nonviolence and animals

From a conversation with a vegan friend...

I agree that animals are not sinners. I suppose that does make them superior often. In my understanding, it's part of being a free spiritual being that we can reject God's way and make ourselves "lower" than the other members of creation who always obey the good nature God gave them. I think this explains your correct observation that human beings often act much worse than other animals.

I'd like to follow this idea of the sinlessness of animals to then question what it means to be moral, loving, and merciful in our relation to other animals. Certainly, we don't generally see animals being cruel to other animals, but usually just killing for food or fighting in self defense. So, as you say, we shouldn't be cruel to animals either (our current cruelty, like we see in the meat industry, is a result of our human sinfulness and should be rejected). But doesn't the behavior of sinless animals raise the question of whether all violence against animals is necessarily wrong or unloving, i.e. against God's will?

I understand you differentiate between necessary killing for food and unnecessary killing, when we have other food options. But in my experience it seems that animals do sometimes kill other animals out of "preference" rather than just for nutritional necessity. For example, raccoons eat a variety of foods. But when they get a chance to kill a chicken, they take it (as one raccoon did quite regularly here recently). I see cats do the same with a mouse or bird, though they have cat food available. Do you think this is wrong? I'm just not sure animals would share your definition of morality and love, though I believe they faithfully obey God's will in their nature.

I wonder if your assumptions about nonviolence (or even mercy) towards animals comes from Jesus' teachings about how we should treat other human beings, which seems to me to have a different meaning and purpose than simply reducing physical suffering. Jesus' nonviolence seems to be directed more to the spiritual aspect of human beings. (It doesn't seem to make any sense from a biological perspective.) He wished to inspire a free and willing response from human beings that was not forced through violence or threats, motivated by love not fear. But this only makes sense in relation to free spiritual beings, sinners who need to change by their own free will.

That seems to me to suggest that we shouldn't try to apply the same teachings on nonviolence to other animals. And I don't see Jesus (or other parts of the biblical teaching) applying it that way. Do you?


We looked up from our meal yesterday and there were two turkeys staring in the window...


in thanksgiving

Jesus said, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"

And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."


for the love of the world

I wrote a letter to a friend recently about a book he recommended on the theology behind "earth care." I'm caring for it, I'm caring for it, I protested. Pretty much agreed with the author's concerns, though, that we have misused the natural world around us, and that sometimes Christian theology has been used to justify our misuse of the earth.

The one part I disagreed with was the author's attack on the traditional Christian "anthropocentrism," the belief that human beings are the center of (and purpose for) the created universe. I think that belief is basically true. It's hard not to see it in the creation story. And, perhaps more importantly, when God comes to earth as a human being he focuses all his time and energy on human beings. Jesus' life makes it pretty clear that man is God's central concern here. I understand that people have used an "it's all for our use" ideology to pillage nature. But I think the real problem is not the belief but the selfish and short-sighted misuse of it.

If God did create the earth (and the universe) for us, then we should respect it as God's gift, as important for our lives. Both as a means of survival and as a way God reveals himself to us. And we should also respect that it's given for all of us (including the many who come after us) and so we shouldn't hoard or destroy it as if it was our personal property to use as we wish. To care for the earth because we care for other people is to care for it rightly, in my opinion. It is motivated by love for our brothers and sisters, the love Jesus taught us.

That's perhaps the most important thing that seems to be missing from the environmental activism I've seen. An emphasis on love. There's lots of emphasis on the destruction being done, and the dire consequences, and usually a healthy appreciation of the beauty and rich complexity of the natural world. But to see all of nature as a gift from God to us, to see its vastness and complexity and generosity and understand that this was dreamed up for us, that's to get a glimpse of the wonder of God's love. Which should inspire us to respect the natural world. And share and preserve it as an act of love for one another.


now what do I do with it?

I've been enjoying a long overdue visit with my parents, relaxing in sunny Florida. While fooling around I discovered how to make an animated gif image; here I used a recent Calvin comic strip. Pretty good, eh?

p.s. Here's something else I put together (with a little help). I know what to do with this one...


being prophetic

A recent conversation reminded me of this journal entry from several years ago....

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls."

For some reason I thought about the prophets yesterday, maybe because the discussion group here talked about Hosea (or because we just watched Prince of Egypt, about Moses). It's very desirable to be called "prophetic" these days. This usually means that, like the prophets, this person or group courageously speaks out against an oppressor, telling them they are doing wrong and that they should repent and act justly. This image is especially popular among activist Christians. But is this all it means to be prophetic?

In modern times, at least among more mainline groups, the "prophesy" part of being prophetic is downplayed or ignored completely. It's seen as "fortune-telling." But I think there is something important in this aspect of the prophetic witness. The prophets did not simply denounce the oppressors' deeds as unfair or evil, they announced God's judgment. They proclaimed that, if the wrongdoing did not stop, calamity would fall on the oppressor from God's mighty hand, which would come to rescue his afflicted people. This is not just telling the future. This is announcing God's will, what God would do. And the difference between a false prophet and a true one was whether this announcement actually came to pass. Did the prophet speak for God or not?

My point is that the prophet was not the one who made things happen, brought about the change for the better—it was God. The prophet simply announced what God would do and God did it.

Modern day prophetic types seem to ignore this aspect. They tend to denounce injustice, then immediately set about trying to fix it themselves. They muster resources and kick off labor strikes and letter writing campaigns, try to elect their political candidate or get their bill passed. A big popular following (usually through heavy use of the media) is seen as the way to victory. They wouldn't presume to say what God is going to do, but they can predict what their strength-in-numbers might be able to accomplish. And hard work. There's always more that can be done for the cause, and the heroes are the ones who work the hardest.

