My heart broke along with many other hearts again this week. My prayer is that we have been broken open yet again for God’s light to shine even more fully into our very beings, and that we may learn from God the way to love one another as we have been loved.
In 1974, some 42 years ago, my life-partner and now husband, George Paolucci and I met to forge our relationship of love, commitment, and hope, defying the forces that would tear us apart within ourselves and that would tear us apart as a couple, forces that demanded we keep secrets, stay hidden, or “for God’s sake” not be so “out” about our sexuality and our love.
Both the Church for me and the Army for George were the most unlikely places to be serving, institutions with deep homophobic roots that felt like tentacles binding us, or nooses ready to be pulled tight without warning in the middle of the night.
There was also Stonewall, resistance, marches, and parades. I was called to help write the Open and Affirming curriculum for the UCC. There were voices crying for justice and equality all around us. Then the Aids epidemic struck. Friend after friend after friend died in our arms, and we all came together in previously unimaginable ways to stitch together comforting quilts made from the “cast-off” experiences and “good-for-nothing” rags of people who had been thrown out of churches, the Army, families, communities and even funeral homes.
And yet the fire of hope was kindled in the ashes of our unspeakable losses.
The light of faith and love rose from the shadows of our broken dreams.
Old South Church, where I serve as a Healing Worship Minister, was a miracle for us, a sanctuary. When we first went there in 1989, to pray with the Aids Healing Group at that time, we found a place that received us as we were. The entire first year of coming to worship, my tears fell through every service, releasing the pain of all the lost years of abandonment, rejection, fear, and hopelessness. There was a little joke between George and me when we left the house each Sunday morning. “Have you remembered your handkerchief—or will this be a two-hanky Sunday?” But all the grief and anguish of having never been allowed to be whole individually, or to be whole as a couple, needed expression. The healing power of the naming of the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people from the pulpit, in the songs and prayers and life of the whole church was overwhelmingly healing. God was freeing us from a past we could not change, and opening us to a future in which we could be changed. Changed into knowing, feeling, understanding in body, mind, and spirit that we are all beloved creations of God, and God delights in us all. And then changed into being bearers of that light and love to repair our broken world so it can hold all of that love.
And now Orlando. So far to go. So little ground covered. So deeply divided our country. So deeply divided ourselves. God is calling us to use our gifts of grace received, to move with courage and hope and love into a world so broken, so hurting, so violent.
To follow Jesus, we must embody a fierce, a tender, at times a harsh and dreadful Love. It will take us to places where we had never imagined, places unknown before we knew that unearned, unconditional Love God offers us.
Every time I am tempted to divide myself from another, to refuse to see that other person as my own, to put out on the other what I will not own myself, I am refusing to love, refusing to open myself to the Kingdom of God that is all around us, that is within us, that is to be us.
We are one family on one little planet, called to love one another, to find ways to take down our walls, lay down our weapons of stones and build bridges with them instead. God’s unconditional love of us is a disarming love. “How disarming!” That is my cry when I come upon this love that comes unearned and unjustified. That comes as pure grace. Being embraced by Love is a disarming experience.
My usual armaments about “them”: “they are the guilty”, “they are the problem”, “they are the reason why”, these all fall away. The cancer that grows in my spiritual life is the one that puts others into the guilty seat. That way I won’t have to sit there with them and wait only for God’s mercy for us all, knowing that mercy is the gift we all need most. Mercy is the gift that God gives us every time we come to God with our truth about all of who we are.
Love conquers fear. Love conquers hate. Love conquers division. Love conquers death.
Jesus showed us that in the spiritual life, there is no one left to project upon. All scapegoating was swallowed up in his taking into himself all things, crucified with the guilty, even though he did not deserve such an end. Bravely and fiercely crying from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Jesus leads us to understanding we are all One. We are One Body now in Christ. One Pulse. One Pulse Orlando. One Pulse Boston. One Pulse World.
May Orlando wake us up from the sleep of privilege we have fallen into. Wake us from the sleep that says only they are the guilty. May we not rest until every one of God’s creations knows their belovedness, and lives into the disarming Love of God.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. has told us: “Darkness will not drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” And Jesus has told us: “You are the Light of the world.”
–Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate