Traumatized and Human

It’s not just in your head. You’re not making too much of it. You shouldn’t easily get over it.

You’ve been traumatized. Your mind won’t stop even when your body does. It feels like you can’t quite pull enough air into your lungs. Your fingers fidget and your eyes glance quickly at the unexpected sounds that would generally go unnoticed. You’re simultaneously so very tried and completely – desperately – awake. You’ve lost count of the tears.

This is trauma. You saw the videos. Men whose skin solidified them to yours as a brother, cousin, son, and father were executed by those whose murderous ways are the summation of this country’s means and ends. You saw them die. You heard the woman’s cry. You heard another woman’s deathly calm voice, narrating in real time the death of her beloved. And the child. You can’t stop thinking of this beautiful child. Will it be her first memory?

Last night I sat next to a Black woman who said, “I remember Emmet Till. I remember the pictures.” This country proudly lynched your ancestors to terrorize those with Black bodies like yours. Newspapers printed the time and location of the upcoming attraction; postcards with the demonic scenes were sent around the country. The pictures, and now the videos, serve to terrorize and traumatize. The perpetrators of lynching did not fear the publicity of the newspapers and postcards. They knew the values of the state on whose behalf they acted. Is it any different now? The videos rush at you with brutal force, and to what end? Are the murderers punished? Are you made to feel safer, more human?

This is trauma and it’s real and it’s on purpose. Your Black body, in the depraved mind of this nation, has been marked for terror and trauma. It’s always been this way. It is true and unfathomably wrong.

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Please do what you can to quiet the voices of the liars, especially those who bluntly try to discredit your experience.  Ignore too, however rudely, those who use smart sounding deception to move quickly from your suffering to the phantoms of fevered white imagination – black on black crime, epidemics of fatherlessness, criminal pathologies. They are each lies and require none of your energy or time.

Nurture your faith. It’s not a luxury for you, not a Sunday state of mind. Your faith is what connects you to the truth about yourself. Your faith in your God, your people, and yourself is more true than 90% of what you will be told by our media.

Sink into your humanity, into your flesh, bone, muscles, and mind. You are a member of humanity, reflecting the image of God. Find reasons to laugh. Stream that movie this weekend. Cook something delicious. You have a large emotional capacity. You can and will feel tremendous grief and anger. But you can and will feel more than these and it’s OK to remind your body of this at times.

Remember that there are people who love you more than you can imagine in this moment. There are people who will fight for you. Some of us will die for you. Notice the difference in your routine between quiet and isolation; the former is necessary but the latter is this nation’s telos and it must be resisted no matter how vulnerable you feel. Be with people who get you, who require no explanations, you accept your everything at face value. Then be that person for someone else.

Meditate on the Christ, the lynched Son of God. There is no prescription about what you are supposed to feel about your faith in this moment. But these are the exact moments when our suffering can draw us to his, when our despair can bring us to his, when our screams into the apparent nothingness can join his.

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You’ve been traumatized but only humans can know trauma. So you, beloved human and creation of God, can know this deep evil without being overcome by it. Even in this place and in this time, you will express your humanity in ways that cannot be controlled, manipulated, or quenched.

Mob Rule in Louisiana

“Your silence encourages a continuance of this sort of horror.”

In 1900 Ida B. Wells reported on the events in New Orleans which led to the eventual killing of Robert Charles and, which along the way, terrorized the African American citizens of that city. After quoting in detail the newspaper accounts of the vigilante justice inflicted by white citizens on their black neighbors, Wells ends by scrutinizing her white readers.

Men and women of America, are you proud of this record which the Anglo-Saxon race has made for itself? Your silence seems to say that you are. Your silence encourages a continuance of this sort of horror. Only by earnest, active, united endeavor to arouse public sentiment can we hope to put a stop to these demonstrations of American barbarism.

