Editorial: All Blessings Flow
"Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse them." Romans 12:14
In the February editorial, which dealt with the way aikido can serve as a model for a nonaggressive response to verbal attack, the concept of ki was mentioned in passing as being the energy employed in an aggressive attack, but which the aikido practitioner can unite to her/his own benign ki to neutralize the attack. In this essay I would like to explore ki further, and offer an analogy to a theme in the Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Ki is the Japanese form of the Chinese qi, so ancient and multifaceted a concept that there is no space here even to sketch out its various aspects. I will confine myself largely to commenting on its place in a particular exercise in aikido, and cite some Biblical passages that suggest an overlap in meaning with the concept of blessing and cursing. The image of the flow of ki may help those of us struggling to love our opponents when it seems impossible.
The root meaning of qi is, roughly, "steam," "cloud," or "breath." This suggests analogies to the Hebrew ruah and Greek pneuma, usually translated Spirit. No doubt there are analogies here. But there are also differences. S/spirit, when referring to the Divine (and often when the reference is finite as well) has come to be understood primarily as conscious and personal, but qi/ki remains impersonal; it is energy, life force. It can be either clear and good, or muddy and dark, depending on the person's habitual intentions. The flow of one's ki can be manipulated, directed, both within one's own body and outward toward other beings or things, whereas a devout Jew or Christian would not presume to direct the flow of the divine Spirit. For this reason, blessing and cursing, which can unquestionably be carried out by human beings, perhaps offers a less problematic comparison.
An exercise often used to demonstrate the power of ki to possibly skeptical aikido beginners involves having the student extend her/his arm with the wrist resting, palm up, on another person's shoulder, then try to hold it straight and stiff while the other applies increasing pressure to bend it. Keeping the arm straight is hard to do; sooner or later it gives way. Then the student is asked to try again, this time imagining ki as a powerful stream of energy flowing, as through a firehose, from shoulder to fingertips and outward. Although I am generally not a skeptical type, when I did this exercise I was much surprised by the huge difference in the strength of my arm. I am far from brawny, but it became virtually unbendable. It seems my experience is typical.
Does this exercise prove that ki is real? Obviously there is something powerful at work here, as witnessed by the effects; energy is the potential to do work. But it might be protested that that something is not necessarily a stream of ki sent out by conscious intention. For example, a Western stage hypnotist might bring about a similar scene, but a mysterious invisible ki is not part of the explanation.
There is a tendency in many persons who think of themselves as scientifically oriented to dismiss that which cannot be weighed or measured as illusory, "merely subjective." But this is a mistake; the creative powers of the human mind are formidable. There is much evidence, especially from Jungian psychology and Near-Death studies, that that which milions of humans co-create and re-create over many centuries takes on a reality of its own (this can even be true of individual creativity), though there is no space to present that evidence here. Thus it is in fact entirely possible, (I find it even likely) that when the aikido student visualizes a powerful stream of ki through her arm, this is in fact occurring.
In any case, for the sake of the idea's possible helpfulness, let us assume that ki is real, and that it carries the qualities of the mental state of the person sending it. How might it inform the seemingly outmoded concepts of blessing and cursing in ways that could benefit animal defenders?
Ancient Benedictions and Maledictions
Few people take blessings, or curses, very seriously in our culture. But in the world in which the Bible was written, this was not the case. A blessing or a curse was thought to have enormous power, especially in the mouths of great patriarchs or seers. For example, Jacob, the younger son of Isaac and Rebekah, schemes with his mother's help to deceive his blind father and get the blessing which rightfully belongs to the firstborn, which includes the assurance that he will rule over his brother. He succeeds, but his brother Esau is so enraged that Jacob has to flee and live abroad. When he returns over fourteen years later, Esau is still angry, judging by the fact that he goes to meet Jacob at the head of a private army. (With more scheming by Jacob, they work things out.) (Genesis 27-33)
In another instance, during Israel's Exodus from Egypt, Balak the king of Moab is frightened by Israel's numbers and tries repeatedly to bribe Balaam the seer to come and curse Israel, so that Moab's armies can prevail over the invader in battle. Balaam is evidently tempted by the offer and comes, but each time when he goes into a trance hoping to be able to utter the lucrative curse, a blessing for Israel comes out of his mouth instead, including victory over and destruction of Moab (Numbers 22-24).
The content of the blessings in these and like narratives tends to be: plenty from the land, children, peace or victory over enemies, and rulership. Curses run to famine and to defeat by and submission to others. Both are believed to be effective for many years, even generations. The morality underlying the operation is in some of the earlier stories questionable. Later, in the so-called Deuteronomic theme, blessing and abundant life are firmly linked to obedience to God, while curse and devastation result from disobedience.
