Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Dancing Queen

Dancing Jesus icon.

Okay, I can’t get it out of my head. Dancing Queen. This past week, Wade and I watched some escapist fare to overcome the world’s angst over the pandemic, the murders of black people, and who is in the White House. We watched both versions of Mamma Mia! on two consecutive nights. And I listened to my CD of Abba as I did my blog business last Wednesday.

That day’s post quoted my spiritual mentor Henri Nouwen about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement: “It seemed as if nobody could party better than these oppressed people.” That’s true of LGBTIQ people as well. Henri had a taste of that when I once took him to a popular West Hollywood disco, Studio One.

In the middle of marchers dancing during an apartheid protest in South Africa, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu was asked by a news reporter why dancing was so important. Tutu continued his dancing, gave the reporter a puzzled expression, pleading, “We’ve just got to dance.”

Wade and I watched the fa-bu-lous Global Pride 2020 24-hour marathon this past Saturday that often moved me to tears of joy and gratitude, as well as grief and pain for those who never lived to see it. (An aside I can’t resist: a gay friend of mine had to keep re-taping a McDonald’s commercial because he kept putting too much emphasis on the word “fa-bu-lous”!)

I still remember when I thought I was the only one.

And I remember an early Pride festival in my home city of Los Angeles. Friday night, at the entrance, fundamentalist Christians had positioned themselves with damning signs, including “TURN OR BURN!” which the band just inside the festival fence mocked by playing “Burn, Baby, Burn!” from Saturday Night Fever.

Another aside from “the old days”: MCC founder and Pride activist Rev. Troy Perry liked to explain that fundamentalism was an ideological “ism” that included nothing “mental” and nothing “fun.”

It was the Saturday of a subsequent Pride festival that a friend and church member brought his ten-year-old son along. When I arrived, I noticed the dance tent was crowded with a circle of attendees watching a couple dance in the middle of the tent, clapping their approval to the beat of the music. As I approached, I realized it was my friend’s very white little boy dancing extraordinarily well with a very tall black man. I kidded my friend, “Your son has fulfilled your fantasy of having the eyes of everyone on the dance floor riveted by your dancing skills!” When the father died of AIDS years later, I probably told that story in his eulogy.

I have often taken my emotions into my dancing, whether expressing joy or grief. That’s true of many of us in the Queer movement. My first long-term boyfriend and I used to dance till we were sweaty and shirtless.

A friend who died of AIDS a few years after graduation from Columbia Theological Seminary here in the Atlanta area had a rather traditional Presbyterian memorial service. But at the end, to our delight, he had requested the postlude, “Dancing Queen.” We left with a smile on our lips.

Thanks be to God for all the dancing queens of our lives!

I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Crisis of Racism

Part of a nearby Baptist church memorial to multiple African Americans 
whose lives have been taken in recent years.

In preparation for leading an online course on respected spiritual author Henri Nouwen, I am reading my own 2002 book of 100 meditations on his life and writings to remind myself of things I might say and stories I might tell. I found “Day Seventy-Two: The Crisis of Racism” particularly pertinent to today’s happenings and offer it in support of Black Lives Matter.

Henri wrote in a posthumously published book of his participation in a well-known Alabama protest march:

It seemed as if nobody could party better than these oppressed people. The flush of victory seemed to have them in its grasp, combined with the certainty that they would lose. … [Alabama Governor] George Wallace cannot be converted.
-Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Peace, p 82.

Why does racism have such a grip on us? Why do its relentless talons press into our culture’s mind and heart so deep that we hardly recognize its power even now, almost forty years* after Henri wrote these words about the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965? Forty years—we should be at the Promised Land by now. Did our grumbling en route bring us yet another forty years as punishment?

What strikes me as I finally read Henri’s previously unavailable essays about the Selma march and King’s death in 1968 in The Road to Peace is the unambivalent clarity with which he describes good and evil, what is just and what is unjust. It’s like the realism of his writings about Central and South America: there’s a hardness and a leanness to his writing that is less enchanting than gripping.

If he had “swung” that way, he would have made a strong politically prophetic figure. This book’s editor John Dear points out that Henri did not want to be arrested in U.S. protests because, in doing so, he risked being deported as an “alien.” But I think it was something deeper in his nature that shunned political drama for spiritual drama, the larger playing field in his mind.

“Fixing” something politically was important; but addressing it spiritually was even more so. And he realized that “being right” politically did not mean “being right” spiritually; that, as we try to take the beam out of the world’s eye we must be watchful of a myriad of splinters in our own, to reverse Jesus’ metaphor.

