Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peace in Jerusalem

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use in public gatherings with attribution of author and blog site.

In the 84th and final year of her life, my fundamentalist mother surprised me by saying  wistfully, “I thought I would live long enough to see Jesus return.”

I must confess to more modest goals. I thought for sure I would live long enough to see peace come to Israel.

Maybe my mother was the more realistic one!

A year or two ago I stopped reading news stories about Israel and the would-be state of Palestine when the latest hopeful peace talks stalled. After more than 45 years following events there, I was fed up with both sides.

Why did I feel I had a right to be fed up? Because of the amount of U.S. tax dollars that have gone to support that region, the political and emotional and even spiritual capital that has been wasted, all the media time spent on a relentless conflict and the additional conflicts with Arab states created for the West—not to mention all the suffering of the people there with whom I have identified, on both sides.

I was in high school when the Six Day War of 1967 occurred, 45 years ago this June. My teacher of International Relations, himself Jewish, explained that the first strike mentality of Israel was like the survival response of a man about to be pushed off a cliff. Our student body president, a young Jewish woman, cried that first day of the war. As I recall, the tears came because she felt so conflicted between her ideals and her hope for Israel. When I took her to our senior prom, I met her father, who showed me the tattooed numbers on his arm and explained his camp was liberated by Eisenhower himself, who openly cried to see the condition of the prisoners. The parents of a close friend explained divisions over Israel in the Jewish community—some thought as they did that they were Americans first, while others thought of themselves as Jewish first whose first allegiance was to Israel.

None other than the Mahatma Gandhi himself expressed reservations about the establishment of Israel, implying that it would be far better for Europeans to overcome their anti-semitism than be in the business of nation-building.

Why do I write of this now? Because in the past few days I’ve been reading and re-reading the final chapters of Isaiah, using the New Jerusalem Bible, pondering how the texts might give rise to both the Zionist desire to reclaim the land of Palestine as well as the hope of moderate Israelis who pray and work for peace.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
they will raise what has long lain waste,
they will restore the ruined cities,
all that has lain waste for ages past. (61:4)

No more will you be known as “Forsaken”
or your country be known as “Desolation”;
instead, you will be called “My Delight is in her”
and your country “The Wedded”… (62:4)

These are just two excerpts lauding the restoration of a Jewish nation that could instill zeal in those who apply it to the present state of Israel.

But there are other examples of what peacemakers in Israel consider Israel’s higher calling:

The nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning brightness. (60:3)

I shall make Peace your administration
and Saving Justice your government.
Violence will no longer be heard of in your country,
nor devastation and ruin within your frontiers. (60:17c & 18a)

On a Fordham University religious studies tour of the Middle East long ago, I visited Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel. We heard from a lot of displaced Palestinians, and saw firsthand an abandoned camp for Palestinian refugees. It was on the Sea of Galilee (actually, a lake) that we were reminded of the collusion of fundamentalist American Christians with Zionist claims, as the leader of another group on board our boat offered a prayer over the P.A. system for the full flowering of the State of Israel so that Jesus could return. This is a dangerous alliance for Israelis, because these Christians believe that when Jesus returns, Jews will be smited! 

I wished Jesus had returned in that moment to shut off the preacher’s storm of words with “Peace! Be still!”

How I wish I could live to see the day when Isaiah’s vision is fulfilled:

As a mother comforts her child,
so I shall comfort you;
you will be comforted in Jerusalem. (66:13)

And that of Jesus, weeping over Jerusalem:

“Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.”


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wounded Healers

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for use in gatherings with attribution of author and blog site.

A month or so ago on the internet, I happened onto a recent review of my first book, Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christian’s Struggle to Serve the Church. While giving credit to my activism of forty years, the review took me to task for being “self-obsessed” and, while insisting homophobic people change their ways, failing to confess things I needed to change in myself other than my shame and lack of pride.

I understand that people do not read as carefully as they used to, but the book listing under the genre “biography” as well as the subtitle should warn readers that the book is intended to be autobiographical. I completed it 25 years ago this summer, and it came as a result of being asked to tell my story so many times that I thought I’d save everyone’s time and trouble by telling it in print.

It appeared at a time in the LGBT movement when many of us thought personal narrative was the best way to overcome heterosexism. And I was persuaded by Carl Roger’s dictum that "what is most personal is most universal," as practiced by my spiritual mentor Henri J. M. Nouwen. Nouwen believed the minister (every Christian) was, according to a rabbinic story, the wounded healer who unbinds and binds her or his wounds one at a time, so as to be ready to help others unbind and bind theirs. It could be said that each of his books on the spiritual life revealed some personal wound being dressed and addressed in the hopes of helping others with similar wounds. 

Henri once wrote that the “J. M.” in the middle of his name could stand for “Just Me.” He believed that the minister (again, every Christian) was called to live a life offered to others. The autobiography or memoir is said to have first appeared in The Confessions of Saint Augustine, and spiritual autobiography has long had a place as a means of doing theology. I lead workshops and retreats on spiritual autobiographical writing, encouraging participants to tell their stories.

