This has been a hard week.
I am heartbroken for the 49 families in Orlando who lost their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, colleagues, partners. Losing someone you love is hard enough – to have it happen on such a massive and violent scale, and to know they were targeted for being who they are – I can’t fathom the depths of that grief and pain.
I am frustrated and angry and grieved that we seem to have accepted this as normal, that politics and division and selfishness have prevented us from being human and repentant and laying down our rights – and our arms – for a greater good of preventing this from happening over and over and over.
I am angry and incredulous and terrified to hear someone who is running to be the President of the United States propose that the solution to an act of hate is more hate, to fan the flames of xenophobia and racism and bigotry with vilifying an entire group of people for their religious beliefs – beliefs that do not teach their followers to pick up guns and murder people any more than Christianity or Judaism teaches those things.
I am heartbroken and scared for the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community, both – because the freedom to be who you are – to worship the God you believe in, to love the person you love – those freedoms feel tenuous and fraught with danger, more so now than ever before.
This week I have wrestled with a feeling of urgency and helplessness at the same time – the need to do something and no clue as to what that can be. I have donated to Equality Florida, prayed hard for the victims’ families, signed a gun control petition – but it all feels so small and futile and not enough. It feels like there is a tidal wave of fear and hate and anger sweeping over everything and it can’t be stopped. And that leaves me feeling helpless and small and fearful and grieving and hopeless.
And yet I believe – speaking of religious beliefs – I believe in some things that are helping me to find hope, and to believe that there is still light in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
I believe in a God who created each and every human on this earth with love and intention – 1 day old, 100 years old, black, white, straight, gay, young, old, male, female, muslim, christian, atheist, agnostic, buddhist, jewish, citizen, immigrant – I believe He created them with love, in His image and filled with incredible potential. I believe that no one is beyond grace and redemption – that as humans we are capable of incredible acts of love and also devastating acts of hate. I believe, to quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that “the line separating good and evil passes through every human heart,”and that is a fearful and beautiful thing – because that means that an Orlando or a Sandy Hook can happen – but it also means that acts of great love and compassion can happen, too. It means a Hitler or Stalin or Trump can happen, but also that a Mother Teresa or MLK Jr or Gandhi can happen.
I have to believe that change is possible – systemic change, yes, and also change in every human heart – a turning away from fear and hate and division, from the rhetoric of “us vs them” and blame thrown about like shrapnel, solving nothing and wounding us all.
I have to believe that we can each decide to turn toward love – to replace blanket statements about “those people” – whether “those people” are democrats or republicans, the LGBTQ community or fundamentalist Christians, the NRA or the ACLU – with listening to each other with humility and finding our common humanity.
I am as guilty as anyone of getting so angry and swept into the fray that I do the very thing that I rail against – I judge “those people” for being racist or bigoted or small minded, and perpetuate the cycle of hate, anger and fear. I believe that hate and racism and bigotry are wrong and evil and worthy of fighting against – but I never want to confuse those beliefs with the people who hold them. I want to do the hard and delicate work of “loving the sinner and hating the sin” – and we are all sinners in that we veer away from the way of love and grace and peace into fear and hate and division.
I want to have the courage to turn towards people instead of away, to risk saying the wrong thing instead of saying nothing, to love imperfectly rather than not try at all.
My friend Kristin works in a prison, treating inmates with HIV – she daily sits across from men and women whom society has deemed dangerous and evil and other, who have committed unspeakable acts of violence and hate, yet who are not beyond redemption, because no one is beyond God’s grace. In response to the question “how do you do this every day?” she said that she sees her job as “the God in me recognizing the God in them.”
What a beautiful and hard and courageous thing to do – to take the risk of sitting across from someone whom you vehemently disagree with or who has made terrible mistakes or who holds very different religious/political/moral beliefs than you – and to see the God in them. To see the potential for great goodness and love along with the potential for great hurt and pain.
Sometimes I think that’s our only and biggest job – to affirm the God in each other. To call forth love and light and goodness when all else seems dark. To take the risk of believing a better way is possible – of believing that love can win.
In this broken world of ours, Love loses battles sometimes, but I believe it’s already won the war.
God did that, Jesus did that, by sending himself in broken, human form to dwell among us – to breathe and cry and laugh and grieve with us, to enter fully into the human condition in all its beauty and brokenness.
I found out about Orlando as I was driving to church last Sunday. I listened to the news and felt my stomach clench and my heart break and let the tears fall and prayed without words because I didn’t have any. I pulled into the church parking lot, took a deep breath and wiped away the tears, and went straight to the Sunday School nursery where I sat surrounded by a dozen babies. I felt deep gratitude in that moment – because in the face of so much hate, getting to play peek-a-boo with innocent children and have them fall asleep on my shoulder felt like balm to my soul. Afterwards, in the church service we bowed our heads and prayed for the victims and their families and the pastor said nothing about them being gay because it felt so deeply irrelevant in that moment – what felt relevant was the heavy-hearted knowledge that 49 families lost someone they loved and their lives and families will never be the same.
This Sunday is Father’s Day – a day that is hard and emotional every year, for me and for so many people I care about – and I’m again going to be holding babies and playing a peek-a-boo in the Sunday School nursery, and I’m so thankful. Because in the face of loss – as personal and individual as missing my dad on Father’s Day and as public and massive as the 49 families who will have an empty chair at their family gatherings for first time this year – all I can come up with is to turn towards love.
Because perfect love drives out fear, and to quote my favorite musical of all time “to love another person is to see the face of God.”
So in this season that could so easily be about anger and fear and division and hate – I’m going to focus on love. I’m going to focus on speaking words of grace and mercy instead of anger and division, on speaking out against hate and fear and not against the people who espouse them, because I have to believe they can change.
I’m going to pray for the courage and compassion to be a conduit of love and not hate, because at the end of the day that’s all that matters. Because love has already won the war but it’s up to us to fight the battles – with courage and conviction, strength and tenderness, mercy and grace – speaking the Truth in love.