For the first few posts of August, “We Talk. We Listen.” will be focusing on white privilege and the thoughts and struggles that our authors have had with it. Our first post, by LSTC alumus Crystal Solie (2012), focuses on her personal revelations – some not so pleasant – in the wake of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub; and how reflecting on the hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus” (ELW #346) lead her to a painfully healing understanding of how she, as a white, cisgender gay woman, could respond to the tragedy. Read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Conflict has been a friend of mine for some time now.
Feelings of attraction to women conflicting with what the world tells me is normal. Tense relationships within my family nearly severed by disclosing my sexual orientation. Fear and anger driving me away from the Church colliding with the deep desire to embrace the worship, community, and faith written on my heart in my childhood. Rage incited by slurs hurled at me from cars at odds with the question if it’s safer to engage, ignore, or forgive.
I have had to deal with conflict constantly since I made the decision to publicly identify as a gay woman. That is to say I have had to walk with it and anticipate it every day. But I have also allowed it to inform the foundation of my faith and remind me that nothing is going to shake God’s grasp on me; that I am redeemed and justified before God; that the darkness will not overcome the light.
Then Orlando happened.
The first wave that hit me was pain and fear. It didn’t go unnoticed by my four year old daughter who took a moment too look up from her cartoons Sunday morning to me and ask, “Mama, are you ok?”
No, I wasn’t.
I am gay. This could have happened to me and my friends. My wife and I had tickets to a concert that night and contemplated not going. No show was worth the risk of leaving our children orphaned. That was how deep the fear went, down to the darkness where we realized there was nothing we could do to protect ourselves or our kids from anything like this. We ended up going out Sunday night and it was absolutely what we needed. We laughed and we cried. We sang and we danced.
As the week went on, more information was released about the victims. As I read the names of the victims and viewed their images, a second wave hit me, one of guilt and despair. This was when I got uncomfortable, when I started experiencing an internal conflict that I have yet to reconcile.
I am white. This would not have happened to me or my friends. I probably wouldn’t have been at Latin Night at Pulse or any other club. I can say it’s because I prefer karaoke or because I have two left feet. Regardless of the fact that I live two hours away, I was not there and probably wouldn’t have been. I do not have many Latinx friends. I have not shared in their joys or struggles. I have not attempted to learn their songs or their dances.
In this surmounting conflict within my heart, where my pain and fear are at odds with my guilt and despair, I picked up my hymnal to meditate on “Ah, Holy Jesus”:
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone the.
‘Twas I Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.
Now a third wave has enveloped me, a seismic rage rippling through me and the world I thought I knew. A new conflict that is tearing me wide open and making me reexamine my identity.
How can I sing “I crucified thee,” admitting my participation in the very sin that killed our Savior hundreds of years ago, and not accept responsibility for the deaths of people of color in this country? I crucified Emmett Till. I crucified James Byrd Jr. I crucified Trayvon Martin. I crucified the Emanuel nine. I crucified the forty-nine at Pulse.
On Sunday June 12th, I was a victim. By Saturday June 18th, I was a perpetrator. I still go back and forth between these roles, Law and Gospel charting a course through this tragedy, leading me to a confession that is long overdue.
The flames of this conflict in my heart are further fanned by the deep desire to feel the connection to a faith community that sees what is happening in our world and is fighting it. But when I look to our leaders and listen to the words being spoken, there is something missing. Where are the LGBTQIA voices? Where are the Latinx voices? We lift them up in prayer, but we fail to engage, to ask, to listen. As a gay woman, I expect more of my Church. As a white cis-gender person, I expect more of myself.
I am a sinner. I like to think that I sit at the farthest reaches of the margins, that I am a victim. In some ways I am, but in many ways I am not. I have failed to use my privilege to help those further ostracized by the Church and the World. I have failed to acknowledge that privilege. I have failed to reach out beyond what I know. I have allowed fear to prevent my growth, to keep me in those places where I am comfortable, to avoid unnecessary conflict.
This is sin.
This is the sin that ensnares us so subtly that causes us to hide behind excuses like “we are just keeping ourselves safe” or “it’s not my fault there aren’t any [enter any marginalized population] living in my neighborhood or going to my church.” Was this shooting incited by racism? Doesn’t seem to be, however there are absolutely racial implications that led black and brown bodies to congregate in that sanctuary that night and not (as many) white ones.
As much as I am praying for comfort for the victims of the shooting and their families and myself, I know that prayer is a woefully inadequate repose. I must change. I must sin boldly and trust in my promised salvation. I must find a new way – a way of continual repentance and renewal. I must find a way through this conflict, a way of asking, searching, and knocking.
Crystal Solie (pictured left, holding her oldest daughter Georgia next to her wife Lindsay Cofield-Solie and youngest daughter Eliza) is an alumni of the Lutheran School of Thology at Chicago (MDiv 2012) living in Jacksonville, FL with her wife and two daughters who enjoy weekend trips to the beach and raising butterflies. In addition to her calling as a wife and mother, Crystal serves the LGBTQIA community as a storyteller and director for the Coming Out Monologues Jacksonville, a community inspired, community created, and community led production promoting social change through storytelling.