Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Poetry Makes Life Last Longer

"The breakers steady crash..."

The end of a year seems a good time to reflect on time: what shortens it, what stretches it. The beginning of this year I eagerly read most of Alan Burdick’s Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation (2017). Though I recommend it, I found the text sometimes contradicted the title as I trudged through scientific studies and jargon.

A similar fate awaited me as I read a book about spirituality toward the end of this year. I felt as if I needed to come up for air, and found my eyes pausing over the text and searching the ravine behind our house from the vantage point of our deck for something more, something inspiring, maybe even God.

Then I remembered J. Barrie Shepherd had sent me a copy of his latest book of poetry, entitled Bench on the Bluff, and I set aside my dutiful reading of the somewhat dry tome on the spirit and sought the poetic wisdom of a writer who had been my spiritual director as a young man, unbeknownst to him, one whose books of daily reflections helped me establish my morning prayer routine and inspired my own desire to provide such reflections for others in my books and now this blog.

The image of a “bench on the bluff,” taken from his Maine retirement village’s cliff overlooking the Atlantic, reminded me of a tranquil spot on the palisades of Santa Monica overlooking the Pacific, where, according to an inscription on a circular stone bench (as I remember it) “in the sunset of his life, John P. Jones used to come here every evening to watch the sun set over the ocean.”

At 81 years of age, that is similar to what Barrie Shepherd is doing in what he calls a “chapbook”: “a small collection of poetry…that often centers on a specific theme.” It is dedicated to his and Mhairi’s Yorkshire Terrier, Iona, and “all her canine neighbors.”

In college I had a double major: English Literature and Religious Studies. So I’ve loved poetry from the start, and used to write poetry regularly, like many a youth. But I had to read so much of it, so quickly for courses, and think too much about what made poetry work that my first love became a source of anxiety and even competition. One of my texts, Understanding Poetry (a good book despite a presumptuous title), made me sympathize with Robin Williams’ character in The Dead Poets’ Society who advised his prep school students to rip out the first chapter of a similar text.

Poetry, like art and scripture and pornography, is something you know when you see it. And poetry, when unhurried and absorbing, stretches time for me.

And so it is with Barrie’s poems, and it was all I could do to restrain my impulse to read them all in a few sittings. I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog that I can’t read anything meaningful without a pen, underlining or marking texts to return to. The problem I’ve faced reading Barrie’s book is that I’ve wanted to underline and mark everything. Writing about it as I’m doing now made me want to quote so much of it that I would be infringing on his copyright!

I will never look the same way at the slender month of February or the shimmering surface of a lap pool. I will find haikus in every aspect of my community. I will look to nature and the seasons to welcome my own life cycle. His encounter with the Perseid meteor shower took me back to my own encounter in the night skies above Santa Barbara’s Mount Calvary Retreat House. I will counter the pains of aging with laughter in the wisdom of an “even-older-than-I-am-now lady” advising “When you wake up in the morning and nothing new hurts…you know you’re dead.”

And did I just call him “Barrie”? A person I’ve encountered less than a dozen times, but whose words befriended me in his books and now, continue to “friend” me in email exchanges about my blog. Yes, I feel like we are chums, and I am sitting with him on that bench missing the latest news “in an age of the absence of angels,” but watching: 
The breakers steady crash
and crumple as they rolled ashore
reporting on the deepest state of things,
reminding me that they will still be singing here
when all my news has fled like so much sea spray
on these stark, primeval rocks.

Copies of Bench on the Bluff are available @ $10 plus $5 shipping from:

The Rev. Dr. J. Barrie Shepherd
Piper Shores Retirement Community
15 Piper Road, Apt. K325
Scarborough, ME 04074

Proceeds are donated to charity.

For my other posts that mention J. Barrie Shepherd, go to:

Here’s hoping we all have happy and new years!
Thank you for donations to this blog ministry
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Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  Photo from visit to Hawai'i, October, 1985.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas in 1945 Japan

Mom included this twig with tinsel 
from the family Christmas tree 
in one of her letters to Dad in Japan.

This post continues and concludes “A Christmas Love Story” begun in my last post, using letters my mom and dad exchanged while he served as part of the U.S. occupation forces in Japan following the end of World War II, as she and their toddler daughter and infant son remained in their home in Los Angeles. (Mom was 30 and Dad was 29, and they shared the same birthday a year apart.) Current service members stationed abroad and their families know firsthand the challenges and heartache involved.

On December 25, 1945, Mom wrote of Christmas, “This has been the loneliest I have ever had. I haven’t cried—I’ve felt too numb. I don’t dare dwell on the fact you are so far away.” Then she describes that morning: 
I wish you would have seen Stevie this morning. He was as excited as Sharon. He yelled & almost threw himself out of my arms. And I couldn’t turn him away from the tree & toys. I gave him his roly poly and oh did he love it. Pretty soon I put him back to bed & did he cry. He wanted to stay. He likes his rocking horse. He should—my hand is sore from using the screwdriver on it & I still don’t have the screws tight enough.

