An Orlando Massacre Journal of Reflection and Action

Most of my conversation in the immediate aftermath of the massacre in Orlando took place on Facebook in communion with people in my community. This post documents those reflections as they unfolded that day and since, forming something of a journal of grief and sense-making.

Sunday, June 12 7:58 am
‘THIS IS NOT GOD’S LOVE!!!!’ screamed a protester (who shames the name of Christ by claiming it) an arm’s length from me during last night’s Pride parade. I thought ‘you got that right.’

That is among the more printable of the things that this small, loud group hurled at us as we walked past in last night’s Pride parade. They were particularly incensed by the row of churches that showed up to proclaim the (genuine) inclusive nature of God’s love.

We don’t yet know many of the details about the shooting in Orlando – a shooting that took place in a nightclub much like the one in which Phyllis and I were hanging out into the early hours the other night.

But I do know these things, which I had planned to say today anyway and which take on a particular poignant, painful significance in light of this horrible event:

When you see us LGBTQIA folks celebrating Pride, realize that we are fighting for not only for dignity and inclusion, but for life itself.

We are celebrating our integrity and our full humanity in a society that that often denies it.

We are calling for a world that embraces our diversity and that understands this example of diversity as instructive – for we can help teach the rest of our culture that difference is a source of strength and wonder instead of fear, judgment, and hatred.

Even in this day, there is no shortage of people who would deny us the right to simply live as ourselves. The play we saw Friday night included a wrenching video clip of cases of physical violence to LGBTQIA people. This is not uncommon. And countless more lives are broken by the rejection and stigma that we face daily. That is the sinful behavior here.

There is nothing wrong with us. There is nothing related to our sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity that needs to be fixed or changed. We are proud of who we are because of who we are, NOT in spite of it.

I would not choose to be other than I am.

The day that we as a global culture learn to live and let live and to treat people with dignity and respect will be a grand day indeed.

We don’t know yet what led to the slaughter of a score of people in Orlando last night and the injury of many more, but it certainly has the marks of a hate crime. We certainly do know what leads to physical violence, awful insult, and soul injury to LGBTQIA people EVERY SINGLE DAY in this culture.

Please consider this morning if your words and your attitudes and your actions contribute to that. There is no neutral ground in this matter. We are fighting for our lives.

11:47 a.m. – Further news brings us the information that this club was the heart of the scene for Orlando’s Latino LGBTQIA population. LGBTQIA people of color face the dual brutalities of society’s racism and homophobia and it would appear they have born the brunt of this senseless slaughter. There are no words to convey what I feel.

8:06 p.m. –  I wrote this as a comment earlier, but it was buried in the long thread of my first post today – and I think it’s worth foregrounding (so I quote myself):

‘Fundamentalism comes in all forms. It can be found in religious and secular settings. It is a mechanism of power – human power, which has nothing to do with the power of faith or divine power, though it often claims that. It is the opposite of pluralism and dedicates itself through a range of violent exclusionary tactics (which include sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated social discourse) to the eradication of pluralism.

I am a pluralist, though I also operate with joy and intensity from my own social location. I respect the right of fundamentalists (whether they be Muslims, Christians, atheists, political ideologues, or any flavor) to live and believe. Their rights end when they move into broader cultural space because their dearest intent is to suffocate pluralist society by sucking the air out of it with their noxious ideological commitments.

My commitment to respond to dehumanization leads me to speak and act against fundamentalism in all of its forms. I have lived long enough, however, to recognize that it comes in far more forms than we commonly name (i.e., far beyond the Islam and the Christianity that we typically associate with extremism).’

I will add to that now: peace and prayers and love to all who – in myriad meaningful ways – counter the forces of dehumanization. It is essential work.

Monday, June 13 11:59 a.m.
Dear God, today I pray especially for all of those working in LGBTQIA service and advocacy organizations and groups, for they are dealing with their own grief while also trying to love and serve the whole community. Give them strength of soul and peace of heart and wisdom of word in all that they do – and rest and well-being for themselves. We offer our gratitude to them and to you. Amen.

Tuesday, June 14 9:56 p.m.
A reminder to my LGBTQIA friends – you can turn off the news if you need to. It’s okay. You can walk away from it for a while. Take care of yourself. The struggle and the honor of memory will still be there when you get back.

Wednesday, June 15 6:42 a.m.
May we remember today that kindness and advocacy need not be mutually exclusive.

