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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 Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author.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
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
Holy Days lent My poetry

poem for Holy Saturday: this moment matters

they wanted – no, they needed
to touch you one last time.

so they trudged the tombward path
with their perfumes and their spices
their strips of cloth to cocoon your body in
for its final transformation back to dust

their shoulders almost broken with grief,
heavy as the cross
that crushed the life from your flesh.

let me fall in step behind them.
let me take my place in that line
of broken hearts bearing a cross of grief together.
let me shoulder my share of the burden

and let me not rush
to the first fingers of dawn, frail and trembling,
reaching past a rolled-back stone
to empty space where your corpse should be –

no. let me linger in the moment when
your corpse still lies there
and anguish fractures the air
into splinters that cut the lungs.

this moment matters:
your brown body
with the breath pressed out
by the inexorable boot of Empire
matters.

and the moment that comes after
cannot ease this one.

it never has, and it never will, for

there are still bodies broken,
breathless, beaten down
by Empire’s brutality or else its apathy.

and you, with us to the last,
still lie among them – you hold them close
and share their final exhalation
be it in a hospital bed, the street, a cell.

so let me not sprint to sunrise
when your body can still be found
nestled with cold bodies in their graves.

blessed be the hands
that carry the spices and perfumes, water and cloth!
blessed, blessed be the throats
worn rough with sobs
yet refusing to be silenced,
broadcasting the crime lest some claim ignorance.

i’ll not dishonor them by racing past
to the future reunion of
form to dust, breath to body, lover to loved
before they’re ready.

keep watch! soak in! be present with them!
this moment is holy.


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:

This was my prayer for Holy Saturday, 2020 – 
in the shadow of pandemic
and from under the enduring boot of state violence and negligence: 
Spirit, help us learn to linger in the shadow of the tomb,
so as not to abandon those who are not ready to look beyond it yet. 

In this poem I lean on the promise of the Brief Statement of Faith:
“in life and in death, we belong to God.” And I draw from Black theologians like James Cone who argue that God is Black, that Jesus Christ is executed again wherever human beings are lynched or tortured. This poem is written in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Categories
My poetry

poem: glory to the God who tires

Glory be to the God who tires, rests.

Jesus, you felt the world’s weight across your shoulders
even heavier than the rest of us.

the lepers whom most of us can choose
to let our gaze slide over
ran after you, calling, clinging at your hem:
there was no denying them.

there is never
cessation of need.
the earth is one mouth gaping
hungry, groaning, calling
never filled, never silent, never closed.

yet
you took the time

to row yourself into the sea’s dark belly
and let her cradle you.

you knew the crowds were teeming on either shore,
that they would coalesce upon you,
waves replacing waves as soon as you rowed back —

and there would be time
for them.

for now, you let the croon of wave lapping at boatwood
lull you to sleep.

God, will you be the sea
and i the boat
rocked to sleep in your lap?

slow my breathing
until it matches yours.
still, still.

promise me:
there will be time, there will
be time

 but for now
there is only rest.

rest.


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!

Hear Avery read this poem on YouTube.

About this poem: I wrote this poem while I was serving for a semester as a hospital chaplain – a time in which I was inundated with grief and need, both my own and that of others. It’s inspired by Psalm 131 and stories in the various Gospels where Jesus withdraws from the crowds that seek his healing and wisdom to pray and rest (e.g. Matthew 14:13, Luke 5:16, Mark 4:35-41).

Categories
My poetry

poem: first question

my God, you better be ready when i come
and stand before you face to face at last
because you know how many questions i have for you
and you know the very first that will
burst from my lips will be
why?

why did you conceive and birth a world
roiling with so much pain?
why did you make human beings
capable of such atrocities?

why did you make our skin so frail, our stomachs
so prone to hunger and thirst, our minds
so quick to judge and scheme and place ourselves first?

and why, why do you seem to watch passively
as we raze forests into barren dust
as we pour poison into rivers
as we tear flesh from each other’s bodies with our teeth??

…i don’t know, yet. but when i think of you
cradled in the arms of a single mother with calloused brown hands

and of you
walking miles between towns to bring healing on tired feet,
your stomach eating itself with hunger, your tongue parched

and of you
being nailed to a cross
by hands that have shed their compassion for gain
as you cry out “my God, whywhy have you forsaken me!”

