Instruments of Peace for All Creatures

by Tim Mascara

 Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

On December 4, 1959, Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich presented a bronze statue to the United Nations, titled Let Us Beat Our Swords into Plowshares. The sculpture is an image of a man beating a sword into a plowshare, meant to symbolize humankind’s desire to end war—the desire to take the tools of violence and war and turn them into tools for peace, tools to benefit humankind rather than harm it. The statue still stands, now green from tarnish, in the northern gardens of the UN headquarters.

This transformational image of turning swords into plowshares is a recurrent theme in Scripture.

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” -Isaiah 2:4

“He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” -Micah 4:3

“You will laugh at violence and famine, and need not fear the wild animals. For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with you. -Job 5:22-23

These are prophecies of something to come. A peace that is distant, far off, not yet realized. It is a peace for which this “weary world rejoices.” In light of Isaiah’s prophecy, we are called to confess how we have not been peaceful in various aspects of our lives. We take the time to confess because we need to acknowledge violence was never a part of God’s ideal for the world, and yet it plagues us.

…we are called to confess how we have not been peaceful in various aspects of our lives. We take the time to confess because we need to acknowledge violence was never a part of God’s ideal for the world, and yet it plagues us.

Isaiah uses other metaphors to illustrate just how foreign violence and death should be to our world. In Isaiah 11, he prophesies of the wolf living with the lamb, lions with calves, leopards with goats, and lions eating straw like the ox. Even the tools that animals used for violence, claws and sharp fangs, seem to be no longer used in this way. Isaiah prophesies of a child leading these predatory animals, feeding bears and playing near cobra dens. Of course, right now, trying this might not be the best idea. But what a thought! Not only will peace reign in human affairs, but across the entirety of creation and including all God’s creatures.

I cannot help but wonder what the relationship between humanity and the animal kingdom will look like. If there are no more swords, no more violence, no more death, could there be no more killing between species, too?

Some may argue peace won’t reign in the animal kingdom, that predators will always be predators. I understand how faithful Christians differ on these issues, yet I struggle to see how there could have been predation before the Fall if Genesis 1:30 really means what I think it means.

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” -Genesis 1:29-30

The reign of peace and flourishing across all creation—what Hebrews call “shalom”—seems to have been God’s original intention for the created order. And Christ entered into this world to begin bringing that heavenly kingdom to bear on our broken, violent, sword-wielding and war-torn world. I believe this peace will affect humans and animals alike.

I see this in other places in Scripture that point to a future peace as well. Over and over again, Scripture underscores how deeply God cares for creation:

“In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.” -Hosea 2:18

“And should I not have great concern for the city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” -Jonah 4:11

We know that Christ has ushered in the new kingdom now, but not yet fully. This is the tension in which we now live. We celebrate Christ’s first coming, yet we hope for Christ’s second coming to bring the fullness of joy, love, and peace.

So where am I going with this? Even though we live in this tension, I believe we can still put into practice some of the aspects of the Kingdom of God. Even as we pray the Lord’s prayer, we can remember that even now, we can begin living and acting in ways that cause small breakthroughs of peace into our world.

To pray, “…Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is to pray that God’s peaceable Kingdom will now begin to be partially realized in our world. I believe it is beginning to not only ask that Christ’s peace will one day reign, but that we may become agents of Christ’s peace today. If we are praying these words regularly, we must begin pondering how we are to see this in our own lives.

I think a valuable way of assessing this question is looking to Isaiah, and to symbolic ways we can live in peace rather than in violence. One suggestion might be eating a greener, more plant-based diet as a small, specific way we can practice peace today. Even as I ponder how we have not been instruments of peace, I wonder if this small act could begin, at least in part, beating our swords into plowshares.

I find it hard to believe that the images we see in Isaiah, at creation, and in the covenant God makes between man and animal are merely analogies. Could they not be glimpses of reality as it once was, and what it will one day be again? Could my choice to eat less meat be a small act of the coming peaceable kingdom?

Have you pondered how small actions and small practices can influence much larger events? Christ encourages this way of thinking by declaring that someone who can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much. This principle can be applied in many ways, one of which I believe is that small acts have the power to influence much greater acts. Perhaps choosing something different on your plate could be a small and subtle way to influence your interaction with someone else in your life. Perhaps choosing compassion for one of God’s creatures could be a tool for the Holy Spirit to soften your heart toward a difficult or stressful family member. What if choosing to practice peace at the table could begin to train our hearts toward the coming peace, when the Kingdom is finally and fully realized?

What if choosing to practice peace at the table could begin to train our hearts toward the coming peace, when the Kingdom is finally and fully realized?

I understand that Christians differ on these issues, and even on their views of peace regarding the animal kingdom. I personally believe that the Garden was, and the coming Kingdom will be, a place without violence or death for all who have lifeblood. I believe that the images we see in Isaiah are glimpses of the large arc from creation through the fall and to final redemption. This affects my interpretation on how the coming kingdom is played out in my day to day life. Places like factory farms do not only harbor darkness, despair, and pain for animals, but also for fellow humans who have to work in those environments and for God’s good earth. 

Finally, while I am writing that the act of eating a plant-based diet can be an act of peace, the goal for all of us who follow Christ is to ask how we might begin practicing God’s Kingdom now. Whether it concerns the choices we make on our plates, our politics, how we relate to our family, or any number of the myriad decisions we make over the course of our lifetimes, the question is still: How can I be an instrument of peace?

Tim Mascara is an Associate Pastor at StoneBridge Church Community. He lives in Davidson, NC with his wife and two young boys. This piece originally appeared at EvangelicalsforSocialAction.org and is reprinted here with permission. 

October Highlights from CreatureKind

The CreatureKind team was out and about in October!

Our project editor, Margaret, spoke about CreatureKind’s theological foundations and approach to food policy at the Humane Society International’s “Forward Food Week” at Oxford Brookes University, Headington.

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David addressed the Church of England's Annual Gathering of Readers in the Diocese of Chester on the topic of “Christian Ethics and Other-than-human Creatures.” David also delivered a paper called “Should Christians Eat Animals” as part of the Nantwich Lecture Series at St. Mary’s Church, Nantwich, in South Cheshire. 

Sarah gave a presentation titled “The Future of Food Isn’t Meat” to students at Temple University. She also presented “Animals on the Agenda, Not Just on Our Plates” at the Baylor Institute for Faith and Life’s Symposium on Stewardship of Creation. The Baylor event, held in Waco, Texas, was an opportunity to urge institutionally-connected Christian environmental advocates to take action on behalf of animals, specifically by working with CreatureKind to change food policies and practices at their schools.

Sarah’s piece on grief and motherhood and veganism (titled, “Labor Pains”) appeared in the journal Rock! Paper! Scissors!, a publication of Jesus Radicals.

This winter, CreatureKind will be at the American Academy of Religion / Society of Biblical Literature meetings in Denver, Colorado; the Urbana Student Missions Conference in St. Louis, MO; the Society of Christian Ethics annual meeting in Louisville, KY; and accompanying David on his tour for On Animals, Volume II: Theological Ethics, which will take us to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, California, and British Columbia! Be sure to come see us, and help spread the word!

Who is my Neighbour? A St. Francis of Assisi Feast Day Meditation

by Michael Gilmour

 Photo: Michael Gilmour

Photo: Michael Gilmour

The punchline of Luke’s Good Samaritan story comes at the beginning rather than the end, and it is not Jesus who delivers it but instead a nameless onlooker. He cites Torah: love God and love your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27; cf. Lev 19:18; Deut 6:5). Jesus agrees and then goes on to tell the oft-told tale of an assault and robbery, and the unlikely hero who comes to the victim’s aid. Love is owed to a stranger left for dead on the side of the road, and it is a cultural and religious outsider who extends it. My neighbour does not always look like me, or believe like me but that’s no matter. Jesus collapses the two great commandments. If we love God, we love our neighbours, whoever they are. We love our neighbours because we love God.

The onlooker who wisely recited Torah then adds a question (Luke 10:29): Who is my neighbour? Jesus’s story is the answer given. Your neighbour is the one in need. Your neighbour is the one in need, even when they are not part of your community. We are to love across boundaries. Love not only family and tribe, or those of our race and nation, or gender and religion, or sexual orientation and socio-economic status. Love not only the citizen but also the refugee. Simply love your neighbour as yourself, says Jesus. Love the one in need as you love yourself. That’s all it says.

Animals are neighbours too. There’s nothing in the story limiting this boundary-defying love to bipedal types. If this sounds odd, note the vague kinship between this parable and remarks Jesus made about an animal fallen into a pit (Matt 12:11). You don’t pass by the sheep in its moment of need any more than you pass the victim of a robbery laying in a ditch at the side of a road. You help that poor creature, and you do so even if it’s the Sabbath. Humans extending kindness to nonhumans—Jesus expects it of the God-fearing. And perhaps it’s worth noticing it works both ways in our parable. The Good Samaritan isn’t the only one who helps the injured man: he places the stranger “on his own animal” to get him to an inn for care (10:34). A brief hint of cross-species compassion?

The story of the Good Samaritan resonated recently as I led a chapel service at Providence University College (Manitoba) marking World Animal Day and the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. This is not usual fare for us. Few of the fifty or so students and staff in attendance had previous experience of animal blessing or animal-themed services, or even heard sermons suggesting animals are theologically consequential or relevant for religious ethics. So, how to get that point across?

Enter Daisy, the tripod puppy and newest layabout at chez Gilmour who joined me for the service. Last spring I received word from one of our graduates of a stray dog found injured at the side of the road after being hit by a car. She stopped to help, taking the puppy to a nearby veterinary clinic even when unsure of how to fund the expensive surgery/amputation needed to save her. This was a costly act of kindness. Costly just like the love shown by the Samaritan (“he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend’” [Luke 10:35]). I wanted students to meet Daisy. To meet one of God’s creatures who experienced a boundary-transgressing act of Christian love. There is room in the church for other species. The church, represented in that moment by a generous, self-sacrificing student, reached out to a helpless animal and saved her life. A Christian reached across boundaries to show the love of God. (And at this St. Francis service she was further welcomed by the community of God’s people—and exuberantly so, as you can see—by some of our dog-loving students!)

 Photo: Michael Gilmour

Photo: Michael Gilmour

The service also marked the launch of Providence’s second Friendly Food Challenge (on which, see the CreatureKind blog, “Throwing Rocks at Giants”). The hope was to help participants make the connection between sweet Daisy who made all in the room smile that day, and other equally vulnerable, equally important animals who live and die as part of the food industry. Pets, wildlife, domesticated farm animals—they are all God’s creatures, and the call to extend love beyond boundaries must include them too. I am pleased some students and staff at Providence University College are making that connection, leaving meat off their plates as an expression of compassion.

Michael Gilmour teaches English and biblical literature at Providence University College. His most recent book is a study of animals in the writings of C. S. Lewis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Good Love

Sermon delivered by Michael Anthony Howard at Brookside Community Church, April 22, 2018. Reprinted here with permission. 