But I also wanted to tell the story of one denomination (the Presbyterians) struggling with the issue of openly gay and lesbian Christians in their pews and pulpits. Recently preparing my letters from Henri for donation to his archives, I ran across his advice on an earlier version of the manuscript that I focus on myself rather than the church—that that’s what readers would want. I chose to tell both stories, because for me, I was only an example of what LGBT people were experiencing in every denomination. I dedicated the book “To gays and lesbians who struggle to keep faith,” by which I meant religious faith as well as faith in ourselves. The most frequent response I’ve gotten to the book is, “You told my story,” which is exactly why I wrote it.

As to the dismissive tone in the review about my need for conversion from shame to appropriate pride: most LGBT Christians of the era and even today will tell you that this was the most important transformation we had to make. “Out of the Closets and Into the Kingdom” was my final paper for professor Letty Russell’s Liberation Theology course.  It meant giving up self-denigrating, LGBT-denigrating, even suicidal behaviors to embrace who we are as beloved children of God, citizens of God’s commonwealth.

Throughout the book, I explain that homophobia is something we all are working on, gay and straight alike. And when I talk about the need for the church to change, I tried to put it in “we” language, as I am part of that church and its needed reformation. That I didn’t feel the need to use the book as a private little confessional was to save the reader from “too much information,” as well as to reinforce the purpose of the book: to gain acceptance for LGBT people who should not be rejected because we also sin. Toward the end of the book, I wrote, “How can I reject the church for a lack of integrity when I also struggle to more fully realize this goal? … I’ve abandoned perfection as a spiritually desirable goal. How can I then require perfection of the church?”

I am not providing the link to the review because I understand that snarky commentary is used to draw people to blogs. I notice this when I post something edgy on this blog, and I try to avoid playing to this. The comments on the review reinforced this notion—an internet lynch mob was forming, as one wrote that I must be a young person, part of the “me” generation, and another, noticing my longevity in the movement, said I was probably one of those self-absorbed boomers of the 60s. Perhaps that’s most disturbing of all, that people who have not read the book or any of my work feel entitled to form an opinion about it.

Nouwen, whose reputation grew from his early book, The Wounded Healer, came toward the end of his life to understand how people can hook us in our wounds, as he describes in The Inner Voice of Love: “People will constantly try to hook your wounded self. They will point out your needs, your character defects, your limitations and sins. That is how they attempt to dismiss what God, through you, is saying to them.”

Consider me hooked. But don’t dismiss what we might learn from all this.


Chris will be leading a seminar, Henri Nouwen: The Wounded Healer, February 28-March 3, 2013 for the Spiritual Formation Program of Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. The public is welcome!
Readers are the sole source of support for this blog. Tax-deductible contributions may be made to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota, FL 34232, noting “For Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is Marriage Sacred?

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use in public gatherings with attribution of author and blog site.

At dinner with a close friend during a time when I was writing a book on same-gender marriage, I was stunned by his blunt rebuke to my musings about the spiritual dimensions of marriage.

“There’s nothing sacred about marriage,” he said matter-of-factly.

Now, granted, I wrote in my book that author Jonathan Rauch said at a book-signing that he believed the one thing that most prompted resistance to marriage equality was people’s association of marriage with something sacred, even if they weren’t religious. And thus I spent pages in my book deconstructing the notion of marriage’s association with the sacred, which makes the rethinking of marriage a deeply held taboo. Variants on what is held up as “traditional marriage” are thus suspect to the dominant culture, especially those of same-gender love, yet another taboo.

But I had come to the conclusion that marriage is, in fact, a spiritual discipline attempting “to give a future to a present love,” in the words of Christian ethicist Margaret Farley. Just like joining a spiritual community, cultivating a prayer life, developing an ethic of justice and mercy, or following a vocation, committing oneself to marriage is a means to grow spiritually.  In the book I quoted a romantic “chick flick” in which the protagonist, a woman, says regarding her relationship, “It’s not so much about monogamy. It’s about focus.” Spiritual disciplines are about focus, or, to use the Buddhist term, mindfulness.

As I reflected afterwards on my friend’s words, it occurred to me that their ability to jar me came from my very different view of the world. I see everything as sacred, or having sacred potential. As Henri Nouwen wrote in Creative Ministry, “The whole of nature is a sacrament pointing to a reality far beyond itself.” The mystic Meister Eckhart said that even a caterpillar is so full of God a sermon would prove unnecessary!

That’s why I so readily see the sacred or sacred potential in the marriage of same-gender couples as well as opposite-gender couples, and why I fail to comprehend those whose vision of the holy fails them when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Martin Luther called marriage a “divine and holy estate of life” and “church of God” that was to take in and care for strangers much as monasteries and cloisters did. John Calvin claimed marriage as a vocation equal to all religious vocations, containing a holiness closer to the reign of God than a cloister. Anglicans held that marriage was a little church that served as a “seminary of the Church and Commonwealth.”