Which brings us back to the talons of racism that grip our culture. At heart it is a spiritual crisis underlying the political crisis. That’s why the Reverend King could draw Henri from his studies at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas into a march by calling the religious community for support after marchers earlier suffered violence on the Edmund Pettis bridge just outside Selma.

Henri wrestled long and hard about whether or not to go. That, to me, suggests Henri was not meeting the demands of ego or self-righteousness but meeting the demands of humility and justice. When you’d rather not, but you’re there anyway, you know it’s not about you.

His recognition that “nobody could party better than these oppressed people” foreshadowed similar experiences with the poor in Latin America and the severely disabled of L’Arche. Feeling momentarily powerful and victorious while facing certain defeat is a dynamic understood by any who have advocated “lost” causes.

And yet, ironically, the “defeat” that “George Wallace cannot be converted,” is controverted as early as five years later in an essay Henri wrote about Dr. King’s assassination, quoting the Alabama governor declaring it “a senseless and useless act.” Since then, of course, Wallace asked forgiveness for his support of segregation, probably not unrelated to his own crippling wound in an attempt on his life.

Though [truth’s] portion be the scaffold
And upon the throne be wrong,
Yet that scaffold sways the future…

From the hymn, “Once to Every One and Nation” by James Russell Lowell.

* Remember, my book was published in 2002.

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Copyright © 2002 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author, blogsite and book title, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Pride and Shame

We obtained this rainbow flag in Italy when our LGBT symbol became a rallying flag to oppose whatever war the U.S. was waging in the Middle East at the time. 
"Pace" means "peace" in Italian.

How can I write about pride when there is so much shame about racism, reactionary politics and policing, confederate symbols and namesakes, as well as our failure to contain a deadly pandemic that disproportionately punishes people of color and/or poverty?

That thought crossed my mind as I hung our rainbow Pride flag on our front porch in honor of LGBTQIA Pride month and anticipated writing this post. And, after writing this, the U.S. Supreme Court recognition of LGBT employment rights makes this post all the more relevant.

Pride was what I needed when I began to affirm myself in my 20’s a half-century ago, pride of who God created me to be as a gay man. And a healthy dose of pride is what we all need to confirm who God has created and called us to be and confront the truly shameful parts of ourselves and our nation’s history that led to slavery, Jim Crow, and brutal murders of black men, women, and children.

Some refer to slavery as our original sin, but I think our displacement and murder of Native/Indigenous peoples preceded and anticipated the enslavement of Africans, borne also of our racism and cultural superiority complex.

I once wondered how descendants of slaves could ever overcome the generational PTSD inflicted by our nation. Now I wonder if and when white Americans will ever get over our sense of privilege and entitlement at the expense of people of color and of other nationalities.

Jesus would not be happy.

Jesus told the parable of the Good mixed-race Samaritan as an example of loving one’s neighbor and revealed his Messianic identity to the mixed-race Samaritan woman at the well who became his first evangelist. Jesus was moved by the wisdom of a Syrophoenician woman, healing her daughter after initially resisting her request. Jesus healed ten lepers, but only the mixed-race Samaritan returned to give him thanks. And Jesus remarked in wonder at the faith of a centurion, part of the occupying force of the Roman empire, healing his país, a word which could mean slave or lover.

Jesus is the original disruptor-in-chief by demonstrating values that lift us all.

Atlanta is majority African American. And our Pride, now celebrated in October around International Coming Out Day, does not focus on LGBT people alone but encourages all to take pride in who God created them to be. Atlanta also hosts the annual Black Pride festival for LGBT people, the largest gathering of its kind. Atlanta, said to be “the city too busy to hate” is becoming “the city too busy to shame.”

“Pride is faith in the idea that God had when God made you,” Isak Dinesen (nee Karen Blixen) wrote in Out of Africa. She added, “Love the pride of God above all else and the pride of your neighbor as your own.”  (I’ve quoted this many times!)

When we celebrate our neighbor’s worth, we offer gratitude, praise, and honor to the God who created all the peoples of the earth, even as “the arc of the moral universe… bends toward justice,”* as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. anticipated the “Beloved Community,” the Commonwealth of God.

*This is King’s briefer and more memorable allusion to a longer quote of abolitionist Theodore Parker, a Unitarian pastor of the 1800s.

