Today, I Mourn…

In the wake of the shootings in Orlando, several groups in Olympia joined together to sponsor a vigil Sunday night. Earlier in the day I was invited to share some remarks at the evening’s vigil, and I prepared some words not knowing what format the vigil would take.

That evening in Sylvester Park the space was created via open mike and open community to share and deeply hear the emotions and experiences of the LGBT community, and especially the LGBT community of color, who were the targets of this horrible act of violence. 

I was asked to come to the mic, and I did so, recognizing that I spoke not for those most directly affected, but as a part of the greater community of friends and allies who were deeply hurt by these events and whose work is to listen and support, and to work to create a better world for all.

When invited in the morning I didn’t know how long I would have to speak, and at the vigil times were set at 3 minutes apiece. I went on a bit too long with my prepared remarks, which I regret, and I share them here in full:

I am honored to stand here in memory and solidarity tonight, humbled by the fact that I know that I, as a cisgendered straight man, was not the target here.

But while not all of us were the target, we are all the victims.

I stand here tonight in solidarity, being from a community that has historically has been and continues to be persecuted. I understand the fear and pain that comes from that fact.

And I stand here as a member and leader of a faith community. I recognize and accept the role religion has played in perpetuating hate and violence. Religion can be the source of much division, pain and hurt, and to say it does not would be disingenuous.

And at the same time, I believe that religion can be a source of inclusion, affirmation, love and comfort. And it is in that spirit that I am here.

So let us extend words, thoughts and prayers of healing to those who have been physically, emotionally and spiritually injured by the events today in Orlando. May their healing be complete and come speedily. And let us extend words, thoughts and prayers of comfort to the victims and their loved ones. May their memories be a blessing to us all.

But we know that is not enough. It is not enough to mourn for those who have died. There is so much more for which to mourn.

Today, I mourn for the fact that despite the progress we make as a society, there are those who wish to move us in other directions.

Today, I mourn for the fact that in the face of overwhelming evidence of the destructive nature of firearms, we are incapable as a nation to do anything.

Today, I mourn for the fact that there are those whose hearts and minds remain closed and unwilling to accept those who are unlike them.

Today, I mourn for this willful rejection of the humanity of another and the denial of human dignity and rights.

Today, I mourn for the impulse to respond to one act of hatred with another.

Today, I mourn.

Today, I mourn for the fact that what was supposed to be a safe space turned out not to be.

Today, I mourn for the fact that those who sought welcome and acceptance were told they were not.

Today, I mourn for those who were murdered simply because of who they were.

Today, I mourn.

Today, I mourn for those whose murder causes tremendous pain to their loved ones who held them close.

Today, I mourn for those whose murder has become the long-hoped for reconciliation with family and friends who rejected them.

Today, I mourn for those whose murder will just deepen the estrangement.

And today I mourn for those whose murder is their coming out story.

Today, I mourn.

It is a common refrain to say that love is stronger than hate, but I’m not going to say that. Love and hate, like anger and sadness, are only emotions, feelings.

What we should say is that acts of love must be stronger than acts of hate. It is only what we do, not what we feel, that can change the world.  And so we commit ourselves to acts of love. To acts of welcome, to acts of acceptance, acts of celebration, acts of connection, acts of community, acts of resistance and acts of justice.

May the memory of those who have died inform how we who survive shall live. Let us now open up our hearts, clench our fists, lift our feet and raise our voices  to create a more just and peaceful world, free of hatred and oppression and violence, where we all stand together and see that we share a common vision, a common cause and a common future.

I’m Going to Jerusalem. And Ramallah.

In one of his last gestures before leaving his position as Government Affairs director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, my friend Zach Carstensen put in my name for a trip run through a program called “Interfaith Partners for Peace.” The idea behind the trip is to pair up rabbis and ministers from the same geographic area to travel to Israel and learn together.Jerusalem

Aside from visiting Jewish and Christian holy sites, the majority of the trip is visiting with organizations and individuals who are working on various projects of peace and understanding, mutual recognition and concern. Projects that seek to build connections between Israelis and Palestinians in order to help bring about reconciliation and a better future. We travel to Tel Aviv/Yaffo, the Galilee and Jerusalem. And we travel to Ramallah and Bethlehem.

I’m very excited for this opportunity.

[Also excited to meet and travel with my partner, Stephen Crippen, an Episcopal Deacon in Seattle. Zach paired us up, we have never met. However, we did work together when we both served on the Faith Cabinet of the R-74 campaign which brought marriage equality to Washington. We know each other by conference call and Facebook.]

It has been a long time since I was in Israel-12 years ago, while I was in rabbinical school. During seminary we spend a year studying Hebrew and Jewish studies. It was a wonderful year for me and Yohanna and one-year-old Ozi, travelling a lot, spending a lot of time with Yohanna’s extended family all over the country.

And it was a difficult year as well. It was during an intifada, and there were many attacks and bombings of public places. I remember hearing some from our Jerusalem apartment, including one evening when we were reading online about one attack only to hear another go off nearby. And that year a young man serving in the IDF who lived in our building was killed during an attack at a checkpoint. His name was Erez.

It was that year (2001-2002) that lead to the building of “the wall”-the separation barrier that creates a physical division between the Israelis and Palestinians. Since I have not been back, I have not seen it. It is one thing I am anticipating experiencing, along with the many other changes that have taken place in the past 12 years. (A newly redesigned Yad Vashem/Holocaust museum, for example. Cousins who were once kids are now adults, for another.)

I’m reflecting on this upcoming trip following the elections earlier this week. While Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats in the Knesset, there is still the need to form a government. And while the Israeli electorate on the one hand affirmed the status quo, the Arab joint list made new gains and the Orthodox party suffered greater losses than they had in the past. I don’t know what the political environment will be in two months when I am there.

I don’t know a lot about how things will be. But I do know that both Israel and I have changed in the past 12 years. I go with an open heart and an open mind, expecting and hoping to be challenged and, hopefully, inspired.

And not only am I different, but I will experiencing Israel in a way I haven’t before. I will be experiencing Israel in part through the eyes of Christian leaders, who have their own relationship with this Holy Land. And I will be learning from those who are committed to creating a new reality through mutual understanding and co-existence, though an understanding of the differing narratives and through the refusal to create divisions, “sides” or “the other.”

Some may remember on Yom Kippur I spoke about “What About Palestine!?” While it started as graffiti on our synagogue’s building sign, I reflected back to us that this is a question that we as Jews need to address. We need to care about both Israelis and Palestinians. I look forward to this (one, not the only) opportunity  to engage again with this question myself and to bring back what I learn.