ag gag laws, lent, and journeying with jesus

My brother and I have never been particularly close, despite the relative proximity of our birth years, but one thing I’ve always admired about Jesse Joe is his ability to throw himself whole-heartedly into loving another. It is always my tendency to hold back.

I think others might also have a hard time being vulnerable, exposed, whole-hearted. Our hardness and caution is demonstrated in a thousand tiny ways every day, but for me, one of the most in-your-face demonstration of cutting ourselves off from the experience of others is eating flesh. And it’s *literally* in our faces, isn’t it?!

Intentional ignorance about where our food comes from is a barrier to our reconciliation with God’s creation. But possibly worse is punishing those who enter into the suffering of others in order to expose cruelty and abuse. Imagine watching your supervisor show you how to shock a lame cow to force her to move a few more feet; being shown how to slam a baby pig into the ground until he was dead; asked to sort male from female chicks from a conveyer belt and told to throw the male chicks alive into grinders. Imagine being in the suffering of a factory farm or a slaughterhouse for days, in order to expose what agri-business doesn’t want consumers to see.

Less than a week before Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season, Idaho governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, a member of the Roman Catholic church, signed a controversial “Ag Gag” bill into law, making Idaho the seventh state in the U.S. to penalize individuals who use undercover footage to expose abuse on factory farms and in slaughterhouses.

As a native of Idaho and a lifelong Jesus follower, I’m embarrassed and disappointed that my home state and a fellow Christian would choose to imprison and fine advocates attempting to curb abuse of God’s fellow creatures. That Otter signed the bill into law just days before Christians around the world entered the Lenten journey is bitterly ironic.

Through the pain of Lent, we begin to prepare for the restorative, transformative Easter morning. It is a time of shadow and struggle undergirded by eschatological hope. It is a special time of intention, in which we move with Jesus towards the suffering other, to the hill on which he was hung, and ultimately to the reconciliation promised by the empty tomb. In Romans, Paul reminds us that the whole creation groans for this reconciliation. In fact, the whole of the scriptures are woven through with admonitions to care for God’s creation, praise for the miracles of God evidenced through God’s creative work, and clear indications that though humans may be specially privileged with the imago Dei, all of God’s creation sings in praise to their almighty and loving Maker.

Though these creatures will one day bow and confess at the foot of the throne, countless undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses have revealed systematic, horrific abuse of the nonhuman animals we breed, raise, and kill for food. Mercy for Animals, PETA, Humane Society of the United States, and Compassion over Killing are just a few of the groups who have documented animals being kicked, bludgeoned, dragged, shocked, mutilated, thrown, sexually assaulted, and more by farm and slaughterhouse workers.

It was the Mercy for Animals investigation of a Bettencourt Dairy location in Idaho that led to the introduction and passage of that state’s Ag Gag bill. The video footage of Bettencourt revealed workers viciously beating and shocking cows, violently twisting their tails in order to deliberately cause pain, using a chain attached to a tractor to drag a lame cow by her neck, and the sexual abuse of animals on the farm.

Yet despite the clear evidence of wrongdoing, Otter wrote that he has “confidence in [Idaho farmers’] desire to responsibly act in the best interest of the animals on which that livelihood depends. No animals rights organization cares more or has more at stake than Idaho farmers and ranchers do in ensuring that their animals are healthy, well-treated and productive.” Decades of undercover investigations on farms big and small from coast to coast paint a very different picture of the real priorities of agri-business: profit at any cost.

Last week, ashes in the sign of the cross were placed on my forehead, to remind me that I am made from dust, and to dust I shall return. In the short time I am on earth, I am charged to journey in the dust of Jesus’ footsteps.

One of the very astonishing facts of Jesus is that he calls his followers over and over and over again to embrace those who are “othered.” In first century Palestine, he stood with widows, orphans, children, tax collectors, lepers, and Canaanites. Jesus’s love stretches from the gates of heaven to the depths of hell in order to retrieve and love the lost, the lonely, the abandoned, the forgotten, the unseen. I like to imagine that when the stone was rolled away from the tomb, after the women had come and gone, perhaps a few lambs, chickens, cows, pigs, and sparrows grazed on that holy ground.

