One of the things I’ve learned about preaching is that I have to follow the energy. If I have no energy for a subject, if my heart isn’t in it, it just won’t work. It’s like squeezing water from a rock. Because of all the things that happened last week, I just couldn’t find the energy for the topic I had planned to preach on Sunday. The best I could do was speak from my heart about a few matters.
Last week was a week of sadness, grief and struggle. First, there was the horrible massacre in an Orlando gay bar. It was near impossible to escape from the pain of that event with the media and social media full of stories and responses to the Orlando shooting all week. And at the same time our puppy Rosie started taking a turn for the worse. Last Thursday we had to make a decision to either let her go, or put her through days of treatment in the ICU without any guarantee of the outcome. At only 15 months old, we just couldn’t bear to let her go without a fighting chance, but after days of treatment, we learned her kidneys had never developed properly (renal dysplasia) and there was nothing we could do but let her go Sunday afternoon.
(For the full audio, click here.)
The personal issue of our puppy was one thing, I expected support from all the animal lovers out there. I did not expect personal responses about the Orlando shooting. I think that’s what finally pushed me over the edge. Julie and I received a note from a member of our spiritual community to offer her sympathies about the shooting and the continued instances of hatred and bigotry in this country, to commiserate over that loss and so many other tragedies, and to say she mourned with us. And then our next door neighbor, who is a more conservative Christian who admittedly struggles with understanding homosexuality, walked over on Friday not only to ask about Rosie, but to extend sympathies after the Orlando shooting and ask for a hug.
I found myself just about in tears – overwhelmed at everything. I’m SO tired of the violence and the hatred. I’m so tired of talk of “us” and “them,” of pastors and politicians and people inciting rage, of drawing lines (or building walls) to divide people – whoever they are.
In my opinion, Paul had a lot wrong in his theology. But he had a few really important things right. Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” The boundaries are gone.
Something clearly over-the-top amazing happened to Paul. He had an experience of Jesus that changed him into a completely new person. He went from constantly drawing lines between people – clean and unclean, male and female, Jew and everyone else, those who followed the law and those who didn’t – to gathering everyone together in love.
That is huge.
Paul finally realized, at a deep spiritual level, that everything that divided us was shallow, illusion, surface only. Paul knew (as in experienced in the very core of his being) that once you had really experienced what Jesus offered – the abiding presence and love of God – that you became a new creation. You had died to your old life and your old self. You realized that spiritually all are one in God. Paul believed that faith would enable you to see this oneness.
As Dr. Patrick Cheng says in his book, “Radical Love” God’s love is a radical love that dissolves all boundaries. He goes on to say that “For the earliest Christians, coming together as a community was an act of subversion. It was the creation of a radically new “family” or “body” that transcended biological relationships and the established social order.” (p. 106)
And if we are a true community of God, we, too will work at dissolving all the boundaries that exist between people in this world.
I know it is easier to get caught up in the “us vs. them” mentality. There were plenty of people ready to thank God for the destruction of a bunch of perverts. Now, I know I have an “intolerance for intolerance.” I want to fight back with words and an occasionally holy 2×4… but the best way to fight back is to extend love again and again and again, and to live fearlessly.
In Romans 13:10, Paul says “Love never wrongs anyone…” Yet, we WANT to “wrong” someone back when they’ve wronged us, or someone we love. But when we do that we have separated ourselves from the Love that we are called to be.
These were my questions to myself last week: How will I see the world? How will I treat the world? How will I respond to hatred and anger?
First of all, I will not respond to the hatred and anger by hiding. I have read stories of lesbians who feel they have to look around before showing affection to their wife, who almost panic when their kids call them both out as moms in public. And I’ve heard of a gay man who left the club just before the murders who said he wasn’t going to go into hiding, but was going to live larger without apology. He was going to dance and celebrate and be who he was without fear.
None of us should have to hide who we are or be ashamed of our race, ethnicity, ability or disability, health, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion. I am who I am, I am in love and married to a wonderful woman. I will not hide that or be ashamed of that.
Second of all, I am sad and I am grieving, but I know that God is present in the midst of the pain. And I remember that there is good in the world. I remind myself of all of the prayer vigils around the country – by Christians, Muslims and non-believers alike. I remind myself of the folks who have reached out with gestures of sympathy, condolence and blessing. I remind myself that even people who struggle with different sexual orientations are reaching out in love.
We cannot be silent anymore when faced with those who seek to malign certain people. We are all the same inside. We all want to be safe, to be loved, to provide for our families, to be respected. Why does anyone find it OK to denigrate any group of people?? It is time for us to stand up for those who are maligned and oppressed. It is time for us to put our voices and our votes to work. It is time to work for the healing of the nation through love.