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Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Confession and Pardon easter Holy Days Liturgy Multifaith Opening prayer Reflections for worship services

Liturgy for the Ascension: joining the Cloud of Witnesses

Call to Worship 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

Opening Prayer

God in whose image we all are made,
God who pervades all time and space,
when you died and rose again 
you drew all people to yourself.

We in this congregation,
we in this denomination,
we who live in this small point in time
are not the only ones whom you have gathered
to sing your praise and delve into deeper relationship
with neighbor, with stranger, and with you.

As we join as one to worship you today,
open our minds to experience the cloud of witnesses —
the timeless community of all those who dwell in your love, 
past, present, and future,
whose many voices intertwine with our own
to weave one song of praise 
made richer by every added harmony and chord.

And as we worship as one from under many roofs,
in many different lands and languages and ways of life,
send your Spirit to fill us to bursting
both with joyful anticipation of Christ’s return
and an irresistible urge to seek God’s kin(g)dom here and now.

Amen. 

Reading and Praying with the Psalms

Psalm 47:1-2, 5-7 (my translation)

For the choirmaster of the Korahites, a psalm.

All you peoples, clap your hands!
Shout to God with ringing voice.
For LIVING GOD Most High inspires awe, great sovereign over all the earth.

God has ascended with a rallying cry, 
LIVING GOD with a trumpet blast.

Sing to God, sing!
Sing to our sovereign, sing! —
for God is sovereign over all the earth. 
Sing a wise song!

Silence

Prayer

God of all the cosmos,
whose sovereignty brings 
not subjugation, but liberation,

There are as many ways to praise you
as there are creatures on the earth —
ways familiar and dear to us, 
and ways that we think strange.

Some praise you by the name Allah,
faithfully prostrating themselves
when the call to pray sounds five times each day;

Others call you Hashem, and worship you
through torah and ritual passed down over generations
that many have tried but all have failed to stamp out.

Your children worship you 
with prayer wheels and prayer beads, scriptures and songs,
in fasting and feasting, meditation and dancing

and in the worship of simply being —
the bursting of the bud, 
the burrowing of the worm,
the flashing of feathers in flight.

Let us praise you with all that we are,
O God of many names, God both dear and strange.

For wherever we go, whatever we do,
in life and in death we all belong to you.

Amen.


Confession and Pardon

Call to Confession

Our sin, individual and collective, is almost too much to bear. 
It would be easier not to face it — 
but to pretend it is not there is to let it fester. 

So let us face it together —
first with a moment of silent reflection,
and then with voices uplifted as one to God.

Silence

Prayer of Confession

Risen God,

You call us not to look toward the sky,
but into the faces of those who surround us —
to celebrate their many shapes and shades, wrinkles and scars,
the unique insights only they can share;
and to care for their needs as desperately as we care for our own,
according to the example you left us in your own ministry. 

Yet we live as though you abandoned us
when you ascended into heaven –
as though we should wait, dormant, for your return, 
gazing longingly to the sky 
as we dwell on bygone days 
and wish for an uncomplicated future.

When our siblings cry out to us 
from where they’ve been trampled into the mud
by systems like white supremacy, capitalism, and cisheteropatriarchy

we with eyes glued heavenward shrug off their suffering 
with assurances that it is fleeting –
anything to avoid acknowledging our own culpability;
anything to avoid the endless work of active solidarity.

When we fail to balance our hope in your return
with living out your already-present Spirit: forgive us. 

When anxiety or regret holds us back: encourage us.

When apathy or resignation leaves us feeling powerless: empower us.

Amen.

Assurance of Pardon 

My friends in the cloud of witnesses,

God has called us into a transformation 
of our minds, our hearts, our very lives,
and – miracle of miracles! – 
Xe has made that transformation possible!

Through our Creator, Redeemer, Comforter,
we are forgiven and set free
to be God’s people made whole.
Thanks be to the One Who Gives New Life.
Amen.


Responding to God’s Word        

While making room for questions and fresh insight,
and celebrating the diversity of thought
that sets the cloud of witnesses aglow,

there are some beliefs that we in the church
commit ourselves to holding in common.

As one, let us affirm some of that shared faith
while lifting up the wisdom of some of our fellow witnesses.

We believe in one Triune God, Creator of all things.