It’s a poignant indictment, over one hundred years later, as we see another black man – Alton Sterling – lynched in Louisiana by white police officers. Does our silence sound any different now than it did then? Wells follows the above passage with a table tracking “Negroes that have been lynched” by year, from 1882-1899. The lowest year was 1839, with 39 deaths; the highest was 1892 with 241 murdered. Last year, at least 102 unarmed black people were killed by the police.

Are we proud of the record our race has made for itself? Our silence seems to say we are.

Speaking Tentatively After Orlando

Is there anything to be said by Christians like me in this moment?

Early Sunday morning, as I was editing my sermon, I saw the news from Orlando. By the time our service began there was still a lot of confusion about the extent of the tragedy, but it seemed likely that the nightclub had been targeted for violence because it was known as a safe and welcoming place for the gay community. I said as much before the sermon, asking our church to remember that – regardless of what warped theology was given a microphone later in the week – there was nothing of God’s heart in these murders. I also asked the church to remember our Christian responsibility to speak up anytime LGBTQ people are slandered or maligned in our presence, to use any influence we have to create safety for those with good reasons to wonder if such safe places exist for them.

And that’s all I said- all I knew to say in that moment.

Yet with a few days having passed, with the killer’s hatred toward gay people becoming increasingly clear, with the slain men’s and women’s names and stories being voiced, I need to say just a little more. I might be wrong about this; maybe quiet listening and lamenting is a more faithful posture in this moment. But as a straight white man who pastors in a church and denomination which hold a traditional Christian position about human sexuality within a church (“side b” in the language from the Gay Christian Network) and who holds such a position* myself, I’ve come to believe that the onus is on me to renounce clearly the evil that took place on Sunday morning. I know many LGBTQ Christians will find anything short of a shift away from the traditional Christian belief to fall very short of a meaningful repudiation and, though I sorely wish this wasn’t the case, I accept it as part of this particular tragedy along with the countless less visible tragedies inflicted upon LGBTQ bodies by churches over the centuries.

Those of us pastors and congregations who are unable to step away from the historic and global churches’ teachings on sexuality find ourselves in a complicated moment in this country. There are people I care about who didn’t believe they could be at our church and I’ve worked with them to find a congregation that preaches Jesus and holds the “side a” position. It’s painful and complicated. But the complexity cannot keep us from speaking with great clarity about God’s love for LGBTQ people. It cannot keep us from publicly lamenting the great evil that was done to particular LGBTQ people on Sunday morning and, by devastating extension, to communities of gay people around the world. It cannot keep us from doggedly pushing for legislation that will make gun violence against all vulnerable people less likely. In cannot keep us from confronting fellow-Christians whose faux-outrage about gender-inclusive bathrooms and civil rights legislation makes this country less safe for LGBTQ people. And the complexity must not keep us from confessing and repenting – time and time and time again – for the many great and small sins that we’ve committed against people who are lovingly created in the image of God.

*I don’t mean to make this sound simple. It’s not. I don’t know how to talk about sexuality without talking about God, bodies, hospitality, vocation, culture, etc. And I still have much to learn.

Header Image: Community Vigil for the Victims of the Orlando Shooting (Governor Tom Wolf).

 

“As a result, wars are fed, not persons.”

Whereas forms of aid and development projects are obstructed by involved and incomprehensible political decisions, skewed ideological visions and impenetrable customs barriers, weaponry is not. It makes no difference where arms come from; they circulate with brazen and virtually absolute freedom in many parts of the world. As a result, wars are fed, not persons. In some cases, hunger itself is used as a weapon of war. The death count multiplies because the number of people dying of hunger and thirst is added to that of battlefield casualties and the civilian victims of conflicts and attacks. We are fully aware of this, yet we allow our conscience to be anesthetized. We become desensitized. Force then becomes our one way of acting, and power becomes our only goal. Those who are most vulnerable not only suffer the effects of war but also see obstacles placed in the way of help.

Pope Francis speaking yesterday at the United Nations Food Program in Rome. What is true on a global scale is also true in our city.