Wednesday, June 23, 2021

At Most a Lighthouse Can Beam an Instant

A friend caught my surprise when the congregation
applauded my ordination at Christ Covenant MCC, October 2, 2005.

I miss a custom I created for myself when living in Southern California. New Year’s Eve parties left me wanting some more meaningful way of observing the passing of an old year and the welcome of a new year. I did not want to “pray in” the new year as we did in my Baptist church with us kids keeping one eye open to see the sanctuary clock silently clap its hands together on the number 12. 

But the ticking of a clock or the descent of a ball in Times Square felt artificial, so I began watching the sun set as I walked along the beach in Santa Monica every New Year’s Eve. I would spend the time revisiting the events of the past year and imagining what the new year might bring, thanking God for the good and the bad as well as the possibilities. It was something I could do alone, well before the parties. And it felt more natural. 

This bit of shoreline is the sanctuary where, in college, I ruminated on my sexuality, spirituality, and call to ministry. This is where I thought I’d like to be reincarnated as a seagull so I could stay near the shore and see my friends on the beach occasionally! This is where I stumbled onto a gay meeting place long before I knew about gay bars. This is where, on a day off from my church work, I would do a long run and work out on the outdoor gymnastic bars. 

This is a walk I’ve shared with many friends, including some of you, and others you might know, such as John Boswell, Isabel Rogers, and Malcolm Boyd. This is the walk that Henri Nouwen declined, insisting instead that we sit down on my sofa and “have a really good talk”! 

This is where I walked weekly on Thursday evenings with a partner to share whatever was on our minds and hearts. This is where we walked one Easter after worship, ending up at Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy’s hangout, the S. S. Friendship, bumping into an old friend there whose partner we learned had died the previous week, who gave me the Easter message I needed to hear, “He died in my arms. I felt him leave his body. That’s why I’m sure I’ll see him again.” 

This is where I took my mom and her dog for her last walk along the shore a few weeks before she died, where she mischievously chose an ice cream cone over lunch. And this is where at least some of my ashes will be scattered. 

Though I live far from that shore now, I go there often. 

There is no lighthouse there, but in college I composed this poem using the metaphor, which feels all the more apt in later life: 


            To Be the Sea 

The sea beside, I stand alone,

By seasons, wait and search

To be discovered and to discover

In boundless quest.

The sea has all at any time—

No search nor wait.

 

At most a lighthouse

Can beam an instant

Before bowing to the sea.

 

This post originally appeared as “New Year” on January 1, 2014.

Please visit my website: https://chrisglaser.com  

My final post on my blog “Progressive Christian Reflections” will occur next Wednesday, June 30, 2021. More than ten years of posts will remain available to you on the blogsite, https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and I encourage you to enjoy them. I regret that I never created an index of post titles, but the search engine in the upper left corner of my blog can help you find posts of interest by typing in a subject, topic, name, scripture reference, religious season or holy day. Or you may work through them by year and month listed in the right column. 

Though they may have been written with current events in mind, I intended them each to be read meaningfully at any point in time. You may continue to contact me at my email address used by the delivery service or by leaving a comment on a particular post. FeedBurner has announced it will discontinue all subscription services sometime in July, the occasion for my timing. It has been a pleasure writing this blog, but now, I believe, is a time for silence, something I considered when writing the Zen series. 

I assure you I am well, content, and thankful to God for this extension of my ministry. Thank you for your interest, comments, correspondence, and contributions. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for recognizing this blog as an “Emerging Ministry” and ProgressiveChristianity.org for reposting many of my reflections, as well as the dozens of Facebook pages that allowed me to provide links to particular posts. I am grateful for the free services of Blogspot, Google, Facebook, and the delivery service, FeedBurner. I am grateful for artist and friend Becki Jayne Harrelson and my husband Wade Jones for their technical and moral support. 

To date, the blog has had 512,000 visits, a count that does not include almost 500 free weekly subscribers. Once donations were possible, the highest annual income ever was $2,000. Subscriptions have always been free and the blog non-monetized (no ads). Permission has always been granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations may still be made through the links provided at the end of this post. Thank you! 

Copyright © 2014 Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Literalism vs Spirituality

St. John the Divine in rainbow colors, NYC.

Happy 90th birthday today to progressive Christian author Bishop John (Jack) Spong, who has helped Christians better understand our faith with the help and support of Christine Spong. 

The following post appeared on July 16, 2014. 

The trend of people identifying as “spiritual but not religious” is sometimes a rejection of biblical literalism, religious fundamentalism and official orthodoxy. To me that can be a good thing, and, in my reading of a recent translation from Middle English by Bernard Bangley of the book, The Cloud of Unknowing, very traditional. 

