When tragedies like Orlando occur, in the days that follow, our response should be simple. First, we need to triage immediate needs. This means we need to stand in long lines to donate blood and send counselors to meet with family members and support law enforcement and first responders who are working around the clock. We need to metaphorically fire up our grills on our day off like Chick fil A, and deliver some sandwiches.
Also, we need to stand in solidarity. To grieve and remember. To make space for our own responses and the responses of those around us. To pause, notice, listen, and feel. We need to bring faces to life with stories of victims whose lives have been cut way too short.
Most of us can do those things. Most of us know how to respond actively to the immediate aftermath. Unfortunately, our nation is getting better and better at inspiring displays of community connectedness in the face of horrific evil and pain.
But, I also notice in myself and others a mounting sense of powerlessness. Because the blood and the sandwiches are only needed for so long before they are no longer necessary, until the need has become more intangible. And then what? We are creatures made for action. When we face injustice, most of us have the urge to act. But this injustice seems so big, so impenetrable, and so abstract. In fact, it’s so complex we are engaged in a national argument about what we are even fighting against. We aren’t sure if this is a hate crime or an act of religious extremism, a mental health issue or a gun control problem.
How can we take helpful and practical action against something we are instead arguing to define?
It’s a difficult question to answer, but if we don’t start somewhere, we will continue to be as ineffective as we have been.
We need to get our whole selves involved.
Financially: We can support causes that stand for what we do believe in, instead of fight against causes we do not believe in.
Instead of fighting fear with fear, terror with terror, torture with torture, bombs with bombs, the Preemptive Love Coalition is fighting fear with love. They are providing life-saving surgeries, emergency supplies, small business grants, and educational opportunities to those who have been directly affected by terrorism. They are on the front lines, offering life to those whose lives have been taken. Perhaps one of the most rebellious acts against the terror in our world today would be to join them in answering with love.
The Compassion Collective is changing the world $25 at a time. They have removed the excuse for most of us that we cannot afford to be a part of the solution. For the price of little more than one latte a week for one month, 80,000 people have raised over $2 million for not only Syrian refugees, but also mothers in Haiti who need a hospital in which to birth their babies, and LGBT youth in our own communities who are without homes.
For those of you to whom this tragedy feels connected to radical Islamic extremism, maybe one of the causes above could be a place to be part of a resounding “no” to the hate and terror some are attempting to sow in our world.
Beyond Our Door is a “Christian non-profit organization that seeks to respectfully see the ignored and overlooked, and then wisely offer care based on recommendations of our local partners.” It is an organization that recognizes that, with the right resources, individuals know what they need. It is about bringing forth the life that already exists, even in places that feel dark.
For those of you for whom Orlando seems to be about the marginalized, those who have not been given the dignity of being an expert on their own lives, perhaps Beyond Our Door is a place to contribute towards those around the world whose struggles remain unseen.
Physically: Some of us need to get our body involved. Writing checks is not how we were wired to contribute. If that is you, maybe you want to donate blood so it is on hand when the next person is shot in your city, even if only one life is lost and the nation doesn’t pay attention. Maybe you donate an organ you don’t need to a stranger on the transplant list as a statement about how you see the value of human life in the face of so much death. Maybe, you join up with Team World Vision and run a race to raise funds for those around the world who don’t have access to clean water, because injustice and inequality matters in all contexts, not just for those of a minority sexual orientation.
Cognitively, we could all contribute through a commitment to cultivate curiosity instead of judgement. We could seek to understand instead of evaluate and categorize. On a global level, we could lead dialogues focused on curious questions with open minds toward what we might discover when we let go of all we think we know. We can wonder about what might cause a group of people to believe we deserve to die and how we might have contributed to their perception of us. And we can do all of this without justifying their behavior or taking responsibility for actions we did not take.
Incidentally, some of us could make powerful progress by doing this in our personal lives and teaching our children to do the same. When we hear, “You are selfish,” from someone we love, we could skip the defenses and wonder aloud, “I wonder what about me and what about you came together to create that experience for you.” When we step back from judgement of others and shame toward ourselves, we are free to notice what is, and often, accepting what is can free us to live without the dividing lines we needed before.
What if we simply create a curious generation?
It might seem like an odd response to 49 deaths, but, if the vast majority of the population approached relationships with genuine curiosity and an open mind to learn, I wonder if taking 49 lives would feel necessary to be seen and heard.
Relationally: We can cultivate relationships with the “other.” The “other” is different for all of us. The “other” is whomever we know only by our assumptions and stereotypes and not by way of our direct experience. The “other” is those whom, if we are really honest, we are afraid to approach and move toward. The “other” is the person with whom we don’t agree. The “other” is the person whose contribution to the world we cannot recognize, whose inherent value in the human family isn’t easy for us to see. The “other” is the one for whom we have less compassion when we come face to face with his or her pain. The “other” is whomever we are comfortable keeping at a distance. As long as we indulge our urge and give ourselves permission to “other” those we do not understand, the soil will be ripe for continued inequality and injustice. Some of us can be a part of the solution by reaching out to live life alongside an “other,” without an agenda, until they have become one of us.
Systemically: It has been reported that the shooter in Orlando was actually a regular at the Pulse nightclub and that he had a profile on gay dating sites. Though we will never be sure, it seems this act of violence might have been an attempt to kill that which he could not accept about himself. The cost of being gay in our homophobic culture, and in families that cannot accept an LGBTQ identity, drives many in that community to violence toward self, and the number of suicides in this population continues to climb. This shooting may be an important reminder to all of us that violence turned inward can very quickly become violence turned outward, and that either is a tragedy.
For those of you who classify Orlando as a hate crime, maybe your response is to become an ally in your community to speak out for the systemic change we still need to strive for toward equality for LGBT and other minority groups. It could be that it’s time to move your beliefs from your Facebook page and into your real life.
According to the Scientific American, “Americans account for only five percent of the world’s population but create half of the globe’s solid waste” For that, and countless other similar reasons, the United States is viewed by many in the international community as the entitled, spoiled toddler of the developed world. We continue to send the message to the global community that we only care about ourselves. Systemic theory would suggest that this might have something to do with the rest of the world’s response to us. So, possibly, before you join the bandwagon to drop bombs on some other country or initiate another war to completely destabilize an entire region, maybe a better option would be to join the Care for Creation committee at your local church (or most likely, create the committee if you go to an evangelical church). You might chose something as simple as volunteering to wash the coffee cups after each service to reduce the disposable waste contributed to the landfill each Sunday just because the people of God decided to gather.
Politically: No matter what side of the fence you land on, we can all agree to avoid the polarization that keeps us stuck and move toward the middle where traction is possible. We do not have to give up our ideals regarding the right to bear arms to agree that certain boundaries could exists to help keep us more safe. We can all start focusing on the common ground we can support instead of continuing to repeat our differences.
We really have no excuse for not becoming part of the solution. What we are up against is not a religion, it is a mentality that some members of one religion espouse, a mentality that convinces them they should not have to share the world with those they hate, that violence is the most effective means of gaining power, that power will right what is wrong with the world.
The reason I know this isn’t about a religion is that I see those beliefs in myself. And I see them in all of us. In fact, I see them in humanity.
When it comes down to it, we really all share the problem.
And we share in our responsibility to fight the problem in ourselves so that the problem is no longer the way of the world.