It’s a bad sign when you get writer’s block a few weeks after starting a new blog.
It’s not that I don’t have anything to say–quite the opposite–but the grief of Orlando and my general sense of malaise over the US election season hasn’t left me with too many polite or even marginally appropriate things to say. I’ll try anyway.
So many strands of our tortured cultural life came together in that nightclub in Orlando. The radical Islamic beliefs of the shooter force the event into the broader discussion of terrorism. The fact that the killer bought his weapon legally invites yet another round of handwringing about gun culture and the absurd frequency of mass shootings in America. The overwhelming majority of the victims had Hispanic surnames, which places the story within the shadow of the contentious debates over immigration. That the shooting took place in a gay bar and that the motivation for the murders was reportedly a sense of revulsion over two men kissing, triggers the culture war rhetoric over homosexuality.
My sense of grief over that last paragraph is palpable.
I grieve for the loving, generous Muslims that I know, who will experience suspicion and hatred and even violence because of the radicals who pervert their faith. I’m frustrated that my country, great in so many ways, refuses to act on the proliferation of assault weapons in our neighborhoods. I shake my head in disbelief that the America that has fetishized its history of welcoming immigrants, now blames them for conditions they have no hand in creating. But mostly, I feel guilt for the way my own Christian tribe has treated our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, for the ways we’ve helped to paint them as less than human.
See what I mean?
But there are tiny pushbacks of hope today. Vigils around the world are showing support r the victims and their families. In Orlando so many people lined up to give blood for the wounded that the wait was more than 7 hours–hundreds of donors were turned away. Today the story broke that the bouncer at the club was a former Marine, and that he forced open a door that freed more than 70 clubgoers. The Marine’s name? Imran Yousuf.
Some Christian groups are reminding the world of who Jesus is and what he stands (and died) for. This is a part of a prayer posted on the Church of England website:
“We cry out for peace and respect in a violent world, we commit ourselves to unconditional love. We stand in furious solidarity with queer people in Orlando and around the world, and ask, ‘How Long, O Lord?'”
I want to shield my son from the bitter streams of hate and conflict in the world. That sentence makes me laugh a little, but because as I write it he is touring the Killing Fields of Cambodia with a student group (see the previous post)–today he wrote about his experiences at the museum of the Khmer Rouge genocide. There will be no such shielding for him, not any more.
So what do we do, then? Our country seems so divided. Our LGBT neighbors are being marginalized and murdered. Our Christian witness has been compromised by culture war divisions and partisan politics.
There is a prophecy in the Hebrew scriptures about the coming of the Messiah.
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
Every once in a while it’s good to be reminded of why God sent his son to redeem the world. But alongside that story–and especially in the aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando–it’s crucial to remember that Jesus was “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” The person at the center of our faith is someone who suffered and suffers with us as we flail our way through this broken life.
The gift of the Messiah isn’t always the solving of our problems and struggles. The gift of the Messiah–the “God with us” gift–is that the God who made us and redeemed us loves us still, and that he calls us to a new way of life.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy like Orlando to remind us of these things. But on the other hand, we can never allow the violent deaths of our neighbors to pass by without telling the old, old story once more. Maybe we can begin with the verse that comes right after the best known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. In the next breath we see the roadmap to living Christ’s redemptive work here, now, and everywhere we go. Let this be a path to comfort as we walk the to dark road ahead:
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Maybe the beginning of healing is the application of this simple verse. Back off on the condemnation, and remind people of Christ’s saving, sacrificial work. It’s worth a try.