On November 15th, 2015, two days after the attacks in Paris, I preached this message. The text is Mark 13:1-8, though honestly, I don’t talk about it as much as I usually do.

I have a confession for you all. I didn’t do what I normally do to prepare for this sermon. Normally, I spend days meditating on the text, researching, pouring over commentaries, my notes from seminary, and praying about what God wishes me to convey about the Scripture. I pray for the words that come through me to be God’s words, and that those words reach each of you, and be the words you need to hear this week.

But I didn’t do that this week. These last few weeks have been some of the most important in my young life. These last few weeks have dictated the course of my future. And you know what? I got distracted by it. My life distracted me from one of the ways that I most relate to God. Life, modern life, gets in the way of our relationship with God.

My plan was to write a sermon about how sometimes I am the false teacher that leads me astray; sometimes I am the one Jesus warns about in the Gospel. And at times, all of us are that for ourselves.

I got home from work Friday night with a plan to write about that. And then I turned on the news. And I knew immediately that I don’t need to preach about myself being a false teacher. In the world today we have an example of what a false teacher looks like. We have a group of human beings using hate, fear, oppression, and terror to kill other human beings. And they justify these murders by saying they are committing them in the name of God. A year ago, one of my greatest friends, Jack Jenkins wrote: “just because you shout God’s name while committing murder doesn’t make your actions righteous.”

This group claims this is Jihad, a Holy war, ordained by Allah (praise be to He). If you leave here today with nothing else, please leave here knowing that this group, ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State, is not, in any way other than name, representative of Islam. They are terrorists, who are merely shouting the name of God as they commit atrocities.

Genuine encounters with God create a lot of emotions, and many of these are explained in the Bible. Fear is chief among them. To be in the presence of God, or of God’s angels, often invokes fear. But there is a difference between fear brought on by awe and feeling unworthy, and the terror that reigned in the streets of Paris and Beirut on Friday.

ISIS is using terror and oppression. God doesn’t do that. There is a difference between oppression and willful obedience. What God asks of us is a willful obedience. To follow God; to let God dictate how it is that we should live our lives. We as Christians have the words of Christ, teaching us to love and care for one another, and to love the Lord our God above all else. God as described in the Qu’ran says the same thing. We must care for one another, and to love God above all others. Learning to love God above all else requires a self mastery. This self mastery is known as Jihad. Christianity has a version. Judaism has a version. Buddhism, Hindi, Baha’i, Sikh, and every other world religion teaches a version of self mastery.

And you know what, each world religion also has a group of people who twist the name of God, and the teachings of their religious leaders, to inflict hate, terror, oppression, and murder.

Christians are not immune to this. The Nazi’s claimed to be a Christian group, cleansing the human race in the name of God. There are hate groups still active within our religion, using the name of God to do horrible things to people. These things happen in this city.

Friday night could very easily have happened here. As I wrote these words, I sat in a coffee shop, sipping on a $5 drink that came in a red cup, wearing blue jeans, a flannel shirt, with my head uncovered, Bible open in front of me.  I used my collective educational and life experiences to create the words I’m saying now. I’m an educated, gay, woman, preacher, in the ordination process of a Liberal Christian faith, speaking out against the misuse of the name of God. Do you know how many of these so called “religious” groups would put me on hit lists? I’m not sure I can count that high.

Tons of people would say that I am exactly the false teach Jesus warns against in the Gospel today. That it is precisely people like me that are causing the rise of nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes in various places, and world famine.

I appreciate that people think I have so much power to influence God and the course of human events, but sadly, I don’t. But what I do have power to do is to stand here and tell you what I think we can do about all this. Because I do think that each of us can do something.

We can love.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said it best, darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Every single one of us gathered here today has the power to be the light in the world. In a time and place where the voices of false teachers ring out loudly, we can be beacons of hope and love.

It sounds romantic to say that, but the reality is that it isn’t romantic at all. To love in the face of hate is hard. But we must stand up to hate. Because hate is the ultimate false teacher. Hate will lead you astray faster than any person could.

To counter this message of hate we must take the teachings of Christ seriously. We must treat every human being as just that, a human being.

