Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry Reflections for worship services

Reflection for Coming Out Day services: Fighting damaging silence, honoring formative silence

There are cocoons
of silence, soft merciful darkness enveloping you 
until you are ready to emerge as something
new—

And there are tombs
of silence. Darkness gone awry,
a heaviness that presses down your lungs,
so that your shouts of “I’m alive!” die
before they can escape your lips.

My shoulders ache with the ghosts of silences too long carried.

Mom, Dad, you always promised
to love me no matter what —
but so did my wife’s parents
and they nearly threw her out
when they found out.

I wanted to believe you really would love me “no matter what”
but how could I dare to hope it
when you never said a word
about gay or trans people,
and always changed the channel when two women
holding hands came on the screen?

Your silence weighed on me
almost as heavy as explicit condemnation would have.

Parents, guardians out there, please
tell your children when they are
young and only just learning what love is
that you will love them even if it turns out 
the wrong gender was stamped on their birth certificate
and no matter who they cut their wedding cake with. 

I came out to my parents eventually.
Piece by piece
I tore through the silence
we had built up together and they

have been wonderful. Slowly
they wrapped up the name
they gave me at my birth and put it away, replaced by
a name of my own choosing, a name that really is me. 

The pronouns took longer
but now when I go home 
arm in arm with my wife
I have no fear of being misgendered 
by those closest in my life.

And what of myself, the residue of silence
that still coats my inner gut?

Sometimes I forget that I am safe now
to speak up for other queer folk,
that I can say, “no, that joke was not funny
it was transphobic” or
“so why exactly would you ‘never date a bisexual’?”

My mouth stays shut. And silence wins. Nothing changes.
Other times I’m just too tired
to correct someone who’s called me ma’am yet again
to repeat like a broken record, please use they/them

and then silence wins.
I dodge falling stalactites as my identity caves in around me.

The seductive arms of silence 
reach out to all of us
and we all fall into them sometimes, too tired to resist
or too scared of saying the wrong thing to even try. 

But the key is to ask yourself: what will you do
to ensure that the old wounds etched by silence
don’t bleed out indefinitely? what will you do
not to cover over the scars or pretend like they never happened
but to keep new scars from jagging into existence?

Listen.
I know how your heart speeds up
when you try to speak up 
on your own behalf or another’s —
my heart does too.

I know the lump that forms in your throat 
and when you speak anyway, 

maybe people will be mad. Maybe you’ll have to fight.
Maybe you’ll even lose.

But speak anyway. And if you have to fight, 
then fight not with swords but with words, not with violence
but with love and truth. 

If we speak, 
the scars of silences once carried
will map themselves into a vision
of a future where no one
needs to bury themselves to stay alive. 

As for me and my house,
we will dig and dig and dig and free
the ones whom we have buried 
with the sin of all the times that we have failed.

We will not disturb those who have chosen
to wrap themselves in cocoons of silence
for their own protection,
but we will speak on their behalf;
while they form themselves in safety 
we will speak, so that when they emerge

the world will greet them not
with more tombs to shove them in
not with confused stares or snide comments
but with open arms
and a seat at the feast—

not with isolating silence
but with beautiful, life-reviving Song.


This piece was written by Avery Arden 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!

I first wrote this reflection for a National Coming Out Day service at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in October 2016. The service included reflections from several individuals, each one responding to a different passage from Esther; the passage to which I responded was Esther 8:9-14.

I shared this reflection again, revised, for another Coming Out Day service for my friend Ainsley’s online Queer Church (you can watch the service on Facebook live here).

The first version of this piece included my description of how my parents were still working on getting my pronouns right; it was a joy to revise it saying that they now have that down pat! I also got to change “girlfriend” to “wife,” as we got married in 2019.

The concept of “coming out” brings up complex emotions in me. Western culture turns being “out” and “closeted” into a binary; assumes that all of us resonate with those terms; and centers cishet persons in discussion of those terms. Some incomplete thoughts:

My hope is that this reflection honors the many experiences and feelings around the idea of “coming out,” even while focusing on my own personal experiences.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession & Pardon: Learning to Face Hard Truths with the Prophet Amos

Call to Confession

God sent the prophet Amos to Israel
to warn the rich and powerful
that the natural consequence of their mistreatment of the vulnerable 
would be destruction for all.

In many ways, the modern United States 
is not unlike that ancient nation —

A land of plenty only for the powerful few,
while the oppressed go hungry and unheard.

So come, let us confess our failings
by hearing some of Amos’s words
as if they were proclaimed to us.

