By Shea Howell

June 17, 2016

Orlando has joined the list of places linked to mass killing. It surpassed the killings at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 people were killed and 17 were injured. Now Sandy Hook is in third place. There have been 998 mass shootings, since the death of 27 people in that elementary school.

In Orlando gay men were targeted for death, this time by a deeply troubled young man.

This time it was not African Americans gathered to pray, targeted by a deeply troubled young man. But it has been.

This time it was not college students, walking across campus, assaulted from a tower. But it has been.

This time it was not an African American father standing in a doorway, killed in a rain of police bullets. But it has been.

This time it was not a 6 year old African American girl asleep on her couch, killed in a rain of police bullets. But it has been.

This time it was not high school students, gunned down by an angry boy. But it has been.

This time it was not a young boy playing in a park, killed by a rain of police bullets. But it has been.

This time it was not woman blown up by bombs while celebrating international athletes. But it has been.

This time it was not patients in a hospital, blown up by bombs dropped from an anonymous drone. But it has been.

This time it was not a group of young Mexican men, woman and children, left to die in a trucking crate. But it has been.

This time it was not a gay man dragged to his death behind a car for sport. But it has been.

This time it was not a gay man beaten and tied to a fence, left to die. But it has been.

This time it was not students, protesting injustice, shot down by National Guardsmen. But it has been.

This time it was not a group of Vietnamese women and children gunned down on the edge of ditch by US soldiers. But it has been.

This time it was not a presidential candidate shot to death. But it has been.

This time it was not a president shot to death. But it has been.

This time it was not a man of peace shot to death. But it has been.

This time it was not 4 little girls on a quiet Sunday morning, blown up by a bomb in their church. But it has been.

This time it was not a city, obliterated in an instant from fire from the sky. But it has been.

This time it was not workers burned to death, locked into a factory. But it has been.

This time it was not union organizers shot down on a bridge, marching for dignity. But it has been.

This time it was not a nation of people driven by US soldiers across a Continent, killing 1/3 of them in that trail of tears. But it has been.

This time it was not the young African American men lynched for sport. But it has been.

This time it was not the children killed by small pox, caught from the blankets given them by US soldiers. But it has been.

This time it was not the young African American boy brutally beaten beyond recognition and dumped in the river. But it has been.

This time it was not a woman killed by her lover, in anger and rage. But it has been.

This time it was not a lesbian couple shot by their elder neighbor. But it has been.

This time it was not a child shot to death for a pair of sneakers. But it has been.

This time it was not a child killed by the people who were supposed to love and cherish him. But it has been.

Our public history and most private moments are steeped in violence. Violence is as American as apple pie. It is not the act of some lone wolf, deranged fanatic, or demonic cult. It is the constant in how we live together.

It is the product of a culture that values some lives more than others. It has always been with us. Every time we have faced a choice, we have chosen profits over people, the protection of privilege over justice.

Fifty years ago the Civil Rights movement called us to love, to create new, just relationships among us, to radically revolutionize our values of racism, materialism and militarism.

But in the decades since, we have moved away from the vision of loving communities. We are losing the belief in our capacity to create them as we have grown more brutal. Now violence corrodes all our connections.

Even in efforts to honor the dead in Orlando we do violence to them. News reports and church bells count the toll at 49. As though the young man who wielded the gun was not also human, not also a life lost, not also a part of a family left to mourn, not the enemy we are called to love.

In Orlando, there are also moments of love and courage. A mother, celebrating her victory over cancer, threw herself in front of her son, protecting him. A man riped off his garments and bound the wounds of a stranger. Another pulled a friend to safety. Police officers risked their lives to save victims. A young man hugged a stranger to life.

Orlando again challenges us to love, to care for one another and to find ways of living that restore the sacredness of all life. Love is the only answer to violence.

Perhaps this time, as we are called to affirm life matters, we will have the courage to look honestly at how we have lived. Only then can we create new paths to the future.