The Resurrection illustrates what good love looks like. When love is good, it has the power to transform us and offer new life to the world!

The Raging Rambo

Whether it was natural born or not, Rambo was “a killer.” As Kathy Stevens puts it, he “thought his job was to kill us. It was a job he seemed to relish.” When Rambo arrived, he was “full of testosterone and rage.” He was “so violent and volatile,” she said, “we began to compare…war stories.”[1]

 Photo: Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Photo: Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Rambo you see, was a hateful, hostile, raging Jacob ram. If you happened to be the poor, helpless human assigned to feed the sheep for the day, Rambo was ready to draw first blood. He would rear up on his hind legs and come at you head-first, full speed ahead, with those twisted horns of his. Kathy and her team had rescued Rambo from an animal hoarder. There were seventeen animals locked in a very small, filthy stall. One was a dead cow. The other animals were adopted, but Rambo was too violent. Even a few very experienced sheepherders tried to take him in, but they gave up within a few days.

It was hard to know what to do with him. There was deep concern for the safety of farm workers and the rest of the sheep. Rambo was claustrophobic. He was too destructive to keep in a barn stall. He destroyed the fence, “smashed it to smithereens.” It is not untypical for Jacob rams to be highly emotional and extremely dangerous. But even after Kathy had Rambo neutered, nothing seemed to ease him. Alarmed that Rambo might get someone killed, Kathy was advised to “put him down immediately.” “For our own safety,” Kathy said, “I struggled with whether…it was indeed time to give up on Rambo.” In two years, Kathy had seen dozens of injured and traumatized animals be transformed. “This,” she said, “would be our first failure.”[2]

I think Kathy is an example of what Jesus called a good shepherd. She is a sheep-lover, someone who really loves her sheep. She challenges us to rethink what we mean by the word good. She helps us see what good actually looks like.

Framing Exercise: What is Good?

The relationship between Kathy and Rambo helps us better understand the teachings of Jesus we read this morning. It relates to what linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff calls framing.

In our text this morning (John 10:11-18), Jesus uses the word good. How we understand what good means depends on how it is framed. “Frames are mental structures that shape the way we [perceive and reason about things.] As a result, frames shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions.”[3]

By identifying himself as the “good shepherd,” Jesus is in the process of reframing. He takes the everyday experience of tending to sheep and makes a comparison between what is good and what is not good. In comparing the “hired hand” to the “good shepherd,” he is reframing our understanding of what constitutes as good.

Love Without Domination

The deep truths in passages like ours today can elude us because of the way we frame them. I grew up on a farm, and we had all kinds of animals. I’m not sure I would say I loved all of our animals, but like many farmers, I think my folks would say they did. Many farmers will say they love their animals, but what they mean is that they have an attachment to them. They feel a kind of warmth, an affection, a fondness for them. Caring for animals is certainly hard work. While they may call it love, I think most of those human-animal relationships are examples of domination. Rarely do they mean the kind of good love Jesus described in our passage for today.

Let’s begin with a first question: Why would someone get in the business of taking care of sheep? There are many who are widely considered shepherds, but they are not good in Jesus’ sense of the word. The frame here is one of domination. Rather than shepherds, these farmers would more properly called wool harvesters. They see the sheep as a possession. Their relationship is one defined by ownership, based on maximizing their benefit. Their relationship is one of domination. When the sheep are no longer profitable, the relationship ends—and most of the time, that means death for the sheep.

The good shepherd, on the other hand, is a sheep lover. They see the sheep, not as possessions but as partners. The frame here is one of nurture and mutual care. The sheep and the caretaker both exist with equal value and dignity. One does not exist for the sake of the other. The benefits that come from this kind of relationship are more spiritual than material. As Richard Rohr puts it,  “Material gifts decrease when you give them away. Spiritual gifts, by contrast, increase the more you use them. Yes! You get more love by letting it flow through you… If you love, you will become more loving. If you practice patience, you will become more patient.”[4]

The Teachings of Jesus

Throughout Easter, I have asked us to consider the Resurrection as our divine initiation into life free from the powers of Death (with a capital D), the Domination System that governs our relationships, our institutions, and the way we look at the world. By using the term good shepherd in contrast hired hand, Jesus is offering to free us from the domination system by reframing our understanding of what is good.

In the context of the gospel story, we can assume that the hired hands represent the political and religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They see their relationship to the world under the frame of domination. When danger comes, they run. Protecting their authority, maintaining the status quo, or upholding their religious doctrines are more important than keeping their followers—the “sheep”—from danger. As participants in the Domination System, the sheep exist for the hired hand’s benefit. Everything they do is carried out for their own self-interest.

Jesus, on the other hand, represents the good shepherd. His relationship to the world operates under the frame of nurture and mutual care. Jesus identifies himself not as someone above the people, but as one of them. The shepherd identifies with the sheep as if the shepherd and the sheep share a common nature. For those that maintain a classical trinitarian theology—the Father, the Son and the Spirit are co-equally God—what Jesus says should blow your mind. Jesus says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” this is the same as the relationship between the sheep and the good shepherd. When danger comes, Jesus offers his own life for the sake of those he loves. Because for the good shepherd, when the sheep suffer, the shepherd suffers.

Jesus is an illustration of what the good shepherd looks like. He is good because he loves the sheep as he loves his own life. He is good because he is willing to lay his life down for the sheep. He is good because his love is a good love. The shepherd sees the sheep on their own terms, as fellow creatures with their own needs to meet and hardships to bear. For the good shepherd, the sheep are here with us, not just for us. That is the only what that love can be good, when it is a love between two equals.