The anonymous author encourages readers to discard what’s not helpful in the book, and so I freely disagree with the writer’s rejection of physical and sensual experience as unspiritual, even ungodly.  This 14th century English monk must not have met the 14th century English nun, Julian of Norwich, who wrote, “In our sensuality, God is…” 

The beliefs of the church regarding creation, incarnation, and resurrection all support a hallowing of bodily experience. As James B. Nelson and a diverse group of other contemporary Christian body theologians have affirmed, we know God through our bodies or we don’t know God at all. Nelson goes so far as to add, “Pleasure is the strongest argument for the existence of God.” 

Yet I wholeheartedly embrace The Cloud author’s understanding that literalism interferes with our spirituality, and he offers many examples. I once wrote that we do a disservice to religion when we treat matters of faith as matters of fact. 

For example, the writer cautions against taking the ascension of Jesus literally. As a college professor of mine once said, “If Jesus had ascended at the speed of light, he still would not be out of the known universe.” 

The Cloud of Unknowing asserts that “the spatial references are only symbolic. … The spiritual realm is always near, enveloping us on every side. Whoever has a strong desire to be in heaven is already in heaven, spiritually. Measure the highway to heaven in terms of desire rather than miles. … Love determines a soul’s location.” 

Earlier the writer explained, “Similar in nature to heavenly bliss, divine contemplation already participates in eternity.” I once wrote that people we recognize as living saints are those who experience God’s commonwealth here and now. Spiritually they have found heaven in their desire to love and serve others. Heaven for me is where God’s will and human will coincide. Saying the Lord’s Prayer (“on earth as it is in heaven”) is a way of aligning ourselves with that greater purpose. That’s why Jesus could say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” or “among us.” 

There are many pearls of wisdom about the spiritual life in The Cloud of Unknowing. Here are a few quotes I underlined in my copy: 

+ Remember your spiritual needs rather than your spiritual achievements.

+ Continue until your prayer life becomes enjoyable.

+ You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God.

+ Loving contemplation destroys our tendency to sin more effectively than any other practice.

+ The essence of contemplation is a simple and direct reaching out to God.

+ Judging others, pronouncing them good or bad, is God’s business. We may evaluate behavior, but not the person.

+ Christ taught us in Matthew’s Gospel that spoken prayers are best when they are not too long.

+ A little prayer of one syllable pierces heaven because we concentrate our entire spiritual energy into it.

+ The person in great distress will continue calling for help until someone hears and responds.

+ The little word “God” can flood your spirit with spiritual meaning without giving attention to particular activities of God.

+ I desire to help you tighten the spiritual knot of warm love that is between you and God, to lead you to spiritual unity with God.

+ Love functions as your guide in this world, and it will bring you to grace in the next.

+ [After meeting our physical needs,] sensuality urges us to take more than we need, encouraging lust.

+ The important consideration is not what you are, or what you have been, but what you want to be. 

Finally, this anonymous monk seems to echo the axiom that spiritual guides remind us of what we already know: 

Writers used to think that humility required them to say nothing out of their own heads, but to corroborate every idea with quotations from Scripture or the [Church] fathers [and mothers]. Today this practice demonstrates nothing but cleverness and education. … If God moves you to believe what I say, then accept my ideas on their own merits. (p 99-100) 

Given its encouragement to surrender certain knowledge of God for intimacy with God, I can’t help but think The Cloud of Unknowing would be a great text for the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. As they say in recovery programs, religion is for people afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there. 

 

My dear friend and longtime supporter of this blog, the Rev. Steve Pieters, will be featured as a character in a film about televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker due out in September of 2021. Her interview with him on national television opened many evangelical hearts to people living with AIDS and more broadly, the LGBTQ community. Watch the trailer.

My final post on my blog “Progressive Christian Reflections” will occur on June 30, 2021. More than ten years of posts will remain available to you on the blogsite, https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and I encourage you to enjoy them. I regret that I never created an index of post titles, but the search engine in the upper left corner of my blog can help you find posts of interest by typing in a subject, topic, name, scripture reference, religious season or holy day. Or you may work through them by year and month listed in the right column. 

Though they may have been written with current events in mind, I intended them each to be read meaningfully at any point in time. You may continue to contact me at my email address used by the delivery service or by leaving a comment on a particular post. FeedBurner has announced it will discontinue all subscription services sometime in July, the occasion for my timing. It has been a pleasure writing this blog, but now, I believe, is a time for silence, something I considered when writing the Zen series. 

