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
Autistic pride My poetry

Poem: at that banquet

there will be straws
at that banquet

and all the bread will be gluten free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Nancy Eiesland in The Disabled God

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

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

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

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: HRT on Good Friday

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

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

   and i drive
   the needle
   in.

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

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

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

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

but only you, only you
would die.

only you would scream Eli! Eli
lama sabachthani?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

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

Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: my god they have cornered me

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

but god

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

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

oh, god

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

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

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

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

no. they will never
be weapons again.

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

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


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. This is a revised version of a poem included in their volume The Kin(g)dom in the Rubble. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

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

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

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