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
Call to worship Liturgy

Call to Worship (drawing from Micah 6:8)

We gather to worship
the God who calls us to do justice.

God, here we are!
All glory belongs to you.

We gather to worship
the God who calls us to cherish kindness.

God, here we are!
From you all good things come.

We gather to worship
the God who calls us to journey humbly
side-by-side with Them.

God, here we are!
Give us all that we need
to follow where you guide us.

Opening Prayer

Great God of Justice and of Mercy,

You promised us that your yoke is easy
and your burden light —

not because the path you lead us down 
is never hard,
but because you bear every burden with us.

In this precious time of worship,
open our hearts to comfort and challenge
so that we may be sustained and transformed
to bear good fruit
for your glory.

Amen.

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 Confession and Pardon Liturgy Opening prayer

Liturgy for a service exploring God’s place in our suffering

Leader:

We gather here and now, 

All:

separated in space
and joined in one Body,

fractured by discord

and united by love,

to worship God,
to open ourselves to God’s voice,
to grow towards God’s will

together.

Come, let us worship God!

Opening Prayer

O high eternal Divinity,
You who are both
Unknowable, Other, utterly Beyond all sense and space —

and Presence itself, 
pervader of all things, 
glimpsable
in every human face,
in the wheeling of the stars
and the miniscule machinations of ants —

Remind us of your vastness.
Make room for our littleness.

Through this time of worship,
stoke in us a burning desire
not for easy answers
but for grace to guide our questioning;
not for light that forces out all shadow
but for the wisdom encountered only
by those who brave the stormy night. 

Amen.


Another prayer (read after reading Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32)

God whom even the seas obey,
All praise belongs to you,
for you journey with us
into troubled waters
and guide us out again.

As we ride the perilous waves together,
Surround us in your Spirit of wisdom and courage —
a whirlwind stronger than the gusts of any storm,
a breath that stills the most agitated soul —
to carry us through.

Amen.


Call to Confession

We have come to worship the Creator
not only of ourselves, but of all peoples,
all creatures, all the cosmos;

Yet we fall into self-centeredness,
becoming so lost in our own hurts, our own desires, our own needs, 
that we fail to look around to see how we might attend
to the hurts and needs of others.

Only in acknowledging our complicity
in the continued wounding of the world
can we join in God’s restoration. 

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

Silence

Prayer of Confession

Borrowing from the words of Thomas Merton, we confess together,

Lord God,
We have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do we really know ourselves,
and the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.

When we fool ourselves into certainty
in our own rightness,

Remind us of how limited we are, Infinite God,
how prone to calling evil “good” and good “evil.”

When we favor being right over accepting truth,
cheap grace over the long hard road to justice and reconciliation,

Jolt us from our egotism, self-giving God.
Help us let go of our defensiveness.

When the way seems too hard
and we nearly succumb to despair,

Surround us with support, sweet Trinity;
suffuse us with wisdom and courage.

Returning to the words of Thomas Merton, we rejoice because…

We believe that the desire to please you, o God,
does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing.
We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire.
And we know that if we do this, you will lead us by the right road,
though we may know nothing about it.

Therefore will we trust you always, 
though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.

Assurance of Pardon 

In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!
By the Holy Spirit, we are empowered 
to strive ever deeper into God’s will!

Thanks be to God!

Passing the Peace of Christ

In Jesus Christ, we know God’s forgiveness and peace — 
not an easy peace, nor a halfhearted peace,
but a peace entwined with justice, 
a peace that empowers us to survive all discord.


Affirmation of Faith / Responding to God’s Word

Ours is a God who makes room for our demand for answers,
hears us out and guides us into wisdom
as far as our finite forms can go.

Our God affirms our cries for justice,
for in the cries of the oppressed and despairing
Holy Wisdom cries for justice too.

Rejoicing in God’s welcoming of questions,
let us use poetry as a medium for framing some of our deepest doubts,
with all the messy human emotions that come with them:

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, why! why have you forsaken me!”

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

we 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
our hope is in you.


These pieces were written for a service centered around Job 38 and Mark 4:35-41, with themes of God’s bigness and God’s co-suffering with us.

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

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

Call to Worship

Leader:

We come to worship
the God of Justice,

All:

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

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

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

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

Opening Prayer

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

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

Amen.


Prayer of Confession

Leader:

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

All:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only in you.

Amen.


Responding to God’s Word (Affirmation of Faith)

Leader:

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

All:

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

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

As Julian of Norwich wrote in the twelfth century,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine of Siena wrote in the fourteenth century:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.


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

Categories
LGBT/queer My poetry

poem: whippoorwill blessing

if i follow the call of the whippoorwill
out from our burrow of blankets and slow breathing

over and into the shirt
shrugged over sleepy shoulders

downstairs to the kettle snoring steam
for the tea steeping in its yawning mug

out, out! past the screen door
anointed in moth-kisses
into a slowly waking world

will a blessing be out there, waiting?

whippoorwill, are you calling me to go
stirring my spirit as I stir this golden tea

as the sun shrugs its golden shoulders
over mountains?

whippoorwill, tell me, tell me how
you’ll bless me!
and you, dove with your mournful morning croon,
you, creek with the laughter bubbling up
from your valley nook below —

tell me how you’ll lavish me in blessings
only lavished upon those
who arise
and go.

here i go.


