by Kara Ball
Each year, Jim takes it upon himself to write our Christmas Letter. I'm so grateful for his work compiling all our activities, work and service for the year. This is a helpful contribution to our advent activities as we prepare for Christmas.
Each year for the past couple of years, he's chosen to end our Christmas Letter with a "note" from one of our animals. This year, our iguana Iggy is prominently featured. Being an herbivore, Iggy's note to our friends and family is "May you have all the kale you desire this holiday season."
I'm glad that Jim chose Iggy to end our Christmas Letter. It seems an appropriate reminder as we celebrate Jesus' coming that He came to reconcile all things to the Father:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:15-20, NIV)
This Christmas I am grateful for the opportunities we have to be co-agents in caring for God's creation. Whether you're a conservationist by vocation or avocation, your talents and dedication are helping provide sufficiency and contentment for all God's creatures, human and nonhuman. There is much work to be done in God's harvest field of creation care, so in the coming year I pray for continued strength and commitment for all those working in the field, and that others will join us.
On behalf of Iggy, Merry Christmas.
By Anna Clark
Growing up at the height of Jaws fever, I still get nervous every time I wade knee-deep into the ocean. I know my galeophobia is unfounded, but until this year, I had no idea how much so. True, shark attacks -- always media sensations -- result in about five fatalities annually. We humans, however, are biting back by killing 73-100 million sharks each year. In the span of a few decades, the ocean's top predators, including the great white, which has endured for 16 million years, have become our prey. At least one-third of shark species are now threatened with extinction.
Sharks, which mature late and produce few young, are being decimated in large part by the lucrative trade in shark fins. Shark fin soup, a delicacy signaling wealth and status, now sells for up to $100 per bowl in China. The value of the fins is far greater than the rest of the carcass, so out of convenience or ignorance the fishermen capture the sharks, cut off their fins, and then toss them back into the ocean, often still alive, to bleed to death. Just last month a story reveals that 2,000 shark carcasses were discovered at the bottom of the sea off the coast of Colombia. The brutal report is made even more sickening when you do the math. Shark finning results in such a death toll every 15-20 minutes. Realizing this prompted me to write this piece, taking my first small step toward doing something, anything, to stop it.
As with any cause I take up, I start by asking myself, "Why now?" Tragic and senseless as it is, shark finning has not been at the top of my priority list. There are many reasons why this is not the choice pet issue for the average Westerner. After all, this atrocity is happening on the other side of the world in a culture very different from ours. We don't eat shark fin soup, so we don't feel responsible for its consumption. Besides, with crises such as hunger and malnourishment threatening 1 billion people -- and the economic fears looming over the rest of us -- we frankly have more pressing concerns. At least those have been my excuses until now.
But come, let us reason together. Over half of the world's people depend on the ocean for their primary food source. Today, due to overfishing, we risk losing sharks -- and tens of thousands of other species we depend on -- to what scientists are calling the sixth great extinction, unique to the last five in history for one reason: humans are causing it. Ecologically speaking, as goes the shark, so goes the rest of creation.
A Face Only the Father Could Love
Most of us are programmed to feel threatened by sharks and consequently, we objectify them, fear them, and increasingly destroy them. This may be a human response, but it is not a faithful one. Facing facts, we are confronted by an undeniable paradox: we must find a way to preserve a creature that scares us. How do we ignite our moral conviction and desire for justice to take action to protect a creature as unsympathetic as the shark?
To begin, we might try perceiving sharks as God would. When he gazes on these exquisite beasts of his own making, what does he see? We can find clues in the bible. In the book of Job, for instance, God responds to Job's sorrowful criticism by demonstrating his power through such examplars of his creation as behemoth and leviathan, as well as more familiar members of his animal kingdom:
"Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane? Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust? Its majestic snorting is terrifying! It paws the earth and rejoices in its strength when it charges out to battle. It laughs at fear and is unafraid. It does not run from the sword."
"Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar and spread its wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle rises to the heights to make its nest?"
Job 39:19-22, 26-27, NLT
Could not sharks, lions of the sea, represent another mighty testament to God's glory? If we accept that sharks are an intentional, even magnificent, part of creation, but then continue to look the other way and ignore them in their distress -- well, it reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Fortunately for sharks, there are some prominent marine biologists, conservationists, and volunteers working feverishly to curb this massacre. They could use our help. Will we offer it to them?
