I didn’t see the news this morning.
I jumped out of bed, straight to the shower, dressing, drying hair, calling to the kids to eat ANYTHING for breakfast, and then out the door to run a few errands just in time to walk into the church doors without a minute to spare.
As our pastor began to speak, he paused to acknowledge the atrocious massacre in Orlando that had gone on for an agonizing three hours, while the rest of us slept soundly. We were invited to pray for the victims and their families—and I felt that sick feeling you get when you first realize something really, really bad has happened.
I leaned over to my husband, who had been at the church since early in the morning—we hadn’t talked yet—and gave him the look of “Oh my goodness … What happened?”
He whispered back, each word a wound to the heart. “Worst mass shooting… gay nightclub… loyal to ISIS… 50 dead... hostages…”
My heart felt like it would implode.
I was devastated—I was heartbroken.
But surprisingly, I wasn’t confused.
There wasn’t that usual huge, looming, “Why?” There was none of the normal, “I just don’t understand!” Which is how I usually feel after something like this happens—a disgruntled teenager shooting his peers? That, I don’t understand. I will never understand. I don’t think I CAN understand.
There was something sickeningly familiar about the horror in Orlando though: hatred in the name of religion.
We’re not always sure which comes first—did the religion twist and bear hatred, or did hatred claim religion as a shield? In this case, it’s unclear. Either way, our faith should never foster, nor be a safe harbor, for hatred or violence. Neither is acceptable.
But so often it does. And I don’t just mean terrorists—I mean US too.
Sure, the very large majority of us religious folks aren’t anywhere close to detonating bombs—and we are justifiably outraged when we hear of mass shootings, beheadings, and more. We see these things being carried out in the name of religion, and we shake our heads and our insides hurt and we pray.
But do we search our own hearts?
Because in a way, less visible and far less lethal, aren’t we guilty of the same?
We have whole portions of our faith community that shun others based on sexual orientation, gender status, race, and ethnicity. We have people who are a part of our faith community who are ostracized and shamed-OUT because the people who are IN have nurtured those seeds of hate by calling it “religion” or “holiness” or whatever holds weight in their context.
My husband and I once had a Christian couple tell us they believed in “conviction over community”—meaning they could no longer associate with Christians who didn’t see eye-to-eye with them on all matters of religion. Kindreds, this is a problem. A big problem.
When we refuse to sell a cake to someone and call it religion, I think we know something has come horribly off the rails. When I hear stories like this all I can think of are black and white photos of segregated churches or drinking fountains labeled by race. Haven’t we come further than this?
For those of us who are parents, we bear the responsibility not just of ourselves, but also of raising our children to love like Jesus loves. To value human life and dignity. To not just “tolerate” people different from themselves, but to love every single person in their communities—wholly and sincerely.
Jesus doesn’t call us to be tolerant. The Bible doesn’t tell us that God loves some of us, and tolerates the rest. In fact, the Bible is quite clear on this point: God loves ALL of us. And we are called to do the same—not in spite of xyz, and not to try to “convert people” or earn good-deed points, but because each and every person is made in the image of God, is wholly loved by God, and holds intrinsic, unimaginable value.
Let’s drop the tolerance and engage each other with real, unabashed love.
In our world today we’re inundated by terror and violence—we’re overwhelmed by our newsfeed. Not much has made me feel more helpless than the constant stream of vicious attacks. After all, what can WE do about ISIS? What can WE do about terrorism and large-scale hate crimes?
How about this at least: let’s start with ourselves. Let’s search our own hearts, let’s invite the Holy Spirit to shine light into the darkest corners. Where are the seeds of hate hiding? In what ways are we relating to others out of fear, bigotry, and unchecked legalism? In what ways are we marginalizing those inside and outside of the church who have complete acceptance and love from the very God we serve?
As I sit on my patio this evening, feeling just unraveled from the day’s events, I meander over to Facebook—probably, embarrassingly, to give my mind a distraction from all the whirring thoughts—and stumble almost immediately upon this beautiful prayer from friend, Chris Walker. Won’t you pray it with me?
I am praying for the LGBTQ community - friends, your lives matter and you do not deserve to live in fear.
I am praying for the peace-seeking Muslims who have become targets because of their radical counterparts - friends, your lives matter and you do not deserve to live in fear.
I am praying for wisdom and courage for our country's leaders - I don't know the answers, but I know moving our country away from fear and hatred, toward love and unity, will be difficult.
I am praying for the Christian community, my brothers and sisters - friends, please lead the way to a more peaceful, just, and loving society. Care for the vulnerable. Listen to their voices, their cries, and lay down your lives for them. Give blood. Be a house of safety and protection for those different from you. Speak up to name the evils of bigotry when you see them, and their relatives - racism, sexism, and systems of oppression.
Come quickly, Lord. We are a mess...