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)

Living with God’s Other Creatures

Adapted from a sermon delivered by David Clough at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon on January 7, 2018.

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Scripture

Romans 8:18-24: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creations waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but ty the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?"

Advent and Christmas

How was your Advent and Christmas?

I have to confess to you that Advent brings out a fundamental conflict among my family. My starting point is that the celebrations of Christmas begin on Christmas Day, which means my preference would be to put up Christmas decorations on Christmas Eve. My wife Lucy and our three children are keen to get things started sooner, so we have an annual tussle about when our decorations go up. This year we compromised on the weekend of the 16th December.

There’s another difference between us about expectation during Advent. The other members of my family are impatient for Christmas to come. I tend to be more aware of all the work I have to get done before Christmas, so confess that I sometimes find myself wishing it further away, rather than closer. It’s the same with my domestic preparations: I’m always late with shopping for Christmas presents, and deciding what we’ll eat, and what we’ll need to buy to cook it.

Traditionally, Advent was a time of repentance for Christians, second only to Lent, a time for Christians to consider God’s judgement and prepare themselves, to make sure they were ready to receive the Christ child. This has something in common with my more mundane sense of feeling like I’ve got a lot to get done before I’ll be ready for Christmas. But I’m sure I’m not getting Advent right: I spend too much time on the mundane jobs I need to do, and nowhere near enough time on preparing my heart for the coming of Christmas. That means I often have the feeling of being in church and unready to celebrate the coming of the Saviour, caught off-guard by a moment in a nativity service where we sing with our children a familiar song and suddenly the story fills my eyes with tears and sends a shiver down my spine, once again.

Epiphany: Living after Christmas

I hope you had a good Christmas. We did: everything did get done, somehow, we sang the final verse of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ celebrating Christ born this happy Christmas morning and in the days that followed continued the celebrations with family and friends during Christmas and New Year. But that was a week ago.

Today is Epiphany, when we traditionally remember the visit of the kings to the Christ child, and Herod’s massacre of the male babies in Bethlehem.

Epiphany confronts Christmas with the realities of political power, and its cruel abuse of the vulnerable. The question Epiphany presents us with is, what does Christmas mean in the everyday world as we know it, the world where Christians are killed leaving church in Nigeria, where famine still threatens millions of lives, where controversies still rage about the exit of Britain from the EU, and where President Trump remains true to form in boasting about the size of his nuclear button amid growing evidence of mental incapacity?

Epiphany challenges us to consider how Christmas makes a difference in the real world. That’s our challenge this morning: what does it mean to live as Christians after Christmas?

Surely the transporting vision of our God taking on vulnerable creaturely flesh like ours and our celebration of God taking up the cause of God’s creatures by becoming incarnate in our world, should make a difference for how we live in it? How do we return from the holidays to our everyday life and bring what we have seen and felt of Christmas to the world as we find it?

Romans 8

I think the words we have heard from Paul in the 8th chapter of the Letter to the Romans can help us with the Epiphany challenge of bringing Christmas to the everyday. Paul is writing to Christians in Rome who were living through difficult times, subjected to persecution on grounds of their faith. Neither Jesus’s birth nor his resurrection had been an escape from tribulation for these early Christians. Their faith in the victory won in Christ was maintained amidst many signs that all was not yet right with the world. Paul acknowledges the depth of their sufferings. He compares what they are going through with the pain women feel in childbirth. I can only claim second-hand knowledge of this pain, through being with Lucy as she went through labour three times over. Paul’s experience of labour pains is likely to be one step further removed, but his comparison must be meant to acknowledge that the sufferings of the world are extreme, demanding, and costly, and call for serious courage and resilience to endure. To live in a world going through labour pains was never going to be comfortable.

