A recycled reflection for Holy Week 2021

On June 16, 2016 Fifty people were killed in a gay bar in Orlando this weekend and fifty more wounded by a self-identified Muslim terrorist and then the Texas lieutenant governor went on TV and quoted Paul about reaping what you sow. The blood of one hundred people spilled on the floors of the bar, the parking lot, the rest rooms, and now on the papers, social media, my iPad, all over the world. How many people are now related by blood to one hundred people in Orlando? 

We got to bed that night after midnight (a very rare occurrence) following  a rather splendid dinner party of gay men complete with carefully curated decor, great food, deep conversation and much laughter. Nobody entered the room with a semi-automatic weapon and a hand gun, but they could have. Certainly there were people nearby who would take their scriptural beliefs and their fight for truth that seriously; who would take life and make death to honour their holy love. I may be half a world away from Florida and in a country where appropriate guns prohibitions were made law twenty years ago after one man with a semi automatic weapon mowed down men, women and children at a national monument; but even in Australia there are people who would honour their God of vengeance by spilling the blood of their neighbours.

Suddenly you felt that your life was not an isolated thing, but existed in all other lives, as all other lives existed within yours. There wasn’t anything anywhere to which you could say, ‘We don’t need each other.  Elizabeth Goudge – Pilgrim’s Inn

Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.  William Shakespeare, Sonnet 94

Who is not my neighbour and where is not God? I’ve wondered about that one since before seminary some thirty-five years ago, and since then I’ve known and loved many gay men and lesbians, talked to a few drag queens and met some Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists in my peripatetic career as an occasionally closeted gay man in ecumenical campus ministry in San Francisco, Berkeley and Melbourne and finally as a priest and educator in Bush Australia. You could say it’s been a broad spectrum ministry. I’ve sat with men and women as they dealt with the serious business of being alive, of saying yes to what they believed life called out for them to be: people who sometimes saw a vocation to be an artist in the midst of a family who knew they were born to be a nurse or lawyer, who saw new possibilities for redemption and relationship far from the family fold. I walked with people who faced the fact they loved people of the same gender in a way that other people only saw as sinful, and I’ve had other people sit with me and tell me with no hesitation why some love was hateful and how they came to see clearly what God wants and who God sees as right or wrong or worthy of larger life. 

In my best moments I see only that God wants love, is love, that love (in the threefold Christian formula) makes, meets and mends the universe in every instant of time with a relentlessly renewing compassion. But I here confess there are many moments when I cannot tell my friend, neighbour or the stranger that I believe this to be true because I honestly don’t love them that much. I can preach it in the pulpit and point to it and move through it in the actions of the Eucharist, I can keep trying daily to share it in the actions of my life. But I must admit that I am afraid of those who are armed with the bullets or the books that say I don’t deserve to live, and I cannot love them. 

“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; 

 I, the Lord, do all these things.”       Isaiah 45:7

“honour corruption villainy holinessriding

in fragrance of sunlight (side by side

all in a singing wonder of blossoming yes

riding) to him who died that death should be dead.”    e e cummings

In the spring of 1981 I took an evening class on prayer and meditation at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Early in the semester we tried a two part meditation: first thinking loving thoughts and feel positive emotions towards people who were important in our lives, then after a single bell rang, quickly switching to let the opposite, negative emotion flow: articulating heartfelt anger after love, curses following blessings. I was amazed how easy the energy flowed from one extreme to the other and wondered what we were learning.

I believe that the purpose of the exercise was to show how close these two passions are to each other; that perhaps both of these warmings of the heart need to be carefully attended for the simple fact that love and hate live so close together, and we must keep careful distinctions so that (perhaps) we might finally weave them together into a place where healing can happen.

I try to be a reasonably compassionate man but I could conceivably kill the man or woman who wish to see me dead because of their faithful love; therefore my love, like theirs, is not far from hate. If that is the case then we all might better agree to let love go, keep civil, respectable middle-level boundaries, agree to disagree, leaving it at that, forgetting  the dogma, doctrine and doggerel of the God-stuff. Unless what that God-space means, where it points, is a place where hate and love can meet in some new way, where festering lilies might somehow come forth with new and fragrant blooms: but could the world be this large?

I was surprised to learn, a few years ago, that some people are genetically wired to dislike coriander. I love it, add it to many dishes, cheerfully make it part of my day. It was a bit of a relief to understand others do not, on a cellular level, have this affectionate choice, even though it makes no sense to my senses, and seems to make their lives a lesser paradise of the delights I live with. I think it is the same with sex; there is a spectrum of flavours and favours that each of us find on our bandwidth which call us to taste and see in ways that make other people turn aside and wonder why we would not want to eat exactly what they swallow with gusto. 

But it’s not really that important: I am not prepared to kill for coriander and would not force my neighbour to celebrate cilantro anymore than I would compel them to join me in my allergy to milk. And in the end most of us, perhaps a surprising majority, would be more than surprised if any hopeful vision of a larger reality was more concerned with  plumbing over compassion. I may be wrong, and I’ll cheerfully admit that this too may be the way I’m wired; but I think we’re all a bit better than this.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.”   The Gospel of Matthew 25: 36-37

Ananda, a cousin of the Buddha and one of his closest disciples, said to the teacher one day’ “Oh Buddha, sometimes it seems to me that half of the spiritual life is loving kindness and friendship for others.” The Buddha replied with a smile, “Ananda, you are wrong. Loving-kindness and friendship are all of the spiritual life.    Paraphrase from the Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life)

Jack Kornfield, the modern Buddhist writer, says in the end there are just two kinds of people: those who aren’t afraid to kill and those who aren’t afraid to die. Most of us would avoid that sort of black and white thinking, but I fear it still may be clashingly close to the picture we see of Good Friday in Jerusalem when Jesus is murdered by the mob as well the scenes last Saturday night at Pulse in Orlando, Florida.

Gunman often went to gay nightclub

At least four patrons have said they saw the gunman Omar Mateen drinking at the Pulse bar several times before the shooting. Ty Smith said he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times… “Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent”

In his book called “The Crucified Jesus is No Stranger,” Sebastian Moore writes that when we see Jesus, this man of love and light, we see all our shadows and shortcuts, and our reaction to that light can be to push into the dark, pin the other down to death, because we would rather kill than see where we are already dying in our sad and violent separations.

But in the same light of love we can find that we are killing the best picture of what we look like, an icon of the life we are born to live. And that can be where love meets hate, where death meets life; where coming forth from any deadly closet can mean giving ourselves over to a future we cannot conceive. 

So perhaps tomb turns to womb when we let what we know die so that somehow the knowledge of a larger love may live, and that is where something like resurrection might happen. That’s what I saw in the conversation of artists born of lawyers, peopled compelled to take leave of the parental path, called by love to come out of their closets. That’s what I learned in the best of my life in the church and a few gay bars and saunas and the ministry of many friends and not a few strangers in my own life, to let God teach me to love in a new way. 

For reasons I don’t fully understand some people awaken to new and larger life, to come to share that unfinished journey together, while others die in their killing hate. Maybe that’s one of the places Jesus hangs ‘round nowadays, maybe that’s the spark that can come when hate meets love on the worst weekend ever. But how we live that out, move on from the truncated celebration, the fallen love, the spilled blood in the parking lot and on the screens of our iPads, in the heart of who we are, in the light of such hate, is an entirely different question. 

Even though at this time I can hardly find room for any possible answer, what I can do is to stay with it, continue my incomplete prayers (not fully knowing where they might lead) for this world where hate pierces and love embraces the lives of 101 people in Orlando while all of us who loved them hang together and wonder what we can do now.

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