Ben DeVries, creator of Not One Sparrow: A Christian Voice for Animals, offers an eloquent explanation for Christians' lack of engagement on such issues in his capstone paper on the biblical-theological foundation for animal welfare for the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:
The call to governance has most often been traditionally understood in terms of humanity's entitlement to rule over creation and its creatures as we see fit, doing with and taking from it what we will so that our own needs, and often desires, are accommodated with unremitting precedence. Because of this flawed and hugely disastrous assumption, God's elemental intention for our governance has been grossly neglected. His will was, and remains, that we would not be self-focused dominators or oppressors of creation in any respect, but that we would be humble and compassionate stewards of all that he has made and forever retains providence over. I have found, however, that there is an ever-broadening and perhaps nearly unanimous consensus in recent evangelical understanding that the mandates to "rule" and "subdue," even the traditional "have dominion" (KJV), need to be understood in terms of stewardship and caring for creation, with the notions of modesty and service, tending and nurturing which this guiding paradigm contributes to our conception of rulership and administration.
Ben's research and that of other Christian animal welfare advocates underscores a clear truth revealed throughout the bible, starting on page 1 and stated over seven times in Genesis alone: God made the animals and saw that it was good.
As with so many other modern problems, the bible does not spell out precisely what we are to do about shark finning. Nevertheless, to disregard the evidence that we are to be responsible stewards of God's creation, which includes "the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems" would be a sin and a shame. The biodiversity of the sea -= from the sleek mako and the uncommon hammerhead to the formidable whale shark and even the misunderstood and maligned great white -- presents striking specimens of God's handiwork. These are all the inspiration that I need to protect them.
But an important question still remains. How do we translate good intentions into meaningful results?
What You Can Do
This issue, like so many other tragedies in our world, may be too big for any one of us to take on, but we can make an important difference by lending our support to those on the front lines. Here are several very worthy campaigns and resources to follow:
Regarding legislation, here's what I've learned so far. We cannot stop demand but we can cut off supply, each one of us in our own corner of the world. In January 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act into law to close the loopholes of the 2000 Shark Finning Prohibition Act. At the state level, Hawaii became the first state to ban the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins, effective on July 1, 2011. Similar laws have been enacted in the states of Washington, Oregon and California, and in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
For my part, I am using this opportunity to get involved politically to initiate legislation in Texas, where over 200 restaurants still serve shark fin soup. If you have an interest in exploring this issue for your state, I invite you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to help support your efforts, too.
by Ben DeVries
By now there's a good chance you've heard some news of the awful events which took place in Central Ohio in late October. Terry Thompson, previously convicted of animal cruelty and other criminal charges, set 50-plus animals free from his private exotic animal collection at Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, including lions, leopards, bears, wolves, primates and 18 endangered Bengal tigers. Thompson then tragically took his own life, and 49 of the free-roaming animals were killed by local police, naturally untrained to deal with such a crisis involving so many foreign and dangerous animals.
You can get a good overview of Thompson's history with animals and Ohio's lax legislation with respect to exotic animal possession, and failure to require Thompson to relinquish his collection, in a CNN.com article and accompanying video "Friend: Animal farm owner under stress."
I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a few meaningful reflections written from a specifically Christian worldview, including two from friends and contributors to our blog.
From Karen Swallow Prior and Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog comes "Exotic Animals and Kingdom Ethics," and this well-stated preview:
This is not an argument for an absolutist position against all human enjoyment and use of animals. I don't believe God's call for human stewardship of or dominion over his creation is quite so black and white. ... Rather, responsible stewardship requires wisdom, discernment, adaptability, and most of all love"love for the Creator first and, flowing from that, love for his creation.
And , pastor Jeff Munroe wrote a post for ThinkChristian titled "Dominion, Destruction and the Exotic Animals of Ohio," including these poignant lines:
We often hurt the very things God has entrusted to our care"we hurt the earth, we hurt each other, we hurt ourselves and we hurt the animals we share this planet with. The destruction of those great animals"animals that bear testimony to the wonder and variety of God as creator"is yet another sign of humanity's failings.
Ben DeVries (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School '08) founded Not One Sparrow, a Christian voice for animals after completing his capstone project on a biblical-theological foundation for animal welfare at Trinity. He also blogs at With Those Who, a journal of empathy, and lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin with his wife Cheryl, two-year-old son Jadon and three adopted cats.
by Liz Jakimow
originally posted Sunday, August 7, 2011
Most people would be aware that on 22 July, Anders Behring Breivik set off bombs in government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people, and then went on a shooting spree at a camp of the Workers' Youth League, killing 69 people. But there was another attack in Norway that you may not be aware of. Last Friday, a polar bear attacked a youth group, injuring four people and killing 17-year old, Horatio Chapple.
Both attacks bring up questions of sin.
Breivik, as an individual, sinned. There is no doubt about that. And when we ask questions about how God can let this happen, the short answer is that God did not want Breivik to murder anybody. But he gave all humans free will and Breivik used his free will to murder those people and disobey God.
Of course, this still brings up questions about why God didn't prevent Breivik using his free will to kill people. We can understand why a loving God would give humans free will. Yet it is often hard to understand why he continues to let them exercise that free will when its results can be so devastating.
But at another level we may well ask what responsibility society (or specific sections of society) has for this sin. Was he influenced by other people? Can we lay the blame (or at least part of it) at the door of religion or religious institutions? Should someone have been alerted to the possibility of him harming someone from his postings on the internet? Was there anything in his background that could have contributed to his state of mind? Or do we just pass him off as an isolated madman?
And quite frequently, it is when the blame may be placed on those things that we hold dear that we are most likely to say it is solely the individual's fault.
So what does all this have to do with polar bears? Well as with the Breivik terrorist attacks, the polar bear attack was not part of God's plan. And the reason why things do not happen on earth according to God's plan is because sin has entered it.
So again, we need to ask questions about whose sin contributed to the polar bear attack. Unlike humans, polar bears are not given free will. So we can not say it was the polar bear's sin. It can not make individual choices and is not accountable for his actions.
Another answer is that it was Adam and Eve's sin. God made the world good. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin entered the world, bringing death and disease with it.
And certainly I believe that. Many people are attacked and killed by animals. And sometimes we can look to human actions for their cause. Other times, it just seems the way the world is. But the way the world is is not the way the world was meant to be. And I believe the reason for that is that sin affects the whole world.
However, we cannot blame that just on Adam and Eve. After original sin, God says the land is cursed for their disobedience (Genesis 3:17). But verses such as Leviticus 26:25, Deuteronomy 29:23-25, Jeremiah 2:14-17, 9:12-14, 44:22, Ezekiel 33:26-29, Micah 7:13 and Zechariah 7:12-14 show that the land continues to suffer because of human sin. This is really the subject for another post. But I do want to draw attention to the possibility that this may account for many animal attacks. If any type of death is due to original sin, then surely death of humans by animals (as well as death of animals) may be caused by our continuing disobedience.
The danger in considering this is that we don't see it as anything that can be changed. It may not be the way the world is meant to be, but it is the way the world is (at least until Christ's return). There will always be sin in the world and therefore there will always be consequences for the land (including plants, animals and people).
While this may be true, it does not mean we need not ask questions about whether human sin was directly or indirectly responsible for such things as the polar bear attack. While sin in general terms has consequences for the land, specific sins impact the land in a very real way. As Christians, we can not just say this is the way the world is. We must acknowledge our part in making this world the way it is, rather than the way God meant it to be. And that acknowledgement must be followed by repentance and a turning away from that sin.
Polar bear attacks have been on the increase in recent years. The polar bears need to go further afield to find food, thereby coming into contact with humans more frequently. The polar bear that attacked Chapple was significantly underweight and starving. Photographer, Andy Rouse, has argued that they are desperate for food, which makes them dangerous. He also said the climate change effects were driving them into more populated areas. (Read about his comments here)
s this our fault? If we take God seriously when he says our sin affects the land, then we must answer yes. But we must not stop there. Instead, we must ask the difficult questions about what humans may have done that led to increased polar-bear attacks. We must ask whether changing our climate may cause further incidents that do not reflect God's plan. We must also be prepared to accept that the things we hold dear may be contributing to the problem. Then we must acknowledge our sin and repent of it.
re-posted with permission
Liz lives in Australia and is currently completing a Bachelor of Theology. She is particularly interested in ecotheology and the connections between nature and spirituality.
by Lowell Bliss
When's the last time you considered the dung beetle? ("If ever!" you chortle.) Imagine my surprise, within a short period of time, to stumble across two references to this unique insect - one from Wendell Berry in a speech at the Land Institute, and the other from a humble African pastor, half a world away. Both comments speak to the grandeur and wisdom of a God who would create such a bug. Berry was speaking of changes in native Kentucky:
Another disappearance, also important, is that of the black dung beetles that we knew as tumble bugs. Throughout my childhood and I think until the late 40s or early 50s you would find these interesting creatures rolling their dung balls along the dusty paths of any cow pasture. They were burying the cow manure in which they laid their eggs and on which their larvae fed. Why did they disappear? Though I had a sort of theory, I wanted scientific authority and so I presented my question to an entomologist in the College of Agriculture at the Universityof Kentucky. I've been pondering his answer for the last thirty or so years. "I don't know anything about them, but I can tell you this: they have no economic significance." Well, that answer showed how conventionally submissive science can be to economic significance. Also how conventionally economic significance could be equated with already known economic significance. Also how conventionally indifferent agricultural science could be to ecological significance. Since then I have found nobody who can tell me why the tumblebugs have disappeared. My own unscientific guess is that they disappeared because of some medication we were using on the cattle, probably a wormer. But how can the disappearance of an insect that buries manure be economically insignificant? Again, I'm reduced to an unscientific guess, but as I remember, the departure of the tumblebugs more or less coincided with an epidemic increase in the population of so-called face flies which breed in manure piles. Face flies in addition to their pestering of farm animals are a major cause of pinkeye in cattle which in turn can cause blindness and which requires expensive treatment. If I'm guessing right, the tumblebugs themselves were economically significant and so was their disappearance.
Bishop Machokoto of Zimbabwe is the former president of the Association of African Earthkeeping Churches. He once began a sermon at a tree-planting ceremony with this opening reference to dung beetles:
Peace to all of you! All things that you see here today were created by God. He knows why he created them. We have no right to kill anything created by God, not even an ant. Let me give you an example, that of a dung beetle. It is a very good creature. God placed it in a world where there are no toilets. This beetle is not lazy at all. It collects the faeces of human beings and the droppings of animals, then buries them in the soil. So God created it for a specific purpose, that of clearing the filth and making the soil fertile.
While Wendell Berry"arguably the greatest environmental mind of the West"could only wax nostalgically about the dung beetle, Bishop Machokoto had already honored the dung beetle by placing it in the upper usages for African earthkeeping worship and ethics. I doubt that either man would travel so far from their "place" - whether the Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe or Hardin County, Kentucky - but wouldn't you love to eavesdrop on a conversation where Berry asks Machokoto, "What do dung beetles mean to you?"
Lowell Bliss is the director of EdenVigil, promoting and facilitating environmental missions among those least-reached with the Gospel. This blog posting is adapted from a chapter on contextualization in his forthcoming book, Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees.
by Brian Webb
I recently read an excellent book by Professor Laura Hobgood-Oster called The Friends We Keep, in which she challenges believers to examine our relationship with animals through a deliberately Christian lens. By addressing such issues as their role as food, pets, endangered species, and in sport, she reminds us of the many varied ways that animals are tied into our human experience. However, more than simply recalling our interconnected relationship she provides ample support for a Christian ethic of compassion and care for all God's creatures. This call to compassion delves into scripture, Christian tradition, and contemporary issues to support Hobgood-Oster's claim that Christianity is not only good news for humans, but for animals too.
I was particularly impacted by her discussion of Christian hospitality and it's possible implicatins for human-animal interactions. Remarking that Christianity is essentially a "religion of hospitality," Hobgood-Oster approaches the topic by first addressing the issue of ownership.
I suspect most of us will immediately think of ourselves as the hosts rather than the guests; the host is the one in control of the situation. Yet the earth does not belong to human beings. It is not a home that we own. Even the most traditional of Christian interpretations of life acknowledges that the creation belongs to the Creator, not to humans. It is God who offers hospitality, even to humans. (114-115)
This humbling reminder of God's ownership compels us to reconsider our role in the host/guest relationship. Since the earth actually belongs to God (Psalm 24:1), since He created the animals and called them good (Gen 1:20-25), and since we are actually the guests here (1 Peter 1:17), we have no choice but to honor the Owner by mirroring his hospitality toward all other guests"be they human or otherwise.
Biblical hospitality, unlike our modern (or rather, "western") conception of the term, focuses on providing for the needs "of the least of these." As Hobgood-Oster notes, while hospitality was always central to ancient Mediterranean society, Jesus radically expanded the traditional notion of hospitality by eliminating the expectation of reciprocity (119). Biblical hospitality is selfless, generous, proactive, and does not expect anything in return.
While the main thrust of Christian hospitality ought, quite naturally, be directed toward humans, there is good Biblical support for the case that hospitality can, and perhaps should, be directed toward animals as well (see Gen 24:15-20, Psalm 104 and Matt. 6:26). If the practice of Christian virtue is spiritually beneficial and inherently God-honoring, then why shouldn't we practice hospitality in every way possible, including toward animals?
The Friends We Keep is filled with examples of such hospitality. From adopting abandoned pets, to informing ourselves about what and how we eat, to standing up for endangered wildlife, there are many ways that we can begin acting out our faith by showing hospitality toward God's creatures.
In his classic work, Pollution and Death of Man, Francis Schaeffer notes that while we are different from animals in that we alone were created in the image of God, we are also the same as animals in that we were likewise created. Showing hospitality toward animals reflects God's image in us because (despite being FAR above us) He first demonstrated hospitality through his love toward us. We have the opportunity to mirror this love (on a much smaller scale, to be sure) by demonstrating compassion toward our fellow created beings.
re-posted with permission
Brian serves as the Director of Communications for Blessed Earth and is passionate about helping people connect their faith with God's call to care for his creation. You can follow his work at the Blessed Earth website.
by Alexei Laushkin
A group of 24 researchers have issued a new report concluding that a significant decline in apex predators (lions, sharks, and sea otters) is having a major impact on the Earth's ecosystems. A few highlights from the coclusions of the report
The study was doe from 22 institues across six countries.