Largest massacre in US history. Violence perpetuated against a "soft target." 49 deaths and 53 wounded. Muslim-American shooter. Terrorism against the LGBTQ community.
Our news and social media profiles are saturated with it. Our hearts ache because of it. We seek to find blame - we blame the power of weapons, the depth of hate, or the ongoing war of politics and policies.
We see 49 lost souls - brothers, sisters, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, Christians, Muslims, those with no faith, young and older, rich or poorer, people just out having a good time on a weekend. Gone. Lost forever - and for what?
We ache. We don't know how to respond. We are getting numb to this much violence - to 49 more sudden deaths at the hand of hate and of prolific weaponry with major firepower. Numb - something we should never feel when lives are lost, let alone innocent lives lost at the hand of terrorism and hate. We experience the full range of grief, many times over, as we watch this tragedy unfold.
How are we supposed to feel? Why, in just a few days, do we feel so many things? Why are so many of them such horrible feelings? Why must we grieve and hurt so much?
Is it because there are people claiming these 49 deserved to die because of who they love? That somehow they had it coming?
Is it because our gridlocked politics leave us empty-handed to be able to address a national crisis of gun violence?
Is it because so many cannot see human worth if those killed are not "like us"?
Is it because people we thought we admired spoke angrily about the killer's entire religious group and not the culture of hate against LGBTQ human beings?
Is it because our safe places - movie theaters, gay bars, schools, churches - do not feel safe anymore?
Is it because terror is winning - leaving us paralyzed and afraid or running for our own weapons to fuel the fight fire with fire?
Is it because some of our leaders - people elected or at least nominated to office - are saying things that demean whole religions or whole groups of people based on their free choice about who to worship or who to love?
What can we even do? How can we know how to feel? Are the feelings of sadness, rage, fear, numbness, helplessness normal - and which one should fuel us? Can we hold on to our faith in times of utter desperation as we grieve for our nation and hundreds of others grieve the senseless loss of their family members and friends?
And if we do keep the faith - what then?
Do we change our Facebook profile pic, give our "thoughts and prayers" again, and hope these things won't keep happening? Is our "hashtag activism" working?
Or should we be doing more?
When have enough people died that the polarized political machine gets a wrench it in so big so as to stop the churning of the same, tired arguments? When can we meet in the middle to talk about sensible gun laws, mental health, and politics that aim toward peace and away from hate and violence?
When have enough LGBTQ individuals faced enough criticism / ostracizing / marginalizing that we stand up for our brothers and sisters and say ENOUGH? When do we finally provide them safe space - to be present among us without our judgement, and with our support?
When can this nation feel whole and safe again?
How can we fight extremism without weapons of violence but with words, actions, and love?
And how - through all of this - can we deal with the grief together, faithful friends who may not see eye to eye on every detail?
I don't come with a neat and tidy answer. I come with my own grief to this post. My own questions. My own doubts.
What I do know is that my "thoughts and prayers" stopped being enough for the repeated gun massacres in the United States a long time ago. Now - I must work alongside God and God's people to be the answer to those thoughts and prayers.
I am pondering, grieving, and finding ways to make my grief meaningful. Will you join me?
Praying, reading, thinking, and acting alongside others - here are a few resources:
Remembering the Lost:
Thinking about the implications:
Rev. Dr. Pastor Amy Butler Our Silence is Sin
Dr. David P. Gushee On the Worst Mass Shooting in American History
Dr. Miguel de la Torre We All Are Omar Mateen
Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell What Cannot Be Killed - or Swept Aside
Rev. Dr. Bill Ross How Should Christians Respond to the Orlando Massacre?
Keith York Trying to Process it All
Baptist & Faithful Responses:
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Blog
Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Auburn Seminary Online Vigil
Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin?
Orlando Churches Offer Free Funerals
American Muslim Responses
Muslim Prayer for Victims
Islamic Leadership Council of New York
A version of this post originally was posted on River Road Church, Baptist Pastor's Blog