I wasn’t going to write a post on Cecil the Lion. As the daughter of a (literally) card-carrying National Rifle Association member who would not let her watch Bambi as a child, my opinions on these sorts of issues are not without bias. And as a general cynic, my typical reaction to basically anything trending on social media is, “What’s the big deal?”
But this time there’s the local interest angle—the hunter’s dentistry office is right down the street from where I live and work. So, here goes.
Recap: A Minnesota dentist paid a ridiculous amount of money to illegally shoot a lion as a trophy. A bunch of privileged Americans, including some celebrities, got really angry about this. Both ends of this story are a shiny safari of first world problems—a commentary on class and culture and what we value. Not since Mufasa have we been so collectively sad over a lion’s death.
But this is not a post about why we should care more about issues that actually matter, particularly those involving human lives. First, because other people have done this better than I ever could, pulling in our reasons for showing compassion here but not with human deaths and comparing the reactions in Cecil’s home country to that of our own. Second, most people reading this blog will already agree with that, and there really isn’t much point in writing a blog post so people can nod and say, “Yeah, you’re totally right. People are crazy.”
(If you seriously think the uproar over Cecil the lion is more important than, say, violence, preventable disease from unsafe water, AIDS, and other issues that kill millions of African humans every year, we might need to have a very long conversation about the comparative value of life. During that conversation, we will eat hamburgers and not humanburgers. Just to make it clear.)
And third, because this whole issue made me ask a question I don’t see a lot of others asking: Where are my priorities off?
I can use this story to shake my head at Cecil-the-lion protesters all day long. I can despair for humanity. I can probably even write something funny and scathing about what our culture values.
But what does that actually…do?
Cecil the Lion will soon go the way of the weird blue-and-black or gold-and-white dress photo, a momentary social media phenomenon that flared up and died out, leaving most people relatively unchanged. This is probably a good thing.
But I never want to be unchanged. I never want to reach a point where I am no longer shaped by what’s happening around me, where I only point a finger at others and never examine myself, where I always assume I’m on the right side.
Where I only see hypocrisy in others and never myself.
Here are a few of my hypocrisies, inspired by Cecil and his mourners:
One: Sometimes I think “freaking out” is the same as doing something. I act like I believe that having an emotional reaction or an opinion or a discussion about a topic means I don’t have to take action. My time, my money, my effort—none of those have to align with what I claim I care about. This, friends, is not even remotely close to the Christian faith. (See basically anything Jesus taught, but especially this.)*
Two: Facebook commands my attention in a way it probably shouldn’t. Have I occasionally done a poor job of examining a topic or event before deciding I was an expert? Sure. Do I need to be better informed about current events outside of social media? Totally. Am I sometimes too addicted to Facebook and the beautifully mundane slideshow of other people’s lives? Yes. Have I given in to the temptation to post something that maybe should have been kept to a different forum? Yep.
Three: I protest things that don’t matter all the time. Almost every single day, I am disproportionally annoyed by something completely trivial, and I feel totally justified about it. You know what I mean. I forgot about some raspberries and they went bad, and those things are expensive! My turn signal light went out and now people are honking at me for no reason when if they weren’t tailing me it wouldn’t matter that I am temporarily unable to signal right turns. It’s too wet/too humid/too cold/too not-the-exactly-ideal-weather-I-require-for-this-situation. By comparison, the death of Cecil the lion (which at least seems to be an example of a person being thoughtless and cruel), is deeply meaningful.
Cecil the Lion is dead, and in some way, that matters to me. I will probably not care any more than I do right now about animal rights…but I will care about something. I will not give money to an organization against animal cruelty…but I will change my giving habits. I will certainly not become a protestor at a random dentistry office staffed entirely by people with no connection to this event…but I will become, hopefully, a person who thinks more about my priorities.
Christians, if you relate to any of my hypocrisies, remember what the Great Commission actually calls us to do (hint: it’s not rolling our eyes or updating our Facebook statuses). Jesus never asked us to stop at complaining about or criticizing our culture. He definitely didn’t tell us to retreat from it. And the reality is, we can’t really change culture, because we were basically promised persecution, and culture is a huge thing influenced more by sin nature than unpopular minorities. As Christians, our focus should be instead on changing ourselves, creating culture, and living out what we believe.
If we do that, if I do that, Cecil the Lion has not died in vain.
*Stuffy Theological Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: I think it’s important to note, though, that even though we now have access to the weight of all the world’s problems, we weren’t ever asked to bear that weight. We were asked to love our neighbor. But I believe that means seeing and taking opportunities that are around us to put love into action.