As I look around this room, I see many faces of people who take this message very seriously. There is respect and love etched on every face and in every heart. But the time is upon us to do something about what’s happening in the world, and here at home.

Some of the best sermons I have ever heard will find a way to tell those listening how to do this, how to spread love. But I have to be honest: I don’t know. I don’t know how each of us can best help spread love around our city, our nation, and our world.

There are people in this room with big voices in the world, and people with small voices. There are people who are good with their hands, or good with a pen. Some are more patient than others. Some are more affluent than others. Some of us are crafty, and some of us (me) can’t tie a knot to save their lives.

But we each have something. Something within us that we can use. Tying knots is not my gift. My energy is my gift: I am filled with a passion to spread the message of love in the world. Tonight, please take a moment to think about your gift. And then think about how to share that gift with the world.

Everything starts here with us. In this room are people who care about one another. This is a place where we come together to be vulnerable and relate to God. In a culture and world that tells us vulnerability and religion are useless, we still stand united. And we are united with people all over the world. Our individual lights of love might be small, but together, we can light up this city. To paraphrase Saint Theresa, I may be but a drop in the ocean, but I am still a drop.

Be a drop. Watch the ripple effect.

Smile at a stranger. Help prepare a meal for a neighbor in need. Give away the clothes you don’t wear anymore. Tutor a child who is struggling to learn to read. Give your time, your money, your energy.

Giving time, money, and energy isn’t just giving to a cause, or a church, it’s giving to God.

When I thought about this sermon, I thought I would tell you about how this week I was my own false teacher. But as I wrote these words, I found just the opposite. I, you, we as a community, have the chance to be the best teachers! What burns inside each of us is a flame of love, of truth, it’s the light of God.

We must stoke those flames, and build them so that they may light the world. Be the light in the darkness. If we stand in the light of love together, no darkness is too much to overcome. Let us turn on our lights together, and go forth into the world loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not merely by the words we say, but showing that we love by the things we do.


Love in Unexpected Places

On January 31st, 2016, I preached on 1 Corinthians 13, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Georgetown, Washington, DC. Enjoy! Audio link, here!

The sermon for today is one of those that has been written in my head for months, if not years. I have actually been published on 1 Corinthians 13. I’ve given short messages on it a few times. And in seminary, I took classes where I studied this text in great detail. This is the sermon I have been waiting to give since I started preaching. And so when I saw it pop up in the lectionary, I immediately called dibs. This is a message I wanted to give and to share. I wanted to talk to you all about what Paul actually means here. Put the entire text in the historical context. Take a field trip of sorts to first century Rome!

And then something happened, as is so often the case in life. Something that changed how I think about myself, how I understand this world, and how I understand love. And I knew that what I had planned to say about 1 Corinthians 13, a rather academic message that would place Paul and his words in their historical context, I knew that message would be woefully inadequate.

Originally when I was laying the blueprint for this message in my head, I was going to start with a story. A story about meeting a baby boy whom I love unconditionally, even though I’d never met him. My best friend from law school gave birth to a beautiful baby boy just before Christmas. As I was headed to the airport to fly out and meet him, I got a phone call. From my Mom. She’d been to the doctor that day, and the doctor immediately sent my Mom to the hospital. I preface this story with my Mom is okay and she is here today.

I drove just within reason of the posted speed limit from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Calvert County, Maryland, and arrived just as my Mom was receiving the first of what would ultimately be three blood transfusions. I sat by her side and I watched as the blood of another human being, selflessly given, quite literally saved my Mother’s life. The people who donated their blood sacrificed a part of themselves, not because they knew my Mom and wanted to help. These three people gave blood to a stranger, without ever knowing what happened to their sacrifice. I can’t thank these individuals, and even if I could, they didn’t give blood to receive thanks. They gave blood because it’s the right thing to do, and for a cookie.

Hopefully most of us here today are familiar with Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. At the end there’s a moment when the Grinch’s heart grows 3 sizes, and I have to tell you, that’s what the transfusion profess felt like to me. It felt like my heart was growing warmer and larger. While I’m sure there is a physiological explanation for this I don’t know what it is, and the theological implications are what I want to talk about today.

