Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The World Is My Cloister

St. Bernard Abbey Church
Cullman, Alabama

The world is my cloister.

Yours too.

It’s a too obvious pun, but often the art of writing for the spirit is stating the obvious. “The world is my oyster” is an idiom or metaphor for personal success. “The world is my cloister” is an invitation to experience the world and success in a different way.

And, given that beings like ourselves are multiple light years away, if at all, earth is our own little cloister in the known universe.

That’s what came to me Monday morning, the day I write this. Before I continued my re-reading of The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris (which clearly gave me the idea), I sat on our front porch for some time sipping my coffee, listening and observing.

The street is quieter now that we are sheltering in place because of COVID-19. Fewer of us going to work and no children being driven or biking or walking to school means diminished traffic. The only people I see are walking their dogs or walking and running themselves. Most of the sounds I hear are squirrels chasing one another in the trees and birds chirping or bickering.

An almost invisible flash of light overhead sends a slow and lengthy rumbling of thunder through the clouds above. A light, almost imperceptible rain begins to fall, and in places where the moisture silently gathers until released—leaves, roofs, gutters—I can better hear the periodic splatter of its deliverance to concrete, asphalt, or puddle.

These gentle sounds are occasionally and briefly overrun—nearby or from afar—by the roaring and screeching and banging of the city’s metal dragons devouring our rubbish and our recyclables—Monday is trash day in our neighborhood, after all.

I revisit a very pleasant dream I had Sunday morning as I awoke. I was home with my biological family in our tract house in the L.A. suburbs, enjoying a happy visit. We were all about to leave to go other places and were explaining to one another what we had planned. I felt a hand on the top of my head, gentle but firm, as if in blessing. I didn’t know if it was Mom’s or Dad’s or, wishful thinking—could it be God’s? I fully woke up, still feeling this hand pressed on my head and thought I’d find my hand there or Wade’s, but lo, there was no hand. I told Wade about it on our morning walk.

Now, on Monday, a familiar neighbor walks by with his big friendly dogs, and I pick up an umbrella to walk toward him while keeping our respectful six feet of social distance. We speak of our shared experience of Ormewood Church on Zoom yesterday, a digital app that allowed our spiritual community’s first meeting since the governor of Georgia banned gatherings to constrain spread of the virus.

I had been surprised that so many—35 family units—signed on for the service, with liturgists, singers, and pastor leading us remotely.  Wade and I had kept our setting on “gallery” so we could see the families attending in their varied home environments.

I confessed to the neighbor that, because we didn’t focus exclusively on our pastor during Jenelle’s sermon, I untypically did not follow the sermon so well—my fault, not hers—as I enjoyed the distractions of kids climbing on parents or fiddling with the devices or sticking faces or fingers in their camera's eye.

What our neighbor took away from the experience, he said, was that “this is community” –that so many went to the trouble to log in and participate, including our usual small group time in which we were asked, “What has been your ‘darkest valley’ this week and what has been your ‘grassy meadow’?” Our text for the service and the sermon was Psalm 23.

I was especially in awe that Zoom could scramble us into small groups after the sermon where we could see one another on our screens and offer our answers to one another by unmuting our speakers.

We are blessed by these new cathedrals. And we are blessed when we see and hear, taste and sense our neighbors and neighborhoods as cloisters of the Spirit, of the holy, of the whole people of God. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord our whole lives long.”


Related post: A Healing Touch

I was invited to be among the contributors 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: https://justiceunbound.org/queerlent/

You may support this blog by clicking here. Please scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Pandemic's "Monastic" Opportunity


I’ve postponed to next week a previous reflection about meditating on the psalms, a spiritual practice routinely followed in monasteries. But, given what I’m about to say, it may become all the more relevant.

Emails from blog readers and the cancellation or reconfiguration of local personal or religious gatherings has taught me how further isolating the coronavirus, or COVID-19, can be. To several readers, already isolated because of health or age or retirement, I’ve written this could be our “monastic” opportunity to experience the value of being “all-one” (where the word “alone” comes from) as well as resting in God, taking a break and a breath and a breather, especially important resisting a respiratory infection.

Those of you who have attended workshops or retreats or even committee meetings with me know my fondness for those present to take what I call “monastic moments” to consult their own hearts. I especially find this helpful when I pose a question or problem to a group and wish to avoid the person who speaks first distracting us from our own answers or solutions. A moment of silence allows each one of us to prepare our own thoughts and feelings for sharing with the group.

We need more moments of silence to consider who we are and whose we are—and here I don’t just mean God, but our spouses, our families, our communities of faith and otherwise, everything from our neighborhoods and cities to our countries and our environment.

