Love Conquers Hate

June 19, 2016

“There is no fear in love, for perfect love excludes fear.”                      I John 4:18 (modified)

This past week has been a difficult week.  This past Friday was the one year anniversary of the shootings at the AME church in Charleston, SC (6/17/15), and last Sunday morning there was a mass shooting, a massacre, at the gay club, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, which became the largest civilian mass shooting in the modern history of the United States.  

I am angry.  I am mad.  I am tired of the continued attacks on the LGBTQ community.  But the shooting in Florida is so much larger than it being an attack on any one specific community.  For me, it is another attack on our sensibilities.  It is an attack on where people should be able to go and be safe.  It is an attack on the notion I grew up with of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence).

I am angry and tired about hearing of another mass shooting in this country.  I heard that the United States has become the most violent country in the world outside of a war zone.  Just this year alone, 30,000 people have died as a result of gun violence.  30, 000, and it’s only June.  This is not a statistic about the US that I am proud of.  I think this speaks volumes about our society, and not in a positive way.  Many people in the US claim this is a Christian nation, even though we know it’s not, either by demographics, or certainly not by our actions.  I don’t see God’s love at the root of this hateful violence which has overtaken our nation.  When does the sanctity of life take precedence?

As I was preparing this sermon, I came across some sobering statistics on mass shootings in the US.  The FBI defines a mass shooting as an event where 4 or more people are shot and killed.  In an analysis of the FBI data on mass shootings, the organization EverytownUSA, found that we have experienced 133 mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2015.  This comes out to about 2 per month, and we did not go for more than 3 months without a mass shooting (http://everytownresearch.org/documents/2015/10/mass-shootings-analysis-appendix.pdf).  As I glanced through the first 11 pages of a 39 page document compiled by EverytownUSA which listed each shooting, I noticed most were made up of domestic killings where the perpetrator shot and killed his or her own family members.  They say that domestic killings make up about 57% of mass shootings. (http://everytownresearch.org/documents/2015/10/mass-shootings-analysis-appendix.pdf)  

They also say there have been 188 school shootings in the US since 2013, averaging nearly one a week.  In this bit of data, Everytown says they include any incident in which a firearm is discharged on any school campus, from elementary school through university.  These shootings included suicide, intentional injuries and death, unintentional injuries and death, or a gun fired with no injuries.  I think their point is that there is no place for guns on any of our school campuses.  Our children and youth are too valuable.  (http://everytownresearch.org/school-shootings/?source=etno_ETHP&utm_source=et_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=ETHP)

After reading these statistics, I became angrier than I was before, and frankly, I hope the events of this past week and these statistics make you angry, too.  I was reminded by a speaker at Tuesday’s Vigil for Orlando Pulse, held here at St Jude’s, that anger is an emotion just like any of the other emotions we have.  I will add we have received all of our emotions from God.  So, yes, I believe it is very appropriate for me, and for all of us, to be angry at the level of violence in our country.  Often it is our anger which will move us to do something about a wrong we see, and as Christians, the point is to do something which will bring a positive resolution to that wrong.  This is when we are to discern what Jesus would have us do.

The problem of gun violence in the US is much, much more than these statistics say.  How did this country, made up mostly of immigrants and minorities, come to believe that being different is wrong?  How did we become so fearful of “The Other” when on some level we are ALL “The Other”?  Churches, gay night clubs, workplaces, and schools are meant to be places of safety and sanctuary for people to meet in.  They are not meant to be places of massacres.

 We preach and teach and live that as Jesus people, we are to love everyone.  As Episcopalians, we recite our baptismal vow a few times a year saying that we are to “respect the dignity of every human being” (BCP p. 305).  So then, as Jesus people, how do we respond to the continuing senseless loss of life in the US due to violence, by guns or otherwise?  What has happened to people that out of their fear of “The Other”, they feel the only answer is to kill “The Other”?  “Being different should never result in losing one’s life” to an act of violence.  (Bruce Garner, President, Integrity USA, quoted from “Walking with Integrity” email, 6/12/16)

Where did we lose sight of seeing God in each other?

Admittedly, having been born and raised in this area, I grew up in and continue to live in a bubble when it comes to differences among people.  For me, “The Other” has always been around.  At almost all of my jobs, I have been the minority, “The Other”, primarily because I am a woman but also because I am a lesbian.  In my current job, my race puts me in yet another minority class.  These differences have been and continue to be my norm, so I don’t fully understand why differences upset people.  I don’t think it will surprise you to know that my lack of understanding won’t stop me from sharing with you what I see and think about this issue.

I see a lack of mental health support.  When funds need to be cut, the first items to go generally have to do with education and mental health – areas where we need more help not less.  Overall, we still demonize mental health, even in Silicon Valley – and maybe especially in Silicon Valley.  How many of us suffer from some form of mental health issue but feel like we dare not say anything except MAYBE to one person whom we trust the absolute most?  Imagine that your own mental health is so compromised that you don’t trust anyone in your life?  That is a hard and difficult place to be in, and it only gets worse if you don’t have access to any mental health care.  How many of us feel stigmatized because of our own or a family member’s mental health issues?  How many feel too stigmatized to access any mental health services which might be available to you?  I would bet there are a fair number in this congregation.  I think the stigma and lack of services only exacerbate the mental health issues we have in this country and I believe this contributes to the violence we are experiencing.

