When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
-LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, Excerpt from his acceptance speech
after winning "Best Score" at the 2016 Tony Awards
just 24 hours after the Pulse Nightclub Massacre
A little over a year ago I had begun to finally understand my sexual orientation. It was a journey that took a long time and, in that moment in time, I was relieved to finally begin to understand who I was. The next step for me was to begin to stop living in fear, publicly “come out”, and claim my truth as a bisexual male. Of course, that eventually happened on December 5, 2016. Though, before I had even picked the date that I wanted to come out on, I almost came out one year ago today in response to the tragedy that occurred in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016.
A year ago this morning I was lying in bed at a rental home in Independence, Missouri. The Community of Christ World Conference had ended the day prior and I was on such a high from that experience. It was a Sunday morning and I was waking up to go to church at a local Community of Christ congregation before flying back home to Oregon. As I turned over to check my phone, I noticed that my notification screen was lit up with news alerts about a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida. I was numb. I was angry. I was sad. It wasn’t just an attack on a random group of people. It was a targeted, deliberate attack on a population that I identify with. This was personal. For on the verge of claiming my own sexual orientation, I was again reminded why so many live in fear of simply being who they are. I was reminded that living one’s truth as being LGBT can still, even in 2016, cause one to feel unsafe. As someone who puts the “B” in LGBT, I was also reminded why others who claim this same orientation as I, might choose to just focus on their attraction to the opposite sex and deny their own attraction to the same sex. I know I did for a long time. I was also reminded why others who are a part of the LGBT spectrum may decide to never come out at all.
No words can adequately capture the terror and devastating loss of what happened on June 12, 2016. The reality though, is that the terrorist attack that happened at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, happens every day every in our culture. It may not always be an attack that ends in a literal death but it is an attack that terrorizes the heart, soul, and mind of those who are bullied, belittled, and shunned because of who they are. It happens when a parent lacks love and support for their LGBT child. It happens when basic rights are denied to people because of who they love. It happens when Christian organizations claim to follow the teachings of Christ and love as God would love but then practice and preach something that is completely the opposite of that sacred love. It happens every time a child or adult is bullied and driven to contemplate or attempt suicide. It happens every time a beloved child of God dies of suicide. It happens every time someone has to live in fear because of who they are.
Today is a day to read the names of those who died and remember them, even if only in name. It is a day to remember that even though society has progressed in so many ways in accepting the rights of this beautiful population of people, that we can’t allow that progress to blind us or slow us down from continuing the journey towards full inclusion in our culture today. For as John Legend sang in the song “If you’re out there”: “The future started yesterday and we’re already late.” So let’s look hate in the face and say, “That’s it. You’re done!”. Let us embody the love of God by loving our neighbors as we should love ourselves. And remember, people can change their beliefs and attitudes but they can’t change who they are.
I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the fact that today is also Loving Day. A day where we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down state laws that banned interracial marriage. Yet another example of the struggle our culture has had with labeling certain relationships as sinful or wrong when they don’t match that of the dominate population in society. May this be yet another reminder of our continual need to tirelessly work towards equality for all people.
I close today’s blog entry with this sacred text found in Community of Christ scriptures:
You do not fully understand many interrelated processes of human creation. Through its wonderful complexity, creation produces diversity and order.
Be not consumed with concern about variety in human types and characteristics as you see them. Be passionately concerned about forming inclusive communities of love, oneness, and equality that reveal divine nature.
Be passionately concerned about forming inclusive communities of love, oneness, and equality… I like that. I value that. Let’s live it. Let’s build it. In many ways, the lives of people you love depend on it. So as we celebrate how far we’ve come, let us find and create hope in the journey for where we are called to go.
A list of those killed at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016:
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Amanda Alvear, 25
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Cory James Connell, 21
Darryl “DJ” Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Enrique L. Rios, Jr, 25
Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera, 36
Frank Hernandez , 27
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Geraldo A. “Drake” Ortiz-Jimenez, 25
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez, 37
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Kimberly Morris, 37
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde , 39
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Paul Terrell Henry , 41
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
May we remember and honor them. May we continue to lift up in prayer and thought the loved ones they left behind as well as the over fifty additional people who were injured on that day.