Sharon was well pleased with everything. I think the only time she had her skates off was when she ate her meals. I had told her they didn’t have any more skates like Bonnie was going to get unless you had told Santa to bring her some. And you had.
From my dad: 
Sen Zaki, Japan
Christmas morning

Merry Christmas, my Darlings! … It was a happy Christmas for many of us new replacements—our mail has at last started coming through. Most all of the guys got stacks of letters yesterday—one guy got 47. Some of us, however, including me, did not get any, but our hopes are high for the next mail call!

“Red” Hunter and Sgt. Engel have been negotiating for two weeks with the necessary people to bring about the party we had last night. Passes to leave camp and a jeep for transportation were granted by our Lieutenant. And about 6:30 last night, Hunter, Engel, Gattis, and I left the camp. The rest of the guys here were settling down to their beer-drinking, which held promise of being a record-breaking celebration, there being a case of beer available per person. Which is one of the reasons we were now headed for Sen Zaki in a jeep. We were going to spend the evening with Johnny and his wife and perhaps a few of their friends.

Briefly, Johnny is a Korean, is the chief of the Korean Association here, is a graduate of Tokyo University, and—this is the important thing—he is a Christian! His father is a minister of a Korean Presbyterian church somewhere in Korea. Johnny speaks English, though, as he says, “English conversation very, very, difficult.”

It was perhaps chiefly Johnny’s idea that some of us gather with him and his wife on Christmas Eve to sing a few carols. And as we four fellows who were there last night think a good deal of Johnny and his efforts in behalf of his miserable people,* the idea got “promoted” in typical Yankee fashion to the point of reality. And although it was very different from any way I ever spent Christmas Eve before, I believe we came nearer to the true meaning of Christmas spirit than had we remained in camp and soaked up our case of beer.

Not that we did not drink some beer. Sgt. Engel and I took our two cases along. It is much better to share two cases of beer with a group of 8 or 9 people than just the two of us. And as it developed, also to my liking and I think to yours, there was a goodly amount of American beer to be left as “presents” to Johnny, whose meager salary does not permit many luxuries of life.

Red had a can of chili that his mother had sent him some time ago. I had several packs of cigarettes that I had got on the boat. Also we had chewing gum, a few chocolate bars. All these and the beer were our contributions to the feast. Also some tangerines. In fact it was practically our party, which was the way we wanted it, because we have so much and those people so little.

We G.I.’s did not eat the chili—for two reasons, one being that we had already eaten a big chow, and the other being that we had forgotten about spoons, and had we tried to eat it with chopsticks like they did we would still be there! ha! So we ate tangerines.

As I said, there were the four of us Americans. “Red” Hunter, a youngster of 19, who looks more like Spencer Tracy than Tracy does himself. Red is a religious youth and aspires to be a missionary someday. Sgt. Engel, lean, hawk-faced, fierce blue eyes, a bit smaller than I, and hopes this summer will find him back home on his Pennsylvania farm after his 2 year army stretch. John Gattis, from Alabama, I think, a carpenter and builder before his army life—very handy with a guitar, and a very good singing voice. He has a wife and two kids at home. And the fourth G.I.—well you know him pretty well already. Or have you forgotten me?

The others were: Johnny. More properly his name is John Kim. Johnny’s-----MAIL CALL!

I had just about given up hope that I had a letter when they called my name and gave me your letter of Dec. 11th. It’s the first letter I’ve got since I left the States. Darling, I love you!
Dad interrupted his narrative to respond to things in Mom’s letter, reading it and re-reading it a number of times. Several pages later he returns to introducing the other Christmas Eve partiers: Johnny Kim’s wife, a university graduate and not a Christian, a Mr. Ree, a doctor named Miss Nagato, whom Dad describes as “very kind to Koreans,” plus the serving girl at the hotel, invited to join the group, “giggly,” whose “contribution to entertainment was two or three Japanese songs sung in a very high-pitched voice.” 
They asked us about our age, our work, and our families. I showed them my pictures of you, Sharon, and Stevie and in three different languages I was told very emphatically that you are very lovely, Sharon very beautiful and Stevie a wonderful boy—and that I was a very lucky man. And [they asked] did I miss you all tonight? Did I miss you! Lord, Honey, no one could ever measure the amount of feeling that I had to compress into three simple words for the sake of John Kim’s limited vocabulary of English when I said very slowly, “Very, very much!” 
I miss Mom and Dad very, very much. And I am grateful to be reminded of their love and faith through their words of Christmas past.

*Koreans were treated harshly during World War II.

