Pray for Orlando.
Our prayers are with Orlando.
I’m praying for Orlando.
This is the sentiment we Christians are saying, and we even have our own hashtag.
Prayer is good, and in fact, the most important thing. When we pray, God hears. And God moves on behalf of His people and His glory.
More to the point, the discipline of prayer changes the people doing it. We become attuned to God, and hopefully more actively dependent on Him. Therefore, we must be a people that pray.
But we must be more than that also.
Talk is cheap and online talk may be next to worthless, which does in fact make this whole post an irony, but what the hell.
Almost fifty people died in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida last weekend. I know no one who rejoices over this, and in fact know many Christians who are sad, genuinely grieved, that this tragedy has fallen. They recognize the evil of it and dub the attack as just sheerly bad.
As a group, we who are the church are good at recognizing evil and being grieved about its continued presence. Some of us are even genuinely good at praying that God will soon move to restore His peace in the world.
Most of us don’t actually do anything to combat the evil ourselves.
We stay comfortably uninvolved, sheltered in our spiritual communities, in our untainted righteous living, safer(er) in our privilege. We leave the fixing of evil to the politicians, to law enforcement, to activists, to medical professionals, to missionaries.
In the wake of Orlando, and indeed in the wake of a long two years of mass shootings and other violence, we need to pray, but we also need to act! If we are to have any credibility, if we are to have any impact on our nation and our world, we need to leave the safety of our homes and churches and get involved.
This post, then, assumes that there are those who agree with me thus far and are willing, but may not know what to do. Presented are some practical ideas for how to become active in the fight against evil, specifically violence toward vulnerable peoples.
VOLUNTEER. Pick a non-profit or other public service group and volunteer your time and skills. Maybe you have time and no skills so volunteer your presence and your story. Depending on where you volunteer, you may have relational opportunities, or very tangible service opportunities.
Youth Centers. Perhaps organized programs, perhaps drop-in centers, perhaps mentoring programs, perhaps school based, perhaps community based. Go here, give of your time, skills and presence, and find a kid to mentor. In particular, find a Queer or Trans* kid to mentor. Queer and Trans* kids are growing up in environments where their characters are continually assaulted and they are de-humanized and made to see themselves as deviants or threats. They need adults and older peers to believe in them.
I don’t believe that believing in a youth means you have to agree with every choice they make. Nor should you compromise your own beliefs for the sake of a relationship. But I do think that one of the most important skills you can model is how to be in safe and loving relationship in spit of significant ideological differences.
Trust me, though, it’s possible.
More Examples of Volunteering.
HIV Testing. Go through your country, or google search local testing sites. Call or visit, say you want to volunteer and learn how to provide testing. Most likely, they have a class or a process and will be happy to walk you through it. Do this regularly for months upon months. Build rapport with the staff and the guests. You may not have explicit opportunity to talk about your faith, but you will have opportunities to provide hope and comfort and perhaps make friends.
At the very least, you’ll learn about a community other than the church.
This idea has to do with how we think and how we talk. Thoughts are the seeds of ideas, and ideas have consequences. With our words, we perpetuate our thoughts and all of the attached consequences. Therefore, I present two specific ways to challenge harmful thoughts and words.
Example – Slurs and other derogatory speech.
I’m going to assume that this idea if fairly obvious, even predictable. Learn what words and phrases are okay and not okay, especially within the LGBTQ community. Learn the history of words and why they are harmful.
Then, never use them yourself.
Then, always challenge others for using them.
This will be uncomfortable, and you may be identified as an ally, but that’s okay. If we can bring enough attention to our speech, we can begin to pay attention to our words and think about our thoughts. In this way, some violence can be avoided before it has a change to start.
Example – Humor
You can disagree with a person and still be friends.
You can actively confront a person about those disagreements and potentially still have a functional and safe-ish relationship.
When you make jokes about other people because you disagree with them and find them strange, you exploit them for your own emotional titillation and forfeit any opportunity you may have had for relating to them in a meaningful way. In essence, when you make a joke about someone you think is strange, you objectify them and reduce them to a punchline for the sake of looking cool in a circle of people who probably also doesn’t like that person.
Joking about people’s lived experiences trivializes them and paints a caricature of them that perpetuates stereotypes which can fuel irrational fears and hate.
So, then learn to recognize who is being assaulted in your jokes, and never make those jokes again.
Refuse to laugh with such jokes when they are told by others.
Actively challenges others who say such jokes.
One way to become involved in a healthy way is to recognize your privilege where you have it, then be mindful of it, then figure out how to use it.
I have a friend who is white, cis-gender male, straight, educated, Christian, healthy and rides extensive networks of other influential people. When he speaks, people take him seriously. When he says he grieves for the tragedy in Orlando and says he stands with the community, he performs a tremendous service. He models and normalizes this idea and this type of support for all the other privileged people who respect his opinion. Were he to take even more tangible action, he would no doubt inspire others to do the same.
You, my dear reader, may also have privilege(s). If so, figure out who will listen to you and who you can influence, then push your influence as much as you can. Raise awareness. Model compassion. Challenge irrational anger and fear. Dialogue, but don’t argue.
This one may be the most important. Across the nation, perhaps even the world, the entire LGBTQ community is reeling and grieving. This attack in Orlando is the manifestation of their worst fears, a devastating reinforcement of the belief that they are neither welcome nor safe in the world. That’s a hard burden to carry and a difficult life to live. This event is really painful to experience.
If you have any LGBTQ individuals in your life, prioritize spending time with them. Take them out to lunch or tea or have them over for dinner. Let them know you love them and want to support them. Give them an invitation to talk and process all of their feelings. Let them cry and don’t be scared. Let them rage and don’t be intimidated. But let them have space and time to just be.
There are many practical, hands-on ways to get involved with a hurting and grieving community. These are the first few I could think of. I am positive there are many more.
These should be done in addition to the prayer you are already (saying you) are doing. But hear my plea and do more than just pray. Put feet to your words and works to your faith. Pray for God’s healing, then go out and try your best to enact it.
Orlando wasn’t about guns, and may not have even ultimately been about Muslim versus Queer versus Christian. Orlando and all the other shootings were the cumulation of failed relationships, failed empathy, failed compassion. Our society has been broken through relationships, and only through actively working to restore relationships with each other, and with God, can we ever hope to find healing.