Although emphasis is on the power of the speaker and of the words uttered, there is a suggestion, especially in blessings and curses regarding earth's vegetation, that the benediction/malediction becomes (or unites with) an energy that permeates the land: "God Almighty will bless you / with blessings of heaven above, / blessings of the deep that couches beneath . . . . The blessings of your father are mighy beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, / the bounties of the everlasting hills . . . ." (Genesis 49:25, 26).
There is also a tradition of blessings for spiritual benefits. According to Numbers 6:24-26, the high priest, Aaron, and his sons after him were instructed to bless Israel as follows: "The Lord bless you and watch over you; /the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; / the Lord look kindly on you and give you peace." The power (energy?) of the divine name was the focus of this benediction.
Grace to You and Peace
In the Christian scriptures, i.e. New Testament, blessing and cursing tend to be democratized. When Paul begins his letters to churches with the blessing "Grace to you and peace," (Charis, grace, being a clever wordplay on the more usual chaire, "Greetings"), he is in a sense in the Aaronic tradition. He is willing freedom and abundance for their souls, their growth in love and service. Grace is at the heart of this concept of blessing; it might be called a form of energy, the powerful love poured out from God that becomes empowerment to love in those who receive its blessing.
Although Paul blesses as a spiritual teacher, he is not a priest; and he does not see pronouncing blessing to be the province of elite or charismatic figures. All those who receive the blessing of grace are meant to pass it on, not only to their spiritual sisters and brothers, but to enemies and persecutors as well. Thus his line quoted in the epigraph above: "Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse them." (Jesus' equivalent line in the Beatitudes is not in the earliest manuscripts.)
The idea of God loving and blessing all creatures, including those we experience as enemies, did not emerge new with Christianity; it appears earlier in the Hebrew scriptures. "The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works," (Psalm 145:9), and especially the book of Jonah, in which the reluctant prophet is sent to appeal to his nation's enemies, are examples of this theme of the all-encompassing love of God. Thus when Jesus says "Love your enemies and do them good," (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27) and when Paul urges his readers to bless their persecutors, they are reopening the treasures of their faith to a new generation.
Loving one's enemies is a wonderful idea, and saints seem to do it effortlessly; but saints are thin on the ground we animal defenders have to tread every day. Anyone who has undergone both a personal betrayal by a loved and trusted friend, and the betrayal, by our spiritual sisters and brothers, of the Good News of divine compassion, knows that sometimes it can be even harder to love in the latter case. It hurts when our motivations are demeaned, but the real violence is not against us but against the innocent and defenseless. And our friends who close off their hearts and minds are doing their bit to keep it going. I remember one fellow-Friend who wouldn't give up meat saying to me "You'll just have to try to love us anyway." At that time, I was so devastated by my Meeting's resistance that I felt I might as well try to fly.
It is at this point that the concept of ki may be useful. Complete love includes emotional warmth, which we may not be able to produce, but the backbone of love is will, especially will in action. Blessing is such an action of will. If we inform the seemingly thin idea of blessing by thinking of it as ki energy, it may help us deal with the feelings of being trapped by pain. We do not have to be convinced that ki is real, or, if so, that it can be directed in a powerful stream; holding the image in our minds will do the work. When we are being attacked, we can remember to step mentally out of any stream of muddy, hostile curse-energy being directed at us, and envelope it with the bright, clear energy of blessing. When we are reliving such scenes in our minds, perhaps trying to come up with the perfect answer, we can take the initiative. We can receive a divine flood of blessing "from the heaven above, or from the deep . . . beneath," and send it out to the other in a golden stream.
The ocean of Light, as George Fox said, flows over the ocean of darkness.
--Gracia Fay Ellwood
Painting of Isaac blessing Jacob by Govert Flinck, 1638 (Rijksmuseum). Painting of Paul by Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1635.
"Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equals. Do not slave holders wish to make the black man [an]other kind?"
--Charles Darwin, Journal, 1838
According to legend, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi encountered the Messiah at the gates of Rome. Sitting among the poor, the sick and the wretched, the Messiah was changing the bindings of his wounds. "When are you coming?" asked Yehoshua. "Today!" replied the Anointed One. . . . (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a).
Perhaps this means "You need not expect a future coming of the Messiah. He is here today. Look for him among the homeless, the wounded, the hungry and oppressed. " (See Isaiah 53, Matthew 25). And if God's tender mercies are over all his/her works, how can the suffering oppressed not include our animal cousins?
--Contributed by Benjamin Urrutia
Q: How many vegans does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two--one to do the changing, and one to check for animal ingredients.
Vegetarian and Overweight?