There are times in life where I feel a more direct connection to God. In the Celtic tradition, these are called thin spaces. I tend to call these moments places or times when the veil is thin. The veil was thin that day for me. I think it was the closest I have ever come to experiencing, or at least partially understanding, God’s love for us. And I have to tell you, it was absolutely overwhelming. It was such a powerful feeling, that my heart felt like it grew, and I left an incredibly difficult experience knowing that I was forever changed because of the beauty of what I experienced.

This experience, I believe, is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 13. I’ve loved before. In many different ways. I’ve loved deeply, and even in the sense of loving someone over and above what is best for myself, which is what Paul means by the word translated as love in this text.

But I’d never felt anything like that before. And so these words, words I have heard hundreds of times, they meant more. As I stand here today, I understand these words, not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

For the first time, those words were inside of me. I felt God’s love. In my most vulnerable moment, quite honestly ever: there was God. I didn’t have to intentionally let God in, God was already there.

I say these words often, and I mean them, that in the midst of our hardship, struggles, fears, God is with us. I don’t think God causes the evil things that happen in the world. I’ve stood here and talked about that enough times that I doubt anyone would like me to do so again, but I’m going to, so I’ll try keep this short. It’s not just a matter of God being with us, offering a hug or support from the outside. God is in us. Making beautiful what the outside world has tried to tarnish.

In the story of Jacob’s ladder there’s a moment, when Jacob awakes, having slept on the ground, alone and vulnerable in the desert. Jacob wakes from his dream and declares: “God is in the place and I, I did not know it!” I think that in so much of Scripture we have things that indicate God is on the outside looking in. Looking down on us, or joining us in human form. In the Psalm today in says: “In you, my Lord, I take refuge”. That indicates we are going to God. In Jeremiah today in the Old Testament reading it says: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

What so much of Scripture tells us is that God is with us, from the outside looking down on us, or over on us if we happened to have been lucky enough to meet Jesus in the flesh. The idea that God lives within us gets missed a lot. It’s a big thing in Episcopal theology; called incarnational theology. This idea that God lives inside of each of us. Until 2 weeks ago, until I had this experience, I struggled to find the words to explain for God to live within us.

This thing that lives inside of us, that’s what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s not just love as in marriage, or children, or deeply intimate friendships. Those are wonderful loved filled things that are part of what makes the human experience so incredible. But what Paul describes is something different, something more. He writes: “But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.”

I will admit to you that I have a very complicated relationship with the Apostle Paul. Before seminary, I didn’t like him very much. After taking Intro to New Testament, I liked him even less. That’s why I took classes to understand him and his writings better. Paul has a belief that we live in an in between time. A time of what is already, and what has not yet come.

What we know of love, is the already. But God’s divine love, this thing we should remember and strive for according to Paul, that’s yet to come. He lays out the basis of this belief in line 12: “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Here’s what I think about that idea though: is that yes, for the most part we only know in part. And yes, God fully knows us. And even though we don’t know fully yet, we get glimpses of this love.

I glimpsed it two weeks ago, as I sat by my Mom’s hospital bed. I glimpse it in the eyes of those gathered here who have volunteered to care for our unhoused and under privileged neighbors over the last few weeks. I see it when someone holds the door for a stranger, or says good morning to a stranger. I saw it during the snow storm when a stranger took off their gloves to give them to a person doing emergency snow removal who didn’t have any.

Little acts of love are everywhere. Everywhere. Love surrounds us. What sets us apart is when we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

I choose to have eyes to see the beauty. And I challenge everyone gathered here to do the same. Choose to see the beauty. Choose to be the beauty. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but God doesn’t have hands and feet in this world anymore; it’s up to us now. We must be God’s hands and feet. We must spread God’s love. And by spreading the love from the outside, we allow the opportunity for God’s love to be felt and experienced on the inside.

