Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Folding the Labyrinth

Some people do a spiritual practice called walking the labyrinth. My version of this spiritual practice is folding the labyrinth.

A facilitator’s role in spiritual formation programs at Columbia Theological Seminary is not as a presenter but as a maker of everything from coffee to morning and evening prayers—as well as unfolding and folding the fabric labyrinth.

The spiritual formation program is my “local church,” where I encounter fellow believers in search of spiritual understanding and practices, all those things I have wanted to share with congregations and participants in retreats and workshops.

I am not one who “gets” walking the labyrinth, however. But at the end of a recent class I realized I really “get” folding it.

I know that spirituality is to be experienced in community, but when I have tried to fold the labyrinth with another, I find conflict and distraction. “No, I think it should go this way.” “Shouldn’t we read the directions again?”

I prefer to follow the folds in the fabric. I read the directions long ago, but I find the easiest and surest way to fold the labyrinth is by letting its creases guide me.

Virtually everything else I do as a facilitator is done with others, from reading assigned texts in preparation, working with a presenter’s theme and imagining attendees’ responses to and participation in the morning and evening prayers, ensuring the availability of coffee, tea, water, meals, and snacks as the class proceeds, enjoying presentations and conversations with participants.

But folding the labyrinth I prefer to do alone. After all, walking the labyrinth is also done in solitude. While attendees are meeting in their small groups for the last time, I fold and reflect in silence. Though the outcome is always the same, I take satisfaction when the wrinkles are smoothed out and the labyrinth is folded into a shape compact enough to fit in its box.




Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or 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!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Crowd of Witnesses

Rock Stars and Prophets "Ordain" Chris Glaser

From the outside, and our need to simplify, especially in the media, key figures seem to be responsible for movements. Sometimes they are suffering scapegoats and sacrificial lambs, sometimes charismatic leaders and compassionate saints.

But from my vantage perspective of more than four decades devoted to the LGBT movement, I repeatedly realized that our movement is a collective and mutual inspiration. Perhaps that is why we have achieved relatively so much so quickly—plus the fact that we and our allies are in every family and neighborhood, every race and culture, condition and class, every vocation, business, and organization, of every political and religious stripe.

That realization was confirmed once again by last week’s ingathering of some eighty souls of the LGBT movement in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. at the church’s conference center in Stony Point, New York. The denomination’s presbyteries have recently approved a constitutional change permitting same-gender marriage, and we had every reason to celebrate.

Thanks to the organizational skills of That All May Freely Serve’s current evangelist, Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, and a host of volunteers, a major contribution from a pastor as well as donations from others, and the enthusiastic hospitality of Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase and their staff as well as the volunteers of the center’s multi-faith community (which included a three-tiered wedding cake and the tastiest and healthiest food I’ve enjoyed at any retreat or hotel facility), Rock Stars and Prophets: Generations of Justice and Love will be remembered not only as a historic event, but one that was healing and hopeful and just plain fun. Of course TAMFS’s founding evangelist, the Rev. Janie Spahr, and its former Regional Partnership Coordinator and later Minister Coordinator, the should-be-Rev. Lisa Larges, were also responsible for the event’s success.

And I will remember it as the place of my fourth ordination, thanks to the Rev. Katie Morrison, who, along with Ray, were the first openly lesbian/gay persons to be ordained by their respective presbyteries years before the prohibition on LGBT ordination was lifted.

Rev. Laurene Lafontaine, who recently reclaimed her calling as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church, passed to Katie a beautiful, needlepoint stole created in 1993 by the late Louise Thompson for the first openly LGBT person to be ordained in the denomination. Spontaneously, Katie decided it should go to me, and she led the gathering in a blessing of my ministry with the laying on of hands.

I had approached the four-day gathering eagerly but with reservations, fearing what feelings might arise. During the planning, I urged that everyone who attended should hear from everyone there. I spoke on a panel of activists from the early days of our movement, and the next morning took my turn for a brief videotaped interview conducted by Warren Cooper, a gentle and kindly videographer. As I left the taping, involuntary tears came to my eyes.

Now, as I stumbled toward Katie, those tears returned, and I had a sense of unreality. At a time when I might feel vindication, I instead felt stunned and unworthy. I looked in Katie’s smiling face as people gathered around and laid hands on me. She then led us in a blessing. 

My first ordination was as an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Van Nuys, California, in 1972. I had almost walked out, because the interim pastor mistakenly used the old questions for ordination that included the “infallibility” of scriptures. But I stayed, privately assenting only that the Bible served as God’s word to me, the newer version of the ordination vows.

My second ordination was a surprise, at the hands of the annual LGBT retreatants at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Pennsylvania, led by the Rev. Darlene Garner, a fellow speaker, and now, three decades later, the Elder who oversees MCC’s Emerging Ministries that includes this blog!

My third ordination came in 2005 when I served as interim pastor of Christ Covenant MCC of Decatur, Georgia. The MCC Moderator, my friend, the Rev. Nancy Wilson, gave the sermon and led the ceremony, and several of the people at last week’s gathering came from afar to participate. In giving me the charge, the Rev. Erin Swenson had encouraged me to “dance with the one who brung you,” in other words, serve faithfully within MCC, whose polity allows my dual affiliation as a Presbyterian. I was taken by surprise when the gathering offered a prolonged ovation.

