‘‘Mommy I love you.”
The first text came in at 2:06 a.m.
‘‘In club they shooting.’’
‘‘Trapp in bathroom.’’
‘Pulse. Downtown. Call police.’’
‘‘I’m gonna die.’’
‘‘I’m calling them now.
U still in there
Answer our damn phone
Mina Justice looks out into the pitch black of a muggy Florida night. She’s waiting, staring at her phone. She’s waiting for her screen to light up with words from her son Eddie, reassurance that he is still alive. Arms extended, a mother waiting for her child, a mother whose child is in danger.
Look. (Gesture towards the Jesus window)
Jesus looks out over Jerusalem, his arms extended to a child, a mother whose child is in danger.
“They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you.”
Look. (Gesture towards the Mary window)
Mary grasps the child in her arms, the fierce protection of a mother burning across her face. Her eyes burn. She can’t keep him there. She already knows that this body, so recently a part of her body, within her body, will be broken apart. Still she holds him as long as she can, before the city kills him.
Simeon’s hand outstretched over the squirming baby. His hand, shaking with the tremors of age lightly touches the laughing face.
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel,” he says, “and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” Simeon lifts his hand, the same touch on Mary’s forehead. “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
As I look around in the aftermath of the massacre at Pulse in Orlando last Sunday, I see lives in the ruins. These are lives that bear witness to the devastation of grief. Some of the stories that have risen to the surface are the stories of mothers. A mother killed while dancing with one of her eleven children. A mother waiting at home for her child to text her, letting her know that he’s safe. A mother, in the aftermath, trying to claim the body of her undocumented son.
What these mothers have learned over time is that their children are not safe. In the United State they are not safe as Latinas and Latinos, and they are not safe as gay men. Mothers reach out their arms and they weep for the children who they know are in danger. Jesus. Mina. Mary. All lives bearing witness to a grief that refuses to be resolved.
It took reading Eddie text to his mother, Mina, for me to become fully present to this grief. When I hear about gay boys gunned down in a nightclub, I find I am standing in the skin of their mothers. When I look at Jesus weeping to Mary holding fast, I see the same picture, the same mother. I can see myself in their grief; I can find Mina and all the mothers of those killed at Pulse; I can find them all bearing that grief in their bodies, the grief of a mother.
This is the third time I’ve been called upon to preach after a mass shooting. I preached to children the Sunday after Sandy Hook. One year ago today I was with you, with you after the devastating church shooting in Charleston. Here we are again. God’s beloved are in peril again. God’s beloved are being killed.
I struggle through the weariness of this grief. Friends, I’m tired. I’m tired of standing up here, behind this pulpit marking up the tally. The most children killed in a modern mass shooting. A mass shooting disrupting the safety of the black church. Mass shootings perpetrated again and again and again and again with the same military-grade weapon. A mass shooting motivated by hatred for queer people.
Then I see the texts sent by Mina Justice, the texts sent to an infant she once held in her arms, Eddie, her beloved. Jesus above the hillside, crying Mina’s tears, crying the tears of all mother’s whose children are lost to violence, children who go into a world that hates them, that wants to destroy their bodies. Jesus reminds us that to follow after the Savior is to continue on to the heart of this grief, to put ourselves into a place to be fully present to this trauma, to give witness to tears.
What we’ll find, as we follow after this Jesus, is that weeping for these beloved reorients our political life. Rather than a politics tethered to individual rights, nationalism, patriotism, or economic prosperity, we are asked to form a political life rooted in grief. This is what Jesus did. Jesus looked at the city and wept.
Today we find our faces, like Jesus’, weeping towards the city. Stay here for a while, we hear him say. Stay here until you only see the city, our nation, this country, Orlando, Charleston, your enemy, your sister, your queer neighbor or son, stay here until you see them all through a veil of tears. Let tears blur your vision, until you can no longer tell where your life ends and where their life begins, until you can no longer see the difference between your tears and those of Mina Justice. Get so close that your tears are mingled with hers. Allow that grief to sustain you; let that sense of human vulnerability sustain your politics.
