When YOUR Issue becomes THE Issue

September 25, 2008

Or: Vegetarianism and animal issues are not THE most pressing issue in the universe to everyone right now.

I am on the UFETA (Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) listserve, and I think it is a great group. I love the dialogue. I love the passion. The care for suffering beings. I think it is an essential and prophetic voice in our faith community.

But a conversation has been going on recently that freaked me out a bit. I didn’t respond to the listserve because I think some people were voicing what it is I desired to say. But it brought up a good point that I wanted to raise here, more broadly.

The gist of the conversation on the listserve is that a UU church is going to have a chicken raising club or something – egg chickens, not eating chickens. I totally understand why people are not fond of this idea. What happens to the chickens when they quit laying? Where are you getting them from? A mean, terrible hatchery where the male chicks are killed an the laying hens are treated very very poorly? I do not think there is a problem in and of itself of eating the eggs of chickens that are your pets, but I am not so much a fan of raising chickens for eggs, especially if you are going to do away with them once they are no longer good egg producers.

But I digress. The point of this is that I think that it is quite reasonable to identify some ethical stumbling blocks with a church sponsored/orchestrated chicken raising club. But the thing that really freaked me out is the suggestion that those people who oppose this maybe should WITHHOLD THEIR PLEDGE because of this. Stop the presses! Can you IMAGE the mehem that would be caused in UU churches across the nation if people started withholding pledges when they really really disagreed with something?

I can think of five examples of the top of my head:

1. I think sweatshops are bad. Terrrrrrible. Violations of human rights. This is my cause. AND WE ORDERED OUR R.E. t-shirts from a company that uses sweatshop labor!!!!!!!! And the minister’s robe was MADE IN CHINA. And people are wearing sweatshop-made clothes to Sunday services. THIS MUST STOP. We must be consistant, people. We talk about human rights. Justice. Equality. And now the church is supporting sweatshop labor everywhere you look. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. And if it isn’t, I am withholding my pledge until I feel like it is being better addressed.

2. Climate change is coming fast, people! And our church is doing like a zillion things that make it worse. We are all driving to church. Where are the bikes? And the church is sponsoring events on Sunday evening so people drive to church on Sunday morning, drive home AND THEN DRIVE BACK. We keep this place 69 degrees in the winter, which is way too warm. We could very easily keep it at 67 and just bundle up. And, we need to get a new furnace which is more efficient, which costs only $10,000. I know this is a lot to ask BUT A LOT IS AT STAKE HERE PEOPLE. I am sorry, but I will have to withhold my pledge until this church takes more drastic steps to address this VERY SERIOUS problem.

Okay, so I won’t give five examples, but my point is that there are lots of very important issues that are probably not being well-addressed by our churches. We are not perfect. We are sometimes spoiled. We talk a lot about ethical stuff and do-gooding stuff but that is hard to do and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is easier to support things that we already agree with (we are for peace! gay marriage! sex-ed!)  than to do hard stuff we don’t want to do like stop buying sweatshop clothes or turn down the heat or drive less or whatever. I’ll never forget talking with one church I was involved in about socially responsible investing (which, let’s be honest, is not perfect but probably better than just haphazard investing in whatever). And they were like, “Yeah, well we tried that and the returns were really bad.” So, they invest in whatever, including nuclear energy, arms companies, oil companies and so on.

So, my point? Unless your parish committee has decided to open a nudie bar in the parish hall with the church income instead of having an R.E. program, with holding your pledge is really just not a reasonable approach to expressing your wants and desires in your congregation. Discussion – yes. Education – yes. Joining the parish committee/board – yes. Starting an ethical eating club – yes. But if our financial support of our churches starts becoming a “only if you attend satisfactorly to the issue I deem most important” then I say fulfill your pledge this year (since, you know, you did pledge it) and then find a different church that will meet your needs and expecations in every way. (Good luck with that one.) Because being part of a faith community can’t be so freaking conditional. It is a committement, in many ways, for better or worse. I understand that there are sometimes good, legit reasons to find a new church home or even to find a new faith home. But, I hope it would be bigger than issues. Because, when it comes down to it, we are all treading on this earth very heavily – doing harm – enmeshed in a system that is going to be a part of this system of harm. Our goal, I think, should be to lessen our harm, to love, listen, do better, try harder, and, in the end, know we aren’t going to be able to do it all and be humble that we are imperfect people stumbling along on this spinning planet together. And we are going to have to stick in it together – educating each other, learning from each other, listening to each other, being with each other – in order to get anywhere.