I experienced God’s love when I became overwhelmed with thanks. With thanks for an unknown stranger who gave up their time, and a part of their self, to save my Mommie. I wasn’t looking for God, and I doubt the person that gave blood did so, so that the daughter of the recipient would have an opportunity to experience God’s love. But that happened. At my most vulnerable, and when I wasn’t looking, there God was. And what I discovered was that God had been there all along.

My hope and prayer is that each of you hearing these words has the opportunity to experience God too. And that each of us here today gives someone else that opportunity as well.


Magical Ways of Talking

This is from Sunday, May 29th at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Georgetown, Washington, DC.

The text is Galatians 1:1-12

Did you ever use a tin-can telephone? With the 2 cans connected by a string? And somehow, (I’m guessing it’s actually magic since I don’t understand the intricacies of physics that make this work, but I do love Harry Potter so magic is clearly real), somehow the sound travels from my mouth, across the string, vibrates in the receivers head and those vibrations are translated into sounds.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a tin can telephone we could use to talk to God? Since in my head these telephones work by magic instead of physics, this direct line to God is entirely possible! People often ask me to pray for them because I have a direct line to God. But the reality is that I don’t. I wish I did, but I don’t. And that’s why I want this magical tin can phone to use to talk to God.

I want all of us to have one, not just me. It would be up to us when or if to use the phone. How often to use the phone. And if we listen to the recommendations we receive. But it would be really nice to just have God say: yes, take the job; no, don’t take another drink; yes, your dog is here waiting for you; or, I don’t understand why Donald Trump is poling so well either.

This phone could potentially be used to solve a lot of problems before they became problems. I realize that my tin can phone would also cause A LOT of problems, but this is in my magical perfect world, so we’re going to glance over those today.

On this weekend we remember those who died in service to our country. I am not going to comment on the validity, or necessity, or importance of war, but I don’t in any way want my words to take away from the sacrifices made by so many to protect this nation, and others who were defenseless. But: could you imagine if FDR could have picked up a can and asked: hey God, there’s this crazy guy in Germany who is pretty terrible things in your name. Are you okay with this?

I don’t want to speak for God about what God thinks about war. And that’s not my point anyway. My point is that it would be really helpful to be able to ask God what God thinks about things and get advice in those times when we really need advice. Especially in those times when people or persons are claiming to have Divine information. And whatever Divine information they have, sounds really, really good. Or easier. Or somehow more beneficial to me. Or it just makes more sense. Falls more in line with cultural expectations. Allows me to justify making what I know is a terrible choice. Or to justify being cruel to others.

What Paul is addressing the Galatians reading today is something that would fall under the category of teachings that make more sense, or fall more in line with cultural expectations. A direct line to God would have really helped the fledgling church of Galatia. But here’s an interesting question: do you think they would have used the phone? I don’t. I think the Galatians thought they were doing just fine!

In this letter, Paul is mad. He has gotten wind of what’s happening in Galatia, and he is none too pleased about it. Most likely, the Galatians sent a report of what they were doing to Paul, who founded the Christian church there. This letter from Paul is a slap on the wrist, telling the Galatians to stop listening to people who aren’t Paul or Christ.

It’s easy to be on Paul’s side here. Paul was just there. Taught the Gentiles and Jews alike about how to be a Christian. Taught them about the teachings of Christ. Taught them how to follow Christ. When Paul felt confident the members had a solid understanding, he moved on to plant another church in another place. Shortly after Paul left, the Christian bubble he created started to be infiltrated by outside influences.

In this instance, it probably wasn’t people who were the false teachers (though there may well have been). The false teachers here were society and cultural expectations. Not because the actions being taught were wrong, but because by focusing on the way worship looks, these Galatian Christians were missing the point of why and how to actually worship God.

It is really easy to fall into the trap of a false teacher when it is easy, or flashy, or falls directly in line with what you’ve always done, or what you really want. When a wealthy guy with a flashy smile looks at you and says: God wants you to be happy. Just ask God, and God will give it to you. It is really easy to fall into believing that it’s really possible. That God really wants you to drive the car you can’t afford but want. Or to buy the house that’s way too big and out of your price range, because you want it and that will make you happy.

