the greatest of these

An itty bitty preview of the opening of a chapter on loving the Other, from my forthcoming book with Zondervan.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28

I have never got along all that well with children. As a child, I chose books over other kids more often than not. I never had a huge group of friends, always preferring the steady company of a few intimates. As a high schooler, I got jobs in food service instead of spending my evenings and weekends babysitting for car insurance and spending money. So when I was pregnant with my son, I was grateful to read that some mothers don’t instantly bond with their newborns, and that it might take a while for him to grow on me, even after he’d grown in me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, at his birth, I felt a powerful, visceral, overwhelming, aching love for this little purple-red creature. A love that has only increased as the years have gone on. A love that is courage-giving and terrifying, powerful and vulnerable and utterly confounding. Confounding in part because he’s not always very nice to me. There is a lot of whining. A lot of ingratitude. Some screaming and tantrum throwing and “I hate you’s.” He can be demanding, spoiled, selfish…just really obnoxious. There are times when I just want to roll my eyes, tell him to shut up, run away, show him how much worse he could have it.

But I love him with my whole heart. And when the day is over and he’s finally asleep, I look at his face that is a mirror of my own, and I listen to him breathe, and I curl his tiny fingers around mine and thank God for entrusting me with this miracle of life, this funny, sweet, smart, often-caring, fast-growing little boy.

As my son was born of me, we are born of God. The loving gaze with which I watch my son is tepid, the aching love a shadow compared to the fire of love God carries for us.

And so it should come as no surprise that the God whose love catalyzed a universe asks us to love not only those who are easy to love, and not only those to whom we are biologically pre-conditioned to love, but those who are least like us and who like us least.

Grace is costly, and love is hard.

Jesus’ life was an ode to the love of Other. He gathered rejects, bridged social and traditional divides, and turned the notions of hospitality, mercy, and justice on their heads. Piety is out, compassion is in. When Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, we learn that neighbors are those who love “the least of these.” In this chapter, we explore the limits of love. How are we called to extend mercy to “the least of these”? Who is our neighbor? And we will ask especially what it might mean to view animals as our creaturely neighbors and to extend neighborly love to them.

how sarah’s brain works (or…doesn’t)

  1. I wonder why I haven’t heard back from my professor yet about my book?
  2. Come on, Sarah, it’s only been, like, two hours. Give him time to get through traffic and get home, for crying out loud.
  3. Duh, of course. I’m being unreasonable.
  4. [a day passes]
  5. OK, but I would have expected, like, a text or something by now indicating something that he liked or, like, marking the number of times that he’s already cried. Maybe I’m too much of a Debbie downer? Maybe I was even snarkier and more obnoxious than I remember and it makes reading painful?
  6. Sarah, it’s fine. He told you once he’s a slow reader, remember? Plus, dude’s on sabbatical, has family that he enjoys spending time with, and a life. Plus, it was a really nice weekend. The world doesn’t revolve around you!
  7. (sigh) You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.
  8. [two days pass]
  9. Shit. Shit. Shit.
  10. What now? For crying out loud. Get it together.
  11. It’s just that…he’s clearly discovered that I’m an impostor and he’s trying to find the nicest way to tell me that I am fundamentally incapable of doing theology.
  12. I don’t think so, he seems to genuinely think you’re smart.
  13. No, for real. You wrote a lot, and it’s only been three days.
  14. Three and a half. Almost four. And he said he was going to read it right away.
  15. Seriously, get a grip, Sarah. He’s got other things to do.
  16. Maybe I should email him? Joke about whether or not he regrets agreeing to grant me a degree?
  17. Oh, please don’t. No one likes the smell of a desperate approval-seeker.
  18. (sniff) Is that what that is? I thought it was just my new deodorant…Do you think this is weirdly passive aggressive, or charmingly vulnerable and honest?
  19. It’s hard to tell. I give up.
  20. No, wait! I didn’t mean to make you mad! Come back!

getting published

Well, eventually…

One of the many, many things that I love about Palmer Theological Seminary is that I have been able to explore the intersection of animals and theology throughout my two and a half years. Pretty much every paper I’ve written (even in Church History) dealt in one way or another with human relationships to nonhuman animals. As a result, by the time I graduate in May, I’ll have most, if not all, of a book written on evangelical animal liberation theology. They’ve given me the tools and opportunity to start to work out some pretty big questions. 

So, back in November, in a feat of bravery and optimism, I prepped and submitted a proposal to an editor contact at Baker Books (one of the biggest Christian publishers). I heard back from the editor today, who said he had taken it to the editorial team, and though the topic was important, they didn’t feel there was enough of a market for the work.

I’m discouraged and encouraged.

I’m encouraged because I got past step one. This is HUGE! I got someone not only to look at my proposal, but who thought it decent enough to bring to a broader group. I am thrilled that it wasn’t chucked out at first glance. 

And yet, I still had to fight these demons after I read and processed the email. It was a rejection. There’s no getting around that. I’m not used to rejection, because I don’t frequently do stuff that risks failure (see: resolutions). For a few seconds, I thought to myself, “Who do you think you are? No one will want to read this…you’re arrogant for even trying.” Etcetera etcetera etcetera, ad nauseam.

Then I got bored with my own self-doubt. Fuck that. And yeah, I mean to use harsh language. That shit’s the devil dancing in my head and that particular club is closed.

How many other evangelical Christians are committed to animal liberation? How many others have my experiences, at ESA and at PETA in the U.S. and Europe?  Not many. And while the number of Christians who are rethinking the human/nonhuman animal relationship is growing like wheatgrass in Berkeley, there aren’t many (yet) who are willing and able to beat the drum loud and long. Jesus gave me these passions for a reason. I’m on this path with confidence that my purpose is ordained by God. 

Maybe I’m too used to short-term victories. Quick payoffs. This is a long-haul kind of endeavor. So, after I replied to the kind man at Baker, I sucked up my self-pity and submitted queries to two literary agents today. And I’ll keep risking, writing, thinking, talking, and sometimes shouting as long as it freaking takes.

Bring it on, rejection. Bring. it. on.  

evangelical animal liberation theology

It sounds like nonsense. If you take the Bible seriously, as evangelicals do, you can’t possibly mine from it a theology of animal liberation. Likewise, liberation theologians may find the idea of turning our liberatory efforts towards nonhuman animals a bit premature when billions of human animals live in oppression.

A lifelong Jesus follower and committed advocate for nonhuman animals, I resisted the idea myself for years. “Talking out of both sides of your mouth,” one professor says (not about this, something else, but I think it would apply). But the four words won’t separate themselves. Evangelical animal liberation theology.

Evangelical. Because it is rooted in the good news of Christ, a message for all, and particularly for those, regardless of their species, who have been marginalized and otherized to such an extent that we no longer refer to them by name, but by their parts. No longer individual created beings, named by Adam, they are known by how they serve the powerful.

Animal. Because this is a theology for all animals – human and nonhuman alike.

Liberation. Because this is a theology of freedom for all. Freedom from harm, freedom from the shackles of greed and power. It is a theology that takes seriously the visions of the prophets of a peaceful reign of God, and it is a theology that takes seriously Jesus’ prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven.”

Theology. Because this is an attempt, first and foremost, to listen to God, to serve God, and to share God’s love with the whole world.

It seems risky. It seems hard. I don’t feel up to the task, and I don’t feel equipped.

And I think that’s exactly where God wants me.