I was driving in the car this morning listening to yet another discussion about the death of the beloved lion Cecil in Zimbabwe this month. The amount of hatred being spewed against the man who killed this majestic animal, for sport, was immense. I get it. It was very terrible what this man has done. I'm not sure how I feel about hunting for sport as it is, let alone all the lengths it appears he went to to bag this mighty beast.
But as I was driving down the highway listening to the radio hosts talk about how we should all be appalled and up-in-arms about this atrocity, my mind was quickly filled with other images.
The movie theater shooting last week. Those killed during Bible Study at a church in Charleston, NC. The videos that have come out in recent weeks concerning practices of Planned Parenthood harvesting and commodifying aborted fetal tissue. The picture of a small child gutted in the name of tribal ritual. The women and girls huddled in shipping containers, sleazy apartments, and who-knows-where waiting for the next guy willing to pay the price. The children used and abused for someone's twisted sexual pleasure. The lives that are thrown away simply because of inconvenience or burden.
I was overcome with thoughts of Boko Haram and the Islamic State and the Taliban, who have decided that only some human beings have worth, while the others deserve torture, rape, and death. The flurry of racism that has reared its ugly head these past few years. The shouts of God's hatred towards gays, or the military, or democrats, or whomever God hates this week. The cries of mothers and wives and children as they bury their husbands and sons and fathers, killed for this-or-that reason.
Jesus said to His disciples, and everyone else listening, "So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. (Luke 12:7b)" Was He speaking only of the disciples? The text doesn't allow us to arrive at that conclusion. What we see from reading this passage is that every human lives matters to God; so much so that He gave His life for the whole world because of the love He has for it, for us, for every single human being that has ever lived or ever will live (see John 3:16).
So as those radio hosts suggested, I am appalled and up-in-arms about this atrocity. But not about the lion (which is terrible). I am appalled by the ways we human beings treat other human beings.
Martin Buber, in his book, I and Thou, addresses our mistreatment of other humans by looking at the categories of I-You and I-It, with regard to our relationship with other people. It boils down to this: do you look at another person and see them as a You, as a person of worth and value apart from anything they can do for you? Or do you see them as an It, as a commodity, a resource that can be used and thrown away as soon as it's usefulness is gone?
This is our problem as the human race. We do not see other people as You's. The woman taking her clothes off in the strip club or demeaning herself in a porn film is not a real human being. She exists for someone's sexual pleasure. The black man walks around in fear because his skin color might get him mistaken for a criminal. He is not a You. He is a thing whose worth is determined by the packaging. The baby still growing in their mother's womb is simply a bundle of cells that can be disposed of if it's inconvenient, and then he or she can be sold off for parts to the highest bidder in the name of scientific research and capitalism.
A friend asked me yesterday, "has everyone on this planet gone insane?" It's a valid question when you look at the terrible things we do to each other. When we stop seeing others as human beings, as someone of sacred worth, as God's image bearers -just as we are!- then we can and do excuse all sorts of atrocities.
When are we going to start seeing that? When are we going to start living that way? Look at your own life today: in what ways are you treating people as if they are mere commodities, existing only for your pleasure or use, and when they no longer meet your needs, you dispose of them? How are you perpetrating evil in the name of selfishness and self-indulgence? Who in your life do you need to start seeing as a You, instead of an It?
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all we are, and secondly, to love our neighbor (that is- other people) as ourselves. Behaving as if another person is an It instead of a You is not loving them.
This morning was a wake up call for me. I don't always treat people like they are beings of sacred worth. And, I'm just going to say it: You Don't Either! Unless we stop treating others as something inhuman, the atrocities will continue. Unless we start caring about every single life- no matter how old or young, clean or dirty, rich or poor, gay or straight, black or white or other- we are just as bad as those perpetrators of evil we denounce. Unless we stop covering our eyes, closing our ears, and shutting our mouth, people will continue to be treated like crap. Stop It!
Human lives matter. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Gay lives matter. Straight lives matter. Elderly lives matter. Pre-born lives matter. My life matters. Your life matters. #humanlivesmatter.
Cori Cypret is the pastor of The United Methodist Church of Coopersville.