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Blessing of the Animals a Success!

April 22, 2007

We held a Blessing and Celebration of the Animals today at our church. It was my idea and I organized it and ran the service and I was SO happy that it went so wonderfully and smoothly. There was some relatively strong anxiety by some people in the church about having animals in the church and all the things that could go wrong. But luckily I think the animals sensed that it was a special time, and they were amazingly well behaved. Not even a bark, for goodness sakes! We played All God’s Creatures Have a Place in the Choir during the blessing, which worked really well. We also had a time of remembrance, where people could bring up pictures of animal friends they have lost and light a candle to their memory. It was very powerful, and such a testament to the strong bonds we form with our animals.

For anyone who might be interested in holding a Blessing and Celebration of the Animals in your church, here is the liturgy we used. Tips and pictures to follow in a few days.

Blessing and Celebration of the Animals Order of Service

Prelude “Doggies’ Policemen” Sinobu Onaka

Opening Words and Welcome by Elizabeth

Chalice Lighting Jeff and Finnegan Stevens
(Note that Finnegan is a tortoise)

Hymn All the Creatures of the Earth and Sky

Liturgical Dance (Celebration of Earth Day) Annie McLaughlin

Children’s Call To R. E. Classes

Joys & Sorrows

Remembering The Animals

Offertory Music: White Goat, Black Goat” Ikuma Dan

Hymn Blue Boat Home

Moment Of Stewardship Greg Stevens

Meditation Rev. Tricia Tummino

(Ten minute warning to RE Classes)

Homily Elizabeth

(Children Return)

Blessing Of The Animals

Benediction

Postlude

Opening Words

In the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

“Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”

Let us worship together.

Welcome

Good morning and Welcome to the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro. We would especially like to welcome all of our visitors this morning – humans and companion animals. For our human visitors, we invite you to sign the guest book in the parlor so that we know you were here with us. If you’d like to receive the newsletter, please just put a star next to your name.

After the services we gather downstairs for coffee hour and we invite everyone to join us. If you have need of an elevator, we have one in the back and someone will be there to assist you with that after the service.

Just a quick note about our special service today – we are so happy to have all of our animal companions here. Please don’t fret if your animal makes noise during the service. A few barks and meows are normal. If you feel like your friend is getting particularly restless, or needs some fresh air or to use the restroom, please don’t hesitate to take him or her outside during the service and return when he or she is feeling better. There are paper towels and cleaning supplies spread throughout the sanctuary should anyone have need of those, and a trash can and plastic bags in the church yard if you need to clean up after your friend. We also ask that our animal friends only come forward during the blessing of the animals – for other parts of the service, if you need to come forward, we would appreciate it if you could leave your friend with a neighbor in your pew.

Again! Welcome to the service.

Introduction to the Remembrance of the Animals

This is a special time in our service where we can remember animals that are no longer with us. If you brought a picture of your animal friend that you have lost, you may bring the pictures up and set them either on the altar or tables around the altar, and light a candle to his or her memory. If you do not have a picture or memento to bring up, but would still like to remember an animal friend, you may write his or her name and years of life on the cards that are in each pew and bring that up to the altar.

We will begin our remembrance.

Homily – Loving Our Animals

Good morning! Happy Earth day and Happy Blessing of the Animals Day!

I am so happy to be here this morning in the presence of this lovely congregation, and all of our visitors.

As many of you know, environmental concerns and animal concerns are important to me so I am especially pleased, in my last sermon that I will give here during my internship, to be able to talk about two of my strongest passions this morning – animals and our earth.