Other posts about my folks:

Merry Christmas and many thanks for following my blog! 
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Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Christmas Love Story

If my dad had not sent the above Christmas telegram to my mom in Pittsburg, Kansas, and had my mother not responded positively, I would not be here and you would not be reading “my” blog.

My parents had been high school sweethearts in Pittsburg. My dad was editor of the school paper and my mom was its financial manager. Circumstances separated them three times. During the Depression my dad sought temporary work at a meat packing facility in Iowa to help support his parents on their 80-acre Missouri farm, and during World War II he served in the army as part of the U.S. occupying forces in Japan, while my mother “held down the fort” (as my father would say) in their Los Angeles home with a child and a baby, my sister and brother.

In between, my mom’s parents intervened to prompt Mom to break up with Dad because, they explained, she had never dated anyone else. So he went off to northern California and took a job driving a delivery truck for a baking company in the Sierra Nevada mountain range while she remained in Pittsburg attending college, working at Penney’s, and, as the oldest child, tending to her invalid mother and her father and siblings.

I have hundreds of letters they exchanged during their times of separation. Reading them, more than once I regretted my father never became the writer or the doctor he had hoped to be and that my mother missed out on traveling adventures she had hoped to have. I’ve published and travelled, their vicarious writer and adventurer, but I never had what they enjoyed: a lifelong relationship of love and romance.

People often look for scapegoats to blame for the “breakdown” of “the” family (as if there were only one kind of family), but in truth, it’s the economy and war that are a family’s most serious threats. My parents’ words are testimony to each.

My father deeply grieved having to leave his girlfriend behind in 1934, the year following their high school graduation, as he travelled to Sioux City in hopes of finding work in the meat packing industry which employed his brother-in-law. Going to Cudahy’s very early one morning shortly after his arrival, my 18-year-old future Dad found 175 men already there hoping for a day’s work. He reflected on the experience in a letter dated August 14, 1934:
I wondered at the time if there were just as many seeking work at each of the other two plants, Swift’s and Armour’s. Now I was actually seeing the great masses of the unemployed of a big city, not just reading the stories in the newspaper. I believe if people who are knocking the work-creating acts of the government could actually see and walk among a crowd of men looking for work, [they] would realize that it is [for] our gov’t’s safety to give employment to all possible. What a menace that crowd could be if organized and armed to the teeth. But, I admire those fellows. Their countenances, though not hilarious with joy, were not clouded with undue desperation. So as yet they haven’t given up hope and neither have I.
My parents missed having Christmas together that year because of the daily uncertain possibility of work at one plant or another and the geographical distance between them, even if either had money for the train.

The 1937 Christmas telegram renewed their correspondence, and, by November of 1939, they were married in a small ceremony at the First Baptist Church of Pittsburg, Kansas, visiting her family at their home in town and his family on the Missouri farm before driving to their new home in Quincy, California. Born and raised on the flat plains of Kansas, Mom not only saw her first mountains, but now lived among them! That Christmas, after sending wedding pictures as Christmas gifts, they had no money for gifts for each other, and Mom saved the few coins they had left, keeping them in her hope chest the rest of their life together, a reminder of their first Christmas as husband and wife.

Then came the war. My father was saved from being among the invading troops in Japan by the atomic bomb, and he disembarked from his troop ship in Nagasaki on my sister’s birthday the day after Thanksgiving, 1945. He saw firsthand the devastation of “Fat Boy,” a plutonium implosion device dropped on the city months earlier.

In her Christmas letter to Dad a month later, Mom wrote a story of how the family was doing in his absence and included it in a letter: 
It’s Christmas Eve. In a little house on the corner of 62nd and Third Avenue in the city of Los Angeles lives a service man’s family. See, there’s the star in the window. Outside it is raining. Inside tho there is a fire burning brightly in the fireplace, & a small tree gaily decorated with tinsel & baubles & memories of years past is perched on the chest.

In the bedroom the woman has just tucked the little girl into bed. “Mommy, I don’t feel like Christmas,” the little girl is saying. “I want my daddy.”

“Honey, we all want Daddy home. Even little Stevie. Maybe Daddy will be home with us next year. Now say your prayers and go to sleep.”

“_____ and please Jesus take care of Daddy” concludes the little girl.
My mom continues the story with her many chores after my sister and brother are in bed: washing dishes, boiling the baby’s bottles, putting the gifts out, assembling my brother’s rocking horse with some difficulty, completing a mattress and pillow for my sister’s doll bed. Christmas music on the radio makes her feel closer to Dad, but then she worries about his Christmas day, whether he’s safe, whether he’s received his Christmas box. It’s nearly 3 a.m. when she sits down to write “her summary of Christmas Eve,” “her nightly chat with that dear husband,” concluding with, 
A far away look comes into her eyes as she hears “Winter Wonderland.” A snowy nite—cold; a little blue or black Chevy (I think it was a Chevy) but it doesn’t matter, for right there beside her is the most wonderful guy in the world. The shameless excuses she made to be alone with him. To know she had all of his attention for a little while—it was so nice to sit close to him and hold his hand while he drove along snowy streets. They could talk for hours and never tire of each other. She often suspected he listened to her not for any intelligent remarks she made, but because maybe he was in love with her. 
So how was Dad’s Christmas in Japan? Stay tuned next week.

