PAIN MADE OF FIRE
On Sunday, June 12th, like so many others, I woke up to the news of the Orlando massacre being written across my Facebook page and television screen. Gut punch after gut punch I watched as the information unfolded — it was an LGBTQIA club, it was mostly people of color, it was Latinx night. The complexity of identity and what it means to be in the margins lay before me — not just as some abstract observation of how the more vulnerable you are the more susceptible you are to violence but in this deeply personal place of cross-identity.
I have always lived between worlds, and been someone whose identity is as intersectional as anything. I live in both/and worlds every day —as a brown girl raised by a white family, as a bi-sexual woman who is always considered straight [especially during my 8 years of straight marriage], and as a woman with the privilege that education and white-upbringing offers but still with the vulnerable female body that left me susceptible as any to the two sexual assaults that occurred in my late teens.
The gut punches I felt were personal and communal at the same time. I was alone in my house, too shocked for tears that I had yet to cry, and in every moment of this I was holding and unfolding in the pain of those with varying identities that intersected my own, all over the country. All over the world.
This was personal. This was political. And like no other way I had ever experienced before I understood the identity as political as in that moment — when who we are, on that day and in every day since, has meant everything about the pain we hold in specific ways as communities that own identities of those massacred, and about how the world sees us and how we feel seen.
My body, mind and soul have been restless and on fire with pain, lament and that deep trauma we feel when it is so intrinsically connected to more than just ourselves — when the trauma and grief is collective.
WHEN HISTORY RETURNS
For the last few years I have been studying the history of the LGBTQIA movement — specifically the epoch of the AIDS crisis and the communal trauma of that experience. As someone who has studied and treated trauma for a decade I became committed to understanding the depth of collective trauma in that moment in history — as it seemed that although the suffering of that time was captured the understanding of how deep trauma is when it is experienced in community had not as much been explored in the books and documentaries I was watching. It was very much the same symptoms of pain I had seen working with combat veterans and those suffering from collective religious trauma. I wasn’t really sure why I was increasingly drawn back, over and over, to this period of history and this collective trauma in full until this week. History of pain and suffering and oppression repeats and if we don’t understand the implications on community, not just in the moment, but long-term, we cannot heal it and we cannot know it, fully.
I read these words by Jay Yoder in their powerful post on the Orlando massacre, “Here’s what I want you to know today. We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us.”
It made me reflect back to the film “The Normal Heart” [from the play of the same name by Larry Kramer] and the following quote, said at the funeral of another friend who has died of AIDS, “We are losing an entire generation. Young men, at the beginning, just gone. Choreographers, playwrights, dancers, actors. All those plays that won’t get written now. All those dances never to be danced. In closing, I am just going to say that I am mad. I’m f*cking mad. I keep screaming inside, ‘Why are they letting us die? Why is no one helping us?’ And here’s the truth. Here’s the answer. They just don’t like us.”
People of color dying in the streets every day. LGBTQIA and, specifically, trans bodies not safe — and trans people of color the most vulnerable to murder. Bathrooms that can’t be entered. Rights that can’t be had. The reason we remember history is so that we don’t become it. So that we learn from it. And for the work that I do, sitting in the spaces of suffering and healing, so that we can sit together in the pain and find healing somewhere along the way — together.
A DEEP RUMBLING TO ACT
In the days following the massacre, my crisis intervention and trauma therapist self was, also, restless with the need in communities folding over itself — like deep cramps in the belly of humanity. I knew support would be needed beyond Orlando and could see the need burning through communities around the country. Then, three days ago, colleague and friend Ashley Harness posted on her Facebook page:
Beautiful, fierce queers: If you need somebody to listen, to hold your pain with you, please know that I’m here. Feel free to post here or PM me.
Also, anyone know if there is an emergency pro-queer pastoral care network available online or by phone? I’m worried about isolated queer youth in particular these days… Ideas?
Not only did it articulate exactly what I had been thinking [in the latter part] about the need for greater support, but it also spoke [in the former] to what I had been seeing happening organically all over Facebook — LGBTQIA and allied pastors and healing professionals offering up their support to their virtual network through chat, personally. Additionally, just within the chat there was quickly the echo of this need and at least 10 people offering up their services if such a network were to exist or be created. In this I felt, finally, “Maybe there is something here I can do.” So, I began messaging with Ashley, positing what seemed like an unrealistically big project to build a network, that would be accessible virtually, using Facebook as the entry conduit — almost like a virtual hotline space — and connecting LGBTQIA folks to immediate ears to listen and resources if needed.