Now this is something I could talk on for a while – at least an hour or two – but given our limited time here this morning, and the fact that many of our visitors would be even more resistant than some of our regular attendees to an extra long sermon, I just want to bring to our attention two themes for us to reflect on this special day when we celebrate and bless our animal friends.

First, I want to remind us why we do a blessing of the animals in a church. I must say there were a lot of people unsure about bringing all of these critters here today – in a church for heavens sake. But, I think that the reason we are doing this here today is not just because it is fun to show off our furry friends or exciting for the children. We are celebrating and blessing the animals today – April 22 – Earth Day in order to affirm our seventh principle – to honor and respect the interconnected web of life of which we are all a part.

We are affirming that church is not just a place about people – about individuals, or even about human communities, but that our earth, and the beings of the earth are important to us, are holy, and actually belong right here in the sanctuary. We are honoring our animal companions not only as fun companions, or beings that bring us joy, but we are celebrating them and honoring them because they are sentient beings with whom we share our life and our earth. They are members of our family, and members of the family of the earth – in some cases, companion animals can serve as spiritual guides – as therapists – we have relationships with them, and they with us.

This morning we are celebrating those relationships, that love, that connection.

Secondly, this morning, I want to share a story about Chester the cat. I was never able to meet Chester, but he has played an important role in my life. Chester was the cat of a young man who I know in Dayton, Ohio, where I grew up. I mentored Timothy for many years and he was especially caring toward the cats that he would sneak into his apartment – which was in the housing projects of Dayton, Ohio, and didn’t allow cats. About a year after I moved here to Boston, Timothy called me to tell me Chester was very sick. I told him to keep an eye on Chester, and we would see if he needed to go to the vet. Two days later, it had gotten much worse. Chester wasn’t able to walk and he wasn’t eating. Of course, Timothy’s family couldn’t afford a vet, and I certainly couldn’t stand hearing about either Chester or Timothy suffering. So at this news, I coordinated getting Chester to the vet – my mom still lived in Ohio and she went and picked Chester up and took him to the doctor.

The whole process of finding out about about Chester being sick and getting him to the vet took about three days. On day number four I finally spoke with the vet and found out that Chester was in the late stages of Feline leukemia. He had already suffered greatly, she said. There was no time to wait for Timothy to come and say goodbye. Chester needed to be euthanized right away. So, $289 dollars later, I had managed not even to prevent Chester from suffering. He had lived a sad end of his life, in great pain.

For some reason, this got to me. For me, somehow, Chester represented so much pain in the world. I felt so helpless to help even little Chester, much less all the other suffering kitties of the world. Much less the suffering people. As so many of us talk about together here, sometimes the pain in the world can seem so overwhelming. I worried and I fretted, not able to get little Chester – and everything he represented – off of my mind. I agonized – what can I do? There is so much suffering and violence and pain and sadness in our world. How can I even begin to do something about it.

And then, it came to me, that I could do something. It was not a huge something, it would not take back Chester’s suffering. It would be only a small drop in the ocean, in fact. But it was something -it was a response that would matter.

That day I decided to stop eating products from animals – milk, eggs, and meat. For me, it was one way that I could reduce the suffering in the world – to save a few Chesters of our world from suffering.

So, in addition to blessing and celebrating the animals that we have here with us today, I would be remiss if I did not share my hope for all sentient beings – that some day, all sentient beings would live lives free of violence, and full of love. The less harm we bring to all animals, the less violence is in our world – the more love.

This morning I am making no proclamations about how we must live, rather I am inviting us to consider what it means to fully live out our seventh principle – to honor and respect the interdependent web of life of which we are a part. We can not do it all. I am not perfect. None of us are. All we can do is what we can do. But, as we go about the hard work of love and justice in our lives, let us take our animals friends into consideration when we think about what we can do.

Today, is a wonderful beautiful spring day – we are celebrating our companions that we have here today, those whom we have lost, and those billions of animal friends who live lives not a lot unlike Chester’s last days.

Let us live as fully in love – in love of the earth, in love of all animals – as we can, recognizing that the more our lives reflect peace, and gentleness, and compassion, the more we can bring that to our world.

May it be so.