Other posts about my folks:

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Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

You Made My Life!

The tree outside my window.

If the autumn breeze outside my window continues, most of the golden and yellow leaves will fall from our tree in the backyard by the end of the morning I write this. I kind of know how it feels, as my red hair thins and greys.

I had quite another post planned and halfway written for today, but I received such an overwhelming response to my Facebook post about “officially” retiring last Thursday that I feel compelled to write of it. I wrote: 
I officially retired today as an MCC clergyperson, though I will continue writing my blog, “Progressive Christian Reflections.” I would be open to leaving retirement if I had another opportunity to serve in ministry. Thanks be to God for Metropolitan Community Churches’ belief in my ministry when my home denomination of the Presbyterian Church USA lacked faith. Still love Presbyterians, but I am grateful for MCC’s welcome. God is good. 
To be honest, nothing much will change. I’m just letting go of the “formal” side of ministry, the forms to be completed each year and the continuing education requirement and the annual clergy renewal fee. I am told I can still write my blog under MCC auspices, preach and celebrate sacraments, lead weddings and funerals, visit hospitals and prisons, and keep the “Rev” which is important to me, having spent most of my life without it. (My brother once commented that I seemed as busy in retirement as when I was gainfully employed!)

Having seen my name in print multiple times, the late writer and editor James Solheim once kidded me, “Has ‘M.Div.’ become part of your name now?” I explained I used it as my only credential, since I was not a “Rev.” And now I still use it because so many clergy use “Rev” who have no seminary degree. I also often identify myself as a graduate of Yale Divinity School simply to let people know I am a progressive Christian!

I joked with Wade last Thursday about our evening meal being my “retirement dinner,” and though there will be no such formality, I am grateful for my “legacy tour,” given opportunities to reflect on the meaning of my life and the LGBT Christian movement, including That All May Freely Serve’s “Rock Stars and Prophets” at Stony Point, New York; Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center’s “Celebration of LGBTQ Lives” in Pennsylvania; and the ecumenical “Rolling the Stone Away” gathering in St. Louis. These were reunions of saints I am grateful to know and to join in celebrating the progress we’ve made in our churches and our culture.

Yet I confess ambivalence about my diminishing role. I write this not to gain your sympathy, but rather to say I understand you who have experienced, are experiencing, and will experience something similar. I have taken comfort in the anonymous “Prayer of an Aging Jesuit” in a book edited by Michael Harter, SJ: Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits. It reads in part: 
Help me to see that my community does me no wrong
when gradually it takes from me my duties;
when it no longer seems to seek my views.

Rid me of my pride in all the “wisdom” I have learned.
Rid me of the illusion that I am indispensable.  …

And please, Lord, let me still be useful,
contributing to the world my optimism,
adding my prayers to the joyful fervor and courage
of those who now take their turn at the helm. …

Let my leaving the field of action be simple and natural—
Like a glowing, cheerful sunset.

Lord, forgive me if only now in my tranquility
I begin to know how much you love me,
how much you’ve helped me.  …   
Many of you who have written or said kind words to me, either about my books or my blog or my ministry, have received the response, “You made my day!” I’ve written elsewhere that it’s a shame we often save our “eulogies” or “good words” to honor those who have passed. Wouldn’t it be better if we shared them now? I have been the beneficiary, like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, of, in a sense, attending my own memorial when I receive such words.

In the final conversation of “Rolling the Stone Away,” titled “Into the Third Millennium,” More Light Presbyterian executive director Alex McNeill told of shelving books in his home church library when he “stumbled upon Chris Glaser’s book. So I stole it and never returned it—sorry, future generations!  I read Uncommon Calling all the way through, took notes and wrote in my diary about it. It gave me a sense of possibilities, of not being alone.”

I was stunned, my eyes welling with tears. Alex then met lesbian evangelist Rev. Janie Spahr on one of her (what I call) “missionary journeys.” The effect of these encounters was transforming for Alex.

The effect of Alex’s words was transforming for me too. He not only “made my day,” he, in a sense, “made my life.”

Thank you for any donation to this blog ministry
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Personal Face of God

Nicaragua, November 1984. 

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so: little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong.”

We began singing this song during a Pride parade. Someone unsuccessfully tried to get us to sing a “corrected” version, one that edited out our “littleness” and “weakness” and, I suppose, our dependence on Jesus, giving us a more positive self-image.

