Categories
Hymns LGBT/queer Other search markers

“For Everyone Born” revised to break binaries, be even more inclusive

“For Everyone Born” by the wonderful Shirley Erena Murray is a very popular and beloved hymn in my brand of progressive Christianity, and I love it too – except for the parts that don’t feel inclusive or expansive enough. Because of those places, singing this song sometimes feels more hurtful than healing for me and others I know.

The intention of this hymn is a beautiful one: it’s meant to make everyone feel welcome at the table, and to challenge us when we limit who’s welcome at the table. However, its dualistic language leaves out a lot of people! When I hear “For woman and man,” “For gay and for straight,” sung during worship, my heart shrivels up — I and so many others don’t belong to either of those binary categories. I know the song is well-meaning, and that the intent is to be all-inclusive, but…those two verses leave me and so many others out.

And then there’s the ever-controversial, often painful “for just and unjust” verse. Many churches I know simply leave that verse out. The language of the verse puts the impetus for reconciliation fully on the “abused” in the “abuser, abused” equation, pressuring them to just forgive already without acknowledging their safety or comfort or right to be hurt, their right to withhold forgiveness. (For various texts that explore how true forgiveness and reconciliation require justice, safety, and respected autonomy for the one harmed, see my tumblr blog’s tag here.)

I first revised the “for gay and for straight” simply by tucking lots of other identities into the verse. I know it’s not perfect, and surely still leaves some out…but hearing my church sing the verse that way was a moment of real healing for me. To have my concerns heard and recommendations acted on, to be acknowledged in that way, explicitly in the song, after so often feeling unheard and left out in faith spaces, was genuinely healing.

Later, I revised the other tricky verses at the request of a seminary professor who wanted a revised version to sing in chapel. Again, I felt such healing and relief at being heard. Since then, my revised verses have been sung in several different faith communities. I would love for it to continue to spread — and to be further revised, however necessary, as time goes on!

Finally, I’ve now added a verse that centers dis/ability. Disability justice is a great passion of mine, and something that tends to go overlooked even in the most “progressive” faith communities and institutions. (For a list of my recommended resources around disability theology and activism, see here.) This is the verse I am most open to feedback around — particularly from members of the disability community. I am autistic, but currently able-bodied — is there anything in my wording of that verse that needs fixing?

Without further ado, here are my revised verses. Note that I’m only pasting the verses of this hymn that I did anything with — for the full original hymn, including the chorus that is sung between each other verse, you’ll want to visit this webpage.

My revised verses:

[hymn’s first verses go before this one]

For woman and man, a place at the table —
and all those between, beyond, and besides;
expanding our world, dismantling power,
each valued for what their voice can provide.

[chorus]

For gay, bi, and straight, a place at the table,
a covenant shared, a welcoming space,
a rainbow of race and gender and color
for queer, trans, and ace, the chalice of grace.

[chorus]

For sighted and blind, a place at the table,
For hearing and Deaf, all brain types and speech;
Accessible space, rethinking of language,
All eager to learn from those who would teach.

[chorus]

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
a chance to repent, reform, and rebuild,
protecting the wronged, without shame or pressure,
for just and unjust, God’s vision fulfilled.

[chorus]


Notes on some of my choices:

If you’d like to see an image of my verses side-by-side with the original verses, just to help you see what changes were made, visit this tumblr post.

In the “for woman and man” verse:

  • “for all those between, beyond, and besides” – there are many persons who are not exclusively “man” or “woman,” myself included; but we don’t all fit into one third box. We aren’t trying to turn a binary into a “trinary” here! I think I myself would fit best into the “beyond” category in this phrasing, while I have lots of friends who would describe themselves as being more “between” woman and man, or something altogether besides that (such as agender, bigender, genderfluid….).
  • I changed “dividing the power” to “dismantling power” to emphasize that we should resist a simple redistribution of oppressive power; rather, we must work to dismantle that power altogether. A somewhat simplified example of this out in the world is when people celebrate women who have made it to high executive positions like CEO of a company that exploits workers and/or harms the environment. That’s not a victory, just because a woman is in charge! We have to get rid of that whole system!