The people who stand up and say these things, these are false teachers. They are twisting the word of God. They probably aren’t doing so on purpose, but they are doing so anyway. And you know what, millions of Americans are blindly following. These are people who want to follow God, and want to do the right thing. They are following teachers who are saying things that make sense. Just like the earliest members of church in Galatia.

Paul was still around 2,000 years ago to correct the actions of the Galatians. We are not so lucky today.

It has gotten really, really hard to hear God’s voice over the last few millennia. The further we have gotten from Christ speaking the words, the harder it has become to hear the words. There are societal and cultural influences, some claiming to be good, and others that are honest that they could care less about God. These things press in on us from all sides. Consuming us. Making it hard to differentiate what we should do or how we should act.

Couple this with false teachers shouting at us that God wants us to follow a specific version of morality. One that allows us to act in ways that go against the very essence of the Word of Christ. Make no mistake about this: missing the point of what Christ was teaching is why Paul was so mad at the Galatians. The Galatians were focusing on how they show they follow Christ. What are the actions that need to be taken. How do we worship? Not why do we worship? Not how do we live our lives. But: how do we showoff that we are Christians?

I talked with a friend this week, well, I texted with her, about my particular approach to evangelism. My approach, my belief, is that I will be known as a Christian by how I live my life. It’s easier to hear those who stand on street corners with bullhorns, but it’s easier to follow someone who actually walks the walk of faith.

But it can be hard to make out God’s voice when so many people, are shouting their proclamations that they know the way to follow God. This is another reason I would really like a tin can phone to talk to God on.

But of course, I do talk to God. All the time. I’m in constant conversation with God. And then I try to use my understanding of my relationship with God to help me decipher what God is telling me, opposed to what I really want. Sometimes, what I want and what God is telling me are the same thing. Sometimes, doors close that shouldn’t have closed and I know I shouldn’t go that way. Sometimes, there’s a nagging inside of me pulling me in a direction that I don’t particularly want to go.

It’s hard though, to determine what’s God, and what’s me, and what’s the world. I stand before you as a person that others follow in developing their relationship with God. And I will honestly tell you that there are times when I am wrong. I don’t always get this right. But as I grow in my relationship with God, I find that I can figure it out most of the time.

Paul gives a pretty good hint at how to figure this out. “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval?” What is the motivation behind your actions? Ask that. And answer it honestly. That answer will lead you to a better understanding of what Christ was actually teaching. The Centurion in the Gospel, he got that.

It would have been totally taboo for a Roman military captain to ask for a Jewish Rabbi’s help. Especially one who was as controversial as Jesus. This centurion was a good man, who was trying to do the best he could for the people put under his jurisdiction – the Gospel tells us that.

It was not expected, or even common, for an invading and controlling army to be kind and supportive of native populations. But this unnamed centurion was doing what was best for people, not what was expected by the society and culture from which he came.

The common reading of this text is that the centurion’s faith was so great that he thought Christ’s words would be enough to heal his slave. And while that’s entirely possible, I think the faith might go deeper than that. I think this centurion was living out a faithful life without knowing what it meant to do so, and without having been taught how.

I’m glad that we have an example to show us it’s possible to live faithfully without ever having heard God’s words directly from God’s mouth. While it would be great to have a tin can phone with God, it’s possible to live faithfully without one. God’s answers still find a way to vibrate throughout my being, just as those words would if they traveled via string. Knowing myself, even if I had the words directly from God, I’d still mess it up a bit. Because I’m flawed. And human. And so are you. So was Paul. So was the Centurion. And God loves us all anyway.

So how about this: instead of proclaiming that we have the right answers, maybe we can just embody the words of Christ instead.

Maybe we can just love everyone as we love ourselves? Let us be known by our actions, instead of empty proclamations.


Who is my neighbor?

This sermon is from July 10th, 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Georgetown, Washington, DC.