But it is a children’s song, who need someone bigger and stronger and wiser to see them through the vicissitudes of childhood. And now, as I anticipate growing much older and a bit weaker, I may need someone younger and stronger like Jesus to steady my gait, lift my perspective, and remind me who I am.

When she was 79 years of age, my mother phoned me while I was working on my daily devotional The Word Is Out to ask me to include this scripture in my meditations: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (KJV). I realized Christ served as her beacon throughout the troubles and griefs and challenges of her life.

I remember her praying with me as a child. She prayed to Jesus, not God, and I wish now I had asked her in later life if that’s how she always prayed. Maybe she was just praying that way because I was a child, or because she taught first grade in a Christian school all of her life. Maybe not.

As Advent begins, we are reminded of the story of Jesus’ birth narrative, grand and glorious and dramatic as it most certainly was not. The Gospels which report it tell it the way it should have been in a world awaiting a personal representative from God to deliver it from Roman colonization and from a vain and abusive Caesar as well as those like the Herodians willing to surrender their principles to remain a friend of Caesar and Rome.  

The Gospels tell of Immanuel, God-with-us, coming to poor shepherds in a field and fishermen on the shore and hungry multitudes on a hillside and a thirsty individual at a well, reminding the poor that they too are blessed, that the humble should inherit the earth, that peacemakers belong in the commonwealth of God.

You who follow this blog know of my reservations about ever “knowing” God with certainty. The Bible uses many metaphors to help us wrap our minds and hearts around something we cannot know. Jesus, of course, is more than mere metaphor, but one who wanted, like any good messenger, to point us toward the God beyond our grasp yet within our reach.

Saints (both official and unofficial) and icons (in art and music as well as in nature) and charismatic preachers and prophets have helped us, in a sense, touch the face of God through their witness and beauty and spirit and teachings.

But strangers and the suffering, the vulnerable and the excluded, have also awakened us to the spirit of God, both in them and in us. That spirit is compassion, making us one, for “God is love.” “Love in fact is the spiritual life,” is my favorite Thomas Merton quote, as you probably have guessed by now.

God is not a “thing” to be grasped or known or understood absolutely; yet the entire witness of scripture and saints and Jesus is that God is within our reach.

For those who missed last week’s post because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., click here: Thank God You Were Born!

Thank you for any donation to this blog ministry
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Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thank God You Were Born!

"In your beginning..."

Or thank the cosmos!  Or evolution! Or your parents! Or “to whom it may concern”!

“Thank God you were born” is the message I often write on birthday cards or Facebook birthday messages. I intend it as my own thanksgiving for the birth of the person I’m greeting, but I realize it could be understood as a spiritual directive to the recipient as well.

As you might guess, this post is partly prompted by the American observance of Thanksgiving tomorrow, but it is mostly inspired by the words of an astronaut I heard last night watching PBS’s Beyond A Year in Space. Knowing the desert quality of much of the rest of the universe, seeing the “oasis” of planet Earth from afar, the astronaut said of life on earth, “When you’re born, you’re in heaven.”

Many of you know how much that sentiment resonates with me. In The Final Deadline: What Death Has Taught Me about Life, I wrote that if this is all there is, then, thanks be to God! But also, understanding that heaven is to be found in this life reminds me to see it, seek it, make it, create it, share it, and appreciate it.

I know that my suffering, though real and mine to claim, is minimal compared to the many who experience this life as hell through no fault of their own. But built in me is the ability for personal suffering to be turned into empathy and compassion for others. And I see this gift in those who have been through hell and back.

It was my own loneliness as a child and teenager that made me welcoming of others, to whatever extent I am. It was the denial of vocational goals and aspirations that made me wish better for future generations. It was the inequality and injustice I experienced personally that made equality and justice a wish for all, and prompted me to do what I could to help achieve it.

But this earth gave me a chance to breathe and to grow and feel pleasure and see beauty and hear harmony and dissonance, to know love, and to taste and see that life can be good. If and whenever these abilities are limited, there’s still a glimpse and a memory and a hope to sustain me, even inspire me.

It humbles me to know that dinosaurs reigned on this earth for 160 million years and were extinct for 66 million years before the evolution of mammals led to my distant ancestors. Humans almost seem like an afterthought or a blip in evolutionary time.

And it humbles me when I recognize our individual frailty and limits as I did last Wednesday sitting in a surgery waiting room as spouses and families and friends awaited word of their loved ones from their surgeons. Our time is brief, but oh-so-valuable, or all the more valuable.

A friend in mourning simply and respectfully described another’s death, “We all have a fragile grip on life, and she lost hers.” So, all the more reason to celebrate our birth days.

When I visited Nepal I learned that the local priest came to one’s house to offer a blessing the morning of one’s birthday. I can’t remember if the local priest was Hindu or Buddhist, but what a wonderful thing to emulate!

Birth days are a blessing, in and of themselves.

