It was the ultimate curse. To curse is to wish diminishment, damage or – in the case of the horrific crime in Orlando early Sunday morning, death to someone else. The 49 murders in the Pulse nightclub, along with at least 53 wounded, represent a toxic and unholy trinity of gun violence, suspected terrorism and hate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. It was an ultimate curse of evil that has cast a lasting spell of anger, grief, fear and shock across the country. Again.
Responses to this curse have come from the President and the Pope, the LGBT community, leaders of varying religious communities, family members and on and on and on. All have condemned the one who inflicted the curse – and the ideology and hatred which fueled it; and each in their own way has offered expressions of faith, hope and courage, and pledges of solidarity and strategy.
As most of us can attest, cursing has become commonplace in our culture. On many levels. Cursing is not so much about language, although language can serve as its manifestation. Cursing is about wishing woe on someone else by giving them the finger or telling them audibly, but more often silently, to jump off a bridge or go to hell. We all have done it. Most of us still do. Cursing has become so prevalent that we now have a presidential candidate who publicly and almost weekly invokes the diminishment of an individual or group – without hesitation or remorse.
Cursing is a scourge. And while we won’t be able to eliminate it, as people of faith we can try and reduce the capacity to curse one another.
We can start with guns.
There should be no way that anyone should be able to get their hands on an assault rifle that can fire eight shots a second, with magazines that can be replaced in the blink of an eye. If these weapons are available – either illegally, or in the Orlando case legally, some deranged person is going to get one and use it to commit the ultimate curse. “Do Not Stand Idly By” (from Leviticus 19:6 – “do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed”) is a growing movement of faith communities across the country, putting pressure on gun manufacturers to quit making such firearms available to non-military markets.
The Episcopal Bishops United Against Gun Violence joined with 86 other groups across the country in calling for people to wear orange on June 2, as a witness against gun violence. I now have an orange stole – and I plan to wear it regularly as a symbol of solidarity with people who are committed to reducing the capacity to curse one another through the use of guns.
What is especially chilling about these ultimate curses is that there are specific targets: Sikhs in Wisconsin, children in Newtown, African-Americans in Charleston, LBGT people in Orlando. As we have seen, hatred can go on a rampage.
I have to confess that my initial impulse was to return the hate with some of my own. I am not alone. I think it is important to acknowledge that impulse. Jesus certainly did – and then challenged his followers to move through their desire to continue the impulse to curse, and instead offer a blessing: “bless those who curse you” (Matthew 5:11). Blessing in the face of hate, anger and fear may be one of the most difficult things that any of us can get our psyches to do, but a blessing is the antidote to a curse. Cursing diminishes life; blessing is a wish for abundant life, which God freely gives. And with enough prayers and actions of blessing, offered over time, the impulse to curse is both challenged and reduced. A cornerstone of my faith is that blessing wins. It may take a while, but blessing wins.
I am going to take this conviction next Tuesday, June 21, the first full day of summer, to Penn Station in Newark and to the soup line next door to our building. I will offer blessings for summer. I have learned that people want and need to be blessed, especially in the wake of such malevolent curses. People want and need to be blessed. But I want and need to offer blessing – not because I am a bishop, but because I am a child of God, and as such need to join God in offering healing and hope to a wounded world.