The limitations prompted by our present pandemic offer each one of us a very personal “existential crisis”—a phrase much bandied about in our political debates these days. We are given an occasion to ponder vital questions: Why are we here? What do we value most? Who do we want to become? What do we believe in? Whom do we love? What do we live for?

Many of us need more than a monastic “moment” to consider if not answer these questions. We need a contemplative retreat, a temporary withdrawal from our busy world of interactions, entertainment, nonstop news, activities, and problem-solving. This may be our 40-day sojourn in a wilderness, our valley of the shadow of death to recognize that God is with us—even here.

And, I would say, we need a retreat “leader,” a guide, someone whose spiritual counsel we trust. Right now, mine is Kathleen Norris and her book The Cloister Walk. Over the years, my retreat leaders have included Henri Nouwen, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, The Dalai Lama, Richard Rohr, Hildegard of Bingen, Martin Luther King, Barbara Brown Taylor, Mahatma Gandhi, Evelyn Underhill, Thomas Merton, and especially Jesus—to name a handful of hundreds of guides who have taught me something about myself, about God, about you, about our world.

Who is your “go-to” spiritual guide whose writings you may once again dive into in your social distancing? You don’t have to find yourself alone.


You may support this blog by clicking here. Please scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

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



Wednesday, March 11, 2020

In Praise of Praise

A neighbor's daffodils

A friendly email exchange with a regular reader of this blog about last week’s reference to “How Great Thou Art” prompts me to share again this post about praise music from 2012. 

Attending the Sunday evening praise service of MCC San Francisco, my partner turned to me and said, “For this service, you’re gonna need a lot more rhythm!” I had just moved there to serve as interim pastor, and the clapping and swaying and emotional singing had not been a regular feature of my worship experience.

A visit to the service a year earlier had alienated me. “What if I’m in pain when I come to the service?” I judgmentally thought, “I wouldn’t fit in with all these happy people.”

Sharing that thought with the former pastor, the Rev. Jim Mitulski (one of the world’s finest preachers), he corrected, “We started that service to give voice to all of our feelings facing the AIDS crisis in the Castro.” He explained it was the old gospel songs and Taize style chants that expressed the range of their emotions, from lament and longing to hope and faith. One might compare the similar range of the Psalms.

I’ve just finished reading a book by a progressive Christian who expresses many insights I cherish, but who suggests we praise to “flatter” God to get what we want. That may be true for some, but not for me, and not for most, I would say.

Rather, we praise to be uplifted into God’s realm, to feel and to be embraced by something larger than ourselves—spiritual community, planet earth, the cosmos and all that is within it. The expanding universe calls for our own expansion. Spiritual ecstasy, like sexual ecstasy, gets us out of our selves, literally “out of stasis,” out of the status quo.

Just like prayer, praise is the place, not of God’s transformation, but of our own! To paraphrase the spiritual, “It’s not you but me, O Lord, standing in the need of praise.” In her book, Suffering, the late German theologian Dorothee Sölle affirms that collective “lament, petition, expressions of hope” empower those who suffer to address wrongs, comparing workers’ protests to liturgies, particularly the Psalms.

I come from traditions—both Baptist and Presbyterian—suspicious of the charismatic expressions of worship. Even the simple act of lifting our hands and faces upward—ironically, the praying posture of the Jews and Christians of biblical times—seemed indecorous in our more somber and earnest worship.

There is “bad” praise music, of course—uninspired, unpoetic, musically dull, and theologically untenable for progressive Christians. But even the theologically questionable ones, if inspired and poetic and musically interesting, may be fun to sing. Just don’t take them literally (just like scripture!).

I introduced a new song with just the right theology at an annual Kirkridge men’s retreat I co-led, but when we faltered at its difficulty, someone started singing “Jesus Loves Me,” and it became the reprise of the weekend.

My preference is for Gregorian chants, and songs and chants from Taize and Iona, and John Michael Talbot songs, as well as spirituals, sambas, salsas, and freedom songs. But I also still hum and sing the old gospel songs and staid hymns as well. Just ask our dog, Hobbes.