In the dis/ability verse:

  • I paired “sighted and blind,” “hearing and Deaf” in order to show that neither being sighted and/or hearing, or blind and/or deaf, is the default or “whole” setting for a human being.
  • Moreover, I capitalized Deaf to honor members of the Deaf community. More correct would be to write it d/Deaf; see this article for an explanation of “d/Deaf” and what Deaf culture is all about, including the argument that Deafness is not inherently a disability but simply a part of human diversity. (I am myself hearing, but as an autistic person who belongs to the Neurodiversity movement, I resonate with this idea; I hold that autism is a disability, and a natural manifestation of the diversity that God wills and loves.)
  • “all brain types and speech” is a rather awkward way to word things; that’s definitely a phrase I’m open to feedback on. I couldn’t fit “neurotype” into the meter, but that’s what I was aiming for! As to “types of speech,” I’m talking about accepting all forms of communication as valid, such as the unique ways many disabled individuals speak (e.g. ticks, long pauses, Autistic echolalia…) and communication that is not verbal speech, such as that of AAC users.
  • “all eager to learn from those who would teach” – No one should assume they know best for another individual. And if an #actuallydisabled person wants to teach about their disability, a platform should be eagerly provided! Still, no member of a marginalized community should be pressured to be the main source of information if that’s not a role they want.

Invitation:

Please do feel free to spread this around, to sing it in your own communities, etc.! If your community does make use of my revised verses, I would love to know about it. If you post a video of it being sung anywhere, I would love to hear it!! You can contact me at queerlychristian36@gmail.com.

And if you have any suggestions for further revision, please do let me know that too. Let us all join together in the endless effort to draw our circles wider!

Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: whippoorwill blessing

if i follow the call of the whippoorwill
out from our burrow of blankets and slow breathing

over and into the shirt
shrugged over sleepy shoulders

downstairs to the kettle snoring steam
for the tea steeping in its yawning mug

out, out! past the screen door
anointed in moth-kisses
into a slowly waking world

will a blessing be out there, waiting?

whippoorwill, are you calling me to go
stirring my spirit as I stir this golden tea

as the sun shrugs its golden shoulders
over mountains?

whippoorwill, tell me, tell me how
you’ll bless me!
and you, dove with your mournful morning croon,
you, creek with the laughter bubbling up
from your valley nook below —

tell me how you’ll lavish me in blessings
only lavished upon those
who arise
and go.

here i go.


I wrote this poem on the getaway trip my wife and I took into the mountains of Northeast Georgia for our 2-year anniversary a couple weeks ago. The first evening we spent in our little cabin nestled in the trees, we heard a bird calling that neither of us had heard before – but my wife correctly guessed what it was because the call really did sound like “whip-poor-will.” That next morning, I awoke very early to the sound of that same bird calling. I stayed in bed a little longer, burrowed safe beside the love of my life, and then I rose to follow the call outward.

There truly is a special blessing in the world for those who awake early not to head off to work but to take that first inhale with the dawn…you can believe in the aliveness and interconnectedness of all things in that early morning glow. I felt Divinity all around as I made my way to the creek a little ways away from the cabin.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith LGBT/queer Liturgy

Responding to God’s Word: God’s binary-breaking chosen family

Leader:

As one, let us affirm some aspects of
the faith that binds us into one family.

All:

We believe in a God
who made all of us in Their image
and proclaimed every member of Their creation
Good.

We believe that Xe extends a special care towards those
whom the world calls “broken,”
“worthless,” “unclean” —

and that Xe calls us to repent, reform, and rebuild
when we are the ones who call others broken,
when we are the ones who aim to break them.

We believe in a God who gathers
more and still more people into Her own family,
a family that breaks human binaries 
of blood ties and national borders,
demographics and doctrines.