But the comparison Paul makes is not just about the depth of the suffering involved. It links to our thinking about the progression from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany because it’s suffering with a meaning, with a direction, and with a trajectory. The groaning of a woman in childbirth is unlike the groaning of someone who has suffered injury because the pain is a result of something hoped for, the birth of a new child. The pain is almost unbearable, but the bearing of it takes place in the expectation that it is the means to bring about nothing less that the gift of new life. That’s what Paul means the Christians in Rome to know, too. Neither Christmas nor Easter means they are freed from the suffering of the world, but Christmas and Easter mean that this suffering is not the final truth about God’s world: these sufferings are the birth pangs of a new creation, liberated from its bondage to decay to be brought into the freedom of the children of God.

This doesn’t make the suffering ok, of course, especially when its burden is unjustly redirected in our world by the powerful to the burden the powerless, by the rich to the poor, by men to women, by white people to people of colour, by straight to queer, and so on. We must continue to work to resist these injustices, while knowing that such efforts cannot bring the groaning of creation to an end.

Here is Paul’s answer to the Epiphany challenge of bringing Christmas into our everyday world: Christmas doesn’t mean killing will end, or famines will not take place, or leaders will not fight futile wars, or the strong will stop exploiting the weak, but it does mean that such dreadful woes are not the final truth about God’s ways with the world. Christmas means that Christians engage with those woes of the world in faith that in doing so they witness to the mighty work of God in redeeming creation.

Living with Other Creatures

After Christmas, we encounter the world anew in the context of a Christian hope that the coming of God into our world in the form of a baby means that God has taken up our cause and will not allow evil to reign triumphant. We are left, though, with the question of how we are to live as Christians in this post-Christmas world, and in the final part of my sermon I want to consider one particular aspect of the Epiphany challenge of bringing Christmas into our everyday life in the world.

When John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church to which I belong, preached on this passage from Romans in 1772, he was struck by the way Paul’s vision included not just human beings, but the whole of creation. He saw the plain sense of the passage as an affirmation that God would redeem all creatures, and was drawn immediately to reflect on the many cruelties he saw inflicted on animals in the streets. Christians who believed in a God who was their creator and redeemer have reason to oppose such cruelties in the strongest terms, he said.

There’s another link with Advent and Christmas here. Christians often recall the prophecy in Isaiah 11 during Advent, where Isaiah prophesies the Messiah coming from ‘the stump of Jesse’. The first sign of the coming of the Messiah is peace between humans and other animals, wolves, lambs, leopard, kids, calves, lions, and little children (vv. 6–9). This new peace is made present in the Christmas nativity scenes in which the animals in the stable are the first to recognize the coming of the Christ. One part of making Christmas present in our lives, therefore, might be to seek ways to witness to the peace God seeks between humans and other animals, and to the redemption of all creatures described by Paul.

But as soon as we acknowledge this connection between Christian Christmas faith and animals, we must recognize, just as Wesley did, that the ways we are currently treating animals are at odds with this Christian vision, subjecting them to many unnecessary cruelties. We have bred broiler hens to grow to slaughter weight in windowless sheds in just six weeks, suffering pain from legs too immature to support their unwieldy bodies. We ignore the complex social intelligence of pigs, and confine sows in stalls that do not even allow them to turn around, raising their piglets in monotonous sheds that prevent most of their natural behaviours. We raise cattle intensively in feedlots, subjecting them to castration and other mutilations without pain relief.

And, as Gretchen Primack’s heart-breaking poem reminds us, following the labour pains of their mothers, we take calves from their mothers, sometimes before they have even met, and force the mothers to eat constantly so we can take the milk meant for the calves we have killed, often keeping them confined without being able to graze grass, before they are culled for beef after 3 or 4 lactations when their milk yield drops. Those who live near dairy farms describe the loud groans of grief and protest from mother cows who have had their calves taken from them, which can go on for days. I can’t think of a more direct example of the groaning of creation Paul wrote about, and in this case, we’re the cause. These are modern animal cruelties, unknown in Wesley’s day, which should appal Christians today just as the eighteenth century cruelties appalled Wesley. It seems to me that we have sleep-walked into farming animals in ways that are a practical denial that they are fellow creatures of our God.

