Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Asking for Money

While responding to my local public radio station’s fund drive last week, I thought of writing a post about the challenges faced by non-profits and charitable organizations, including spiritual services, asking for financial support.

I receive much thoughtful news commentary listening to National Public Radio and occasionally reference their reports on this blog, so I feel happily obliged to contribute to their services.  But I doubt if churches could “get away with” dispensing with regular programming to devote their time to fundraising.

Of course, there is plenty of fundamentalist, evangelical, and/or prosperity gospel religious programming that does, a point that John Oliver has recently hilariously ridiculed on his HBO show by establishing a faux church named, “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.”

But those of us on the progressive end of the religious spectrum tend to be more circumspect about much needed financial support. Perhaps that’s why some progressive religious blogs have paid subscriptions, but this blog has never required donations for access. Nor has it allowed advertising on the site, and there is no remuneration for sales of recommended books or use of its posts on other blogs.

When I served West Hollywood Presbyterian Church, many of us went to brunch after Sunday services. Once, while we were gathering money to pay our collective bill, I mischievously joked, “If only we could get this much in the offering plate!”

“But we don’t get fed at church,” one person remarked, to which I responded, “You don’t?”

At the time, the church was part of Pacific Presbytery, and many a time, both during presbytery meetings and when I served on its committee overseeing candidates for professional ministry, I witnessed seminarians transferring into the Presbyterian Church without seeming to change their fundamentalist, evangelical background beliefs, and I cynically wondered if it was because Presbyterian ministers are paid better than most.

MCC, the denomination that ordained me ten years ago, does not have the material resources of longstanding mainstream denominations, yet I have witnessed its pastors serve their congregations with zeal, despite frequently being underpaid. A common joke among the clergy is that one has to be partnered with someone with a “real job” to survive.

A churchwoman once told me that she was well into adulthood before she realized pastors were paid!

Fall is the time congregations usually have their stewardship drives. The end of the year is when charitable groups and other non-profits seek our donations.

I urge you to take these requests to heart.

And I invite you to consider a tax-deductible donation to this blog.

Blessedly, my “church” overhead is low—I don’t have a sanctuary to support or multiple employees. Ten per cent of your contributions (beyond credit card charges) goes to MCC in gratitude for its oversight, not only of contributions, but of how this emerging ministry does its work. I write an annual report, documenting what I’ve done during each calendar year, and pay an annual ministerial credential fee, as an “authorized, active, and accountable” MCC ministry.

Collectively, your congregation might consider putting “Progressive Christian Reflections” as a line item in your mission budget, because this blog serves as an outreach to progressive Christians in unsupportive congregations as well as those beyond the church.

But only do so if you believe you or someone “out there” is being fed spiritually by these reflections.


Find out how to support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you! Or copy and paste this link into your browser:

Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of a first edition of my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy.

Several posts referencing NPR are on the link in the second paragraph. Additional posts referencing local public radio can be found by clicking here.

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Salvation from Fundamentalism to Universalism

In thanksgiving for the life, ministry, and writings of body theologian James B. Nelson. For posts on this blog that reference his insights, click here and scroll down.

The following is excerpted and adapted from a talk previously given to the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church in Dahlonega, Georgia, where I will be speaking at 11 a.m. Nov. 8 on “Grounded Spirituality” and offering a free workshop after the service on “Spiritual Self-Exam.”

Salvation has come to mean something very different for me over my lifetime than it did when the word slipped so easily from the mouths of the fundamentalists around me in the Baptist church and Christian school in which I grew up.

“Salvation” or “being saved” implies that we are in danger, a danger we cannot escape without help. We need a rescuer, a defender, a knight in shining armor, a hero or heroine, a messiah, a god or goddess—or, as in ancient Greek theater, a “deus ex machina,” a god who magically comes on stage via a machine-like apparatus.

We don’t like to admit our vulnerability in sometimes needing a rescuer!

But salvation in both Jewish and Christian meaning also means deliverance, implying a release from oppression, from bondage, from captivity, from injustice, from unrighteousness, from meaninglessness—and here you can add anything we might need deliverance from, such as addiction, greed, poverty, ignorance, prejudice—even wealth and privilege.

Thus the children of Israel were delivered from the hand of Pharaoh in Egypt through the Exodus, the formative story of Judaism. And early Christians were delivered from purity codes and ritual requirements, and more importantly, delivered from sin and death in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the formative story of Christianity.

Regarding either of these stories as myths does not diminish their roles as foundational stories; in fact, it may enhance their use in speaking to the unfathomable mystery of human experience.

But the words translated both “salvation” and “deliverance” have another meaning still, and that is “liberation.” Liberation means we are set free from all that holds us back, keeps us down, interferes with a life filled with meaning, love, and hope, freeing us from oppressive institutions, beliefs, and systems, whether economic, political, or religious.

Thus liberation theology has spoken to so many around the world, from the barrios of Latin America to the pockets of self-determination in totalitarian states across the globe.

As a progressive Christian, as a believer in interfaith and multicultural spiritual wisdom, I can identify with all three of these terms: salvation, deliverance, and liberation.

But what I’ve needed to be saved from, delivered by, and liberated for has changed over the years.

Today I need to be rescued from parochialism, my narrow and often privileged view of the way things are.

I need to be delivered by insights of a wider range of thinkers—those of other faiths, races, conditions, and cultures, as well as scientists, artists, and atheists.