We believe that She extends a special invitation
to all those who find themselves cut off
from their human family:
to the orphans, the eunuchs, the foreigners;
to immigrants, the imprisoned, and the institutionalized,
to members of the disability community, LGBTQA+ community,
and all those whom our societies shuns and shames.

God has this special care for the disowned and disenfranchised
because Xe Xemself knows what it is to be the stranger, 
the one who does not fit, 
whose ways and thoughts are deemed 
incomprehensible, incompatible, or even insane.

Leader: 

As Jewish poet and professor Joy Ladin writes in her book The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective,

“…The human rebellions and divine rages of the Book of Numbers make it clear that even after decades of wandering with God in their midst, to the Israelites, God remains a stranger, a deity whose feelings and actions make no sense to them. Perhaps that is why God repeatedly commands the Israelites to accommodate and include ‘the stranger who dwells among you,’ the non-Israelite who embraces the Israelite community as home. For God, the inclusion of those we see as different is not a disruption or a distraction for religious communities; it is an essential religious practice, part of making a place for the ultimate stranger, God.”

We believe that God commands
any community that professes to follow Them
to do Their will
by acknowledging when we have shut out
members of God’s family,
seeking meaningful reconciliation,
and drawing our circles ever wider.

We believe that the Holy Spirit
empowers us in this work 
so that we may join Her in ushering in
the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed:

A Kin-dom without hierarchy,
where all oppressive systems will be broken down
and all live in true kinship with the God who made us.

Amen.


I wrote this piece for a worship service on Mark 3:20-35, the famous “house divided” passage. The sermon and service theme was this:

Jesus redefines family in a way that defies any human-created definition of superiority, and in that definition, Jesus renounces the behaviors from within the community that threaten the people he gathers.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Charge and Benediction Confession and Pardon easter Holy Days Invitation to the table LGBT/queer Liturgy Opening prayer Prayer after Communion Prayers of the People

Acts 8 & John 15 Liturgy: eunuchs, intersex & trans persons, & all outcasts welcome in God’s expansive love

Call to Worship

Beloved community, let us draw the circle wide!
And draw it wider still.

Each of us is here because something draws us to the Divine
as expressed in the Person of Jesus.
We come to explore what it is that draws us here,
in community with neighbors who can teach us 
what it is that draws them here.

We come with questions, struggles, doubts.
We come with unique perspectives that enrich the whole community.

We come in vast diversity of mind, body, being,
to live into a unity that does not quell our differences, but celebrates them.

We come to abide in the love of Jesus,
and to learn to bear good fruit that lasts.

Come, let us join in worship of the God of love
Who teaches us what true love is.

OPENING PRAYER

O God whose love sustains us, restores us, abides in us,
Send your mischievous Spirit whirling through our midst
in the many different spaces from which we gather.

Let Her galvanize our hearts
so that our worship will empower us for the work
into which you invite us:

For you do not call us servants,
nor does your power rely on dominance;
But instead you call us friends, co-laborers whose joys and sorrows
you know as deeply as if they were your own.

Loving God, Living God,
you guide us into true love, into true life
that consists of enough for all humans, all creatures,
and that will restore all relationships
between neighbors, enemies, strangers
and with you, our Friend.

Amen.


Confession and Pardon

CALL TO RECONCILIATION

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. 

PRAYER OF CONFESSION 

Jesus asks only this of us: 
that we love one another just as he loves us — 
a love without conditions, a love that liberates!

But again and again, we choose hate, or fear, or control
not only with those we call enemies
but even with our family, our friends.

The love of God is a love that acts,
a love that bears fruit that lasts,
but we continue to think of love in terms of simple words,
saying “love” with our mouths 
but acting in ways that harm,
or failing to act at all.

God’s Spirit bursts through all walls we build
to separate “us” from “them” — 
but we build them back, unsure of what we’d be
without an “Other” on whom to project our insecurities,
on whom to blame our misfortunes 
or the consequences of our own crimes.

Created for abundance, 
we live as hostages of scarcity.
We steal from our neighbors
and hoard whatever resources, whatever power 
we can get our hands on.

