On Grieving in Public on the Internet

I’ve been thinking about dancing. How much I love it. The places I’ve danced–literally thrown up my arms and been absorbed by the beat–in the middle of something terrible. How dancing is always a desperation, a need to move every limb and moment and be as present in every nerve of my body, as embodied, how the extreme of embodiment is the beginning of the mystical. About dancing as a sacrament, the way I nod–head bob, even–when I read my friends’ posts about dancing as a form of worship, how queer clubs are the closest thing queers have to church.

How I once said to a friend,  “I love dancing.” And he said, “No you don’t, I’ve seen you not dance. You don’t like going out to dance.” And I said, “No, I mean dancing when it’s safe. Like at liberal arts college parties when you know everyone in the room and you know no one is going to hurt you, they just came to dance.” That may be the least Anabaptist thing I’ve ever said. Somehow, in a religious tradition that spent 400 years eschewing dancing, the act of having a body with music still feels sacred to me.

I don’t usually grieve in public, on the Internet. I don’t get a catharsis from posting articles or infographics or producing long, arcing posts about the nature of grief and dancing and death. What I do in public on the Internet is walk around, mostly, pointing out the odd trinkets the shop of my life is selling. I get embarrassed to grieve before people who only know me in still lifes or bursts of 140 characters, the 360 friends who haven’t been with my body in 360 days or more. I get embarrassed to not be mourning enough, or not eulogizing the right people, or pointing to the right issues, that everyone else has figured out how to express the who and the what and what it means and I sit wordless, thinking, “…maybe I will come back tomorrow.” I get embarrassed to be embarrassed when everyone else on the Internet is grieving so publicly, so confident in how grief is, who it belongs to and who it should hold it lightly, which moments are for silence and which moments are for house electronica, which, when you grieve often enough, somehow becomes part of the ritual. And then we cry, and then we dance.

I don’t know how to grieve in public on the internet because I can’t bring my body to it. Grief is always in my body. It’s not that I grieve privately; I grieve personally, with the persons who know me best. I prefer grief be personal, exchanged between bodies sitting in the same room. When a college friend died one summer, returning home after finals, we held a memorial service for her when we all returned in the fall. It was everything she was and so that night, after the service together, we held a dance party. Not the best dance party, but it was the thing we could do for Deann.

The problem is that in Orlando’s shooting, as in every act of gun violence, the personal is political. Personally, I have spent so much time being pacifist in public, making a case for the mysteriously extreme idea that humans are not gatekeepers for death. Personally, I have signed public petitions; I have called my lawmakers, both at the state and the federal levels. Personally, my church doesn’t accept conceal-carry permits, does not allow guns in our space.

Personally, I have spent so much time undoing Christian homophobia in public. Personally, I inch along, standing with LGBTQ friends yelling at walls together. Personally, I have not been in very many queer clubs but I have loved all of them. Personally, what grieves me most is that every sentence that says “The church expresses its sorrow,” is followed by “even though..” “in spite of…” or, at the very least, some surprise that the church thought queer people were people before they were queer.

Personally, I am, as a pastor, politicized. It is still true–as of today–that the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, have all made simple, faithful statements of prayer and support in simple, obvious places on their webpages. And that the Mennonite Church USA, who was supposed to be anti-gun for centuries before we had any feelings about queer folk, has not said a word in public.

Perhaps my institution, like me, prefers to grieve in person but that is not a luxury we have earned, not when the lives and the worth of LBTQ people are implicated in grief. My institution is failing. It politics are misplaced. It is so far from what it should be, praying to the idols of committee work and private space. So I would prefer to grieve in person.  Would prefer not to feel obligated to say anything myself. But as long as the personal is political, I speak publicly and repeatedly. From an Anabaptist perspective, there is no reason not to make this statement:

There were guns. There was anger. People died. None of that should have been.

And if dancing is how you grieve now, find me on the floor.

Corliss 1

Dancing, January 2013,  Bogotá, Colombia.


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