I need to be liberated for new ways of experiencing and understanding the world and our lives and God.

My salvation from fundamentalism (of all kinds, political and religious, conservative and liberal) has led me more and more to a kind of universalism, an ever-expanding realization that we’re all in this together, need one another, and share a collective stake in the salvation of the world.

For those interested in knowing what progressive Muslims think, please visit:
Find out how to support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you! Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium.

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Monastic Vows

Thank you for the record number of visits and responses to last week’s post, “Married at Last!” and the “likes” and comments on Facebook about my birthday and our wedding!

I am passionate in my admiration for the contemplative life. I could not have done what I have done as a gay activist both in the church and the culture were it not for my morning prayers and personal retreats, times to bask in God’s unconditional, overwhelming, and transformational love.

And I have always had a rather romanticized desire to be a part of a monastic community. I believe I could handle most of the vows required of monastics.

I’ve got poverty down, having been self-employed doing free-lance church work, including writing and speaking and editing, for most of my career, and now writing a free weekly blog with a large readership whose donations so far this year total just $850.

And the vow of stability required by some monastic communities would also be within my reach, being an introvert and a creature of habit as well as being loyal and steadfast.

Those who know me or have read my books may find this difficult to believe, but I could even handle celibacy or chastity.

But to take a vow of obedience would be for me most challenging of all.

In birth order theory, being the youngest of my family, I would be the revolutionary, the rebel, even the prodigal. While I’m not quite all that—after all, I’m the only child of my parents whose vocation has been upholding their Christian faith—yet I am a progressive Christian, which means I resist being told what I have to believe and how to behave!

What helps me is understanding that the word “obedience” itself comes from a root word meaning “to listen,” and I’m pretty competent at that, not only as a pastor and friend, but also as one whose prayers are more about listening than speaking.

One could say that the Christian vow of “obedience” is much like the Buddhist concept of “mindfulness.” Jesus commanded us to “watch,” or “watch and pray,” as he asked of his disciples in Gethsemane, seeking always God’s will and God’s way and God’s commonwealth.

Years ago, I found myself praying to God, “Bring me closer to you,” but then I quickly added, “But not through anything bad.” Much of spiritual intimacy is predicated on suffering, when spiritual intimacy is provided to alleviate suffering. Jesus healed the masses with his hands and his words, words that reminded them of God’s benevolence, giving us life and love, mercy and grace.

My mother was the first to encourage my reading of monastics, just as she did much of her life. But it was not until the 84th and final year of her life that she told me, “You know, I’ve always believed God loves us all, but I only recently have come to believe that God loves me personally.”

Surprised, I said, “Mom, haven’t you been reading all my books?!”

For her, this was a kind of a spiritual “arrival.”

It may just take me 84 years of life to fully believe it myself.

Find out how to support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you! Donations of $100 or more will receive a gift signed copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium.

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Married at Last!

Exchange of rings.

Wade Jones and I were married here in Atlanta by the Rev. Dr. Erin Swenson during a private ceremony last week on my 65th birthday, a few days shy of our 15th anniversary, a week before his 55th birthday, and one day after the 10th anniversary of my ordination in the Metropolitan Community Church.

Wade and I met between my 50th and his 40th birthday at a time I was seriously considering moving back to California. He is the reason I stayed in Atlanta.

It was a joyful occasion with family and a few friends surrounded by our parents’ official wedding pictures and photos of our beloved dogs, Calvin and Hobbes.

As Erin invited the fifteen guests to explain how they knew us, we were moved by their stories and absolute love. Then we proceeded with a brief and very traditional wedding ceremony, followed by dinner at a fine neighborhood restaurant.

But I gotta say this: marriage as an institution has never been my priority—Wade Jones is.

I felt much the same way about ordination. Ordination was not my priority, but ministry was and is—and though, like marriage, there are hundreds of benefits to either institution, ordination and marriage achieve their purposes only if they facilitate ministry and commitment.

For most of my life, I have served as a minister and a partner without the formal approval of either church or state.

And I have to admit, the long delay awaiting both ordination and marriage sobered me.

When young, either event might have been intoxicating, but waiting decades kept me mindful that those institutions (indeed, ALL institutions) are not all they are played up to be, that they don’t of themselves confer either spiritual authority or marital faithfulness.

And when my particular Christian tradition, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) finally “accepted” LGBT ordination and same-gender marriage, it did so without requiring such ordination and only changing its wording on marriage to say that it is between two people, “traditionally a man and a woman.” But that allowed a Presbyterian minister and longtime friend, Erin Swenson, to perform our ceremony.

Thank God for MCC, who has ordained and married LGBT people since its founding in 1968. The denomination’s moderator, the Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, preached at my ordination and Erin gave the charge in which she colloquially urged me “to dance with the one who brung you.” Ironically, I unintentionally angered a few Presbyterians for my “disloyalty” to the cause, losing work and missing opportunities, though MCC polity permits dual affiliation.

I know I may sound like the Grinch who stole marriage, but ordination and marriage are joyous and to be celebrated, not because of recognition by church or state, but because of their implicit and sacred spirit of love, service, mutuality, commitment, and community. I’ve always enjoyed that.

One of the tables of revellers, a selfie by Dee. 

Thanks to Marc Bearden and Dee de Padua for their photos.

Find out how to support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.