_____

Siblings in the One who lived, died, and rose for us,
even when we fail to abide in God’s love,
still, still God abides in us — 
chooses to call us friend,
chooses to lift us up.

Thus we are redeemed — 
not through any effort of our own 
but simply through love
deeper and truer than we can imagine.

Empowered by this remarkable gift of grace,
Let us share Christ’s love and peace with one another.

The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you. 


Affirmation of Faith

Even while celebrating our diversity of thought
and making room for questions and new interpretations,
there are some beliefs that we who join ourselves to the church
have committed ourselves to holding in common.

As one, let us affirm that shared faith:

We believe in the God from whom all life flows,
who created all that is — seen and unseen,
physical and spiritual — 
and declared all of it Good.

Her blessing comes before 
and follows after 
any curse — 

for every instant that
our existence is sustained
attests to Her unfailing love
in which we move, and live, and have our being. 

We believe in the irresistible Spirit
who pervades the world 
and abides with whomever Xe choses
with no regard for the boxes and boundaries 
that humankind constructs.

To the dismay of worldly powers,
this Spirit bestows special care upon the most reviled and despised,
those deemed weak and worthless in human eyes.

Among this number are the eunuchs of scripture
who hail from various cultures and faiths,
who knew both enslavement and status,
whose binary-breaking existence disturbs human norms
but delights the Spirit of Upturned Expectations — 

from the eunuchs who helped Esther navigate a fearful situation
to Ashpenaz, who loved the prophet Daniel tenderly;
and from Ebed-Melech, who saved the prophet Jeremiah;
to the eunuch who encountered Philip
with graciousness and eagerness to learn.

We believe in the Word Made Flesh
whose love for those eunuchs and all whom this world Others
is so strong that, upon entering embodied life,
Jesus identified himself as a “eunuch for the Kin-dom.”

In Jesus, God knows intimately what it is
to be marginalized, misunderstood,
and subjected to bodily mistreatment.

We believe that, after his life among us 
and his rising from death on a Roman cross,
Jesus restored us into right relationship 
with the One who made us, sustains us,
and whose Spirit guides us still
in the work of ushering in God’s Kin-dom.

Amen.


Prayers of the People / Pastoral Prayer

Sisters, siblings, and brothers in Christ,
though already God has gathered us together
to abide as one in Their unfailing love,
still, still so many of us feel cut off, outcast, unloved.

So let us pray:

For those who have been cut off from their communities 
because of who they love, who they are, or what they believe,
we pray that God’s unconditional love will guide them
into chosen families who cherish them as they are.

For those who feel cut off and discarded by societies
that shove people aside when age, illness, or disability 
keeps them from fulfilling impossible standards of productivity,
we pray for loved ones that honor their inherent worth,
and for more just laws to protect them from abuse and neglect 
and enable their full participation in our communities.

For those who feel cut off from their cultures:
For refugees forced to flee their homelands, 
immigrants who leave places and people they love behind,
Indigenous peoples and others whose traditions 
are attacked and targeted for extinction,
we pray for strength and courage to resist assimilation,
for solidarity and resources that empower them
to preserve and revitalize their cultures.

For those who feel cut off from the global community
as they cry out for support — 
particularly for the people of India and Brazil
as COVID19 ravages their nations;
and for the people of Colombia
who are under attack from their own government;
we pray for a global outcry, compassion, and action on their behalf.

O God who gathers the outcasts
and gives them places of honor,
hear and respond to every prayer 
we lift up to you aloud or in the quiet of our hearts.

We give you thanks for your faithful love:
guide us to abide in that love
so that we may learn to love our fellow human beings
and all your good Creation
with the same love you first extended to us.

Amen.


Invitation to the Offering

Only when we all come together, 
only when each person is appreciated
for the different gifts and perspectives they bring
is the Body of Christ whole.

So let us offer whatever we have — 
time, skills, resources — 
to the God from whom we receive all things
for the furthering of Her Kin(g)dom
where all needs are met at Her expansive table.