A different post also entitled: Pride and Shame

With his wit, wisdom and word-play, poet, pastor, and friend J. Barrie Shepherd has been a good companion in this epidemic through a new chapbook entitled A Pandemic Portfolio: From BC – (Before Corona) to AD – (After Distancing) – Poems Composed in a Season of Pestilence. Proceeds go to Barrie’s local charities that include two food banks and may be obtained by a donation of $5+$2 postage to J. Barrie Shepherd, 56 East Shore Drive, Chebeague Island, ME 04017 or email

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Jesus Did Not Come to Save You

Our pastor and neighbor and her daughter doing chalk artwork
on Saturday in support of the protests. (Our house is in upper left corner.)

Jesus did not come to save you, nor to make you prosper. Jesus came to save the world and help it prosper. Of course that includes you, but not exclusively.

The morning I write this, these thoughts came to mind after hearing a discussion on NPR of an evangelical pastor about personal salvation and individual prosperity followed by reading a New York Times column by David Brooks about reparations best going to communities rather than individuals. All of this in the context of the pandemic and the racial divide.

I grew up as the kind of Baptist that emphasized personal salvation. I had no idea that there were other kinds of Baptist and other kinds of Christian that emphasized the salvation of our world, our environment and our communities. To my knowledge, at the time there was no “prosperity gospel,” though The Power of Positive Thinking of Norman Vincent Peale came close, influencing President Trump’s father and apparently himself.

In high school, I remember being moved by John Hersey’s novel A Single Pebble that offered a different perspective, that of Asian religions and cultures, featuring the greater importance of the collective, of the community, over individual concerns.

And then I became a Presbyterian my first year of college and learned for the first time that salvation was not my personal escape clause from hell but sought the redemption of a fallen world. “God's got the whole world in God’s hands,” we had sung as evangelical fundamentalist children, though with male pronouns. “Jesus is coming” was not seen as a joyous occasion of transformation but as a threat to nonbelievers and Christian “backsliders.” The cosmic Christ would end the world.

Only through a Spiritual Formation course at Columbia Seminary a few years ago did I fully “get” that the whole Bible is about God coming to be with us, first “tabernacling” with the Hebrews, becoming Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) for Christians, and, in Revelation, not destroying the world but making his/her/their home with us, renewing and refreshing heaven and earth.

And the story of the Incarnation is that Jesus did not “come” from anywhere else, but was, in the psalmist’s words, “knit together in a mother’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made” as we all are. The gospel he proclaimed was of a commonwealth already in our midst, even within us, if we only shared a divine vision, empathy, and desire for us to heal one another and our world.

The story of the Bible is that God has been with us all along. And in all of us. “Red and yellow, black and white—all are precious in his sight,” we sang in Sunday school. And, I have come to believe, in all of us regardless of religious perspective.

Mere personal survival was Jesus’ first temptation (“turn these stones into bread”) and is ours as well. Through his ministry and his teachings Jesus transforms personal survival to personal sacrifice, encouraging all to offer our lives to others for the sake of and in the realization of the commonwealth of God. That’s how the bread and wine of mere survival become the body and blood of full communion with the world. We are called to be, in the apostle Paul’s words, “living sacrifices.”

That’s how God loves us, how God saves us, how God lives in us—unless we mess it up.

Recent posts that offer hope during our pandemic:

Two of many posts that address our racial divisions:
“I Can’t Breathe!” (last week’s post)

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

"I Can't Breathe!"

George Floyd portrait in a front yard on our street.

In thanksgiving for the life, artistry, and audacious activism of Larry Kramer, who saved countless lives, possibly my own.

An unrecorded Eighth Last Word of Jesus on the cross as his body sagged, cutting off his airflow, was “I can’t breathe!”

Doesn’t matter if this is true, because his spirit is surely in the last breath of any who suffer at the hands (or knee) of the powers that be. “I can’t breathe” has become the protest not only of individuals but of a movement intent on justice for all.

And now it also encompasses the respiratory suffering of millions at the hands of a virus and care-less leaders, even as caregivers give everything they have to relieve suffering and save lives.

Only in one difficult period of my life did I suffer a series of panic attacks in which I thought, “I can’t breathe.” But it gave me an inkling of what desperation that feeling entails. I can understand the resulting urges to violence and the sentiment expressed in the words of the 1975 Hollywood film prophet, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Or in the Holocaust rejoinder, “Never again!” And in the AIDS pandemic, “Silence=Death.”

In relation to the novel coronavirus pandemic, I’ve followed the science of the virus and the treatment of COVID-19 as well as the sometimes-harrowing personal experiences of those infected. When I pray about this, I can’t bring myself to pray for special protections for me and Wade and our families and friends. I pray for the whole human family: for deliverance, for a treatment, a cure, a vaccine.

