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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

Remembering St Francis of Assisi September 30, 2011

Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, News , add a comment

On the night of October 3, 1226, Francis of Assisi was dying. He asked to be laid naked on the bare earth near the little chapel of Portiuncula, down the hill from Assisi, the place he had made his base for his peripatetic ministry.

He was only 44 but nearly blind, in constant pain from an illness in his stomach, worn out from the lack of care he had given his body. It is true that he once apologised to Brother Ass, as he called his body, for the abuse he had inflicted on It, but there is no evidence that he heeded his own health message!

He died singing, and the legend says that at the moment of his death, larks flew singing into the sky.

Why do I find such a man such an attractive model of the Christian faith?

In a nutshell because he was passionate about God. He could be spectacularly wrong, as he was with the treatment of Brother Ass, but even that is a result of his never-ending enthusiasm to spread the message of Christ.

And in St Francis’ life, and on St Francis’ lips, what a message that was.

God, he said, is love. Well, we all know that. But for St Francis, God is love that never comes to an end. You’ve heard of Médecins sans Frontières, Doctors without Borders, well, St Francis proclaimed that God was Amour sans Frontières, love without boundaries. God loves every creature infinitely and equally.

Francis’ energy was spent in going about telling everyone this transforming message. If you really let God’s love take hold of you, you will never experience the end of it: it will always be there, always supporting, holding, delighting in you. Knowing that love, you can then pass it on. And because it is amour sans frontières, as you give love away, the supply never runs out.

That’s the whole message of the Cross, the whole meaning of the life of Jesus, the whole purpose of God. And I thank God for sending Francis of Assisi to refresh that message in me.

Immerse yourself in the infinity of Divine Love – love without boundaries!

Ted Witham
Minister Provincial

Happy Feast Day August 11, 2011

Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, Provincial Chapter, Resources , add a comment

Dear sisters and brothers,

Today, the Feast of St Clare, is a joyful day in our calendar. I invite you to rejoice in this humble and enduring saint of Assisi, who took the vision of St Francis and made it concrete in her situation.

St Clare inspires to live more generously, to love more unconstrainedly, to sing God’s praises more warmly, and to walk bravely with Christ.

To mark today’s feast, I offer this hymn for you to use as you wish in celebrating St Clare. The hymn is here: http://wp.me/pI7Dl-1L

Peace, joy and love,

Ted Witham.
Minister Provincial

Flooded by grace January 27, 2011

Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, News , add a comment

There’s a dark conversation going around Australia at the moment. People are imaginatively measuring their homes for flood. In Busselton, for example, we live on the ‘delta’ of the Vasse River, so despite the drained, reclaimed land and the channels taking excess water out to sea, we are still vulnerable to flood. And, speaking of the sea, because we are only centimetres above the sea level, a tsunami would crash its way kilometres ashore.

We keep these conversations dark because our focus shouldn’t really be on ourselves but on the plight of those whose homes, livelihoods and lives have been affected by the real floods – not the ones in our imaginations.

As concerned Christians and Franciscans, we should be looking for ways to be better informed, generous in praying and giving money and offering practical help where possible (all expressions of love). (The best appeal I can find is the Premier’s Appeal at www.qld.gov.au/floods. If you specifically want to help Anglican parishes get back onto their feet, give to the Australian Anglican Primate’s Appeal. You can give electronically to: Arch­bishop’s Emergency Relief Fund; A/C BSB: 704-901; A/C No.: 00014858.)

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