I was invited to be among the contributors 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: https://justiceunbound.org/queerlent/

Related post: The Sound of Eden

You may support this blog by clicking here. Please scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

I will be co-leading “Beside Still Waters: A Contemplative Retreat” with Debra Weir April 27-May 1, 2020 at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. It is open to the public, and some limited scholarships are available. Three readable texts are recommended to prepare but are not required to have been read by opening day. Here is the link: https://app.certain.com/profile/form/index.cfm?PKformID=0x3039640abcd

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. I welcome the use of Progressive Christian Reflections as contemporary readings in worship, discussion starters, or other non-profit purposes.  My hope is that you will also browse the archive (right column on the site) to use previous reflections in your daily or occasional meditation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Our "Spiritual Universe"


As happened last week, I am writing this the day before posting it, a rarity. Usually I have several days or weeks to write and review (and review again) a post. Despite my occasional despair at the large empty spaces that I experience in retirement, I still find that life is often full, and this week served as an example.

This past Sunday, with others from what is now Ormewood Church, I attended a brief and informal graveside service commemorating the life of Rev. Peter Denlea, the one-time pastor of our predecessor Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church. It was organized by one of his sons, Colin, also a pastor, at Georgia National Cemetery to which Peter’s first vocation as a Navy bomber pilot gave him access. I wondered if the cemetery rules (above photo) really permitted a spirit as expansive as Peter’s, given its prohibition of “boisterous actions”! Later this month, his boisterous spirit will be celebrated at a wake in our neighborhood, where he once lived at the end of our block.

With a similar group from Ormewood Church the next day, I attended the celebration of the life and legacy of Judge Elaine L. Carlisle at Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, a member of Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church who lived three houses uphill from us. The largely African American church was packed with fellow judges and lawyers, the City of Atlanta Police Honor Guard, and sister members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also attended.

Our pastor, Rev. Jenelle Holmes, offered moving and meaningful prayers at each service.

And synchronicity strikes again as, at both services, we sang “How Great Thou Art.”

I lost it each time we sang it. Remember, I mentioned last week that I had been viewing the mind-boggling 2007 series The Universe, now available on Netflix. I had just finished watching the final episode, so these words by Stuart K. Hine particularly moved me:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

I’m losing it again as I type these words. They take me back to my childhood faith, which included Billy Graham evangelical meetings featuring George Beverly Shea boisterously singing this hymn. As the song affirms, I want to believe that Peter, who lived longer than I have, and Elaine, whose life was cut shorter than mine by an as-yet-unexplained traffic accident, have been “taken home.”

Former Mayor and later Ambassador Andrew J. Young, who appointed Judge Carlisle to the bench, offered “Words of Comfort” to us. His storytelling gifts as an elder preacher and politician served us all well, bringing smiles and laughter, including one tender story about his affectionate but mistaken greeting of Elaine’s twin sister in the airport of Gary, Indiana, their hometown!

But then something he said comforted me very personally in the midst of my “lost in space” doubts. He said that now Elaine was part of our “spiritual universe,” the commonwealth of God. A spiritual universe is no more unimaginable to me than the physical universe.


I was invited to be among the contributors 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: https://justiceunbound.org/queerlent/

You may support this blog by clicking here. Please scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  “How Great Thou Art” copyright © 1953 by S. K. Hine, renewed 1981 by Manna Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

I will be co-leading “Beside Still Waters: A Contemplative Retreat” with Debra Weir April 27-May 1, 2020 at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. It is open to the public, and some limited scholarships are available. Three readable texts are recommended to prepare but are not required to have been read by opening day. Here is the link: https://app.certain.com/profile/form/index.cfm?PKformID=0x3039640abcd


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Let's Give Up Despair for Lent!

Cross at a construction site in our neighborhood today.

My imperative title is not intended to apply to those enduring clinical despair or depression that require professional help and/or medication. I’m thinking of those of us suffering “ordinary” despair from the political situations in which we find ourselves: demagoguery, racism, nativism, extreme partisanship, polarization, disinformation, manipulation, corruption, and so on.

Rarely do I write a post the day before I put it on my blog, but here I am, doing just that. If you only read the title you know what I’ve been thinking about for weeks as we begin this holy season of Lent today, Ash Wednesday. Lent reminds us of the interval of our lifetimes from cosmic dust to dust, our own “brief but spectacular” moments to shine in this universe. (Thanks to PBS for that phrase.)

Context is important. I’ve been watching a series on Netflix called The Universe that reminds me how fabulous and fantastic, fearful and far-flung the universe is as well as how opportune it is for these short-lived bits of human flesh (me and you) to wonder in amazement and awe and gratitude to even be a tiny part of it!

In preparation for a contemplative retreat I’ll be co-leading (to which you are welcome) I’ve been rereading Kathleen Norris’s book The Cloister Walk, looking forward to conversations about its many spiritual subjects. Synchronicity would have it that today she writes about despair, though in a different way than I expected.