…then, i feel a little better.
i still do not understand
but i trust.

i trust because you do not watch us suffer from
some lofty throne high above 
but rather

wherever a child sobs with hunger
a woman aches with grief
a whole community is being trampled into the mud
you are there. your face is tear-tracked too. your wrists
and feet and torso bear wounds, too.

so i question, constantly.
and i will demand answers. but also, i trust you.

truly, truly
my hope is in you.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them, and has been published in their text 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!

Hear Avery read this poem on YouTube.

About this poem: If we learn nothing else from scripture, it’s that God welcomes our questions and difficult emotions. And a common question with which we all wrestle is the question of why good people suffer while those who do wrong seem to thrive – see Psalm 73, the Book of Job, and this post for more on what theologians term “theodicy,” the place of God in suffering.

Categories
Call to worship Charge and Benediction Holy Days Liturgy

Easter Sunday: call to worship and benediction

CALL TO WORSHIP

Today celebrate the joy that vanquishes grief,
the life that outlasts death.
Today we celebrate an empty tomb and full hearts.
Glory Hallelujah!

In rising, Jesus lifted us all up with him.
No longer is suffering, or oppression, or death the end of any story.

Let us worship the Living God, who lived and died and rose again for us, and who dwells among us this very day. 

Amen.


BENEDICTION

Through the Person of Jesus, God has redeemed the world –
yet we still have work to do.

Revitalized by our worship,
let us take the new life that Jesus gives us freely
out into the world – a world that is still hurting,
a world where pain and grief and death still pervade Creation.

There is so much work to do, but we rejoice to know that the God
who Creates, Redeems, and Sustains us
works alongside us, empowering us
to roll back the stones on every tomb.

Thanks be to God!

Categories
Call to worship Charge and Benediction Holy Days Liturgy Opening prayer

Jesus of the Wounds: Call to worship and benediction for the Second Sunday of Easter

CALL TO WORSHIP

Today we continue our celebration of the Resurrection.
Today, we worship Jesus of the Scars.

Today, we reach out to touch his side –
by reaching out to those who are struggling around us. 

We come with our own small victories.
We come with our own wounds some scarred over,
some still bruising.

We come, still burdened by weariness
over the suffering we feel and see;
We come, because although we don’t yet fully see
the new life won for us, still we hope. Still we believe.

Let us worship Jesus Christ, God with us,
through whom we rise to new, abundant life.
Hallelujah!


OPENING PRAYER

Jesus of the Outstretched Palms,

Though your work is already complete,
though you have liberated us from Death for good and all,
still we dwell in a liminal space:
Already we are transformed,
but not yet do we see all the fruits of that transformation.

Instead, we see scars.

Jesus of the wounded hands and side,
we see your wounds reflected in the world around us.
we feel them on our own hearts.

Jesus, your side, your hands, your feet
bear the marks of your love for us,
your solidarity with every person across the ages
who has been condemned and tortured by human powers.

Glory to you, Wounded Healer.
Glory to you, God of those with wounds.

Amen.


BENEDICTION

Jesus,

You who heal all humanity, all Creation,
bear wounds that we can see and touch.

Send your Spirit to give us the courage to reach out,
to touch them on the bodies and hearts of those around us.

Emboldened by the Good News of your redemption,
we head out into your world. 
We will be your hands.

Though wounded ourselves, we join you in healing your wounded.

We rejoice to know that you will be with us –
Leading us ever closer to Fullness of Life.
Amen.

ALTERNATIVE BENEDICTION

In worship we have been nourished
by our Wounded Healer’s very body –
and now They send us out to be Their hands.

Though we too are wounded, we rejoice
that God empowers us to do this work
and does not leave us to do it alone.

So let us go now, into a bruised world
in desperate need of healing hands and listening hearts

rejoicing that the one who Bore us, who Heals us, who Sustains us
goes out with us.

Amen.

Categories
Charge and Benediction Liturgy

General benedictions – thanksgiving, joy, solidarity, lament

Below are several charges + benedictions that may be fitting for various worship services – some for general or joyful services, and others for services that focus on lament or solidarity with the oppressed.


Friends,
The Triune God whose self-sustaining love overflows into all Creation,
who whirls into our lives and sweeps us up in Their lively dance,

now sends us dancing out into Their world
to fill its empty aching with God’s love,
to subdue its pain with Their peace,
to make Their good news known far and wide
in what we say and what we do.

So let us go, glorifying the Source of life in all we do
and growing in Their love.

Let us go, following after the Redeemer of life
and striving to follow the example He set through His ministry.

