Yesterday morning, when my alarm went off, I hesitated for a moment, considering whether or not to hit the snooze button, but I quickly rolled out of bed rather than give myself a chance to drift back to sleep. A friend would be there in a short while to pick me up and head to Cedar Point for the day, and I was looking forward to it. As I began getting ready for the day, I started to take notice of the stories about the shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ club in Orlando. It sickened me to think about someone doing that, and the fact that it was a LGBTQ club a week before Columbus Pride made it hit uncomfortably close to home. I also asked the same question that we are all asking right now, “Why?” Was it because it was an LGBTQ space? When I read that the shooting happened during a Latin themed event at the club, I had to wonder if the rhetoric of a polarizing election year had made violence against persons of color more acceptable in the eyes of some.
After my friend picked me up, and we began to head north towards Sandusky, he asked me if I had heard about the shooting. I told him that I had, and we began to share our questions, concerns, and theories about what may have motivated the attack. My friend wondered what the response would be like from the mainstream media. At that point, both of us had only seen coverage from LGBT news entities and advocacy groups. Would the voice in our nation’s media and political engines minimize that this happened in an LGBT club in order to make the story solely about guns or religion?
After arriving at Cedar Point, we met up with two other friends, all of us gay men. While we had the distractions of the park, there are still times of waiting and resting. As we continued to take in media responses throughout the day and we became increasingly aware of the magnitude of this attack, our conversations continued to circle back to the shooting, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. A few friends reached out to me wondering what they could do or where they could go. I am thankful to organizations like Columbus Stonewall and BRAVO for organizing times and spaces for people in Columbus to gather yesterday, and I began to see similar events being organized throughout Ohio.
As we headed towards noon yesterday, I began to feel disconnected from the community at home, but, as the day went on, I began to feel the blessing of the community that I had with me. First, of course, I had four friends with me that I could talk to and process things with, and I am very grateful to have been able to be with them. We also had an encounter with a young lady working in food service at the park. She overheard us talking about the shooting and shared that she had been discussing it with her friends as well. She also said that she was planning on coming down for Columbus Pride with her girlfriend, but this made them think about whether or not it was safe. It’s also always been interesting to me that, in a space as large as Cedar Point, how you encounter the same people multiple times in a single day. There was an adorable gay couple that we kept running into. We never engaged them in conversation, but it made me smile every time I saw them. They were both bearded and in tank tops, one of which said Columbus on it in rainbow colors. They were not super overt in their signs of affection towards one another, but I would see them holding hands, one of them would wrap and arm around the other, or maybe a quick kiss. It warmed my heart to know that we live in a world where that happens now in a shared, public space like Cedar Point, and it’s okay. I could never have imagined that world growing up in Southeast Ohio as a young boy.
The scripture that kept coming to my mind yesterday as I reflected on the shooting and the tragic loss of life was Matthew 5:11 which says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” I struggled yesterday afternoon with whether or not that scripture was appropriate for this situation, but it brought me peace in that moment, and, at that time, I did not plan on sharing that thought with anyone else; so, I decided that it was okay to allow it to calm me. This morning, I found myself thinking about it again. This terrible act, this tragedy occurred in the middle of an LGBTQ club, a type of space that many, especially those who have come out later in life like myself, experienced the freedom to be themselves, to fully experience their truth, for the first time in their lives. When we are able to be authentic and experience life fully as the person who God made us to be, I see that as being on “account” of God, and the space in which that authenticity is experienced becomes sacred. Still, I wasn’t sure that I could fully apply that scripture to this circumstance. It felt right to me, but, as someone who has experienced God in very different contexts, I realize and am aware of my capacity to deceive myself.
This morning, I got up and attended a prayer service at my school, The Methodist Theological School in Ohio. As a seminary, the school is very conscious of the community’s needs to gather and express ourselves during times of loss. One of the staff members who was present referred to LGBTQ clubs as “sacred spaces” where those who enter them expect to feel valued and safe. Additionally, I saw another friend, who recently graduated from my school, use the term “sacred spaces” to refer to clubs of this nature. It felt so right to me to hear and see that term applied to those spaces. While I often wonder and man’s arrogance to claim to understand God or to categorize who is worthy of God’s love and who is not, I do firmly believe that God is truth and where truth is permitted to flourish, God is displayed through that authenticity.
|Prayer Service at MTSO
Sadly, the events in Orlando reveal, yet again, that not all are comfortable with the truth of others. Having come out of a more exclusionary faith perspective, I can understand this type of thinking, but it now causes me to grieve both for those who are excluded but also for those who do the excluding. I recently listened to something with Krista Tippett in which she defined a fundamentalist as someone who not only believes that have found the answers for themselves. They believe that they have found the answers for everyone else, too. I am so thankful that I am no longer in such a restrictive mindset. The fact that I could open myself up to love and a more expansive understanding of who God is gives me hope that others can do the same. Until then, I shall continue to live my truth. I spent too many years hiding to go back into the shadows now. If living that truth puts me in harms way, at least I will be doing so as the person God created me to be.
Please feel free to leave a comment below and share how the events of these last two days have impacted you or connect with me and/or others through my Facebook page. Community is such a vital part of healing during a time such as this.