Generally, we grow up learning to be nice to each other.  However, we usually aren’t taught HOW to deal with being upset and angry with another person and so we make it up as we go along in life.  Often we “put a lid on it” which only causes us internal harm.  Other people end up causing harm to the other person as a means of dealing with their anger.  We aren’t taught how to deal with loss, which may explain why domestic or workplace violence is so deadly.  How many of you have experienced a lay-off at work in the past few years?  Did you notice the extra guards at your workplace that day?  The guards are a visible and sobering reminder of the potential reactions from people stemming from a layoff.  The guards are a very visible sign that we have not learned how to deal with loss and change, and how much people have been hiding any mental health issues they may be struggling with.

I do not believe we are to live with our heads in the sand about this.  Jesus and his disciples went to the country of the Garasenes and met a man who lived in a graveyard and was possessed by demons.  This man was separated from his family and community because of his demons, and we know isolation is not healthy for anyone.  Here was a mental health situation in all its glory, but Jesus did not run away.  He became involved – he spoke to and interacted with the demoniac.  Jesus did not leave this man naked and dirty in the graveyard but returned him cleaned, healed, and free to be with his family and community again.

I see this story as an example of how we need to be a part of the solution to the mental health crisis in the US.  Either writing letters, or advocating, or donating, or volunteering – or saying “hi” to a stranger you pass on the street.  Try not to avert your eyes when you pass this stranger.  Acknowledge their humanity, acknowledge the God in them by looking at them and saying, “hi”.  Say a prayer for this person.  We are Jesus’ hands and feet and heart on earth, and we all know Jesus is with any person or group of people as they suffer or rejoice with all that life puts in their paths.

I also believe this story of the demoniac is one example of when it is so very hard to be a Christian because I believe this story tells us that Jesus would have met and been with Omar Mateen, the assassin in Orlando.  Unlike the FBI who will not use a perpetrator’s name of a mass killing, we as Christians must use his name because we must pray for Omar, along with the many victims of his atrocity.  We must pray for all of the Omar’s in our communities who do not know how to sit and be with their own differences and the differences of others, and who see hate and killing as the only solution to such unease.

Omar’s name gets stuck in my throat because he violated the safety of a gay club and killed so many of my extended LGBTQ community.  Dylan Roof’s name gets stuck in my throat because he violated the safety of a church and killed many of our extended Christian community.  Omar and Dylan and all of the others like them have killed many in our common community in this country.  For whatever reason, they failed to see the God in themselves and therefore, they failed to see God in others.  But with God’s help, we can know – and accept – that God is in them just as God is in us, and so they are all in my prayers, and I hope in your prayers, too.

To hear God, we often need to listen to that still, small voice we have – no small feat, at least for me.  Have you ever noticed how deafening the silence is when you turn off the bathroom fan?  I find it overcomes my whole being and I often have a physical “oh, whew” reaction and I stand still for a nano-moment.  I had no problems withstanding the noise when the fan was on, but when the silence comes, I react.  I wonder if that is what Elijah experienced in the cave as he waited for the Lord to pass by.  He was able to withstand the chaotic noise of the wind, and the earthquake, and the fire to know that God was not in any of these.  He was able to wait it out, to wait for God, and then Elijah heard God in the deafening silence which came after the previous acts of chaos.  I wonder if Dylan, Omar, and other perpetrators weren’t able to deal with the chaotic noises in their minds and thought killing would bring about silence.  But since they didn’t, or couldn’t, wait for the silence to come from God, it didn’t work.  It only brought about more chaos and more noise, and often their own death, which can be construed by some as a form of silence – but that silence didn’t come from God.

What happened in their lives that they weren’t able to withstand the chaotic noises of life which we all experience?

What happened in their lives that destroyed their vision of God in every human being?

What have we done, or not done, to some people in our society to create such a fearful and hateful response to this noise in their lives?

Imagine how the hateful rhetoric which has become almost a daily occurrence these days by our politicians, affects those who do not have a strong enough sense of God in themselves to withstand these hate-filled voices.  I firmly believe these politicians are creating a more dangerous place for all of us.

How have we, as Jesus people, shown our country and the world that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female”, that there is no longer straight and gay, there is no longer “us” or “The Other”?  What have we done to show the world that we “are all one in Christ Jesus”?  What can we do to show the world that the God of all, is love for all?

Love Conquers Hate. Always. I believe that. God conquers the demons in our lives and in our society if we let God in. When God spoke to Elijah in the silence, remember that God then sent Elijah out to continue working for God in the world. God is calling us to do that work now. It is in that context that we now sit in God’s silence and ask ourselves, “What have we done?” “What have we not done?” And, mostly, “what will we do”?

Let us pray:

Lead us, O God, from death to life, from falsehood to truth.  Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.  Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.  Let peace fill our beings, our world and our universe  (World Peace Prayer)

Amen.

 

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.