The Ag Gag fight may soon make an appearance in your state. There is legislation currently pending in Arizona, New Hampshire, and Indiana. Eleven states defeated similar legislation in 2013. In six states, including Iowa, it is a crime to be hired at a farm under false pretenses, thanks in large part to this investigation, which prompted the not-exactly-super-animal-or-people-friendly McDonald’s to drop a major egg supplier because of the egregious cruelty and filth the investigator exposed. If you get a chance to weigh in on the Ag Gag debate in your state, please remind your lawmakers that Jesus journeys with those who suffer, as he admonishes us to love “the least of these.”

And this Lent, consider going vegan. Consider forgoing flesh in favor of foods that don’t require suffering and death. Here’s how to get started.

shatter

Who is in my community? Who is in my tribe? Is this defined by gender, political allegiance, color, birth-state, how-I-take-my-coffee, twizzlers-or-red-vines? No. When we allow God to give us our community, instead of self-selecting a safe space, we shatter and the glittery, sharp pieces of who we are in the world scatter across nations, time, species, and socio-economic contexts, connecting us with Jesus-in-the-whole-world.

confession

Yesterday, I choked up watching Antoinette Tuff describe how she had anchored herself in Christ and reached out to a heavily armed and deeply depressed young man who had walked into an elementary school and made it clear that he wasn’t playing around. The gunman felt he didn’t have anything to live for and was prepared to die that day, but Tuff’s love (Tuff love, ha) saved his life and most likely countless others, as well.

Here’s my confession. While I listened to Antoinette tell her amazing story, I pictured the events unfold. And those events featured the perpetrator as a young, black, man. I don’t recall hearing any physical descriptions of the suspect. I didn’t know his name and hadn’t seen a mugshot. I was focused on Tuff’s actions, but my underlying, unconscious assumption was that she was describing interactions with a fellow African American.

When I read follow-up stories of the event this morning and saw that Michael Brandon Hill looks like me and not like Antoinette, I realized what I had done. I realized how deeply embedded my assumptions were, so deep that they hadn’t even registered as conscious casting choices, and I was utterly shamed by my racism. I am still deeply ashamed, but grateful that I recognized and confronted this sin head-on.

I accept full responsibility for my racist assumption, but I can’t help but wonder…if Michael Brandon Hill had dark skin, would his picture have been at the top of all of the news articles the last few days? Would I have been faced with more images of him if he had fit the description of my preconceived notions? Worse, was his picture there all along, but I ignored it, passed it over, because that’s not the face I was looking for?

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The Liberating Mission of Jesus

English: poverty

Dario Lopez Rodriguez’s The Liberating Mission of Jesus is about crossing the many kinds of boundaries created by thousands of years of colonization, spiritual segregation, and economic exploitation. Though the gospel of Luke gives Christians a clear guide for doing so through the words and actions of Jesus, my Christian ancestors presumably failed to love their neighbors and enemies alike, or to stand with the marginalized (unless I come from magnificently rebellious and revolutionary stock). As a result, I was born into a position of privilege – the member of a family who always had a roof over their head; in a city and state that provided me with quality, free education; in a country that was comfortable and safe enough to develop a prosperous market for hundreds of television channels mostly devoted to “reality” TV or home shopping.

 

I struggle with whether to shrug off that privilege or to use it for good, particularly in a world where “public servants” so often formulate the plans and policies that serve only themselves and other powerful people – they act as kurioi, not douloi. Can I use my privilege without abusing another? I can try. But the hard truth is that it is a lot easier for me to serve the “other” that I cannot see than the “other” right in front of me. So, in my work life, I succeed at urging and advocating for those like me to cross boundaries and create transformation, but do not ask my neighbor, who talks a lot and smokes and frequently smells like urine, how I can meet his needs.