In that Beginning told in Genesis,
She brooded over watery darkness
and gave birth to Creation in all its remarkable diversity — 
the day and night, and the varied shades
of dawn and dusk between;
the sea and dry land, and the shifting shores
that blur them together;
the plants and all kinds of animals, and life beyond them
— coral and  seaweed and fungi, unicellular organisms…

Each one created by God, who declared all Good.

Finally, God fashioned human beings
— male and female, and intersex –
in Their own divine image,
intending and blessing
our vast diversity of body and mind.

Transgender theologian Dr. Justin Tanis writes,

“In the story of Genesis, even while God was creating apparent opposites, God also created liminal spaces in which the elements of creation overlap and merge. Surely the same could be said about the creation of humanity with people occupying many places between [and beyond] the poles of female and male in a way similar to the rest of creation.”

We believe that in the Person of Jesus
this same God put on flesh
and dwelt among us,
drawing all of us into abundant life –
not only in some far-off time,
but for right here and now.

Rev. Dr. Noel Leo Erskine writes,

“We are admonished to bear the cross now so that we may wear the crown later. We are instructed to sacrifice and do without shoes now so that we may wear shoes when we get to heaven. But Black religion helps us understand that all of God’s children need some shoes now, right here on earth.

Black religion exposed the false eschatology that taught us to postpone liberation for the ‘sweet bye and bye.’ It exposed the fallacy that we have to wait until we get to heaven to have basic human rights such as access to shelter, food, health care, education, and the other essentials of life.

…Eternal life was not relegated to the after-life but was understood as a new quality of life beginning in the here-and-now.”

We believe that Jesus ascended into heaven
But did not leave us alone:

We believe in his Holy, healing, mischief-making Spirit
who sweeps us up into the work of God’s Kin-dom
that is already transforming the world
even while not yet fully ushered in.

In the body and divinity of Jesus,
heaven meets earth –
thanks be to God!

Amen.


I wrote this liturgy for an Ascension Sunday service for May 2021.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Holy Days lent Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

Combatting Antisemitism on Good Friday: An Alternative to the “Solemn Reproaches of the Cross”

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

From the moment I shaped humanity from the mud
and gifted you with my own Breath
I delighted in you, and called you good,

invited you to serve my diverse Creation,
promising that as long as you cared for it,
it would care for you  –

yet you trample my good works under your feet!
You consume and consume and consume beyond your need
even while many of your siblings starve.

In sentencing your siblings and the land
to a torturous death,
you sentence me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

I chose the children of Israel as my own
not despite but because Jacob dared to wrestle me;
I chose the enslaved Hebrews as my own
not despite but because of their littleness,
the way their neighbors sought to dominate or destroy them.

My covenant with them is eternal;
My Torah instructs them well on how to love me
by loving the stranger, the Other, the defenseless –

Yet you claim your relationship with me negates theirs!

You call their testament “old,”
and claim the God you find there
is bloodthirsty, barbaric, not the same God;

Across the centuries you have listened to the story
of how I was charged by Roman powers with sedition,
died on a Roman cross –
and then went out and blamed “the Jews” for my death!

You have coerced conversion,
enacted or enabled hate crimes against them;
you have shunned and slandered them
when you ought to have
embraced them as your kin!

When you reject and persecute my Jewish people,
truly, truly you reject and persecute me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

I so loved you, I wrapped my divinity in frail flesh
so I could share with you
both joy and pain, feast and famine, friendship and loss;

I so loved you, I accepted Rome’s cross
to show my solidarity with all
whom worldly powers crush —

But still you idolize the very forces
that brutalized my body unto death!

When you regard a flag above a life
and let your siblings perish
on the other side of a border you invented;

when you wage war against Black and Indigenous peoples
or look away as they are killed
you also kill me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

Why do you not help me when I cry out
in thirst and hunger, or nakedness?
Why do you not welcome me when I come to you as a stranger?
Where are you when I am sick, but can’t afford care?
Where are you when I am abused or contracting COVID in prison?

Oh, my church! when will you truly become
my hands and feet on earth?
Answer, answer me!

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us
and we will be your hands and feet.

We will care for your Creation
and show gratitude for its care of us.

We will respect your Jewish people,
repenting of and uprooting our antisemitism;
we will learn to recognize your face
among persons of all faiths.

We will care for the most oppressed among us,
joining in solidarity with Black, Indigenous people of color,
with the LGBTQA+ community,
with the disability community, and all the disenfranchised,

uplifting their voices
and making good trouble
until the needs of all are met.

Truly, then, you will be my church
and I will give you strength, 
and you shall journey in the name of
God Who Draws All Peoples To Themself. 


You can hear me read this piece and explain it in other words in episode 39 of my podcast – find links here.

I wrote this piece to be used as an alternative in churches that on Good Friday traditionally read the Improperia, the “Solemn Reproaches of the Cross, the original version of which you can read here. My intention is to encourage Christians to examine our antisemitism during this week, rather than fueling it with language that blames the Jewish people past and present for Jesus’s death.

Holy Week has long been a dangerous time of the year for Jewish persons (See this article for the history of antisemitic hate crimes on Good Friday in medieval Europe; and this article arguing that “Centuries of Christian Antisemitism Led to the Holocaust“). The scriptures and liturgy that we choose to read in our churches during this time fuels that antisemitism not only this week, but the whole year round. 

As Jewish woman and New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine writes in this article,

“Jesus of Nazareth, charged by the Roman authorities with sedition, dies on a Roman cross. But Jews ― the collective, all Jews ― become known as “Christ-killers.” Still haunting, the legacy of that charge becomes acute during Holy Week, when pastors and priests who speak about the death of Jesus have to talk about “the Jews.” Every year, the same difficulty surfaces: how can a gospel of love be proclaimed, if that same gospel is heard to promote hatred of Jesus’s own people?”

Among the most poisonous of liturgy read by many churches across the centuries is the “Reproaches.” As Elizabeth Palmer explains in her 2020 article “Thinking about Good Friday during a Pandemic,”

In the Solemn Reproaches, Jesus addresses people who have harmed him — and the text has a long history of stirring up violence against Jewish people. Many times over the centuries, in many places, Christians bowed before the cross on Good Friday and heard or sang some version of these words: “I led thee through the wilderness 40 years, fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a land exceeding good, and thou hast prepared a cross for thy Savior.” Then they’d leave the church, form a mob, and attack Jewish communities.

The “Reproaches” are coated in the blood of our Jewish neighbors. They should not be read or sung in our worship — but neither should they be hidden away outside of worship. We can’t pretend this text does not exist. We must grapple with it, guide congregations in understanding why it is so evil, and in doing so move towards acknowledging and dealing with our antisemitism, past and present.

My hope is that this alternative text, which includes a well-earned reproach for our antisemitism with examples of what that antisemitism looks like in our churches today, can be a jumping off point for conversations on this topic.

For more on antisemitism during Holy Week and what to do about it, I highly recommend Levine’s article ““Holy Week and the hatred of the Jews: How to avoid anti-Judaism this Easter.” In this article, Levine describes how the anti-Jewish language got into the Gospels to begin with; how interfaith conversations today help stem the tide of antisemitism; and explores and ranks the 6 strategies Levine has seen people use when trying to resolve these problems with the New Testament.

From least useful to most useful, she names these strategies as excision (just removing the problematic stuff and pretending it was never there); retranslation (changing up the way we translate problematic texts, such as changing “the Jews” to “Judeans”); romanticizing (this includes Christians holding their own Passover seders – read this part of the article to see why we should Not Do That); allegorizing; historicizing; and, best of all, just admitting the problem:

We come finally to our sixth option: admit to the problem and deal with it. There are many ways congregations can address the difficult texts. Put a note in service bulletins to explain the harm the texts have caused. Read the problematic texts silently, or in a whisper. Have Jews today give testimony about how they have been hurt by the texts.

Those who proclaim the problematic verses from the pulpit might imagine a Jewish child sitting in the front pew and take heed: don’t say anything that would hurt this child, and don’t say anything that would cause a member of the congregation to hurt this child.

Better still: educate the next generation, so that when they hear the problematic words proclaimed, they have multiple contexts – theological, historical, ethical – by which to understand them.

Christians, hearing the Gospels during Holy Week, should no more hear a message of hatred of Jews than Jews, reading the Book of Esther on Purim, should hate Persians, or celebrating the seder and reliving the time when “we were slaves in Egypt,” should hate Egyptians.

