The Reconciliation of Creation: Especially Cows

by Margaret B. Adam

This article was originally delivered as a sermon at Hertford College Evensong.

The readings: 

  • Isaiah 11:1-9
  • Psalm 148
  • Colossians 1:15-20

In today’s psalm, all of creation is exhorted to praise God. The psalmist calls all people to praise the Lord. He also calls on angels, stars, skies, and seas to give their praise. And weather, hills, and trees. Sea monsters and wild land-animals, creepy crawly animals and birds. And also...cows. Let the cows praise the Lord! Praise God, all you cows!

What does it look like for a cow to praise God?

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Praise is what creatures do when they are living out their creaturely particularity to the glory of God. To praise, to glorify God, is to rejoice in God, as a creature of God. Humans often praise God with words and reason. Humans also praise God silently, without reasoned thought, newly born, approaching death, in stillness and in action. Likewise, other animals and the rest of creation all praise God in their own ways.

As we sang earlier: ‘All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices, let us sing: Alleluia, alleluia!’

Praise is a bodily function. Created bodies sing Alleluia to God in their own distinctive voices and movements. Stars shine, winds storm, mountains stand, slugs—slugs excrete mucous and slide along it to find slug food. This is their praise, their rejoicing in the Lord. Cows praise God by flourishing: by grazing outdoors, chewing their cud, nursing their calves, brushing off flies, dozing, and mooing their version of rejoicing.

But, many dairy cows do not flourish. Industrial farming deprives cows of joy and decreases their capacity to praise God in their created cowness.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Of course, much of creation is not free to flourish and praise God as created. This is a world full of brokenness and suffering, fractured and unjust relationships. In that brokenness, we humans participate directly and indirectly in the use, abuse, and early death of other human and nonhuman animals, every day. Increasingly, in England, human-cow relationships reflect consumers’ desire for cheap milk, which drives smaller-scale farms out of business and supports the growth of large industrial dairy farms. Human preferences inhibit cow praise, by cutting short their lives and treating them as objects for production rather than as creatures of joy.

The children’s picture books of your childhood and mine show cows in abundant grass and sunshine, accompanied by other barnyard animals, and perhaps milked by The Farmer, or, The Farmer’s Daughter. These cows have names and personalities. They look happy and relaxed.

The life of a factory farmed cow looks nothing like the lives of cows in children’s books—or, for that matter, any on farms anywhere at anytime in history before the late 20th century.

Industrial farms keep cows in cages just barely big enough for their bodies to fit. On zero-grazing farms, the cows spend their entire lives inside. Cows are forcibly, artificially inseminated when they are 15 months old. Farm workers remove newborn calves at 2 days old, leaving the mothers bereft. Female calves are raised like their mothers. Male calves face either immediate death or a slightly delayed death if kept for veal. Cows are repeatedly impregnated so that they will be lactating continuously. In the last 40 years, the industry has doubled milk production per cow. By the time the mothers are about 5 years old, their bodies are so worn out from over-production that their milk is no longer high quality, and they are slaughtered for human food; whereas in more cow-friendly living conditions, they might live another 10 to 15 years.

Sasha, rescued from the veal and dairy industries. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Sasha, rescued from the veal and dairy industries. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

This is a gentle and muted description of the treatment of factory-farmed cows. You can watch videos online that show just how cruelly the cows are treated and just how grim the workers’ jobs are. There is no joy there.

This is not the end, the purpose, of creation. Scripture offers ample images to help us identify broken relationships and redirect us toward the radically harmonious relationships to come in the fullness of time.

The prophet Isaiah schools the people of God in faithfulness, calling out their failures and redirecting them toward rightly ordered relationships. When the whole world is transformed by righteousness in the Lord, Isaiah proclaims, no creature will need to suffer and die in order that other creatures may thrive. Humans will lay down their swords and machines of destruction; all animals will set aside their aggression, carnivory, and fears. Note the extra attention Isaiah gives to cows. He says:

The wolves, lambs, leopards, and goats will live comfortably together. Calves and lions will hang out and eat straw together. Cows and bears will graze together, while calves and baby bears nap together. Human children, still nursing, will play where the cobra lives, and weaned children will put their hands safely into the adder’s home. No creature will hurt or destroy any other creature.

Today, Isaiah might well add: ‘Cows will nurse their calves and humans will nurse their babies. Cows and humans will all enjoy fresh air and freedom from oppression’.

Unrealistic? Isaiah is not aiming at realism here. Realism claims that some creatures must destroy other creatures. Human animals use realism to defend the need to treat nonhuman animals as products. Isaiah names the brokenness that disrupts all creaturely flourishing, not just human flourishing. And he points to the fullness of creation freed from normative abuse. Even if the peaceable kingdom seems impossible now, it’s clear that industrial farming does not reflect or anticipate that kind of flourishing.