Prayer of Confession

“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure…
Alas for those who ignore the evil day
        causing violent rule to draw near:
  for those who lie on beds of ivory,
   and lounge on their couches…” 
(Amos 6:1, 3-4a)

“…They have been led astray by the same lies
    after which their ancestors walked.” 
(Amos 2:4)

We cannot bear to hear of the atrocities
inflicted past and present by our fellow Christians
against Indigenous peoples

such news shatters our faith in the Church,
wracks us with grief and guilt 
we don’t know what to do with.

We cannot bear to believe all the stories 
of violence committed by police
against Black persons and other persons of color

such stories shake our trust in our country,
leave us wondering where else we could go
when our own safety is threatened.

We cannot bear the knowledge that
our world is burning due to human greed
don’t we need the gas that poisons our planet
to power our cars and homes?

God, when we think we cannot bear these truths,
give us the strength to face them — 
for in avoiding them, we move towards our collective doom.

“I raised up some of your children to be prophets…
But you…command the prophets, 
Saying, ‘You shall not prophesy!’”
(Amos 2:11-12)

“[You] hate the one who reprimands in the city gate,
abhor the one who speaks the truth.” 
(Amos 5:10)

We cannot bear the messages of
people we have individually harmed,
or of communities whose oppression
is the price of our own prosperity

because they pierce through our illusions
about ourselves as “nice” people,
and expose the pretty lie of the American Dream
for the nightmare it is, accessible only to the privileged;

they make us feel bad and defensive,
and expose the poison festering beneath
our “respectable” facades.

God, when we think we cannot bear these truths,
urge us all the harder to face them. 
Do not let us look away!

“They do not know how to do right, says the HOLY ONE…”
(3:10)

You alone, O God, can teach us how to do right. 
Open our hearts. Help us lower our defenses.
We will face the harm we have done
so that we can move forward.

Assurance of Pardon 

God declares, “Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”
(Amos 5:24)

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
such justice is possible!

God will make all things right,
and empowers us to join Them in that task.


I wrote this confession for a service centered around Amos chapter 7, which includes the metaphor of the plumbline, which God has used to measure Israel only to find its very foundation is completely skewed; the whole thing must be leveled and rebuilt.

Israel’s high priest Amaziah cries that “the land cannot bear [Amos’s] words,” and tells Amos to go on back home to Judah, because his prophecies are not welcome in Israel. But in reality, it isn’t the message that Israel “cannot bear,” but the avoidance of that message: because Amaziah rejects this message and the repentance and reform it necessitates, Israel will be invaded and driven into exile by the Neo-Assyrian Empire; by 722 BCE, the Northern Kingdom of Israel will have fallen, leaving her sister nation Judah standing alone.

There are so many truths that we likewise avoid because we believe that we and our communities cannot bear the guilt, grief, and upheaval those truths would bring. But to fail to face those realities and respond with active reform spells doom for us all.

As James Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

What realities are the members of your faith community avoiding? How can the community come together to face them together?

_____

In the case of how white Christians can and must face our complicity in antiblack racism, I recommend Good White Racist? by Kerry Connelly as a good starting point. Connelly goes into the neuroscience behind why we react to our words or actions being called out as if such a thing were a life-threatening attack; how we value being “nice” and not making others uncomfortable to seeking justice; and how to move past that hardwiring.

Categories
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Pastoral Prayer for Immigration Sunday: praying for all who know the heart of the stranger

Our God is the Ultimate Other;
Xe knows firsthand what it is 
to be the one who does not fit,
whose ways are not “our ways”
and whose thoughts are not “our thoughts.”

Thus trusting in Her steadfast solidarity,
let us lift up our prayers for all those 
who know the heart of the stranger.

We pray for Indigenous peoples across the globe
who are made Other in their own homelands,
their lands stripped from them and genocide attempted 
against their languages, their cultures, their bodies —

we pray particularly for the First Nations peoples of North America
whose long-held, never yet healed wounds were recently reopened
with the discovery of the remains Indigenous children 
who were forced into residential schools, died, and were discarded;

as well as for Palestinians facing persecution
and expulsion from the homes of their ancestors
with nowhere to go:

O God who saw and saved
the enslaved foreigners Hagar and Ishmael,
whose descendants would one day found the Islamic faith;
hear our prayer.

We pray for immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees
and all who find themselves far from all they know and love

only to face contempt and mistreatment,
often by the very powers that had a direct hand
in the violence they are fleeing:

O God who transformed the migrant Naomi’s bitterness to sweetness;
O God who, in the person of Jesus,
was yourself a refugee, finding asylum in Egypt as an infant,
hear our prayer.

Finally, we pray 
for all who experience double consciousness
in which they feel forced to think always
of how the oppressor will respond to their words and actions,

from Black persons to the children of immigrants
as well as Asian Americans and other persons of color 
who are subjected to the stereotype of the “perpetual foreigner”,
treated always as alien even in their place of birth:

O God of Moses, who felt stuck somewhere between 
his adopted Egyptian family and his Hebrew roots, 
hear our prayer.

