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Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Confession and Pardon Liturgy Opening prayer

“God of the cedar tree, God of the mustard seed” – Liturgy for grafting ourselves to the God who makes the dry tree flourish

Call to Worship

Leader:

We come to worship
the God of Justice,

All:

who lifts the oppressed up
and pulls the oppressor down
till justice and equity come to all.

Come, let us graft ourselves to one another
and to this binary-breaking God.

It is good to grow together
amid all that keeps us apart!

It is good to grow in gratitude
for the God who gathers us!

Opening Prayer

O God the Nurturer, God the Transplanter,
God who brings flourishing to those 
whom the world would see wither,

we wonder and delight in your great upturning
of human norms and expectations. 
Let us sing your praises loud and strong!

Amen.


Prayer of Confession

Leader:

God calls us to gather as one grove,
to spread our roots deep in a foundation of justice and love,
to bear fruit that lasts.

All:

But our roots are often disconnected,
shallow, easily uprooted.

Often the soil we settle into
is poisonous, toxic to ourselves and the whole community.

The world is full of conflicting messages
and claims that what is poisonous is nourishing;
what is nourishing, poisonous.

We label God’s children our enemies
to be removed and eradicated,
while enabling cruelty and greed to thrive.

God our Gardener, Spirit of Life,
Uproot what is rotten in us.
Enter our deadness and blossom it into life.
Transplant us from any soil that does not nourish.

Graft us to one another
so that together we may root ourselves in you.

Only in you.

Amen.


Responding to God’s Word (Affirmation of Faith)

Leader:

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

All:

We believe in God the Conceiver of the Cosmos,
who with a Word and a Breath
burst the universe into expansion
from one small seed.

We believe that God pervades and sustains
all that She created
with Her all-embracing love.

As Julian of Norwich wrote in the twelfth century,

“[God] showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I…thought, ‘What may this be?’ 

And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ 

I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. 

And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.”

We believe that this God of love is the God
of David the overlooked son
and of Ezekiel the exile;
the God of the mustard seed
and of the cedar tree.

In deep love for us, God grafted Themself to us,
joined us in the beautiful frailness of our flesh
in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Catherine of Siena wrote in the fourteenth century:

And you, high eternal Trinity,
acted as if you were drunk with love,
infatuated with your creature.

When you saw that this tree could bear no fruit
but the fruit of death
because it was cut off from you who are life,
you came to its rescue
with the same love
with which you had created it:
you engrafted your divinity
into the dead tree of our humanity.

O sweet tender engrafting!
You, sweetness itself,
stooped to join yourself
with our bitterness.

In joining with our bitterness,
God transformed it into sweetness!

Jesus proclaimed good news
for the despised and discarded of the world.

Having been lifted up himself,
Jesus drew all peoples to him;

And we remain engrafted to Divinity
through the Holy Spirit who dwells among us still,
breathing life and wisdom into us
so that we might do God’s will
as many branches reaching from one tree,
many members enriching one Body.

Amen.


I wrote this liturgy for a service centered around Ezekiel 17:22-24, a parallel text offered for Mark 4:26-34 (the parable of the mustard seed). In the Ezekiel text, God proclaims that Xe makes low the high tree, and makes the dry tree flourish — an upturning of expectations, indeed!

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
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.

Categories
Catholic vibes Holy Days My poetry Reflections for worship services

poem for the First Sunday of Advent

As a child packs a snowball
tight and firm and
cold seeping even through their mittens
into palms

so You
once packed the Universe
into a ball scarce larger than
the pomegranates that had yet to burst
into being…

But still a greater miracle awaited!
— a denser packing of Infinity
into small single atoms —
You! You

curled Your endless Being up
into an embryo

oh! You who grew
the cosmos on a particle of Breath

You packed Yourself down into
near nothingness —
and waited.

You waited there
in warm dark roundness till
the time had come for Her to birth you,
wet and bloody, into an uncaring world.

Somehow
the Being who could wear the galaxy
like a bangle
nursed and grew and toddled,
walked among
us tiny beings of the frail bones…

i’ll never, ever
ever fathom it.