And it’s not as if it’s good for us, either. The unprecedented amounts of animal products we are eating are bad for our health as well as theirs, are wasteful of land and water resources, and are damaging to our environment. We currently devote 78% of agricultural land to raising animals and feed 1/3rd of global cereal output to them, when growing crops for human consumption would be a far more efficient way to feed a growing human population. And raising livestock contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than transport globally, but has been largely ignored in climate change policy-making. Reducing our consumption of farmed animals would therefore be good for humans, good for animals, and good for the planet.

The good news is that this is an issue where our actions make a difference. I don’t know how to stop Donald Trump threatening Kim Jong-un, but I do know that if I and other Christians cut consumption of animal products, fewer animals will be drawn into the cruelties of intensive farming.

CreatureKind seeks to encourage Christians to take steps to reduce their consumption of animals and to move to higher welfare sources of any animal products they do use. Doing so makes a practical connection between our everyday practice of eating, our relationship to the wider creation, and our faith. I offer the possibility to you as a late Christmas present, the opportunity to reconceive even our ordinary eating as a sacramental. We have a six-week course for churches that would be ideal to run in Lent to help Christians think more about what their faith means for animals and how we treat them. Perhaps first steps could be communal, rather than individual: thinking how the food you share here at church could reflect the recognition of animals as fellow creatures.

Conclusion

So I’ve suggested that the challenge of Epiphany is how to bring Christmas into the everyday world, how to live a Christmas faith day to day. I’ve suggested that Paul’s vision of the groans of creation as labour pains of the new creation God is bringing forth can help us make sense of the suffering world we engage with as Christians. And I’ve suggested that as Christians we have reason to care about the suffering we currently inflict on farmed animals, and that we have faith-based reasons to stop contributing to its cruelty in our everyday life.

May God gift us this Epiphany with a new vision of how to live out an expectant Christmas faith in the everyday world we encounter and the disturbing and inspiring presence of the Holy Spirit as we seek to align our lives with God’s ways with our world. Amen.

Veg Christian Thanksgiving Survival Guide

by Sarah Withrow King

This Thanksgiving, in houses all across the United States, a lone vegetarian or vegan will enter with trepidation into the experience of Thanksgiving with meat-eaters. In some cases, she’ll be a nine-year-old who has decided eating animals is incompatible with her desire to be a veterinarian when she grows up. In another, a retiree will have given up meat, dairy, and eggs to reduce his risk of high blood pressure and bring his cholesterol back into a healthy range. This pastor’s son learned about the environmental damage of animal agriculture. This missionary kid wants to avoid contributing to global hunger and knows that plant-based foods require fewer resources to produce.

fighting siblings

The smell of cooking animal fat will permeate the air while families bow their heads to give thanks. Plates of flesh will be passed. In some lucky cases, the plant-based eater will be able to feast. In others, she’ll cobble together a meal of dry rolls, salad, and whatever dish she’s brought along to share.

Some of us face this day with dread. Some of us are genuinely happy, no matter what’s on the table. Some of us decide to skip the whole thing altogether.

This survival guide is for those of us who are willing to enter the fray, who might have considered skipping out on together-time, but instead choose to gird our vegan loins and face what comes.

  1. Offer to Help the Host. People who are hosting may be reluctant to ask for help, they may think that asking for assistance makes them a bad host. Assure them that you are eager to help. Send them this guide.

  2. Start a New Tradition. Bring vegetarian enchiladas to your family gathering, or some other distinctive dish. A little odd, a lot memorable, and very delicious, this simple act could become part of your family’s tradition.

