Wednesday, July 31, 2019

An Unfinished Dream

Tunnel on an unfinished portion of the Atlanta Beltline. (crg)

The other morning I was awakened from a dream that I very much wanted to finish. I tried to go back to sleep just to see its outcome, but it was lost to me.

This is no artifice, as Coleridge claimed of his poem “Kubla Khan,” to fit the Romantic Age virtue of being unfinished, when, in truth, the poem about Xanadu’s “pleasure dome” in a “holy and enchanted place” and drinking “the milk of Paradise” is considered complete. It too came to him in a dream that was partly lost when he was interrupted capturing it in words.

In my dream, a young printer, with a magician’s dark moustache and goatee and flair, intended to introduce me to a new book. I explained I loved the excitement of beginning a book I really wanted to read: I told him I like the stiff, virgin feel of cracking a book open, covers resistant and pages clinging to one another. I mentioned that a writer friend would smell the binding of each of his new books, and that I now pay attention, not only to how a new book feels in my hands and looks to my eyes, but what aroma wafts my way from its binding glue.

Smiling in anticipation of his revelation, he showed me a tiny hardbound book, enclosed in plastic, as he delicately reached for the tab that would zip open its packaging, like those found on hard plastic grocery produce containers.

The title of the book was The Cracked Turban, and I understood it exposed the far-right’s mistaken notions about Islam. Obviously “cracked turban” was a metaphor, as a turban is made of cloth, but probably meant to reveal how very far from reality Islamophobia is.

The mysterious printer told me something equivalent to “This is going to knock your socks off!” I expected an extraordinary aroma when the airtight package was opened, not to mention my hope for an intriguing book that would be a pleasure to read and to have.

Then I woke up.

I so wanted to know what was going to happen next!

On my walk that morning and during my morning prayers, I struggled to understand its meaning. Now, I subscribe to the relatively recent theory of dream interpretation that parts of a dream are the result of randomly firing neurons, and its meaning lies less in its parts than in how your brain builds a narrative from them.

Wade and I have had death on our minds as his 83-year-old mother struggles with her health. On my walk I thought how life is an unfinished dream, and how death might be a much anticipated and intriguing book that each of us will open.

I am reading Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross in my morning prayers, and his emphasis on our soul’s need to be free of our senses to unite with God immensely bothers me. Obviously, my sense-ability about wanting to smell, see, and handle the mysterious book in the dream demonstrates I still embrace my Zorba-esque “pagan” desires as a necessary part of my spirituality. With many body theologians, I believe God and/or the sacred is to be found in our bodily experiences. Judaism and Christianity are both, in different senses and in my view, incarnational.

But I believe that incarnational theology might lend itself too readily toward materialism and even idolatry, both societal demons Muhammad wanted to drive out in establishing Islam.

Clearly the dream represents my political bias and political passion: to welcome the very people the alt-right wants to purge.

And also clearly, the magician-like appearance of the book’s printer and mysterious nature of the book’s packaging, size, and promise shows my reverence for books, no matter how “small.” Note it was a printer, not a publisher, who wanted to show me the book. Having once worked in a print shop, I respect the craft and toil of producing printed material.

Producing, handling, and honoring “hard copy” could be another example of incarnational theology. Islam respects Jews and Christians for being “people of The Book.”

An afterthought comes to me. Before I encountered the printer, eager to show me an exciting new book, a female archivist came to me in my dream and offered to help me organize my papers (and this has happened in real life—someone in our church). It’s telling that my narrative jumps eagerly onward to the introduction of a new book to enjoy.


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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

No One Should "Have to" Say the Lord's Prayer

A Nouwen retreatant fashioned this
crucifix from dried cactus at Ghost Ranch.

No one should “have to” say the Lord’s Prayer. Anymore than anyone should “have to” savor quality chocolate, bite into a freshly ripened peach, or make love.

I’ve been made aware that some folk associate the prayer Jesus taught us with all those “have to’s” of formal worship, an accessory to a spiritual straitjacket of liturgical conformity that was required wear in some Christian traditions. I guess my largely optional Baptist worship experience as a child and youth prompts me to see it as a choice rather than a requirement, on a par with the stiff reciting of the Apostles’ Creed or a self-abasing Prayer of Confession. (To be clear, though, in my better moments I try to value all liturgies and their parts as opportunities for spiritual expansion.)

But for me, the prayer Jesus taught is my favorite part of my morning prayer time. Sometimes I save it for last, like dessert. And sometimes I say it first, like a child unwilling to wait.

I write this to say I do not recite the prayer Jesus taught his disciples because God somehow “requires” it, but for selfish reasons that I can only hope become altruistic in the transformation the words may bring me.

It is a way of transcending my self, even as it connects me to my past and future selves. It connects me to Jesus, who first recommended it, and all those disciples and saints, sinners and saviors who followed, are following, and will follow in our spiritual tradition. It connects me to God—I believe, Jesus’ intent—without the “in Jesus’ name” sign-off to prayer we use as an imprimatur / notary stamp / access code / password to let God know our legitimacy as Christians.

The prayer reminds me of the permanent familial relationship we all have with God AND with each other. For me, it’s not simply a Christian prayer, but a Universalist prayer, even a Unitarian prayer for those who believe “the Lord our God is one.” When we pray “thy kingdom come” or the variation “thy kindom come” we are praying for the world a commonwealth in which everyone is a citizen, a beneficiary, and an heir—including those who do not subscribe to any faith or religious tradition. This is the grace of God at work that excludes NO ONE.

And it doesn’t ask of us any less than it asks of God: forgiveness. As synchronicity would have it, the day of writing this post I read Benedictine monk John Main’s words, “Perhaps the gift our violent and fear-filled world needs most is forgiveness…in an age so dissatisfied with its own shallowness—a dissatisfaction that produces so much confusion and violence.”

Finally, it lifts us up to God’s glory, the transformative power of God’s love, and the divine value of all that is.


Other posts on The Lord’s Prayer:


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: http://mccchurch.org/ministries/progressive-christian-reflections/
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What Is Your Golden Record?

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

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

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

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

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

1.These experiences I have cherished:

2.These ideas have brought me liberation:

3.These beliefs I have outgrown:

4.These convictions I have lived by:

5.These are the things I have lived for:

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

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

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

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


The link on The Farthest is to the original trailer on PBS. For info on its present venue on Netflix, go to: https://www.netflix.com/title/80204377. It is also available on Amazon Prime. (I receive no remuneration for these links!)

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Monastery

A recent selfie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of visitors to his monastery, Main writes,

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

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

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


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

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog: http://mccchurch.org/ministries/progressive-christian-reflections/
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Children of Stonewall--and the Kingdom!

Our group at Creative Camp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog: http://mccchurch.org/ministries/progressive-christian-reflections/ Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

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