As I look at the photo Believe Out Loud’s James Rowe took of my fourth ordination, I am pleased to see very little of me in the picture. Instead you see all the people around me, reaching out their hands in blessing, representing all those who have shaped my soul throughout my life, including those who have passed on.

I am grateful for such a crowd of witnesses!



Reading this New York Times article made me think of the “incandescent souls” who  help make us who we are: “A Moral Bucket List—What Kind of Adventures Produce Goodness, Rather than Build Résumés?”

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or 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!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How Did Jesus Let Go of His Cross?

I would have been angry. And exhausted. And resentful, bitter, unforgiving. And not just of those who tortured me verbally and physically, spitting in my face, nailing me to that cross, but all those who looked away, pretending it wasn’t happening or worse, that it wasn’t important, and fearful of a similar fate if they defended me.

Those fair-weather multitudes I fed with spiritual truths and a little boy’s lunch: where were they? Those I healed with prayer and touch? Those I made glad with the egalitarian promises and parables of the kingdom of God among us?

And my disciples, cowering in hiding! Betrayed, denied, abandoned by those dearest to me, who professed to “love” me. Worse yet, they never seemed to really “get” me, never seemed to understand what I was about, never fully bought into my passion for the world and my compassion for all the little ones in this world.

No wonder I felt God-forsaken.

If it weren’t for the women who followed me and that closeted disciple Nicodemus, I would still be up on that cross, to be devoured by the birds of the air and the beasts of the field as my muscles stretched to the breaking point in the heat of the sun, my lungs gasping for air.

Now, thank God, I can rest in peace. The tomb is cool and dark, the strips of cloth hugging my wounds, the cold stone holding me, my mind and heart at rest, at rest in God. Will anything come of my sacrifice? The way I lived my life for others? The insights the Spirit spoke through my words and my ways? God only knows.

I’m glad to be away from all the noise and chaos outside. I never want to go back there again. Though, there were moments of tranquility and comfort—going up on a mountain to pray alone with God, Mary anointing my feet with a fragrant oil, the beloved disciple cuddling on my lap during our last meal. I feel sorrow for them, but I can no longer help them. I can’t get out of here; this is it.

But then to my surprise, God calls me into action again. I rise to the occasion. Each one who witnesses this resurrection is of two minds*, belief and doubt, from the first to the last. Belief will give them hope; doubt will cause despair. But this is how I let go of my cross: I choose to believe.




* Matthew’s description of witnesses to the resurrection that some believed while others doubted, is better translated that each witness was of two minds. The word used literally means “standing in two places.” That is comforting.


Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. “Progressive Christian Reflections” is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit"

Jesus’ Seven Last Words, sayings offered from the cross, may serve as guidance for the spiritual life. You have been invited to contemplate each saying during the seven Wednesdays of Lent and Holy Week. This is the final installment of the series.

As I read again the words surrounding this final exclamation from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, I am struck with awe. “The sun’s light failed…darkness came over the whole land from noon to three…Jesus crying with a loud voice…he breathed his last… ‘surely this man was righteous’ praised the Roman centurion…the crowds returned home beating their breasts…the women remained watching from a distance.”

Executions are horrible scenes. And witnessing a person we dearly love pass the edge of life can feel like falling off a cliff ourselves.

The traditional final words of Jesus were the words that inspired his whole life. That seventh saying of Jesus on the cross, with its seven words, another quotation from the liturgy, the psalms, expresses trust—“into your hands,” purpose—“I commit,” and offering—“my spirit.” This is the beginning and conclusion of every prayer, every just act, every compassionate act, whether we say it or not:

“Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

It’s a recognition of something greater than us, greater than our needs for survival, reputation, and power—the very temptations Jesus faced in his forty day fast after his baptism, the period Lent commemorates.

It’s an affirmation that we live for meaning, communion, and compassion. A spirituality that doesn’t provide these three elements leaves us wandering in the wilderness.

A God who offers these values is worthy of our trust, our life’s purpose, and daily offering of our spirits. In other words, our faith, hope, and love.

“Into your hands I commit my spirit” is not just a transitional affirmation, it is a transformational affirmation.

This is not a once-in-a-lifetime conversion but a daily lifting of the cross of those who suffer personally, politically, economically, environmentally, and spiritually.

The Greek word pneuma is used for both spirit and breath.  Only recently has it been pointed out to me that in Matthew’s version of Jesus “breathing his last,” the word is not possessive, as in “gives up his spirit.” Rather, Jesus “releases the Spirit,” indicating an immediate Pentecost, manifested in Matthew by the tearing of the curtain veiling the temple’s holy of holies, earthquakes, the opening of tombs, and the resurrection of some saints.

The Greek word translated “release” can also mean “forgive,” as in being released from debt. Jesus’ first words from the cross, “Forgive them,” is now incarnated in his final action.

As in many a horrific event, there is more meaning in the crucifixion than meets the eye for those with faith, hope, and love.



For those who would like daily readings for the remaining days of Holy Week, click here and scroll down to the end of “Jesus Preaches in the Temple.”

Enter “Easter” in the search box on the blog’s upper left corner for additional readings for Easter. Here are three of them:



Please support this blog ministry by clicking here or 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!

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. It is an authorized Emerging Ministry of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination welcoming seekers as well as believers. This year, I offer a signed gift copy of my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, to each one who donates $100 or more (at once or in installments) over the course of 2015.

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