Kathy Stevens and Kaden Maguire

Kathy Stevens is an example of a good shepherd. She is a sheep-lover, someone who really loves her sheep. Like Jesus, watching her work challenges others to rethink what we mean by the word “good.” She helps me see what “good” actually looks like.

Starting out with nothing, Kathy created the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, a 148-acre refuge in New York's Hudson Valley for eleven species of farmed animals rescued from cruelty, neglect, and abandonment. They have rescued over 4,000 animals since 2001.

Kaden Maguire is an example of one of the Catskill staff, but he is anything but a mere hired hand. He knows every one of the sheep by name. He can tell you about Cleo and his son Ferguson, two sheep that suffer from a disease called Lintivirus. Cloe came to the farm as one member of a whole herd that were rescued from an animal cruelty case in 2016. They had been neglected. They were knee deep in waste, emaciated, and infested with parasites and disease. In the framework of domination, these sheep offer no material benefit whatsoever. They cost time, money, and resources to keep alive. And yet Kaden is out there, every day, watching sheep like Cloe, Lavern, Bertha, and Leena as they care for their children and teach the world how smart, kind, and beautiful they are. By spending time with Kaden, I got a glimpse of what Jesus must have meant by the good shepherd. Kaden loves his sheep, but it is a love that seeks to be free of domination. Kaden is a good shepherd because he teaches the world what good love looks like.

The Rest of Rambo’s Story

My wife Zion and I took our daughter Joey to stay at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary just a few weeks ago. I had just preached a sermon—you might remember it—where I talked about “Rambo Jesus.” Well, wouldn’t you know, we stayed in the Rambo room! One of the first stories that our guide, Drew, wanted to tell us was Rambo’s story.

After having him neutered, Rambo calmed down a little. But they were still afraid. They didn’t listen to the advice of those who said Rambo needed to be put down. Instead, they decided he just needed a little more time. They let him roam freely, and after a while his eyes began to change and he seemed to show signs that he trusted that he was never again going to be confined. He began to let go of his anger and feel at home at the Sanctuary.

On one cold bitter night, after turning out the lights and saying good night to everyone, Rambo came up to Kathy and began to bleat as if something was wrong. He led Kathy into a stall where she found two of the turkeys missing, Chuck and Cliff. Rambo then walked out with Kathy into the rain to find them outside their pen. Chuck was drenched with his head tucked in trying to stay warm. Poor Cliff was motionless in the driveway in a cold, shallow puddle.

Once everyone was back, dry and safe, Kathy began to reflect, “What just happened?” It was the first time Rambo had really used his voice, and he had figured out how to tell a human that something was wrong. Even more than that, he had just shown concern for two animals of a different species. Kathy says that that moment changed her life. As she writes in her book, “Nothing I [had read or studied in my many years of graduate education and experience] told me that my core beliefs were based on a false set of assumptions, on naïveté or ignorance. But in a darkened barn on a bitter early winter night, a sheep who finally believed he belonged with us did exactly that.”[5]

That’s what reframing looks like!

Not everything we call love is good love. Often it is little more than a sentimental form of domination. Good love, however, is based on relationships of nurturing and mutual care. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd [because] I lay my life down for the sheep.” That is what the Resurrection teaches us, that God doesn’t give up on us when things get tough. God loves us with an infinitely patient, an unending, deeply nurturing love—the way Kaden loves Cloe, the way Kathy loved Rambo. This is the kind of love Jesus calls us to have for each other and the world around us.

As 1 John 3:16 tells us, “We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

The Resurrection illustrates what good love looks like. What the world needs are people who give their lives to learn how to love well, who know what good love looks like. Because when love is good, it has the power to transform us and offer new life to the world!

[1] Kathy Stevens, Where the Blind Horse Sings (New York : Skyhorse Pub, 2009), p.49-50.

[2] Ibid., p. 51.

[3] George Lakoff, The All-New Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014), p. xi-xii.

[4] Richard Rohr, “Love is Who You Are,” Thursday, August 11, 2016. https://cac.org/love-is-who-you-are-2016-08-11/ (Accessed online, April 21, 2018).

[5] Kathy Stevens, Where the Blind Horse Sings, p. 57.

Undoing Domination, a Sermon

Sermon written and delivered by Michael Anthony Howard at Stanley Congregational Church, Chatham, NJ on July 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission. Listen to the sermon audio, download sermon notes, and access the sermon worksheet here.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Die gelbe Kuh (The  Yellow Cow ), by Franz Marc (1911) [ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Franz_Marc-The_Yellow_Cow-1911.jpg ]

IMAGE CREDIT: Die gelbe Kuh (The Yellow Cow), by Franz Marc (1911) [https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Franz_Marc-The_Yellow_Cow-1911.jpg]

The Logic of Domination

There are about 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone. It is amazing when you think about it. The Milky Way isn’t even very big. Every star has an approximate average of 1.6 planets. So, if you do the arithmetic, that’s 650 billion planets. The Earth is home to roughly 2 billion species of life. Some 70 to 90% of those species are bacteria. There might be a total of 40 million insect species. Yet, our science is just in its infancy. Some 10,000 species are discovered each year. To date, only about 1.5 million species have been described, and less than 1% of those are bacteria. Of those two billion species (or 1.5 million species we have named), almost 60 thousand are vertebrates, 5 thousand are mammals, and 350 are primates. Human beings are but one of them.

