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Francis and al-Kamil show the way to peace May 17, 2013

Posted by Ted Witham in : Resources , 1 comment so far

Kathleen A. Warren OSF, and others, In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking, Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media 2013.

DVD-ROM ($US 19.99 + postage from Franciscan Media; from other suppliers > $15) plus free on-line resource material.
Peace makingDaring to Cross the Threshold: Francis of Assisi Encounters Sultan Malek al-Kamil. The book appears to be the academic and ecclesial support for the DVD.

The DVD, produced with film-maker Jaysri (Joyce) Hart, is a fascinating resource based on the meeting between Francis and the Sultan. It consists of two segments of 22 minutes each, 50 pages of online materials, plus recommendations for other resources. These are free and can be found at www.FranciscanMedia.org/francissultan.

The first part of the DVD shows the differing versions of the story. The second segment encourages the viewers to use the story as a basis for making peace, particularly in interfaith dialogue. The shots in Brother Robert Lentz’s workshop, as he creates a triptych of modern icons, are visually stunning.

The online resources suggest ways of using the DVD in groups, ranging from a one-hour session through to a whole day of reflection. These would be particularly useful for groups of Tertiaries, both in guiding groups through discussion and in preparing people for action ‘in the field’: not just talking among ourselves but also how to initiate interfaith dialogue. Sister Kathleen urges her fellow-American Christians not to assume that there are no Muslims in their community. Muslims are likely to be there, and a first step is meeting them and engaging them in general conversation. This observation is true of Australia, too. We moved to the regional town of Busselton six years ago. I assumed, lazily, that if there were any Muslims in town, they certainly wouldn’t be practising. But I have made friends with my barber from Morocco, who prays five times daily (in the tiny space behind the barber’s shop), and who, along with his wife and brother and the owners of the Halal fast-food stall, travels every Friday he can to prayers in the mosque in Bunbury.

A variety of guidelines for dialogue, including specifically Franciscan considerations, are given and explained.

Neither the DVD nor the online resources lived up to the claim that the meeting between the Sultan and saint was ‘a model for peacemaking’. The emphasis is much more on interfaith explorations, and the occasional reference to making peace with the Other was generalised. Those seeking instructions on non-violent peace-making for Franciscans would do much better to use the resources of Pace E Bene (www.paceebene.org and www.paceeebene.org.au).

Apart from this reservation, I have no hesitation in recommending this DVD for Tertiaries to watch, reflect on, discuss in groups, and act on.

Are Animals Christians? May 2, 2013

Posted by Ted Witham in : Resources , 1 comment so far

Laura Hobgood-Oster, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s compassion for animals, London: Darton Longman Todd, 2010.

Paperback 228 pages, $AUD 18.32 (online) Kindle E-book $USD18.95
The Friends We Keep

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Saint Francis would be saddened to see the crises affecting the world’s animals, and even sadder to realise that humans are a main cause of habitat loss for wild animals, cruelty to food animals and neglect to companion animals. The Friends We Keep is a thorough examination of what Christian theology has to say about animals. Professor Hobgood-Oster wonders whether we have made of Christianity a faith that concerns only humans.

She notes that, while there is not a huge literature on animals and Christianity in any period, from the time of the Reformation on, animals seem to disappear altogether from Christian thought. She attributes this disappearance partly to Luther. Luther emphasised the Word, and so elevated human beings to a high point – Jesus the Word was a human being, so human beings must be distinct from and of more concern to God than other animals. In emphasising salvation, other Reformers followed the humanists of the Renaissance in also giving pride of place to the salvation of humans.

Before the Reformation, animals played different roles in the lives of the saints: St Anthony the Abbot was often depicted with a pig. Jerome kept a pet lion in his monastery. A bird nested in St Kevin’s outstretched arm. St Francis tamed the wolf from Gubbio. The great Saint Hilda kept snakes at Whitby. Animals were both companions and helpers for humans. Some of the legends are based in fact. Others are charming and have little historical value except to illustrate that animals were more visible to pre-Reformation Christians.

Going even earlier in the tradition, the Bible has a positive role for animals. The giants Behemoth and Leviathan are God’s playmates in Job. In Genesis 29, Jacob waters Rachel’s mother’s flock, putting their needs above his and Rachel’s. In the New Testament, Jesus is happy to agree that dogs should get crumbs from the table (even if only metaphorically)! Hobgood-Oster tells a delightful anecdote from an apocryphal Gospel in which Jesus expresses compassion for a mule whose owner beats him until it bleeds.

Hobgood-Oster catalogues human cruelty to animals both in anecdotes and in statistics: the effect is almost overwhelming.

In today’s world, animals suffer in many of the places where humans interact with them. We breed horses with ankles the size of human ankles and wonder why race-horses “break down”. We crush pigs into tiny pens so that the sows can move only enough to feed the piglets. At puppy farms we keep bitches in elevated cages and continue to fertilise them until they stop having pups. Even the pets we choose we neglect.

How should we respond as Christians? Is Christianity good news only for humans? Laura Hobgood- Oster is Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Southwestern University. She argues we should show hospitality to animals in every way possible. She is personally involved in the rescue of dogs, but she notes many ways in which Christians might unleash their compassion for animals. In her University ethics committee she argues for fewer animals to be “sacrificed” for research, and for the most humane use of animals when they are necessary.

She suggests we eat compassionately, and one practical way of doing this is to eat less meat. Christians might return to the Friday fast and have a weekly meat-free day – at the least. They should be aware of the conditions their food animals lived and died, and where possible source their meat from local farmers whose animals are free-range.

If we bless animals, we should do it seriously. We should consider blessing food animals and wild creatures. The Friends We Keep includes liturgical resources, including a prayer from the Australian Uniting in Worship. Many organisations are listed, nearly all in the US, that promote better treatment of animals.

One of these organisations is The Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare (www.franciscan-anglican.com/enaw) which acknowledges a Franciscan influence. I read The Friends We Keep as a Franciscan, conscious of St Francis’s teaching that every creature is a little Word of God, revealing something of God’s nature to us as we encounter each one in love.

It is encouraging to read a Christian address these issues. While I admire much of the Australian ethicist Peter Singer’s radical understanding of animal rights, we Christians do have a distinctive viewpoint which should be heard.

The Friends We Keep is a book both to alert Christians to the theological dimension of God’s hospitality to all creatures, and an activists’ manual to help us engage lovingly and compassionately with the animals whose lives we humans affect. A book for Franciscans – and the animals we may bless.

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