#PrayforOrlando. #AltonSterling. #PhilandoCastile. #PrayersforDallas. #hashtaghashtag.

Another day, another hashtag. It seems every day we wake up the world is just a little bit heavier. Two shootings in as many days. In my own city, the murder of a convenience store clerk. This is not something we’re used to – Lincoln is generally quiet and calm. Aaron and I were talking about these events last night and then this morning we wake up to the tragedy in Dallas. The world feels loud and chaotic. Our cities are roaring with unrest, here and around the world. The very earth seems to groan with heartache. So what is our response? What do we do when we read this news again and again? How do we react as we sit in our cities far away from Orlando and Dallas and Baton Rouge, in our homes as we take care of babies, or in our jobs so far removed from the weighty task of law enforcement?

I know I’m wading into dicey waters. You might be nervous for me right now as you start to read like, “Oh no, what’s this blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white girl going to say about this very sensitive issue?” I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what it’s like to feel unsafe – unprotected by those who are meant to protect. I have faced very little, if any, discrimination in my lifetime. And I don’t know, obviously, what it’s like to be a police officer. My job causes me no stress. I never feel like my life is in imminent danger. I’m never protecting myself or anyone else when I go to work every day. I will not pretend to know what that is like. But, as we know, with power comes responsibility and as our police officers and those in the military and government wield that power over us, it must be done fairly and justly. These instances in Minnesota and Louisiana and across the country over the last year, what we know about them, hardly seem just and fair.

Four days ago we celebrated the independence of our country – freedom. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’m proud to be an American and I’m thankful that I was born in this country. But are we all free? Does every person feel the freedom shining on their face like I spoke of on the fourth of July? Does every person feel free to live and move about, caring for their families, going to school and work with the same freedom that I do? Recent news would tell us that we don’t feel that way.

Are these occurrences in our cities new? Or are they just now being brought to light? We need to do our best to drag the darkness into the light as much as we can, so if this is constantly what our brothers and sisters are facing, I’m glad we’re finally talking about it. But after last night, as police officers were killed while protecting our right to protest, I think we would be remiss to not also recognize the thousands and thousands of times police carry out their jobs without incident. People of all races are treated with dignity and respect every single day by those meant to protect and serve. So I’m thankful for those who stand in the gap for us every day. Thankful to our police officers and every single person who has stepped up to the call to be in law enforcement. Thankful that all I need to do is dial 9-1-1 and I know someone will come. That is a grace not afforded to all people.

But it’s hard for me to sit here and feel like there’s nothing we can do – that we just have to read this news and throw up a quick post with a hashtag on it and then go about our day. Ghandi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world, so how do we begin? What can I do today? The truth of the matter is that nothing will change until we recognize that each of these issues is an imago Dei issue. It’s a failure to realize that all people are created in the image of a very real creator God. There is no hierarchy. There is no preferential treatment. It is simply that the human race, every single person to ever have a beating heart, is the crown jewel of creation. Period. Matt Chandler explained the implications of imago Dei in this way:

“Where the imago Dei is understood, almost all that we call wicked starts to vanish. Pornography is an imago Dei issue. Prostitution is an imago Dei issue. Abortion is an imago Dei issue. Genocide is an imago Dei issue. Racism is an imago Dei issue. Discrimination is an imago Dei issue. All of the horrors of humanity can be drawn back to a failure to understand that all mankind has been created in the image of God.”

“Adam was created in God's image. He is the father of all human beings in all ethnic groups. Therefore, all of them are dignified above the animals. In absolute and unique glorious ways, humans alone have been made in the image of God. Look at me. There is no master race. There's not a smarter race, a better apt race. There's not. We are all made in the image of God. In the diversity of ethnicity, God simply shows his glory all the more beautifully. It is an absurd idea that there is a master race. It has driven almost every act of genocide in world history. It has driven almost every season in which slavery was permissible. On and on I could go. What's going on right now with the Islamic state is an imago Dei issue. What happened in Ferguson is an imago Dei issue. You'd be hard-pressed to find something deplorable that doesn't have at its root a failure to understand or apply the imago Dei.”

C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” So we must begin to treat people, all people, as image bearers with eternal souls. And when you start to understand that, you start to look at people differently. 

In church on Sunday, another Matt explained something about the human experience that I had never heard before and I can’t stop thinking about it. I think it fits here as we recognize that each person was created in the image of God.

"There's this ancient Jewish teaching about the name Yahweh. This is the personal name of God, and it's the name that God gives to Moses when Moses has the courage to ask God what is his name and He says, “My name is Yahweh.”  And the name Yahweh actually is what is called the tetragrammaton. It is actually four consonants, there's no vowels. We just put some vowels in it because it's easier for us to say. But it's actually YHWH, and Jewish scholars have noted that those four consonants also represent breathing sounds in the Hebrew alphabet.  Y is the  sound "YOD", H is the sound "HAY", W is the sound "WAD" and H is the sound "HAY" again. If you think about it from the breathing perspective, it sounds like this: YOD HAY WAD HAY, which has caused Jewish scholars to debate and to ask, “Is the name of God the very sound of our breathing?” And if so, does that mean that every person who has ever lived, who has ever drawn a breath, has spoken the name of God whether they knew it or not?... how beautiful is this, how generous is our God that He would give us a name that we can't help but utter every moment that we're alive. Every person, everywhere, awake or asleep with the name of God on our lips as we're breathing."

Yahweh. On the lips of every person, every day. Do you see people that way? Are you treating the people you encounter like beings with eternal souls that breathe the name of God with every exhale? This extends to your neighbors, your literal neighbors in the houses next to you. This extends to the people in your community, in your city. It extends to the people around the country and around the world. To the people you don't understand and to the people who irritate you the most. To the ones who are hard to love and the ones who you find great joy in pouring out your love upon. 

The first step toward peace and reconciliation is going to be recognizing the image bearers around you who are breathing the name of God just the same as you draw breath. It starts with you loving the people around you – reaching out to those in your sphere of influence, inviting them into community. It starts with you teaching your children to treat others with dignity and respect. It starts with you having a conversation, listening before speaking, and being willing to learn, being vulnerable enough to recognize where you may be wrong and offering apology. This goes for all people everywhere, humanity in all its diversity.

I started this blog last December with a post on fear and the call on our lives to not be afraid. I think it’s a timely reminder now. Maybe just for myself, as I went to bed last night feeling the weight of tragedy, but maybe for you, too. And in the face of horrifying circumstances today - circumstances we can't understand - maybe we can all just find a way to be kind. Find a way to love and serve. It's a tangible way to do something about the hatred and sadness and hurt. Even if you step up to serve just one single person today, wave that kindness in the face of tragedy because it’s only love and light that will drive out darkness. And with every breath you draw in, remember that each person is the same, breathing the name of the One who created us as equals.