While the universe has been around for 13.772 billion years, we homo sapiens have only been around some 300,000 years. If my middle school math days serve me well, 13.772 billion minus 300,000 is still 13.772 billion — in other words, we’ve not been around long enough for our history to be within the order of significant digits.

Despite evidence to the contrary, many of us have been taught to think of our place in the world with an outrageous and unjust logic — the universe is ours and it exists for the taking.

But this logic doesn’t just stop with anthropocentrism. Let’s follow this logic down a little further. Of the 7.6 billion human beings on the planet, how many have access to clean drinking water, a healthy diet, good health care, a quality education, a living wage, etc? A little more than half of them are men. Of those 3.8 billion men, how many of us are white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, Christian, American? All of these characteristics are things that I share with most of our national leaders, almost all of our nation’s past presidents, and the richest man on the face of the earth. I find it curious and scary to believe that such a small portion of the world’s population has believed for so long that the world was made for them. But let us not be naïve, most of us humans think the same way about our relationship to the rest of Creation. Domination, see, comes in many forms.

This unjust logic of ours, our model of society, our understanding of the meaning of life, the way human beings have perceived themselves in relation to the rest of Creation — at least for the last four hundred years or so — has almost entirely shaped our way of life. It is hard to disagree with liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff, when he described the modern human. Most of us live, he said, as if the most important thing in life is

to accumulate vast amounts of the means of life — material wealth, goods, and services — in order to enjoy our short journey on this planet. In achieving this purpose we are aided by science, which comprehends how the Earth functions, and technology, which acts upon it for human benefit. And this is to be done as speedily as possible. Hence, we strive for maximum profit with minimum investment in the shortest possible period of time. In this type of cultural practice, human beings are regarded as above things, making use of them for their own enjoyment, never as alongside things, members of a larger planetary and cosmic community. The ultimate result, which is only now becoming strikingly visible, is contained in an expression attributed to Gandhi: The Earth is sufficient for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed. [1]

In other words, our basic model for relating with each other — how we know what life is all about — is domination. When we see ourselves as being above rather than alongside, we operate within a framework — a logic — of domination.

The Dominion Argument

At Brookside Church, we’ve been wrestling lately with our ability to own up to the fact the Bible has been used to justify violence. When it comes to our interpretation of the world, our relationship to Creation, the way we think about salvation, and how we understand what it means to follow Jesus, the Bible can be both helpful and problematic. Last week, I pointed out how the gospel’s portray Jesus as skipping over problematic passages when he read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue. That way of reading scripture, which is commonly know as “cherry picking,” I asked us to consider thinking about it as “avoiding landmines.” I argued that if we are not careful with the way we read scripture, we will find that the body of Christ may actually lose body parts.

This morning, I want to draw your attention to a specific biblical landmine. This is one of the most commonly referenced passages when it comes to Creation, justice, and the role of Christianity in the world: Genesis 1. It’s not so much an entire passage or even a verse — really, it’s just one word: dominion.

This entire chapter is a beautiful and poetic description of God’s relationship with Creation. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that when it is read with the intent of asking what our relationship to Creation should be, Christians tend to narrow in on this one word. And this is specifically true when you talk about the relationship between human beings and other non-human animals. God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion…”

Dominion? “Didn’t God set human beings over Creation? Didn’t God give people dominion over animals and doesn’t that mean we can… [kill them, eat them, wear them, cage them, experiment with them, fill in the blank]?”

First off, the word dominion is repeated twice. That must mean it was important to the scribe or scribes that used it. But that should never, ever, trump what God said about Creation at every step along the way, “It is good.” For God to declare these things to be good, especially animal life, even before human beings existed, implies that they are valuable in their own right — that God delights in them. As Jewish scholar, Roberta Kalechofsky points out, “this substantiates the view that animals were regarded as integral subjects in their own right. God’s [expressed] delight in these creations…does not reflect a god who created animal life to be in bondage.” [2]

Carol J. Adams, arguably one of the most important feminist writers today and author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, wrote, “The more the word dominion is broken away from [the context of this poem of beloved relationship in] Genesis 1, the more likely it is that what one is defending is a broken relationship between humans and other animals and the world they inhabit.” [3]

Even more, what is interesting is that while the word radah, which we translate as dominion, is mentioned twice in verse 28, in the very following verse (Genesis 1:29), God says, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” In other words, whatever dominion humans have been granted over animals, it doesn’t involve eating them. Even more, if we’re going to be using this passage to understand our relationship with Creation, we must be constrained first and foremost by our reverence for the fact that God took delight in what God created. God said, “It is good.”

I mean, think about it.

“It is good,” so we are justified in separating a baby calf from its mother so we can have her milk. “It is good,” so it must be okay for us to cut off the beaks of chickens. “It is good,” so we can feel innocent when we pay someone to rip into their flesh in order to prepare our dinner, knowing that most of us would refuse to spill their blood if we had to do it ourselves. “It is good,” we think, because it is good for us human beings. That is the logic of domination.

If dominion doesn’t mean domination, what then does it mean?

Quoting again from Carol Adams:

It has been said that if kings and queens exercised dominion over their subjects the way human beings do over the other animals, kings and queens would have no subjects. So why is being in God’s image often interpreted in view of power, manipulation, and hegemony instead of compassion, mercy, and emptying unconditional love? We often anthropomorphize God as powerful, fierce, and angry (if not belligerent). When we are lording over others, using power — it is then that we are most likely to assert the image of God. Acts of unconditional love, suspensions of judgment, mercy for the weak, and kindness to animals get associated with a wishy-washy picture of who Jesus was, but are rarely discussed regarding God the Creator. [4]

The Impulse of Jesus

And here we come to the heart of the matter. Most of us have had our imagination of God shaped more by this logic of domination than by the teachings of Jesus. The Christian God as often taught by some Christians is a god of domination. He — and this god is always a he — could more easily be confused with the violent war gods of the Greeks or the Romans than with the teachings of Jesus. What if we approach the question christologically? What if we decided to ask what “dominion” might look like — our relationship to Creation and non-human animals — if we begin our thinking about God and humanity by learning from Jesus?