Divinity! if i could hold You now
as Mary held you, in my quaking arms
i think i might just know why You sustain

each instant — now, and now, and now again —
all of existence.

Seed upon the palm
tucked lovingly into a rich dark soil

infant on the breast
fed lovingly from one’s own aching flesh

— but not yet. Not yet —
already, yes — and still
not yet.

with Earth i wait for You
with bated breath.


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’ve been going through a time of spiritual stagnancy as religious trauma caught up to me…so it was a gift to awaken a little after midnight on this first Sunday of Advent with images of Divinity and Roundness glowing in my heart like embers, reminding me of birth and rebirth and the eternal sustaining breath of God.

The Creation and the Incarnation are intertwined for me – when I think of God birthing the universe, my mind eventually wanders to the human who birthed God, and vice-versa.

And through the way our liturgical year returns us over and over to the story of God’s entering into Hir good, good world; and the story of God’s creative act lasting not an instant but over all ages, I think of Meister Eckhart’s declaration:

“What does God do all day long? God gives birth. From the beginning of eternity, God lies on a maternity bed giving birth to all. God is creating this whole universe full and entire in this present moment.”

Here are notes about some of the images in this poem:

On the image of the pomegranate for the Big Bang event – have you ever sliced into a pomegranate and pulled the halves apart with enough force for those rich ruby seeds within to fling themselves upward, sideways, all about? That bright explosion is to me a fitting image for that first flinging of dust into infant stars, scattered across black space.

“…the Being who could wear the galaxy / like a bangle…” – this line is inspired by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s depiction of the Lord of the Dance, Shiva, with celestial bodies whirling round his dancing ankles. You can read more of it at this link, but here are the most relevant lines:

Rebellious atoms are subdued into forms at thy dance-time,
the suns and planets, anklets of light, twirl round thy moving feet, and,
age after age, things struggle to wake from dark slumber,
through pain of life, into consciousness,
and the ocean of thy bliss breaks out in tumults of suffering and joy.

- Rabindranath Tagore 

Shiva’s dance is the source of all movement in the universe; it also frees humanity from ignorance and illusion. This conception of Divinity as Dancer resonates deeply with me, and links well in my mind to the Big Bang event – a dance begun so long ago continues into the present and for all time, ever sustaining and constantly transforming the cosmos that Divinity so loves.

“…seed upon the palm…” – we return to the image of a seed, but this time it’s the hazelnut of Julian of Norwich’s visions. In her vision, Christ hands Julian a ball no larger than a hazelnut and tells her that all of Creation is contained within that small globe:

“I was amazed that it could last,” Julian says, “for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen to nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: ‘It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.’” 

There is not a speck of matter in this universe that is not loved by God, that is not nurtured and watched over by its Creator, who revels in the stars and celebrates the blood pulsing through your fingertips. It is the creative energy and life-bearing power of this Love that forms and sustains each and every one of us. And it is that Love that moved God to slip off Infinity and step into flesh. Already this impossible event has taken place – and yet…we return to it yearly. Await it yearly. Yearn for it yearly.

The already and not yet of God’s Kin(g)dom is a Mystery that I almost think I begin to grasp when I think on the wonder and waiting to which we return as one, every Advent.

Categories
My poetry

poem: heaven is home to quick green things

i hope Your kin(g)dom’s halls are walled
with tree trunks

with canopies for roofs – in shades of green
never seen before by human eyes

and veritable riots of flowers, fruits,
everywhere i look! – and, when i need
a rest from color after vibrant color,

i hope the leafy canopy gives way  
   to black
          so deep
i almost believe
Your whole infinity
could curl up in its blue-black folds, with room
to spare for all your nursing galaxies.  

i’ve never understood
how they can read Your declaration “Good!
very Good!” – read how

You would not cease from making till You stood
amidst a million billion nebulae
that each great downdraft of Your mighty wings
sent aswirl with dust and heat that coalesced

into stars and planets, split again
into seas and lands, cells, plants, and only then

only then did You rest
as the milky way jingled on Your wrist –

they read of this
and then they paint Your heaven sterile white
as far as eye can see!
unbroken vault of
neutralizing light
devoid of all the variegating shades
and creatures that You made with Your own breath
and eons of delight.