On a recent routine visit, my Physician Assistant asked me where I was getting my information about it all and he was relieved to hear me say, “NPR, PBS and The New York Times.” Whether facing a pandemic or a presidential election, where we get our news matters.

Intriguing to me is how central breath is to managing and hopefully overcoming the havoc the virus wreaks in our bodies. Breath is central biblically and spiritually as well. Breath and Spirit represent life and soulfulness. God breathed life into the first human creature. Jesus breathed on his disciples Holy Spirit. The Spirit breathed resurrection into the early Christian movement, and then its subsequent reformations, including that of progressive Christianity.

And breath is helping me get through this period. Using the words Jesus used on a storm at sea, I breathe in thinking “Peace” and breathe out thinking “Be still,” inhaling the peace of God and exhaling the “demons” that wrack my well-being.

Last week I read a moving message from one of my Facebook friends, a black mother who was glad she had given her teenage son “the Talk” that so many of our black friends and colleagues have had to give their children about appearing non-threatening. He was pulled over for what turned out to be a minor infraction, so he had taken everything out of his pockets, put his driver’s license in one hand and his car registration in the other, and placed both hands on the steering wheel where the approaching officer could see them. The officer turned out to be friendly, but her son had been shaken by the encounter. I’m sure he had to catch his breath when it was all over, as did his mother upon hearing of the experience.

I wept to read this. With many others, I responded with a brief word of support and gratitude.

I believe Jesus wept too.

Also in our Georgia neighborhood. 

Recent posts that offer hope during our pandemic:

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The God of Anticipation

“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life,” Simone Weil famously said, a quote I have used several times in my writings. But I wonder if she would be satisfied with this translation. In her “Spiritual Autobiography,” a letter to a Roman Catholic priest, she declares that the Greek word for “steadfastness” is “more beautiful” than the Latin word for patience, derived from the word for suffering. And one of my favorite biblical descriptions of God highlights his/her/their “steadfast love.”

Perhaps “waiting steadfast* in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life” is a better rendering of her insight. “Steadfast in expectation” sounds like “anticipation” to me.

I stretch this quote because of an “aha” I’ve recently experienced. God is a God of anticipation for me right now—anticipation of the end of the pandemic, but also anticipation of the end of my life.

We see this God of anticipation in our biblical tradition.

“I will be what I will be,” Moses hears from the blazing wilderness shrub as Yahweh commissions him to deliver a message to Pharaoh to “let my people go.”

“Behold I am doing a new thing,” Yahweh says through Isaiah.

“Follow me,” Jesus invited.

“I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth,” Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper. “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also.”

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth,” Jesus said in his final parting.

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” the mystic John testified of God’s future. “See, the home of God is among mortals.”

The kingdom or commonwealth of God is even now revealing itself to us. I witness a parallel in the Tao of Taoism and the “thin places” between heaven and earth in Celtic spirituality.

Recently I was quite taken with an ending of a prayer of an MCC pastor and leader that went something like this, “in the names of how you have been experienced in the past and the names of how you will be experienced in the future.”

Anticipation lifts us up. Etty Hillesum, who died at Auschwitz, wrote in her diary that she thought of God as her best self. My own experience is that simply the thought of God lifts me to my better self.

Undoubtedly a spin from my Process theology view—as I reflect on the universe, I see a process that anticipates life, that anticipates sentient beings who make the universe aware of its very existence, how it came to be, its possible meanings, as well as its hope for deliverance from its own destructive elements, whether viral as in a pandemic, or human when we disregard one another and our environment.

That process is how I am thinking of God in these difficult days.

*I chose not to use the seemingly more appropriate word “steadfastly” because it applies to the following phrase “in expectation” rather than the previous word “waiting.”

Recent posts that offer hope during our pandemic:

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Reformation of My Heart

Our friends and
neighbors Cathie
and CJ's hearts.

Like last week’s post, this entry from my book reflecting on the spiritual writings of Henri J. M. Nouwen might help us cope with the worldwide pandemic.

It makes no sense to preach the Gospel when I have allowed no time for my own conversion. –Henri Nouwen, The Primacy of the Heart, p 4.

Recently, during a retreat, someone described himself as a “square peg trying to fit into a round hole,” a metaphor with which many participants identified. But one retreatant who worked at a nineteenth-century historical site pointed out something new to us. In constructing a wooden building of that time, he explained, you wouldn’t want a round peg in a round hole because it could expand or contract, depending on temperature and moisture. It was actually better to have a square peg in a round hole to maintain the grip between the pieces.