May we be filled with both compassion and a whole-hearted commitment to justice for all.

May we honor that which is holy within each person and on this earth, even as we ask for accountability and discernment.

May we be wise.

8:10 a.m. –  If you are ally or friend of LGBTQIA people and especially LGBTQIA people of color – or want to be – or just respect people period – I have a suggestion.

Our cultural space is really, really noisy right now.

The LGBTQIA community is not of one mind about where we go from here (and that’s okay), though we’re pretty universal about taking note of and condemning individual and cultural homophobia.

So while we’re not monolithic, one way you can support people is to make room for our voices. You can listen, ask respectful questions (NOT devil’s-advocate, opinions-disguised-as-questions, or argumentative questions) IF the person welcomes questions, and research and read what’s being said by LGBTQIA people about all the different issues.

This is about hearing, not about being heard yourself.

When you help to create that space where LGBTQIA people’s voices are made central, you are helping (even just a little bit) to shift the power in our cultural conversations. No one speaks for the whole community (ever – for any community), but there’s good learning in seeking out a range of perspectives.

I believe this to be good solidarity practice across the board, but today let us keep in mind the context of LGBTQIA people, Latino/Latinx folks, and the intersections of sexual orientation and gender identity, race, and ethnicity.

11:13 a.m. –  An update about tonight’s Religious Memorial Observance for the Victims of the Orlando Massacre (let me know if you have questions) –

we will gather tonight at 8:00 on the first floor of Beloved. After an opening welcome, there will be 5 separate spaces for prayer and reflection in honor of the lives lost and disrupted at Pulse in Orlando. You will be able to move among them according to your own needs. They are:

1) downstairs at Beloved – a diverse group of faith leaders from around the community will offer their prayers

2) upstairs at Beloved – a space for silent prayer, meditation, centering prayer, and silent worship. this space will also be open before the service beginning at 7:00.

3) at The Abbey – names and images of those who were killed

4) at The Abbey – a memorial creative art space

5) at The Abbey – a place to talk and pray individually with ministers and chaplains

We hope that all will feel welcome and that all can find a forum for their own grief and healing.

Thursday, June 16 7:06 a.m.
Prayer versus action – this is a false binary.

It’s not either/or. The best action is grounded in prayer*.

And the lessons of action give clarity to prayer.

These are complementary means, not opposite ones.

*as a Christian, I pray to a gracious and loving God in the name of the Incarnate Christ, but I’d certainly never say that is the only meaningful form of prayer. Translate for yourself and your own traditions or non-traditions accordingly.

Friday, June 17 7:06 a.m.
Sweet friends and family have been reaching out since the Orlando shooting to offer words of comfort, affirmation, and love. That’s meant a lot. And many of them (many of y’all 🙂 ) will also include a concern about safety. ‘Be careful.’ is the refrain.

Here’s the thing – I don’t feel any less safe after Orlando than I felt before it. That, sadly, is because I didn’t feel safe before Orlando. And I know very few LGBTQIA people who do feel wholly safe. And – with no disrespect intended at all – I think those few who do are probably not staring at the reality of things.

We construct communities of love and relationship – or at least the fortunate among us are in a place to do so – that provide for support and meaning in the rhythms of life.

But there are a lot of people that hate us, that consider us sinful, or find us disgusting. There’s an entire spectrum of dis-affirmation and down at the far end of it is a small violent group.

We are harmed by that whole spectrum – and that’s why I keep repeating that there’s no neutral ground. I want people to get off of that spectrum and locate themselves in a place that at least embraces ‘live and let live’ and eschews rhetoric about sin or anything less than the full humanity and dignity of LGBTQIA people.

But we are all – and always have been – at real risk of significant harm from genuinely dangerous people. The reality of that has been magnified by Orlando, but it was no less true before. People often remain closeted in whole or in part not because they are ashamed but because they are afraid. And they ought to be.

The awful murder of British MP Jo Cox yesterday further illustrates the vulnerability of good people to those who are willing to make their hatred manifest in the most brutal ways. That wasn’t about LGBTQIA issues, but it’s a related form of extremism that from all reports led to her death. I am 100% aware that in every public presence I claim as an out lesbian – and this is true for all of us – that it is good fortune that my path and that of some violent hater doesn’t cross. I am especially aware of that in terms of a pastoral presence. I am never not aware of it.