  3. Plan a Vegan Feast. Maybe you can’t get out of going to Aunt Josephine’s on Thursday, but perhaps you can gather some friends for a plant-based day-after celebration. My husband and I used to invite small group and work friends over to our house for a party sometimes the day or two after a major holiday. It gave us a chance to share our favorite recipes, allowed us the opportunity to extend hospitality to others without family in the area, and gave us something to look forward to if we were also attending a less animal-friendly, more stressful event.

  4. Prepare for “The Question.” If you’re the only vegan, someone will inevitably ask you why you don’t eat animals. They will probably be holding the leg of a turkey when they do this. Decide in advance whether you want to go into details at the dinner table. I like to say something like, “I went vegan when I learned about what happens to animals used for food. Can we talk more about it later? I’d love to tell you the story while we do the dishes/go for a walk.”

  5. Take Deep Breathes and Center on Jesus and the Community, Not the Food. In any kind of stressful situation, centering prayer is a life-saver. I take a deep breathe in and say something like, “Come Lord Jesus.” Then I let the breathe out and say, “Be my guide.” I try to imagine my heart softening, let my shoulders relax, unclench my jaw. Our best chance at reducing suffering will come if we are able to communicate with compassion, grace, gratitude, and warmth. We may not be able to produce that on our own...so ask for help.

  6. Visit a Sanctuary or Connect with Creation. You might live near a farmed animal sanctuary. If you can, go visit and connect with living animals. If you can’t, plan to take a long walk outside. Listen for birds. Watch squirrells. Feel the rain or breeze on your face. Give yourself permission to lament, to release your pain, even to rage at God. God can take it.

One final note. There’s a difference between putting up with good-natured ribbing and out-and-out abuse. There’s a difference between unintentioned callousness and mean-spirited attacks. If you need to pull away from dangerous people, that’s okay. Perhaps there’s a vegan or vegetarian meet-up in your area; maybe you can volunteer to take the holiday shift so someone else can spend time with their family; or this could be the year that you make a fabulous meal for one and watch your favorite movies in your pajamas while you snuggle with your dog.

However you choose to celebrate, know that you are beloved and that you are a part of great cosmic movement of creation, reconciling to the Creator.

Six Tips for Hosting a Vegan at Thanksgiving

by Sarah Withrow King

You’re hosting the holiday meal this year and have the menu all planned out when you learn one of the guests is vegan. Hospitality is important to you. You want to share the gifts you’ve been given, welcome people with open arms, and create a space where all of your guests feel warm, safe, and seen. But you’ve been making the same dishes for the last twenty years and have no earthly idea what vegans eat or whether they’ll take one look at the table spread and scream, “Murderer!” (<---they’re not going to do that)

 These Vegan Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze from  One Happy Table  will impress all your hungry guests! So much yum.

These Vegan Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze from One Happy Table will impress all your hungry guests! So much yum.

I’m here to help. I haven’t always been kind or compassionate to plant-based eaters. I hosted a birthday party once and fed my one vegetarian friend a salad while we chowed down on burgers. I laughed at another friend who was trying to be vegan. Then I learned some of the reasons why my friends left meat, dairy, and eggs off their plates and decided to follow suit. Guess what I was served at the very first event I attended as a vegan? A plate of lightly steamed summer squash. I had it coming.

If you’ve got a vegan or vegetarian coming to dinner and want to welcome them with open arms and a full plate, here are six top tips:

  1. Ask What Kind of Food Your Guest Likes. Some vegans looooove meat substitutes like Gardein Chick’n or Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs or Tofurky’s Holiday Roast. Others just like straight-up vegetables. Some vegans are in it for the health benefits and others relish a meal that’s rich and decadent. It’s okay to ask. It’s good to ask.

  2. Make Easy Substitutions When Possible. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef stock; substitute Earth Balance and a plant-based milk for butter and dairy; make a chia or flax egg to help that casserole bind. If you would normally sprinkle cheese over the top of a dish, leave it to the side and let people add their own if they choose. Here’s a good substitution guide to help get you started.