Norris quotes early Christian spirituality historian Benedicta Ward, “For all sins, there is forgiveness. What really lies outside the ascetic life is despair, the proud attitude which denies the possibility of forgiveness.” Norris elucidates:

As for designating despair as an aspect of the sin or “bad thought” of pride, I find it enormously helpful. Among other things, it defeats my perfectionism, my tendency to give up when I can’t do things “just right.” But if I accept the burden of my despair, in the monastic sense, then I also receive the tools to defeat it. I have a hope that no modern therapeutic approach can give me (p 129).

Quoting another scholar, Douglas Burton-Christie, Norris explains that the first Christian monks believed scripture “possessed the power to deliver them from evil. They believed that the Word of God has the power to effect what it says.”

So, in our political morass, we are not defenseless. But we do need to consider and confront our all-or-nothing perfectionism which we apply not only to ourselves, but to our political candidates and parties. I was astounded to learn recently that in the last U.S. presidential election, tens of thousands of Bernie Sanders’ supporters voted for Donald Trump when the Democratic party chose another nominee. (See New York Times columnist David Brooks’ February 6, 2020 column, “How Trump Wins Again.”)

Whomever you support, don’t despair! Please volunteer and/or donate to campaigns you believe in, not forgetting that “down ballot” choices are also vital. Or, if politics is not your thing, please volunteer and/or donate to programs, centers, and causes near and dear to your heart.

Despair is a luxury we cannot afford in these troubled times!



I was invited to be among the contributors 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: https://justiceunbound.org/queerlent/

You may support this blog by clicking here. Please scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

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

I will again be co-leading “Beside Still Waters: A Contemplative Retreat” with Debra Weir April 27-May 1, 2020 at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. It is open to the public, and some limited scholarships are available. Three readable texts are recommended to prepare but are not required to have been read by opening day.  Here's the link: 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Woke and Awakening

My well-worn copy.

I love that “woke” is related to “awakening.” “Woke” as an adjective is from African American vernacular, and, as employed by Black Lives Matter, entails social awareness, especially of racism and social injustice. It is now used ubiquitously to suggest someone who is politically aware.

In spirituality, “awakening” suggests spiritual awareness. An early twentieth century authority on mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, describes “awakening” as the first stage of a mystic’s lifelong process. She described five stages of a mystic: awakening, purgation, illumination, dark night, and union.

What brings this to mind for me are two recent articles evaluating Harper Lee’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird. One article reviews a book that offers a disconcerting analysis of Lee’s novel as a defense of upper class educated Southern whites distancing themselves from racist “white trash,” as if the latter were entirely responsible for racial barriers, while excusing themselves with the actual economic, political and social power to end segregation.

Jarring as this is for me as a fan of the novel, this appears to be true, and, I hate to admit, could also be said of those who insist President Trump was elected by that infamous “basket of deplorables” rather than by educated, middle and upper class white voters.

The other article, reviewing another related book, explains the writer’s disdain of the novel as insufficiently aware of the African American experience. Only Scout’s character is fully developed, she writes, not that of Tom Robinson or even of Atticus Finch.

I wanted to counter that this is because the book is not about Tom Robinson or Atticus Finch: the book is about Scout and her transformation in the light of her personal experience of events and characters in the narrative. The most authentic representation of African American experience would most likely be found in the writings of African American authors themselves.

The novel’s film was released a month after Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous “Segregation Forever” inaugural speech. Though the sterling character of a small-town Alabama lawyer like Atticus Finch might have been a stretch, given the times, as one writer suggests, he serves as a counter to the prevailing ethos of racial prejudice. He gives white readers someone to emulate, something lacking in Lee’s original version, Go Set a Watchman. Thanks be to God for a good editor who advised her to revisit and reshape the story!

All this is to say, as I’ve written in my books and on this blog, To Kill a Mockingbird
served as a “woke” experience for this 12-year-old boy from California who had never even visited the South. That, coupled with the Civil Rights Movement and good teachers and preachers, began for me a lifelong journey toward a better understanding of racism and social injustice.

The books of African American authors furthered my growth: Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Stephen Carter, Eldridge Cleaver, James Cone, Frederick Douglass, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr., Alice Walker, and Cornel West. Articles, reporting, firsthand encounters and presentations by numerous others also contributed to my “woke” process.

Just as “awakening” is only the beginning of a mystic’s lifelong path, maybe we might consider “wokeness” as only the start of political awareness. Maybe we could speak of a “woke-consciousness” that allows further development as well as application to other social issues of our times.