In trying to fit into monastic life, Henri was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. He was an extrovert with an introvert’s calling. But the monastic life had a grip on him even if it wasn’t a complete or comfortable fit. This might also be your experience. Not all of us fit a monastic life, but maybe that’s all the better for its firm grip upon us. We are all called to monastic reflection, that is, moments we set aside for contemplation. If we can do this daily, we are all the more blessed.

Retreats are how we are most likely to fit the monastic way of life into our busy lives. It is there we may listen to sacred texts and to one another in new ways, as well as listen to our own hearts, our own centers, and to the God of our hearts. Unprovidentially, many of us want our retreats as full and busy as our everyday lives, and we anticipate a schedule of uplifting, stimulating talks, or we bring many books to read or plan many tasks to accomplish. But we need to find idle time lest we be distracted by time-bound idols.

In a previous book, Reformation of the Heart, I described two insights offered by participants in two different Henri Nouwen retreats I led the year following his death, one at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania and the other at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. At Kirkridge, a physical therapist explained that a wound has to heal from the inside out. At Ghost Ranch, a ceramic artist told us that, in spinning a pot, the shape of the inside determines the shape of the outside. So it is with the human heart. Our wounded hearts must heal from the inside out. And the gospel we proclaim is shaped by how we allow the good news of God’s love to shape our own hearts.

The truth is, however, that healing and love occur in the everyday events of our lives as well as on retreat or in what I call in my workshops “monastic moments,” brief opportunities to look inward. Healing and love may come to us in conversations with our friends, in caring for others, in serving a just cause, in catastrophic personal or public events, in life’s many interruptions, irritations, distractions, sorrows, and joys. Yet to have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to feel, we need moments of quiet reflection to allow those many ways in which we experience healing and love to consciously convert our hearts so that we may be healers and lovers, better proclaiming the gospel.

+Heal my heart, so I may offer healing. Love my heart, so I may love.

I invite you to register and attend an online course/retreat I will be leading in September as part of the Spirituality Program of Columbia Theological Seminary entitled,An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality.”

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Copyright © 2002 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Being a Good Host to Children

Our neighbor Oscar enjoys our fountain.

With schools closed during the pandemic, parents and children are spending a lot more time together, and so I thought this entry from my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy, might be helpful.

Children carry a promise with them, a hidden treasure that has to be led into the open through education (e=out; ducere=to lead) in a hospitable home. It takes much time and patience to make the little stranger feel at home, and it is realistic to say that parents have to learn to love their children. –Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, 56-57.

Both experience and science suggest that there is a parental inclination to nurture and protect offspring. But love is also a matter of choice. Parental love and especially maternal love is likely to want to hold on to the child; but it is the parent’s will that recognizes and values the child as an independent soul, not an extension of the parental self.

I truly wonder at my parents’ extraordinary ability in the midst of life’s demands and stresses to make my sister, brother, and me feel “at home,” as well as “to lead us out” into our own unique self-expressions. True, stereotypically, my father was more distant and my mother held on more tightly. And, like all people who love each other deeply, we wounded one another in various ways. Yet I am grateful for the comparatively safe environment my parents provided even as they worried about paying bills, the state of the world, as well as what we were up to. I don’t mean just safe from abandonment, neglect, or abuse. I mean also safe for us to cultivate identities, embrace values, and pursue goals different from their own.

With similar awe, I have watched my sister raise three sons, largely on her own, and serve as proud matriarch of an extended family that now includes three daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren—all while pursuing two different professions.

In my view, parenting is the most important task an adult may do, yet it is the one for which most receive the least training. To understand parenting as a spiritual movement, as Henri does in Reaching Out, is a beginning. He places it in the context of the movement from hostility to hospitality, transforming enemy (hostis) to guest (hospes), in this case, stranger to friend. Parents act as hosts and children as guests.

A host has not only the right but the responsibility to set the boundaries of a guest in the host’s home. We are not to welcome another with an “ambiguous presence,” Henri says. We are to be clear about who we are and what are our limits. At the same time, to be good hosts, we are to welcome the guest and the promise or gift inherent in every guest, encouraging the fulfillment of the promise they hold deep within themselves, enabling the development of the gifts every guest brings into the home. As such a movement toward hospitality, then, parenting is as delicate and vital and as fraught with danger as welcoming any guest into one’s home.