Physician John McDougall, who's been called a walking encyclopedia about nutrition, is concerned about people who out of compassion for animals, or care for the environment, adopted a plant-based diet but not a nutritionally balanced one. He says these people "labor tirelessly to protect the welfare of all animals" but "have failed one important animal: themselves," by depending on vegan junk food and becoming overweight. Dr. McDougall shares some great tips to modify an already vegan diet into one that is balanced and healthy for our bodies. To read the full article see www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2008nl/dec/fat.htm.
--Contributed by Lorena Mucke
Legislation to Ban Tail Mutilation
The Los Angeles Times reports that California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez has introduced legislation, SB 135, to ban tail docking of dairy cows, except "during an individual treatment, emergency or operation, if the treatment or operation is performed by a veterinarian for veterinary purposes" with proper anesthesia. The move was praised by the Humane Society of America, who pointed out that the practice of routinely amputating portions of dairy cows' tails-without painkillers-- causes them pain and distress, and is already banned in several nations. To read the full article see latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2009/02/new-tail-dockin.html.
--Contributed by Lorena Mucke
Animal Defense Activities at Calvin College
Calvin College, a highly-regarded liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has in recent years been the scene of strong activities linking concern for animals with the Christian faith. One of its yearly events is the Wake-Up Weekend in January, including presentations, panels, and potluck meals. For a report of the most recent such Weekend, see www.http://notonesparrow.squarespace.com/blog/2009/1/29/what-a-weekend.html , from the website of Ben DeVries, a speaker at the Weekend, who is also this month's PT Pilgrim (see below). Another activity is an annual lectureship entitled "Animals and the Kingdom of God." The second in this series, to be given by process philosopher/theologian Jay McDaniel, is scheduled for May 1. More later.
Dear Peaceable Friends,
The Karen Dawn book sounds interesting. There is something to be said for eating a non-vegan meal in a restaurant, partly to make it less likely to alienate omnivores one might be with, and partly to encourage the chef to keep producing non-meat dishes. it's not ideal, but it might achieve more than making people think nothing they do is ever enough for us.
I've suggested to my veggie friends here that we "adopt" a veggie-friendly restaurant and go regularly enough to make them happy to accommodate us. . . .
Walter de la Mare - what a wonderfully haunting poem. . . .
Dear Peaceable Friends,
I wanted to thank you . . . for the gluten free recipe. My wife is gluten sensitive, so we are always looking for good recipes. One more reason to appreciate The Peaceable Table.
. . . Regarding Aikido - as a Family Mediator, I've been teaching the principles of this art to my combative stepfamily clients for the last few years with great results. Isn't it nice how a martial art can become a marital art!
Thanks for your great works, may God richly bless you in all ways!
Dear Peaceable Friends,
The dialogue between Bernard Rollins and his audience ("See It My Way, Jan PT) reminds me more of Jesus than of Socrates. This in turn provides us with a further exegetical dimension to the "Turn the Other Cheek" saying. It also gives us an additional diagnostic tool for distinguishing between Jesus' authentic pronouncements and those wrongly attributed to him.
Glimpses of the Peaceable Kingdom
Babes in the Wood
Two innocents--a fawn and a kitten--check each other out and like what they see. Clearly they know something of which many humans are unaware. . . .www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rooyt3ptNco
Freely You Have Received, Freely Give
Jasmine, an abused and abandoned greyhound rescued and taken to England's Nuneaton and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary in 2003, not only recovered, but has elected herself the Foster-Mother-in-Residence there. She is shown above (right) fondly regarding a few of her many children. The waif she has most recently taken into her heart, and who follows her around, is a tiny orphaned roe deer (second from left). See www.http://www.greyhoundzoom.com/mother-jasmine/.
--Contributed by Robert Ellwood and Marjorie Emerson
Book Review: Animals Make Us Human
Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. $26.00, hardbound. 342 pages.
The book begins with the list of five freedoms animals should have (according to the Brambell Report commisioned by the government of the UK): Freedom from hunger and thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury and disease. Freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear and distress. The authors waste no time with any philosophical or legal arguments as to whether animals are really entitled to these rights. Of course they are. No argument from me, except that I would add a sixth freedom, of which more below.
When it comes to dogs and cats, her recommendations can be accepted without ambivalence. When it comes to horses, she is simply saving their lives. When these noble animals are psychologically wrecked by the cruelty and stupidity of certain humans, the slaughterhouse becomes the default setting, an alternative that is simply intolerable. Grandin's work is one of deliverance.
Before horses, Grandin deals with wolves and dogs. She tells the heartbreaking story of Luna, a wolf born and bred in captivity, who was kept tied up permanently, and denied what wolves and dogs most desire and need: chances to roam, to explore, to socialize. Now all she can do is pace back and forth, says Grandin, like a severely autistic child.