Invitation to Christ’s Table

If you ask, “Does anything prevent me from this communion table? Would anyone tell me I am not welcome here?” this is Christ’s reply:

“Nothing and no one can keep you from God’s table, from God’s community, from God’s love. Let no one tell you otherwise.”

Friends, come to the feast! You are not only welcome; you are needed and appreciated. 


Prayer after Communion

Words cannot express
the wonder of the Spirit’s gathering power,
the miracle of Christ’s life nourishing us across time and space.

May we who have been fed
enact our gratitude out in the world
by joining the Spirit in Her holy work
of breaking down the boundaries that divide
and building up communities that restore.


Charge and Benediction

Friends in Christ,

In worshipping the God who loves us,
we have been reminded of the goodness of our diversity
joining together in one Body.

Gratitude is our response: 
Gratitude for the God who chose us, who abides in us,
and who goes out with us now
to bring love, justice, and peace into a hungry world.

So let us go, glorifying God with our lives!


I wrote this liturgy for an Easter season service centered around Acts 8:26-40’s story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, also tying in John 15:9-17’s instructions to love one another as Jesus loved us. You can view the worship service here.

You can read my sermon transcript here. In the sermon, I discuss the importance of reading scripture together and interpret Philip through an autistic lens and the eunuch through a trans lens.

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: HRT on Good Friday

as the fluid fills the syringe
and i hover the needle over the tender skin
of my thigh

i think of you. and your thorny crown.
and the nails drilled into your feet, into
the bowed space between radius and ulna

   and i drive
   the needle
   in.

would that your skin
were my skin! that i could take
your
 pain into my bones, could somehow make
it mine, or at least share it!
– but you know

better than i could ever hope to know
that some things must be suffered all alone.

your Beloved could hold your hand until the men
shoved him away to lift you into the sky;

your mother could sob, and Magdalene shake her fist
at the pitiless soldier who stabbed your whip-riddled side 

but only you, only you
would die.

only you would scream Eli! Eli
lama sabachthani?


and all alone you would slip
into the cradle-void, the muffled womb
of Death –

to prove its grasp was weaker than your love;
to change the course of humankind for good.

the gasp i make when i push the plunger down
is pain with victory commingling
as i feel the fluid p u s h  
                                       i t s    w a y    i n t o
tissue and muscle –
flow in, and nestle, and

wait for the cells that somehow know
to carry it where it is meant to go.

deep in those cells, a sea-salt wind is blowing:
a sea-change rolls across those helix shores
uncoiling them and weaving them back together
a little different than they were before.

deep in the tomb, your body sprawls unmoving
and lovers keen outside it, unaware
of changes being made at levels deeper
than cells or DNA or the secrets there.

for often it is pain,
   be it bitter, be it sweet,
that brings about sea-change:
   pierced thigh, pierced side, pierced feet.


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 believe this one mostly speaks for itself – I happened to have my every-other-weekly testosterone (self-)injection scheduled for Good Friday a couple years back, and wrote this poem after. I see so much similarity in the transitions (physical, spiritual, emotional, all) that trans and/or nonbinary people journey along and the kinds of transitions that God-becoming-human and God-dying-and-rising-again underwent. Here is to all my trans people of faith: we are beloved by God and experience special insight into divinity.

Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: my god they have cornered me

my god they have cornered me
like an animal
and like an animal i want to lash out
i want to sink my teeth into their flesh until they shout and
let. me. go.

but god

when my fist flies forward
to sink into their face
it hits yours instead.

they cornered me, made me a beast
who cannot tell friend from foe
and in my frenzy i struck you
just as you were reaching
for my hand to pull me up

oh, god

sit with me
in this fear, in this fury, in this pain
sit with me until it melts into tears
and i am ready to stand up
to walk out past their leers
their spit their stones

god
help me pull the nails
from my feet and wrists
and i shall use them
to build
a house for all of us
who are trampled into dust

with tender touch we pluck
the nails from each other’s flesh,
the knives from one another’s hearts

and we
will not
hurl them into the ones
who drove them into our skin

no. they will never
be weapons again.

do you see the flowers
blooming around the doorway?
do you hear the laughter
resounding in the halls?

i have repurposed the rope
they tried to hang me with
into a swing that children
take turns swinging on.


