This morning I was awoken by the sound of something beeping and buzzing on my bedside table. Being on call for my CPE unit I assumed it was my pager. As a stumbled to find my pager, I discovered it was not the hospital paging me, but rather an alert from the New York Times. “Deadly Shooting” “Gay Club,” and “Orlando” were the only words my eyes could recognize.
I wish it had been my pager that woke me up.
As the morning progressed my phone kept buzzing with updates, the death toll rising, individuals and politicians making bigoted comments using this tragedy to bolster the base, to get more votes, to profit from death. The level of despair – beyond any other emotion – continued to grow in my body. As I watched the reports come in, I became physically ill. I felt unsafe.
Over and over again the words “it could have been me” came, and continue to come, to mind. The never-ending loop won’t stop no matter how hard I try to drown it out. I can’t help but think, how many times I’ve just wanted to dance, to be in a place of safety, to suspend the anxiety of daily life and just be true to myself for a few hours. Through much of college the gay clubs in Providence were the only places I felt safe – there were the places I had community to support me and carry me through days of darkness. How many times I was like those 300 people at Pulse. How easily that could have been any number of clubs I’ve been to. How many times my friends and I ran to our cars for safety because of drunken threats made to us as we strolled to the cars exhausted from a night of partying together. As the reality sinks in, I cannot help but think about RI pride a mere six days away.
The shock is completely and totally devastating.
But for me, there is something even more devastating about this tragedy – because it is our sins that have caused and allowed for this to happen. It is our sins of bigotry and hatred, our sins of violence, our obsession with guns, our greed that has allowed this to happen: that has allowed the DEADLIEST MASS SHOOTING in American history to take place this morning – to take place in the early hours of this Sabbath day. There is violence and evil and extremism in the world that exists separate from our cultural norms and expressions. But these things – evil and violence – are perpetuated by what we will tolerate and promote as a culture. It is our justification and acceptance of violence, hatred, and greed that makes us culpable.
The pain and tragedy of this day did not end at 5am this morning when the rampage stopped. It continues, while radical conservative Christians say that God strikes down LGBT people, while politicians congratulate themselves on being “right” about terrorist, while gay men stand by and watch their friends and lovers die because an antiquated law bans them from donating blood. Imagine standing by watching your family, your own, your blood die because a 30 year-old laws labels you unclean.
So today I turn to the only thing I know I can trust – my faith. I turn and grasp for whatever morsel of solace my relationship with God through the Anglican tradition can bring me. The words of this morning’s Gospel passage play in my ears. If this pericope teaches us anything, it is that the mercy and love of God has the power to change the world. The reconciling love of God has the power to transform us into a new creation. We must repent of our sinful behavior. We must repent of our greed that allows the NRA to manipulate the legislature, we must repent of our bigotry and hatred that allows some lives to be expendable, we must repent of our glorification of violence that does nothing more then beget more violence. When we will turn our swords into plowshares (Micah 4:3)?
I also know that the tender and merciful embrace of God reaches out to all those who suffer and mourn this day. I know that God holds out God’s wide and loving arms for all those in the LGBT community who no longer feel safe. I know that God strengthens those called to action. I know that God is empowering us to say enough is enough.
There is a great Anglican phrase that I believe so strongly that it is tattooed on my body – “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.” As we pray, so we believe. (I’ve added the third clause lex vivendi, making the whole phrase as we pray, so we believe, so we live). As a nation it is easy for us to lift up prayers. Just how many #prayfor___ have we seen in recent months and years. But we cannot let our prayer be the last word. We must allow our prayer to transform our lives so that as we pray, we will also believe. Let us pray for peace amongst all God’s children so that we might believe that our Gay neighbor, our Muslim neighbor, our black neighbor are every bit as loved by God as we are. Let us pray for peace in the world, and believe that we can actually do something about it. If we truly believe what we pray, we will no longer be able to go on living the way we have always lived. If we allow the blinding light that beams forth from Christ’s broken body on the Cross to illumine our lives we will no longer stand by as our brothers and sisters are massacred before our very eyes.
I weep for my brothers and sisters who were murdered today. Today I fear that I might be next. Today I pray that one day I might feel safe and free to be authentically me. Today I beg God that my prayers might transform my life so that I do something about this tragedy – that I may no longer feel helpless and hopeless and trust that change can happen. As my Bishop wrote in response to this tragedy, “Today we pray. Tomorrow we move.”
Today, I know that my words cannot stand-alone. As I struggle to find the world to convey the depth of darkness that plagues my heart today I turn to the words of friends.
My friend and classmate Samuel D. J. Ernest wrote:
Gay clubs – beyond places to dance, drink, and meet someone – have been for decades spaces where queer people have felt safe (literally bodily safe) expressing themselves, a haven from a homophobic and transphobic society. While attacks at gay clubs are definitely not unheard of, this one is particularly painful due to the volume and terror of it and due to it being Pride month. And as a number of people on Twitter are pointing out, the gay friends of the dead and wounded are legally restrained from donating blood to help save their friends’ lives. I have more thoughts but I really need to go to church right now, a parish I am grateful for that has been giving a shit about gay folk and the mass death of gay people for decades now.
However the best words I have seen by far come from my friend Meg McCarty. It is Meg’s words that I lift up in prayer this day:
Let us dance (Orlando)
Let us learn (Sandy Hook)
Let us pray (Charleston)
While this shooting was at a gay club, it speaks to the enormity of the intersectionality of violence. The levels of gun violence in this country are beyond my comprehension. My head and heart refuse to accept that this is the way things have to be. No one is safe from this violence until all are safe. As President Obama said earlier this afternoon, “This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us.” Until we repent and change our ways as a nation, there will be more Orlandos, more Sandy Hooks, more Charlestons.
In the words of Mother Jones, it is time to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” It is possible for us to live in a world where God’s peace prevails. But we sure have a lot of work to do to get there. In the days ahead pray and act. Take the time to listen to the voice of the LGBT community in the wake of this tragedy. Let our voices be heard and not silenced by heteronormative patriarchal garbage. It is important for allies to ask what they can do, and not usurp this tragedy for their own progressive agenda – however well intentioned that may be.
I’m rambling now. But I do not know what else to do. So I leave you dear reader with this. Today we pray for the victims, for the dead, for those who mourn, for those who no longer feel safe. Today as a Christian I am also called to pray for the shooter (and I hope you will join me in that). Today we lift our hearts to God so that tomorrow we may dance.