Just as we learn through experience to become good hosts in relation to other guests, we learn through experience to become good parents, uncles, and aunts. By the time I came along, I believe my parents were more experienced, relaxed, and secure in their avocation than when rearing my older siblings. And grandparents may be the most experienced of all, especially when they grasp that now their own guests, their children, are hosts in their own homes.

+Help me to be a good host to all children, welcoming their promise, encouraging their gifts, reminding them they are beloved by God.

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Copyright © 2002 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

We Are All First Responders

A neighbor's retaining wall.
While expressing appropriate gratitude for the work of professional first responders, it is helpful to remember we are—each and every one of us—a “first responder.” If we learn nothing else from Jesus, his life and ministry and spirituality, we are “the nearest neighbor” to our families, friends, colleagues, fellow responders, neighbors, clients, customers, service providers, as well as the numerous strangers, even “opponents” we encounter, including all those we meet through our social networks and the internet.

“Love your neighbor,” Jesus said, which may be expanded: “If you don’t love your neighbor whom you can see, how can you claim to love God whom you cannot see?” (See 1 John 4:20). When challenged as to who the neighbor might be, Jesus told the parable of a first responder, the Good Samaritan.

In this time of social distancing and sheltering in place, we might add the counsel of musician Billy Preston borrowed for lyrics by Stephen Stills, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the ones you’re with.” That includes you, by the way.

A reader of last week’s blogpost quoting Henri Nouwen wrote me a story of Nouwen racing to teach his class at Harvard, dropping his usual ten-dollar gift in the hands of the homeless man he regularly encountered en route. That night, however, in his spiritual self examen at the close of day, he realized that, in his hurry to get to class, he had failed to take the time to look the man in the eye or call him by name.

With another reader who describes himself as a “staid old Scot,” we batted around new, safer ways to greet one another, and we came up with looking one another straight in the eyes. I suggest “namaste” as a verbal component, “the sacred in me greets the sacred in you.” I hear that is becoming more common in these days of social distancing. The traditional namaste greeting is accompanied by a slight reverential bow to the person with hands prayerfully clasped.

A folk singer friend, Don Eaton, wrote a refrain that has stayed with me for half-a-century, “I could be the best friend you ever had, but you always look down when we meet.” This is especially true in these days when people are looking down at their devices rather than regarding passers-by or paying attention to the dogs they are walking. The Netherlands has installed traffic signals in the sidewalk pavement because pedestrians are not looking up!

In my view, to really “regard” someone, something, or our environment, we need to look up, metaphorically if unable to do so literally.

Nouwen loved to play with word contrasts. We tend to react to things and people, he said, keeping them at arm’s length and simply trying to “fix” or arrange things, when we would do better to respond. Lest we become mere reactionaries, our better selves may take things and people to heart so that we are able to respond from a place deep within us. Speaking of healers (as well, we could say, of first responders like ourselves), Henri wrote:

Just as we like to reach our own destination through by-passes, we also like to offer advice, counsel and treatment to others without having really known fully the wounds that need healing. (Reaching Out, 67)

Our most important question as healers is not, “What to say or to do?” but, “How to develop enough inner space where the story can be received?” (Reaching Out, 68)

One of the most memorable things Henri said of the place of prayer in our troubling and troubled world fits our experience in the current global pandemic, “Though things may seem to be out of our hands, they should never be out of our hearts.”

Helpful posts in this pandemic:

Atlanta Beltline art.
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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Creating Space

Fashion for social distancing?

When I first heard of social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19, I thought we could bring back hoop skirts to keep others at a six-foot distance!  😉

“Creating space” was a common phrase among therapists and pastors alike when I was in seminary in the mid-70’s. Creating a welcoming environment for another was the intent of the metaphor. A form of this is what is now called “safe space,” and in olden days called “sanctuary.”

Our counseling professor illustrated this with a juvenile court assignment of a child who resisted any verbal interaction with him. The boy would simply wander around the office looking at things, playing with various items. Finally, Dr. Brown told him that he would be assigning him to another therapist. Upset, the boy insisted, “But I like coming here.” Asked why, the boy explained, “Because you’re the only grownup that leaves me alone!”

In the present pandemic of easy contamination, when we can’t “kiss it and make it better” nor offer “warm hugs” of comfort, creating space becomes all the more vital, as in “life-giving” or “life-preserving.”

