In sanctuaries across America, the walls are draped with rainbow banners proclaiming “GOD ♡’s US ALL,” “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” and “PEACE TO ALL WHO ENTER HERE.” Celebrating diversity, we stand to sing, “CHRIST HAS BROKEN DOWN THE WALL,” certain that God weeps at our barriers, closed doors, guns, yellow stars, pink triangles, barbed wire, and at faux prayers for unity.
We march down our streets, rainbow flags unfurled, and party later, dancing in the clubs. Sweethearts of all persuasions hold hands and make vows promising “forever,” or take their kids to the beach for the first swim of the summer — barely thinking twice about being a family with two moms or two dads.
Concerts and poetry readings celebrate the creativity in the LGBTQ community. At one book group meeting, mature hands hold tattered copies of Patience & Sarah. The readers remember when it first appeared in 1971 (“And now it’s an opera!” one whispers to another. “It’s being performed in the Village this month. Want to go?”).
Some of us thought it possible during Pride Month to take a break from the struggle, thought it safe to look away from the crowds cheering pouty-lipped politicians promising a wall (a BIG wall) to keep out or keep in; the lawmakers legislating what we can and can’t do with our bodies, who we can or can’t marry, where we can or can’t pee; the churches in an uproar over LGBTQ members called to ordained ministry. We thought it safe to take a brief break and celebrate with friends, family, lovers, allies.
WE’RE ALL ORLANDO
But then, right in middle of the month and a week before the one-year anniversary of the Charleston church massacre, a man with two guns, one a military-style assault rifle, the other a semi-automatic pistol, entered Pulse — a place of acceptance and fun, welcoming and safe, often the first stop for young people coming out in Orlando — and mowed down 49 joy-filled bodies.
The blood’s been mopped up from the dance floor that pulsed to a Latin beat that night, but we can’t seem to wake up from the nightmare of American gun-obsession or our penchant for prejudice. On TV, fundamentalist Christian extremists curse and condemn fundamentalist Muslim extremists or thank them for ridding the world of “perverts,” distortions of scripture dripping from their lips. Progressive Christians stare, bewildered, as if we hold different Bibles in our hands, as if we can’t believe that Jesus’ message of love could get so twisted to hate, as if our years spent building bridges, tearing down walls, preaching acceptance and joy in diversity could be washed away so easily. We vow not to stay silent or paralyzed this time.
MARK MILLER: MUSIC CAN CHANGE THE WORLD
Across the nation, we rise up singing, the memory of martyrs pulsing through our veins. In our churches, we turn again to the works of Mark A. Miller, building our harmonies in a slow tempo for courage and strength, our voices growing stronger with each verse — “Christ has broken down the wall.” We sing of being accepted, of casting aside doubt and fear, embracing love, tearing down every wall.
The adopted son of a United Methodist minister, Miller came out to his family while still a teen. He went on to study at Yale and Juilliard. Now, his is a crucial voice as an openly-gay composer of hymns and choral works, classical organist, worship leader, and professor at Theological School at Drew. Abingdon Press describes him as “a rising star in the field of Protestant music.”
Mark and his partner have two adopted children. In his personal and his professional life, Miller is passionate about using music to draw our circle wide and break down the walls that divide.
OUT OF THE SANCTUARIES, INTO THE STREETS
That Miller’s music is a force for healing and hope is something to which I can personally attest. The evening after the massacre, I joined friends at The Church of the Village in Manhattan for a service of mourning and rage. Interwoven with prayer, scripture, testimony, we sang three songs by Mark Miller — “I Believe,” “I Choose Love,” and “The Journey Isn’t Over.”
We came together to pray, light candles, recite together, “The Lord is my shepherd,” tears streaming down our cheeks, sobs rising, voices choking at the words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Again! prompts the pastor. “I will fear no evil.” Again! “I WILL FEAR NO EVIL.”
UMC Bishop Middleton gave the blessing and a lesbian pastor offered a personal testimony that got us moving into the streets where we joined thousands for a vigil outside the Stonewall Inn where, in 1969, Gay Pride began. As we gathered, we sang Holly Near’s song, “We are a gentle, angry people, singing for our lives” and added a new verse, “We are the PULSE of God together.”
TO GO DEEPER
~ WRITTEN RESOURCES ~
Mark Miller Music website
“Sing Out,” article about Mark Miller, Drew Magazine, Spring 2016
“Christ has Broken Down the Wall: Hymn Study” by Dean McIntyre, UMC Discipleship Ministries
“Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub Was Founded by a Woman Whose Brother Died from AIDS: The Name Refers to His Heartbeat” by James West, Mother Jones, June 12, 2016.
“Queer religious art resource list: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism” on JesusInLove blog.
Patience & Sarah, opera by Paula Kimper, based on the novel by Isabel Miller
~ VIDEOS ~
“Christ Has Broken Down the Wall” Drew Alumni Choir
“Love Has Broken Down the Wall” First-Plymouth Church Lincoln, Nebraska
“Draw the Circle Wide” Pride Sunday at the Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta
“The Journey Isn’t Over” — from Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall we’ve come a long way… Sung by Lydia Muno
“Love Your Neighbor: Mark Miller, UMC, Greater New Jersey Conference (Mark Miller’s statement about coming out in a church context)
“Stand with Mark Miller” statement on the plenary floor of General Conference, April 2012, posted by Reconciling Ministries Network
Anderson Cooper Remembers the Victims of the Shooting on CNN