I want every-body to feel and be safe from needlessly inflicted harm. Queer bodies. Black bodies. Brown bodies. Disabled bodies. Poor bodies. Women’s bodies. Old bodies. And all of the intersections of those things. Every body. Every body to live knowing that their inherent worth as human beings – their right to live, to love, and to face each day with the integrity of a whole self – is fully respected by all.

That’s the world I strive for. It is not the world we have now. And I know it.

There is no neutral ground. Either you stand with love* across all our differences or you are somewhere on that spectrum that tips downward to the most horrible of places.

(* and some conservative Christians – will say “Oh, I love everybody. I just . . .” STOP RIGHT THERE. Where that sentence goes from there indicates that they really don’t get what the radical love of Jesus Christ is or means or demands of those of us who claim to be his followers. They do NOT love everybody because THAT.IS.NOT.THE.LOVE.OF.CHRIST.)

9:17 p.m. – It has been a week of horror and grief, including today the anniversary of the white-supremacy-driven killings at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston.

It has been a week of human connection that embraces and celebrates our diversity and our innate capacity for joy and relationship. We bear witness to the brutality, but all around me, people are responding with love. Real love and care and concern.

Amen and Amen.

Tonight Temple Emanu-El invited both the LGBTQIA community and the Muslim community to worship and grieve in a memorial in their Shabbat service. It was heartfelt, inclusive, and deeply resonant with the spirit (Spirit) of promise for a better world.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, June 18 7:54 a.m.
A word I need to say:

if anyone were ever to come for my Muslim friends, they would have to come through me.

And I’m small, but I’m mean when people mess with my peeps.

Please don’t think you know anything about Islam if you are not in personal fellowship with any Muslims.

(and yes, that’s a dramatic statement, but given the nature of our sociopolitical discourse these days, I wanted to say something equally unequivocal)

(and yes, I feel that way about my other friends too, but this is the claim that is called for in this particular moment)

Sunday, June 19 7:59 a.m.
In a week where I have been critiquing the violent culture of toxic masculinity, it’s lovely to have a day to celebrate all the good men in this world.

I know a LOT of them and I’m sure you do too. Not only in my own biological family – my father, step-father, grandfathers, and uncles – but among my friends, the fathers of my friends (and now days the sons of my friends), and countless other men who put their energy into caring for the people around them and for the world.

I critique the culture of patriarchy, but I do so in the hope of freeing us ALL from the pressures that cause some men to miss the joy of living, the capacity to care, and the pleasures of non-conforming individuality. I count a bunch of non-conforming, open-hearted men as my chosen brothers in this world and the world needs more like them (even though they are nothing alike on the surface).

Keep fathering, good men, whether you are a biological father or not. The world needs you – and I’m grateful to travel in it with you.

9:59 p.m. – I’ve been thinking about how the victim total for the Orlando shooting was reduced from 50 to 49. The 50th fatality was the shooter, Omar Mateen.

Something bothers me about that. I had the same reaction about Newtown when Adam Lanza was removed from the count.

Now if I were an injured victim or a loved one of those killed or injured, I doubt I could manage any equanimity about these men. I would not make this argument to those people.

But most of us are not those people. We are a step or many steps removed and our perspective can be different. We can carry some of the load that those closer to the tragedy cannot.

I suggest that a part of that load is grieving for the man who did the killing and whatever happened in his life to turn him into the person who committed mass murder – and analyzing with some compassion (rather than just polarized vitriol) the factors that led to it.

None of us can know what peculiar alchemy turned Omar Mateen into killer, but we can look for the causes and try to deal with them. And we can pray for his soul and for the souls of other damaged people out there.

There are no simple answers – and we won’t find answers with simple judgments. I am not in any way recommending that we excuse the behavior or fail to hold people accountable.

But hurt people hurt people. And maybe if we can figure out what about our culture and our individual lives within it harms people to the point of their doing harm to others, we might make a difference.

Tuesday, June 21 2:53 p.m.
After I prayed last week at the Central Alabama Pride/City of Birmingham vigil, I was quoted in a local NPR-affiliate interview as saying “Our responses are what teach us how to live,” *

Tragic moments remind us that we want to live lives of genuine meaning.

We want lives that matter.

It doesn’t have to be on any grand global scale.

It’s really about living with integrity and commitment in whatever context you find yourself.

