Why does animal suffering hurts so much?

 

I’ve encountered a lot of sad animal stories — in books, on the web, and in real life — recently, and I’ve mused over why I find them so distressing in a recent post for Religion News Service.

A friend, commenting there, noted that one of the reasons animal suffering may break our hearts so much is because animals are so very innocent; so very dependent. It reminded me of This American Life host Ira Glass’s rationale for why he cares for his incredibly high-maintenance dog, Piney.

Graeme&Molly

Here is a bit of my RNS post:

“The peaceable kingdom of God includes a vision of animals living happily with and among people:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

and

And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. (Hosea 2:18)

Part of human longing for home — a longing that often looks a lot like faith — seems to include the hope that not just we, but our animals, too, will find a place beyond suffering, beyond fear, beyond death itself.”

{Read more here.}

 

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Don’t Heap Contempt On the Poor, Ever. Even if you think they ‘deserve’ it.

So, some colleagues (whom I also count as friends) and I came across this ridiculous list of “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day” on Dave Ramsey’s blog. While I hear that Ramsey’s work has been helpful to many, we were taken aback by the context-free presentation of these (unverified) statistics, all of which paint the rich as enlightened, healthy, intelligent, benevolent, disciplined and the poor as…well, the opposite of all that.

Some things on the list were patently ridiculous, such as #7:

“70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% for poor.”

(Could that have something to do with the fact that poor children of working age have to, you know, GET PAID for their work?)

Anyway, Caryn Rivadeneira, Marlena Graves, and I have offered our responses to this piece in a group post. Below are some of my thoughts from that piece. Click through to read the entire three-part post.

From Proverbs, we might conclude that God rewards the hardworking with wealth, while poverty is the result of laziness. The book is full of aphorisms like, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (10:4) and “Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread” (19:13).

This idea—that people who are poor are poor simply because they haven’t cultivated the right habits—gets labeled as biblical, but tends to foster a contempt for the poor that’s anything but.

Scripture reminds us many times poverty itself is by no means a cursed state (Prov. 15:16) and condemns contempt for the poor: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him” (Prov. 14:31). Deuteronomy 15:7-8 warns Israelites not to be “hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.”

The Bible doesn’t indicate that people must be worthy of such generosity; no provision made for excluding the person from charity because of laziness. We see that kindness and generosity are to be given without reservation, without restriction. Perhaps this is because all good things—including the ability to work hard—come from divine grace. The prosperity that can follow hard work is not exclusively our natural and inevitable reward, but in fact a gift from God.

{Read the whole piece here.}

Now I’m Grumpy on the Huffington Post, Too!

{here’s the beginning…}

Recently, HuffPost blogger Lisa Turner offered five religiously inspired rules for eating:

1. Eat mindfully, being aware of the food and your body.
2. Eat for the purpose of nourishing your body; treat your body as a temple.
3. Eat only fresh, clean, light foods, avoiding foods that are processed or canned.
4. Eat only what you need, without overeating or binging on food.
5. Eat for the purpose of bettering yourself spiritually.As a set of rules for eating — and living — it’s hard to do better.

I disagree. I think we can do a lot better.

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with lists and rules. Part of me loves to believe that everything — even things as complicated as food and eating and living! — can be simplified down into three or five or seven rules. And part of me knows that rules, even good rules, don’t really help that much.

Who, by now, hasn’t heard No. 4 (don’t overeat) or No. 3 (avoid processed foods)?

It may surprise you to learn that the Bible itself isn’t all that keen on rules, given that so many of the people who claim to love the Bible tend to focus on, well, rules. But even St. Paul admitted that though he knew all the good rules, he couldn’t follow them. Jesus broke one rule after another to prove the point that following God was about loving other people, not getting the rules right, an ethic that’s not new to him but is in fact a theme in the Hebrew Bible.

{continue reading on the Huffington Post religion page–here!}

Speaking Out, Part Two

{I’m away this week. In addition to the delights of being with family & friends, I had the opportunity to speak to a MOPS group in New Jersey. I’m going to share some of the talk with you here. If I get my tech stuff together, I might even go all fancy and post it as a podcast so you can hear my squeaky little voice. Here’s the second of three parts.}

I have to condense the story here, but I want to tell you two things that helped me get to the place I am now, which, admittedly is not perfect, but which is undoubtedly a much, much happier place, a place where I can have the occasional chocolate croissant with a cup of coffee with cream and not feel “dirty” or like I need to go run 6 miles to “get rid of it.”