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: This piece contemplates how the horrors done to us might be transformed into something life-giving — and in the meantime, God is with us. How do we fight back against our oppressors’ dehumanizing violence? How do we bear good fruit and thrive in a world that would see us quashed?

This poem was inspired by Psalm 73, where the psalmist begs to know why unjust oppressors thrive while the oppressed suffer. So overcome with pain and fear is this psalmist that they risk becoming the animal their oppressors try to dehumanize them into — but God raises them up from that fate. Here are verses 21-23, my translation:

Yes, my heart was warping into a bitter husk,
   my insides were all cut up.
I became brutish, I knew nothing anymore —
   I lashed out, a wild animal, against You.
Yet even so, I am unceasingly with You!
   You hold fast to my right hand!

Categories
Catholic vibes LGBT/queer My poetry

poem to Our Lady of the Wayside: the queer little not-girl revisits their childhood church.

these pews were once my home
but their backs are to me now.

“you changed. too much you changed” they accuse
without speaking to me
and they gawk
without meeting my eyes.

in the windows your robes
and your son’s
are far too gilt
to be yours,

your skin too white,
too smooth. hairless.
callous-less. Mary, where
are the dirt and sweat
of the rugged roads
your blistered feet trudged out?

what are these false eyes
pale as standing water
where brown eyes deep as rich earth
dark as the secret grove
should be?

those glass eyes stare off
into something too distant to be
the Kin(g)dom of
a skin-swaddled God
a beggar’s flaking palms
a cast-off seed.

but
Maria della Strada,

in your corner you see —
you se
e — me!

their backs are to you, too.

Mary, Mother
of the long and potholed road
no one bothers to patch

Mary, Mother
of refugees and castoffs

of crumbling wayside shrines
that only bruised knees discover

let me sit with you as you nurse
God’s hungry, toothless mouth

and i will gather wildflowers
to crown your unwashed hair.


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:

“Maria Della Strada” is the Italian form of Our Lady of the Wayside, and a statue of her can be found in my childhood church. Maria Della Strada is a patron of the Ignatians, and Our Lady of the Wayside is a patron of travelers, but I also imagine her as a patron of those left behind on the wayside by churches tied to power.
She is Mary who knew what it was to be an outcast and to embrace impropriety in order to follow after God’s call for her; she is Mary who protects those shoved to the margins and who inspires us to build our sanctuaries there.

I wrote the following about this poem on my instagram back in September 2019:

I wrote this poem a couple Sundays ago after going to Mass for the first time in a long time. I started out in a pew but felt like everyone was staring at me to the point that I could feel panic beginning to clutch at my lungs, restricting my breath — so i awkwardly went and sat in a back corner with a statue of Mary for the entirety of the service.

Ever since my first inkling I might be queer quite some years ago, Mother Mary has felt like a comforting protector — whenever I talk to her about it, I feel nothing but love and acceptance from her, and her desire for me to embrace how God had made me and use my queerness to honor her Son. I was grateful to have her in my corner (literally, ha) that Sunday when I felt too anxious to be seen.

Even so, when I went to Mass again this past Sunday and managed to, ya know, sit in a pew like a normal person, I realized my feeling of being gawked at and cold-shouldered was probably more my anxious imagination than reality. Trauma at being rejected by some Christian groups has led to my brain, body, and spirit developing a cynical shield — better not to trust anyone so I can’t be hurt again. Better to hide myself and shield myself, to assume the worst from the start, than risk opening myself up to community only to receive hatred instead.