This is counter-cultural. Our culture insists that we must purchase something to bring ourselves that sort of contentment and connection. The system depends on our always wanting (convincing ourselves that we need) something more.

But the horrible moments, along with the truly joyous ones, reveal that for the fiction that it is.

Everyone of us can live a life that matters. That’s a choice we make in our engagement with one another every single day.

In this contentious season, I pray that we all remember this basic truth.

*(otherwise I probably would have forgotten I said it – but I’ve been reflecting since I read them on those words, which I did indeed say)

Sunday, June 26 2:28 p.m.
Been catching up on a couple of back yard chores this blazing afternoon and thinking about a book by the noted American Buddhist Jack Kornfield. It’s called ‘After the Ecstasy, the Laundry’ and it’s a skillful reminder of how we live in the realm of the daily even after moments of enlightenment and insight.

What I’m working with this afternoon – two weeks after waking up to the news about the Orlando shootings – is more the concept of ‘After the Tragedy, the Laundry.’

For those who are personally touched by horrible events, sometimes things are never the same. Our lives are surely as shaped by our losses as by our joys and triumphs. But often from a bit more remove we bear witness to the terrible things that happen in this world and then we move on. What else are we supposed to do?

Getting stuck is never a good option. The meaningful choice, I believe, is in how we go about moving forward.

It’s easy to get caught up in the cause-of-the-moment. It becomes a lightening quick grief fad.We can move on from that to the next awful thing – or to ignoring the next awful thing or to ignoring the chronic misery of many in our world. Or we can acknowledge that in this interdependent world we are all changed by the suffering of others. Then we choose to let that embitter us or open our hearts.

That’s our fundamental choice – slide right on by, turn ugly, or keep letting our spirits grow with a heart of compassion and care.

It’s really up to us. The laundry still has to get done. The backyard still has to be mowed. It’s really all about what we bring to it and what we give back into the world around us. That comes after ecstasy and it comes after tragedy – and it’s one better measure of the meaning of our time on this earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Interfaith Statements of Affirmation and Welcome

In preparation for a recent conference, I assembled some sample statements of affirmation and welcome from various faith groups around the country. While the conference focused on faith and LGBTQ+ issues and inclusion, most of these statements are much broader – and wisely so.

The challenge to us as people of faith and ethics is to create ways to ensure that all people – across all categories of difference – are not only welcomed in each of our communities, but included in its full life and leadership. An explicit statement to that effect, backed up by in-kind actions and behavior, makes a difference.

These statements offer some examples. I am always interested in collecting more, so feel to send others my way.

John Street Church (UMC), New York City –  Learning from 250 years of ministry, and following Jesus Christ today, John Street United Methodist Church invites into its fellowship all persons seeking to live in the Christian environment of the Church, and to receive its nurture and assistance throughout the course of their lives. This invitation is extended without regard to one’s economic status, education, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political beliefs, ethnic origin, or the present state of their spiritual journey. We publicly affirm that we welcome all persons to participate fully in the worship, fellowship, educational, and service life of our church.

Open Table UCC, Mobile, AL   From its beginning, Open Table has been a radically welcoming faith community. Following the radical message of Jesus, we affirm the worth and dignity of every human being, and we extend extravagant welcome to all persons. We affirm our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters, and acknowledge the suffering they have endured in the context of the larger society. Not only do we welcome them into our congregation, but into the full life, leadership, and ministry of our congregation. As we grow in our understanding of God’s good gifts of human sexuality, gender, and relationships, we stand firm in the Biblical message that all people are created in God’s image and thus are loved and blessed equally by God.

Temple Beth Zion, Brookline, MA  –  We think of our community as a diverse shtetl, a modern incarnation of those vibrant Old World villages, towns and centers of learning which nurtured and evolved our Jewish heritage. Today, our shtetl is populated by an extraordinary mix of passionate people, including singles and those on single-life paths, alongside newly-married and longtime couples; college students; families with young children; single parents; elders; spiritual seekers; GLBT Jews; Jews by choice; and interfaith and multi-cultural families.  Our members come from a wide variety of spiritual- and life-paths. Some of us were raised in observant families. For others, TBZ is the first shul we have ever joined. Our weekly services are populated by former twice-a-year-Jews — men and women who, after b’nai mitzvah, attended services only on the High Holy Days. . . until they discovered Temple Beth Zion. Others among us had regularly attended synagogues, dutifully (if passively) following along in the prayer books, reading responsively and standing when asked, only to discover that something — anything; everything! — was missing. But at TBZ, as one of our members has noted, “I have found connection, authenticity, home. . . .”

