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!
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.
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.