The text is Luke 10:25-37

We’re going to do a little congregational participation to begin today. I need everyone to look at the books on the pew in front of you. There are a number of little red books. In Episcopal world, we call these the Book of Common Prayer. I would like everyone to pick up a Book of Common Prayer, or to share with your neighbor. If you would, please, open your Book of Common Prayer to page 851. This section is known as the Catechism. The Catechism is a summary of the beliefs of a denomination, in this case, the Anglican Church, asked in questions and answer form. As recovering trial attorney, I love how the questions are written so that they lead into one another!

I highly recommend reading through the Catechism, but not right now. Right now I encourage you to listen to me! We are going to look about halfway down page 851, to the question “What is the Summary of the Law?” The answer is: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the great commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A lot of time is spent of the first part of the great Commandment, as it should be. Loving God with all of yourself is crucially important. But much like the lawyer in the Gospel today, there is clarification needed to determine the second part of that commandment: who is my neighbor? Today, I want to talk about that. (and you can put away the Book of Common Prayer if you’d like)

In a time like what we are living in now. Where there is violence and terror in every corner of the world and in our cities, and the world is so connected because of the news, the internet, and social media, how do we know who our neighbors are?

My answer to you is that as the world becomes more and more connected, and people become closer and closer regardless of miles between them, who our neighbor is grows and grows. Out of this Gospel I learn the lesson that when we see our neighbor, we should be nice to them. Regardless of if the person is someone we consider friend, or enemy. Just be nice to each other.

Funny thing about neighbors, we don’t get to choose who they are. And we don’t necessarily understand the struggles of their lives, even if we actually live next door to one another. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be African American and living in this society. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be a Muslim in America. Or Asian. Or Middle Eastern. Or a Combat Veteran. Or a police officer.

But I can tell you about being Gay in America. There is violence, and injustice, and fear that is swirling in so many aspects of American life today. But I am going to talk to you about my lived experience. Because I am your neighbor. And even though you know me, you don’t know the struggles I go through daily.  I am going to attempt to explain the depth of the tragedy of Orlando. I do so as the voices have started to go silent. The flags are no longer at half-staff.  The candle light vigils are over. I do so knowing that we are in the midst of so much pain, with so much injustice swirling in so many aspects of American society.

I begin 2,000 years ago. Because 2,000 years ago, the Christian Church began as a place where Christians came to be together. Share a meal together. The same meal we still share today. Gay clubs and bars fill a similar role today.

The earliest Christians were a minority. They were hunted, hated, unsafe, even in their own homes. They could never tell even their closest friends that they were a Christian for fear of persecution.

Those in the LGBTQ community today (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) are a minority. We are hunted, hated, unsafe, even in our own homes. We fear telling even our closest friends that we’re gay for fear of persecution.

I don’t consider my sexuality as something that needs to be talked about a lot from the pulpit, or in general, really. Because it’s just a part of who I am. Why does who I’m attracted to really matter, in the grand scheme of things? But today, it matters. It matters because I come out to you today, not as gay, but because I’m scared. I’ve been scared, since long before I came out. Fear is part of what you live with as a gay American. I’m afraid of how people will react when they know. Will they still listen to me? Will they turn around and walk away? Will I be able to do my job as a Chaplain, or priest? Will someone assault or kill me because of who I love?

So today, I come out to you as afraid.

I have one of the most supportive mothers in the history of mothers. I knew that she would love me no matter what. But coming out to her was still one of the most terrifying things I have ever done.

Because coming out is scary.

For me, coming out meant admitting that I’m not what society said I’m supposed to be. Like so many people who grow up struggling with their sexuality, I was bullied as a child. Part of the struggle for me to come out was also admitting that those who bullied me were right: there is something different about me.

I hated being different. I always knew I was, but I lied to myself. I lied to everyone. To my friends, my family, and to my God. The day I came out, I stopped lying. I stopped lying to myself, my friends, my family, and to my God.

When I came out, it was like colors became brighter. Life meant more. There were more possibilities. I was finally able to be the full and complete rainbow of a person I was created to be.

But I also learned how to look over my shoulder, how to not trust anyone until they prove themselves safe. This isn’t new for a woman in America; we are taught early on to avoid situations where we are at risk. Cross the street when you see a man walking towards you. Never lose control of yourself. Always be aware of who and what is behind you.