I was struck by the spiritual parallels as I completed reading this past Sunday Howard Rice’s book, Reformed Spirituality. He quotes Flora Slosson Wuellner’s description of spiritual growth in her book, On the Road to Spiritual Wholeness:

As we are healed and pulled together into wholeness, we are shown many things that we had not seen before. We are shown feelings we have had, but which have been repressed. We are shown things we have done, judgments we have made during our days of blindness and insensitivity. We are shown relationships in a new light, and facts to which we had not awakened. And as we wake and see, decisions about what we see begin to rise in freshness and power.


I posted this on July 11, 2018, and post it today in observance of Black History Month in the U.S.

You may support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing 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 © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Black Lives Matter


This week marks the ninth anniversary of the beginning of this blog!

“Black lives matter” is not just wisdom for protesting “issues” of law enforcement. It should be a mantra for all of life.

Black lives matter when there is equal access to prenatal and postnatal care, preschool, decent housing and nutrition, education, healthcare, employment, promotions, advancement, economic opportunities, voting rights, justice in the courts, representation on school boards, law enforcement agencies, city councils, state legislatures, congress, corporate boards, and executive positions in business and government—to name some of the things routinely denied.

Black lives matter when the disproportionate detention and incarceration rate of African-Americans on mere suspicion, manufactured evidence, mandatory minimum sentencing, or low-level drug offenses is reduced dramatically or eliminated altogether.

A pet peeve of mine has been to see black people cast in incidental roles in movies and TV programs (how many black judges can there be?) rather than seeing their characters integrally woven into an ensemble cast, though this has been changing in recent years.

I once worked with a progressive but all-white group who would have agreed that all of the above are examples of institutional racism, and whose members said they wanted to do something about it. But a colleague who had worked with the group far longer than I told me privately, “They all want to address the issue of racism politically, but few, if any, actually have black friends.”

The person observed that institutional racism will only be dismantled as we take racism personally, when black lives matter in our own friendships, families, congregations, work places, working relationships, and social networks.

A white police officer testifying in the O.J. Simpson trial was asked if he was a racist, and he said “no.” I was astounded. I don’t know how any white person in the United States can say they have avoided being taught prejudice to some degree. And we all benefit from white privilege, just as our white ancestors (and not just slaveholders) benefited from black slavery.

I believe our society survives partly because it is graced with the fortitude and forgiveness and sometimes generational forgetfulness of the minorities it has wronged. And most amazing to me are the descendants of slaves who were “owned,” brutalized, raped, and lynched. How can they stand our uppity white domination? How can they stand the undue influence of angry and mean folk trying to undo what progress has been made in redressing past sins?

Those who forgave the deadly, racist shooter in the Charleston church were as Christ to me. Their grace exposed the racism of those who held onto the confederate flag as a way of life. Their grace transformed parts of the country that seemed irredeemable.

Black lives matter.


I posted this on August 19, 2015, and post it today in observance of Black History Month in the U.S.

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

You may support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing 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! 


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Black Museums Matter


Reading of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. reminded me of the most difficult thing I saw when visiting the Holocaust Museum last May.

There are so many heartbreaking things to witness in that archive of brutality and inhumanity, what I will describe may seem less consequential, but for me it summed up everything, from the piles of shoes of concentration camp martyrs, to the railroad car used for their transport, to the various devices used to end their lives, not to mention the multiple ways intended to dehumanize them before their incarceration.

These things brought tears to my eyes, but what made me want to cry uncontrollably  was seeing a youth—maybe 15—sitting quietly on a bench in a side pocket room intended for rest and reflection. He looked so disheartened, so disillusioned, so overwhelmed by what he saw, I felt for him.

This is what our various histories do to young people: histories of anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic hatred, sexism, classism, heterosexism, mistreatment of those with disabilities, religious intolerance, and so on and so on—this is what we do to the innocent, not only of times past but of the present day.

“Woe to anyone who causes one of these little ones to stumble…” Jesus admonished.

Yet frankly, my own disillusionment as a youth, learning of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, lynching, racial hatred, bigotry, and prejudice made me a better citizen. My own disillusionment in American foreign policy around Vietnam and Latin America made me a better patriot. My disappointment at the inequality and mistreatment of women made me a better person. (I say disappointment rather than disillusionment in this case because I never had the illusion that women were treated fairly.)

And the disillusionment that led to my involvement in the reformation of the church around LGBT inclusion made me a better Christian.

I’m glad to learn that there will be a room in the new museum in which to reflect and recover after visiting the exhibit devoted to Emmett Till, a black youth brutalized and lynched after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

Whenever I am able to visit that museum, I expect that I will see another youth sitting in that room with the same downcast and forlorn expression that I saw last May.


I posted this on October 5, 2016, and post it today in observance of Black History Month in the U.S.

