Vigil for Orlando, June 13 Remarks
We are b’midbar, in the wilderness. A wilderness of hate, fear, homophobia, easy access to weapons, a sense that the way things are the way they have to be. We need to remember that the only way to get through the wilderness to the promised land is by joining together and marching… all of us, gay, straight, Jew, Christian, Muslim, all of us standing up together, against hate speech, homophobia, racism, extremist terror, all of us working together against the epidemic of gun violence with access to assault weapons made so easy with because of the money poured into political campaigns by the gun lobby.
Prayer is not enough. And yet we also need to pray. Pray for comfort for the mourners, and pray to remember that until we change the way things are we will all continue to be mourners. We can create the paths to turn this wilderness into a promised land… if we join hands and march, and vote, and work together to change what is to what we know must be.
The shooter in Orlando knew progress is moving forward and he aimed to stop it.
To stop gay men from freely kissing in Miami.
To stop LGBT folk from forming families.
To stop the free expression of individuals in places of enjoyment and sanctuary.
To stop celebrations of love everywhere.
And this whole time, I just don’t understand how he could possibly think that bullets would do that.
Bullets cannot stop love.
Bullets won’t make us in the LGBT community just go away.
Bullets won’t make us disappear.
Bullets are not stronger than love.
He should have realized that love always wins.
Especially as he carried out his attack on June 12– a particularly poignant time in history for all of us in interracial relationships. He carried out his attack on Loving day- the day celebrating the triumph of love over anti-miscegenation laws of the state of Virginia. On that day in 1967, the US Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, that Mildred Jeter, and aptly named Richard Loving, could indeed be married.
On that day, despite the efforts of those who would otherwise keep them apart, despite those who would prefer that interracial relationships didn’t exist, we were again reminded that the spirit of love is strong, stronger than anyone or anything that tries to curtail it- stronger than being deemed social outcasts, stronger than economic sanctions, stronger than political smear campaigns, stronger than whippings, lynchings, beatings, stronger than even bullets.
And again yesterday, on June 12, 2016, we were reminded of the power of love.
Looking around this room today, and learning about the hundreds of vigils and commemorations for Orlando today alone, we know that bullets are not stronger than love.
That’s because God is Ahavah Rabah- the great love.
When we connect with love and operate out of love, pure love, true love, for friends, family, colleagues, and yes, romantic partners, we connect with the great sacred with the Divine power of the universe.
And that is bigger than all.
It is infinite and everlasting.
That is why bullets are not stronger than love.
This mass murder is not stronger than love. And we are not going anywhere.
We are out and proud.
We are still here to testify — you see- that bullets are not stronger than love.
But now the question becomes- is our love stronger than bullets?
Can we love one another so much and love safety for our children and society so much that our love can conquer the proliferation of weapons? Can our love curtail the sales of guns? The sales of bullets? Now,
we must answer the question- is love stronger than bullets?
Ten days ago, in response to the murder-suicide at UCLA, the LA Times wrote the following in an Editorial: “It was only two dead. Murder-suicide in a small office. And so America shrugs. Just another incident in the daily parade of gun violence that defines contemporary America.” 1
And a little more than a week later. Here we are. At a vigil in response to the largest mass shooting in US history. In response to an act of terror. In response to an act of homophobia, to an act of hate. How can we possibly respond? Beyond tears, beyond prayers, beyond talk, and, please God, beyond a shrug.
Beyond a shrug.
All of the Hebrew Prophets were called to action by God. Except for two. The Prophet Habakkuk and the Prophet Miriam. Habakkuk called himself to action. He looked out into the world and said to God:
“How long, O Eternal, shall I cry out and You not listen, Shall I shout to You, “Violence!” And You not save?”
And Miriam, she called herself to movement. In the moments after her people had crossed onto dry land and Moses had led them song, “Miriam the prophetess, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her.”
And I ask: How should we respond to the reality of our world? What can these prophets teach us?
Like Habakkuk, we must continue crying out not only to God, but also to our elected officials. “Violence.”
“Violence.” We have become a culture of violence. And we will not be silenced. We demand change. We
demand commonsense gun legislation. We demand safety. Ecclesiastes teaches us, “There is a time for a wailing and a time for dancing.”
Early yesterday morning, at a club in Orlando, a time for dancing was twistedly turned into wailing.
And so, in the aftermath, we like Miriam, must pick up the timbrel. This is the timbrel that has witnessed trauma and outrage and pain. This is the timbrel that has witnessed hatred and violence. And, this is also the timbrel that beats out a message of hope. Of love. Of possibility. Of change. This is the timbrel that beats out our demand: We will help create a world where every one of us will sit under our vine and fig tree and none us will be afraid.
We are here because we are heartsick: for young LGBT people, dancing in their safe space, mowed down by another young person firing an AR15. Media and politicians babble about terrorism, ISIS, and lone wolves, but this man did not learn homophobia in Syria or Iraq, nor did he learned to shoot an AR15 there. He learned both in the USA, and as a homophobe, he was no lone wolf. When we rise up from mourning, we must strategize, work tirelessly to prevent more massacres, but right now is our time of heartsickness, of lament.
Lament, as I have taught some of you, is not rational. We do not lament calmly. We cry. We shout that it is unfair. We repeat the same stories over and over, the boy trapped in the bathroom who texted his mommy, the man who pushed other people out of the way of the bullets that pierced him, the blood. We curse our enemies. We blame God. We threaten revenge. We are forbidden to act out such desires but we are allowed to feel them and even pray them. God understands.
As for these innocent young dead, slaughtered so horribly in the midst of their joy, we elegize them with words from David’s death-song for King Saul and Jonathan whom David loved:
“Beloved and dear in their life, in their death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions . . .
I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan,
You were most dear to me.
Your love to me was wondrous,
More than the love of women.“
Sleep well, our beautiful ones.