I assure you I am well, content, and thankful to God for this extension of my ministry. Thank you for your interest, comments, correspondence, and contributions. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for recognizing this blog as an “Emerging Ministry” and ProgressiveChristianity.org for reposting many of my reflections, as well as the dozens of Facebook pages that allowed me to provide links to particular posts. I am grateful for the free services of Blogspot, Google, Facebook, and the delivery service, FeedBurner. I am grateful for artist and friend Becki Jayne Harrelson and my husband Wade Jones for their technical and moral support. 

To date, the blog has had 511,000 visits, a count that does not include almost 500 free weekly subscribers. Once donations were possible, the highest annual income ever was $2,000. Subscriptions have always been free and the blog non-monetized (no ads). Permission has always been granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations may still be made through the links provided at the end of this post. Thank you! 

Copyright © 2014 Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you! 

Learn about Chris Glaser’s life and gay activism in the church.


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Everything You Wanted to Know about God but Were Afraid to Ask!

South African sunset, photo by Wade Jones.

My final post on my blog “Progressive Christian Reflections” will occur on June 30, 2021. More than ten years of posts will remain available to you on the blogsite, https://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and I encourage you to enjoy them. I regret that I never created an index of post titles, but the search engine in the upper left corner of my blog can help you find posts of interest by typing in a subject, topic, name, scripture reference, religious season or holy day. Or you may work through them by year and month listed in the right column. 

Though they may have been written with current events in mind, I intended them each to be read meaningfully at any point in time. You may continue to contact me at my email address used by the delivery service or by leaving a comment on a particular post. FeedBurner has announced it will discontinue all subscription services sometime in July, the occasion for my timing. It has been a pleasure writing this blog, but now, I believe, is a time for silence, something I considered when writing the Zen series. 

I assure you I am well, content, and thankful to God for this extension of my ministry. Thank you for your interest, comments, correspondence, and contributions. I am grateful to Metropolitan Community Churches for recognizing this blog as an “Emerging Ministry” and ProgressiveChristianity.org for reposting many of my reflections, as well as the dozens of Facebook pages that allowed me to provide links to particular posts. I am grateful for the free services of Blogspot, Google, and the delivery service, FeedBurner. I am grateful for artist and friend Becki Jayne Harrelson and my husband Wade Jones for their technical and moral support.

To date, the blog has had 510,000 visits, a count that does not include almost 500 free weekly subscribers. Once donations were possible, the highest annual income was $2,000.  Subscriptions have always been free and the blog non-monetized (no ads). Permission has always been granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations may still be made through the links provided at the end of this post. Thank you! 

Today’s post appeared on July 20, 2016:

 

Months ago I mentioned on this blog that I had finally picked up Karen Armstrong’s book, A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Perhaps reflective of our desire for theological ignorance, I found it discounted on the remainder table at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble. 

I must admit that, at times, I have been slogging through it, sometimes even setting it aside for days at a time. But I read all such books in the context of my morning prayers, hoping for inspiration along the way, so I just read a portion each day. The book is well-written and comprehensive, but overwhelming in its detailing of our fitful attempts to “know” God. Right now I’m flailing in the chapter on the Enlightenment and actually looking forward to next chapter’s “The Death of God?” Whew, what a relief after all this kvetching! (Apparently, making God a product of reason makes him/her/they more easily dispensable or at least optional. Stay tuned.) 

Of course I’ve read other books on the history of religion, but there were many surprises and aha’s for me in this book. 

Armstrong not only writes of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but also of Hinduism and Buddhism, though to a lesser extent. What surprised me is how various religions often paralleled and sometimes informed one another’s trains of thought. Given our contemporary insistence on religious divisions, I found it consoling that there are historically points of agreement and sometimes civil disagreement. 

There are also periods of dysfunctional fighting within and among religions, and though each have suffered their unfair share of persecution and unpopularity, it seems to me that Jews got the worst of it, long before the Shoah, or Holocaust. Made me more sympathetic to the raison d’ĂȘtre of the state of Israel. 

What struck me also is that all religions have had their intelligentsia—their philosophers and academics and scientists—which has helped shape the religions as we know them.  And that those who tried to make religion only “of the heart,” could be among the most dangerous because of their subjectivity that resisted intellectual scrutiny. 

I had the biggest challenge reading about Islam. I was already familiar—if vaguely—with many of the names and general movements in other religions, but there were so many names and movements in Islam—both unfamiliar because of my lack of education as well as sounding exotic—that it reminded me of a classic Russian novel, having so many characters! 

I found the chapter on the Reformers particularly disheartening, especially Armstrong’s treatment of Martin Luther—at this point I reminded myself that Armstrong is a former nun, but that gave me little solace, given her obvious command of religious history. Calvin came off better, I’m happy to say, given my Presbyterian background, though later development of his thoughts on predestination is scary. 