We choose how to read. After two thousand years of enmity, Jews and Christians today can recover and even celebrate our common past, locate Jesus and his earliest followers within rather than over and against Judaism, and live into the time when, as both synagogue and church proclaim, we can love G-d and our neighbour.’

For more resources for dealing with antisemitism within our Christian communities, see below.


RESOURCES:

First, let’s get educated on the basic facts about antisemitism in Holy Week’s typical scriptures, and alternatives to concluding that “the Jews killed Jesus”:

Next, let’s reimagine the stories we read during Holy Week in ways that don’t do harm to our Jewish neighbors!

  • I most highly recommend Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine’s book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week.
  • Get a summary of and link to a pdf of her chapter on Palm Sunday and the “cleansing of the temple” (Jesus flipping tables) here
  • And if reading a whole book isn’t your thing, Levine also has a video series where she talks about the Passion story – here’s the first video, just 9 minutes long
  • And here’s an article interviewing Levine that sums up the purpose of her work with the Christian Gospels – “A number of Christian commentators feel the need to make Judaism look bad in order to make Jesus look good. Instead of portraying Jesus as a Jew talking to other Jews, he becomes in their views the first Christian, the one who invented divine grace, mercy, and love, and all that other good stuff. Such views neglect the presence of these same virtues within Jesus’ own Jewish context. There should be no reason this Jewish Jesus is used to promote anti-Judaism.”

Categories
Holy Days lent My poetry Other search markers Reflections for worship services

Crucifixion poem: “your death was nothing special”

your death was
nothing special

it was the death
of uncounted criminals
convicted under Roman law

in fact, two others died with you
on that same hill, on that same day
in that same way: bloody suffocation on a cross

so if you had lived today your death
would have been likewise ordinary
and likewise brutal:

exploded veins in the electric chair
after an unfair trial

or blood gushing out
on a road with a busted street lamp,
an officer’s bullet in your gut,
no trial at all.

Jesus, Jesus
this is why
your death matters.

because it didn’t — not to the ones who killed you,
not to the soldier who thrust a lance in your side
as he had done to so many men
on so many days like this one
not to the men who cast lots for your clothes,
profiting off your pain

your death matters, your death is precious
because it was common, ordinary —
you share the agony
of every tortured spirit who has ever walked this earth

you share every cry
muffled under the boot of one in power.

and so i know that
they with whom you have shared
agony
will also share in your rising.

…i have no words for this.
it is beyond words.
all i have is
thank you.
thank you.

thank you.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem:

Womanist theologians and other Black theologians, joined with Latin American liberationist theolgians and many others, have argued that substitutionary atonement deeply harms some of the world’s most oppressed persons — the very persons with whom Jesus most intimately identifies. As Miguel De La Torre explains in Embracing Hopelessness,

“There is nothing salvific about crucifixion. We are not saved through unjust suffering; although the oppressive suffering of the many who offer up their broken bodies as living sacrifices does provide abundant life for the elite few.

…The eleventh-century theologian Anselm of Canterbury would have us believe the purpose of the cross was necessary to satisfy God’s anger, to serve as a substitute for us. Sinful humans could not redeem themselves before an angry God who required blood atonement. Only a sinless God-as-human could complete the process, make restitution, and restore creation.

In other words, in order to satisfy God’s vanity, God’s child must be humiliated, tortured, and brutally killed, rather than the true object of God’s wrath, humans. …The problem with Anselm’s theology of atonement is that it casts God as the ultimate abuser, the ultimate oppressor who finds satisfaction through the domination, humiliation, and pain of God’s child. …”

But as we let go of these beliefs in God’s “need” for a sacrifice to assuage “his” anger, does the cross retain any meaning at all?

The answer is, of course.

Jesus’s death was hideously ordinary — and hence infinitely meaningful. As Richard Rohr said, “God did not die for us. God died with us.”

Through the cross, Jesus exposed the violence that is so commonplace that many of us have become desensitized to it for the evil it is — a key example being antiblack violence that forms a core tenet of white supremacy and is one foundation of the United States. Jesus’s execution is akin to the lynchings, shootings, and executions of countless Black lives in the United States — and, James Cone argues in The Cross and the Lynching Tree,

“Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “re-crucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.

