This weekend I picked 24 pounds of strawberries and turned it into 4 flats of bright red canning jars. I watered plants and animals. I worked on a book I’m writing. The elk got into my garden. It wasn’t until midnight of Sunday night that I thought I’d finally indulge by reading my Facebook feed. I had been so good and kept my screens so quiet all weekend. As soon as I did I remembered suddenly what Nick had said, setting down his phone next to me where I was hulling stawberries.
“This world is a terrible place.”
I didn’t have words all night last night, for the realization of 50 people killed and as many again shot by a terrorist in a gay club in Orlando. I still don’t have words. But I do see and acknowledge that this is domestic terrorism. I do see and acknowledge that is a confluence of issues, including homophobia, which is real, and religious extremism, which is also real, and also the shooter’s access to a weapon so terrifying I wish we hadn’t ever imagined it, let alone ever allowed it on our streets.
I didn’t have words for the grief of it, and the senseless loss. And I didn’t have words for my realization, either, that much of my personal health and the health of my family is due to my ability to shut off news precisely like this.
It’s becoming more and more familiar, isn’t it? These days on which we hold our little ones tight and long and cover them with kisses and not tell them why: these days on which innocents die because acts of rage have killed them. My Facebook feed is immediately a pitched battle on gun control.
First we rage, and then we speculate. Our wisest ones mourn incoherently for the loss of sanity. Our most popular ones offer simple platitudes, which help for a minute but go stale.
We mourn for the value of human life so trodden upon, so wasted. We mourn for the power of hatred and violence that takes a person and makes them into an extension of a gun. What mutation is this? Or is it who we really are?
I tried for hours to come up with words. After days of hardly even looking at my screens I looked at all the screens all the time. I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel something other than numbness. I wanted to feel something like belonging: belonging in this vast human tribe, which is my family in sickness and in health.
What else is there to do, when tragedy strikes? But to take our places in this brotherhood of brokenness? And then live passionately in a way that precisely reverses this pervasive trend?
Love wins. And I believe it. More than anything I believe it. But I also believe that love requires truth. An act of horror like the one today is rooted in a deep, deep lie. Who can say for sure, but it’s not hard for many of us to imagine a man experiencing feelings of attraction to other men, while participating in religion and culture that vilifies these attractions…? The truth will out. And if it has no way to come out peacefully it will gather force to destroy.
This isn’t about excusing the killer’s actions. And it isn’t about feeling sorry for ourselves, either. It’s about witnessing that the killer’s sins are our sins. The sin is threaded right through the brotherhood. Realizing that…and then living passionately in a way that precisely unravels that thread.
Does love win? Yes. Is it that simple? Yes. It is that simple. Always. Love wins. And it is that simple.
But also we need to love harder, and love more, and love more respectfully across our lines of difference. Those lines of difference are where we show our worst. Straight people need to stand to protect queer people, not only from getting shot in clubs but from the feelings of self-hatred and hopelessness that turn life into a thing to be senselessly wasted. We need to believe in love, not only inside the lines of our color, our creed, but in a way that reverses brokenness, heals wounds and carries forward God’s great, grand, beautiful redemption plan.
And does it matter what one person does? In this great plan? Oh, yes. Yes it does. Especially on these days when we wonder who can claim faith in humanity, when we turn off everything that tells you anything and try to make sense of our lives from the inside out, it matters most of all what one person does.
These are the days when we can tell the difference between turning inward to self-reflection and shutting out the world to harden our privilege. Your own heart knows perfectly well when your compass is pointed towards love.
It isn’t wrong to turn inward. It isn’t wrong to shut off the screens and through them the sound of trauma, through which we are re-traumatizing ourselves over and over again…and building fear. It isn’t wrong to see that fear itself is the trap, not only a symptom of it, but the trap itself. It isn’t wrong to realize that compassion rises out of stillness and a mental security that is hard to come by in a culture of pervasive violence.
But it is wrong to shut yourself in along lines of difference. It is wrong to let yourself imagine these horrors are somehow expected for queer people (Orlando), or people of color (Charleston). It is wrong to be tempted to resolve the pain by hardening our hearts or feeling somehow (even secretly) that it wasn’t really our people who died.
We can never hear too many times the call to compassion. We can never have too many reasons to reach out across lines of difference, to work on respectful love and solidarity, to listen to people who tell us they are hurt, to try again and again and keep trying and believe in something other than violence.
We are kingdom people. We believe in the hope of healing. And we believe in love.