If anyone else made this comparison, there would probably be howls of protest. But Temple Grandin is entitled to speak in this manner, because she is autistic herself (more precisely, she has Asperger's syndrome). She is a professor, lecturer and trainer who believes her mental-emotional challenges make her better suited for communicating with non-human animals and understanding them.
A surprising piece of good news: Grandin asserts that the best and most recent research challenges the traditional view that wolves lives in packs, ruled by an Alpha Male. Such packs do exist, but it seems they are created by artificial conditions--usually man-made. Left to themselves, wolves live in nuclear families: mother, father, cubs, maybe one or two other relatives.
Next the author examines cats. She tells the story of Bobby, a black cat who defended his 12-year old human boy from two bigger and older boys who were bullying him and trying to steal his video games. Bobby leaped to his human family member's defense, bristling and yowling, showing teeth and claws. The sight and sound of a Black Cat in this mode were too much for the big superstitious bullies, who fled in fear. Another cat, a Siamese, woke up his human in the middle of the night to make her rescue two rabbits who were in danger of drowning. This cat was acting just like Rambo the Ram and other animals who feel appointed to protect everybody.
After cats, Grandin moves on to horses, then to cows, pigs, chickens and other poultry, wild life, and animals in zoos. With zoos, her position is that it would be better if they did not exist and animals were free, but until then, we should try to create an environment that is as positive as possible.
I have no problem recommending these chapters; they are marvelous, educational, and very uplifting. But the section on farmed animals lacks recognition, in some form, of a sixth freedom: the right to life (with exceptions for animals who are terminal and in pain). But I know this will be the toughest sell, and will take the longest to be implemented. The logical and compassionate thing is not to hold out for "all or nothing," but to work to implement the first five.
Grandin ends the book with a seven-page Afterword, "Why Do I Still Work for the Industry?"--the industry in question being that which raises [read: enslaves] animals for their flesh, milk and eggs. She is clearly very ambivalent in her apologetic apologia, which in my view is unconvincing. (It is reminiscent of the legal cases in which Abraham Lincoln represented slave "owners," cases he lost, probably because his heart was not really in it.) In her heart, Grandin would prefer the animals to be alive and free - but until that Sixth Freedom is recognized and the world redeemed, she does what she can to make farmed animals' lives (and deaths) more bearable.
On the other hand, in an earlier book she admits to still eating their flesh, claiming that she doesn't feel well when she goes vegetarian. If she made a determined effort to find out the reason why this is the case, and get her heart and her stomach to tell a consistent story (as others have done), readers who learn from her that cows and pigs have emotional and mental needs are more likely to connect the dots and stop eating them. Let us pray these things will take place.
Book Review: Darwin's Sacred Cause
Adrian Desmond and James Moore. Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 485 pages, hardcover. $30.00.
The 2009 bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of his most famous work, The Origin of Species, has produced a flurry of books about the great father of evolutionary biology. Of these, Darwin's Sacred Cause may well be of most interest to vegetarians and animal activists, for it connects his work to the liberation of enslaved humans and, by extrapolation, enslaved and exploited animals as well.
Desmond and Moore show that Darwin came naturally to anti-slavery views. Charles' paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, the famous physician, biologist (with some proto-evolutionary concepts), and freethinker, was a very active and passionate abolitionist; his mother was a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, Unitarian founder of the famous pottery firm and no less committed. It was he who designed the well-known cameo of a chained slaved with the words, "Am I not a Man and a Brother?" which became an abolitionist icon. Darwin himself married a Wedgwood cousin, Emma, whom the biologist once flatteringly called the "most interesting specimen in the whole series of vertebrate animals."
The naturalist's inbred views against slavery were powerfully reinforced on his celebrated South American and South Pacific voyage on the Beagle, 1831-36, when he not only first made the close studies of species that was to shape his later work but also, when the ship put into Brazilian ports, saw first-hand the degradation of slavery and heard the screams of tortured human chattel on the tropical night air.
Darwin clearly believed that, by showing the common descent of all human races from animal lines, he would completely undercut any rational justification of the enslavement of one race by another. He was up against slavery apologists who contended that Africans were a different species, closer to apes than Europeans, and little more than animals (who, of course, were merely property). Showing the utterly unscientific nature of such views was, Desmond and Moore argue, a strong motivation for his lifework. They support their position with numerous citations from Darwin's letters and writings.
