Two Years Later

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We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.

-George Takei

This week was the second anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida. I remember discovering the news early during my morning social media perusal just before our drive to church in Denver. As I listened to Mark Tidd, one of the co-pastors at Highlands Church, mention the horror, while confessing he had learned of the tragedy just minutes before, I felt relief. While he didn’t have time to revamp his sermon, he did have the ability to address and offer comfort to a congregation of vulnerable people belonging to the LGBTQ community.

I religiously tracked the news and social media all day on that summer Sunday, garnering information and details, while gleaning from the community conversation. It was all a rudimentary attempt at naming the evil, while trying to offer comfort and condolences to family and friends. It was a painful time that is not over.

Aaron, my fellow pastor, brought up the subject in our staff meeting this week, mentioning he cried in the grocery store earlier that morning, recalling the tragedy’s heartbreak and horror. As a gay man, he is vulnerable and pained. These are his people.

And as our conversation continued, I realized this was the first tragic event that occurred in this country where half of my social media feed didn’t show up. No comment, no “like”, no post. Half of the people I have as “friends” didn’t say a thing. This was the first time I realized our national tragedies may not be considered tragedies by some. Since that recognition, I’ve had many more such instances. We have climbed into our corners, claimed our sides. We have reduced people to issues. How can a person claim forty-nine lives and it not be acknowledged? How can a person perpetrate such terror and bloodshed and we can’t discuss around our dining room tables or in our curated social media lands?

The intersections are too problematic. The fact that the Pulse shooting had such components as Latinx, LGBTQ, night club, Muslim, and guns rendered the topic too loaded for many to be able to own and discuss. A person’s humanity, no longer enough of a requirement for acknowledgement or grief. Of course we see this everywhere now – immigrants, Black Lives Matter, the transgender community, children at borders and in schools. Humanity doesn’t seem to qualify as a valid requirement for respect.

We are watching dehumanization at work.

In Brene Brown’s recent book, “Braving the Wilderness” she discusses the detrimental ramifications of dehumanization:

Here’s what I believe: 1. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May. 2. If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables” then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said “Democrats aren’t even human.” 3. When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman. 4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?” 5. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed. There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.

We all have to be careful. We all have to watch our language, our assumptions. We all have to do better – particularly as increasing tribalism drives us to our corners, solidifying the lines of our divisions. When forty-nine people are gunned down this must draw outrage from every single person who considers themselves human – Christian and non-Christian alike. These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, cousins – all dead. And when half of the people in my own life fail to acknowledge the event, we have a problem. What happened at Pulse that night was a national tragedy. What happened in Santa Fe, Texas last month, and continues to happen in schools and public venues is a national tragedy. What is presently happening at our borders as families are separated and children traumatized is a national tragedy.

We have dehumanized. We have vilified. We have judged and declared ourselves authorities. We say in our churches All Are Welcome but are we? Can we all preach? Can we all lead? If our churches fail to have the conversations that matter in these most divisive of times we may be keeping peace, but we certainly aren’t making peace.

Making peace requires our honest seeking, our question asking, our deep diving. Making peace demands we find the places where people are being oppressed and dehumanized. Making peace invites us to dwell in the messiness of discovery and uncovering.

There have been many many tragic events since the horror in Orlando. So many. And half my Facebook feed still remains silent. Our lack of acknowledgement might just equal our lack of belief that some people just aren’t worthy of our outrage and concern.

May we examine ourselves.

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