The cynicism that had me thinking “no one’s going to join me in this pew, to dirty themselves by sitting by this queer who dares enter the house of God,” was quickly exposed as false by a family with young children sliding into my pew. “Oh…they’re not scared I’ll be a Bad Influence on their kids? Huh. …And… no one is staring?? Sure people are glancing at me but that’s normal; the hostile glares I could have sworn I saw last week just aren’t there.” I was able to relax, just a little bit, to calm my fight-or-flight adrenaline-rush enough to feel like I was truly worshiping God with my fellows in the pews, instead of worshiping God in spite of them like the week before.

…The thing I need cishet Christians to understand is this:

It is so. hard. to enter a non-affirming church (or honestly even an affirming one) as a queer person — especially as a visibly queer and trans person. There is so much trauma and fear built up in my psyche that I can’t help but assume the worst of everyone there. I’m glad I went back to Mass a second week to continue to work through that anxiety — because while it’s certainly not unfounded, I know that God calls me to a sort of vulnerability and trust and openness that is so difficult to achieve when you’re dealing with trauma and marginalization!!

When you have been wounded before by fellow members of the Body of Christ, by people who claim “all are welcome” but then turn on you when you show them who you really are….how do you heal enough to be vulnerable again? How do you know which ones you can trust and which ones will attack?

LGBT/queer Christians: How do we be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” balancing trust with rationality, vulnerability with self-protection? What do you do to prepare yourself to enter a Christian space?

Cishet Christians: what work can you do to help make LGBTQA folks feel truly safe and welcome in your faith spaces?

Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: valley of dry bones

men who claimed to know the Word of God
and where it lay took me to stand above
a valley of dry bones.

they taunted me: here is no life
for you! you may as well
curl yourself among them, and return
to dust.

and so i did. 

the bones murmured beneath me, shifted
to make room – they did not pierce
my skin as i’d presumed.

i took one fragment, then another that
seemed not-to-sharp,
and held them close to my heart,

and listened to their clinking lullaby
waiting to die.
but i did not. 

instead a Breath whirled round
me and trans-
formed

those dead dry bones into
full flesh and blood – muscle and sinew
and skin, and chests that moved
atop their resurrected hearts and lungs!

i thrilled to see
these dead dry bones become
a throng of those they claimed
did not belong…

the Breath that animated
all those forms
did not pass over me –

my flesh grew warm
as eerie but invigorating song
stripped me down to my bones
and built me up again –
renewed, trans-
formed. 

i strode up to those men
who could not see
the breath of God in me
and said:

you worship
piles of dry bones

i worship the God
of ever-reinvented life! 

you shoved your book at me
and claimed the word it held for me
was Condemnation – well,
i took that book and read it
through and through

with God’s breath warming the ink
and i found

Life 
for me.

and – if you could just
embrace it too –

for you.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. This is an updated version of a poem that appears in their published 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:

Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones has long been near and dear to my queer heart. It was the lectionary reading a couple weeks ago, and Austen Hartke did a live study of it on his YouTube channel, which brought the passage back into the forefront of my mind.

Scripture is presented to many of us as dead dry bones, lifeless pages set in stone — but that belies the Breath of God rifling through those pages, and expanding our own lungs… 

In this time of epidemic, when we face a virus that can steal our very breath, i cherish more than ever that unquellable Breath of God.

The poem in these images first appeared in my collection of poetry, The Kin-dom in the Rubble. But i’ve revised it here — and added a few extra lines at the end, to remind me that while God’s Breath IS for me and NO ONE can steal it from my lungs — it’s for those who hurt me, too.

Categories
Holy Days lent LGBT/queer My poetry

poem for Holy Thursday: Jesus, you knew isolation too

Jesus
you knew
isolation too.

not of closing walls and stale air
but of a horizon unreachable
beyond stretching dunes.

you who were so sensitive to touch
you’d notice a woman’s fingers barely brush
the hem of your cloak

went untouched
for forty days
forty nights.

after that
did cradling the feet of your closest friends
washing clean the sweat and sand
etched into the sole’s every callus
feel almost too intimate to bear?

gazing up into their questioning eyes
after no one but devils and dust to talk to for so long
did you have to stop and catch your breath?