To be sure, others have found the case a little less clear. Letters written to The New York Times Book Review, following a review by Christopher Benfry of this and a related work, Adam Gropnik's Angels and Ages, pointed to other words of Darwin which sit less comfortably in the contemporary mind. At the end of The Descent of Man the author contrasted the neat and even "heroic" societies of monkeys with the cruelty of human "savages"; elsewhere he holds with some complacency that "the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races through the world." (Feb.15, 2009)
These writers do not question that Darwin was a fervent abolitionist in respect to human slavery; the less enlightened passages they quote may show no more than that he was also a man of his times, when the supremacy of European civilization seemed virtually a fact of nature. Nonetheless, they do raise the question of Darwin, "social Darwinism," and "scientific racism," ideas which had such baleful consequences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century worlds. Do the celebrated Darwinian ideas of "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest" apply to human races, or individuals, as well as evolving species? For no doubt humans are also still evolving, socially and psychologically as well as physically. Social Darwinism, especially as articulated by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, was certainly taken to justify colonial wars, "robber baron" capitalism, and even the extermination of "lesser" races.
Yet social Darwinism need not be ridden in only one direction. It can be, and has been, used to justify pacifism as well as militarism, egalitarian socialism as well as ruthless free-enterprise economics, and vegetarianism as well as carnivorism. It all depends on what course one thinks human evolution is taking, or could be made to take under human guidance. Recent evolutionary biologists like Edward O. Wilson, coiner of the term "sociobiology" and world authority on social insects, has argued that intra- and even inter-species cooperation and environmental adaptability have in the long run far better survival value than competition.
Given the fruitless devastation wrought by war, and the perilous ecological situation of the planet largely owing to animal agriculture, peaceful cooperation and vegetarianism would surely seem to be the way human evolution must soon take for sheer survival. This is the real meaning of Darwinism, and social Darwinism, for our twenty-first century times. One does not doubt Charles Darwin himself would have seen the cogency of these moves in our times as surely as he saw the need for abolition of slavery in his. In the Victorian period, race appeared so fixed it seemed not unreasonable even for well-meaning persons to postulate that different races might be in different evolutionary stages; today in much of the West, the idea of race has become conditioned to the extent it means little more than pigmentation, or at the most cultural differences.
To be sure, there is still human (and animal) perversity to deal with. Later primate observation, like that of the the incomparable Jane Goodall, have shown that chimpanzee civilization is not without "human" flaws. Chimps now join humans and ants as the only known species who mount organized warfare within their own species. We now recognize, as did Darwin himself, that much of the blame for the degeneracy of indigenous peoples can be laid at the feet of those slavers, armies, and colonizers from more "advanced" nations who so devastated their native ways of life. Nonetheless, the "mystery of iniquity" (II Thess. 2:7) remains, and there seems little likelihood that evolution alone will abolish it. We must not only do the right thing to survive, but must learn -- with the help of the Divine Light -- to want to do the right thing.
We can go on from Darwin's Darwinism to acknowledge that kinship is not limited to the full human species, but also includes animals, who more and more are shown to share not only most of our DNA, but psychological capacities and forms of communication not well recognized in his time. The depth of this kinship makes abolition of animal slavery as compelling now as was abolition of human bondage in his day.
Darwin's Sacred Cause is not an easy book to read; it is lengthy, and it contains much painful material regarding animals and human slavery. But it will reward the patient reader with considerable food for reflection on humans, animals, and moral right.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 lbs. fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 4 cups)
2 cups dry cannellini beans (soaked in water overnight, then drained)
2 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
1 cup shredded basil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Vegan Parmesan, to garnish
Place the cannellini beans in a large saucepan and cover with water; cover and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to sit while braising the onion. Do not remove lid.
In a 6 quart Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the onion; cover and lower heat; braise for 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Drain the cannellini beans and add to the Dutch oven with the onions. Add 4 cups of spring water. Cover and cook over medium heat for about one hour—until beans are tender. Add salt after 30 minutes of cooking. When the cannellini are tender add the basil and garlic; cook for 3 – 4 more minutes. Garnish with Vegan Parmesan.
-- Angela Suarez
Scrambled Tofu with Fresh Parsley
1 lb. organic firm tofu
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
¾ tsp. sea salt, or to taste
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 T. extra virgin olive oil
In a medium sized bowl, crumble tofu well; add parsley, salt, pepper and turmeric. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add tofu and parsley mixture. Cook and stir with a wooden spoon until tofu heats through and what liquid there is begins to bubble. Spoon onto serving plates and serve immediately.
Fresh parsley is a must for this recipe. It simply will not turn out if dried parsley is substituted. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the true flavor of parsley. Serve with salad and crusty bread for a light lunch.