The Abbey (Episcopal), Birmingham, AL – Who can come? And what should I wear? Anyone. Seriously, anyone and everyone. Kids, teenagers, young adults, adults. Everyone is welcome at The Abbey, regardless of race, ethnicity, faith tradition, class, age, political party, education, gender, marital status, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Our service is a relaxed environment. Wear what makes you feel comfortable and invite anyone you think would be interested.

Zen Center of New York City –  In the Mountains & Rivers Order, we endeavor to foster a welcoming atmosphere free of prejudice that is open to all people sincerely interested in exploring and practicing the Buddhadharma. We are committed to co-creating a practice environment in which all individuals are recognized as possessing a fundamental dignity, and are therefore treated with respect without regard to their ethnicity, skin color, language, age, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, political views, or economic circumstances.

Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle, WA –  From the pastor: I’m glad you’re here and hope to meet you in person. Since 1885, Gethsemane has welcomed people for worship, community time, service, and learning. All these years later, we remain a downtown church committed to connecting to our neighborhood. We are a progressive, GLBTQ-affirming congregation that welcomes all: people who have been to church (any church) their whole lives, as well as those who never have been or have been away for a while; people filled with doubts or questions and those whose faith and hope run deep; people longing to find a community of belonging and anyone who may simply be “passing by”… This is a place open to you wherever you are in your spiritual journey.

Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham, AL –  Baptist Church of the Covenant was established in 1970 to be a racially inclusive congregation. Since that time, it has ordained women to the ministry and affirmed openness to sexual orientation and gender identity. As Christ accepts all who believe, we do likewise. All are welcomed.

Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, Los Angeles, CA –  Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society was founded by Noah Levine, author of Dharma PunxAgainst the Stream, The Heart of the Revolution, and Refuge Recovery to make the teachings of the Buddha available to all who are interested. We wish to create and sustain communities of healthy, accountable, wise and compassionate people from every walk of life. We welcome people from all racial, economic, sexual, social, political and religious backgrounds and believe that the path of awakening is attainable by all and should be available to all. We strive to create a safe environment for all who come to practice.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco, CA – Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church is made up of children and elders, families and singles, straight and gay people, lifelong Christians, interfaith couples, converts and seekers. We join in worship and service, creating a community that shares the unconditional welcome offered at Jesus’ Table.

St Junia United Methodist Church, Birmingham, AL – Becoming a diverse community:  Our goal is to become as diverse as the Kingdom itself. Since God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34, Galatians 2:6), and since all people are made in the image of God, our desire is to become a community in which black, white, and Latino, gay and straight, old and young, rich and poor, male and female are welcome to the table and invited to use their diverse gifts for worship and ministry. We want to be a witness to Birmingham and to the world that the Good News is for all people.

A Response to “Bruce Jenner and the Transgender Debate”

[Note: this name was current at the time this piece was written. Today, Caitlyn Jenner should be known only as Caitlyn and referred to with the appropriate female gender pronouns. But since this post was written in a particular moment in time, I will leave it as it is.]

A friend recently sent me a Christian blog post and asked my thoughts in response. I’ve provided a link to it below, but the author’s basic point was that people shouldn’t be true to themselves but instead true to God. She quotes the late basketball coach John Wooden, saying “‘Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.'”

I can work with that. That’s how I try to live my life – and I aim to let my life be my witness. I am incredibly imperfect as all humans are imperfect, but I continually strive in God’s grace to manifest God’s love in the world. That’s not a perspective I can or would choose to force on anybody else – and I love and respect many people who think differently. But it’s the choice I make for myself.

Here’s where my problem with the article comes in. Its focus is a response to the recent television interview with Bruce Jenner. The author takes this notion of placing God at the center of one’s life and uses it to dismiss the fullness of life that Bruce Jenner is embracing as a transgender person. The author’s argument fails to allow for the idea that transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people may be putting God at the center of their lives – and that their expression of their integrity of being may be through God’s grace.

