I have overheard many people lamenting the fact that we no longer value one another’s lives and it has left me wondering when it was that we equally valued one another’s lives. Was it when lynching was a common occurrence? During slavery or Jim Crow? Was it when we forced people into internment camps? When we slaughtered the Native Americans? Was it when the North and South were killing each other? When? We have always looked for reasons to devalue the lives of others and we have always found it, as individuals and as a nation, and until we are honest about that, we will just keep following our own footsteps over and over again. Read the comments on any news article if you want to see it happen in real time. Until we refuse to see another human as anything less than the divine image of God, a life that is just as sacred as our own, nothing will change. As long as people filled with hatred have easy access to weapons that can take 9 lives in a single minute, nothing will change. Nothing is changing. So maybe it is time that we decide to value human life. Maybe we need to go back to the very beginning with the breath of God in our dusty lungs and God’s fingerprints still visible in our messy mud, and remember that we are all equally precious. It is the small true thing that I keep coming back to as wave upon wave of hatred and terror wash over us. It is time to remember that we are all dirt and the breath of God, as Nadia Bolz-Weber has said. Each of us. You, me, the latest shooter, each and every victim. Dirt and the breath of God.
The creation stories are not there so we can debate Biblical inerrancy versus the facts of science; they are there to teach us that we ALL come from the same place, that we are lifeless earth made holy and vital by the Creator of the universe. Why can’t we muster the strength to defend THAT as fervently as our position papers? My life is not worth inherently more than those who are pleading for asylum at our borders, my children’s lives are not more precious than the lives of children in cages or starving across the sea. Location of birth does not wipe away God’s fingerprints. Gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliation do not make us suddenly subhuman; we remain God’s image-bearers. It requires no paperwork. No one and nothing can undo our status as beloved children of God. It is finished. There are no garbage humans. Do we believe this? Do we live as though we do?
It is an aching truth to live into. If every human matters, then every loss hurts. The brokenness of the world is no longer happening to someone else, it is happening to us. The people we bomb are us. The people gunned down while running errands are us. The people fleeing genocide are us. The people pulling the trigger are us, too. People who say those who choose love are taking the easy way out are mistaken. Hate is easy; hate is the lazy river of the world, it requires no effort, it carries us along without us lifting a finger. We get swept up in rhetoric and othering and on some level it feels good. We are the in-group! There is a sense of safety when you are in the angry mob that you give up when you refuse to pick up a pitchfork or tiki torch. But we were not called to easy or even to safety, we were called to love. Real love. The risky, painful kind of love. The striving kind. The kind of love that persists even as it is crucified. I have been told that this sort of love is admirable, but also that I must understand that this is not how the real world works. You can’t just love people who might wish you harm. But I don’t want the real world, I want the in-breaking kingdom of God. The real world is what keeps us gunning one another down in concerts and schools and movie theaters and WalMarts. It is fear and scarcity and death. I’ve had enough of that. Haven’t you?
I’ve also heard it said that all of this is evidence that we’ve turned from God and of course there is a ready list of scapegoats- gays, liberals, immigrants, and so on. You know the list, maybe you agree with the list. But the list is bullshit. The list is the problem masquerading as the solution. That list, and others like it, keeps us from turning towards one another, from seeing God in one another, from realizing our liberation is tied up in one another. That list keeps us loading our all too readily available weapons, aiming them at one another, and pulling the rapid-fire trigger. That list keeps us from the fullness of God’s love. The life and example of Jesus is nothing like that list. Jesus pulled people from the margins and affirmed their inherent worth. He lifted up those that society and religion pushed down. He was non-violent and committed to peace and love, even as it was actively killing him. Is he our example, our brother, our God? Or is his name something we just invoke to keep the upper hand?
We have to take an honest look inward, to ask ourselves hard questions, to recognize where we are allowing hatred and vitriol to fester, to dismantle our very own prejudice, to look at the media we are swimming in and gulping down and ponder how it might be poisoning us, to speak up when we are confronted with speech that devalues ANY human being, to teach our children (especially our white male children) that every person is equally cherished by God and should be equally cared for by us, to uproot theology that divides and blames and celebrates death and violence and marries itself to nationalism, to find the ways we ourselves have been complicit in the tearing apart of our shared humanity and do the hard work required to mend it (including holding our legislators accountable for their words and actions and votes, and voting, even when it doesn’t seem to matter). So let us begin. Today, while our hearts are still tender with grief.