The moment when the music stops and the lights go up is always jarring. Some people are tired and just happy to leave. Some feel like it ended too soon and wish the dancing would go on all night. Some, standing on their own, scan the bar to see if anyone they flirted with that night is still there. Some realize they are hungry and make plans to go and get bad food from the all night pizzeria or burger place. Some hug their friends and say goodbye, ready to head into the night. I have been there many times. I cannot imagine adding a man with an assault rifle and hand gun into the scene.
As I listened to the radio over the last few days the moment of the club closing played over and over in my mind and I remembered being a young gay man trying to make sense of who I am. I have danced in a gay club until it closed at 2am on many occasions. I have gone with my friends, I have gone to try and find love, I have gone to celebrate, I have gone with my partner, and I have gone to try and figure out who I am and how I fit into this life.
One of the radio journalists found a young man who left just before the shooting started, went home, fell asleep, and woke up to the terrible news the next day. He went straight to the hospital to try and find out what happened to his friends. He wound up translating for family members who could not speak English and needed him to help them understand what was going on. There was more than one parent who discovered that their child was both dead and gay in the same instant. Hearing that, driving along the freeway, I began to cry.
Responding to this most recent tragedy is beyond me right now. I am not sure what to say or do. Listening to some of the political responses has been painful. Having been in America for five and a half years and having witnessed multiple shooting incidents I now feel numb. In the UK when a similar event happened decades ago, when I was a child, gun laws were passed, an amnesty took place, I recall my father turning in his hunting rifles and our air guns. We never much used them, they were locked away at home, but we gave them up anyway.
Why is it so hard to do that now? I know people will say that it was a madman, inspired by terrorists who did this and not the gun itself. But I think that the assault rifle that can fire 45 rounds a minute gave this man's madness greater impact.
People will also say that the club would have been safer if the patrons were armed, but the killer got passed two people with guns on the way in. Also, I am pretty sure that someone intent on mass murder is going to be more effective at using a weapon than a regular person on a night out who doesn’t expect to encounter a killer between cocktails. The argument that a more armed country would be better than a less armed one makes no sense to me, unless we were all trained to Jason Bourne levels of gun competence in high school and treated every night out as though it were a scene from the Wire.
So what am I left thinking? Well recently I have been exploring my ‘center’ more in response to my experiences of conflict in Israel. What I have discovered in my ‘center’ is that following Jesus is my most foundational value, and that being a priest is how I have chosen to exercise that value. So this is what I return to when faced with the unthinkable. Return to the teaching of Jesus and be a priest.
Being a priest crept up on me in Gospel Preview today. We never got to the Gospel, we just talked, sharing our fears and anger. The conversation became deeper and deeper until we realized that we had passed over a threshold into a place of real truth telling. I tried to hold the space open for everyone to participate and safely. We didn’t solve anything, but we talked, and listened and were heard.
On Sunday last I preached a sermon about safe spaces - and noted that these were not ‘comfortable’ spaces, but spaces where we felt safe enough to encounter difficult feelings in a way that helped us to grow. At Gospel preview this week we talked openly and safely. It seemed to flow from our desire to follow Jesus and I felt as though I was exercising the gifts God gave me in my priesthood.
This blog entry is now a bit of a rambling collection of my responses this week, but I want to offer one thing before I close. find a safe space and talk. Talk to someone you love and feel safe with about how this makes you feel. Talk to Monica, Fran or I in a pastoral conversation. Talk to your family about anything you have not told them yet but need to talk about. Talk to your partner or husband or wife about how you feel about them. Talk about the politics of this with your local representatives. Talk to someone who you disagree with profoundly and try to hear their point of view without becoming angry or dismissive, then try to tell them what you believe and create a space where both of you can talk and be heard. Nothing is served if we keep quiet right now. So it is time to Talk.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.