i hope your kin(g)dom’s halls
are loud with birdsong
and prowling with cats, and rippling with fishes

i hope new life-forms bud a thousandfold
instead of shrinking down to human beings
and angels stock-still in one solemn mass;

for unity need not require extinction –

and You,  
    great bounty-bringer,     
        atom-splicer,        
            dance-delighter,
You

look lovelier when draped in gauzy rainbow,
a diadem of ivy laced with stars
and shadows silking over You like feathers –

and humankind alone, even backed by angels
cannot think of enough new ways to praise You…

so let the birds of the air, the slinking things,
the fish of the sea and seeds that split the dirt
join in on the praise of You that words don’t cover

and that rings clearer
through brown boughs than spotless white.


This poem was written by Avery Smith in the summer of 2020 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!

Hear Avery read this poem on YouTube.

About this poem: It’s important for us to reimagine the heavens we’ve been taught – for not only is whatever God’s kin(g)dom looks like far beyond anything our finite human minds can imagine, but in particular those endless uniform clouds and multitudes of faceless angels are antithetical to God’s love for diversity and color and life.

I wrote this poem because I’ve received so very many messages from people on my tumblr blog asking me in fear whether their beloved pet will be with them in heaven; or whether they’ll still be able to do the things they enjoy and see the people they love in heaven…and after much thinking and studying and praying I’ve found that the answer is yes! yes, of course! For what God calls Good here on earth (drawing from Genesis 1), God will restore, renew, transform for the coming age – not destroy.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith Liturgy

Affirmation of faith: Creator God who pulls open every shut door

As one, let us affirm our faith.

We believe in one Triune God, Creator of all things.
In that Beginning shared in Genesis,
She brooded over watery darkness, as in the womb,
and gave birth to Creation in all its remarkable diversity — 

including the day and night, and the various shades of dawn and dusk between;
including the sea and land, and the shores at which they meet;
including the plants and all kinds of animals, and beyond them
— the mollusks and fungi, and unicellular life…

and, finally, including human beings
with our vast diversity of mind and body
all crafted in the divine image.

We believe in one Triune God, Redeemer of humanity,
who came to Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael,
Jacob and Rachel and Joseph;
who came to Moses — a stranger in a strange land, unsure of where he belonged — and liberated the Hebrew people from their bondage;

and who, in the Person of Jesus Christ,
entered Creation to liberate all peoples from all forms of bondage,
to redeem us even from sin, even from death itself. 

We believe in one Triune God, Sustainer of all things,
in whom we live, and move, and have our being

whose Spirit breathes life back into parched lands and withered hearts,
and pulls open every door we would keep shut,
sweeps away every line we draw in the sand.


I wrote this for a virtual service on August 16, 2020 (15A Proper), a service that centered around themes of reconciliation and interdependence. I preached on Genesis 45:1-15, exploring Joseph’s gender nonconformity as a source for the brothers’ violence against Joseph; how Joseph was brought from suffering into thriving and was celebrated for the very gifts that the brothers had hated; and how Joseph as the wronged party got to choose how and when reconciliation would take place.

Meanwhile, I wove that theme of reconciliation into my liturgy alongside our need for community and to draw the circles of our community ever wider, drawing from the alternative reading Isaiah 56:1-8.

To read or watch my sermon, visit here.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith Liturgy

Affirmation of Faith: Creator God-with-us, whose existence is relationship

We believe in the Triune God whose very existence is relationship,
a dance of mutual love that overflows into Their creation.

As beings made in the image of this relational God, 
we are most human when we live outside of hierarchy and individualism
and live into community with God, with each other, and with all creation.

We believe in Jesus Christ, the surest example of God-with-us,
of God-for-us, of a God whose power is not dominance and control
but rather a love that empowers, liberates, and invites us into partnership. 

We believe in the Holy Spirit
who brooded over the deep until She birthed the universe,

who is the breath that animates us,
the air that whispers to seeds till they sprout and bloom,

the wind that stirs up stagnance,
the flame that burns up deadness to make a way for new life.