Through the cross, Jesus showed us that God’s power is not human power — is not control through violence, but rather is compassion, is co-suffering, is interdependence and solidarity and letting go of the need for control. But God’s power is antithetical to white supremacy and other oppressive powers, and so Christianity entangled in Empire will continue to promote the God whose anger demands blood and tortures it out of “His” own son.

Furthermore, the dominating powers of Empire — from first century Rome to today’s America — attempt to strip humanity and dignity from those they deem useless or dangerous. But through the cross, Jesus reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of the world’s most reviled, tortured, and discarded — for what they suffer, God has suffered. This is why Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion still matter, even if they are not the key to salvation. De La Torre’s discussion of the cross continues thus:

For Christians from marginalized communities, the importance of the cross is not its redemptive powers, for all aspects of Christ’s life, death, teachings, and resurrection are redemptive.

The importance of Jesus’s crucifixion is the point when Christ chose solidarity with the world’s marginalized, even unto death. Christ becomes one with the crucified people of his time, as well as with all who are crucified today on the crosses of classism, colonialism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and religious discrimination. For Christians to die with Christ so they can also live with him means they too must find solidarity with the world’s crucified people.”

We must find solidarity with the world’s crucified people. How will you and your communities do so?

Categories
Catholic vibes Holy Days lent My poetry Reflections for worship services

Lent births herself this year – Pandemic 2021

Lent births herself this year, no midwife braving
the cold to come to her and coax her out
with strong sure hands
into a thankless world.

Lent crackles like a sheet of ice this year
creaking underfoot her timeless chant
memento mori
remember the sudden plunge the icy fist that grasps the lungs
to beings sick to death of that same song
and bodies wrung bare
from holding themselves at arm’s length for so long.

Unbidden
Lent comes.

Unwanted
Lent comes.

Yoke gentle
this year
Lent comes.

One fist opens to expose the ash
she’ll paint upon your brow
if you’ll let her.

In a year bereft of touch
you may shiver as her fingertips brush flesh
and startle at their warmth.

And once
you’ve let yourself be marked by dust
Lent’s other fist will open for you
gentle as spring’s first petals.

This palm glows with embers
that flicker out Lent’s second song:
This too remember
o frail Dust — you’re born from Splendor
and Splendor thrums within you even now.

Lent births herself this year
into a world already stripped bare

and beckons to the embers in her palm.
Come. This year
they need only the faintest breath to stir them.
Come.



This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem:

I wrote this before the sun rose this Ash Wednesday morning, my sleeping wife’s warm limbs embracing me, her breathing a steady rhythm at my back. Be gentle to yourselves and to others this season, beloved.

Many souls are already weary in this time of pandemic, and Lent is the last thing they feel like embracing. But Lent is not suffering for suffering’s sake, or increasing our burdens as some kind of challenge for ourselves. Lent is for acknowledging what suffering already is present in the world, and bearing it together; Lent is an intentional remembering of what binds us, all of us, and nourishing those ties.

Lent is stepping into solidarity – alongside Jesus on his journey to crucifixion – with the tortured and discarded of the world.

Lent may just be what our tattered spirits and weary bones need right now.

The concept of splendor comes from Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, who writes in A Tree Full of Angels:

“Why shouldn’t our experiences be filled with God? Who do we think it is who is breathing in us? Where do we think this ache has come from? And has it ever crossed our minds that God, too, has a deep yearning for us? …You are the dwelling place for the Source of All Life. You are an offspring of the One who said, ‘I Am who Am.’ If the One who gave you birth lives within you, surely you can find some resources there in your sacred Center. An expert lives within you. An expert breathes out you. Your life is entwined with the God who gave you birth. Frail dust, remember, you are splendor!”

Categories
Christmas communion meditation Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

Communion Meditation for Christmastide – Jesus of the House of Bread

Two thousand years ago, 

Divinity entered the world in the form of an infant 
born in Bethlehem — a town whose name means “House of Bread”!
He was swaddled by parents poor in the eyes of the world,
but rich in love,
and laid in a manger —

a food trough for cattle!

Thus it is that from the very moment of his birth,
Jesus made known his intention to feed the hungry world
with his very being —
to be bread for empty stomachs
and nourishment for flagging spirits.

