Countdown to the Justice Calls Book Release – Day 10

In anticipation of the release of Justice Calls (you can pre-order it here), I’m sharing an excerpt a day. Today’s is from Tai Amri Spann-Wilson, winner of the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award for his poetry on race, class, gender and sexuality. In addition to his work as a writer and community organizer, he currently serves as the Director of Youth Ministries at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan, Kansas.


This sermon draws on Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son,” as well as the exhaustion felt by the disciples in Matthew 26:41 (“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak . . .”).

{Trigger Warning: While this is just a small excerpt, it should still be noted that the content of this sermon is heavy, and at times heart-wrenching and heartbreaking. It was preached at First Christian Church of Oakland on May 6, 2012, just a week after the murder of Brandy Martell, a transgender woman gunned down in Oakland, California. Brandy had declined advances made by flirtatious men, telling them she was transgender.}

Sometimes I just want to sit down on those splintered steps described by Hughes, which seem to be the steps I encounter the most. Sometimes I just want to give in and give up; “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” . . .

I’m reminded of how difficult this calling is when the children I work with tell me that they’re scared to walk through their front doors because of the gangs that haunt their front steps.

I’m reminded of how difficult this calling is when I’m walking down the street past a woman carrying on an incomprehensible conversation with herself.

And I’m reminded of how difficult this calling is when I hear about people like Brandy Martell, who, as you know, was murdered last Sunday in downtown Oakland and would still be alive if she hadn’t been transgender.

Sometimes I feel like Peter, James, and John in the garden with Jesus before he was arrested, failing to stay awake to pray with their Lord. Jesus looks at them knowingly and says, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). Even on the eve of the loss of their friend, brother, and savior, they found themselves just wanting to go to sleep—to not even have to try to face what was coming. Likewise, my flesh can feel so very weak, even when my spirit wants to break down all of the walls of injustice . . .

So how can we stay awake through our pain to do the work of building God’s kin-dom here on earth? Is it possible? How do we move toward the crystal stair, all without collapsing in exhaustion on stairs chock-full of tacks, splinters, and torn-up boards? Where do we find our strength to go on?

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