Reflection on Orlando (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 19 June 2016

Last Sunday, as I was preparing to come to church, I heard the first news reports of a fatal shooting in a nightclub in Orlando FL. At that particular moment, I didn’t know any details. The numbers were still vague.  I made a call, a decision, that I wouldn’t say anything during our service. I hesitated because I still didn’t know enough about what was happening. I also hesitated because, over the years, when I have responded to shootings in the United States, I have been reminded that we are in Canada and these are US problems and concerns. I have been reminded that there are people dying from violence every day in many other places in the world.

I didn’t know early last Sunday morning that this would be a tragedy that would shock the whole world. We’ve gotten numbed by the mass shootings that happen all too frequently in the US. It’s become expected, as something simply accepted as part of daily life there. But by the time I got home Sunday afternoon, the world was reeling with the brutal reality of what had happened at the Pulse nightclub.

The tragedy in Orlando has touched us all. The vigils across the entire world are testament to the deep pain so many of us feel.  This tragedy reminds us of all that needs to be changed and healed in this world.  It is a tragedy that has had a devastating effect on many communities — LGBTQ communities, Latino communities, Muslim communities and so many others.

It is frightening and heartbreaking to imagine that our safety and the safety of our loved ones can be violated so brutally. As I check in with my friends and congregants who are queer, I realize that this tragedy has struck them to the core in a way that I cannot fully understand. I am a heterosexual woman. I have never lived with fear about holding the hand of the one I love in public. I’ve never known what it is to be rejected by my family, my faith or my community because of my sexual orientation or sexual identity. Places like the Pulse nightclub are meant to be safe spaces for a community of people who are often unable to be fully themselves anywhere else. Even as equal marriage is now legal in Canada and the US, we still have a very long, long way to go.

Yesterday, these words, from an op ed piece by Gary Branum in the New York Times, really gave me pause. He writes, 

“When word surfaced that the Orlando shooter had frequented gay bars and dating apps, some speculated that he might have been doing research to plan his attack. Gay people understood the other very real possibility, that the attacker might be a man with homosexual desires whom society had filled with so much secret shame that he would do anything to prove his distance from the gay world. It’s a tragic, complex truth that means however revolting I find him, I also have sympathy for the ways shame and the inability to live honestly may have twisted this man into a murderer.”

We, even in this liberal religious community, need to look at ourselves honestly and ask ourselves if we sometimes unknowingly contribute to that kind of shame.

So, I want to say to all of you who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or queer, we love you. You are an integral part of our community. You are our leaders, our friends, our companions in times of joy and sorrow, our fellow worshippers. You bring a richness to our community that I and others may too often take for granted. I want you to know that we grieve with you in this time when you are feeling most vulnerable.  May we reach out to each other to sow the seeds of trust, acceptance, affirmation and love.

I light this candle in remembrance of the 49 lives lost in Orlando last Sunday and for the many lives devastated by the massacre. 

Responsive Reading

I invite you to join me in a responsive reading, adapted from a reading by Rabbi Roland B. Gittlesohn, adapted by our guest Rev. Fred Cappuccino, with a few additional adaptations from me.

In the majestic rising and setting of the sun,
    we will remember with love the fallen in Orlando.

In the bursting buds of balsam fir,
    and in the rebirth of spring, we will remember them.

In the blue of the vaulting firmament,
    and in the warmth of summer, we will remember them.

In the softly falling leaves of red maple and yellow birch,
    and in the beauty of autumn, we will remember them.

In cold wind wafting through the weeping willows,
    and in the chill of winter, we will remember them.

Our hearts cry out in anguish and in compassion
    for loved ones left behind — we remember them also.

All those lost to us through violence and hatred,
    suddenly taken from our midst because of who they love
    — we will remember them.

We bemoan the blindness of those duped by the for-profit gun lobby,
and those who would use the action of one to accuse an entire people,
    and those who cannot see that hatred begets only hatred — 
    and that only love can beget love.

May all our eyes open to appreciate
    the beauty of — and the joy of — universal love and community.

And when we are spinning yarns, and laughing around the table,
    the Orlando fallen will laugh with us, and we will remember them.

For as long as we shall live, they too shall live,
    for they are now a part of us, and down through the passing years, 
    we will remember them.

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