Introduction to the Blessing of the Animals

Now, we will celebrate and bless our animals. The Blessing will take place while we listen to “All God’s Creatures Have a Place in the Choir” – you can find the words in the order of service if you’d like to sing along. We invite companion animals and their humans to come up and Tricia and I will ask their name and then bless them. If you brought a picture or other item to represent your animal friend, you may also bring that forward at this time and we are happy to bless that as well.

(Note the blessing went something like ” [Name of animal], may you live a long, happy, and blessed life” – and we would touch the animal companion’s head as we spoke the blessing.)

Benediction/Closing Words

May we show love in all our actions

May our lives be a testament to peace and compassion.

Let us call each other to be our best selves.

And may we daily celebrate the earth and her creatures.

Amen and Blessed be.


Cat Update! Happy Tails!

February 28, 2007

Many of you have followed our cat saga with five cats that were abandoned, and needed substantial medical care. I am happy to say that thanks to many kind individuals – including UFETA members and blog readers who gave to help cover the costs of medical care – and two shelters – Second Chance Shelter in Jamaica Plain and Animal Umbrella in Revere – who gave money, medicine, and living space – four of the five cats are now in happy homes! We managed to adopt the Mama cat and two brothers to one home so that they can stay together (they were very attached!). A volunteer at the shelter fell in love with them and they moved in this weekend (I just found out). They are three very very sweet cats, but a bit older. So adopting three older cats into one home was quite the feat!

And we think we may have found a home for kitty number 5 – Marisol the attack cat. There is a family who will visit her soon that is willing to work with her and is okay with the possibility that she may never like to be touched.

So that is happy news. Thanks for all the help and encouragement, everyone.

goldie-and-mama.jpg


Advice on Blessing of the Animals

February 21, 2007

April is my last month at the church where I am the student intern minister (First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro) and as one of my final services we will be having a Celebration and Blessing of the Animals. However, as the time gets closer, the logistics of this are starting to stress me a little. I have ordered the Blessing of the Animals Guidebook from UFETA and maybe there is good advice in there, but I’m wondering if others have been to such blessings and how they were conducted. Was it a Sunday morning service? Was it held outdoors? Was there a tent? Outdoor seating? Did people stand? Was there a limit on what animals could come or how many per person? If it wasn’t held during normal Sunday services, when was it held? Did a lot of people come? Did you get feedback that would be helpful to share?

Any ideas welcome. I’m very excited. But also not wanting chaos. :)


Potential UFETA Cookbook

February 17, 2007

I set this up as a place for UFETA folks to post recipes for a potential UFETA cookbook. Please post your recipe with ingredients, directions, serving size (serves X people), name, and congregation in the comments. Of course, this is also open to other UUs who have great vegetarian or vegan recipes who want to contribute to a potential UFETA cookbook. Make sure it is a recipie you have tried and you know actually works and tastes good. If you have a special story to go with the recipe (it was your grandma’s or it is a favorite at church potlucks) please feel free to include. You can also email recipes to elizabeth199@gmail.com, although I thought it would be nice to have them all together here online too. Once we get enough recipes together, we can either put it online at the UFETA website or make it into a booklet and sell it (or give it out as outreach). If you have special vegan or vegetarian tips that you want to share, include those too and we can maybe find a way to incorporate them into a cookbook eventually. Thanks!


UFETA Ad In UU World

June 3, 2006

I am a UFETA member and was happy to see this ad in the UU World. I don’t know if I am a huge proponent of the “specisim” angle for vegetarian and veganism, but nonetheless I am happy to see the issue raised a denominational level. The environmental impact of animal product consumption alone should be enough to convince anyone that animal product reduction or doing away with meat, leather, milk, eggs, etc. is a good idea. If you throw in the miserable lives that farmed animals live, lives of absolute horror (imagine subjecting a dog to that?) then there is a good arguement, I think. Of course, we all pick our battles and no one can do everything. But transitioning to vegetarianism is one really good way to make the world a better place, something that we all struggle with (or at least many of us I think). I’ll do a couple posts on this over the summer – yummy recipies, great alternative products, more information. For now, here is the ad.