The central impulse at the heart of Jesus’ teachings was the proclamation of the Reign of God, or what Walter Wink called “God’s Domination-Free Order.” It was the creation of a new community, a new citizenship, based on a shared commitment to doing the will of God. This is what many of us have begun calling “The Beloved Community,” or the “Kin-dom.” Kin-dom, I think, helps point us to the truth that Jesus’ teachings challenge us not to see ourselves above Creation, but as alongside it as kindred earthlings. For followers of Jesus, this kin-dom teaching consisted of a twofold commitment to nonviolence and undoing that logic of domination. Walter Wink called it the Domination System: “An encompassing system characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, patriarchal gender relations, prejudiced racial or ethnic relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them.”
 [5]

Understood in this way, Jesus’ ministry was a radical critique of the logic domination, aimed at bringing healing to Creation by calling people to repentance and helping them discover what it means to be fully human.

The central teaching of the church is based on the idea of the incarnation — that somehow, in Jesus, God was revealed not to be above Creation, but alongside Creation. The central quest for communities of faith today is to recover for ourselves what Jesus unleashed, that original impulse at the heart of his teachings aimed at undoing the old order of domination and bringing about a new order of life and freedom. Only then will the church have what is needed to bring about positive change in people and all Creation.

I pray that this becomes our quest, that hear the voice of our still speaking God and take up our call — to learn to stand alongside Creation as kindred earthlings, following Jesus to undo the logic of domination.
 — Amen

Notes:

[1] Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1997), p. 2.

[2] Roberta Kalechofsky, “Hierarchy, Kinship, and Responsibility: The Jewish Relationship to the Animal World,” in A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics, edited by Paul Waldau and Kimberly Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 97–98. Quoted in Carol J. Adams, “What About Dominion in Genesis?” In A Faith Embracing All Creatures: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Care for Animals (The Peaceable Kingdom Series Book 2) (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), p. 5.

[3] Carol J. Adams, “What About Dominion in Genesis?” p. 5.]

[4] Ibid., p 2.

[5] Walter Wink, The Human Being Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), p. 270.

Finding Our Place in the World, a Sermon

Sermon delivered at Drew Theological School Chapel by David Clough, April 2018

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"May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD."

What emotions do you bring to worship this evening? Delight at glimpses of beauty and of love? Sadness at tragic loss? Anger at injustice? Resentment and bitterness about our lot?

We find all these responses in the Psalms. They are deeply honest, sometimes uncomfortably so, conveying a preparedness to put the whole of human life in the context of a relationship with God.

In the Psalm we’ve heard (Ps. 104), the mood is awe and wonder. The Psalmist is intoxicated by a vision of God’s creative and providential work. At times the vision is on a grand scale, stretching the heavens like a tent, setting the earth on its foundations. At other times the vision is particular and tender: watering the cedars of Lebanon so that the storks may make their nests in their branches, providing high mountains as a home for goats and rock badgers.

Humans are part of this scheme, enjoying wine, oil, and bread as God’s gifts — three of my favourite foods. But they are only part. In commentary on this passage Karl Barth found it embarrassing that humans are only discussed alongside other creatures, but I find it a profound perspective in which the Psalmist is able to picture themselves alongside a whole universe of God’s other creatures.

All creatures look to God for food, and the Psalmist rejoices to God that ‘when you open your hand, they are filled with good things’. The Psalmist also recognises the fundamental commonality between all of God’s creatures: ‘When you send forth your spirit, they are created’; ‘when you take away their breath they die and return to the dust.’

How does the Psalmist respond to this celebration of God’s work? With exuberant praise: ‘I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to key God while I have being’.

Not everyone shares this response: the Psalmist asks God to make an end of the wicked who do not share this response to God’s ways with the world.

The conclusion is a call to bless and praise the Lord.

As you are well aware, this call to praise of the God who is creator and sustainer of all is by no means unique to Psalm 104. Other psalms call the whole creation to praise God in response to God’s grace. Elsewhere in the the Wisdom literature, in the closing chapters of Job, in Proverbs, and in Ecclesiastes, we find similar themes. The creation narratives in Genesis 1-2 shares much of this vision. The prophets lament the plight of humans and other animals subjected to God’s judgement, and look forward to the time of the Messiah when all creatures will dwell peaceably on God’s holy mountain. In the New Testament Jesus teaches that not a single sparrow is forgotten by God and that birds and lilies are good models for Christian discipleship. Paul laments the groaning of all creatures subjected to the labour pains of the new creation, and looks forward to the time when all creatures will be released into the freedom of the children of God. And the opening of the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians express a faith in Jesus Christ that is nothing short of cosmic: making peace and gathering up all things in heaven and earth. Psalm 104 is therefore a particular instance of a vision of God’s gracious dealings with creatures that is a key theme of biblical texts.

Later Christian traditions also celebrated God’s providence and care for creaturely life. We find particularly striking examples in the stories told of the saints. We may smile at these stories, but we should not only smile: they are attempts to envision what it might look like for true holiness to be expressed in the way we live with other animals.