You may support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing 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 © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Cuddling with Jesus

Wade and Hobbes cuddling.

I can imagine red flags going up for my more progressive readers, fearing I’ve gone evangelical on them with a title like “Cuddling with Jesus.” And my more mainstream readers may fear I’m getting too familiar, even sexual, with our spiritual leader.

But the deity with whom Jacob wrestles in Genesis becomes the deity with whom the Beloved Disciple cuddles during the Last Supper in John. It’s okay for males to wrestle (God was imagined as male, remember) but not to cuddle (Jesus was imagined as God, remember).

In As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage, I pointed out how recent translations have distanced the Beloved Disciple, believed to be John, from Jesus. In the King James Version “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is “leaning on Jesus’ bosom.” The Revised Standard Version describes him as “lying close to the breast of Jesus.” But the New Revised Standard Version and the New Jerusalem Bible have the Beloved Disciple simply “reclining next” to Jesus. As the Beloved disciple moves farther away from Jesus with newer versions, I imagine in the next translation he will be in another room!

In his book, The Man Jesus Loved, Theodore Jennings translates the passage this way:

One of his disciples was lying in Jesus’ lap, the one Jesus loved; so Simon Peter nods to this one and says: “Tell, whom is he talking about?” That one, falling back on Jesus’ chest says to him: “Lord, who is it?”

Imagine watching TV with a group of close friends, some of whom are seated on the floor. Arms may rest on knees, heads lean on shoulders, hands draped affectionately on legs. This would be like the scene of the Last Supper, where the custom would be for everyone to be on the floor with cushions or mats, not seated upright at a table.

This is the casual intimacy between John and Jesus, but it affords John the opportunity, in the understanding of Celtic Christianity, to “listen for the heartbeat of God” with his head on Jesus’ breast. It is a symbol of mysticism, not sexuality, though mysticism is also erotic, understanding “eros” as the force that compels us toward God or another human being.

What prompts this reflection is a recent opinion piece by Stanford anthropology professor T. M. Luhrmann, who suggests the success of evangelical churches is that they promise such a personal relationship with God, but then overstates the case by claiming—mistakenly, I believe—that mainstream Christians do not imagine a God so intimate. (Since writing this I discovered agreement from a Letter to the Editor by Sister Mary Ann Walsh.)

I do believe mainstream Christians have a problem with intimacy. I once heard seminary professor and author Carter Heyward describe their God as a “Gentleman God,” embarrassed by sexual passion, yet too polite and dispassionate to be rabidly anti-gay. And the changing position of the Beloved Disciple may have to do with a fear of homoerotic implications.

But I believe the broader fear is intimacy with God. I’ve noticed that the same translation that has John “reclining next” to Jesus in John 13:23 also translates John 1:18 about Jesus’ intimacy with God as “who is close to the Father’s heart” when the actual text reads “who is close to the Father’s bosom.”

Yet I believe many mainstream Christians’ embrace of contemplation also chooses an intimate relationship with God. And though it may seem new, it has always been with us, from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, monastic communities, and Celtic spirituality to our present day interest in all things spiritual.

My purpose in writing this blog is to encourage progressive Christians, too, to come out of the closet about their intimacy with God, with Jesus, and with the Spirit. Ours may be a different experience, but no less worthy to strengthen our resolve, challenge others’ certainties, and enjoy communion with all we hold sacred and dear.


I posted this on April 24, 2013 and thought current readers of this blog might enjoy it.

Please join me for a five-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.

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite. Use the search engine in the upper left corner of the blog to find particular topics.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Spiritual Stretching

Our neighbor, Luna, stretching against the edge of our driveway.

Put your hands over your head and stretch. Take a deep breath.

Doesn’t that feel good?

And don’t you vicariously feel good when you see your dog or cat or another person stretch and perhaps yawn?

Many years ago I learned that, to prevent my back from seizing up on me, I needed to do a simple stretching exercise before getting out of bed in the morning.  I also do a coordination exercise a holistic chiropractor once taught me that’s supposed to help me think more clearly. And then I’m ready to, as the camp song goes, “Rise and shine and give God my glory…”

A few summers ago, Wade and I attended a yoga class that was all about stretching and breathing, led by our friend and neighbor José Blanco. It was surprising how challenging and tiring stretching and breathing can be, as well as how wonderful it can feel. Yoga, of course, is a spiritual discipline developed in Hinduism to focus body, mind, and spirit.

A lot of Christians don’t like to stretch. Orthodox literally means “straight thinking,” and many Christians like to keep to the straight and narrow, within the confines of what they consider proper belief and behavior.