Growing up and trying to find out who you are is a serious living nightmare. As a moody teenager, my only refuge from society’s pressures, minimum wage part-time jobs, and boring homework was Camp Spectacular. Every single year it was all I talked about. My countdown began about ten months in advance and my non-camp friends would get tired of me describing how amazing it was over and over (and over and over) again. If only there were an escape I didn’t have to wait as long for, I wouldn’t have been so annoyingly sad about the far away Spec dates. Low and behold Winter Retreat!
I never participated as a camper because I didn't think it would give me the same feeling as other camps did, but as a counselor this year I can say that I was very, very wrong to think that. Three nights doesn't seem like very long, but spending it with camp family makes every moment feel like forever and that it's going by too fast all at the same time. It's funny how when we get back together, it feels that no time has passed at all. It's almost like the "real" world we experience back home isn't real at all; that it's just a place to pass moments until we are reunited with camp again – the actual real world where our hearts and spirits are fully alive.
This year brought all 24 kids and 7 staff together with the theme Love Your #Selfie – a modern take on the importance of loving yourself, breaking societal molds, and every wonderful thing your unique self brings to the universe. Through exploring ideas from multiple religions and cultures, dance parties, deep small group conversations, and even calling the staff out on our own vain selfies, campers got to lift themselves up with positivity and love.
Inspired by Edmonton YouTube star Stephen Robinson of 52Skillz, we even got to combine all our awesome and unique abilities into building a Rube Goldberg Machine –described on Google as: "… a contraption, invention, device, or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion, generally including a chain reaction." After many hours of hard work, multiple tries to connect all the parts, and tons of cardboard and tape later; we finally got our Rube Goldberg machine to make toast. TOAST! How cool is that!? The success of our machine proved the 52Skillz motivation that anyone really can learn anything, and we are all capable of greatness. As our camp theme song (Live Like You're Loved by Hawk Nelson) put it:
His love has made you more than enough
So go ahead and be who He made you to be
And live like you're loved!
Many groups have an outreach activity that involves making prayer shawls to give to others for various reasons. In the Calgary Community of Christ congregation, this activity was presented to us by Evangelist Ted Navey when he moved to Calgary. Ladies in our group were enthused about this opportunity and many shawls have been lovingly made and given over the years to folks for very different reasons: for folks moving away, for soon-to-be graduates, for folks struggling with health concerns, or even just for those experiencing challenging times. As time has gone on, some of our knitters are not able to knit or crochet anymore.
My husband and I live in a condo building. I have come to know a lovely lady who is really a recluse. We were chatting one day when she showed me her efforts to give back to needy folks by knitting beautiful articles (tiny hats for new babies just after they are born, toques, scarves, shawls, or small knee blankets) for folks who may not have family or assistance. There was only one problem: She had no way of distributing these gifts. I was aware of many places that these gifts would be so appreciated, and I knew I could help with this; thus, began our collaborative teamwork. She’d make the articles as she felt comfortable, and I’d help connect her beautiful handiwork with those in need.
Click images to enlarge.
Shortly thereafter, she received some devastating news that sent her into a very heartbreaking state, and I did not see her for awhile. Recently, we happened to run into each other (not really, I believe it was a God moment) in the hallway, and she told me she had some things to give away, but no way to share them herself.
Our little Sunday School children’s class had a project during the Christmas season to collect change to give to a city project called CUPS (Calgary Urban Project Society), a great resource for marginalized families and those in need. Our children's class was going to present their monies, and we'd include some of Hannelore’s talent too.
She was thrilled.
We had another project happening as well…to purchase and donate four breast pumps to be available for new mothers in the Calgary area, who otherwise would not be able to afford one, so that they might be successful in breastfeeding their newborn babies. Someone had an idea that prayer shawls could be added to this gift so that these new families would know that they were not alone on this sometimes-challenging new chapter in their lives.
Wool has been given to Hannelore so that she can make other shawls as she feels secure in her talent and gifts of sharing. We are delighted to find needed homes for her gifts to others, but more importantly, we feel good knowing that we can connect needs with willing hands, letting folks know they are not alone on their own journey while helping Hannelore spread her desire to do such rewarding endeavors in this chapter of her life.
Below is the Blessing Prayer and symbolism of this ministry that fills all of our knitters and the congregation with purposeful sharing. All are blessed because of it.
