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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

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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.

Franciscans helping Jews in the England of Henry III July 21, 2013

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The Martyrdom of Little St Hugh

Little St Hugh – Lincoln Cathedral

Franciscans arrived in England five years before the death of St Francis in Italy. By 1224, there were Franciscans in Oxford and Cambridge, helping to establish those two places of theological learning. King Henry III, known by some as Henry the Pious, was impressed by the Franciscans and their friendly rivals, the Dominicans. In 1226, the King gave to the Franciscans in Cambridge half of a stone house which had belonged to Benjamin the Jew.

The Jews were tolerated in England, mainly as money-lenders to the aristocracy. Henry borrowed staggering sums, and was unable to repay them. He then devised heavy taxes on Jews as a way of getting out of debt. He had, for example, passed a law aimed at the wealthy Jews that gave him the right to huge taxes or fines from any man convicted of capital crimes.

The Franciscans were missionaries: they had a strong desire to convert the Jews, so they took a special interest in the Jewish community. Friars took the trouble to learn about their customs and literature, and follow the politics of the place of Jews in the English community. Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon, the famous intellectual, was given special responsibility for the converts from Judaism.

On 27th August 1225, the body of nine-year-old Hugh was found at the bottom of a well in Lincoln. A friar, sadly, was the first to accuse the Jews of kidnapping little Hugh and ritually executing him, using his blood to make matzos for Passover. Emotions flared all over England and Henry saw a chance. He thought he would ride public opinion and have ninety Jews convicted for the double crime of kidnap and murder. He arrested them, had them tortured and locked up in the Tower of London.

18 of the Jews hanged themselves rather than risk the anger of a Christian court-room.

Many Franciscans refused to be caught up in the angry outcry against the Jews. Risking their friendship with the volatile King, they pleaded in court for the release of the remaining Jews.

The crimes alleged, the Franciscans said, could not possibly have been committed by Jews. Eating blood in any form is comprehensively prohibited for Jews, and Passover takes place, not in August, but in March/April.

The pleas of the Franciscan friars did not succeed in gaining the Jews’ release. However, they were not hanged but kept imprisoned for many months while the Jewish community all over England gathered together a massive ransom payment for their freedom.

The Feast of the martyr Little St Hugh is July 27, a day on which we Franciscans can both repent the history of maltreatment and misunderstanding of Jews and recognise three Franciscan traits: firstly, the desire to understand people and respect every human being as made in God’s image. Secondly, as our Principles put it, the desire of Franciscans to ‘make our Lord known and loved everywhere’, and thirdly, even when faced with spectacular failure, the willingness to stand up for justice, particularly to take up the cause of those falsely accused.

***
If you’re interested in Little St Hugh and want to know more, read Robin R. Mundil, The King’s Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval England, London: Continuum Books, 2010, or, for Franciscan beginnings in England, relevant chapters in Maurice Carmody OFM, The Franciscan Story, London: Athena Press 2008.

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.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and W.A. November 17, 2010

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Here in Western Australia, we hold St Elizabeth of Hungary in special love and esteem, because of the presence here from 1928-1957 of the Anglican Sisters of St Elizabeth who worked in the south-west of this State.

Tertiary George Harvey grew up near their mother house in Bunbury and recalls the huge influence the Sisters had on him: as a server, he was particularly conscious of their devotion to worship. We would probably now regard their style of worship as old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic, but for George and the Sisters then, this worship was rich and redolent of God’s presence. That atmosphere still permeates the little chapel dedicated to St Elizabeth and pictured below.

The Chapel of St Elizabeth, Bunbury, Western Australia


Alongside their rich life of devotion, the Sisters devoted themselves to the care of the Group Settlers, English people who were brought to Western Australia to open up dairy farms and populate the forest country south of Bunbury. The Sisters lived in the same struggling pioneer communities in Busselton, Margaret River and elsewhere.

Those of us who live in this region know that behind the picturesque vineyards and glorious beaches lies a history of hardship, as newcomers came without farming skills to an environment that can be quite harsh and unforgiving. Huge karri and jarrah trees had to be cut down, or killed by ring-barking, thus delaying any income that the pioneers might derive from the land. And even when the land was ready for cattle, prosperity was still not to be found. It is only in recent years that better ways of living in this country are being found, as the harvesting of old-growth forests has been slowed, and tourism established as the main industry.

Back in the 1930s, the group settlement farms were isolated from one another and their communities. Families lived first in primitive shacks, and then in basic cottages, so everyday living was a struggle. The Sisters gave themselves to ministering in this poverty and remoteness and in the process wore themselves out.

Their story is told eloquently in Merle Bignells’ 1992 The Little Grey Sparrows.

The contrast between the poverty of the Sisters’ external lives and the wealth of their internal lives strikes me as one authentic way to be Franciscans: being poor, we discover ourselves, like St Francis, to have inherited the enormous wealth of creation.

In St Elizabeth’s life this contrast also shone forth: she who was a princess became poor to help the poor. But, like St Francis and her other mentor St Clare, Elizabeth did not give up the wealth she had inherited – not the wealth of her husband’s dominions (which she did forego), but the wealth of worship, the wealth of intelligent ministry to the poor, the wealth of creation and people.

For the Tertiaries of Western Australia, the plucky “little grey sparrows” have become part of the richness of our life, and we give thanks for their sacrificial service in this place. We gladly share this story with the wider Franciscan family.

Ted Witham
Minister Provincial

Feast of St Elizabeth AD 2010

A prayer on the feast of St Clare August 11, 2010

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“Wait in silence for God, my soul,
for from Him comes my hope.”