Being gay in America forces you to be even more aware of what and who is around you. You take your life in your hands if you hold the hand of the person you love in public. Having short hair as a woman opens you up to ridicule. Wearing the clothes you feel most comfortable in is the equivalent of walking around with a target on your back. You must develop a thick skin. The alternative is to attempt blend in, which is possible for some, but not for all.

Church began so that Christians could be together, be safe together. Learn together. Eat together. Find strength in each other.

Gay bars and Pride festivals began so that the LGBTQ community could be together, be safe together. Learn together. Eat together. Find strength in each other.

Gay bars and clubs aren’t just places to pick someone up. These are sacred spaces. Spaces where we can actually be totally and completely who we are. There’s no worry about how someone will react if you are holding your partner’s hand. You can dance how and with whom you’d like. You can wear whatever you want. You can be yourself.

All of that ends the second you step outside.

All of that ended a few weeks ago when Omar Mateen walked into Pulse and started pulling the trigger. Our safe space is no longer a space where we don’t have to look constantly over our shoulders. This not only scares me, it breaks my heart.

I tell you these things because I am your neighbor, and I need you to understand. I’m a white woman, and you are a group of almost entirely white men and women. This is a moment when you need to understand your privilege. Understand that it is a privilege, not a right, to walk down the street holding the hand of whom you love. It’s a privilege to not feel ashamed to introduce your significant other.

It’s a privilege for society to not make you feel less than, like an “other”, unwanted, different.

Society makes me feel like all of these things. Every day.

I don’t say these things because I need a hug or to be reassured of my worth.

I KNOW I am a fantastic young woman. I’m intelligent, I’m educated, I’m attractive, I’m employed, I have an incredible network of friends, both gay and straight, my family is amazing. I’m single, but it’s because I know I’m a catch and I’m accordingly picky.

Society still sets me aside as different. Not because I’m a solid 8, nor because I’m among the most educated people in the world. I’m set aside because I’m attracted to women.

And that’s wrong.

What society says about me is wrong. And make no mistake about this: it is society that caused the massacre in Orland. We can place blame anywhere we want, but a society that normalizes homophobia, misogyny, racism and sexism, and puts masculinity on a pedestal caused Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and St. Anthony to happen. God or religion didn’t cause this. WE caused this.

As a Christian, I’m not okay with this.

As a Christian in leadership, I’m looking at all of you, and saying it’s time to stop this.

We have an example of Christ who loves and cares for all. But we also follow the teachings of a man who got so pissed off he literally flipped over tables and drove people away with a whip.

There’s a time to pray, and there’s a time to stand up. This is the time to stand up. It’s time to change the society that makes it okay to say something is “gay”, when they aren’t talking about a happy person.

We stop this by doing a couple of things. First, and most important, we must be aware of ourselves. How we are privileged, and how our privilege causes us to miss the struggles of others, and how our privilege causes the struggles of others. Second, when you see something, say something. When a man bullies a woman, stop them. When someone says something is gay, tell them that’s not acceptable. Don’t judge people because they’re different, disabled, or for the color of their skin, and don’t let other people do so either.

This stuff needs to stop. And it needs to stop now. We are the cause, and we are the solution.

God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God doesn’t tell us that we get to choose who our neighbors are. The only time in Scripture that humans tried to choose who their neighbors would be, God said nope, and in the Tower of Babel story, God separated people to the far ends of the earth.

We as Christians are called to be counter cultural. It’s not easy to be counter cultural. Ask Jesus. Or Paul. Or Peter. Or any Disciple. It’s hard to go against the grain of what society says you should do and be.

But you know what: do it anyway.

Jesus tells you to.

I need you to. My life literally depends on it.

In this Gospel story, a man was in a ditch, through no fault of his own. Society said to ignore him, let him save himself, or die. It took a man from another society to save him. The man in the ditch suffered two injustices: he was attacked, and his life and death struggle was ignored by the elite in his society.

God calls us to see, name, and stand up to injustice. What happened to Alton Sterling and Philano Castile was an injustice. They were our neighbors. Our neighbors lives literally depend on us.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”