Orlando: It's About the Questions We Ask
June 19, 2016
By Rev. Bonnie A. Perry
As the Psalmist writes,
“I am like one whose bones are broken to pieces…
While they say to me all day long:
Tell us Now Where is Your God?” Psalm 42
Anger and sadness vie for the custody of my soul. In this I expect I am not alone. The people shot at the Pulse night club were between ages 18 and 50. The average age was 29. Most were of color, most were Hispanic, most were LGBTQ; some were not. Pulse was a place where people went to be themselves and to have fun. Although lots of different types of people frequent Pulse, it is by its own description on Twitter, “Orlando’s premier gay ultra lounge, nightclub and bar.”
Texas Representative Pete Sessions can say its not a gay club and Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell can continue to omit mentioning gay people every time he speaks of the massacre, but their omissions do not change the facts, they merely prove the FBI’s data that LGBT people are more likely to be targeted in hate crimes then any other group in this country. If you are of color and happen to also be transgender then the statistics just get worse (New York Times, Saturday June 18, 2016).
In the tornado of hate that landed in Orlando maiming and killing so many children of God, so many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender children of God, I have found myself sheltering in a cellar, sheltering in a storm cellar of denial. Each time I have attempted to venture out to view the swath of destruction my words vanish and my feelings are swept away.
All I can find myself asking is, “ Where the hell is God?”
Tornadoes are classified, by the Fujita scale from 1 to 5 and some of the most destructive tornadoes in the world are the ones that form with multiple vortices within the larger tornado. The mere presence of the extra vortices can increase the speed of the tornado relative to the ground by more than 100 mph. So these tornadoes are frequently responsible for extreme swaths of destruction. This then is what I see in Orlando, a tornado with multiple vortices.
Not just hate, not just terror, not just untreated mental illness, not just xenophobia, religious superiority, not just unchecked slaughter by legally purchased firearms, but a swirling vortex of all these things, joined with paralyzed government and a societal acceptance of hatred: hatred of Queer people, hatred of Muslims, Hatred of and for people of color. All this, coupled with the American public’s passive acceptance of terror and hate foisted on us by the National Rifle Association’s belief that the second amendment can slaughter the first.
Susan Alborell, a former parishioner wrote to me the night of the massacre. She said, after hearing the news of Orlando, that morning, she went to the beach to clear her head, to pray, and to try to make some sense of the destructive horror. She said, she heard in her mind, the question that I have said to her in the past, “Where is God in all of this?” That she said was the question she took with her to the beach.
While there a large group assembled near by. Soon it became clear that it was a church group, an African American Church group gathered for a full immersion baptism. Then she heard another question, “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?” That was when she cried. She said, it became clear to her that it is always about the questions we ask.
It’s always about the questions we seek to answer.
It’s a year and two days since 9 African American people were gunned down during a bible study in Charleston, by a white supremacist, hoping to incite a race war.
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.
The cries continue. The lament lingers. What my friends shall we do?
16 people have been shot and killed in Chicago in June so far.
Interestingly, scientists have pointed out that some tornadoes can be shut down by the backdrafts of the very storms that started them.
What are we going to do?
How can we metaphorically and literally anti-cyclones, massive high pressure systems to our world’s lows? How can we be a force equal and opposite in intensity that stops the uncontrolled spiraling violence of our world?
I do not have the answer. If it were easy we would have figured it out awhile ago because we are smart. So the answer is neither simple, quick or easy. So this then is the question I am asking all of us
Do you respect the dignity of every human being?
—because it is the questions that we ask that matter.
Are you willing to work on this, this cancer of hatred and violence, racism and homophobia prayerfully, tenaciously, steadfastly, relentlessly using all we have as individuals and a community for the foreseeable future? This violence in our country right now is at the intersection of all we fear, and all we believe. Will you bring your life, your worth, your gifts to this fight?
Now? Now. Now!
Gracious God give us strength to move beyond our fears that nothing can be done.
In your holy name we pray.