jump to navigation

A personal plea for kinship September 30, 2013

Posted by Ted Witham in : Reflection , 3comments

A PERSONAL PLEA TO LIVE IN KINSHIP.

I find myself caught in a tension between my farming family and my Franciscan friends who oppose the use of animals for food.

To suggest that my family engages in cruelty to animals is neither fair nor factual. To deny the viewpoint of my Franciscan brothers and sisters would be discourteous and narrow-minded. I think I have to live in the tension.

I read in friar Daniel Horan’s excellent book Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith that thinking of humanity’s relationship to creation as one of ‘subduing’ has long past. But, Horan argues, the idea of ‘stewardship’ should also be consigned to the past. Francis saw 800 years ago that ‘stewardship’ çan be equally paternalistic to most creatures. Francis invited us to see all creatures as sister and brother. Our relationship to creation is not ‘kingship’’ but ‘kinship’.’

I get that. And I get it that we should defend animals against maltreatment. The cow that is repeatedly shocked with an electric prod feels the pain. The pig that is clobbered with a sledge-hammer feels the pain, just as a human being would. We know they feel the pain because they are brother and sister to us.

But there is a tension there. In an imperfect world, human beings must sometimes be treated as more brother or sister than animals. I have finite funds to give away. I think I should give more money to children abandoned on railway platforms in India than to dogs mistreated in Australia. I shouldn’t have to make that choice, but I do.

I think I have to wrestle with the demands for human habitat and the habitat of the western ring-tail possum. It’s not a fair choice, and I should never allow our society – that is, our local governments, our Department of Parks and Wildlife, developers – to assume that humans win as a matter of principle.

I watched last night with horror the story of an abattoir in Victoria closed down after a single clandestine visit from Animals Australia. The government agency gave to this long-established business no opportunity to defend itself. It simply accepted a few minutes of footage in which abattoir workers followed government guidelines to the letter as evidence of cruelty. An escaped pig was bludgeoned with a sledge-hammer. The guide-lines actually recommend this course of action as the safest and most humane in a situation where there is a frightened, unpredictable animal loose in an area with sharp knives and dangerous equipment.

In fact, the presence of the Animals Australia photographer probably caused the animal to flee. Had she not been there, the situation would not have arisen.

An abattoir is not necessarily a pleasant place. Animals die there. But this abattoir was audited regularly and animals were apparently treated well. If this one incident was cruelty, then justice should mean that the operators were given the chance to correct their practices. But instead their licence to operate was withdrawn immediately. A score of employees lost their jobs, and the farmers dependent on local abattoirs were financially hurt. Some were forced out of business.

Landline took sides. I know that. But even if the program showed a distorted view of this particular case, there is a real tension here. Our brothers and sisters who are called as farmers pride themselves on their ability to feed the rest of us. Their role in our society is both vital and humane. Farmers generally look after their animals. It’s good business. They are our brothers and sisters and deserve respect for what they do, not condemnation.

Our brothers and sisters who eat meat do so because it’s culturally appropriate. Meat is part of the Australian diet. But as Franciscans we are concerned not just about those who can afford $40 restaurant steaks, but those who live on a subsistence diet. To help the poor out of poverty requires protein, and there is as yet no easy substitute for meat. We need our meat farmers to help the poor.

There is a tension between them and our brothers and sisters who are bred for eating. I look forward to a time when the human race can feed itself without killing pigs, cows and chickens. But that time is not yet here. The best we Franciscans can do for our brother and sister meat animals is to continue to commend the best in animal practices in our abattoirs. And we should, out of respect for our brothers and sisters the farmers, the small business owners, be properly informed before we condemn.

If we genuine live in kinship, then we are bound to live in tension. We need to speak gently and justly.

Ted Witham
September 2013

Saint Louis – one of our patron saints? September 11, 2013

Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan , add a comment

We tertiaries have inherited from the Secular Franciscans the notion that Saint Louis is a patron saint of the Third Order. I was excited to learn that the great French scholar of Francis and Clare, Jacques LeGoff had undertaken a 10-year study of Saint Louis and published it. I managed to obtain a copy of the 1,000-page tome for $15 (it’s usually about $80) anxious to read what Saint Louis could teach me about living as a Franciscan.

Saint Louis is worth the effort. The book is beautifully written and smoothly translated by Gareth Evan Gollrad. It has three parts: the first outlines the life of Saint Louis based on the best evidence available; the second goes more deeply into aspects of the evidence to explore how much we can really know about a personality from 800 years ago (quite a lot, it turns out), and Part III contains family trees, maps, charts, notes an bibliographies.

I have written a more detailed review at http://wp.me/p1E0m7-3n

King Louis IX, like his brother-in-law Henry III in England, surrounded himself with Franciscans and Dominicans. The new Orders were in royal flavour. And Louis’ life was strongly influenced by the mendicants and the Carthusians. He made justice and peace the main values of his kingdom. When he went on Crusade, like Saint Francis, he tried to convert the Muslim leaders. He cultivated humility and poverty. He toned down his dress and personal style.

As I read, I was reminded often of Queen Elizabeth II and her commitment to serve the people of her kingdoms and the Commonwealth as a Christian vocation. Likewise, King Louis, crowned as a “most Christian king” aimed to live that out in every aspect of his life.

Saint Louis, as it turns out, was not a member of the Third Order. Jacques LeGoff, however, draws a sympathetic picture of a charismatic man conscientiously living out his vocation. Saint Louis is not a plaster saint, nor is he some kind of tribal Franciscan hero: he is a human being and a Christian from whom we can learn.

Bear