Jesus,
did your beloved’s fingers brushing your palm
as you passed him broken bread
set your skin on fire
with an anguished sort of pleasure?

was his head resting warm in your lap
after the meal, the wine, the storytelling
heavier than the whole world
leaning on your back?

and after the wine-warm room
after isolation revisited
in a tear-soaked garden
where best friends slept oblivious
i wonder

were even the press of trembling lips
the hands that bound your wrists
the shoves of soldiers eager to get home for the night –
even these, were even these cherished
after weeks without the warmth of others’ skin?

…….

Jesus
you knew
isolation too –

know better than any
the devils that come to keep one company
when wandering alone from room to room
or over wasteland sands…

so come. teach us
to make an upper room
of any room we’re trapped in.

cook us a meal out of our distress
and break it like bread with us.
nourish our bone-deep loneliness
into a yearning deep enough to drink

so that when this is over, we never again
shirk the feet that await our washing
shun the hands outstretched for bread to share
shake off the cross a stranger needs help bearing –

and Jesus, as we wait out isolation
in temporary helplessness and fear
remind us there are some who dwell
always, always here.


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:

My prayer for Maundy Thursday, 2020, in the midst of pandemic: come, Jesus, teach us to make an upper room of any room we’re trapped in.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith LGBT/queer Liturgy

Affirmation of faith in a Queer God

[One:]

To try to define the Divine
in human words is a fool’s errand –
but luckily for us, God delights in making the foolish wise.

Emboldened thus, let us unite our many voices
to confess what little we know of this queer God:

[All:]

We believe in the Triune God, incomprehensible
and yet invested in revealing Themself to us,
in helping us understand and truly know Them
in every place and time, among all peoples –
but especially those the world dismisses
as broken, worthless, foolish. 

We believe that the God who conceived of the cosmos,
brooded over its rolling waters like a mother hen
and then exclaimed over Her newly-birthed worlds,
“Good! very Good!”

is the same God who came to a small and subjugated people
and made them Her own.
We marvel that this God to whom belongs all power and glory
has a soft spot for the world’s outsiders and outcasts –
for She Herself is the ultimate stranger.

We believe that in the Person of Jesus Christ,
that same God – despite being beyond human constructs
like class and ethnicity and gender –
entered an impoverished household, entered a Jewish Palestinian body,
became one with that same oppressed and colonized people
with whom Xe had for so long persevered in relationship,
and was assigned male at birth.

But Jesus of Nazareth defied the gender roles assigned to him:
instead of settling down with a wife,
Jesus consorted with strange women, exalted eunuchs,
reached out to Samaritans and Syrophoenicians,
and traipsed across the region with a motley crew
of the very kinds of folk no respectable man would even greet.

A parable in himself, he shared queer stories
of a world turned on its head, where the last are first
and the powerful must relinquish their power –

And, in the ultimate display of solidarity
with all those whom the powerful persecute across the ages, 
Jesus was executed by Empire on a cross, dying between
two other “common criminals.”

But this was not the end of his story, nor ours:
this ultimate breaker of human binaries –
between Creator and creature, man and woman, have and have-not –
demolished the divide between death and life for good.
Jesus rose, lifting all of us with him, from death and into heaven –

but even so, Divinity dwells among us still,
for we believe in the Holy Spirit, the very Breath in our lungs,
the Breeze that comforts us, the Wind that stirs us to action
and sweeps us up into the revolution that is
God’s impossible incoming Kin(g)dom.


I wrote this affirmation for a More Light Sunday service, which is celebrated by the PC(USA) every October on the Sunday nearest to National Coming Out Day.

For more on God as the ultimate stranger, check out Joy Ladin’s book The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective.

The image of God as a bird brooding over the waters of Creation comes straight from Genesis 1:2. See footnote 11 of Genesis 1 on this website for details about the Hebrew verb used to describe “the Spirit of God ‘moving’ over the waters” in this verse.

For more on Jesus as the divine assigned male at birth and living a gender nonconforming life, check out the section “Assigned Male at Incarnation: An Intersex and Transgender Jesus” on my webpage here.