Progressive Christians like to stretch our minds. That means we can stay in our heads way too much. That’s preferable to not going there at all. As they say, many people are lost in thought because it’s such unfamiliar territory.

Thankfully, stretching our mind may stretch our hearts as well, especially if we can catch our breaths.

Stretching is an antidote to confinement, an answer to tension, a solution for paralysis that is not permanent. It helps tissue lubricants flow, as well as the life-giving, oxygenating, vitality-inducing blood that we need to be nurtured and grow. 

Our spirits and our spirituality need stretching too.

Jesus did not teach yoga positions, but he was still a kind of yoga instructor, because he taught spiritual stretching. His spirituality stretched the religion of those around him to move out of ossification—which means to be make rigid, callous, or unprogressive—to move beyond laws written in stone and temples made of stone.

Anyone who has endured an obnoxious neighbor will know that “loving your neighbor” is a stretch. Anyone who has struggled with an image of an angry or distant God knows that “loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind” is a stretch. Those raised on negative self-images know that “loving your self” is a stretch. Those taught to fear or hate a stranger realize that Jesus’ urging to greet even those we don’t know is a stretch.  And “loving your enemies” is obviously a stretch!

By stretching, a spiritual community becomes expansive and inclusive and nimble. A breath is a stretch, and Jesus was said to have breathed on his disciples his Spirit. That Spirit stretched their ability to share his story in the languages of strangers. That same Spirit has, throughout history, stretched at least parts of the church to welcome those it formerly resisted, excluded, marginalized, or persecuted.

And God’s mystery stretches our spiritual imaginations. In the apostle Paul’s words to the Athenians, God “does not live in shrines made by human hands” but causes us “to search for God and perhaps grope for God.”

Breathe. Stretch.

Doesn’t that feel good?


This was my post on March 12, 2014, and I thought current blog readers might like to read it.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Spiritual Skinny-dipping


Rarely am I given an opportunity to skinny-dip these days, but I used to love it. The sensuality of slipping into the waves on the shore or into a pond or pool awakened my body not only to my physical senses, but to my full-bodied communion with earth.

The photo above, taken in Hawai’i in 1985 by my friend George Lynch, was modestly posed and, for this purpose, even more modestly edited!  But I use it to illustrate a story of mysterium tremendum, what happened just before I swam back to stand on the rocks surrounding this natural pool at the base of the towering waterfall in the background.

For me, stripping and stepping into an unknown body of water such as this was an act of both courage and vulnerability. I didn’t know what else might be in the water and to what I might be exposing my most personal parts; yet it was thrilling and enlivening to do so. The depth of the pool and whatever currents hid beneath the gently rippling surface were also unknown to this less-than-expert swimmer.

Three times I swam toward the base of the waterfall that spewed from rocks some fifty feet above, each time a little closer, and three times I returned to the shore without daring to swim beneath the roaring, hard-falling water. This was reasonable, given that the water might have knocked me out.

But approaching the danger, I was filled with an exquisite, fearful awe; my mysterium tremendum. It had parallels to leaving behind religious fundamentalism and biblical literalism, or taking on public speaking and activism as an introvert, or coming out of the closet, or making love for the first time. There was something sacred and awesome beyond each seeming terror.

For those of us who are stripping ourselves of unnecessary religious constraints, baptizing ourselves in progressive Christianity, we approach in awe and terror a different God. Does God really love us unconditionally? Does God really live “in our neighborhood,” in our house? Can God forgive without demanding such a price as the sacrifice of Jesus or the damnation of unbelievers? What currents or creatures lurk beneath the surface that may threaten our most personal selves?

“Wonder calls us to disorientation, unsettling pathos that it is, and to new orientation,” William Brown writes in the concluding paragraph of Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World, borrowing Walter Brueggemann’s categories.

C’mon in! The water’s fine!


This was my post on September 16, 2015, and I thought current blog readers might like to read it.

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Photo copyright © 1985 by George F. Lynch. Used by permission. Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Love that Does Not Die


Early Sunday morning before Christmas I learned that my first long term partner had died. It took me by surprise and grabbed me in the gut. I wanted to talk to somebody about it, but I didn’t think anyone could understand. So I’m talking about it with you, the reader of this blog. Some of you have followed my life not only during part or all of  the nine years I’ve been writing this blog, but in the decades since my first book was published in 1988 and before, in the multiple columns I wrote for several periodicals and newsletters.