You might have guessed that I would be drawn to the chapter and segments on the mystics and mystical traditions, by which all religions were blessed. I was already familiar with many, but now to read of their experiences and insights in relation to one another and their respective religious traditions made me esteem them yet more highly. To me, they provide a salvific thread to what was often a brutal enterprise of religion and theology. 

Another salvific thread for me was Eastern Orthodox thinking that we can’t possibly know God as he/she/they is in actuality. Also I liked the idea that God is “no thing,” somewhat of a parallel to what I’ve read of Buddhism’s “no thing.” 

By comparison, Armstrong explains how talkative Christianity became in the West, with its emphasis on doctrine and systematic theology. Instead, in Eastern Orthodox understanding, we need silence to understand/experience God, which I believe is central to a spiritual life. Of course, then we might come back to a religion “of the heart” and the subjectivity that is potentially dangerous. But communing with God was to be of the mind as well, and within the context of a spiritual community and a spiritual tradition that can serve as correctives. 

As a progressive Christian, two other things were of particular interest: 

First, literalism was rare and “untraditional”: there was a deep respect for and valuing of the place of myth in all religious traditions. Myth and storytelling reveal something deeper about our human experience than can be explained. To take them “literally” is to do them and us and even God, a disservice. 

And second, those who treated others badly and judgmentally were doing so out of their anxiety and fear of an angry god too demanding to please. 

Once the Bible begins to be interpreted literally instead of symbolically, the idea of its God becomes impossible. To imagine a deity who is literally responsible for everything that happens on earth involves impossible contradictions. The “God” of the Bible ceases to be a symbol of a transcendent reality and becomes a cruel and despotic tyrant. (p 283) 

Could it be that a deliberately imaginative conception of God, based on mythology and mysticism, is more effective as a means of giving his people courage to survive tragedy and distress than a God whose myths are interpreted literally? (p 286) 

Armstrong suggests the benefit of discovering God using “the imaginative disciplines of prayer and contemplation,” and the danger of assuming God as a “fact.” (p 291) 

In one of my earliest books and again, in one of my posts on this blog, I wrote that we can get into trouble when we treat matters of faith as matter-of-fact. 

 

Copyright © 2016 Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you! 

Explore Chris Glaser’s books.


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Where Your Treasure Is

Chris at Kirkridge. Photo taken by Brendan Fay.

 “Master, you are wonderful! You have renounced riches and comforts to seek God and   teach us wisdom!” 

“You are reversing the case!” The saint’s face held a mild rebuke. “I have left a few paltry rupees, a few petty pleasures, for a cosmic empire of endless bliss. How then have I denied myself anything? I know the joy of sharing the treasure. Is that a sacrifice? The shortsighted worldly folk are verily the real renunciants! They relinquish an unparalleled divine possession for a poor handful of earthly toys! … The world is full of uneasy believers in an outward security.” 

I chuckled over this paradoxical view of renunciation—one that puts the cap of Croesus on any saintly beggar, whilst transforming all proud millionaires into unconscious martyrs. 

Paramahansa Yogananda tells this story about Bhaduri Mahasaya on page 63 of his Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) that I am presently reading. In a previous post I referred to Yogananda as founder of the Self Realization Fellowship whose grounds in southern California I frequented in college. While the supernatural experiences of Eastern tradition reported in this book are hard for this Westerner to believe, the philosophy is persuasive and powerful. 

While I have not attained the saint’s dispassion toward rupees and “earthly toys,” many if not most of my colleagues in ministry will identify with the saint’s preference for the spiritual life. To whatever degree we have “gone without,” given the culture’s greater monetary valuing of other professions, we have realized our greater dependency on spiritual treasure—the satisfaction of pastoral care, of preaching and writing, of attending to matters of the heart and soul rather than simply to matter and materialism. 

A church member once told me that she was well into adulthood before she understood that ministers were paid! And I’ve met people who think spiritual leaders should do what they do for the sheer joy of it, unlike other vocations. 

“Worldly people do not like the candor that shatters their delusions,” Bhaduri Mahasaya explained to Yogananda. The gurus Yogananda writes about receive rupees in their slippers from followers. And though I am not a guru, I am grateful that a few of my readers have put rupees in my slippers! 

When I was ordained by MCC in 2005 after a professional lifetime denied ordination by the Presbyterian Church simply because I’m gay, I chose for the Gospel lesson Jesus’ words on God’s Providence from the Sermon on the Mount, which reads in part, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly [Creator] feeds them.” It is the scripture that gets me through the tough times when I do not rise to the level of a saint’s disposition!

This post was published July 24, 2013. 

Copyright © 2013 Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely to the “Chris Glaser Archive” through the Tribute Gift section of The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. 

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you!