Orlando – A hopeful lament

The undisturbed surface of the communion wine forms concentric circles when hit by a single tear. The symbol for the blood of Jesus Christ himself – blood that was given in an act of radical love for the everlasting unity between us and God – trembles with shock on this Sunday morning. It wasn’t the only tear.

Making sense of the senseless?
We are at a Metropolitan Community Church. A congregation with a specific outreach to the LGBT community. Most people in the room identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The younger ones in the church, those who believed that winning the right to marry ended a decades old gay civil right movement, are shocked into helpless rage and sickening grief. Their tears flow bitterly and with the sudden fear of a child that understands for the first time that it is not loved by everyone.
Then, there are the older and old congregants who have been through so much more than the young ones can imagine. Seasoned warriors who have been thrown into jail for dancing with someone of the same sex. Who, during the AIDS crisis, had to take care of the bodies of their dear friends themselves because even hospitals would turn them away. They shed tears, too. These tears however are strangely different. There is a certain resignation in them, almost a routine. Witnessing another vicious crime against their siblings opens old wounds, triggers old memories and reminds them what being victimized feels like. It is a familiar feeling to all of them. They begin to warn the younger ones once again: “That is why we tell you: Always be aware of who is around you.” What sounded like unnecessary paranoia from days long past becomes sudden truth and the best piece of advice they can give.

More than victims
How does a whole congregation of LGBT people react to the hate crime in Orlando? How do people who fiercely believe in God’s love and forgiveness for every single human being reconcile their beliefs with the feelings they surely have for the man who murdered their siblings?
LGBT Christians always dance on the line between the worlds. As a part of the LGBT community they are misunderstood for supporting a system that is seemingly against them. As a part of the Body of Christ they are confronted with hatred and cast out of many major denominations. So how do they position themselves on a Sunday like this?
“Lord,” they pray in the old words of Francis of Assisi. “Make us an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. Lord, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love. Amen.”
Standing in the blood of their siblings they ask for forgiveness for the shooter and beg God to show them how to love more radically, more inclusively. No, these people are not victims. If anything, they are Warriors of Love.

Proud and unbroken
As we drive home we pass a huge flag outside a restaurant. Today we find it on half-mast. The eyes of my wife fill with tears. She feels recognized in her pain and helplessness. She feels that the country mourns with our community. She knows that her country is despite everything not a homophobic country. She realizes that there is no room for fear and despair but instead for unashamed pride. She grabs my hand. Her voice is full of love when she says:
“I’d rather be shot for holding your hand than not holding your hand at all.”

4 thoughts on “Orlando – A hopeful lament

  1. Orlando Musings.

    I am a Lutheran pastor, and a shrink and a musician and a teacher … but WAY before that I am a child of God, beautifully created as a gay man.

    When I became a hospital chaplain in Brooklyn many years ago, my out-and-loud-and-proud baby sister was angry with me because I was connected with what she had experienced all her life as wounding and shaming and excluding: Church. And for years I kept Church at arm’s length because I too wasn’t sure I could trust it.

    But then one day at the funeral of one of my patients who had died of AIDS, Jesus slipped into the shoes of a Puerto Rican man and called me to speak and to heal. It was then that I began to believe that there is space in God for a gay man … and as I began the process to become ordained I said, “and if there is no space for me in Church, then Jesus will make space, for he just called me.”

    I’ve been ordained twenty-six years, and Jesus has indeed made space for me time and again, and I have tried to make space for my GLBT sisters and brothers.

    I wasn’t able to create space for my baby sister (she committed suicide during my early NYC years), but at least I was able to make space in my family for an ongoing conversation not just about her, but about what it means to be gay in our “churchy” sort of family.

    -So, to my GLBT sisters and brothers who shake their head and say I betrayed them by being part of Church, I say, “I have known what you mean since my baby sister got mad with me. Church has a hard time with us, but Jesus always will make space for us.”

    -And to those who say, “Can’t I just say I love you all without agreeing with your lifestyle?”, I say, “No, because when you scratch underneath that sweet ‘Christian’ love of yours, there’s no love, only bigotry. Being gay is not my lifestyle, but my biology. I am a gift from God to you just the way I am.”

    In one of many dream encounters with my baby sister (some of you read others), she said, “Don’t ever forget it, big brother: there is no you and I any more, there’s just one family. We are all one.”

    In the wake of the hate crime in Orlando that wiped out almost fifty beautiful people who celebrated their lives in the Pulse Nightclub, a space that was home and sanctuary to them where no one questioned their “lifestyle”, it is time for repentance, especially in Church.

    When Church wounded and shamed and excluded us GLBT people, it was usually in keeping with the suspicions and prejudices of the surrounding culture. (As one of my teachers used to say, It’s always cheaper to stay unconscious!)

    But if then it is true that Church should be counter-cultural, now is the time to repent and truly live what my baby sister said: “There’s just one family. We are all one”.

    When we preachers start telling our churches that there is no “other”, eventually they will only see sisters and brothers. Space for love and harmony will open up everywhere.

    It won’t be easy, but it will be right.


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