by Rev. José Roberto Gándara-Perea
Special to the Sounder
Heading out to church on June 12, I was hazily aware of what had happened in Orlando, Fla. Throughout the day I gathered more and more information about the appalling attack but I felt myself strangely detached and numb, very different from other occasions of barbaric acts of terror where I felt deep emotions arise of sadness and anger. I felt not much.
This morning, quiet and waiting for Hugh to return home this afternoon, I started reading the news and Facebook postings. I unexpectedly realized the reason for my numbness. It was all too close to me! With deep anguish I realized how much this sickening event touches my life in so many ways. The terrorist chose a gay club, on a Latino dance night, where many of the victims are from Puerto Rico, and invoking a religious motivation behind his attack. As a gay man, as a Latino, as a Puerto Rican, as a religious and spiritual person this hits me in so many levels. I have started to hear from friends who have lost friends and loved ones in the attack.
Asking or offering prayers seems, at this moment, worn and threadbare. Not even expressing anger or frustration, or giving my two-cents worth of finding solutions seems right. I feel rather numb, like someone looking down a deep abyss that is nauseating and repulsive; feeling impotent and at loss.
As a gay man I grasp how so much hatred, intolerance still abounds one year after achieving marriage equality in this country. I acknowledge how much this hatred has been fueled by religious groups by their messages or by their silence.
As a Latino and as a Puerto Rican I acknowledge that deep racism and prejudice still exists in this country.
As a religious person I recoil, once more, appalled by the use of God and religion, in this case Islam, to inflict death and terror upon others who think, act or believe differently. And not only because of the Orlando attack but thinking also of the 19 Yazidi girls burned alive in Mosul on Thursday by ISIS with hundreds of people watching that has barely tracked attention. I also feel disgust at fellow Christians who rejoice at this shooting or just prefer to remain silent, because they were LGBT people who were attacked.
I shudder at proposals for more guns, to strike back massively and indiscriminately, to ban a whole group of people from entering the country, to build great walls to isolate ourselves in fear. All of these solutions are the same solutions these terrorist advocate or what they want from us. In anger and frustration, they might seem to some as an appropriate reaction but they feed from the same putrid source as the terrorists that perpetrated these attacks. We cannot become like them! The terrorist will have achieved their goals in enticing us to think and behave like them.
Instead I try to find comfort and hope in my family and friends that have supported my personal journey, in a community around me here on Orcas that rallies together and wants to take concrete steps to live in compassion and solidarity; in my LGBT brothers and sisters who have struggled so hard for equality and wholeness; in the Episcopal Church that has put itself on the side of LGBT people; in Emmanuel Episcopal Church that bravely has flown the Pride flag on Orcas Island for over three years now, called me to be their pastor, and wants to help welcome Syrian refugees and better understand Islam; in the Latino community that sticks together and strives to work and study hard to improve their lives; in my Muslim brothers and sisters who are appalled at what is done in the name of their faith and are taking concrete steps to address the hatred and offer relief. So don’t lose hope:
“In Ramah a voice is heard, crying and weeping loudly. Rachel mourns for her children and refuses to be comforted, because they are dead. But I, the LORD, say to dry your tears. Someday your children will come home from the enemy’s land. Then all you have done for them will be greatly rewarded. So don’t lose hope. I, the LORD, have spoken.” (Jeremiah 31:15-17 CEV)
Compassionate God, whose Son Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus: Draw near to us in this time of sorrow and anguish, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are weary, encourage those in despair, and lead us all to fullness of life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. (Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 733).