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

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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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Prayer Quartet for Pride

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising

you conceived more than a child.
You conceived a vision of God’s intentions:
scattering the proud,
putting down the mighty,
exalting those of low degree,
feeding the hungry.

Your vision led you through
the pain of giving it birth,
the anguish and joy of assisting its growth.
It led you to the cross,
and, finally, to an empty tomb.

Your vision has conceived more births,
more anguish and joy in growth,
more crosses,
and yet more empty tombs.

Your vision has
scattered the self-righteous,
brought down those who would judge,
exalted the marginalized,
and nourished us with hope.

As we conceive your vision in our own communities,
may we remember those who have gone before us in the dream,
and may we also be blessed with kin who greet us with joy,
and prophetic voices who offer thanks to God.

Our soul magnifies our God,
our spirit rejoices in God our deliverer,
for God has regarded our oppression.
Generations to come will call us blessed,
for God has done great things for us,
and holy is God’s name.

Holy Trinity,
divine and blessed relationship,
bless the ecstasy of these lovers
as their faces kiss,
as their bodies touch,
as in their lovemaking
they overcome the fear and the hatred
and the garbage heaped upon them
by the church and the culture.

Bless their adoration of each other
as they worship the holy imprint
of your divine beauty
and enjoy the communion
of a loving covenant.
May such sacrament
bring them ever closer to you,
Lover of us all.

 As you called the paralytic to walk,
lift us from the paralysis of low self-esteem
so we may walk into your commonwealth
with the power you have given us:
a power we do not need to prove
by lording it over others,
a power we do not have to sacrifice
to love you or others.

Resurrect us, God; call us to rise and carry our pallets,
and let religious and political leaders and friends alike
stand amazed at our healing,
and with those of long ago who witnessed the paralytic walk,
may they witness in us your power and glory:
a power which seeks not to dominate but to serve,
a glory which seeks not itself but others.

Then may they also glorify you, saying,
“We never saw anything like this.”

 From lack of trust and faith
in ourselves as individuals
and ourselves as community,
O God, deliver us.

From lack of commitment
to lover, to friends,
to our faith, to our community,
deliver us.

From denial of our integrity
as spiritual-sexual creations,
deliver us.

From rejection of others
because of their body-state,
whether gender, race, age,
sexual orientation,
appearance, or disability,
O God, deliver us.

Free us to live your commonwealth, O God.
Clarify our vision,
purify our motives,
renew our hope.
In the name of you who create us,
of the Christ who calls us,
of the Spirit who empowers us,
we pray, O God. Amen.

The foregoing prayers are excerpted from prayers for days 17, 24, 47, and 59 in my 1991 book, Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends. The graphic combining the Celtic cross with the rainbow flag was devised at my suggestion by cover designer Kathy York for my 2001 book, Reformation of the Heart: Seasonal Meditations by a Gay Christian.

See also: Three Meditations for Pride

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Copyright © 1991 and 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

"The Homosexual! The Homosexual!"

Me speaking at Long Beach Pride decades ago.
That's straight ally Rev. Peg Beissert in red.

As a child who loved the television series Superman, I was stunned when the actor who played him, George Reeves, committed suicide. Speculation was that he did so because he had been typecast and thus prevented from playing other roles. Though subsequent conjectures have been made suggesting other causes of his death, including murder, the notion has stayed with me as I became typecast as a homosexual candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church.

Presbyterians as well as other Christians usually focused on my sexuality, failing to see me as a spiritual person, a minister, even as a Christian. I insisted on talking about spirituality, viewing the failure of the church to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people as a spiritual rather than sexual problem.

The occasion for writing of this now “in my latter years” is having just watched the 2018 HBO film My Dinner with HervĂ©, about the actor who played the character Tattoo on the TV series Fantasy Island. Earlier he had played a character in a James Bond movie. As a little person or dwarf,* he coped with being seen as a freak by family and society. Of course I identified with him as a gay man. His story of struggle, missteps, and seeking his due is obviously familiar to most older members of the LGBT community.

