Another heinous act of violence took more innocent lives. This time the city was Orlando. This time the target was a gay nightclub. This time 50 people were shot, as many were wounded, and of this writing, 53 are dead. And once again, the weapon of mass destruction was a firearm. There is outrage, political pandering, heartbreak, petition signings, vigils, and the ubiquitous call for prayer.
I can remember feeling a painful sickness in the pit of my stomach the first time I heard that there were people who believed it was possible to "pray away the gay", as if being homosexual was a choice. Cause, yeah, choosing a sexual orientation that ignorance despises and evil wants destroyed sounds like a great life! Who wouldn't choose it, right? And if I pray for a winning lottery ticket and spiffy new mountain bike.....yeah. Asking a supernatural force to insert themselves according to your whims and preferences in order to alter reality is hard enough for me to swallow. The quick and easy, this-will-make-everyone-feel-better-without-any-substantive-change call for prayer after a tragedy such as the one in Orlando, is ridiculous.
Yes, I think it's important to lift up the names of the innocent who were murdered in Orlando. Yes, of course, it is important for human beings to grieve the senseless loss of other human beings and think of the families who are left to grieve every holiday, birthday, and even ordinary moments with their loved one gone. If prayer is the personal practice that you choose to engage in to do this, so be it. But I'm beyond tired of hearing religious leaders and elected officials default to "say a prayer" as if there is nothing else to be done. You can't pray away the gay and you can't pray away the guns!
It’s been said that every human thought, and every human action, is based in either love or fear. There is no other human motivation. As a Humanist I have faith/trust in the basic goodness of human nature that comes from love. But whenever violence strikes a community, my trust in the goodness of life is shaken and I feel shocked, angry, fearful and vulnerable. At times like these I dare to say that it's not prayer that is desperately needed. We need help from each other to remember and affirm the faith/trust we do have. We need to offer help to one another, organize gatherings, and work together to create change that doesn't rely on prayer but on human endeavors to ameliorate gun violence, homophobia, and terrorism.
The closest I come to prayer in my life as a Humanist is meditation. I do not invoke a supernatural force and I believe that I bear responsibility for my actions, my outlook, and much of my life's circumstances. I meditate as a way to ground myself, to balance my daily life, and to relax. With meditation I'm able to release my tendency to obsess over fears. It is just one way I handle the stresses and risks of life. But I also know that my personal practice of meditation alone is not enough.
As I spend time with my year-old grandbaby this week I am reminded of how communities bear responsibility to care for all of the children. That task includes, but goes beyond keeping them safe. Our most important task is to teach them to live with love. We do this best through our own personal living, through the choices we make as we encounter difficulties. We teach them by the way we speak to one another, by the way we face our fears. Consider what the killer in Orlando was taught. He couldn't pray away the gay and none of us could pray away the AR-15 he used to end the lives of so many young men and women at that gay nightclub in Florida.
Change in how we teach our children to be with one another, how we treat those who do not look like us or speak like us, and how we conceive of weapons capable of mass destruction is imperative. It will take our hearts, minds, and hands joined together; working for change, demanding change, being the change we wish to see. I continue to believe with all of my being that the catalyst for this change and the motivation needed is love.
Even while we continue to live in the face of fear and the very real risks of living in this world, I hope you'll join me in continuing to live proclaiming that love is a powerful force. Indeed it is the only force that can help us get past the dragons that guard Fear’s mansion.
You can't pray it away so stop the calls for public prayer and silence. The time calls for public action, loud and clear.
My daughter-in-law's father had a heart transplant a few weeks ago. Jim's doing remarkably well and has a new lease on life. I've never actually known anyone who had a heart transplant until now. When I think about what leads up to the point of realizing such a drastic intervention is needed, the anticipation that accompanies the wait for a new heart, the actual procedure of replacing one heart with another, hoping the body doesn't decide to reject the new organ, and the idea of living life with a heart that use to beat in another person's body, I'm left speechless!
Over the past couple of days I've been thinking a lot about hearts and transplants. It's not actually the heart transplant surgery I've been focused on. It's more of a metaphorical heart transplant I've been imagining. My own heart has felt wounded and heavy by the current political climate in our country. It's a climate that has birthed, and continues to nurture, a presidential nominee who spews heartless rhetoric about fellow human beings and seeks to destroy the lives of those he considers "others". It's not about a political party, it's about a political candidate. Donald Trump's words and actions show a heart that is closed off to anything other than his own selfish desires and accompanying ideologies. Okay, so maybe some of you will say it's a lobotomy that's needed in this case and not a heart transplant, but I'm going with the heart symbolism so humor me, will ya?
It's not just politics that's grabbed the attention of my heart lately. My heart aches when I read the letter written by a young woman to her rapist and at the same time read too many victim shaming statements that say things like "she was drunk so what did she expect?". As a Facebook meme so brilliantly put it, "she expected a hangover. That's what she expected". The rapist was an Olympic hopeful and Stanford University student who received an unbelievably lenient sentence for the crime he admitted to. He also had letters written on his behalf from his father and friends who referred to the rape as "20 minutes of action" and made claims that the sentence was too harsh, and merely an attempt at being politically correct. Once again, I am witness to cold hearts of selfishness and self-absorption.
The Dalai Lama has said " I believe that the only true religion consists in having a good heart". The good heart is willing to be open to other ideas and people and possibilities. The good heart is willing to recognize mistakes, apologize, and be held accountable. The good heart works on gaining self-awareness and diminishing self-absorption. Good hearts are desperately needed right now! Transplants would be wonderful but you have to have a willing patient, patiently wait, and then hope the new heart is not rejected by the body. So perhaps the best we can do (yes, you and me) is to check our own hearts. Let us have hearts that beat with deep compassion and always have room to love one more.
Unlike Jim, most of us won't ever need a heart transplant in order to live. We won't get a new lease on life by way of another's person's heart beating in our chest. But we all have the opportunity, and dare I say obligation, to improve our own lives and the lives of others by choosing to have a good heart. Open. Always. In all ways.
Anyone who says that getting a tattoo doesn't hurt is either lying or has superhuman pain tolerance! Seriously. I got my first (maybe my last) ink yesterday. It was a Mother's Day gift from my much loved and inked 21 year old son. He knows that with each day I am dancing more and more to my own rhythm and I am encouraging him to do the same.
Dancing to your own rhythm can be a difficult choice, and it is a choice. For me it means I will almost undoubtedly disappoint people that I love and care about. In a strange way it feels good to say that is okay. I've come to the full realization that the people who truly love me, whether family or friends, known all my life or newly acquainted, accept me because I am me - fully human, flaws and all, loving life and dancing to my own rhythm.
There is a story behind my tattoo and I'll share it with anyone who wants to hear it. Maybe I'll even post about it one day. But for today, with my skin still feeing tender where the needles imprinted my permanent symbol of liberation, I am celebrating my dance, my rhythm, my life. And I am celebrating your courage to dance without apology to your own rhythm, even when it hurts like hell!
I had hoped to post once a week, and did for a short time. Unfortunately, my doctorate research and other obligations have taken priority over the blog. BUT, I will return soon! Some postings may be articles I've written for publication, messages I've delivered in congregational settings, or excerpts from papers written in my doctoral classes.