gay Christian minister, Bill Johnson. This is how I praised God for my first encounter with a lesbian and gay Christian church, Metropolitan Community Churches [founded nine months before the Stonewall uprising]. This is how I praised God for my first Christian boyfriend, Stan Schobert. If I had not cried out with joy, church walls would have screamed!

That’s why the religious organizations get extra applause and shouts in lesbian and gay pride parades, so the pavement beneath them doesn’t bellow!

Hosanna! Blessed are all those who re-present you, God!

Atlanta Pride, 2009.

But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 
Acts 16:28

Paul and Silas are beaten and jailed for delivering a young female slave from those who were exploiting her psychic powers. Midnight finds them praying and singing hymns to God, when an earthquake opens the prison doors and unfastens all the prisoners’ chains. The jailer awakes. Knowing the penalty is death for allowing an escape, he intends to take his own life. But Paul shouts, assuring him no one has escaped.

Paul’s generosity of spirit prompts the jailer to ask about the gospel, and he is converted, caring for their wounds and feeding them.

The chair of the committee guiding my preparation for ministry opposed my ordination because I was gay. Years later, on a visit to the church I served in a non-ordained capacity, he asked more about the gospel we proclaimed. His son had come out to him. In our dialogue that followed, I invited him to serve on the board of my ministry.

Our liberation is not complete until we free those who imprison us. Through prayer and singing, God will give us the grace to prove redemptive even to our captors, and proclaim the gospel of the integrity of spirituality and sexuality.

God of Mercy, we pray for the liberation of our captors rather than their harm. 
Grant us grace to be gracious.

The above meditations for June 25, 28, and 30 are from my 1994 book The Word is Out: The Bible Reclaimed for Lesbians and Gay Men, re-subtitled for the 1999 edition Daily Reflections on the Bible for Lesbians and Gay Men. Each month of the year-long daily devotional has a theme. The theme of June is Liberation.

Also see last week’s post: A Prayer Quartet for Pride

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog:
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Copyright © 1994 and 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.