And how do we respond? Well in the first place, we will want to rejoice with the Psalmist in God’s astonishing creative and wondrous work: the magnificent beauty and diversity of creaturely life of which we are but one small part, the intricacy of the particular mode of life of every creature, the abundant grace of God in provision for all creatures, the vision that all this life, compromised in its flourishing in these days, will be gathered up in the fullness of time in a new creation in which every creature will attain fullness of life. Amen to that.

But there must be a second note to our response, one that recognises that the ways in which we treat other creatures is at fundamental odds with this theological vision. I recently came across a statistic that summed this up more starkly than anything I had seen before. Over time, we have taken more and more of God’s world under our control, including the lives of other creatures. By 1900, the biomass of all domesticated animals exceeded the biomass of all wild land mammals by 3 and a half times. That means by then we had already taken habitat away from wild animals on a tremendous scale, depriving them of an environment and replacing them with domesticated animals given life only to provide us with food. But in the last 100 years we have gone much further. We increased the number of domesticated animals by four times, which was a major factor in reducing the population of wild land animals by half, and meant that by 2000 the biomass of domesticated animals exceeded that of wild land mammals by 25 times.

It’s no better in the sea: during the same period we reduced the population of fish in the oceans by 90%.

The big picture is that we have not been content to live as one among many of God’s creatures, as pictured in Psalm 104. Instead, we have attempted to take a god-like power over their lives, monopolizing the earth to provide for our greedy wants, subjecting our fellow creatures to the horrible cruelties of industrialised agriculture and aquaculture which have also resulted in a mass extinction of wild animal species.

Reading Psalm 104 in the knowledge that this has how we have responded to the magnificent diversity of God’s creaturely life is deeply uncomfortable. How can we praise God for providing a place for the storks to build their nests when we have since destroyed it? How can we praise God for opening her hand to provide food for every creature when we have so frequently acted in ways that take their food away? We worship a God who creates and provides; in response we have destroyed and deprived. It seems to me that we are in danger of reading the Psalm in bad faith, and in so doing failing to recognize that our actions place us among the wicked that the Psalmist condemns.

Now thank God, we worship a God whose nature is always to have mercy, and who through Jesus Christ offers us today and every day the chance to confess our sins, turn from our sinful ways, repent, receive forgiveness, and begin again in newness of life. Thanks be to God!

We worship the God who in Jesus Christ proclaimed that Isaiah’s prophecy was coming true: good news for the poor, liberation for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed. It is no stretch to recognize God’s other-than-human creatures as among the poor, the captives, and the oppressed in our days, especially as the jubilee year Jesus proclaims is a culmination of seven year pattern of sabbath for the land, which allowed no sowing or reaping, which Lev 25 states is to benefit domesticated and wild animals, alongside male and female slaves, hired and bound labourers.

If our repentance for the ways we have contributed to the mass destruction of the lives of other creatures is to be sincere, we must seek to find glad patterns of life in response to God’s grace that reduce our devastating impacts on our fellow creatures, and embody Jesus’s liberating call to sabbath and jubilee. First steps are not hard to find: we need to reduce our consumption of animals by eating more plant-based foods and less animal products, and look for opportunities to source any remaining animal products from environments where animals have more opportunity to flourish.

Some may think that in a context where so many human lives are imperilled by war, poverty, racism, and discrimination, we don’t have time to care about other animal creatures, but it turns out that reducing consumption of animals is good for humans and the planet, too. The places where farmed animals are killed and their bodies processed into meat are nasty and dangerous, and the work is done by a labour force that is disproportionately female, black and Latino/a, and migrant. Reducing consumption of animals would also be good for human food security. We currently devote 78% of agricultural land to raising animals and feed 1/3 of global cereal output to livestock, which philosophers and theologians from Plato onwards have recognized is appallingly wasteful compared to growing human food crops. Very often, indigenous peoples have been displaced to make way for domesticated animals providing wealth for white colonizers. Human and non-human oppression intersect here and elsewhere. Reducing consumption of animals would also be good for human water security, would reduce the risk of new strains of bird and swine flu, and the health risks that come with overconsumption of meat. Raising livestock also contributes more to global greenhouse gas emissions than transport, as well as causing local pollution that damages the lives of the disproportionately poor and black communities forced to live alongside vast lagoons of shit that industrial animal farming generates. [Are you noticing the pattern here?] We don’t have to choose between caring for humans, caring for animals, and caring for the planet, because reducing consumption of animals is a win/win/win proposal.

For some, stopping to think about the implications of Christian faith for our use of other animals will lead them to adopt a vegan diet. You can find lots of resources online for how to get started with this. Others may not be able to imagine such an abrupt change, and may instead prefer to start by finding substitutes for meat, fish, and dairy for particular meals, or going plant-based for a day a week as Christians have done in the past. The CreatureKind project Sarah and I are working on encourages an institutional response: supporting places like Drew in finding opportunities to reduce consumption and move to higher welfare sourcing. There are many ways to start or continue on this journey, and it’s much better to find a way to take the next step, rather than do nothing out of worry that you can’t yet see the final destination.

In these days of the groaning of creation, when the reign of God is already but not yet, we cannot set our relationship with other creatures fully right. We will always be faced with forced compromise, where the best we can do remains imperfect. We will never therefore be able to read Psalm 104 without regretting the ways in which our relationship with other creatures is broken alongside joining gladly in the chorus of creation’s praise of God. We cannot end the groaning of creation, but we can attend to it, and respond by doing what we can to reduce our part in worsening the lot of our fellow creatures. We cannot love and provide for other creatures as God does, but we can be inspired by God’s love and care for them to love and provide for them as we are able, and seek ways to contribute to their flourishing wherever we can.