A couple of years ago I wrote a blogpost about the hugs exchanged within our former congregation in greeting and departing and passing the peace.  What I’ve since discovered in our new church start is that younger people are less so inclined. There are still huggers, of course, but I’ve learned the discomfort of some who prefer another form of greeting, and rather than appear a sort of old vampire grasping for youth, I restrain my touchy impulses. Since then we have also learned a lot about avoiding touch from the “Me Too” movement.

Now the coronavirus has taught us, as the song by The Police goes, “don’t stand so close to me.”

Continuing my re-read of Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life in preparation for what may become an online spiritual formation course, I read this sentence of Henri’s on Monday as an example of such hospitality: “It is like the task of a patrolman trying to create some space in the middle of a mob of panic-driven people for an ambulance to reach the center of the accident.” “First responder” could easily be substituted for “patrolman.”

I thought of Henri’s own creation of space in his campus office when he removed shelves of books lest a visiting student feel overwhelmed in the belief the student had nothing to offer this well-read professor.

I also thought of my first Presbyterian pastor’s explanation of what constitutes social action. Christian compassion, Dr. Morse said, is expressed when you tend to a person’s wounds as you wait for an ambulance. Social justice is expressed when you subsequently investigate why it took so long for the ambulance to arrive.

Nowadays this would include finding and filling the gaps in our systems of medicine—exactly what’s needed in our present crisis. Obviously this would include examining political and economic solutions.

Henri harmonizes the German word for hospitality, Gastfreundschaft, meaning “friendship for the guest” with his own native Dutch word “gastvrijheid” which means “freedom of the guest”: “Hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him or her alone.”

Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. … It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. Reaching Out, 51.

I stumble over political “dividing lines.” I have a friend who seems to support President Trump no matter what. Yet my friend also once supported President Obama. As the present administration dismantled protections and services that might have helped the U.S. in this pandemic and now stumbles incompetently while blaming everyone else, “dividing lines,” like Trump’s infamous wall, makes me stumble. 

Creating space for the other is far from an easy task. It requires hard concentration and articulate work. It is like the task of a patrolman trying to create some space in the middle of a mob of panic-driven people for an ambulance to reach the center of the accident. Reaching Out, 51.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

"Where Is Everybody?"

A church friend made us face masks.

Sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic has, for me, alternately prompted feelings of loneliness, boredom and its more pronounced version, ennui, as in, “What’s my motivation?”

To distract myself one afternoon this past week I clicked on the original Twilight Zone series and happened on to its very first episode, titled “Where Is Everybody?” It’s about a man wandering around an unfamiliar town looking for its inhabitants. He has no memory of who he is himself, yet has a sense that someone is watching him.

To happen onto this guy’s predicament as I am missing friends and family and various activities, I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone as he asks, “Where is everybody?”

Last week I had another Twilight Zone moment watching an episode of Amazing Stories. A woman wakes up from a six-year coma and mysteriously has the urge to call a phone number, which happens to be mine, area code and all, but with the “555” exchange used in fake theatrical phone numbers. (Cue Twilight Zone theme now!)

I am rereading Henri Nouwen’s early work, Reaching Out: Three Movements of the Spiritual Life in preparation for leading a spiritual formation course on Nouwen in the fall. A contemplative retreat I was to co-lead next week has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, so I’m not sure whether the Nouwen weekend will be held, cancelled, rescheduled, or moved online.

The first movement Henri describes, “From Loneliness to Solitude,” certainly seems to fit the moment.

More so then than now, I was lonely when I first heard the lecture that became “From Loneliness to Solitude.” A fellow student at Yale Divinity School played me his recording of the first presentation in the class that he was taking from Henri. Having left behind family and friends and a boyfriend as well as my home state of California, I was extremely lonely.

Henri’s words spoke directly to my experience: “We look for someone or something to take our loneliness away. But then we realize that no one and no thing can ever take our loneliness away—we must allow it to be transformed into a creative solitude.” For Henri, that transformation was possible in the presence of God.

That was easier to hear and believe in my hopeful early twenties than it is as I approach 70 years of age and share a demographic particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, an age and demographic that already translates into many lost family members, colleagues, and friends over the years. But I have found it to be true, over and over again—and look, this post is a concrete example of creative solitude! Thank God I have all of you to write for, many who may be experiencing something like this.

For me, a creative solitude means a more gracious reaching out, not one that grasps but one that welcomes with open hands.

In Nouwen’s words, “The movement from loneliness to solitude…is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” (Reaching Out, p 23)

Henri quotes a student, “…then time loses its desperate clutch on me. Then I no longer have to live in a frenzy of activity, overwhelmed and afraid for the missed opportunity.”

