It started with waking up to an alert on my phone:
“20 Dead in Orlando nightclub shooting.”
(I wake up to WAY too many of these alerts lately, but that’s the price of living in the States these days…)
I do my work on Sundays, trying to connect people with God, sometimes through music, words, or conversations. I plan and listen, situate and discern as best I can.
I get to work pretty early on Sundays—6:30AM if possible—and I usually put everything on “Do Not Disturb” so I can keep my head clear and my world quiet as long as possible before it’s no longer possible.
Sometime before the congregation arrived I checked my phone again, and my spirit darkened even more as I read, “Death toll in Orlando at 49…”
What is a pastor supposed to do in these cases?
I took a deep breath, and then I did the thing that, in retrospect, I now regret.
I went ahead with the plan of the day.
It was not malice, or callousness towards LBGTQ people, that caused me to “stick to the message” that day. I just literally neglected to pull my head up above the mire long enough to think about and *really process* what had happened.
I now regret that.
Maybe it’s just a sort of “numb-ness” to it all. A rather sad conviction that this is the world in which we now live. I don’t know.
But I know I think I should have said something.
And so I write this now. Maybe a day late and a dollar short. Who knows?
But here’s what I want anyone who reads this to know:
Any strain of religion—Christianity, Islam, or Judaism—that preaches hate and de-humanization—is really no religion at all, at least in the purest sense of the word. Religion is meant to pull things together (our souls, our communities), not destroy them. I don’t know whether or not the shooter was ultimately motivated by blind, irrational hatred of life in general, some demons that he sees in the West, or something specific in Gay and Lesbian people, but I do know that his targets that night were specifically gay, lesbian and transgender human beings that night. That makes the “Universe” (and in my world the Abrahamic God that is behind that universe) weep with abject sorrow and even bitterness at what is being done “in His name.”
Don’t bring my God into your violence.
Everyone deserves to have a beer, or to dance, or to worship, in safety.
We all deserve to be in a space where we will not be shot at or yelled at because of our lives. Jesus had this way of holding some pretty intense beliefs about God, *and yet not really getting in anyone’s way who wished to hang around him or his message.*
I am so sorry for this tragedy. I don’t know how much guns are to blame (surely a little?), an undiagnosed mental illness (perhaps?), an unreasonable perversion of faith, blind hatred of a people group?
I don’t know.
I just know it’s wrong.
I’m sorry I didn’t pray for the victims and their families. I’m sorry I didn’t cry out to God more for the brokenness of this world.
For me, I share the perspective of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who writes that only in religion—true, uniting and life-affirming religion—can we ultimately break the cycle of violence and death in our world.
Economics won’t fix it.
Politics won’t fix it.
Science won’t fix it.
Only the best of faith can give what we all want most, at our deepest and most human levels: a deep sense of meaning and the sense that “every thing is going to be alright.”
Nights like last Saturday night challenge that. But I refuse to (a) give into the despair that would toss faith out with the bathwater, or (b) give into cynical hate that demands a strike back, or a cold shoulder.
I guess I’m opting for messiness, and to be honest, I don’t really need any more mess in my life. It’s not like I don’t have enough of that going on already.
But this is reality.
I’ll opt for hope. I’ll try to opt for love and compassion and acceptance.
You see, I really I have no other choice. I’ve signed on to follow this Jesus guy, because, like his disciples told him long ago, “Where else could we go? No one else has the words of life.”
So I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.
Unfortunately for us in the US, I know there most likely will be a next time.