I’m not much of a television watcher, so I have to confess that I haven’t actually seen the interview with Bruce Jenner. I thus don’t want to try to respond to the specifics about Jenner’s experience. However, I can speak from my own. It was only through coming out as a lesbian that I could put God at the center of my life. Before that, fear and shame and confusion crowded God out of the center of my suffering soul. It’s hard to focus on God when you’re too bound up in it what’s wrong with yourself. People who are concerned about human judgment and worldly matters often have to pretend to be someone they’re not. When God and the life of the Spirit is at the center of your life, those judgments and those worldly concerns can fall away. You can live a life of integrity. You can live a life – and I’m taking this from the blog title to which I am responding – of authentic intimacy with God and with others.

When I put God at the center of my life, I felt the fullness of God’s love and God’s call for justice. I was then empowered to let that love and that call for justice flow through me into the world. But it was only through the full embrace of my full being that I could do so.

The author also writes suggests that it’s modern cultural convenience that allows the Bible to be “discounted as cultural or out of touch.” I take the Scripture seriously. For me, it’s the greatest source of life and meaning. Because of its importance, I read it as of the context in which it was written and as speaking into the culture of today. On that basis, I understand that passages wielded against LGBTQ people today actually condemn violence, exclusion, and the absence of deep forms of hospitality. Those are sins more often visited upon members of the LGBTQ community today rather than committed by them.

There’s much more to be said about embracing transgender people as precious and beloved children of God – and gay and lesbian and bisexual and queer and black and disabled and non-English-speaking and poor and old and young and all of those other people that we so often place outside of our cultural circles of love and care. But my task today was a specific response. I’ll stop here for now, knowing that further opportunities for continuing the conversation will arise.

* the article to which I am responding can be found here:


http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/juli-slattery/2015/april/bruce-jenner-and-transgender-debate.html?start=3

* and here are some other online resources that speak to these issues from a more progressive perspective. If you read or have read other articles that you think do justice to this topic, please go to the About/Contact tab and send links my way.


What Transgender people teach us about God, and our humanity – https://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2013/08/19/what-transgender-people-teach-us-about-god-and-our-humanity/11240

Think Big, Love Small – http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/28/letter-to-a-teen/

Prayer to forgive – from the 2014 ecumenical Pride service

During our local Pride week last year, people of faith – LGBTQ people and allies – came together for an ecumenical prayer service. This is the prayer that I offered there. The current turmoil about Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in Indiana, Arkansas, and elsewhere brings to mind the state of heart that went into this prayer.

Gracious and loving God,

This is hard. Forgiveness is hard.

We know you have called us to forgive – to forgive ourselves, to forgive our neighbors and our families, those close to us. And even – especially – to forgive our enemies.

And we know that is not always easy.

For a long time our communities of faith were one of those enemies.

God, we thank you that some churches and synagogues, and temples and mosques and other communities of faith have to see us – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer – whatever label you choose – to see us all as precious children of God, fully included in your love. We are grateful for this. From out of pain, may we find forgiveness and new relationship.

God, we also know that many communities of faith do not seek our forgiveness, for they see nothing for which they must atone.

Yet God you ask us to forgive them too. This is difficult. It is risky. It is a constant process, not a single place at which we arrive.

God, help us to forgive them. Not to cease holding them accountable, but to practice a continual forgiveness. Because we know what bitterness does to our hearts. And that we are called to something better.

Help us to forgive them because they know not what they do.

Wrap us in your loving heart, oh God and carry us along in your example.

This we ask in the name of all that is holy.

Amen.

Dry Bones sermon: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley and they were very dry.

We know that valley. We see it in our lives. The dry bones of our best intentions, our failed efforts, our fractured relationships. We all hit some serious dry spells.

We see it in the world – in the broken bodies of persistent racism, hate crimes, of war and famine. Of slaughtered Syrian civilians, young black men who can’t find jobs, gay teenagers who commit suicide because of the rejection they face, impoverished Honduran campesinos, women beaten by the men they love. In scorn for people with mental illness or who speak a different language or who travel in a wheelchair. Children who don’t have enough to eat and who are.not.loved.

It is a dry valley and it is full of bones.

The world is a very bleak place indeed. But

He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.

There.

Right there.

Hope.

We have hope.

There is hope and we find it in the word of the Lord that comes to us through the prophetic voice.

But hang on a minute.

Where do we find the prophets these days?

I mean, we know that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible still speak to us today:

There are those familiar words from Micah:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;  and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? “

And from Isaiah: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. “

Those words still resonate with life and breath for us today.

And of course we know Jesus came along and had some things to say

But where else do we find prophetic voices in our modern world?