Prayer Shawl Blessing
May your grace and blessing be upon this shawl – warming, comforting, enfolding, and embracing. May this mantle be a safe haven – a sacred place of security and well-being, sustaining and embracing in good times as well as difficult ones. May those who use this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace and wrapped in love.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Symbolism of Colours
Red: energy, strength, power, determination, love, courage
Pink: joy, femininity, friendship
Brown: stability, masculinity
Orange: happiness, success, encouragement, endurance
Gold: illumination, wisdom
Yellow: cheerfulness, energy, joy, confidence
Green: healing, harmony, safety, hope, protection, peace
Blue: stability, trust, loyalty, faith, truth, tranquility
Purple: wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery
White: goodness, purity, innocence, faith, safety, light
When I reflect on the current political climate around the world, the passage from Mark 12:29-31 comes to me. It's through this teaching that we are challenged to remember the other, and that even though we may see things differently, we are called to love each other.
Love thy neighbour
Blood beats through every chamber, filling our bodies with hope and vision for a changed world.
Who is that anyway?
It’s not the face behind the fence, or a lovely philosophical pretense, rather, it’s the heart behind the wall or maybe the woman under the shawl.
Do we have the gall to break down the division of endless imaginary difference?
Skin difference, thought difference, word difference; raised differently, but not all that differently. Same air, same blood, same ground, same love; same idea of a life so near, without fear, we cry the same tears of joy!
The only difference is our lens. Our eyes are how we train ourselves to despise, to act unwise and to compromise our birth given value of love. Our best selves, hidden under societal mud.
When we talk to each other, we transform, removing the danger, now friend from stranger. The outsider is much easier to denigrate, form a kind of hate and eventually reverse the idea that we can’t be together as one.
All is not lost.
When we realise that it’s time to synchronise our minds for the better, that when we are together we are no longer in demise but to our surprise we are blessed with some kind of enduring sunrise moment. The day when we join hand in hand, making pacts that disband the hatred filled plans of those whose thirst for power; when that day is trumped by those who search for life’s meaning and continue to uplift with smiles beaming, that…that will be the day we know our neighbour.
That day, when we as Community of Christ embrace our name and become profane to stereotypical Christian claims that deny the truth of Jesus words, that will be the day we re-train our eyes to see through lenses of love and together our blood will beat true again. When neighbour was once the stranger, now friend.
I think, that day, is today.
Writing testimonies is hard. Moving is hard. Having to be a support anchor for your family is hard. Praying and hoping all will go as desired, as it is meant to be is hard. A terrestrial adult-ing life is hard.
But, there are so many joys and blessings that make this hard life so much brighter. To see the beauty around us; to hear the giggles of those finding joy, the prayers of a child; to taste the varieties of foods available to us; to smell the flowers as we run through the fields, the rain as it falls to the dry earth; to give hugs to friends and family we don’t see too often. These are but a few of that which lifts my spirits, gives me a smile when I feeling a bit lonely.
See, our family of 5 had what we call, an “adventurous” summer. The day after school ended in May, my husband was offered a new job in a new location-Washington, D.C. So as our typically busy summer was beginning, we compounded it with packing and figuring out where best to move. Not only was I finalizing plans for Jr/Sr High Camp at the Ozark Campgrounds, but also taking my son to Jr. Camp, sorting through toys, clothes, kitchen items, craft items, etc. Then I directed the Jr/Sr. High Camp. We also had Reunion (a family church camp) and a visit to check out our new home location. With a few weeks left to pack and fix up our house to sell, we tried to find some peace and joy. We went to the park, to the zoo, visited friends, saw family, went to church, prayed.
As the big move from Oklahoma to the Northern Virginia suburbs of D.C. loomed, my anxiety rose. I am a Midwest girl currently living in the big city trying to keep sanity in my family. We are over 18 hours driving distance from family and friends, with few opportunities to visit. Talk about feeling lonely, and out of place!
But, we’ve been here 6 weeks now, and we have found a wonderful new community. We drive into D.C. on Sundays for fellowship and service at the Community of Christ congregation there. It is like walking in at home. There is that sense of peace, love, acceptance, and community I have found at every Community of Christ congregation I have visited. A place where we can find a seat at the table. We may have a new home, and be far from family, but at least we have found a new “surrogate” family. A place where our 3 kids can run and play and not feel awkward. A place to feel comfortable and appreciated.