Then sheltering in place may become sheltering in peace.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

This Is Not My First Pandemic

An auspicious day to write this post: Good Friday, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Good Friday is when Christians remember that God suffers with us, as we recount the story of the betrayal, denial, and abandonment of Jesus, the injustice and indifference of the powers that be, the agony of suffering and death.

As you know, this is not my first pandemic. For most if not all of you, it is not your first pandemic either. AIDS is still with us, and has been for decades, though the more privileged among us have access to prevention and treatment.

Unlike the coronavirus of COVID-19, HIV is not casually or easily transmitted, but before that was known—even after that was known—those living with HIV were avoided and excluded and judged, given disposable paper plates and plastic cups at dinner parties if invited at all, refused touch and medical and pastoral care and governmental attention.

I hear many echoes of the AIDS pandemic in the present one. Calling it “the Chinese virus” reminds me of the first name for AIDS: Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, G.R.I.D., extending AIDS fear and prejudice and hate crimes to the whole queer community.  At one point it was related to Haitians because of an outbreak there. Or understood as a “foreign” disease because it may have evolved from monkeys and chimpanzees in Africa.

Even by the LGBTQ community, it was often considered the disease of those who lived in “the fast lane” of the gay world, and of those—regardless of sexual orientation—who were promiscuous or drug abusers.

Only when the infection appeared among those with hemophilia or who had blood transfusions did the public consider there might be “innocent victims.” The first major HIV/AIDS bill passed by the U.S. was named for an Indiana teenager with hemophilia, clearly such an innocent, but one who also had done his share of activism.

The public discussion about quarantines reminds me of the desire to quarantine those living with HIV/AIDS, even when it was known that HIV was not transmitted casually. Decades after the causes of transmission were known, a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine told me insistently, as if on some kind of moral high ground above the science, “I don’t believe it can’t be transmitted casually.”

The current admonition “be safe” reminds me of the AIDS admonition to “play safe.” Condoms and dental dams and sexual distancing were our version of face masks and social distancing. Both viruses can be carried and transmitted before symptoms occur, and it’s disconcerting in either crisis to see those who are not sick behaving as if they cannot pass it on to others, particularly the more vulnerable health-wise. 

Of course, the other difference between the retrovirus that causes AIDS and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is that the first was almost always fatal. And because in the public view it was affecting and infecting already undesirable/immoral/inferior citizens, there was little sense of urgency within the general population for finding treatments or cures. The then U.S. president resisted even using the name of the pandemic. 

But those of us in the thick of it were frequently attending funerals, memorials, and “celebrations of life” of lovers and friends, neighbors and colleagues whose lives were cut short—often very short—by the inattention and indifference of the larger “society.” 

Thanks be to God for the political activism of groups like ACT-UP and the community centers created largely by LGBTQ people to serve PWA’s that eventually influenced a more compassionate response, thanks in part to the media willing to report their stories. Also helpful was when the Christian community began to recognize that “The Church has AIDS.” 

An extremely familiar parallel is how minority and poorer communities have been disproportionately affected by each health crisis. The latest pandemic is revealing the medical vulnerability of people of color, especially those who live on limited incomes.

An unpublished futuristic novel I wrote in 1992 entitled The Cure: A Post-AIDS Love Story explained that my imagined medically-developed multipart curative treatment for AIDS—which included an ingredient newly discovered in the part of the world most endangered by climate change—worked better on white males than people of color and women.

I quoted The Plague by Albert Camus about his protagonist doctor’s conclusion at the end of the book. I offer this now in thanksgiving for the first responders, health care workers and caregivers risking infection in the present pandemic:

Nonetheless, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


In the midst of the pandemic, I have been grateful to see these signs of life in our neighborhood:

Baby frog on our deck

Our neighbors across the street thank first responders.

The Atlanta BeltLine advises social distancing.

Neighbors Jonathan and Gabriela created a labyrinth on the BeltLine.

Church via Zoom

Luna our neighbor with Jenelle our pastor.
Lizard on our front porch pillows.

BeltLine art.
To Life, a toast for Passover!  To Resurrection, a toast for Easter! 
Be safe, be well, look for the signs of life in your neighborhood!
with gratitude for each of you, Chris and Wade

I was invited to contribute a meditation for Maundy Thursday to Ashes to Rainbows: A Queer Lenten Devotional that includes meditations for Ash Wednesday, the Sundays of Lent, and the days of Holy Week. Go to: