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Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Confession and Pardon easter Holy Days Liturgy

Pentecost Liturgy: Spirit of breath & flame, howling gale & still small voice

Call to Worship 

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

We are a resurrected people! Alleluia!
Alleluia! We are raised up into new life!

The Spirit of God is upon us! Alleluia!
Alleluia! God’s Spirit dwells
among us, within us, around us, always!

Opening Prayer

Holy Spirit of breath and flame,
howling gale and still small voice,

We praise you in your elusiveness,
how you whirl through the world wherever you — not we — will.

You dodge every attempt to pin you down,
slipping through our fingers like thin air
when we try to claim control of you —

even as you pulse through our cells with every heartbeat,
settle deeper into our lungs with every breath.

Another Prayer

Holy Spirit, Giver of life,
We praise you for your multifaceted movement:

Like gale force winds you stir up stagnant spirits,
upturn tables in high places,
whisk us up from apathy 
into your heady dance;

Like a cooling breeze you comfort battered bodies,
refresh parched hearts;

Like oxygen you resuscitate the hopeless,
bringing life to lifeless places, 
dreams and visions that revivify the future.

As you, Irresistible Wind, pour over us now,
set our hearts on fire with passion
for justice and for your abundant life.   

Amen.


Confession and Pardon

Call to Confession

We have come to worship the Holy Spirit who whirls around us
as wind, as breath, as the air in our lungs,

But so many of our siblings find the breath of life
squeezed from their lungs;
and God’s good creation is suffocating.

Only in acknowledging our complicity
can we join in God’s restorative work. 

So let us confess our failings, 
first in silent reflection,
and then as one.

Silence

Prayer of Confession

We confess that we are bystanders and collaborators 
in the stifling of God’s children —

not only on national and global scales
but here in our own congregation.

Our society teaches us that to admit to being wrong
is a moral failing
instead of an act of courage, 
so we stick to our side out of spite,
resisting repentance,
refusing reconciliation.

In our refusal to budge,
meanness and malice engulf us all.

Lord, we forget that we are one Body, your Body.
We forget that you call us not to complete 
all the colossal tasks that stack up across the world, 
but to do our small part, in our small place, 
and to strive even when all seems hopeless.

Assurance of Pardon 

Look! God is doing a new thing! 
In the hopeless void of suffering and sin, God’s Spirit comes: 

She revives parched hearts and desiccated bones,
opens us to visions and dreams, to possibilities for improvement. 

In the new life won for us by Jesus
and breathed into us by the Holy Spirit,
we are empowered to dream bigger, to act more boldly,
to join together in God’s liberating movement.

Alleluia!


Affirmation of Faith / Responding to God’s Word        

While making room for 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 one of our fellow witnesses.

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

When God formed human beings from the earth,
They brought us to life by breathing
Their own breath into us,
making us in Their own image. 

Though God made us for interdependence
we play-act self sufficiency,
severing ourselves with binaries and borders
and labels of “us” versus “them.” 

Still, God remains faithful, 
urging us ever towards justice and abundant life for all.

Professor Philip Vinod Peacock of the Church  of North India writes,

“No one human or even a set of humans can claim that they are made in the image of God or are God’s representatives here on earth. Rather, only the whole of humanity together can claim that they are in the image of God. …

[Thus] God is best represented by diversity: Only the whole diversity of the world in terms of different cultures, gender, sexual orientation, and religious experience can represent who God is. This means that no [one] culture, gender, sexual orientation, or religious experience can claim superiority over another. It is only together that all of them represent who God is.”

God’s breath that divinizes all flesh, 
God’s Spirit who whirls through communities
of all kinds of cultures and creeds, 
God’s flame that burns and builds anew
knits all of humanity into one Body.  

All glory belongs
to the God who made us varied
and the God who makes us one. 

Amen.


I wrote this liturgy for Pentecost, May 2021 that centered around Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones, but much of it would fit well in any service focused on the Holy Spirit.

An alternative prayer of confession that focuses on the Movement for Black Lives, environmental justice, and other global social justice issues can be found here.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Holy Days Liturgy

Confession: our siblings and God’s world are suffocating

Call to Confession

We have come to worship the Holy Spirit
who whirls around us as wind, as breath, as the air in our lungs,

But so many of our siblings find the breath of life
squeezed from their lungs;
and God’s good creation is suffocating.