'O LORD, how manifold are your works!

  In wisdom you have made them all;

  the earth is full of your creatures’ (v. 24)

‘Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!’ (v. 35)

Introducing Vegetarian/Vegan Meals into the Week’s Menu

2.5, Infinitely-Variable, Large-Bowl Meals 

by Margaret B. Adam

Well over 25 years ago, my family made the transition from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian diet. It took about 4 years of effort on my part, because I wanted them not only to become vegetarians, but to want to become vegetarians. I had the advantage of an agreeable (if initially unconvinced) husband and small children susceptible to my intense propaganda campaign. But, my primary strategy was food-based. I modified our menu very gradually, by changing some ingredients and by introducing new recipes, until the family norm had shifted to all-vegetarian.

Now, the kids are grown and gone, and I have a new project of transition. My husband and I are headed in the direction of a vegan diet. It seems to be taking longer than that first transition, and we might not ever reach vegan perfection, but I’m ok with that. I consider myself an aspiring-vegan vegetarian.

Gradual transition is still the only way I know how to make dietary changes, and one promising strategy is to add a new meal into the weekly rota (instead of trying to replace a much-loved favourite). If it totally flops the household taste test, you can set aside (and maybe try it again in a month, with or without variations). If it seems acceptable, you can try it again in a week or two, and then adopt it into the list of regular meals. This way, you can slowly, surely, and stealthily increase the percentage of meat-free meals, with minimal rebellion.

Here are some ideas with so many possible variations that you can pass them off as multiple, unrelated meals.

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Presentation matters.

Many people are accustomed to seeing three items on their dinner plates: meat, starch, and vegetable. Any variation on that theme may prompt feelings of loss or chaos, impending doom or rising rebellion. If you would like to cut back on your consumption of animal products without causing dinner plate anxiety, you might want to try presentations that highlight abundance. Here are two and a half meal ideas that feature a single base, with multiple toppings. You can serve these meals with additions piled on top or artistically distributed around the base. Or you can serve the base and let the diners select their own toppings from an array of dishes laid out on the table. Try serving the base in a large bowl or an odd-shaped plate, to underscore that this is not a lesser replacement for the previously established meat plus two dinner. Instead, this is an extra special dinner experience, a cornucopia of tasty delights!

Don’t make all of the possible toppings for one meal! Enlist family members or guests in the selection, preparation, and setting out of their favourite toppings. Or, choose only your own favourites to prepare and enjoy. Next week you can make the base again with a totally different selection of toppings. Add and subtract items as you please.

Baked Potatoes and Toppings (US) aka Jacket Potatoes and Toppings (UK)

  • Start with one large baking potato per person.
  • Stab with fork and bake in a preheated oven (high temperature) until done (45-60 min).
  • Slice open and pile on toppings.
  • Topping Suggestions (infinitely expandable and variable): 
    • Baked Beans (out of the can, warmed on the stove)
    • Hummus
    • Cheese (dairy or vegan), grated or sliced
    • Cheese Sauce (dairy or vegan)
    • Nuts, Vegan Bacon Bits, Nutritional Yeast, Salsa, Salt and Pepper, Herbs, Butter/Vegan Spread, Grated Carrots, Sliced or Chopped Peppers
    • Cooked: Onion slices (sautéed); Garlic (minced or sliced, added to sautéing onions midway through); Mushrooms (sliced and sautéed), Portobellos are especially tasty; Broccoli (lightly steamed or stir fried); Cauliflower (lightly steamed); Thin green beans (lightly steamed)
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Risotto

The rice part takes 20-30 minutes. You might want to prepare some toppings first and rewarm them in the microwave as needed when the rice is done. Or, if you are an optimistic multi-tasker, you might try to do it all at once.

Bring to a boil: 4 cups/1 litre vegetable stock (bouillon powder or cubes with water). Cover and keep warm on the stove.

In another pot, heat 3 T olive oil. 

  • Add: 1/2 chopped onion. Sauté and stir 3 minutes.
  • Add: 1 cup/190 grams arborio rice. Stir 2 minutes.
  • Add: 1 ladle of hot stock. Stir gently with wooden spoon and then let the rice absorb the liquid.
  • Repeat until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Add: salt and pepper and desired herbs.
  • Topping Suggestions (infinitely expandable and variable)
    • Pine nuts
    • Sliced almonds
    • Edamame (fresh or frozen)
    • Grated cheese (dairy or vegan)
    • Nutritional Yeast
    • Raw or from jars: Peppers (chopped); Carrots (grated); Fresh tomatoes (thinly sliced or small chunks); Olives; Sun-dried tomatoes
    • Cooked: Peas (fresh or frozen); Mushrooms (sliced and sautéed), Portobellos are especially tasty; Broccoli (lightly steamed or stir fried); Cauliflower (lightly steamed; Asparagus (lightly steamed); Thin green beans (lightly steamed); Fresh Spinach (sautéed)

Easier Brown Rice Version

Cook some brown rice (small, medium, or long grain) with bouillon and 2 T olive oil. Add salt and pepper and herbs. Add Toppings, as above. Try mounding the rice in the centre of each bowl and then placing small plops of toppings in artful designs around the edges.

You can do this! If you are in a hurry, pick just a couple of ingredients and buy them already prepared or at least already prepared to steam or warm.

Each meal with fewer or no animal products helps make another one possible.

Each step you take to reduce the consumption of animal products sends a message to industrial farming, models change to friends and family, and witnesses to hope-filled confidence that Christ’s restoration of all creation is coming.