OK, first thing. First thing, I started reading the Bible with an eye toward what it said about food. Not in the, you know, Ezekiel Bread kind of way, as in, “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer,  and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it.” I love it that you can find, you know, Ezekiel 4:9 bread in the health food store, but the lying on your side for a year plus one month? So weird, and no one is going to build any kind of health practice on that!

But, in seriousness, I began to see how food in the Bible is this powerful symbol of God’s love and care and provision for people.

God sets up the garden of Eden with great food ripe for the picking.

God feeds the Israelites in the desert without their having to work for it.

God’s word, God’s love, is described again and again like sweet, rich food–like milk, like honey

Jesus actually feeds people–think of the five loaves and two fish. Think of the wedding at Cana.

Jesus says He is the Bread of Life.
The end of all things: the vision of God’s renewed, restored, perfect world is a party with great food.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live.”

This was not a God that wanted to punish me for enjoying food. This was a God who wanted me to taste and see that His gifts are good. That enjoying them, and giving thanks for them was NOT unspiritual. That eating and enjoying food might actually be a way of connecting with God. This was something to think about.
The second “thing” that happened, after that, was that my son was born. And in the process of being pregnant with him and nursing him (and realizing that in feeding myself, I was actually feeding HIM) I came to realize that what I ate influenced more people than just me. And somewhere I read some article that really scared me, about how mothers with disordered thoughts and behaviors around food and eating were likely to pass that on to their kids.
(And, by the way, some studies estimate that 3 out of 4 American women are disordered in their eating behaviors.)
I came to realize how much I wanted to protect my son from that sadness and struggle. I wanted him to enjoy his food and love his body in that carefree way that children do. In that carefree way that I once did.
Like I said, I’m not perfect. And there is no one single path to finding peace with food, peace with your body, peace with God. This has been my path. Yours is probably somewhat different. But I will say this: I’m really certain that eating together–as families, as friends, as women–and enjoying food–is powerful, powerful stuff.

The last part of the talk will appear tomorrow.

Cucumbers, Pickles, & Immigrants

Our little garden has produced plenty of cucumbers this year, though they’re drawing to an end now. We’ve been eating lots of them just like this:

salt, freshly ground pepper, dill; olive oil & red wine vinegar, with & without tomatoes

Because a truck crashed through our yard a few weeks ago, there have been plenty of work ‘guys’ (as my kids refer to them) in and around the garden recently. Most recently, a crew of landscapers came to plant new hedges in place of the ones that were uprooted in the accident. And while they were there, I caught sight of them eating some of my cucumbers.

Now, what you need to understand is that I watched these cucumbers grow from lovingly selected heirloom seeds, referring to the plants all the while as my “seed babies.” After realizing that no people had been hurt in the crash, I was greatly relieved to see that my photosynthesizing ‘children’ were fine, too. So finding that my cucumbers were being ‘stolen’ by the landscapers made me scowl at first.

cucumbers and string beans, vining together. I'm scowling because I can't reach.

But of course, I already have more cucumbers than we can eat fresh. I’m putting away the extras for another season, and, as I said, I’ve been given plenty more fresh cucumbers absolutely free. Truth be told, I’m even getting a little tired of fresh cucumbers. But there it was–a reflexive selfishness.

And then I remembered two things:

1. The men working in my yard–immigrants all of them–live on very little. From reliable sources, I know that many of them typically live on white rolls, bananas, and Gatorade. For many of America’s working poor–them included–fresh vegetables (let alone organic heirloom vegetables) are a luxury. A cool cucumber, eaten in the shade of the vine on a hot day when you’re working hard in the dirt–that must have been a really refreshing treat.

2. The Book of Ruth. (What?!) Yes, Ruth. Ruth, the ancestress of David and ultimately of Jesus, was a Moabite–a foreigner in Israel who met and exceeded all standards of kindness and generosity. And Boaz, her benefactor, did the same–though “law” only required him to let her take from the edges of the field, he instructed his field hands to leave out plenty of good grain for her to take. Both gave more than they *had* to. The result? Blessing, love, fulfillment; a respite from famine and exile.

3. (Ok, I lied, 3 things)–that God makes all things grow. Yeah, I fertilized, planted, mulched, weeded, watered, and fretted and prayed over my plants, but beyond all of this, there is a mystery that’s way beyond me. And it just doesn’t feel right to hold that too tightly.

Can I love my neighbor and begrudge him a cucumber? Who’s the impoverished one then? Me. So I do this with some of my cucumbers–

and give some away, and leave some on the vines for the work crew. Because I’m a “good person”? No. Because I want the joy that comes from holding the mystery lightly, and giving freely from what’s been given to me. Because THAT fills me with joy.

Which makes the cucumbers–and pickles–taste even better.