The Christian narration of salvation traces God’s creation through humanity’s persistent rejection of both God and the goodness of creation, and through the systemic effects of cumulative human brokenness—brokenness too pervasive for humans to fix. All of creation suffers together from human sinfulness and groans together in hope of a most unrealistic salvation.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians that we heard earlier, proclaims the salvation of creation—the salvation of humans and cows—that comes through Christ who reconciles creation. Christ, fully human and fully the divine Son of God, dies a creaturely—and very realistic—death. That death does not bind Christ to the limits of death. He lives again, beyond death. He releases all of creation with him, from sin and the deathly effects of sin, in the reconciliation of all things.

Paul explains that

...all things have been created through Christ and for Christ.

Christ himself is before all things, Christ holds all things together in him.

For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things--all of creation-- whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

So, Christ holds together the divisions we cause. And Christ establishes a creation-wide reconciliation of all relationships, that reaches beyond the divisions of species and the separation of death.

Christ’s reconciliation addresses every thwarted opportunity for joyful flourishing, for praising God—sibling rivalries, political infighting, warfare, hunters and their prey. It includes all those involved in the industry of intensive dairy farming—from corporate leaders, to factory workers, to cows, to consumers. Christ suffered and died for humans and for cows, so that both can flourish without harming the other, along with lions, leopards, little goats, and adders.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

But, where is this reconciliation? Where are the signs that systemic sin is undone? Why does zero-grazing seem a sensible strategy for large-scale farms? Why is it still so hard to eschew all animal products? Part of the answer is: I don’t know. As a creature—and a sinful creature at that—I have no God’s-eye view on the pace of the fulfilment of creation; but scripture, the saints, and the teachers of the church, steadfastly remind me that Christ has both already effected that reconciliation and is still effecting it.

The other part of the answer is that Christian ethics directs us to live into that for which we hope. The ethical response to systemic brokenness is to embrace that already/not yet transformation with expanded imaginations and critically-examined practices.

First, we can demonstrate, by our actions, that we don’t need to abuse other creatures for our own pleasure. It is not necessary to purchase cow milk when there are ample alternative milks on the store shelf. Colleges, restaurants, friends and family often offer a vegetarian or vegan option for dinner. If you are looking for a quick meal, check out the plant-based prepared foods in the freezer and refrigerated sections at the store. If you cook for yourself, add one easy vegan meal to your repertoire. These are all ethical decisions you can make without even going out of your way. These are relatively simple ways to show that it is not necessary to deny one animal’s flourishing for the sake of another animal’s flourishing—our own flourishing.

Second, learn about what happens on dairy farms. Do a little research on industrial farming. Visit a local small farm. Compare conditions on larger and smaller farms. Meet some cows. Trace the sources of your food, drink, and clothing. Incorporate these considerations into your daily life practices. In the US, over 90% of dairy products come from industrial farms. In the UK, the percentage is closer to 70%. It may be difficult to change the trend toward mega-farms, but consumer choices do speak loudly.

Third, make connections with other people asking similar questions. Share concerns, insights, and experiences. Eat together. Challenge each other to adopt more peaceable creaturely interactions. Hold each other accountable.

And, above all, let’s try not to keep other creatures from flourishing. Let’s work toward the end that all creation—including cows—may experience joy and glorify God in their particular creatureliness.

Praise God! All of creation, praise God.

And, especially, let the cows praise the Lord.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals

Fourth of July Church Vegan Barbecue

by Carol J. Adams

My spouse, Bruce, has been the Associate Pastor for Community Ministries at a church in Dallas for 30 years. When we first arrived we learned that the Fourth of July event hosted by the church’s senior activities group was “a must.” To us northerners it was more than strange that anyone would choose to be outside in 100° temperature on July 4. On top of it, and to my dismay, the event was centered on chicken.

Ten years into Bruce's ministry here the people who hosted the event had aged and were unable to host it any longer. For a few years, the event rotated between other elderly members, and then no one could host it. The event went dark for a couple of years. I said to Bruce, “If all they need is a backyard in which to have their celebration, we can do it!”

But there was the issue of the chicken. This needed to be addressed. So I began serving vegan drumsticks. I bought them from my local vegan Chinese restaurant. She stocked them in bags of 80. They are little pieces of seitan on a cane sugar stick. I would slather barbecue on half of them and olive oil on the other half, bake them and serve them. They were a huge success and a curiosity.

But the Chinese restaurant went out of business. So I decided to make my own barbecue. First I use frozen tofu. One year I used tofu, tempeh, and seitan in barbecue sauce. (It’s the barbecue sauce that really matters!)

Everyone adjusted to the change in the main course and the request to bring vegetables or fruit (and no meat). What I was preparing became a matter of interest.

This picture shows my most successful barbecue—barbecued unribs!

The author with her popular BBQ unribs! 

The author with her popular BBQ unribs! 