I wrote this poem on the getaway trip my wife and I took into the mountains of Northeast Georgia for our 2-year anniversary a couple weeks ago. The first evening we spent in our little cabin nestled in the trees, we heard a bird calling that neither of us had heard before – but my wife correctly guessed what it was because the call really did sound like “whip-poor-will.” That next morning, I awoke very early to the sound of that same bird calling. I stayed in bed a little longer, burrowed safe beside the love of my life, and then I rose to follow the call outward.

There truly is a special blessing in the world for those who awake early not to head off to work but to take that first inhale with the dawn…you can believe in the aliveness and interconnectedness of all things in that early morning glow. I felt Divinity all around as I made my way to the creek a little ways away from the cabin.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith LGBT/queer Liturgy

Responding to God’s Word: God’s binary-breaking chosen family

Leader:

As one, let us affirm some aspects of
the faith that binds us into one family.

All:

We believe in a God
who made all of us in Their image
and proclaimed every member of Their creation
Good.

We believe that Xe extends a special care towards those
whom the world calls “broken,”
“worthless,” “unclean” —

and that Xe calls us to repent, reform, and rebuild
when we are the ones who call others broken,
when we are the ones who aim to break them.

We believe in a God who gathers
more and still more people into Her own family,
a family that breaks human binaries 
of blood ties and national borders,
demographics and doctrines.

We believe that She extends a special invitation
to all those who find themselves cut off
from their human family:
to the orphans, the eunuchs, the foreigners;
to immigrants, the imprisoned, and the institutionalized,
to members of the disability community, LGBTQA+ community,
and all those whom our societies shuns and shames.

God has this special care for the disowned and disenfranchised
because Xe Xemself knows what it is to be the stranger, 
the one who does not fit, 
whose ways and thoughts are deemed 
incomprehensible, incompatible, or even insane.

Leader: 

As Jewish poet and professor Joy Ladin writes in her book The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective,

“…The human rebellions and divine rages of the Book of Numbers make it clear that even after decades of wandering with God in their midst, to the Israelites, God remains a stranger, a deity whose feelings and actions make no sense to them. Perhaps that is why God repeatedly commands the Israelites to accommodate and include ‘the stranger who dwells among you,’ the non-Israelite who embraces the Israelite community as home. For God, the inclusion of those we see as different is not a disruption or a distraction for religious communities; it is an essential religious practice, part of making a place for the ultimate stranger, God.”

We believe that God commands
any community that professes to follow Them
to do Their will
by acknowledging when we have shut out
members of God’s family,
seeking meaningful reconciliation,
and drawing our circles ever wider.

We believe that the Holy Spirit
empowers us in this work 
so that we may join Her in ushering in
the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed:

A Kin-dom without hierarchy,
where all oppressive systems will be broken down
and all live in true kinship with the God who made us.

Amen.


I wrote this piece for a worship service on Mark 3:20-35, the famous “house divided” passage. The sermon and service theme was this:

Jesus redefines family in a way that defies any human-created definition of superiority, and in that definition, Jesus renounces the behaviors from within the community that threaten the people he gathers.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith Holy Days Liturgy

Affirmation of Faith: Trinity whose very existence is relationship, you have made us for relationship

Leader:

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

All:

We believe in the Triune God
whose very existence is relationship.

Although this Trinity is the one Being 
who could be fully self-sufficient
They chose instead to let Their love flow out 
into the formless void
and explode emptiness into life.

The dance of planets around stars, 
stars around galaxies,
each body’s gravity tying it to 
the bodies spiraling all around,
exemplifies the truth of all created things:
that we are bound to one another.

It is as God proclaimed
after  fashioning the first human from the earth:
“It is not good for the human to be alone.”

Leader:

And that is why, trans Jewish Bible scholar Liam Hooper says, God took the lonely first human and split them into two humans who would depend upon each other:

“This earthling now is two. … So everything is exploded, and re-formed, and re-shaped, and re-imagined for the sole purpose of relationship. …God is telling us that self-sufficiency, and self-reliance, and self-care alone isn’t enough — ….that we need to be in full authentic relationship with each other in order to be in full relationship with God.”

All:

We believe that this Creator God 
so loved and desired relationship with the world They’d made
that They squeezed their infinity into finite flesh
to live among us, share our joy and grief, pleasure and pain.

This miracle relied upon the yes
of one poor Jewish teenager in Rome-occupied Palestine.
Ever respectful of our free will,
The Sustainer of the Universe asked Mary
if she would sustain Them with her own body,
conceiving and birthing and nursing her own Creator.

Mary’s daring yes was not the only yes in this story!
She would rely on her bonds with others
Elizabeth and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, 
Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple — 
to live into God’s call.

We believe that these are the kinds of bonds
that tie all of us together,
and that the Body of Christ is not whole
until all voices are honored, all gifts celebrated.

Leader:

As Christian writer Rachel Held Evans once wrote,

“My theology is only as rich as the diversity of the people who have contributed to it, and it is a poor theology indeed that considers only the perspectives of those who look, think, and live just like me.”

All:

We believe that God’s gift to us through Jesus 
is the restoration of all relationships.
We strive towards that restoration 
here and now wherever possible,
and look forward to enjoying it in full 
in the world to come.


I wrote this liturgy for a Trinity Sunday service that focused on Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth, connecting our relationships with one another to our relationship to God and God’s own self-relationship in the Trinity.

The quotation from Liam Hooper comes from an episode of his Bible Bash podcast.

The quotation from Rachel Held Evans comes from a Facebook post she wrote in 2014.