Pulses stopped and souls began arriving in eternity even before the 911 calls reached help. First responders teetered on the brink of sacrifice. Hostages gave last hugs to dying friends and lovers in hope-to-survive silence. Trauma teams offered heroic efforts even as the blood of the victims they tried to save soaked through their sneakers. When the shooting stopped 49 very innocent people and 1 very guilty shooter were dead. But it's not over.
To a person the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people with whom I've spent these last five days - at vigils, in church, on line, and in person - have been caught off guard by the depth to which this latest American mass murder has shaken them. That includes me.
Pastoral words eluded me in the numbness, and in the anger, and in the gut-wrenching broken-heartedness I felt for the parents and siblings and grandparents and family members of choice who were praying that it was their unaccounted for loved one's cell phone that was dead. For them it isn't over. It will never be over.
Hours before the Pulse murders, Juan David Villegas-Hernandez shot and killed his wife and their 4 daughters in Roswell, New Mexico. But that multiple victim shooting was bumped from major newscasts by the bigger story from Orlando. I am writing this on the first anniversary of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in which 9 black Christian Americans were murdered. Tragically, whatever day I would have written to you is now an anniversary of a mass shooting in our country. Any day. In fact, there were more mass shootings in the U.S. last year than there are days in a leap year. I am sure that for the Hernandez family, and for the survivors of the victims of the shooting that took place on whatever day you are reading this, the grief, the pain, the terror, and the aftermath are just as big as for the families reeling from what just happened in Orlando.
What happened last Sunday will make everything in life so much harder for the victims' and for the perpetrator's survivors. What happened last Sunday will make many things harder in all our futures. If there is one thing I am walking away from the Pulse massacre committed to, it's refusing to love anyone to someone else's death. In some way, I feel that being patient with people who oppose assault weapon bans and common sense gun control laws is loving my LGBT friends and family members to death. I didn't say I wouldn't or don't love them. It's just going to be so much harder for me to be patient with them. Assault weapons threaten all of us. People who have not been thoroughly screened carrying guns threatens all of us. With Orlando, gun control is no longer (as if it really ever was) about the right to bear arms and is absolutely about who lives and who dies.
It's going to be harder explaining to families who've lost ones to violence motivated by sexual orientation, why churches let fear of losing members or income prevent them from becoming or even talking about becoming Open and Affirming. With Orlando, being gay stopped being a matter of whether or not the Bible says homosexuality is right or wrong, and become a matter of what the Bible says about whether LGBT people live or die.
It's going to be harder for me not to be political as a spiritual leader. The Pulse massacre is an attack against LGBT people. It is an attack against Brown people. It is an attack against, not by, Muslims. Life and death are spiritual matters. When politics infringes on any person's right to fully experience life, enjoy liberty, and pursue happiness, and when political leaders engage in or tolerate hate speech, politics has invaded the spiritual realm, and my response as a person of faith and as a spiritual leader must be, "Love wins! Game on!"
Beloved family members and friends of Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-
Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez,Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright, my heart is broken for you. I am confident that I can say on behalf of the Southwest Conference United Church of Christ we all hurt with you, and we share your righteous anger. We too are asking, "When will this stop?" and declare with you, "Enough is enough!!" We grieve the loss of such loving and talented members of your families and of the Hispanic community. We stand with our Muslim friends and neighbors for peace. May our efforts together lead to the peaceful realm for which we long together.
Long after our candles our vigil candles are extinguished, we remain
The light of hope refusing to give in to fear
The light of peace that terror can not dim
The light of comfort in the midst of deepest grief
A beacon for gun controls laws that would have kept weapons out of the hands of Omar Mateen
A conflagration of solidarity for Muslims across our land
The spark of healing for closeted families who missed the opportunity to love them in the wholeness of who God created them to be
Bearers of the flames of remembrance for each member of our family murdered early this morning
The glow of gentle anger smoldering because it happened again, vowing to do all we can so it never happens again.
-William M. Lyons