We believe that this Triune God invites us to join Them 
in sowing a Kin(g)dom of equity and justice here on earth

where God’s blessings are shared fairly and there is plenty for all.


I wrote this for a service with a central theme of imagination, and how God’s gift of imagination can help us envision and enact a better world, a world liberated from oppressive binary and hierarchical structures like cishetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. My sermon’s text was Genesis 25:19-34 and explored the relationship between Jacob – with his marginalizing identities who assimilates into patriarchy – and Esau with his privilege who eventually seeks out reconciliation with his brother. You can read or watch the sermon here.

While the Genesis text was my sermon focus, I wanted to fit the lectionary’s Gospel reading into my liturgy. That reading was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, the Parable of the Sower.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and Pardon: harming Creation, exploiting our siblings

God of justice, God of mercy, as one we confess our failings:

Though you conceived all the cosmos and called it Good,
We disregard the holiness of Creation, exploiting it for our own gain.

Though you gave birth to one human race
bestowing your image and your blessing on every human being,
We deny that image in those we mark as Other,
as if there were only enough blessing for some of us.

We rob our siblings of their autonomy and dignity;
we force them to live in fear and poverty,
and use their very bodies to fuel our own prosperity. 

And when we are the ones oppressed, our exhaustion and fear poison us,
warping our ability to trust, causing us to lash out at those we love.

In this dog-eat-dog world, this zero-sum game of divide-and-conquer, 
We become too wrapped up in our own survival
to lift up our siblings drowning alongside us.


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Friends, our remorse is a sign of God’s grace already at work within us. Assured of God’s mercy, we are free to seek new ways of being together. 

God’s Word forgives and redeems us. God’s Breath revitalizes us for the journey. Emboldened by this good news, let us share God’s love with one another. 


I wrote this for a service with a central theme of imagination, and how God’s gift of imagination can help us envision and enact a better world, a world liberated from oppressive binary and hierarchical structures like cishetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. My sermon’s text was Genesis 25:19-34 and explored the relationship between Jacob – with his marginalizing identities who assimilates into patriarchy – and Esau with his privilege who eventually seeks out reconciliation with his brother. You can read or watch the sermon here.

While the Genesis text was my sermon focus, I wanted to fit the lectionary’s Gospel reading into my liturgy. That reading was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, the Parable of the Sower.

Categories
Call to worship Liturgy

Call to worship and opening prayer: God the sower who invites our partnership

Beloved community, we gather to worship the God who invites us to join Them in creating a new world.

When our souls are trampled on, made too hard to bear fruit,
Let us gather.

When our hearts exclaim over God’s word for a moment,
but never break open to let it sink in,
Let us gather.

When the cares of the world prick at and stifle our spirits like thorns,
leaving no room for joy or hope, no time for kindness or compassion,
Let us gather. 

And when God comes, heals, cultivates in us hearts soft enough to receive, to nurture, to blossom,
Let us gather to worship our Creator, our Redeemer, the Breath within our lungs.


OPENING PRAYER

God of Life in all its seasons,
you are the Sower who softens us like soil,
slowly but surely, so that your Word may sprout in us. 

You are the source of the water, the sun, the air 
that sustain our being and unite us with all living things. 

You are the Wind that stirs our stagnation,
who takes us by the hands and pulls us into action,
inviting us to be co-laborers in the hard harvest work
as your Kin(g)dom takes root, grows, and blossoms across the world.

We come to worship
you who guide all Creation into flourishing.


I wrote this for a service with a central theme of imagination, and how God’s gift of imagination can help us envision and enact a better world, a world liberated from oppressive binary and hierarchical structures like cishetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. My sermon’s text was Genesis 25:19-34 and explored the relationship between Jacob – with his marginalizing identities who assimilates into patriarchy – and Esau with his privilege who eventually seeks out reconciliation with his brother. You can read or watch the sermon here.

While the Genesis text was my sermon focus, I wanted to fit the lectionary’s Gospel reading into my liturgy. That reading was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, the Parable of the Sower – hence references to God as sower in the liturgy above.