My mind and heart are still processing the tragedy that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Sunday morning. As I preached this morning, my iPad (I preach from my iPad) was lighting up with notifications from friends of mine (I grew up in Central Florida) using the “I am safe” feature on Facebook to report they were ok. A childhood friend was at the club itself. He escaped through a back door unharmed but reports the loss of around 20 of his personal friends.
It’s difficult to put into words the many things I’ve been thinking and feeling since the story broke. I mentioned the tragedy in my sermon today. After church, in what was perhaps a mistake, I checked my Facebook newsfeed and was dismayed at how quickly this event is being trivialized by politics, social causes, and religious pontificating, all at the expense of civility and compassion toward the victims and their loved ones. To be sure, there will be a time to discuss and debate gun laws, sexual orientation, national security, and religious fundamentalism. Those are necessary conversations, but not now.
At this point, information is still being gathered, facts are still unclear, speculation is rampant, and fear is front and center. Add to this the frustration of a fractured and polarized population and you have every reason to react in ways that simply deepen the divide, increase the fear, and add further insult to these tragic injuries.
The Scriptures provide a better way. They call us to mourn with those mourning (Romans 12:14). I know many Christians will be concerned with when “they,” be they Muslims or members of the LGBTQ community, need to be “told the truth.” The truth will come through in your living example of grace. Remember, Romans 12 is the same chapter that calls Jesus’ people to demonstrate their worship by presenting our lives as “living sacrifices to God.” That would appear to remove any exceptions we’d like to put between the command and our obedience. Some Christians will object, thinking this call to mourn and bless only applies to fellow Christians. Think again. Just before verse 14, is a two-word command; “practice hospitality.” Hospitality here is a mash-up of two greek terms, phileo – brotherly or familial love, and xenos – stranger, foreigner, or one who is other. Philoxenian – familial love for the “other.” That means love toward those you may not understand, agree with, or otherwise consider to reside in your circle of comfort. The Way, Truth, and Life who is Jesus will shine through as you put flesh and blood hands and feet to work in tangible, visible, and practical ways. Want to be in a position to speak the truth? First, earn the right to be heard.
Now is a time to be present to weep and mourn with victims and their loved ones. It really doesn’t matter what your views are on same-sex attraction, gay bars, alcohol, gun control, ISIS, or what Trump and Hillary had to say. Now is a time to go and give blood. Now is a time to prepare and deliver a meal. Now is a time to provide a shoulder to cry on or hand to hold. Now is a time to cover your co-worker’s shift because their loved one is being treated in a hospital; or being prepared for burial. This is a time to give comfort and stand vigil with those grieving. Now is the time to stand in humble protection over those who would be further victimized by ignorant and insensitive rhetoric from “religious” people whose hate-filled words are not much different than the terrorist’s bullets. Followers of Jesus are bound to those hurting. These are people. People created in the image of God. People for whom Jesus died. People that belong to the one and only global tribe we call the human race. While I understand and agree with the call of many to pray, I would encourage praying people to become active people. As the old African Proverb says, “When you pray, move your feet.”
It takes courage to love. That’s why it’s easy for this tragedy to be made worse by reactionary words and actions. Love takes the time to cultivate and bear the fruit of patience, kindness, truth, generosity, humility, dignity, selflessness, mercy, forgiveness, and perseverance. That’s what love does, and it’s why love never fails.
It is only through active love that the tide of hate and violence can be turned. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? pp. 62-63
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”