His life was a continuation of a Movement that God had begun
long centuries before Jesus:

a Movement that glimmered in the starry sky laid out for Abraham,
that invited Jacob to wrestle faithfully and fervently
until he came away wounded and blessed;

a Movement that carried the enslaved Hebrews out of bondage
and taught them how to live into true freedom;

a Movement kept alive in times of corruption, and empire, and exile
by fearless prophets who would not be silenced
and who looked forward to the liberation of all prisoners, the uplifting of the poor.

It was those prophets’ message that was boldly sung by Mary,
and that she and Joseph, faithful Jewish parents,
taught to the boy Jesus
with the help of their community’s synagogue. 

It is this message, the proclaiming of God’s World-Upturning Movement,
that infuses the bread and cup we share today.

Eat, drink, and let the sharing of this meal unite us across the miles
into one Body of the liberating Christ
who walks and breathes among us even today. 


I wrote these pieces for a virtual service on December 27, 2020 (First Sunday of Christmastide) centered around the story of the Presentation at the Temple as told in Luke 2:22-40.

Categories
advent My poetry Reflections for worship services

poem: God’s Revolution

if you are content now
you will be devastated then

for when the world is flipped upside-down
all your riches will go spilling into space.

a voice cries out in the wilderness
cries out: prepare the way! prepare –
for what? for peace? perhaps, eventually

but first a revolution – woe to you
(to us) who sit too comfortably! for soon
all thrones will be upturned, and those who served
as footstools wear the crown!

(o come, Immanuel! come and turn
the whole world upside down!)

if you are satisfied now
you will be inconsolable then

when all that succeeded in filling you up
is razed to the ground to make way for a table

built of once-rejected stones – the ones
too crooked, too jagged, too small,
too broken to ever be chosen before.

…will those of you (of us) accustomed to
places of honor at the table
accept the humbler seats
when those once trampled underfoot
are seated at its head?


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. This is a revised version of a poem included in their volume The Kin(g)dom in the Rubble. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: Many of the Bible’s prophets speak of the End of Days and God’s in-coming Kin(g)dom as a fearsome time indeed for any of us who are comfortable with the status quo. In this poem I follow in their footsteps, and hope to remind myself that even though I belong to several oppressed communities, as a white middle-class US citizen there is much indeed I will “lose” when God transforms the world. Will I be ready? Will I be able to let go of my comfortable seat and embrace the revolution?

For more on these ideas, see this sermon I preached in 2018: “When the Good News Feels Like Bad News” on Amos 7 and Mark 6. Here are a few excerpts from that sermon:

“But it turns out that always being accepted, always being liked, is not what following Jesus, what sharing God’s news for the world, is all about. Because sometimes, sharing God’s news for the world comes as bad news for the people who have to hear it, ourselves included. And no one likes the bearer of bad news. …”

“There’s no denying the similarities between our society and the one God called Amos to prophesy against: we too have gross income inequality, the mistreatment of immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable people, the worship of money at the expense of the marginalized…

Our fancy homes and all we have in them, our malls and factories, all razed to the ground to make way for a system that does not exploit the poor?

In theory, sure, I like the idea of no one being exploited…but does it have to mean I must sacrifice some of my favorite luxuries? Must there be chaos, must there be destruction of the old, to bring in this new world of justice?

When we are at the top of the social ladder, when we are the ones benefiting from other people’s suffering, God’s good news about the world flipping upside down sounds a lot like bad news.”

Categories
advent Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

God’s vastness, fearsome and comforting

When I sit with God in quiet moments, I feel
so small. Sometimes, this is a beautiful thing:
I become a little child in the lap of their mother,
I become a baby chick under the soft, warm wings of their mother hen;
I feel safe, and comforted, and loved.

But other times God’s vastness in the face of my own littleness
becomes overwhelming: then I am an ant
under God’s magnifying glass, I am one atom in the face
of the ever-expanding universe that is God

and I become discouraged. Surely no gift I could bring to the table
is big enough for this God to even notice, is big enough to make any impact
on God’s vision for the health and wholeness of this world!…

so why bother? Why even try? Who am I
to talk to God or about God,
to lead church events, to participate in worship services,
to go to a rally for immigrant rights? What change can I or any of us make?

…Then I remember
that God became little Themself,
as little
as any of us ever was.