Great Breaker of the human Binaries
of blood ties and national borders,

gather us into one community — something fresh, something new! —
where no one’s needs are denied 
on the grounds of being too difficult or strange;

where no one is forced to cut off pieces of themselves 
to fit into a pre-established mold;

where no one is treated like a problem, an afterthought, a disruption
but rather every person is protected, cherished, listened to.

It is you, God of the Stranger, on whom we depend
to right the wrongs of xenophobia.
Teach us to move with you towards justice.
Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer to accompany the “prayers of the people” session of a worship service on Immigrant Sunday, celebrated in the PCUSA denomination. It could also suit the UCC’s Immigrant Rights Sunday and, I imagine, other such services across denominations.

For more on Moses as one torn between identities in a way that relates to the second generation Latine experience, I highly recommend “Moses Speaks Spanglish” by Daniel José Camacho.

For more on God as ultimate other, see Joy Ladin’s text The Soul of the Stranger.

The term “double consciousness” comes from W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1903 text The Souls of Black Folk.

See here for the stereotype of the “perpetual foreigner” defined.

Categories
Hymns LGBT/queer Other search markers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My revised verses:

[hymn’s first verses go before this one]

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

[chorus]

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

[chorus]

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

[chorus]

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

[chorus]


Notes on some of my choices:

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

In the “for woman and man” verse:

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

In the dis/ability verse:

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

Invitation:

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

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

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

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

Call to Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER

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

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

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

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

Amen.


Confession and Pardon

CALL TO RECONCILIATION

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

So let us face it together. 

PRAYER OF CONFESSION 

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

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

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

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

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

_____

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

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

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

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


Affirmation of Faith

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

As one, let us affirm that shared faith:

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

Her blessing comes before 
and follows after 
any curse — 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.


Prayers of the People / Pastoral Prayer

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

So let us pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.


Invitation to the Offering

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

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


Invitation to Christ’s Table

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

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

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


Prayer after Communion

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

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


Charge and Benediction

Friends in Christ,

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

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

So let us go, glorifying God with our lives!


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

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

Categories
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
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
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer for victims of xenophobia

My sisters, brothers, and siblings in Jesus Christ
who knew what it was to be deeply troubled,

We live in a world roiling with pain and grief,
in desperate need of deliverance.
But we do not go it alone.

Please, join me in weaving our many prayers into one
lifted up to the God who sees us, knows us,
and draws us, all of us, to Themself.

For those who yearn to see God,
but no longer know where to look,
no longer know whom to trust or what to believe,
we pray.

For those who come to Christianity
hoping for a glimpse of the Divine
only to be forced to bow before
an idol to whiteness, to maleness, to worldly wealth and power,
we pray.

For those who go through the motions of worship
but do not feel heard by God
or seen by their faith community,
we pray.

For those who yearn to be known
by their fellow human beings
as kin in the image of God,
worthy of the same dignity and rights,
let us pray:

For every victim of a hate crime,
of white supremacy and white nationalism,
of fetishization, criminalization, and xenophobia,
we pray.

For Breonna Taylor and her family, who still wait to see justice
over one year after her death,
and for those who continue to strive in her name,
we pray.

For unaccompanied minors making the perilous crossing
into the United States, sent by family
who love them desperately enough to lose them,
hoping against hope for them to know safety and prosperity,
we pray.

For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who have seen
hate crimes against them rise drastically in the past year —
and particularly for the eight human beings,
among them six women of Asian descent,
murdered in the Atlanta area this past week,
we pray.

O God of the oppressed,
who in the person of Jesus knows firsthand what it is
to yearn to be seen, to be known, to be welcomed,
and who knows firsthand what it is
to be stripped of humanity by unjust powers,
arrested, tortured, and executed by an unjust state,

look upon the atrocities, hear the desperate cries;
empower us to be your hands, feet, and heart
in this broken world.

Please, give those who are lonely, lost, languishing
in our congregation and in the broader world
a glimpse of your face, shining back at them
in the face of a loved one or a stranger,
or in forest, mountain, ocean.

Make tangibly known to each of us
your deep and abiding love,
your assurance that there will be justice,
there will be peace —
and that, in the meantime,
you see. You know. And you are here in our midst.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:20-33.

In the John passage, Jesus is courageous enough to be vulnerable enough to admit his psyche is “deeply troubled” — from the Greek word ταράσσω, which also means disturbed, agitated, the setting in motion of what should be still. He is terrified of his impending arrest, torture, and crucifixion — but, in solidarity with all those who have no choice in such trauma, he says yes to it.

How do we say yes to solidarity with those experiencing police brutality and hate crimes, particularly with the rise of hate crimes against the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)?

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.