There were a few of us who didn’t go to a church to pray about Orlando. While Christians have been trying to decide if gays and lesbians are welcome here in the church, welcome to be blessed and serve and worship, LGBTQI people have sought sanctuary elsewhere. While we as Christians couldn’t make up our minds, queer folk began to form communities in clubs like Pulse, where the massacre occurred on Sunday. When we, the church, would not be a place of unqualified acceptance, of belonging and nurture, queer folk made their own sanctuary, a tight-knit community where you can be who you are, be accepted without condition.
So this week we some of us from Duke Memorial went to grieve beside LGBTQ people in their place of refuge here in Durham, at The Bar. We were there, some as queer, some as allies, all to stand and grieve together. I heard voices, one by one, as candles were slowly lit, as light began to filter through the gathered body. “Another world is possible,” I heard them say. “You are beautiful.” “Our grief is not a weapon.” “I see you.”
One voice stood out, that of Qasima Wideman, a queer Muslim from Raleigh. She told us the story of how Islam’s compassion had shaped her way of being in the world – how she’d only seen her father, a Palestinian Muslim, cry once – after 9/11. She told us how, the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center, her mother began to wear hijab so everyone in their neighborhood–everyone they met–could see that Muslims are kind and generous, that they are not all terrorists. These devout Muslim parents raised Qasima; they taught her about life.
And then she told us how she wished she could have known Omar Mateen “before steel walls were built around his heart.” Qasima wished that she could share tea with him, tell him about other gay Muslims. She told us how she wished she could have wept with Omar Mateen. Turning to us, in the crowd, she said, “I hope we can begin to know each other now.” These were words inviting us into another world, words from a traumatized community stretching out arms to Omar Mateen, reaching out with arms of compassion.
We wanted to draw near because we knew that Jesus does not stand far from the city for long. Jesus draws near. He allows his body to be drawn into the a city that did not, could not “recognize the time of visitation from God.” He lets his body be taken into the city. When the time comes, the child crushed within the walls of Jerusalem will be him – Mary’s baby, God’s son. And still, and still Jesus draws near, a mother’s love burning within his heart.
As I’ve thought of Mary this week–as I’ve thought of Jesus, his arms outstretched–I thought about a project called Your Holiday Mom. Recognizing the high number of LGBTQ children estranged from their parents, a group of moms got together to offer support, a sort of holiday surrogacy conveyed through letters. These letters contain the words children wish they could hear from their parents, their longing to be embraced by a family. These pictures in the windows, they’ve helped me imagine the words a mothering God would extend to those 49 men, boys, women, and girls who died at Pulse last week.
These beloved, crushed within the walls of the city – we remember them today as God’s beloved, in the hands of the God who drew near, who took this suffering, this unbearable suffering into own body. This letter I will now read addresses each victim, each child by name.
I invite you, if you’d like, to come forward and light one of the 49 candles on the rail. Come now. Come as you are led.
Dear Stanley, Amanda and Oscar.
My beloved Rodolfo, Antonio, Darryl, and Angel.
Dearest Juan, Luis, Cory, Tevin.
To Deonka, Simon, Leroy, my heart.
Beloved Mercedez, Peter, Juan, Paul, and Frank
Dearest Miguel, most beloved Javier.
To my children, Javier, Jason, Eddie, and Anthony.
My joy, Christopher and Alejandro.
My delight, Brenda and Gilberto
Dear Kimberly and Akyra, Luis and Geraldo, Eric and Joel
Beloved Jean and Enrique, beloved Xavier and Christopher.
Dearest to my heart, Jean and Yilmary, Edward, Shane and Martin.
My joy, Jonathan and Juan.
My heart, Luis.
Beloved Franky and Luis.
My beloved children,
I want you to know I could not love you more. You, with your fierceness and fear, the way you have shown up for this difficult life and have danced and made community in spite of everything. I am so proud of you. I have wanted nothing more than for you to know how deeply I love you, how the world is brighter for your presence, how I would give anything to make a better life for you.
I want to keep you safe in this world, and it has been the greatest sadness of my life, my daily trauma, to know this world does not see you as I do. I have wept for you and I have rejoiced in the sweetness and beauty of your life. But I am for you. I have always been for you, my love for you pouring out before there was time. My body is your body. Your grief is my grief.
Take all of my love. It is yours, yours without reservation or qualification or condition. Yours completely. My dearest, my beloved. I give it all to you.