  3. Offer a Vegan Dessert. If your guest is very health-conscious, fruit or sorbet is fine. But if they love pumpkin pie and other sugary treats, you’ll be a hero if you present them with a baked goody. Seriously. A cape-wearing hero. Not sure how you can make a pie crust without lard or a cake without eggs? Seize the opportunity to learn some new tricks. You might just find a new favorite! Maybe the family tradition is a plate of Uncle Dave’s killer brownies? Pick up a vegan brownie at the local grocery store so your guest can indulge, too!

  4. Offer a Vegan Protein. If you’re not sure what kind of protein your guest likes, just ask! Let them send you some of their favorite recipes. I promise we will put a great deal of thought into ensuring that the suggestions we provide are affordable, practical, and universally delicious.

  5. Let Your Guest Help You. I don’t mean, “let your guest bring all their own food.” That’s no fun. Of course you can ask them to bring a dish that they love (and be sure to give them first dibs at that if there aren’t a lot of veg options), but let them help you figure out what’s available and easy-to-do. We are eager to answer questions, to help you find substitutes, to offer up recipe suggestions. One long-time vegan says, “I find there's a dungeon-master forcefield around hosting and a lot of people feel that if they involve their guests, they're somehow not hosting well. No! Ask the vegan! They've been figuring out what egg subs work best for years! Team Host-Guest FTW!”

  6. Let’s Talk About Being Vegan...After Dinner. The vast majority of vegans I know want everyone at the table to have a good time. We don’t think mealtime is the best place to share the details of what we’ve learned about factory farming and slaughterhouses. Let’s do that over drinks or while we’re washing dishes.

I do hope you will ask your guest about their preferences, but here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes that might get your creative juices flowing.

One last word. I eat with meat-eaters all the time. I don’t love to see meat, I don’t love to watch people eat meat. I’ve seen and read too much to be able to turn off my heart and brain, but I’ll still sit down at a table that includes meat. That said...if, like me, your vegan guest is vegan for animals, they might appreciate if a big meat dish wasn’t the center of the table. They might appreciate the cutting/carving/serving being done away from where the eating happens. Or maybe not. It’s worth having the conversation. It’s always worth having the conversation.

“Let all that you do be done in love.”

Changing the Menu at Christian Conferences

by Sarah Withrow King

Which vegan has two thumbs, travels a lot, and has been eating pretty well at Christian gatherings of late? This gal!

Earlier this year, my team at ESA let me know that they wanted to show solidarity with my CreatureKind work by making all of our events vegetarian or vegan. Another CreatureKind colleague's team made a similar decision. I had a vegan dessert for the first time ever at a gathering of Christian leaders in June (here it is, it was such a perfect little pudding, I had to take a photo), a dessert that followed a series of outstanding vegan meal options. 

 Perfect tiny vegan tapioca pudding. I could have eaten about five of them.

Perfect tiny vegan tapioca pudding. I could have eaten about five of them.

I have received incredible vegan hospitality at Christian events in cities all over the U.S. in the last year, from Portland to Durham, D.C. to Grand Rapids.

I love plant-based food at Christian events for a few reasons:

  1. Providing plant-based meals ensures that vegans, vegetarians, and conscious consumers are able to fully participate in the event. Having to leave to go seek out food, or having to pack and prepare your own is a bummer. 
  2. 99% of the animal products provided at your average event will be from industrial farms and slaughterhouses, which are not only bad for animals, but for the humans who work there, too. 
  3. Eating more plant-based meals is better for the environment. 

And one more: I talk to a lot of people who balk at the idea of calling themselves vegan or vegetarian but who would choose plant-based foods if they were readily available. Providing or (even better) prioritizing plant-based food at Christian events gives people the opportunity to try on a different way of eating without making a (seemingly) daunting commitment. 

Are you part of a gathering of Christians that shares meals? Do you go to a conference every year and want to see more plant-based food? Do you have a positive story to share? Let's talk about how to help make this trend into a norm! Drop us a line or comment below.