On Tuesday morning, I was working in my yard, doing some last cleanup and watering before heading to the mountains for our Annual Conference in Western North Carolina. My phone rang in my pocket, which startled me. It was my counselor Tamela. She was wondering how I was doing ― what I was thinking about Orlando.
The truth was that I wasn’t. When I had first heard the news, I simply said out loud “what the fuck is wrong with this world.” I couldn’t even think about one more thing, one more tragedy striking at the vulnerable among us. So I didn’t. I avoided the news, didn’t listen to my regular podcasts and didn’t read my normal websites. I didn’t look at the Facebook videos or stories ― I simply couldn’t.
Until Tuesday morning. There was Tamela. Her voice strong on the phone demanding that I tell her how I was doing. Then I cried. I cried for the first time since I had heard the news. I cried because so many young lives had ended. I cried because that could have been me. I cried because this happens over and over again. I cried because I love so many of my young students whose hearts are torn and who are now more afraid than they already were.
I cried because my beloved Methodist church has systematically excluded and done its own form of violence ― the violence of shame ― to my community.
In the wake of the shooting I have seen and heard so much ― so many words ― from so many. Many of the words have spoken of beautiful hope, deep grief, and a path forward toward real change. But any words seem in the end inadequate to say to those 49 young people who just wanted to live their lives and find a bit of happiness. I just want to be centered and stay centered on them, and their families ― and on those who were terrified and injured. I want to stay focused on them and make us name them over and over.
I want us to stop playing games and arguing that Jefferson and Madison could have possibly wanted people to have the unfettered right to own a machine capable of dealing so much death so quickly. I want our schools, movie theatres, churches and gathering places to be free from the terror of a single person who can end so many lives. I don’t care how many laws we have. They are not working. We now have 50 more bodies to prove that. We must reform background checks and ban weapons designed for the sole purpose of ending as many human lives as possible, as quickly as possible.
I want us to stop pretending that we can be a Methodist church that fully accepts LGBTQ without giving those same people access to all of the blessings and offices of our church. No matter how accepting and loving you believe you are, if you deny access to parts of the life of the church, you deny part of a life with God to them. You also participate in a culture of shame and violence that creates fertile ground for hate ― and a world where 49 young lives can be taken.
I want us to stop pretending that race is not an issue in our country and in our communities. We need to make space for all people to be heard and valued. We need to be more conscious of making space for the unheard to be heard. We as a church lost 49 children of God whose voices belonged in the conversations of who we are as people.
I want those 49 names to be burned into us. I want them to be reminders that we need to lift our hands, stop talking and start making this world a better, more loving place. I want us to feel like we as a community should fight for a Kingdom of God ― of peace and love ― that those 49 never got to fully see on this earth.
If the God of love is truly alive ― as we believe ― then it is time that we start living like the Kingdom of God is being forged with our hands now. And we need to believe that when we unite our hands in prayer, togetherness and love, we are more powerful than the hatred of hands filled with guns.