-- Angela Suarez
My Pilgrimage: Ben DeVries
ME AND "AMINALS"
As a boy I was fascinated by anything animal, or “aminals” as I called them well into kindergarten. I went exploring for whatever insects, feathers and small carcasses I could find, and back inside I pored over any books I owned or could find on my grandparents’ or library shelves. I put together ambitious reports, for school and on my own time, on subjects ranging from butterflies and hamsters, to dinosaurs and endangered mammals. My family thought I was destined to be a veterinarian, and I thought I would grow up to work in a zoo.
Though my parents were reluctant to bring larger pets into the house, they did encourage me to keep any number of smaller animals: goldfish and parakeets, lizards and turtles, rabbits and my favorite, hamsters. I was captivated by these furry little creatures with mild personalities but such serious habits: running in wheels and see-through hamster balls; lushly padding their nests, no matter how many times I cleaned the little house in their cage; and packing their cheeks with food to laughable proportions, only to drop it off in their favorite “pantry” spot.
I was deeply affected by the suffering of these and other little creatures which I was witness to. My mother describes one instance when, as a five-year-old, I happened to break the wing of a butterfly while playing with some friends. When she told me the butterfly wouldn’t be able to fly any longer, my eyes brimmed with tears and I set to putting together a book of “things we should be fragile with.” I was beyond distraught when my first pet, goldfish “Jack,” died, and I experienced the same intensity of grief a few years later when my first hamster “Scooter” died by an unfortunate accident.
Forgetting My Friends
But as I grew a little older and more distracted by interests such as sports and computer games, and other hormonal pursuits, I became gradually less affected by the animals in my care, and less interested in giving them the attention they deserved. And this neglect almost certainly contributed to their demise on more than one occasion. By my mid-teens I didn’t even bother with pets, which was at least the responsible decision to make. I hardly kept any contact with animals at all, and carried this shortcoming with me into adulthood, falling in line with the general obliviousness of much of society towards animals.
Grace in a Small Package
But seven years ago, alone and terribly lonely in my first apartment out of college, a providentially-placed neighbor introduced me to a stray kitten which she had nursed to health but couldn't keep. I instantly fell in love with this little ball of life and had no choice but to take her in, despite the fact that I had never imagined myself a “cat person.” “Baby,” as I couldn’t help but call her, with her beautiful Halloween-spotted coat and snow white bib and paws, would wait to use the bathroom with me in the morning, and on the window sill until I came home at night. Everything about her enthralled me, from her deep golden eyes that could melt your heart one moment or stare daggers the next, to the way she followed me around the apartment but only allowed me to touch or play with her on her own terms.
Between “Baby” and the others that followed, adopted between me and my young wife Cheryl: the ultra-timid “Missy” and equally laidback “Bubba,” and petite “Bitsy” who taught herself how to play fetch and squeaks whenever she lands - I couldn’t help but develop an extraordinary appreciation for the unique makeup and endlessly precious existence of each of these creatures under my roof. And by God’s grace just the same, I was gradually beginning to reopen my eyes to my outdoor surroundings, and the wide assortment of fauna which inhabit them.
During long walks along the Des Plaines River trail, tucked behind an otherwise schizophrenic Chicago-suburb strip, I became increasingly absorbed by the animals which I happened across. I would pause to watch the geese with their young families on the water along with the butterflies, frogs and turtles which wandered across the path; and I kept a wary eye on the territorial red-winged blackbird which followed me noisily from tree to tree. On campus and around our apartment complex I paid more attention to the gaggles of ducks, and scurrying rabbits and squirrels which watched me even more intently. And I was fascinated by other glimpses of animal personality and human-animal connection, such as through the moving documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill or even America's Funniest Home Videos.
I came to realize that the same unique reason for being and will to live which I found in my own cats must be present in all other animals as well. It had to be, whether we humans happen to tame an animal or not, and regardless of whether we acknowledge their uniqueness. It belongs to every creature because God made it so. And if God created each of them with such love and attention to detail, then he can’t help but continue to care about their wellbeing. And we as his children can’t hope to honor him, or his creatures, unless we respond to them with the individual recognition and nurturing their existence warrants.
A Friend in Need
Appreciation for the value and wonder of each of God’s creatures led me naturally to the animal welfare cause over the past few years, and only deepened as I looked more closely at the Christian doctrines of creation, stewardship, and redemption. But during the same period I also became increasingly conscious of the realities of humanity’s fall from grace, of atrocities of neglect and cruelty being committed against animals on an isolated and institutionalized scale. Each of them amounted to an individual negation of one or more of God’s cherished creations: the mother and kittens left to fend for themselves on an abandoned farm, or the deer which bounced off of my windshield on a dark winter night and lay crippled and trembling by the side of the road until three bullet shots put her down, and the reports I continued to hear about the unspeakable conditions in which animals were raised for food on industrial farms.