But Jesus wasn't like this. He was prophetic in the fullest sense. He did denounce injustice, but he didn't attempt to fix it himself: he announced what God was doing about it and what he would do in the future. Jesus did not set about the hard work of "building the kingdom of God." He announced that the time was fulfilled, the kingdom of God had arrived for those who embraced it, and that in the future God himself would wipe away everything that was not part of his kingdom. The kingdom of God was God's perfect work, and God's gift to us.

Even in the healings that seemed to be so much of Jesus' initial work on earth, we see not Jesus' labor but God's act. The demons were not cast out by Jesus' professional counseling. The diseases were not healed through Jesus' medical expertise or the work of many hospital employees. Jesus simply spoke the word and God worked. Jesus prophetically announced what God would do for those who had faith.

This is not "hard work" as we know it (and praise it so highly). It is humble work. It is merely being God's instrument. It requires meekness and lowliness of heart, and it offers rest for our souls. Not the burdens of responsibility, the weight of "making it happen" ourselves, but the rest of knowing that this is God's work and God has the power and will to bring it to completion.



"take no offense at me"

In a conversation on responding to the injustice and violence perpetuated by governments, someone asked, "What do you think the best methods are to confront that fundamental problem? And how do those methods look like what Jesus did?"

I think these are really the same question, since the best way to respond is the way Jesus responded. Jesus lived under the occupation of the Roman empire, which pursued war and perpetrated atrocities much like we see today. Jesus certainly was against such things. But he seems not to have protested much against them. Rather he pursued a radically different kind of life, showing people that they could find provision and security from God rather than from the violent powers of empire.

I think one of Jesus' most direct responses to the injustices of empire came when John the baptist was (unjustly) imprisoned for speaking a hard truth to the king. Jesus certainly cared about this. But he seemed not to protest or call for a public uprising against this injustice.

In Matthew 11, we hear of John sending a message to Jesus from prison:

When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
Supposedly John knew who Jesus was. He seemed to know when he baptized Jesus, anyway. But now he asks again. I suspect that John might have been wondering, if Jesus was the promised messiah, why he wasn't leading the people to freedom. Or why he wasn't getting John out of prison; after all, Isaiah said of the messiah would "proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Is 61.1). Interestingly, Jesus responds to John by referring to that very passage (as he also did in Lk 4.18):
Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

"And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."

Why does Jesus add that line about not being offended at him? Maybe because, in the face of such deadly injustice, Jesus' response could be offensive to people. People who wanted to see more. I could certainly understand if John was disappointed to get that message.

Jesus' response to war and slaughters and the imprisonment (and execution) of prophets was not protest or organizing a public outcry. Instead, as he told John, he healed people and preached good news to the poor. Pathetic, huh? I can see why people might get upset about that response, especially from a so-called "messiah."

So Jesus adds, "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me."

If we can follow Jesus example in this, if we're not offended by it ourselves and if we're willing to face other people's indignation if we respond like Jesus did, then we will offer the best response to the problem. And then there's the "blessedness" Jesus promised, too...


for veterans day

Every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9.5-6


"so little voice"

In a recent discussion about protesting at churches, one woman said, "I'm just not sure if a desperation to be heard justifies such an action." Good insight. I replied:
I understand that it is difficult to have "so little voice," but isn't that the right place to be as followers of Jesus? And [someone else] keeps talking about not being "given a microphone," but is that really what we need? Did Jesus need a microphone?

I think you're right that desperation to be heard is not the best motivation, yet I think that's behind a lot of "radical" action, and contributes to the ways those actions are often disrespectful, angry, and unloving. We're frustrated and upset, so we resort to less-than-loving methods so our voice can at least be heard.

I've done this also at times, and even recently thought about protesting at my own church. I was quite upset over the use of "church discipline" that pressured one family to the point where they left the intentional community (with pretty limited ability to support themselves). I didn't think the family was innocent, I just didn't think they should have been pressured to the breaking point. As the situation was developing, I spoke out in public. I said it would be harmful for the whole community. I pleaded with the leaders who were pushing the issue, and suggested an alternative. I used my "voice" as adult Sunday school teacher to argue that Jesus never told us to use social pressure to discipline in that way, that the more mature among us should accept wrongs from the "weaker brother" rather than punish them socially or economically. People got angry.

But in the arguments I realized that my voice as the teacher was a form of power over the others that some of them resented. It wasn't just the truth upsetting them, but that I was "forcing" them to listen to it. So I gave up my position as teacher (and occasional worship leader). I had much less voice, but that made me trust more that if it really was the truth then God would back it up and make that truth known. I could have no voice myself because God's voice was the only one that mattered. And no one could silence that voice. Everyone would have to listen eventually.

Jesus didn't need a microphone for the same reason. Matthew quotes Isaiah in describing Jesus: "He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will any one hear his voice in the streets..." (Mt 12.19) He didn't need a microphone because it was never in question whether justice would come. God would bring justice. Jesus could speak with a small voice and without desperation because he had faith that God would back up his words with all the power of the Almighty.


no right to complain

I've been hearing a whole lot of complaining about politicians recently, and it's getting louder. Here's George Carlin's response: "No right to complain"

For a little fuller treatment of the topic of voting, there's this journal entry I wrote years ago.


for all saints day