“As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'” – Matthew 24:1-2
For me it was The Common Ground in Ithaca, NY, a magnificently seedy roadhouse several miles outside of town. It had a gravel and grass parking lot, a perpetual haze of cigarette smoke, and an all-age cast of regulars you could easily have built a sitcom around. My husband will tell you about The Park in Roanoke, VA, which he and his college friends would drive 45 minutes to get to every weekend, and which they talk about today like it’s a homeland from which they’re in unwilling diaspora.
Ask any queer person you know, and chances are they’ll have a story to tell you about a place like this. They will tell you about how they found a family there, how they found themselves there, how they felt safe for the first time on the dance floor there, how much they learned there, how they found love there, how they learned to be bold there, how they dressed like themselves for the very first time there, showing off their glitter, or butch haircut, or size 13 high heels without fear. That note you hear in their voice as they tell you about it? That’s gratitude, and reverence.
50 dead and more than 50 wounded hits hard any time and anywhere. But for many queer people, what happened at Pulse hits as hard as shootings in churches hit for Christians, as hard as shootings in black churches hit for black Christians. It’s not just the death toll. It’s not just that it was a hate crime. It’s that it happened in a sanctuary.
Here’s a true thing: every sanctuary will be invaded, by madness or death or slow decay, sooner or later. Even the Temple in Jerusalem fell. Even the body of God was penetrated. But here’s what Christians believe: that body is still our refuge and our might. That the lord of the dance(hall) wouldn’t stay dead. That his pulse wouldn’t stop pulsing. That they couldn’t take our Sanctuary away.
So as you mourn and grieve and organize today, here’s what I hope: that you do not let your sanctuary be taken from you. I hope you remember wherever it was you first found freedom and safety, and that you go back there if you can, if only in memory. I hope you go out dancing.
God, you are our refuge and our might. Your sanctuaries are everywhere, and only some of them are in churches. Give us courage to never let them be taken away. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.