Thank God you were born!

Thank you for any donation to this blog ministry
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Philadelphia Story

Philadelphia City Hall. Photo by Wade T. Jones

This past summer Wade decided he would like to see Philadelphia, so we just returned from a five-day visit to one of my favorite cities. We each used our airline mileage and his hotel points, so it was not a costly trip. We walked virtually everywhere, despite the cold, visiting historic sites (which of course are plentiful there) as well as two art museums.

My fondness for this walkable city began when I served as a campus ministry intern at the Christian Association, at the time a progressive enclave in a handsome old brick building (still there, but serving a different purpose) at the heart of the University of Pennsylvania campus, a four level structure that housed the offices of multiple chaplains and three interns, a feminist bookstore, an auditorium in which we showed thought-provoking films on weekends, and an eatery run by a commune that provided low cost meals. We also hosted two craft fairs featuring local artisans every year. At the time, it was the only campus facility that welcomed Gays at Penn, and it became home to a Gay & Lesbian Peer Counseling Program that I initiated, a first of its kind in the area.

I rented a room here.
No historical marker yet! 

I rented a room in a narrow row house across the Schuylkill River on South Street, and walked daily across a bridge to the campus.  The first night I was there, late in August of 1975, I met someone who would become a lifelong friend, one who graciously hosted Wade and me for dinner this past Saturday at the White Dog CafĂ© near the campus.

I was in Philadelphia during the U.S. bicentennial, and on that Sunday, July 4, 1976, a couple of friends and I ate breakfast at a Mexican restaurant, worshiped at Tabernacle, a federated Presbyterian/UCC congregation, attended the bicentennial symbolic ringing of the Liberty Bell, and ate dinner at a Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown—all of which seemed the American thing to do!

For the celebration, the city had painted many intersections red, white and blue, save for an intersection in Chinatown, which it painted (as I recall) green, red, and gold, to the dismay of the residents, who declared themselves “as American as any citizen,” demanding red, white and blue like everyone else!

Wade with the Liberty Bell.

What brought all these things to mind was holding back tears as I saw people of many nations and ethnicities as well as Americans of many national and ethnic origins visiting the Liberty Bell last Thursday, often proudly posing for photos beside it. 

At a time in the American psyche when we may not feel so proud of our attitudes and behaviors regarding racial and religious diversity and the welcoming of immigrants, it is good, even holy, to be reminded of our highest ideals as a nation “with liberty and justice for all”—not just for those who look like us and think and believe as we do, and, I would say, not just for Americans.

The recent flap about athletes “taking the knee” during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice has been called disrespectful of our armed services. I realize the anthem’s imagery is of a battle, but our national anthem is about ALL Americans who have contributed to our nation’s character, from the seamstress who made the first stars and stripes to the seamstress who refused to give up her seat on a bus.  The “land of the free and the home of the brave” values protest and the courage of activists. We actually have benefited from both. Important battles have been fought with picket signs, resistance, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and votes.

In these challenging times, I am grateful to be reminded of my country’s better self.

A demonstration we happened onto at the base of 
the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

My favorite Philadelphia Story:

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Philadelphia City Hall photo Copyright © 2017 by Wade T. Jones.

Text and other photos Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author, photographer, and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Who Are Your Neighbors?

A popular sign in our neighborhood.

I just returned from a gathering whose theme, Rolling the Stone Away, was presumably taken from the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. I say presumably because there was little reference to it, save one of the plenary panels I served, “Stories from the Heart,” in which we were asked to read John 11 beforehand and respond to the question, what stone did you personally have to roll away to be and become yourself?

Having served as founding director of a ministry called Lazarus Project in the 70s and 80s, I have read the story literally hundreds of times, and preached on it every anniversary for its first ten years. But I found the way the question was posed intriguing; after all, in the story, it’s the neighbors who are asked by Jesus to roll the stone from Lazarus’s tomb and unbind his death cloths. The question posed seemed to focus on my personal responsibility.

My response was that “I had to get over myself” to be and become myself—by which I meant my shy ways, being an introvert (I know, you who read this blog or my books may be surprised!).

Thus I prefer writing and editing to “performing” like my fellow activists in the church and culture. Now, don’t get me wrong, I admire performers—those who clearly enjoy performing, say, like Justin Timberlake. I even envy them! And I too can perform when required.

In my brief storytelling, I also associated my reticence with the “best little boy in the world” syndrome, common among minorities. It was only when I exchanged the goal of perfection for the goal of integrity that I was able to risk embarrassing myself and getting laughed off stage as I had been in my Christian junior high when required to give my “testimony” before the entire student body. Even now, after such risk-taking serving on two panels for last week’s gathering, I felt a keen sense of embarrassment the day after, as if I had stripped naked before them.

