We drove into the city limits of Orlando in the midst of the twilight. The sun was barely setting and the lights of the city were just coming on. In my heart, I knew I needed to be excited. We were on our way to the happiest place on earth, after all. I have no shame in acknowledging that even as an almost thirty something, Disney World is my happiest place. Yet, on that June evening, my heart was unsettled, it was more than unsettled, it was broken, because the lights of Orlando weren’t just shining; they were sending a message, a message filled with words like Orlando United and Orlando Strong and those lights spoke of hope in the midst of devastation and heartbreak. It was a strange day to drive into Orlando… a mere 48 hours after 49 people had been murdered for being who they are, when 54 people were still lying in hospitals in that city mourning and healing for being who they are. It was a strange day to wake up in Orlando the next day when more horrendous news scrolled across the television, of a tiny life, gone too soon due to an accident. I sat there… and I wondered… how can the happiest place on earth be filled with so much grief and devastation?
I know that each of you reading this comes to it from different walks of life, different perspectives, different opinions. We each are who we are, we make up this community together, so no, this isn’t the point where things get political and I try to change your mind about anything. This is simply the place where we come together to acknowledge one known truth… God created humanity in God’s image and called it good. We spend so much time calling each other out for our differences, placing each other into boxes and groups based upon race, religion, sexual orientation,gender, income, the list goes on and on, and yet we never seem to stop and acknowledge that at the end of the day… we all rest in the same box… the same box that is labeled “beloved, created children of God.” We don’t have to agree with each other. We don’t have to see eye to eye, but we do owe each other the one basic courtesy of acknowledging that we are all human, formed by the hands of God, to grow up to be whomever we shall grow up to be. We were all formed with the intention of being able to live our lives, and live them happily and safely, and yet we spend so much time, put so much effort into taking away each other’s right to that life, that right to the basic dignity of living. 49 lives. 49 men and women whose right to life was revoked because we simply live in a world where our opinions and thoughts have become more sacred than our neighbors’ right to live.
What if we spent less time dividing ourselves up, labeling our brothers and sisters as other, and spent more time just living, living peaceably and companionably in the world God has blessed us with? What if instead of seeing each other as ‘other,’ we saw each other as brothers and sisters in God’s creation? What if we just spent more time living, rather than being angry and arguing and fighting? One might say that world could just possibly be Eden again.
Our presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, put it this way, “Our work begins now. We need to examine ourselves, individually and as a church, to acknowledge the ways we have divided and have been divided. We must stand with people who have been ‘othered.’ We must speak peace and reconciliation into the cacophony of hatred and division. We must live the truth that all people are created in God’s image.”
Peace instead of fighting. Hope instead of devastation. Love instead of hatred. That is the message that Jesus came to bring, that we as his followers claim to believe and to live. We live in a world that is filled with hate and chaos, division and strife, but the choice remains ever before us, do we go along with the world? Or do we choose instead to stand up and say that hate does not get to win, that love and hope will stand and stand strong?
Do we choose to be people who see our neighbors as dangerous others, or do we choose to be people who look at everyone we meet and see them as a beloved child of God? My hope is that the choice is simple. My hope is that someday… someday… there will be such a thing as the happiest place on earth… and that happiest place will contain all of creation.
Peace it Together,