It was to that first book that I returned to remember “John,” one who saw me through some of my roughest times as a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church. I first wrote of him recounting my first Presbyterian General Assembly in Baltimore in 1976 as a gay activist:

My loneliness grew from having completed the fulfilling ministry internship at the Christian Association [of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia] the week before. I had not only said goodbye to a number of friends at term’s end, but I had also broken off a relationship with a man whom I will call John, a name that means “The Lord is gracious.” … *

John, a graduate student, had sought me out for a relationship. His presence in the months that followed comforted me… While he respected and admired my commitment to the church, he was not similarly inclined, and this limited the depth of the relationship for me. On the other hand, though severely closeted, John at least was not inhibited by the church.

At the close of the spring semester he completed his studies and returned to his home in California, where he intended to become a millionaire in his chosen career, a priority I did not share. Unblinded by passion, we made a mutual and rational decision to bring our relationship to a close, since I would only briefly be in California before returning to New Haven for my final year of seminary.

But something happened as I drove him to the airport: he cried. I had never witnessed his poker face display emotion. I was moved, and fell in love with him for the first time. He was vulnerable, capable of an intimacy never before revealed. Then he was gone. Lost love frequently prompts me to write, so I wrote him a poem. I did not know it would rekindle our love, but I hoped that it would.  Uncommon Calling, p 143.

I did not hear from him at the time, but later learned he carried that poem in his briefcase for a month before responding, favorably. I returned for a visit with my family in California before my final year at Yale Divinity School, and we renewed our relationship, despite the distance to come.

After graduation in May of 1977, I returned to California to accept a position as Director of the Lazarus Project, a first-of-its-kind ministry of a mainline denomination intended to reconcile the church and the LGBT community. Because I was “under care” as a candidate for ordination in a neighboring presbytery, I was required to seek its permission to “labor outside its bounds” to accept the call, permission denied me during an unusually well-attended summer meeting.

A church leader remarked to me afterward that the presbytery was so hostile to me, “They wouldn’t let you clerk in a grocery store!” I was devastated. … I phoned John from the meeting, barely able to speak, embarrassed by my church family’s treatment, crying that these who did not know me personally could be so angry with me. Stunned and hurting with me, John comforted me as best he could.  Uncommon Calling, p 166.

So that I could accept the position in the neighboring presbytery, a special meeting was called to consider my transfer as a candidate for ordination to that presbytery.

This time my lover, John, was present for moral support. Fears had been expressed that the presbytery might defeat my transfer out of sheer vindictiveness. After an hour’s debate in which hostile questions surfaced, such as whether I were repentant enough to be transferred, the vote was taken.

Because of voting irregularities at the earlier meeting, a written ballot was requested. The stated clerk, appointing neutral people to count ballots, pointed at John (not knowing his relationship to me) as a potential volunteer. “And you—who are you?” the clerk asked. John, caught off guard, stuttered, “I’m not a member of this church!”

“Then you ought to be fair,” came the clerk’s mischievous rejoinder, breaking the gathering’s tension with laughter. Later, John told me, in tabulating the ballots, he seemed to open all the negative ones!  Uncommon Calling, p 167.

I “won” that vote, given permission to transfer, but, though it had approved the mission and ministry of the Lazarus Project, the receiving presbytery delayed a vote on receiving me until after the denomination had decided on the question of ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy the following year, in May of 1978. The denomination rejected such ordination and in June, the presbytery considered my transfer and rejected it. Unintentionally ironic, the presbytery then asked me to pray!

After the prayer I walked down the center aisle of the church to the narthex, followed by a few supporters, mostly women, who offered me tearful hugs outside the sanctuary. There my grateful eyes saw John. He had hurried from work to the evening meeting, hurried so fast he had been stopped for a speeding ticket, at which time, flustered by the delay, he had locked his keys in the car!

But he’d arrived in time for much of the debate, and he was there for me. He gave me a hug, and we drove home. Entering my apartment, the phone rang, an elder from a Baltimore church calling to hear how things had gone. I could hardly bear his sobs on the phone as I told him. Then came the task of informing my parents. I phoned them the news, and they too cried, hurt and angry that the church could reject me. 

And then John offered me the love the church denied.

Uncommon Calling, p 205-206.

I cry even now as I copy this from my first book, hurt by the rejection, moved by John’s love, grieved at John’s death. We remained friends for nearly two decades, but lost touch for a variety of reasons after my move to Atlanta, though I continued to pray for him and his partner. His love then, our love then, remain forever.

In loving memory of Tom Halliday.

*He puzzled why I would use a pseudonym for him in my book, and I explained because he was not openly gay then. He appeared again as Tom in my book The Final Deadline, pp 38-39, 42.

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Copyright © 1988 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.