Posted in Compassion, Faith

The Power of Community

This sermon was delivered on July 17, 2016, on the first day of the annual GAYLA retreat for men who love men at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine, where I served as minister of the week. I’m publishing it today in honor of the third anniversary of the Pulse massacre. 

pulse memorial

My dear friends.

Here we are. We have made it to this sacred place. We come from places near and far. Some of us have traveled a long, long road to be here, in more ways than one. Some of us find ourselves here for the very first time, for others, this place is full of memories. We come bringing joy and sorrow, excitement and pain. This place, this community, can hold us all. Feel the ground underneath you. Breathe the air flowing between us. Open your heart to the life force here in this place.

Let us be together in silence, not thinking but rather focusing on feeling. Feeling this groundedness, breathing into this connection, and opening our hearts to one another.

~ ~ ~

Friends, it has been a long, hard, painful month. Since hatred claimed the lives of forty-nine beautiful Brown and Black and gay and queer and young—oh so young—family of ours in Orlando, the violence has been nonstop. Dhaka, Bangladesh: twenty-nine dead. Baghdad, Iraq: two hundred and fifty dead. Kashmir, India: thirty dead. Nice, France: eight-four dead. Istanbul, Turkey: two hundred and sixty-five dead.

Three black men unjustly killed by police in three days, bringing the death toll of black men at the hands of police to one hundred and thirty-six this year. Five police officers killed by a lone gunman in Dallas. Fifteen trans people murdered in this country so far this year—eleven trans women of color, three trans men, and one gender fluid sixteen-year-old.

~ ~ ~

My dear friends. We are hurting. We are raw. Every wound we thought maybe, just maybe, had started to heal from past hate, past violence, past trauma, has been torn open. Our worlds have been torn open. Our hearts are broken. Again.

Somehow, some way, we have gotten ourselves here, gotten ourselves to this sacred space. This sanctuary. We find ourselves in the embrace of all of this, and all of this. We feel the ground beneath us, we breathe the air flowing between us, our hearts are touched by the life force coursing through this place.

Somehow, some way, we are still breathing. Somehow, some way, we are here. Even though we have lost so many of our kindred along the path. Even though we carry scars from every single life that has been snuffed out too soon. So many lives.

Despair tempts us. How can we continue on when things have gone so terribly wrong? How can we hold on to life when we find ourselves surrounded by so much intolerance, by such unspeakable violence, by such powerful forces of anti-life?

Numbness tempts us. Another day, another death. Turn off the news, close the browser and the apps, and just… eat breakfast. Walk the dog. Say hello to the neighbor. Pour a drink. Try to forget. Act as if nothing is amiss. How can we not push away the pain? How can we not try to keep it separate from ourselves?

The truth is, the pain is too great for us to bear. The truth is, a society that feeds us story after story after video after interview after post after tweet of this violence, that expects us to recover from these deaths as quickly as the news cycle resets itself and races off to the next tragedy, is a society that has lost its soul and is draining away the forces of life.

I reject the idea that this much pain, this much trauma, this much violence, can ever become normal. Just another day on planet Earth. I know, deep in my bones, that we were not meant to live this way.

Our hearts were meant to break.

Our hearts were meant to break.

~ ~ ~

Four days ago, after midnight, I got a phone call from my best friend. He had welcomed his baby child into this world forty hours earlier. At the age of forty-three, he is finally a dad. And he broke down on the phone with me as he spoke about this tiny baby depending on him now. He said to me, Alex, the world is so fucked up. The world is so fucked up.

And my heart cracked open.

And the next day, when I saw the news that Delrawn Small, a thirty-seven-year-old Black father from Brooklyn, had been killed within the same span of days as Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, shot in the face by an off-duty cop, I couldn’t share my grief on social media because the picture accompanying the news was of Delrawn Small holding his infant child, looking for all the world just like my best friend. My best friend who now worries what will happen to his child if he gets pulled over by police, or goes out dancing at a club.

And my heart stayed broken.

Our hearts were meant to break. We need our hearts to break.

When our hearts are broken, our heartbreak flows out to touch the kindred soul whose life has been ripped away. Our heartbreak opens us to connection with all those who have a person-sized hole in their hearts and lives, all those who keen from the pain of losing their lover, their child, their sibling, their best friend, their parent, their mentor, their muse.

When our hearts are broken, we hold the suffering together with one another. Each of us takes on a piece of the pain and sees ourselves reflected in each other’s eyes, feels ourselves reflected in each other’s souls.

When our hearts are broken, we know that life cannot go on this way. We prepare ourselves for battle, a battle fought not by armored hearts but by broken hearts, hearts that are willing to fight for as long and as hard as it will take until we have altered this terrible reality, arduously performed the course correction that humanity so desperately needs.

~ ~ ~

We cannot hold this heartbreak alone. But we can hold it together. Why did we journey to this place, this sanctuary of Ferry Beach? We did it because of the power of community. This space is made sacred by that power. Our hearts are homing beacons, seeking out a place where they—and we—can be held. In community we can allow ourselves to feel, allow our hearts to be broken, allow ourselves to be embraced and, together, share the load of the heartbreak.

Here in community, we can experience the way in which the pain of our heartbreak sharpens our feelings of joy. Rather than sinking into despair or numbing ourselves to the pain and thus dulling our ability to feel anything at all, in community we can share in the breathtaking beauty and utter fabulousness of who we are, remember how to live in the moment because it may be the last moment we get, and celebrate our resilience in the face of intolerance, hatred, and violence.

In community we can tend to each other, and care for each other’s hearts. That’s what community is all about. Caring for one another.

Here, when someone asks, “how are you?”, you don’t have to say “I’m fine, thanks.” You can say “I’m really struggling. I’m hurting. Will you walk with me? Can I have a hug?”

Part of what is wrong with our world is the idea that we each have to carry the load alone. That I and only I am responsible for my own well-being. But when we take responsibility for each other’s well-being, when we collectively care for one another, that’s when we live into the power and potential of community.

So my invitation to you is this:

Allow your heart to be broken. Be open-hearted, even—or especially—when it hurts. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings. Allow yourself to be cared for here, in this community, and offer the gift of care to others. Seek out the people on the edges. Be there for each other.

It is in this way—and only in this way—that we will heal the world. One broken heart reaching out to another. Caring for each other and drawing each other into community, one by one, until the entirety of creation is part of the circle of community and care.

So may it be. Amen. Ashe. And blessed be.


Queer and genderqueer spiritual activist, educator and organizer, and radical copyeditor.

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