I concluded in my book, As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage, that “we might best view marriage as a little monastery, a contemplative order of the partners in marriage themselves, who have reined in conflicting desires in order to focus on one another (and their children, if so blessed) to love and honor and in some sense obey, obey as in mutually trusting one another’s spiritual leadership.”

Such definition does not exclude Luther’s understanding of marriage as providing hospitality to strangers, Calvin’s understanding of it as a calling, nor the Anglican understanding of it as a church and seminary where worship and education occur.

Nor does it exclude same-sex couples.


Chris is available to give presentations and workshops on marriage in the Bible and Christian tradition as it relates to same-sex marriage. For more information, click here.

Tax-deductible contributions to this ministry may be made by check to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota, FL 34232, writing in the memo area, “For Progressive Christian Reflections.” Thank you!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Our Mother..."

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use in public gatherings with attribution of author and venue.

Before it became common to avoid its gender specificity, I long ago changed the “Our Father” to “God, Mother and Father of us all…” in my daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. “Father” as a metaphor did not contain all of God’s attributes, in my experience. And, I must confess, the metaphor of “Mother” contained the divine attributes I found most positive.

I realized recently that’s because I believe that spirituality is our Mother. We are shaped in her womb, nourished at her breast, dandled on her knees, loved unconditionally, pleased in her presence, nurtured by her wisdom. That is what draws us to her, what makes us yearn for her.

In Hebrew wisdom literature, she is Sophia, who, with God, created the universe.  In John, our own Christian wisdom literature, I believe she is Logos who becomes flesh in an androgynous Christ. The fourteenth-century nun, Julian of Norwich, (called by Thomas Merton one of the greatest of English theologians) declared “Jesus is our true Mother.” And the body of Jesus becomes the Body of Christ, Mother Church.

So the current attack by church officials on the freedom of nuns to influence Catholic thought dismays me, because throughout my life, nuns have often proven to be the best face of the Roman Catholic Church. And I say this as a Protestant, one whose spiritual ancestors gave God a shot of testosterone, emphasizing “his” masculinity!

When I despaired at Vatican pronouncements, at the misuse of power and privilege of an all-male hierarchy, I saw the progressive witness of Sisters Margaret Farley, Jeannine Grammick, Joan Chittister, Sue Mosteller, Helen Prejean, the oblate Dorothy Day, and others whose names are less well known but whose personal witness lifted my spirit.

There was a reason Mary, the mother of Jesus, caught the spiritual imagination of the church. She was needed to give a mother’s face to divinity.


Metropolitan Community Churches last week officially affirmed Progressive Christian Reflections as an Emerging Ministry! You may know that this blog receives no funding and realizes no income. It’s not been “monetized,” so readers are not distracted by ads. Now, however, you may make tax-deductible donations by sending checks to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota, FL 34232, designating in the memo area, “For Progressive Christian Reflections.” Thank you for your support! Thanks too to Rev. Elder Darlene Garner’s gracious oversight of Emerging Ministries. –Rev. Chris Glaser, Atlanta.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Treasure in Earthen Temples

Copyright © by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use in public gatherings with attribution of author and blogsite.

The Great Mosque that sits in the heart of the gravely troubled West African nation of Mali consists of clay-covered mud bricks that take a beating during the rainy season. An annual festival to refresh the building along with various attempts at replastering have softened its hard edges, in one writer’s view, “giving it a molten, biomorphic look—the visual equivalent of Malian Islam, some say—insistently powerful without being harsh.”

Renovations are restoring the mosque’s hard angles, but also postponed for several years (until last month) the religious festival during which the everyday faithful used to do the work of restoration, thus disheartening the community.

The closing spiritual metaphor of my first book, Uncommon Calling, was that of a church in Taos, New Mexico (made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe’s depiction on canvas) whose adobe walls have to be restored each year with fresh mud and straw after their rainy season. Someone offered the Church of St. Francis a permanent solution, only to discover that the resin applied to the walls kept the church from “breathing,” deteriorating the brick within the mud and straw.

As I say in my book, though a dirty and arduous task, the church members had to return to their annual “reformation” of their church, just as we all must regularly reform and reshape our spiritual communities. “As much as we might want walls and boundaries and divisions to be permanent,” I wrote, “Churches are stronger if they are permeable—open to the breath of the Spirit, which blows where she will and blesses love where she finds it.”

That nature would soften the hard edges of both the Great Mosque and the Church of St. Francis should humble all whose religion is hard-edged and harsh. That the restoration of the mosque’s hard angles would displace an annual festival in which every one might have a hand in shaping sanctuary could remind us that ALL are welcome and needed in our endeavors to refresh our communities of faith.