The evening after the mass shooting that left scores killed or wounded at a gay nightclub in Orlando, members of the LGBTQ community came together at Loring Park in Minneapolis to support one another and stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors. Below are my remarks from the vigil.
My name is Javen Swanson, and I’m one of the pastors at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Saint Paul. I feel fortunate to be here with you today. You are my people. Tonight there is no place I’d rather be than here with all of you.
So often we hear about acts of violence and they seem like they’re happening in another world, to people who are nothing like us living in a place that is nothing like our own. I bet many of you were struck with the same feeling that struck me this morning, that the people who were murdered and wounded last night in Orlando were my people, and another night I could have been there with them. This one hit especially close to home for so many of us. Of course every mass murder hits close to home for someone. The truth is, we’re all in this together and the culture of violence that plagues our country takes a toll on every last one of us.
This is a sacred month for LGBTQ folk, who remember our people’s struggle to be recognized and affirmed as full human beings. This is also a sacred month for Muslims, for whom Ramadan is a time of fasting, fellowship, and charity. I was struck by a post I saw on Facebook that has been going viral today, written by the gay Muslim comedian Ali Mafi: “They identified the gunman as a radical Islamist whose family is from Afghanistan and my heart dropped. A mass killing in the name of Allah, during the holy month of Ramadan, couldn’t be anymore of a farce of my religion. I sit and try and wrap my head around such a senseless act done to my people, by my people. And that is when I realize that the people who commit such atrocities are no people of mine. They are not real Muslims in the eye of God. The Allah I speak to when I ask for guidance does not support this. The Allah I speak to when I ask for safety for my family and my friends does not support this. The Allah I speak to when I seek the unconditional love and understanding that only a higher power can give, does not support this.”
This morning I was honored to preach at an interfaith service at the First Annual Golden Valley Pride Festival. The scripture reading chosen for the day was from the Hebrew Scriptures, from Isaiah 43. “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old, says the Lord. I’m about to do a new thing.”
There are some tired old responses to acts of violence like we saw last night. One age-old response would be to turn in on ourselves, lock the doors, pull the blinds, build fences, and close ourselves off. One age-old response is to find a scapegoat. One age-old response is to find a group to other so we can punish a “them” who stand opposed to “us.”
It is time to do a new thing. Rather than turning in on ourselves let’s reach into the community. Rather than building fences let’s build relationships. Rather than finding a scapegoat let’s look inside and see how each of us is complicit in creating a culture of violence. Rather than giving into an us-them way of seeing the world let’s come together to discover what unites us in a common humanity.
After 9/11, our country’s leaders urged us to get back to normal, to go shopping or take the family on vacation. Now is a time to do something new, not to get back to normal but to get back to something better than normal. Let’s not respond to this heinous act by going down the same old path we’ve been down so many times before. Let’s seek out those with whom we don’t share much in common and build relationships across difference. Let’s choose community over isolation. Let’s do a new thing.