Let us go, hand in hand with the Sustainer of life
allowing Her to use our hands to transform death
into new, radiant, abundant life for all creation.
Amen.


[referencing protests and activism]

Siblings in Christ,

Nourished by song and by scripture, by God’s Word proclaimed and Christ’s Body shared, it is time for us to go and be a nourishment to others. Whether at home or at work, at the park or at a protest, let us live out God’s good news of liberation and community for the world. 

Go in peace, go with courage, in the name of the One who creates, sustains, and redeems you.


[drawing loosely from Exodus 17:1-7]

Beloved community,

How can we thank God for the abundance that Xe has lavished upon us here? Only by responding in kind, by feeding one another as God has fed us. 

So let us go now, encouraged by the knowledge that we do not go alone:
we have each other;
and the one who Creates, Sustains, and Redeems us is in our midst,
blessing and empowering us for the work ahead.


[drawing from Psalm 23]

Shepherd God,

We have worshiped you and praised you for gathering us,
diverse as we are, into one flock.
Now, it is time for us to enter back into the world.

Lead us forth, guiding us through valleys and shadows,
protecting us as we dine not only with friends
but also with foes,
in the hopes of becoming one with them too.

Help us to be shepherds as well as your sheep,
guiding one another through valleys of shadow
to food, to water, to rest.

The way is not easy, but we rejoice,
because you guide us always
and because you give us to one another
to serve you and to be your church together.

Amen.


[suitable for services of lament / that address suffering, anger, etc.]

Comrades in Christ,
Here we have received good reason to believe
that the God of the Oppressed is with us in solidarity

– not only when we are content or joyful
but also when we are grieving,
when we are enraged,
when we feel disappointed in God,
when we cannot feel God.

Assured of God’s steadfast presence, let us go out
into a world full of grief and disappointment,
full of downtrodden spirits and tortured bodies,
and join God in Their solidarity with all who cry out for justice.

Amen.


Categories
Invitation to the table Liturgy Prayer after Communion

Invitation to the table and prayer after communion: come with your doubts

Sisters, brothers, and siblings in Christ,
as we gather around different tables to partake in the same feast,
let no one be afraid to wonder, “Is God really in our midst?”

Let no one be ashamed to admit they do not fully believe or understand —
for who among us does? 

Jesus truly does welcome us — welcomes you! — to his table just as you are, with your doubts and your dread, your trauma and your pain.
So come, sit with us, and be fed by the One who loves you dearly.


PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION

Jesus our Lord and our sibling, 
At this table you have proclaimed your resounding “Yes!” to our question, “Is God really here with us?”

Through the sharing of your life, your love, your Spirit, you take up our causes as if they were your own. All we can say is thank you. Thank you. Amen.


I wrote this for a virtual service centered around trauma and community’s role in the journey to recovery; an affirmation of protest is also woven throughout the liturgy. My sermon was based around Exodus 17:1-7, looking at the wilderness wandering through a lens of generational trauma and applying it to the collective and individual traumas we are facing today, from those caused by pandemic and police violence to personal struggles.

For this invitation, I draw from the Exodus reading.

Watch or read my sermon here.

Categories
Call to worship Liturgy

Call to worship and opening prayer

Beloved community,

Though we remain separated by physical space,
the Spirit who transcends walls and borders gathers us together. 

We come as a community on a journey
Still learning how to show up for each other
And how to live into God’s Kin(g)dom.

We come with minds buzzing with questions,
or burdened by mental illness;
We come with spirits heavy with loneliness, grief, or dread;
We come with bodies weary with pain, sickness, or fatigue
To worship a God who hears, feels, and responds.


OPENING PRAYER

Oh you who are Holy Other and God With Us,

You choose to enter our daily lives,
to share our burdens with us.

You pervade space, time, and all the divisions we devise:
You who came to Moses and liberated an enslaved people,
You who came to them in fire and in darkness
to carry them through the wilderness
truly are the same God here in our midst today. 

We have come to worship you, strange and steadfast God
Who makes a way out of no way.


I wrote this for a virtual service on September 27, 2020 (21A Proper) centered around trauma and community’s role in the journey to recovery; an affirmation of protest is also woven throughout the liturgy. My sermon was based around Exodus 17:1-7, looking at the wilderness wandering through a lens of generational trauma and applying it to the collective and individual traumas we are facing today, from those caused by pandemic and police violence to personal struggles.

Watch or read my sermon here.