We might take as a theme song for the next few days Psalm 62, set for Morning Prayer for the feast of St Clare.

The heart of the Psalmist’s spirituality, his “soul”, has three parts: waiting, deep silence, out of which grow an expectation that God will make known to us the divine presence.

Wait in silence for God, my soul.

We human beings are not good at waiting. People today scoff at the idea of waiting. We want it all, and we want it now. This impatient greed throws our common life out of kilter. Those who insist that they should have a new, four-bedroom house, with LCD TV screens – you know the scenario – skew the market so that housing in our country is further out of the reach of the poor. There are too few simpler, cheaper houses.

If, in our life with God, we cannot bear to wait, we will cheapen our prayer-life, and cheat our souls of growth. If, in our life with God, we cannot bear to wait, the strength that comes from bring rooted in community will simply pass us by.

St Clare in Assisi placed waiting at the heart of her life: she knew that there is a right time when we receive God’s gifts. She waited, presumably for quite a time, until it was right for her to leave her home on Palm Sunday 1212 to present herself to Francis as a potential member of his community.

Wait in silence for God, my soul.

Silence is also counter-cultural. In a world of continuous entertainment through our different screens and the sound-track of our MP3 players, we have forgotten to nurture silence. It was obvious to our forebears that silence is the language of prayer, and we have crowded it out. Silence always has its coming out: as with light, the silence speaks into the noise, and the noise does not overwhelm us.

Quite.

Quiet.

St Clare would have preferred a more “active” life than the one allowed her by Francis and by the Pope. However, the secluded cloister at San Damiano resounded to a nurturing and empowering silence. Clare made silence her friend, and her sisters in the Poor Clares, and in the Anglican Community of Saint Clare, have continued to make space for God in their choice for silence.

Wait in silence for God, my soul.

Waiting, silence, God: three elements of a spirituality. They continue to resound in my soul. In them are my hope and my salvation.

Let the Lady of Assisi sing in your heart over the coming days.

Wait in silence for God, my soul.

Prepare the Way of the Lord November 29, 2009

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ADVENT CHALLENGE

1. Christmas Unshopping: BUY NOTHING THIS CHRISTMAS!
? Give no gifts this Christmas
? Explain to your family that you are using your economic power to help the poorest by giving no gifts. Often, the gifts we give are useless or unwanted.
? Instead, make gifts or cards which are so much more personal.
? Join the Advent conspiracy. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0o3C5yH77A&feature=related)
? Give Christmas gifts directly to the poor through Oxfam Unwrapped, Christian Blind Mission Gifts of Life, or the Tear Fund.

2. Give to the needy, for example:
? Christmas Bowl,
? Mutunga Partnership,
? Christian Blind Mission ,
? Oxfam, or
? Anglicare.

3. Pray differently. Maybe:
• More silence
• More meditation
• More reflective reading of Scripture
• Fewer words
• Different symbols (candles, ikons, etc.)

Comment on the “Advent Challenge” here. Is it Franciscan enough? Is it too idealistic? Will you try to do some of it? All of it?

DINGHY APPEAL ALMOST TO TARGET
Our Appeal to raise money for a dinghy to transport Tertiaries and others in PNG was launched in January of this year. We are almost there, with over $9,000 in the bank; almost another $2,000 is needed.
Nearly $3,000 of this was raised by John Clarkson (Minister NSW-B). The Province congratulates John for a terrific effort, the centrepiece of which was a bikeathon on the Eve of the Feast of St Francis.
Read on to be inspired, encouraged and challenged. Click here for the rest of the article.

THE POVERTY AND JUSTICE BIBLE

Our JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) group recommends this anthology, which gives more than 2,000 verses from the scriptures on poverty and justice.
Word bookstores have this on special at the moment.

ADVENT WITH FRANCISCANS INTERNATIONAL
Each week during Advent, Franciscans International will post a letter to help us journey towards Christmas. The letter for Week 1 is here .
Franciscans International seek financial support for their work. Please add your donation when paying your subscription (there is a space for this), or send it directly to our Treasurer Geoff Jordan, marked “Franciscans International”.

CHRISTIANS AND LESBIAN, GAY, BI- AND TRANS-SEXUAL PEOPLE
The group charged by Chapter with sensitively creating studies to help us explore non-heterosexualities and the Church has begun its work. We are finding out that the task is complex, and we are currently reading a challenging book edited by Stephen Hunt, Contemporary Christianity and LGBT sexualities. A summary of the book is on Ted Witham’s blog. If you are interested in reading this book, please ask to borrow it from one of the committee (Ted, Tony Hall-Matthews, Glenys McCarrick, Esmé Parker and Colin Valentine).

EDITOR STILL NEEDED
Ted Witham has been editing the newsletter only because no-one in our community has come forward to take on this important ministry of communication. If you think God is calling you to this task, please talk to Ted or your Regional Minister.
You need to be able to work with Microsoft Word (a template is provided), and gather material from the many areas of our community. There is a laser printer available to print copies, and someone else can organise the postage and distribution of copies.
Please pray about this. The need is great.

Peace, joy and love
Ted Witham tssf
Provincial.minister@tssf.org.au

Seriously Joyful: Australian Tertiaries November 16, 2009

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Minister Provincial, Ted Witham, has written an article based on questionnaires sent to Australian Tertiaries earlier in 2009.

Ted concludes that Australians are inspired by their Rule of Life to live ‘seriously joyful’ in the spirit of St Francis.

Click here to read the article.

Bear