We greatly miss our previous communities of church families, our previous “tables,” but God moves us to new experiences, to new community at a new table.
Now, I am off to show new wonders, new reasons to smile, to my kids and see where this path of terrestrial life goes that God is leading us on.
May God let the Spirit breathe with you, and lead you towards loving community; an accepting, joyous table; and on the path laid down just for you.
You wouldn’t guess this from me right away, but Tangled is my favourite movie. The friendship, the love, and the big dreaming all melt my frozen heart in ways that almost nothing else can. The first time I watched the scene while Rapunzel and Flynn sang “I See The Light” under a sky full of lanterns; I couldn’t stop crying at how beautiful it was. I also felt unbelievably jealous of these fictional characters for getting to experience something so full of hope in the make believe world of magic. I wanted so badly for that magic to be real. I wanted to stand under a sky full of lanterns and let go of all my fears, elevating the existence of hope in a destructive world full of ambiguity.
I found out about RiSE Festival by accident. It was as easy as scrolling through Instagram at the exact right time to see the perfect picture of the dream I had imagined for so many years: a sky full of lanterns, and a crowd inspired by hope. It was almost too perfect. The dates of the next RiSE Festival in the Mojave Desert landed on a long weekend, and I had just enough money in my Bucket List savings account to afford the trip from Calgary to Las Vegas where I would adventure out on my own to achieve this dream. After buying all my tickets for one, my mother decided only a few days later that she wanted to join me. And I am so grateful she did. Go alone if you need to, it’s an enchanting experience no matter what. But if someone wants to join you, please let them. That way someone will thoroughly understand the feeling when you describe how easily you forgot how to breathe as everyone let go of their lanterns in our first collective release.
We took a RiSE shuttle bus from the Paris Las Vegas hotel all the way to the Moapa Valley reserve in the Mojave Desert. A 15-minute walk from the parking lot to the festival location may have caused some impatient aches in a few, but I felt like I deserved to be there even more once I sweat my way across the Desert in the above 30 degree Celsius weather. Besides, it was snowing back home and I wanted to take advantage of that Desert as much as I possibly could.It’s easy to forget how beautiful something is when we see it everyday; which I try not to do with the Rocky Mountains that have lived outside my window for most of my life. I try not to forget that with the people in my life either. So I hoped that those nearby travellers could understand that – how wonderful it was to be on such sacred ground. How the sunset shone over the RiSE letters, how the sand dirtied our black shoes, how the wind gave us a chill once the sky went dark, and how the stilled sky waited patiently for us to send parts of our soul on fire into the universe.
As ten thousand lanterns lit the sky in our collective release to a slow instrumental melody, the circle of torches creating a chamber of sound, I started shaking because I had never felt so excited, happy, inspired and moved in my entire life. I jumped around in circles like a little kid seeing a unicorn for the first time in the land of limitless cupcakes. That night was the proof I needed to be reminded of magic from the imaginary world, and to recognize the existence of magic in my own.
I stood up on the sand and looked around at all the people: A young father holding his newborn baby, staring at his wife with pure love bursting out of him. A couple laying down on their mat, holding each other and kissing with no worries of who was watching because in that moment it was just them who were there. A group of friends helping each other as their lantern started blowing away in the wrong direction, supporting each other to make sure those dreams made it up with all the others. All those lanterns, with words of love, loss, hope, pain, dreams. I called my first one “Letting Go.” I filled it with song lyrics of how I held on to things for so long because I’ve been afraid of changing (extra points if you got the Fleetwood Mac reference). And I wrote the names of every single person who ever broken my heart, rejected me, or made me feel I was less than worthy. And then I released them. I let them go.
Although the hot wind caused holes in some of the lanterns making them unable to rise, and flames flew close to peoples’ heads as the premature lanterns fell to the ground; it was inspiring to watch as we all protected each other. Making sure we were all safe with the touch of danger that was required to light up the sky.
I’ve got a sneaky feeling that if you look for it, you’ll find that…
Calgary Spark is a collection of stories told by members and friends of the church alike. Each person's story is helping to shape our community in new ways.