But all this serves as preface to the point of this post. Before answering the question, I explained that I loved the Lazarus resurrection story because it was not just about Jesus, it was about a whole community coming to Lazarus’s aid. I mentioned in passing that it was my community in high school that rolled the stone of conservative politics away from my own closet/tomb, and in college rolled away the stones of fundamentalism and biblical literalism.  

I want to expand on this to encourage you to consider your own neighbors and the stones they helped you roll away to be and become who you are today.

Because my mother taught first grade there most of her professional life, we were able to afford my attendance at a fundamentalist Christian elementary and junior high. These “neighbors” helped me better understand my faith and values as a Christian.

But thank God (literally) I did not stay there in that silo of experience! I went to public high school, encountering actual neighbors of different churches and other faiths or no faith background at all. Among my closest friends were Jews whose parents survived or escaped the Holocaust. My brother’s best friend’s family, who lived on our street, had been placed in one of California’s internment centers for Japanese Americans during WW II.

Though I had a couple of African American friends in my high school, the de facto segregation of Los Angeles meant that most black high school students I encountered I met through special exchange programs with inner city schools. And of course, Hispanic and Asian neighbors were so pervasive in my California experience that I missed them when I moved to Atlanta, only to find them largely in areas I did not live. 

And my teachers in high school were far more diverse and liberal in their political viewpoint than the ones in the Christian school I attended.

For all these reasons, I am not a fan of home schooling!

College brought theological and biblical challenges as one of my majors was in religious studies, enlarging my neighborhood to include those who read the Bible critically and appreciated religious diversity. I participated in demonstrations and organizations that broadened my political horizons, including a Presbyterian congregation that was actively working to dismantle racism as well as establish a community center in the neighboring barrio. At the gathering last week, I was pleased that the organizers brought in speakers from groups addressing St. Louis’s recent racial tensions, and took an offering for their causes.

I have written many times of the inspirational influence of the Civil Rights Movement in my own quest for civil and ecclesiastical rights. And both college and seminary brought feminist neighbors as well as LGBT neighbors.

During every period of my life, such neighbors have rolled away stones that prevented my full enjoyment of diversity. If only those who fear immigrants and Muslims and ethnic diversity could understand the full glory of God’s creation!

Wade’s and my favorite character on the Showtime series Billions is a non-binary person who goes by “them, they, and their,” but last week’s gathering was my first “immersion” with a half-dozen or more non-binary neighbors who do not identify either as female or male, and I liked it. I liked learning how much my reactions and responses to an individual are based on gender. And I liked them. These are my newest neighbors, rolling away one more stone to a fuller life and broader appreciation of our neighborhood.

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

For All the Saints

My thanks to West Hollywood UCC’s congregation and church council, its pastor Rev. Dan Smith and moderator Dr. George Lynch, for making my presence here possible!

Today I am with a St. Louis gathering of saints of varying faith communities who have worked hard and suffered long to make those communities more inclusive of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender and intersex people, aptly named Rolling the Stone Away: Generations of Love and Justice. (Click on the link if you wish to see any of it live-streamed.)

I know or know of most of those whose leadership has helped the reformation of our faith communities into more welcoming places for LGBT membership, ministries, and marriages. Even traditions and denominations which have yet to see “more light” have become better at acceptance than they were.

As a result of our efforts and that of activists of the broader LGBT community, the culture, at least in the West, has made an enormous shift in how it views us.

This week many of us observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation alongside All Saints Day. It’s important to remember that neither saints nor reformers are perfect people who “have it all together.” But they share a vision of our better selves, of our beloved selves, of our better and beloved communities.

Invited too to St. Louis are new activists who will carry us through generations to come. I have often said and written that movements are led by future generations.

During a Vietnam War protest on my college campus, one of the speakers railed against us, “Where were you when…” and then mentioned some earlier cause or demonstration. My friend and now Facebook friend, Lindsay Taylor, shouted back, “I was in the fifth grade!”

From 1977 to 1987, I served as founding director of the Lazarus Project, a first-of-its-kind ministry of reconciliation between the church and the LGBT community. During that decade we established the annual Lazarus Award, which was given to the often unrecognized and unheralded individuals bringing such reconciliation. It went to many obvious heroes and she-roes, including the Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson of MCC and the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr of the Presbyterian Church.

Years after I departed as director, the Lazarus board decided to award it to the former Presbyterian Stated Clerk, William P. Thompson, a controversial choice given his earlier opposition to LGBT ordination. I was asked to return to serve as emcee of the dinner. Though Thompson was being given the award because of his very public and courageous change of mind on the issue, feelings ran high among those unforgiving of his past opposition.

So I used Jesus’ parable of the laborers hired at different times of the day to work in a vineyard, yet given the same reward. It’s a parable about the nature of liberation.