We named this idea and then sent out a call for support. This is the part where you don’t how it will go; sometimes people are responsive and other times they aren’t. The response has been astounding. People hurting, sitting in their own pain and lament, reached and expressed wanting to support others as much as they can — bringing the beauty and love of all of their gifts forward. It is love made of fire — out of the burning pyre of pain, of tragedy, of greatest violence and violation has come love. Love that cannot be stopped or contained and only wants to offer itself up — like a ritual offering to the pyre itself. Love cannot be stopped.
LOVE WHICH IS LOVE & THAT WHICH IS NOT
As Robyn Henderson-Espinoza well articulated in their post for sojo.net earlier this week, “Our call and response needs to be rooted in compassion for the one who lost love, Omar Mateen. This is not a call to excuse hate, or condone violence — it is a call from the depths of my being, one that exposes the reality that I am just as vulnerable to losing love as he was.”
The loss of love kills — it kills the bearer and it can have a catastrophic impact on those who the love-less encounters. A deficit of love can feel cavernous these days — with hate speech, sick and distorted theology, and anti-LGBTQIA and anti-Muslim rhetoric that comes from an abundance of fear and a deficit of love. However, the response of so many, in the LGBTQIA community and their allies as been love. In loving faith communities, in healing community organizations and in unexpected places like airlines [Jet Blue] and insurance companies [United Healthcare].
The response to this kind of mass violence is love and this week, amid tears and broken-heartedness, in the mix of very long days and even longer nights I have seen love which is love which is love express itself all over this country and the world. I have seen it among friends and colleagues, as well as strangers. Our response to this will be love — and love which is action. Action in the systems of justice, action in protest, action in offering up the triage care so needed to those hurting in the aftermath of this suffering.
THE BIRTH OF THE “WILL LISTEN WITH LOVE” PROJECT
Out of this love and the initiative of the nearly 100 remarkable souls who were amassed, organized and energized to help in only 72-hours time, the “WILL LISTEN WITH LOVE” Project was born. It was born in the worst of circumstances, and how we wish it wasn’t needed, but with all the pastors and therapists and healing supports around the country feeling the pain heaving through the streets of cities and small towns — and LGBTQIA people needing shoulders to lean on — we wanted to offer a response that could give something to this need.
Tonight at 7:00pm E.S.T the WILL LISTEN WITH LOVE Facebook group will open and LGBTQIA people who are hurting [which we know is everyone] and need support are invited to come in and ask for help however you need it. We will have resources to access and ears to listen with love — for whatever you might need. Together we are with you and in love we will birth what hate cannot — community, caring and, hopefully, just a little more grace.
In this birth I want to say a deep thank you to all of the caring souls volunteering their time and gifts to help others. I want to say thank you to the Center for Progressive Renewal and their support at helping give birth to this project. Thank you to the Chicago-based Center for Inclusivity , which has lent all of its heart and resources to standing behind, with and in the trenches of this work from minute one. And thank you for the additional organizations which have offered to come alongside and support with their resources and reach this mission including: Evangelicals for Social Action, The Sider Center, (un)common good collective and Transform Network.
For more information on WILL LISTEN WITH LOVE and the launch of this project please read this beautiful press release from The Center for Progressive Renewal below. Also, the website for WILL LISTEN WITH LOVE is live but, as with any crisis response project, is in process and will be complete by the launch tonight at 7:00pm EST.
I want to close with a poem from the book Mother of God: Similar to Fire written by a woman that embodies living our story through our pain — Mirabai Starr. If you haven’t read her book God of Love:A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — this would be a week to start.
Mother of God: She Who Hears the Cries of the World
Mother of Mercy,
The cries of the world keep me awake at night.
I rise from my bed, but I cannot locate the source of the wailing.
It is everywhere, Mother, coming from all directions,
and my heart is shattering by the sheer intensity of suffering.
You of boundless compassion,
expand my heart so that I can contain the pain.
Focus my mind so that I can arrive at viable solutions,
and energize my body so that I can engage in effective action.
Give me the courage to follow the crumbs of heartbreak,
all the way home to the place where I can be of real service.
Let me dip my fingers into the dew of your compassion
and scatter it now over the fevered brow of this world.
CPR PRESS RELEASE ABOUT THE “WILL LISTEN WITH LOVE” PROJECT: