I can’t stop thinking about them; their cuddly little bodies and jovial clucks. While the weekdays can often slip away, one of my favorite ways to mark a no-work weekday snow day is to take a stroll up the street to an urban farm in my neighborhood and play with them. The minutes pass by leisurely, a slow drift from morning snow to calm evening walks under falling flakes, shining like miniature sugar cookies against the street lights. Somewhere in between those morning and evening hours, I take pictures of them like these:
They’re chickens. But not just chickens. They’re Barred Rock, Leghorns, Orpingtons, and Black Chochins. They’re not just breeds, but have names, nicknames. Belle. Scratch. Buddy.
I’ve always wanted to go vegetarian and have done so in small bits and spurts. But after reading an article in Christianity Today this past October about Lamppost Farm, which provides chicken killing demonstrations in order to teach people about the sacrifice of Jesus’ death, my decision to go vegetarian was re-affirmed.
“One by one, the birds are hung by their feet on a backboard of metal sheeting with wood bracers, where their throats are cut and bled out. Next, the limp birds are scalded in 150-degree water before visiting the de-featherer, then the stainless-steel cleaning table. There, the feet, head, organs, lungs, and trachea are removed, in that order. The next bird does not die as gracefully. I make the cut more quickly, drawing the knife deeply through the throat in a single back-and-forth, like a violin bow. But when I release her, she flaps wildly for a moment in spasms that don’t seem involuntary. So violent is the reaction that the chicken actually kicks loose one of her legs from the holding prongs, and I must refasten her. Then, she’s still. ‘It’s disturbing,’ [a participant says]. “It’s supposed to be,” [the farmer says]. “We’re not supposed to take a life and then say, Well, whatever. That’s not how we’re made.”
The fact that this group kills living creatures—creatures God created, mind you— in an attempt to show people that God loves us crushes my heart as I scratch my head, wondering, once again, “Have we missed the point of faith?” That people can disregard life and kill it in the name of God is beyond me. All of this left me feeling that I am no longer detached from the killing process that goes into eating meat. I now know, graphically, what a murderous process it is.
So since reading that article, I’ve been spending some with these chicken lovelies and my life has not been the same. Cuddled in the nook of my arm, this beautiful hen, softly cooing, pulls my heart, ears, and eyes in closer. The chickens taught me that we can choose to keep things close or far away. But if you are brave enough, and willing enough, to get really close instead of passively, comfortably at a distance from the unknown, things will change, will become real. Become visceral. You will be changed and you won’t be able to look at things the same way.
Because you chose to get close.
The closer I am to these creatures, the more I want to love them, hold them, see their inherent worth and dignity as a living creature, and do everything in my power to protect their life and well-being.
And isn’t that the way it goes with everything? The closer we get towards what we don’t understand, the more compassion we feel for others.
The closer we get towards poverty, the more we understand why not everyone can simply “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”
The closer we get towards people from sexual orientations other than heterosexual, the more we realize how unjust it is that these fellow sisters and brothers are denied 1,138 rights that heterosexual couples are freely granted.
The more we choose to center our lives around loving our neighbors and living sustainably, the more we reject capitalism and living solely for ourselves.
The more we leave our houses and two car garages, the more we interact with the world around us. As Jack Kerouac once said,
“The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, fire, and wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is.”
The more spiritual the world is, the more we are willing to sacrifice a car ride for a bicycle ride, and light switches for natural light. We become close enough to crave the sanctuary that the trees and humming rivers provide and see God far beyond steeples and pews, into everything the daylight and moonlight touches.
The more we get to know the names, life experiences, faces, joys, struggles, and dreams of someone from a religion other than our own, the more we come to recognize that we come from the same God, and we now see no divisions, just a flowing river of love pouring from my heart to your heart and everyone else’s heart in between.
Yes, outside, everyday, are people, places, and animals that invite us into holy, intimate connection. Into what many South Africans, including Nelson Mandela, call “ubuntu-” the concept that we teach each other how to be human. That I cannot become human without your humanness, for we learn how to become moving, walking, talking people from each other. “You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains. “ We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
The birds of the air, the waters of the sea, and even these adorable warbles of chickens with thick feathers and skinny legs have something to teach us. The invitation is waiting. The world opens up wide as you expand your heart in the spirit of closeness, togetherness, ubuntu, attachment, and learning.
The God in me greets the God in you.