It became clear to me that we can’t randomly assign individuality and dignity to some animals, but withhold it from literally millions of others when it’s convenient for us to do so. I knew that God had granted humanity certain permissions to benefit from animals in Scripture, but I was just as strongly convinced that God's heart must be deeply saddened and angered by the ways in which we as a society had twisted those permissions into indefensible abuses of his creatures. I also began to understand that God has even more life-affirming intentions in mind for his creation, intentions which we can work towards even now as followers of a gospel which is good news for all of God's creatures.
Being A Friend Indeed
A year and a half ago I realized that God didn’t just want me to care about animals and their suffering, but he wanted me to do something for them. I knew I was wired for something along the lines of communications and advocacy, but I didn’t know which issue I could commit to with so many causes vying for attention in my head. But one day, I was suddenly at peace with the idea that I was meant to be a voice for animals, from the Christian worldview and especially to the Christian community, which at best hasn't had much to say about animals and at worst sees most tangible concern for them as unfaithful. One capstone project at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and more than a few gut-checks later, my website Not One Sparrow hatched out. (www.NotOneSparrow.com) And I can only hope it grows to bear out its name: “Aren’t five sparrows sold for a couple of pennies? But not one of them is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6).
Ben welcomes personal correspondence about the animal concern.
Pioneer: Neville Heath Fowler, 1938-
MAKING THE CONNECTION
Welsh agronomist Neville Fowler served as an advisory officer with the Ministry for Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries for 30 years. In retirement he has founded HIPPO, Help International Plant Protein Organization, a registered charity which provides guidance in plant-based farming and other vegetarian aid to "Third World" countries.
My mother had a gift for telling stories. Captivating tales of rabbits and foxes, hares and hedehogs, birds and badgers poured extempore from her lips as I sat spellbound on her knee. The saga continued over the years as younger siblings occupied that favoured place. Though the anthropomorphism of her stories might now receive stern criticism from experts who claim to know best, I thank her beloved memory that she instilled in me feelings of sympathy and love for all the creatures of our God and King.
Strangely, as I look back, neither her sentiments nor mine were applied to the animals we ate. War-time life in the Worcestershire countryside was fairly frugal but my father was a good and enthusiastic gardener. We also kept hens and gladly took the eggs and now and then the lives of the egg-layers to satisfy our appetites. The Sunday joint of beef, lamb or pork was a tradition honoured in our family as in most others. I remember that the squeals and screams of the neighbour’s pig when the man came to kill him pierced my heart like a dagger. By the time our piece of roast pork appeared on the dining table, however, barely an echo of that shindy remained in my ears.
To Be a Farmer’s Boy
When the time came for me to leave school I decided on a career in agriculture. I think a desire for a life not confined by four walls fitted in with my conviction that I was not clever enough for anything more academic. On the farm I soon helped to kill pigs myself with a captive-bolt gun, sitting heavily on their sides to encourage their final expirations. I wrung the necks of hens, and castrated piglets with nothing more than a sharp pen-knife and some sulphonomide powder. These were tasks I did not enjoy, but I did them because I thought they were necessary.
Once a fortnight we sent a batch of pigs to the bacon factory, passing them over the weighing scales first to see if they qualified for the final journey, giving those unfortunate to have grown enough a hard slap on the shoulder with the sharp-spiked tattoo dipped in purple dye, hustling them up the ramp into the lorry [truck], slamming the doors shut.
I had been at Agricultural College six months when ‘the connection’ hit me with full force. Part of the syllabus include a guided tour of a "meat factory." My college was in a different part of England from the farm I had worked on, but guess which factory was chosen. The very one to which I had regularly dispatched my pigs! Now I got the chance to see precisely what had awaited them when they came out of the lorry at the end of their journey. Squealing with fear and apprehension they came, silenced by the electric stunner, throats cut, hoisted head downwards on steel hooks, split quickly down the middle, the dead halves kicking and twitching still, men paddling in blood. We moved on to see the sausage making process, the pork-pie bakery, the hams being cured. One could quickly forget that this was pigs. I even ate heartily the pig-based lunch which was laid on for us. But on the way back to college in the coach I soberly reflected and asked myself: ‘Is it really necessary, must animals be treated like that, must men do such vile work?’
A Landmark Decision
Within a week of that extra-mural expedition I had decided to become a vegetarian. I had little idea how to go about it, but I knew I must. This was in 1958, and I was nineteen. It was nearly fifty years ago, but I distinctly remember the sensation of relief, the feeling of liberation, which came to me. Anyone who has had the experience of making a definitive decision to obey the voice of conscience in any serious matter will understand what I mean. It is like being relieved of a heavy burden. No supposed pleasure of the palate could ever compensate for the absence of that freedom, that peace. Taste is so much a matter of habit anyway and quickly changes.
