Feb 24 2013

Religion & Animal Cruelty

Sierra 4x6Some people seem to live way before their time.  For me a good example of this is John Woolman.  Woolman, a Quaker businessman and itinerate preacher, was born in New Jersey 1720 and died in 1772.  He was a deeply spiritual man whose faith caused him to speak out against slavery long before it was the popular thing to do.  He spoke strong words against injustice and oppression and was also an opponent of conscription.  While reading The Journal of John Woolman this past week I also discovered that he was an early advocate for the prevention of cruelty to animals.

In the opening chapter to his Journal Woolman writes: “…true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures; that, as the mind was moved by an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible Being, so, by the same principle, it was moved to love him in all his manifestations in the visible world; that, as by his breath the flame of life was kindled in all animal sensible creatures, to say we love God as unseen, and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature moving by his life, or by life derived from him, was a contradiction in itself.”

S 501Woolman felt that you could not separate how you treated animals from your faith or religion.  Others, throughout history, have concurred with him.  St. Francis of Assisi once said, If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.”  Another sensitive soul wrote: “I would give nothing for that man’s religion whose very dog and cat are not the better for it.” 

It should be obvious from reading the Scriptures that God cares greatly for all the creatures He made.  A number of biblical passages actually deal with the proper treatment of animals.   Most Christians are well aware that one of the Ten Commandments calls for a day of rest.  What they may not realize is that God said in the same Commandment that animals are to be given a break on the Sabbath as well.  (Exodus 20:8-10) Jesus indicated that God fed the birds and that not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him taking notice.  If God cares so much for the members of the animal kingdom shouldn’t we?  And does that not also mean that we, like John Woolman, should be advocates for the prevention of cruelty to animals?

Sierra 2jpgThere are a number of people in the church I serve who work very hard to prevent animal cruelty in our area.  They have been fighting to make our local animal shelter a “no-kill shelter.”  They also donate countless hours trying to find homes for abandoned dogs and cats so they will not be killed.  I am very thankful for the work of these individuals and feel that their work truly honors God.  Their work is a reflection of their faith.

S 515Our pet dog, Sierra, came from an animal shelter.  She had been both abused and abandoned.  I do not understand how anyone can intentionally be cruel to an animal.  Such behavior is godless and evil.  Once again I have to ask, if God created these animals and loves them, aren’t we supposed to as well?  The great medical missionary and humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer, had much to say about the ethical treatment of animals.  He believed not only that they should be properly cared for, they should be prayed for as well.  Schweitzer composed this evening prayer for all living creatures: “O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath; guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace.”

How we treat animals truly does say a lot about our relationship with God.  I encourage you to treat your animals well and to do what you can to prevent animal cruelty.  I would also suggest you consider following Schweitzer’s example and pray for your pets and all living creatures.  It certainly seems like the right thing to do.

–Chuck

(I’ve chosen to illustrate today’s entry with images of our dog, Sierra.)


May 20 2012

Our Furred and Feathered Neighbors

“Every creature is a divine word because it proclaims God.” –Saint Bonaventure

Lately I’ve been reading a delightful book by Kenneth McIntosh called Water From An Ancient Well: Celtic Spirituality for Modern Life.  In one of the chapters the author talks about the role pets play in our lives.  He says here, “The Celtic saints understood that God uses the Earth’s living creatures to carry Divine love to humans.  These little brothers and sisters of ours often have a deeper, wordless wisdom we humans lack, one that points the way to the living streams where we all must drink.”  McIntosh goes on to say, “Ancient Celtic Christians perceived their relations with animals as signs of the Kingdom of God.”  He believes we would be wise to perceive them in the same way.  At the end of the chapter McIntosh offers this challenge: “So pay attention when your fellow creatures share their lives with you.  Watch closely.  Listen carefully.  Open your heart.  Let God speak to you through these furred and feathered neighbors.”

In recent days I’ve been thinking a lot about the important role pets play in our lives.  In part this thinking has been brought on by things I’ve seen posted on Facebook.  One longtime friend posted this message: We lost our dear sweet cat Princess this afternoon to cancer. It’s amazing how attached you get to your pets. She was 16 and well loved.”  Over the weekend members of my church posted several messages stating their beloved dog was missing.  They were desperately seeking help finding “Butter.”  Thankfully, Butter was found and returned safely home.

My heart went out to the owners of both Princess and Butter when I read their notes because I am a pet lover myself.  I have had pets my entire life.  My family had pet dogs when I was growing up (Tippy and Lucky).   I also had hamsters from time to time (one was named “TJ” after Thomas Jefferson).  My wife and I have been married almost 31 years.  During that time we have had three dogs.  Our first dog, Mandy, had a disease and did not live long.  Our second dog, Mert, (named after Thomas Merton) lived with us 18 years.  She lost a leg to cancer and was basically blind and deaf when she died in my arms.  Our current dog is named Sierra.  She is a “rescue dog.”  She was found abused and abandoned.  We consider her, like we did Mandy and Mert, part of the family.

Having had the pets I have over the years I can understand how the Celtic saints believed God uses animals “to carry Divine love to humans.”  I have certainly experienced that love through my pets.  There have been times when I’ve felt my dogs represented God’s love far better than me.  Over the years I have also benefitted from my pets’ “deeper, wordless wisdom.”  I really have learned a lot from them.

If you have a pet I hope you recognize it to be the divine gift he or she is.  I would also challenge you, as Kenneth McIntosh did, to “Watch closely.  Listen carefully.  Open your heart.  Let God speak to you through these furred and feathered neighbors.” If you will do these things, your life will be so much richer and full of love.  I cannot help but believe that’s just the way God planned it from the beginning.

–Chuck

(The two images posted above show our beloved “Sierra.”)