The impossible hugeness of God
folded itself down into a microscopic embryo,
was nourished by an umbilical cord, was born as a fragile infant,
dependent
on the love and protection of impoverished human parents.

In this season of Advent looking forward to Christmas, let us pray together
to the almighty God who became small, vulnerable, one of us:

Jesus of the manger,

When we grow discouraged at our own littleness
in the face of the work that needs to be done,
in the face of God’s greatness,
Remind us that you know our smallness, and delight in it! —
that each and every one of us does have gifts to offer to you
and to our fellow living beings, gifts that matter,
gifts that make a difference.

Remind us of your parents,
a poor young couple shut out from the inn,
who made use of what they had to care for you,
for God in their midst.

Remind us of how you adored
the little ones among us:
the children who were meant to be seen and not heard
but to whom you said, “Come to me!”

And in the remembering of your love for the littlest ones,
the poorest ones, the scorned ones,
may we be inspired to use our gifts
for the betterment of your world, to do
small things with great love, to keep hope burning bright
for the coming of your Kin(g)dom, where the small are lifted up.

Amen.


If you want to make this a call to the passing of the peace,
you can add:

Friends, now that we have recognized that our littleness
is not something to be lamented
but embraced, we can share the peace of the One who became small to live and love among us.
The peace of the infant Jesus be with you.

And also with you.


About this piece:
I wrote this for a Advent worship service some years ago; it was our pageant day, when the children enact the nativity and we sing songs of how the divine Word became human flesh, how the great became small so that the small might become great, how each of us has a gift to offer God.

I was also channeling something I’d learned from classmates in a seminary class where we’d been discussing Psalm 139, that Psalm where the speaker wonders at how there is no place they can go that God is not there, knowing their every move:

To me, this has always been a very comforting and indeed awe-some thing to marvel at! But for one classmate, it was a thing of terror – she said it made her feel trapped in past times when she’d been desperate to escape the image of God that had been forced on her, a God who is judgmental and cruel, ready to pounce on her and damn her for any little slip-up.

She reminded me that God’s bigness can be a terrifying thing, even while it is a comfort when we meet God as a child meets a loving parent. I wanted to hold up her fears as legitimate in this piece, while hopefully softening and soothing them.

Categories
advent Catholic vibes Reflections for worship services

Advent: a time to embrace the Divine in us

“Dust, remember, thou art Splendor!”
– Sister Macrina Wiederkehr in A Tree Full of Angels

If Lent is a time to admit to our Dust –
the death that awaits us, the sin that permeates our cells,
our littleness and our frailness and our need –

perhaps Advent can be a time to embrace our Splendor:
our intimate connection to Divinity
who gave birth to us,
who calls us Good and calls us to be better,
who is the breath within our lungs and the warmth in dancing bodies.

Divinity embraces mortality;
God entered our world and fused the physical with the Divine
so inextricably that we can declare
that every cell of us pulses with Splendor, despite the infection of sin.

Now is the time to be a womb for Splendor,
nourishing it within ourselves.

Now is the time to prepare for the labor:
the teenage girl birthing God into the world.
God birthing a new world around us,
inviting us to serve as Her midwives.


About this piece: I first wrote this in Advent 2019 for Instagram.

If you’re interested in more on Sister Macrina’s concept of “splendor,” here’s the longer passage from which the pull quote was taken:

This brings me to the heart of this book, which is trusting the God who speaks to us in our experiences at every moment. No one ever gave me permission to trust my own experiences as prayerful and holy. It was something I stumbled upon, like a treasure hidden in a field. …In recent years, I seem to hear God say, ‘Put your books away. Be with me. Trust your experience. There are no experts in prayer, only people who have been faithful to the ache.’

…Why shouldn’t our experiences be filled with God? Who do we think it is who is breathing in us? Where do we think this ache has come from? And has it ever crossed our minds that God, too, has a deep yearning for us? …You are the dwelling place for the Source of All Life. You are an offspring of the One who said, ‘I Am who Am.’ If the One who gave you birth lives within you, surely you can find some resources there in your sacred Center. An expert lives within you. An expert breathes out you. Your life is entwined with the God who gave you birth. Frail dust, remember, you are splendor!”

