When I’m grieving, as I am today, words are hard and all I can do is feel.
I’ve been reading James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, and thinking about the fact that spaces we create to live lives without self-monitoring or code-switching or defense-strategizing are only as safe as the world around us allows them to be.
Black people have historically made churches, clubs, and their own homes refuges from the wider world. They’ve been spaces for survival and solidarity, for recovering from suffering, and for imagining what life without oppression could be like. Those spaces have always been at the mercy of others with more mob force, more Molotovs, or more firepower.
Historically, LGBTQ people have formed our own faith groups and made sanctuaries within the sanctuary. We’ve created social gathering places where, even if only for a few hours, we don’t have a steady background drone of unimaginative heterosexism. We’ve determined the norms and monitored the boundaries. We’ve nourished ourselves, told our own histories, and remembered kin that the wider world would rather forget.
All of these spaces have always been at the mercy of others who have the legal authority to arrest, or build a panic defense to protect them in court, or wave a ministerial license that shields them from criticism of their words and their policies.
In the midst of all that, I’m thinking about the basic formula of Black spiritual music: hope despite despair. Our people face real and deep despair, yet something calls them to discharge their distress through the blues and encourage each other with spirituals and sacred stories.
They comfort each other. They resist together however they can. I don’t know how they make it. Many of them don’t; most of them don’t. But some of them do, and, though besieged and traumatized, they become my ancestors.
They become part of that cloud of witnesses across centuries and continents that teaches me tragedy is a theme in the book of life, but it isn’t the whole book. Even when we’re forbidden to read or denied the authority to officiate community rites, we still create whole worlds within the world, worlds on the margins, worlds on the internet, worlds in literature—worlds where we can gather, and be, and where our community helps us to remember: we aren’t prey.
I want to be a part of spiritual communities that are on the right side of this story, that aren’t colluding through actions or sermons or silence with the ideologies that make us prey. I want to be part of spiritual and social communities that are actively creating room for us to be, to grow, to flourish.
I don’t have that right now. A lot of us don’t have it.
Times like this are when I feel the absence of it. Sabbaths after a church shooting, services after a club massacre: these are the times when I want to be among people whose spirituality can touch the substance of my life, whose programs aren’t so ordered that they leave whole human beings out.
I send my love to the families and friends of the community at Pulse and I honor the power of their lives. As we learn their legal names, I hope locals will also tell their stories. Because sometimes, this is an exhausting world, and we need to witness each other however we can.
If you consider yourself a friend or ally of LGBTQ people, reach out. We also need our friends to reach out before tragedy.
We need our friends to respond at family gatherings, to cut off antagonistic gossip among peers, to engage folks at the church, synagogue, and mosque, to respond clearly and without equivocation when politicians and other public figures promote Othering, to help us tear down every civic and ideological barrier to human flourishing.
We need our friends to choose that path before tragedy.
After tragedy, when we can perceive more than grief, that’s the path we’ll be on, and I don’t want us to be on it alone.