How to Live In A Burning House: On the One-Year Anniversary of Pulse

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There’s a vague entry in my journal on June 13th, 2016. “I haven’t cried since Colombia,” it starts, “and I’ve been holding on to numbness like a lifeline, but today everything broke through.”

I woke up to the news of the Pulse shooting in a small room in Peru, my teammates asleep next to me, and I cried like I hadn’t in months. My journal doesn’t mention Pulse or that 49 (mostly Latinx) LGBTQ people lost their lives. Just a dam bursting inside me, something radically different than the day before.

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On June 12th, 2016, 49 people were murdered because they were gay. It was the largest act of terrorism on American soil since 9/11 and it was perpetrated against LGBTQ people who dared to unapologetically dance and laugh and love.

I wanted Christians to lament. I wanted my friends at home to name this act for what it was: homophobia, and hatred. Somehow, the prayers I saw on Facebook ended up blaming gay people for being in a gay bar in the first place, praying for our deliverance from sin just as much as our deliverance from violence.

Before Pulse, I could argue the academics of human sexuality, and affirm my gay friends, and pretend I had crushes on attractive men all day. But after Pulse, crying in a sleeping bag in a cold room in Peru, a part of me knew that I could not pretend for much longer, and that there would be a cost, and I was so afraid that I couldn’t even write the words down.

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On June 13th, I tweeted a Tennessee Williams quote: “We live in a perpetually burning building and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

This year I was reminded of the flames of Pentecost, only a week before the anniversary of the Pulse shooting. The flames of Pentecost are different: they are not violent; they do not burn your flesh like the hot iron of a machine gun fired into a dancing crowd. These flames heal where a violent world has broken us. They bring a common language where before there was none.

I am privileged by my skin color, my geographic location, and my upper-middle-class upbringing, and yet the common language I share with the victims of the Pulse massacre is our queerness.

Pentecost came almost a year after Pulse and promised the Spirit was with us, is with us, will always be with us; even in the deepest of griefs, even in the threat of death, even in the burning building where we are desperately trying to save love.

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I don’t know where I’m going this with post. I wanted to say that Pentecost gives common language to people who are willing to hear. I wanted to say I’m a lesbian, and a Christian, and I was torn in two after the Orlando massacre. I want to say that sometimes the church feels like a burning building.

I wanted to say that Pulse changed me profoundly. I wanted to say that homophobia kills people, and it doesn’t just do it with guns at nightclubs, but with depression, and suicide, and families kicking their LGBTQ children out of the house. I wanted to say that I have hope even in the face of an act of terror which was meant to instill fear. I wanted to say that LGBT people will thrive no matter how many times we are forced to rebuild our safe spaces.

I came out six months after Pulse. The first time I went dancing at a gay bar, a man patted me down before I could go in, his hands moving over my tight jeans and crop-top-clad torso, and I felt a shiver of fear. But then I went inside and danced with my friends, and I was not afraid.

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These were the victims of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Please take a moment to say their names, pray for their families, and remember.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Kimberly Morris, 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Cory James Connell, 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Frank Hernandez, 27
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

White Christians, We Need To Get Out Of The Way

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A year ago today, I jumped into the Zambezi River and swam to the edge of Victoria Falls.

This time last year, I was living in a 3-room house in Zambia with 12 other people and sharing a twin mattress with a teammate. I stood in a dirt-floored church and prayed for people who lived in a slum with only one water spigot. I stood in a church that met in a classroom and cried as a woman named Juliet sang with the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard, a voice that filled me up, that is still echoing somewhere inside my heart.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know where I come from.

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This year, I called my senators about Betsy DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education. I got a nasty virus and didn’t get out of bed for a week. I watched my roommate and my youth and my friends and family march in Women’s Marches across the nation, and I was so freaking proud. They posted pictures of their signs and the thousands of people marching around them.

Some of my other friends posted pictures of women, too. The women in these pictures were not marching. Sometimes they had faces, but mostly their backs were turned. They were doing laundry, cooking, turned away from the camera, immersed in the vital work of everyday life.

I don’t know the names of the women in the pictures, nor their stories or hometowns. They live in developing countries around the world- somewhere vaguely South Asian, somewhere vaguely South American. Their house and clothes, you are supposed to understand from the picture, means they are not rich, not privileged, actually oppressed.

It’s the words that went along with the pictures that made me cry. Stop whining, they said. Stop marching for equality when someone else has it so much worse off than you. We are so blessed in America. You’re forgetting the women in other countries who have problems that actually matter. Don’t forget about real oppression.

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An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. 1 out of 6 American women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Native American women are assaulted or raped at even higher rates- 1 out of 3 Native women will be assaulted in their lifetime. Out of every 1,000 rapes, 6 rapists will be incarcerated.

But, America is the ideal to strive for.

White women earn 79 cents on the dollar of what white men earn. African-American women earn 60 cents on every white man’s dollar, Latina women 55 cents. That means for every $5 earned by a white man, at best a woman can earn less than $4 for the exact same work.

But, we’re not oppressed, we’re blessed.

In 2015, 13.5% of Americans were in poverty according the U.S. Census Bureau. 14.5 million of those in poverty were children under the age of 18. That’s 19.7% of American children, or 1 of out of every 5.

But, we have nothing to march for.

When Christians go on mission trips, they do it because they are trying to heal a deep brokenness they see in the world. But these same Christians who claim to be for women, who want to make disciples of all nations, will post pictures of women without even asking their permission, and use them to prove a political point.

Stop doing this.

Stop using poor women as political capital to silence other women.

The women who marched on Washington did it for the women in those photos- the ones who don’t get the dignity of names or stories or being more than a stereotypically impoverished background to some crappy theology. The feminist movement is not perfect, but it is for equality, even if the struggle for equality looks wildly different in every country, in every race, in every class, in every life.

Our liberation is bound up together.

While we may need a new theology of missions to go along with it, we can improve both America and the world, if we are willing to do the slow work of excavating our privilege and listening to the voiceless we so often like to speak for. We, as in: white feminists. We, as in: white evangelical Christians. We, as in: those ready to spit in the face of empire, and weed out the colonial tendencies in our own hearts.

But we can’t do it divided. We can’t do it while we are colonizing certain women’s narratives, and using them to shut down the stories of others. We can’t do it while we are only using poor women in developing nations as props, and imposing a single, convenient, impoverished story onto countries with thousands of years of history and hundreds of years of colonialism running deep in the soil.

We can speak truth to power. We can give a platform to the voices of the powerless. But we, the powerful, the white, have to get out of the way.

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This time last year, I was trying to tell a good story about the women I met. I don’t know if I ever did a good enough job. I’m telling you this because I want you to know I am part of the problem.

But Juliet’s voice is still echoing inside my heart, singing a hymn of praise in Bemba, and somewhere in God’s expansive universe I am still at the edge of the world with one hand stretched out into the open sky, the current rushing around me, and I am praying.