There are lots of answers to that question. I’ll offer a few. But I also I leave it open to you to think about this question in the days ahead. Who speaks words over dry bones and makes them whole?

We can think of some —

Dr. Martin Luther King. Cesar Chavez. Gandhi. Malcolm X. Fannie Lou Hamer. Barbara Jordan. Ella Baker. Marian Wright Edelman. poets. artists

“To climb ever closer to God is not to move away from our troubled and troubling neighbors, but closer to them,”  that from the author and new monastic Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

From Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who in 1980 was gunned down by a government because of his advocacy for the poor of his country: “The world of the poor teaches us how Christian love should be. It should certainly seek peace, but unmask false pacifisms, resignation and inactivity… The world of the poor teaches us that the magnanimity of Christian love must respond to the demand of justice … and not flee from the honest struggle.”

Or the writer Alice Walker who said “I must learn to love the questions themselves.”

There are indeed prophetic voices all around us.

But we’re still in the middle of the story here, aren’t we?

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

We know not all endings are happy. We know things get broken that cannot be fixed. Mistakes that can’t be made right. (I’ve got plenty of those.) We know there are people whose hearts are very hard. Unjust systems that are fully entrenched. The world is ugly sometimes because of the evil that human beings do. And sometimes because bad things just happen.

It is what it is. We’ve heard that, said that before.

But often, often there is hope. There is hope for the living from God.

Then he said to me “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

From the four winds there is breath and there is life. Now we could make sense of this in any number of ways, but I’m going to suggest one way we might read this passage today – because scripture always speaks to us where we are at any given moment, right?

First I’ve got to tell a bit of a story. This is not a story about being a gay Christian – though that is a story I tell sometimes. Instead it’s a story about talking about gay Christians.

This past week I read a couple of blog posts. One was by a sort of hip, millennial, conservative evangelical woman – one whose writings I like. She admits that she prefers the whole one man-one woman definition of marriage. But she also takes on the whole debate about the issue. She speaks of the parable of the Good Samaritan and then she says this:

“it was instantly and perfectly clear that the gay community had been spiritually beaten, stripped of dignity, robbed of humanity, and left for dead by much of the church . . . We don’t get to abandon the theology of love toward people; the end does not justify the means. That is not Christ-like and it is certainly not biblical . . . I am convinced we need no more soldiers in this war. We need more neighbors.”

Ok, that’s pretty prophetic. But hang on.

The next day I read another piece, this by a gay Christian man. He referred to this first piece I just quoted and talked about meaningful conversations he had about the topic of being a gay Christian. And he ended with this

“And so I’ll keep saying it because I am reaping such a harvest, such a renewal of life is growing in the ground of my soul: I am gay and I am Christian. I’m a gay Christian. You are straight and you are Christian. You are man, woman, genderqueer, black, white, brown, and Christian and the kingdom is where we meet and grow together. Sling arms over shoulders. Open our hands and choose to see the best behind our eyes. Choose to stay even when it scares us.”

Now that’s pretty prophetic too.

But let’s go back to the 4 winds piece. What really brings life into this is not just their individual words. It is the conversation.

Not one wind.

Not one voice.

More than one.

Voices in conversation. People talking and people listening. Lots of differences there, but in conversation with one another. Come from the four winds – from all directions. A multiplicity of voices joined together. People talking to people who are different from themselves.

We don’t all have to have the grand prophetic voice of Ezekiel or Isaiah or Martin Luther King.

I suggest to you tonight we ordinary everyday people can together be a part of the prophetic voice that breathes life into this troubled world.

When we join together in conversation, in human connection with others — from the 4 winds, from the 4 corners, from good neighborhoods and troubled ones, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, and on and on and on across difference — when we treasure all of these voices — especially the quiet ones that don’t always get heard — and when we engage those voices in conversation, the result breathes new life.

It joins us together, sinew and bone, life and breath. We can all be engaged in the prophetic voice – inhaling and exhaling that breath of God when we join together.

It is found in relationship, when we hold back the harsh word and enter into a moment of genuine connection. Open to the moment of mutual transformation through engagement with a sister or a brother, another beloved child of God.

It is not a mistake that the words conversion and conversation are so close. We can feel this full in our bodies and deep down in our souls. We commit to staying in conversation with the world, to the witness across difference — and in so doing this prophetic voice breathes new life into the dry bones of our world.

And we shall live.

And we shall know that the Lord God has spoken.