Only in acknowledging our complicity
can we join in God’s restorative work. 

So let us confess our failings, 
first in silent reflection,
and then as one.

Silence

Prayer of Confession

We confess that we are bystanders and collaborators 
in the stifling of God’s children.

Eric Garner, George Floyd,
and the uncounted souls of lynched Black folk 
cry out to us even now,

“I can’t breathe!”

But we cannot bear to listen.
We would prefer to bury, not to say, their names.

Our siblings across the world
are desperate for vaccines, for resources

but in our dread of scarcity and the idolatry of nationalism, we hoard what we have.

We numb ourselves to stories of their need for oxygen, ventilators, the breath of life our greed denies them.

Others are being stifled by their own governments,
by settler colonialism, by xenophobic regimes:
From Colombia to Palestine,
Uighurs in China and Indigenous populations near and far;

But how can we pay attention to all this suffering? 
We ourselves languish under compassion fatigue,
a sense of helplessness or disconnect.

Our planet chokes on the fossil fuels we rip from its depths
as we burn its lungs, the rainforests, to the ground.

To slow our consumption would mean drastic changes
in our everyday lives, fewer luxuries,
and an active struggle against
the main culprits of climate change
a select number of corporations that seem invincible.

It is just too much. 
O God, it is all too much, and we are too small.

We forget that we are one Body, your Body.
We forget that you call us not to complete these colossal tasks, 
But to do our small part, 
to strive even when all seems hopeless.

Assurance of Pardon 

Look! God is doing a new thing!
In the hopeless void of suffering and sin, God’s Spirit comes: 

She revives parched hearts and desiccated bones,
opens us to visions and dreams, to possibilities for improvement. 

In the new life won for us by Jesus
and breathed into us by the Holy Spirit,
we are empowered to dream bigger,
to act more boldly,
to join together in God’s liberating movement
that loosens the ropes from wrists and throats.

Alleluia! Amen.


I wrote this piece for Pentecost Sunday, but it would work well for any service emphasizing the work of the Spirit or the breath of God.

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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.”

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easter Holy Days Liturgy Prayers of the People

Easter Intercessions: Gratitude for what already is; Dissatisfaction for what is not yet

Dear siblings in the risen Christ,
though we reside in the not-yet world
where God’s Kin(g)dom is still being ushered in,
gratitude still fills my spirit —

for already Jesus has drawn us to himself and holds us close;
already we have the promise that in death as in life, we belong to God;
already the Holy Spirit is at work in solidarity with us.

So I invite you to take this moment with me
to let gratitude grow and glow within you
and lift it up with me to the God Who Lives.

Let us pray:

For this good, good earth
that takes such good care of us
when we take care of it,
we give thanks.

For the helpers,
those who pick up the protest chant, or pick up our to-do lists,
so that we have time to rest and recover;
for these holy helpers, we give thanks.

For the pastors, musicians, church staff, and congregants
who put so much time and energy
into crafting multiple services this week
for the nourishment of our people and for the glory of God,
we give our heartfelt thanks.

For the chances we’ve had to draw together
to serve our neighbors or to study our scriptures;
we give thanks.

For Black Indigenous persons of color, LGBTQA+ persons, and others
who take the hells into which their oppressors throw them
and transform them into Edens —
into refuges for their people
where they can unite, rest from hatred, and create incredible things,
we give thanks.

And finally, for those who find gratitude
hard to muster up right now,
we pray for their courage to reach out to community
for the support they deserve;
and we lift up whatever prayers burn hottest in their hearts.

Oh God Who Lives,
Oh God Who Brings to Life,
Oh God Who Sustains Us evermore with love,

May our gratitude for what already is
beget the energy to act:
Our thanks for Creation moving us to environmental justice;
Our thanks for the helpers moving us to join their ranks;
Our thanks for our church leaders moving us
to participate however we are able.

And may our dissatisfaction with how much is yet broken
fuel our drive to make your Kin(g)dom Come, your will be done —
to demand justice for Black lives,
to demand safety and thriving for trans youth and adults,
to demand resources and respect for
the disability community, for the incarcerated,
for border crossers and Indigenous peoples,
and for all who are most disenfranchised by our society.

Together we lift these prayers
to the God who draws all peoples to Themself.

Amen.


Categories
Holy Days lent Liturgy Other search markers Prayers of the People

Holy Week Intercessions: praying for Jesus – and for all unjustly blamed

Dear siblings in Jesus Christ,
As ever, we have so much to pray for…

But this week, I invite you to do something a little odd with me:
Will you pray with me for Jesus, too?

In this week in which we remember
his most agonizing moments,
his trauma, his desolation, his execution as a common criminal,
let’s pray for him, as he prays and works unceasingly for us.

Friends, let us pray.

For those unjustly blamed
across time and space:


for Jesus, accused and sentenced to death
by the powers who feared his revolutionary Kin(g)dom;

for our Jewish neighbors,
wrongly punished across the centuries for Christ’s death
and for many other crimes of which they are innocent;

for members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community
who have become a hyper-visible target to pin this pandemic on;

for migrants and immigrants who are accused of
stealing jobs and depleting resources
simply for daring to seek a life for themselves and their loved ones;

we pray.

For those unjustly shamed
across time and space:

For Jesus, tortured and taunted by Roman soldiers,
stripped of his friends, his clothing, his life;

For sex workers
whose livelihoods are criminalized
and bodies dehumanized;

For all who have been victim-blamed,
told that harassment, abuse, and even death
are their fault because of who they are, how they act,
or the jobs or beliefs they hold;

we pray.

And for those who go unnamed
across time and space:

for the two men crucified alongside Jesus,
and the countless others who have been
tortured, executed, disappeared
from before the dawn of the Roman Empire
through the current regime the United States;

for all victims of mass shootings,
too many to name, too many to bear;

for the numberless masses of human beings crushed
under the grindstone of “progress,”
the deaths of their cultures and of their bodies justified
in the name of excess wealth for the few;

we pray.

O God who hears the cries
of those unjustly blamed,
those dehumanized and shamed,
those whose names are eradicated from recorded history

and who replies
by becoming one of them,
by entering into ultimate solidarity on a Roman cross,
and by exposing the violence of worldly powers for the evil it is,

Thank you.

Make your Spirit known to us.
Unite and empower us for the work ahead.

Thank you.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for their 2021 Palm Sunday service occurring not long after the Atlanta Spa Shootings and yet another shooting in Boulder, Colorado.

Categories
lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer to the God who flips tables

Dear friends, please join me in raising all our prayers —
all our joys and griefs, gratitudes and longings —

to the God who helps us discern
when to hold fast and when to let go,
which tables to fix
and which ones to flip.

As one, we pray:

For those who engage in the long and thankless labor
of stripping tables of their unjust trappings:
who drag folding chairs into the rooms where decisions get made
and refuse to shut up until every voice is heard —
for the ministers, teachers, advocates
calling for reparation and constant reform,
we pray.

And also for those courageous ones who recognize
that some tables are beyond refurbishing —
who refuse to cover up rotten foundations with surface fixes —
for the protestors and activists who cry
for abolition, for revolution
we pray.

For those who struggle with anger, anxiety, or trauma,
who lash out at the wrong targets,
who sabotage themselves and their relationships —
or else who keep their anger bottled up,
too tangled up in niceness and respectability
to make their hurts known and set boundaries,
we pray.

For those whose trauma stems from Christianity,
from churches claiming to act in God’s name —

for persons of color, disabled persons, women, LGBT+ persons, and others whose dignity has been denied and gifts rejected;
for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of faith leaders;
for ministers wounded by backlash and burnout;
and for those impacted by antisemitism, islamophobia,
and attempted genocide against Indigenous religions and cultures;
we pray;

and also for those who fight the good fight
to put an end to such injustices in our midst
through education, reparations, and collaboration,
we pray.

O God, Incarnate in the person of Jesus,
you teach us how to be fully human
with all the emotions involved therein —
teach us how to comfort the afflicted
and afflict the comfortable.

Teach us to be kind to ourselves;
give us the courage to face our grief and trauma with tenderness,
giving them the time and space they deserve
so that we can move forward.

Teach us to be kind to others
both by responding to their pain with grace and understanding,
and by loving them enough to tell them when they are doing harm,
offering to work with them as they make things right.

O God with us, You who dwell in the midst of our struggling,
for these things and for all the wordless yearnings of our hearts,
we pray.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-22.

All of us involved in the service and sermon planning were grateful to find Jewish professor of New Testament Studies Amy-Jill Levine’s commentary on the “cleansing of the temple” story. She combats traditional readings of the text with their antisemitic layers by evincing how Jesus’s anger reflects the anger of his predecessors Jeremiah and Zechariah — an anger focused not on the simple fact that sacrificial animals were sold in the Temples’ outer courts, but on the way the Temple (like many of our own worship spaces) had become a safe place for corrupt oppressors, who behaved as if their daily atrocities would be overlooked by God if they paid for a sacrifice every now and again.

Levine also discusses Jesus’s (and Jeremiah’s and Zechariah’s) anger as holy anger thus:

“…There are times, we may find, that business as usual is not only inappropriate, it is obscene. Something has to be done. If we do not become angry when we see images of suffering children, if we do not feel some sort of rage when preventable tragedies occur, if we do not feel compelled to act, then something has gone terribly wrong, with us.

Some of my students insist that anger is a sin. I think whether it is a sin depends on the type of anger we manifest. It is true that the Wrath is among the classical “Seven deadly sins” (the others are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and sloth). But “wrath” here refers to a temper out of control, to rage, and so to hate and the desire for revenge. That is not the same thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger seeks restitution, not revenge; it seeks correction, not retribution.

We can see the different types of anger manifested in the Gospels: Jesus forbids anger against a person. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22), he states, “I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” The anger he forbids is anger against another person. But he does not forbid anger against systemic evils: hypocrisy, exploitation, harassment, molestation, drug pushing, and so on. Such forms of injustice should make us angry, and that anger should lead to constructive action.

Categories
Holy Days lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessions: for those desperate to be named, known, loved

My siblings in Jesus who earnestly asked his friends,
“Who do you say that I am?”,

I invite you to pray with me for all those made in this God’s image who are desperate to be known, to be named, to be respected and remembered. Let us pray:

For the Black lives stomped out by police brutality and white supremacy, for whom we shout “Say their name!” — from Breonna Taylor to Ahmaud Arbery, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, from Michael Brown to George Floyd, we pray.

For the Black lives that have shaped our world, who have labored and lamented, invented and constructed, yet whose names are not printed in our history books — or whose names are shared only during Black History Month, the shortest month of the year — we pray.

For the trans person whose chosen name, whose true name, is rejected by the ones they love the most;
or who must keep their true self hidden to preserve their job, their home, their safety;
or whose very grave is marked by a name that is not theirs — the final insult in a world bent on destroying their dignity — we pray.

For the children crying out their parents’ names in ICE’s cells;
and for the over 26,000 human beings deported under the Biden-Harris administration thus far, we pray.

For those most isolated by this pandemic, who hunger to hear their name uttered by someone, anyone, we pray.

For those who are weary with applying for job after job, waiting for their name to be chosen from the pile, we pray.

For those who stand on street corners asking for money, asking for recognition that they too are human beings with a name, with dreams and griefs, with the Image of God glowing within them, we pray.

For the 500,000 and counting human beings killed in the US alone by this mishandled pandemic, whose names are printed in one inky blur, whose lives are unknown by any but those who loved them not as a faceless mass, but as parents, children, teachers, friends, we pray.

For all those desperately calling to Divinity under one of Their many names — Jesus, Allah, HaShem, Mother Earth, Great Spirit — we pray.

And finally, for the groanings and gratitudes, named and unnamed, of this congregation, we pray.

O God of many names, God the giver and restorer of names,

Ignite in us a burning urgency to
SAY THEIR NAMES,
to cherish their names,
to dig up the names
that white supremacy and all unjust powers would see buried.

O El Shaddai, the rain-bringer, the seed-tender, the nursing Mother,
come gently to each of your hurting children; whisper our own names back to us, reminding us of our worth.

Holy Spirit, we thank you for taking the achings and longings beyond words and groaning them out on our behalf. Comfort us, compel us, encourage and empower us, to be your hands and feet in this aching world today.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Genesis 17:1-16 and Mark 8:27-38, with themes of God who names Themself and others; who seeks to be known by us just as She knows us.

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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
Autistic pride My poetry

Poem: at that banquet

there will be straws
at that banquet

and all the bread will be gluten free

and no one will go away hungry because
there was no food that fit their dietary needs

and the table will be high enough
for wheelchairs to slide easily beneath it

and no one will gawk at those of us
who have trouble sitting still so long
and stand instead, and stomp our feet

and no one will grab our flapping wrists and hiss, “quiet hands!”
(God, i cannot wait to never hear that hateful phrase again)

and Jesus, there you will be,
not at the head of the table

but in the middle of things
breaking bread with hands that struggle a little,
impeded by the damage done to your fine motor skills
when the nails pierced your wrists

and with a wheelchair stationed behind you
that friends can push you in when the chronic pain
in your nail-damaged feet becomes too much

and we will all share in the lopsided chunks
of gluten free bread that is your body
or the cups of juice with straws in them that is your blood

and there will be laughter, oh there will be laughter
loud and carefree

communicated through AAC
or sign language or smiling mouths
as we finally learn what it means to be

truly One: united, not in spite of but through
diversity.


[image: a mural by Hyatt Moore based on Luke 14′s parable of the banquet. There’s a blue background and lots of people gathered at a long table with a white tablecloth piled with food. There are persons of many different races and cultures and with various disabilities, including several in wheelchairs or with canes or crutches, several who have down syndrome, one with a service dog, and so on. Jesus stands near the right end of the canvas, conversing with a child of color in a wheelchair and an older Black man in a wheelchair. /end id]


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 poem as part of a project on disability theology for a class in seminary. I began my research into Luke 14’s parable of the banquet during that project, and I’m pretty sure at this point I’ve read more articles and books on Luke 14 than any other scripture passage (except perhaps Exodus 4). You can watch me discuss this text at length on my YouTube channel in the video “Luke 14 – Disabled persons are vital guests at God’s banquet.”

This poem is one of a few in which I try to envision what “perfect accessibility” would look like. In our own world, such a thing is nigh impossible, because sometimes what accommodates me may actually harm another disabled person. For instance, I struggle with loud chaotic noises and crowds, which are pretty much unavoidable at a banquet scene like the one in Luke 14 or in this poem! Could the banquet hall include a side chamber for people like me to calm down when needed – but somehow not isolate us? Will my autism manifest itself differently in heaven so that I do not become so overwhelmed by crowds – without losing what makes me me? These are important questions to explore as we work to make our faith communities as welcoming and accessible as possible – even while knowing we probably will never get it perfect for everyone. Being willing to own up to our mistakes and truly listen to what individuals say they actually need is key.

Some notes that might help in the reading of this poem:

  • Straws are mentioned a couple times as they are a vital tool to some disabled people and movements to ban straws were spreading across the United States when I wrote this poem. See this article for more information: https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/7/19/17587676/straws-plastic-ban-disability
  • the mentioned phrase quiet hands is one frequently used in abusive therapies (such as ABA) that try to get autistic people to be as “normal” (read: non-autistic) as possible. “Quiet Hands” is a command to keep one’s hands still rather than stimming with them. Being forced to repress behaviors that come naturally, such as stimming, can go so far as to cause PTSD in autistic people. See this webpage for more information: http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Quiet_Hands
  • AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication – methods of communicating apart from verbal speech. AAC devices include writing in a notebook and electronic speech-generating devices. See this webpage for more information: https://www.prentrom.com/caregivers/what-is-augmentative-and-alternative-communication-aac
  • For more on Jesus’s own disabling wounds, with which he chose to rise and ascend into heaven, check out The Disabled God by Nancy Eiesland or by listen to/read my sermon on John 20 The Wounds of Jesus: Goodness Embodied.”
    …Or just email me – it’s like my favorite topic ever and I’m always thrilled to get to discuss it!

“The disabled God is God for whom interdependence is not a possibility to be willed from a position of power, but a necessary condition for life. …For many people with disabilities, too, mutual care is a matter of survival.

To posit a Jesus Christ who needs care and mutuality
as essential to human-divine survival does not symbolize either humanity or divinity as powerless.
Instead it debunks the myth of individualism and hierarchical orders, in which transcendence means breaking free of encumbrances and needing nobody and constitutes the divine as somebody in relation to other bodies.”

– Nancy Eiesland in The Disabled God

“The text [of Luke 14] clearly situates people with impairments at the final banquet just as they are, not with their impairments erased or made invisible. …Consistent with the presence of the scars on Jesus’ resurrected body, here the marks of impairment are not cured or expunged.

What would a world in which impairments
will not be eliminated but rather “redeemed” look like? For Eiesland, such a world is one in which justice comes for disabled people in the form of perfect accessibility and mutuality:
a justice that removes the barriers which constrain our bodies, keep us excluded, and intend to humiliate us.’”

– Amos Yong in The Bible, Disability, and the Church