How jarring it was to leave the sanctuary and inspiration of church yesterday to the news of the horrific shooting massacre at Pulse – an Orlando gay club in my home state of Florida. In the midst of my own grief, I wanted to write with my love and prayers for all of you as you work, play, care for your children and loved ones, go about your day-to-day amidst such tragic news.
I find myself recalling the words of William Sloane Coffin, former pastor of The Riverside Church in New York. Coffin lost his 24-yr-old son, Alexander, in an automobile accident in 1983. 10 days after his son’s death, Coffin preached a sermon called “Alex’s Death,” in which he stated as eloquently as I have heard it said the place of God in the midst of human suffering: “God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels… God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”
We also know that God’s heart was broken long before this shooting over all that converged in a single deadly incident. God’s heart breaks over homophobia and hatred. God’s heart breaks over exclusion and isolation, extremism and distortion, illness, gun violence. God’s heart breaks, and we will know God even more in such moments if our hearts break, too.
My own heart breaks for the fact that the 49 people now dead and 53 wounded were attacked not in a random location – but in a place where, as LGBTQ persons, they felt safe and free. With such safety now compromised, it’s all the more important that we find our own ways to create safe spaces in our lives. One such space was created last night in our community, as many of us from throughout the city, including some from First Baptist, gathered at an impromptu prayer vigil held downtown. We lit candles, listened to statements from community and faith leaders, and heard stories from those impacted by this tragedy. Among the speakers was a young, gay, Latino organizer and activist in our community. He described how years ago he came to “the other side” – the United States – as a boy to live with his grandmother, “Abuela.” It was his grandmother who woke him up yesterday morning with the news of the shooting at Pulse and said, “Thank you for not going out last night.” He told her “That was in Florida, Abuela. That’s a long way away from here.” She said, “Yes, but it could have been here and it could have been you.”
This tragedy is not far from us. But we remember that Jesus says something similar about the kingdom of God. It can be here and it can be in us. I hope we can still believe that, pray for that, work for that, change for that, grow towards that even amidst the fresh evidence of the danger, hatred and violence in our world. My prayers and love for you in this week ahead. And as we said in worship yesterday, “Let’s not live in this world as it is. Let’s live in this world as it ought to be.”
A Pastor’s Love,