We were made for life

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Church of the Brethren crisis response has been working with refugees in Nigeria; thousands of their members have been killed and nearly a hundred thousand have been displaced. In all, three million Nigerians have been affected by the outbreak of violence. Photo courtesy of Church of the Brethren.

When a young teacher was murdered in her home down the street from my house last month, I was shocked, horrified, and scared.  So I can understand why the Western world has responded with such vehemence to the terrorist attack on a French satirical magazine.  It happened in the West, after all, to people who, in some ways, feel very much like “us” living under the protection of a democratic government.

But even as I faced my new reality of a neighborhood that no longer felt safe, I sensed a dawning awareness that my shock at violence committed against someone “like me” in my “backyard” was a privilege.  Others in my city and around the world live under threat of violence every day; it shouldn’t happen in my neighborhood but it shouldn’t happen in anyone’s neighborhood.

Our grief is right and good.  I grieve the senseless death of this young teacher not because she is like me but because her life matters.  And as I grieve her death, I become aware of other losses in my city—in neighborhoods a little farther away to people that don’t feel as familiar.  And I’m challenged to consider whether I value some lives more than others, whether identification and “sameness” somehow determines worth.

As I see reports online about #IAmCharlie and “I don’t agree with what you say but I’ll defend your right to say it,” I wonder if I would.  Because it seems to me my faith is less about protecting the right to free speech and more about protecting you.  Free speech doesn’t give anyone the right to live.  But being made by and in the image of God does.

And God weeps.  Over a schoolteacher murdered in her home, over journalists executed in their office, over thousands of women, children, and elderly massacred on the streets of Nigeria, over each target and victim of a U.S. drone strike.  God weeps, not because they are heroes, not because they are innocent or guilty, not because violence shouldn’t happen in their neighborhood, not for any other reason than that human life is precious and we are made to live.

I am not Charlie.  I am not a child in Nigeria.  I am not a neighborhood schoolteacher.  But I am a follower of Jesus, the divine “other” who so valued the treasure of human life that he came to earth to stand in solidarity with humans everywhere.  We are made by God for life and life abundant.

In this week, like every other, God grieves lives lost.  And so do we.  Together, we stand in solidarity with this God who stands in solidarity with us.