“All those who supported welcoming gay people in the church in the 1950s, please stand or raise your hands,” I said. Then, “All those who supported it in the 1960s, please stand or raise your hands.” And on through the decades, till we reached the current decade, the 1990s, and, by then, everyone was standing or raising their hands. I concluded, “Just as the laborers who came at different times to work in the vineyard, we all came at different times to welcome LGBT people.” The point was we were all here now.

The gathering I am attending is a time for reunion and remembrance, reflection and thanksgiving, as well as passing the prophetic mantle on to those who will continue the reformation of our faith communities and of our world.  

As the sometimes missing verse of James Russell Lowell’s hymn “Once to Every One and Nation” goes: 
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

The only financial support for this ministry comes from you
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Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Just Sex

"Judas Kiss" by Becki Jayne Harrelson.
Have you felt betrayed by a kiss?

Given the attention sexual harassment (and worse!) has been getting recently, this is a relevant post! “Just sex” may give rise to thoughts of sex without concomitant expectations, like love or commitment or responsibility. But it might also suggest sex that is “just”: fair, mutual, and non-exploitive.

Years ago I moderated a panel on justice activist concerns for a reunion of Yale Divinity School alumni and alumnae. I had invited Professor Margaret Farley, R.S.M., Ph.D., a Roman Catholic sister and Christian ethicist, to participate.  By coincidence, her new book, Just Love, had riled up the Vatican, making her book an instant best seller.

In my introduction, I asked, tongue-in-cheek, if she had sent the Vatican a thank you note for free publicity.  Either I had a “brain fart” or I was influenced by hostile reactions to the book, because I accidentally referred to the title as Just Sex. I fear she may have thought I was having fun at her expense, but I honestly made the mistake, which she quickly corrected, after the packed auditorium let out a boisterous laugh.

What prompts this recollection is that I will be moderating a conversation at the upcoming LGBTI Rolling the Stone Away gathering in St. Louis entitled, “How Sex Has Shaped Our Movement and Our Theology.” (Click on the link if you wish to see any of it live-streamed.)

I laughed when I realized the irony of my assignment. During one of the initial organizing conference calls for the meeting, I had pointed out that spirituality was not included among the topics different panels would be discussing. I’ve written that, in my pursuit of ordination, the church was more interested in my sexuality than my spirituality. My books and this blog have mostly been written to enhance readers’ spirituality.

But, given the caliber and friendships of the other panelists, I happily agreed to serve on the panel. And as my readers know, I do love and value sex! Multiple e-mail exchanges and two conference calls have surfaced questions we will be addressing in our conversation, which is to be videotaped for posterity.

One of those questions, as presently worded, will be, “Does sex need to have any spiritual dimension or can sex just be sex?”

Regular readers of this blog can probably guess my answer. When I was writing my book on same-gender marriage and its sacred nature, I attended a dinner party given by a Body Electric instructor and therapist. This is important, because Body Electric, founded by a former Catholic seminarian, has given body- and sex-positive courses for decades for gay and straight alike.  

I had advised him when he decided to lead a Christian Body Electric weekend, though I declined assisting, given a major vote pending in my denomination on LGBT ordination, and I was afraid what our opposition would make of my participation. But I did co-lead the next year or two later. It was easy, given how body-centric Judaism and Christianity are, and we used the following exercises: footwashing, healing touch (massage) while retelling the biblical narrative, re-baptism (in a hot tub!), laying on of hands, an informal Communion, and a reenactment of the beloved disciple on Jesus’ chest.

So I was stunned when my dear friend, who helped me through a rocky time of my life, said matter-of-factly, “There’s nothing sacred about marriage.” Granted, his words probably meant something entirely different to him, not wanting to elevate a heteronormative model, perhaps, or something else.

As readers of this blog know, I am more in line with Celtic Christianity in which everything with the potential for good has a sacred dimension. And I believe every one of our acts and experiences shapes our souls; everything that is done to us and everything we do has spiritual dimensions.

That’s why I believe sexual harassment as well as sexual intimacy have spiritual ramifications. I long ago wrote that sexual abuse (and all forms of abuse) is also spiritual abuse. And sexual pleasure uplifts the soul, but for me, only when fair, mutual, and non-exploitive.

A Presbyterian sexuality task force came up with the term “justice-love,” a helpful corrective to justice without mercy and love without justice. At the time I lamented that the words now required hyphenation, that they had become so far removed from one another that they needed to be joined in this marriage of words.

“Does sex need to have spiritual dimensions or can sex just be sex?”

Even in the most tawdry of expressions, I’ve never been able to separate sex from the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

I’ve endured and resisted unwanted advances and unintentionally I’ve made unwanted advances, but the sexual experiences that pleasure me are those that have one or more of the above ingredients.

Relevant Post: Judas Kiss 
And a post for Halloween: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

The only financial support for this ministry comes from you
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Painting Copyright © by Becki Jayne Harrelson, used by permission. Text Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use of text with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.