Categories
advent Catholic vibes Reflections for worship services

Reflection: Advent is the Time of Mary

Advent is the Time of Mary:
The time for us to take notice
of one whom this world deliberately ignores –
a woman of color, a poor woman, a teen mom, a refugee.

Was Mary meek and mild?
Not if those words are about
unquestioning submission, fearful passivity.

Only if those words are about inner power,
restrained for the sake of the vulnerable –
not the power of violence
but the power of compassion.

Not the trust of one foolish and without questions
but of one thoughtful and bold
and unafraid to ask an angel, “What does this mean?”

Mary the Mighty, Mother of the Meek,
you who guided the first clumsy steps
of the God of the Universe,

You said yes
to social ostracization, yes
to the heavy metamorphosis of pregnancy,

yes to God’s inrushing revolution
in which the lowly are pulled up from their ashes
and tyrants pulled down from their thrones.

And so all generations call you blessed –
you whom the world would see stoned.

All-powerful God,
You who let go of your omnipotence
in favor of interdependence,

it is a wonder to behold
a woman’s body shelter you, feed you,
knit your cells together –
just as You once knit her.

You depend on her, and she will not fail You.
May I be able say the same.



I first shared this reflection on my Instagram during Advent 2019, and included the following text as a caption:

Mary’s yes to God (see Luke 1:26-55), freely and triumphantly given, was no passive yes: she said yes to interdependence with her God. 

God’s request was not to overpower her or control her, but to enter into a relationship of mutual need:

Just as God kept every cell in her body spinning, so she would nurture God’s new physicality within herself – and then, after birth, feed God and keep God safe, teach God to walk and talk and read. 

God desires a relationship of mutual yes, mutual care and need – a relationship of interdependence with each of us. 

How do you say yes to this simultaneous empowerment and vulnerability, yes to living into a fullness of yourself that simultaneously serves others?

Categories
advent Catholic vibes Holy Days My poetry Reflections for worship services

Advent reflection: “Virgin” Mary, Teen Mom

Mary, teen mom,
in those uncertain days

between your jubilant “Yes!” to God seeking shelter in you
and Joseph’s “yes” to marrying you
despite your indiscretion (daring to get knocked up out of wedlock! Did childhood friends desert you? Did your father weep in shame?)

would you have laughed, disbelieving, if informed
that the primary epithet bestowed on you
by those future generations who call you blessed…
is Virgin?

Mary, teen mom, against whom every packed inn turned its back, about whom, maybe, neighbors laughed
and mothers told their daughters, “Don’t be like her
(spitting your name like a nasty thing)…

You relate to the round-bellied girl
eating alone in a cafeteria crowded with harsh stares;

You relate to the girl singled out at church
for wearing a “too-short” skirt,
blamed for the lust of grown men
who ought to pluck out their eyes for looking at her at all!

…yet the words fastened to people like these are much less pretty
than what you are called.

Mary, teenage rebel! –
You who embraced impropriety with a song

you, full of grace but called disgraceful
by men who would have you stoned –

what in heaven’s name
does virginity have to do
with you?

…Unless for you, virginity means
not “no” to sex
but “yes” to choosing for yourself,
defining yourself, controlling your own body, your own life.

Hail, you
who looked the status quo
square in the eye – and laughed!

Hail, you
who saw the Grace in being called disgraceful
by a world not ready to be turned on its head.

Hail, you who defy categorization:
virgin or slut,
child of God or God’s own mother,
obedient servant or the one who knew
Jesus would do all you told him to do
(and thus you brought fine wine
into a world that’s parched for it)…

Teach us this defiance, devout rebel!
Teach us your fervor for God’s revolution,
your thirst for liberation from convention.


This reflection was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this piece: This devotional from Advent 2019 was my first attempt at explaining why I love and look up to the Virgin Mary – whether she never had any sex in her lifetime, or had a little bit of sex, or had sex hundreds of times. Regardless of her sex life, she is holy, powerful, and worthy of honor – and she knows what it is to have your sexuality used against you, whether to vilify you or to put you on a dehumanizing pedestal.

I draw from ancient ideas of virginity as being about whether a woman had a man in control of her (be that her father, guardian, husband, or son) rather than about whether one has had sex. See Pallas Athena, Artemis, and the Vestal Virgins of ancient Greece.

I speak more on Mary’s virginity in this YouTube video.