Toward the end of the film, based on British journalist Sacha Gervasi’s account, a crowd in a hotel lobby recognize him and encourage him to replay his famous Fantasy Island announcement of incoming guests: “The plane! The plane!” By then the pathos of the limiting expectation is clear, and though HervĂ© Villechaize appears to gladly comply, viewers know that he wanted to be known as more than that character.

“My name is Chris and I’m a homosexual,” is a mantra I’ve never said but plays in my mind occasionally, having been expected to play that role for congregations, church bodies, and secular audiences. Watching the film, I recognized the parallel to being expected to repeat, “The plane! The plane!”

After giving Gervasi what Villechaize ominously describes as his “final interview,” Gervasi’s editor tries to force him to cut it down to 500 words with a humorous slant, even after the actor’s suicide. Pathetic. Tragic. Wrong. The film and the book it is based upon is Gervasi’s retort. He also directed the movie.

Rather than have my own life cut down to 500 words in church history, rather than only be credited with my sexuality and the activism it required, throughout my life I have tried to contribute spiritually to the church and the world beyond. Part of my motivation for writing this blog has been to make clear that I have something to give the Christian and broader spiritual community that yes, grows out of my experience as a marginalized gay man, but also reflects my own passion for spirituality, Christian faith, Jesus, God, justice, the church, and the spiritual life.

What I offer here in this blog the Presbyterian and broader church largely tried to ignore all my decades as a non-ordained minister, activist, and writer. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for ordaining me when I began serving as an interim pastor toward the end of my professional life, years before the PC(USA) changed its polity to permit it. And I am grateful to God and all of you who welcome me to have this voice in our tradition.

*Dwarf, little person, LP, person of short stature, or having dwarfism, are now all considered acceptable terminology by that community according to Little People of America.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"Be Careful!"

Most readers know Christian writers’ penchant for trinitarian points, but that’s not why I am following “Be Still!” and “Listen Up!” with “Be Careful!” Rather, I am making the point that it’s not enough to practice silence and mindfulness in the spiritual life. The practice of love is required. “Love is the spiritual life,” Thomas Merton summed up in The Wisdom of the Desert.

“Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love,” the apostle Paul wrote of the spiritual life to the Corinthians. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus quoted Hebrew scriptures. And he told us to “love your enemies.” All of this takes practice.

My mom seldom let us leave the house without her admonition “Be careful!” But here I am not using it as simple self-preservation, though it also means care of the self, care of one’s own soul. The spiritual life means being “full of care,” care for others, care for our community, care for our environment. That requires stillness and listening and practice.

Stillness so we don’t project our own needs, anxieties, and desires onto others. Listening so we are better able to discern what is truly needed in a given situation. Practice so we remember “one size does not fit all,” in other words, one solution does not fit every circumstance. And, I would add, we are not the solution to every problem. Better yet to consider ourselves only a part of every solution.

I’m aware how common-sensical the foregoing is, but spiritual direction is often the practice of common sense.

I felt compelled to add this post about care because too many Christians view the contemplative life as a form of self-absorption, little better than the me-me-me narcissism too prevalent in our time. The opposite is the case. Christian contemplation is about one-ing oneself with God, with Jesus, to open their floodgates of love and compassion into the world. It affects how we view the migrant, the homeless, the sick, the indebted, the marginalized, and more. It prompts our help and directs how we vote.

Intimacy with the God of all means intimacy with all those from whom we might want to keep a safe distance. Being full of care in many ways is the opposite of being careful.

To conclude with Benedictine John Main’s description of a meditator’s spiritual growth in Letters from the Heart, p 20:

When people would ask how they could tell if they were making progress in meditation, since they were not supposed to analyze or assess their actual periods of meditation, the answer would usually be self-evident. A greater rootedness in self, a deeper emotional stability, a greater capacity to center in others and away from self were the signs of spiritual growth. To the Christian this could be expressed more simply as becoming more loving and more aware of love as the essential energy of life.

I took the above photo of a caution sign we passed while entering a mill in South Africa last summer. Think of all the places a sign like this could come in handy!

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.

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.