I have to admit that I do wonder how some animal lovers can go through the whole of their lives without making the connection between their diet and cruelty. Perhaps visiting an abattoir should be compulsory for all meat-eaters! Loving one’s pets is good. Opposing hunting and vivisection and other barbarities done to defenceless creatures is a moral duty. But the on-going cruelty involved in the exploitation of animals for food far outweighs all else. So many millions are butchered every year in the UK alone--and it is all unnecessary.
Meat is Theft From the Poor
Life has shown me that beliefs and feelings are vitally important, but in my case it is experience which has forced me to ‘make the connections’. Perhaps God knows I am too much of a doubting Thomas to act on faith alone and in His providence has made arrangements for me to learn the hard way! Experience made me become a vegetarian. I soon understood that vegetarianism makes much more efficient use of land, water and energy, that the affluent nations’ meat-rich diet amounts to theft from the poor. Eating meat takes food from the mouths of starving people. Britain imports grain and soya to feed to cattle so that British people can get ill from eating too rich a diet. That side of the equation was familiar enough, but it was not until I went to live and work in Ethiopia and saw the other side that I truly ‘got connected’. Then I decided to try to do something practical about it. The result is HIPPO (Help International Plant Protein Organisation), a registered charity working to persuade all people everywhere to value vegetable protein foods and especially to help people in the ‘third world’ to get them.
Countering the Meat Mentality
The growth of vegetarianism in Britain is wonderful, and we hope it will continue, but in the wider world the trend is altogether the other way. For example, the Chinese now eat more meat per capita than do Americans. In Africa, traditional pulse (legume) crops are being sacrificed to the expansion of livestock production. Meat production is subsidised by governments and is even fostered by some aid charities. People are being taught that having more livestock is the answer to their problems. The world does not need more animal mouths to feed! The kind of ‘progress’ advocated by the beefburger brigade is leading to global disaster. There has to be a sea change to push back the rising tide of the meat culture. It is a battle for hearts and minds and mouths, here and everywhere.
This battle can only be won if all those who can see the need for change act on their belief, first by becoming vegetarians themselves and then by helping others to change. Becoming vegetarian has never been easier or more crucial than it is now.
From The Ark No. 185, Summer 2000, slightly edited. The Ark is a publication of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare. Used with permission.
Neville Fowler is in Africa at this time. PT will offer further information about HIPPO and its current activities after his return to Wales.
Poetry for Children: The Milan Bird-Cages, 1485
Just four hundred years ago
(You may like to know),
In a city old and quaint,
Lived a painter who could paint
Knight or lady, child or saint,
With so rich a glow,
And such wondrous skill as none
In the Land of Art had done . . . .
Oft the Master used to go
(Old Vasari tells us so)
To the market where they sold
Birds, in cages gay with gold,
Brightly tipped on wing and crest,
Trapped just as they left the nest.
Thither went he day by day,
Buying all within his way . . . .
Soon as he had bought a bird,
O'er his upturned head was heard
Such a trill, so glad, so high,
Dropped from out the sunny sky
Down into his happy heart:
Filling it as naught else could--
Naught save his beloved Art--
Full of joy, as there he stood
Holding wide the wicker door,
Watching the bright captives soar
Deep into the blue. . . .
Love I Leonardo so
For his splendid pictures?--No,
But for his sweet soul, so stirred
By a little prisoned bird.
--Margaret Junkin Preston
The Peaceable Table is
a project of the Animal Kinship Committee of Orange Grove Friends Meeting, Pasadena, California. It is intended to resume the witness of that excellent vehicle of the Friends
Vegetarian Society of North America, The Friendly
Vegetarian, which appeared quarterly between 1982 and
1995. Following its example, and sometimes borrowing from its
treasures, we publish articles for toe-in-the-water
vegetarians as well as long-term ones, news notes, poetry, letters, book
and film reviews, and recipes.
The journal is intended to be
interactive; contributions, including illustrations, are
invited for the next issue. Deadline for the April issue
will be March 29, 2009. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
or 10 Krotona Hill, Ojai, CA 93023. We operate primarily
online in order to conserve trees and labor, but hard copy
is available for interested persons who are not online.
The latter are asked, if their funds permit, to donate $12 (USD) per year. Other
donations to offset the cost of the domain name and server are welcome.
Editor: Gracia Fay Ellwood
Book and Film Reviewers: Benjamin Urrutia & Robert Ellwood
Recipe Editor: Angela Suarez
NewsNotes Editors: Lorena Mucke and Marian Hussenbux
Technical Architect: Richard Scott Lancelot Ellwood