This recipe is a little labor intensive, but while preparing them I make a point to listen to an audiobook about US history. At church the week following the serving of these unribs, I saw some of the matriarchs of the church. One said, “When I was asked how the barbecue was, I reported I had the best ribs ever!”

A faster BBQ recipe uses jackfruit instead of seitan. You hardly need any time at all!

Vegan BBQ Jackfruit

Vegan BBQ Jackfruit

A barbecue is incomplete without macaroni and cheese, and I created the most luscious, richest, outrageous vegan mac and cheese recipe. I added a little kale just to prevent its complete descent to decadence.

Decadent Vegan Mac & Cheese

Decadent Vegan Mac & Cheese

One friend, a nonagenarian, and very proper Southerner, went back for thirds! You can find the recipe here.

Of course, some cole slaw is necessary.

Use a vegan mayonnaise and you don’t have to worry about the eggs in the mayonnaise going bad in the sun! (Veganism has so many side benefits.)

Finally, we always end with a Texas sheet cake.

If I mention ordering a cake, there are protests: this is the cake that must complete the bbq.

As people are finishing their meals, Bruce brings out his miniature cannon and sets it off. But that is another story. The vegan bbq has found its place in the hearts and stomachs of at least one Texas congregation. Why stop there?

Happy eaters! 

Happy eaters! 

Carol J. Adams is the author of numerous books including The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, now in a Bloomsbury Revelations edition celebrating its 25th anniversary. She has written several books on living as a vegan, including Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over-50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving on a Vegan Diet (with Patti Breitman and Virginia Messina), Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Guide, and How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One.

She is the author of Woman-Battering (1995) in Fortress Press’s Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series. With Marie Fortune, she edited Violence Against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook (1995). She is the author of the training manual, Pastoral Care for Domestic Violence:  Case Studies for Clergy - for Christian Audiences - Training Manual (2007) published by the FaithTrust Institute. She has a Masters of Divinity from Yale University. www.caroljadams.com

Incarnating a CreatureKind Church at the Summer Institute for Reconciliation

by Sarah Withrow King

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created...and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things..."

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of teaming up with Christopher Carter, who is an Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego, a Faith in Food Fellow for Farm Forward, and a member of CreatureKind's North American Advisory Council and Christine Gutleben, Senior Director of Faith Outreach at the Humane Society of the United States to co-teach "Incarnating a CreatureKind Church" at Duke Divinity's Summer Institute for Reconciliation.

Seminar participants feeding sheep at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge. Photo by Christopher Carter

Seminar participants feeding sheep at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge. Photo by Christopher Carter

During the four-day-long event, our afternoon seminar discovered new ways to think about Christianity and animals. Following the "Word Made Flesh" methodology from the book Reconciling All Things, we discussed ways in which Christianity is good news for all creation. We lamented the realities of factory farming, a broken system that hurts animals, humans, and the environment. We visited a farmed animal sanctuary, to meet individual rescued animals and to hear their stories. We were invited into the notion of adopting an anti-oppressive mindset. We told our own stories of hope, of people and organizations working to bring about reconciliation in creation, and we talked about how to sustain ourselves spiritually for the long haul. 

Our diverse group shared their tender and courageous hearts with us throughout the week, we were able to learn much from one another, and we got to meet these two loves:

Photo by Julia Johnson

Photo by Julia Johnson

 

We are exploring the possibility of turning this extraordinary seminar into a webinar, so that more people can experience the renewal and fellowship that was such a blessing to us. If you want to help make that happen, please give a donation to CreatureKind today. 

Sarah cradling Charleston the rooster, who loved to have his face massaged. He fell asleep in my arms! Photo by Blue.

Sarah cradling Charleston the rooster, who loved to have his face massaged. He fell asleep in my arms! Photo by Blue.

Upcoming Events

by Sarah Withrow King

There's a longer post to be made here, about the rising tide of Christian animal advocacy, the increasing awareness among Christians of our recent failure to lead the world in animal protection, and the inspiring ways that people are connecting their spiritual life with compassion for animals. 

But what I'll say now is this: all this energy means that some folks are gathering together to plan events for Christian animal advocates. Some of these are still coming together, and we'll keep you posted as they happen. Here's what we know now:

Christian Animal Welfare Summit in the Ozarks, September 1-4, 2017: This event will bring together advocates to ask: “How can we create a sense of community and cooperation among Christian Animal Welfare supporters so we can more effectively achieve our goals and connect with the broader movement?"

Spiritual Retreat for Vegan Christians, December 1-3, 2017: This small retreat is an opportunity for vegan Christians to gather at a beautiful retreat center in Philadelphia, PA for spiritual rest and friendship.  

CreatureKind Reception, January 2018: For the third year in a row, CreatureKind will host a reception in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics. This year, we gather in Portland, Oregon.

To learn more about these and other events with CreatureKind, sign up here or send Sarah an email: swking@eastern.edu.