Good News for Animals and All Creation: What Does it Really Mean
By Maynard S. Clark - 3 Aug 2011
"Religious vegetarians" (who are minorities in faith communities) don't have religiously visionary congregations. Historically, the faithful have ALWAYS gathered in congregations. Some vision of that fact and that need could be developed ecumenically, but its practice likely should be unfolded among the faithful. Like many other efforts to reform the faith from the inside out, few Christian leaders have been applauded as religious leaders, but a number of vegetarians HAVE BEEN those leaders and reformers: Wesley, Booth, POSSIBLY Eddy and White, et al.
As with long e-mails, few of the brilliant books are read, so their contributions to proletarian reformation are (sadly) minimal (unless their vision is tediously spelled out in great detail). Though an individual effort, some structural elements of Frank's Newsletter show insight into elements we need in a congregational life - including a time of hope that addresses the suffering of animals - which element he heads as "good news" for animals. In this newsletter context, they are news items; in the broader scope of history, the meaning of small victories is uncertain.
Frank Hoffman's periodic Newsletter includes a section called "Good News" for animals is indeed publishing what we might CALL (horizontal, this-worldly) "good news" (good fortune, good luck, the unfolding of beneficent or fortuitous developments).
A PROGRAMMATIC approach to a congregation of "well wishers" could have shared leadership running something inspirational and sections of the periodic (weekly?) program celebrating the good fortune (e.g. "good news") for ALL animals.
So, now, what we often see on LISTS is "good news for ONE animal" or "bad news for one animal" (rescue Fluffy, pray for Fluffy, etc.). But IF CVA and other 'reformed' faith groups are about something akin to what for Christians (or those in the 'Christian shadow') might term "good news", what would a periodic LISTING of "good news for ALL animals" look like.
How important or transcendent is the 'news' (more like an advertisement or self-serving promotion) of some new vegan dessert or highly-processed food. That's really more of a selfish indulgence for one or more of us. We might LIKE that in the pursuit of our ethical commitments of a world of noninjury for all. But what would the "good news" BE?
If more animals are killed today than ever before - and they're killed for purposes that few nonvegetarians would find defensible (trivial taste, culling herds, animal-based research THAT OUGHT BY NOW to have been enabled with greater progress in the development of nonanimal research methods, Lady Gaga type personalities that seem more drug-crazed than serious contenders for our loyalties, and environmental disasters, etc.), then what "good news" is there?
Now lots of folks under our symbol systems - the flags we carry, the backgrounds and outlooks we exemplify - may not believe Providence ensures a just outcome from the ongoing flow of tragedies.
In high school, I recall an interim minister asking the question "why do we have in this congregation the people we have?" His answer was that Christian commitments to God's (not OUR) unconditional love was attractive to very needy persons, and while we're all emotionally and spiritually needy, the neediest among us may NOT be attractive or appealing or endearing to us. But these are the ones God loves.
Nonetheless, in sharing good news for ALL creation -
a Word about God's love for US is relevant to everyone who seeks it, but a "world going to Hell in a handbasket" is not the foundation for "good news" - nor is "proclaiming it" much more than telling about the news.
So, where is the Victory?
I could see some congregation - and I think that cross-cultural interdenominational (or nondenominational) reflective groups (we have those in every academic divinity school, like the one I attended at Harvard) should be able to think out the ELEMENTS (with each received "tradition" of liturgy or worship or congregating or sharing or reflection or sharing-of-experience) which could allow creative introductions (just like the periodic selection of congregational and special music).
An electronic (online) newsletter could have some MUSIC in it - perhaps with a MIDI file for listening while one sings along with the printed words. Ein Feste Berg Ist Unser Gott tells about "the body they may kill; God's truth abideth still" (for anyone who can believe that). I mean, really, it's really - REALLY - pretty bad out there (where we see what's happening to every species, including our own - comfortable as WE are, for whatever accidental and socially constructed reasons that is that way!
A pensive section on the status of God's creatures in the oppressive rule of (perhaps) Satan-worshipping homo sapiens (who love their own inner archetype and seldom if ever really love the Creator - while serving the power-gripping and highly-destructive "Evil One") - self-absorbed, short-sighted, inherently foolish, overtly destructive, often intentionally malevolent, etc. - a far MORE real analysis of destructive and self-destructive homo sapiens than the watered-down exhortation to us alone (sheepish enough to be here; too weak to do much about anything that's really a terror to good).
So, where's the leadership. A template COULD be set up to help visionaries move into a shared role of vision OR competently, capably SEARCHING for hope and right direction, thanking God (or whatever Powers that be) that we were fortunate enough to be shown how veganism clears up much of our moral confusion in our struggle to try to be good, as fallible as we are.
So where is leadership? Congregationalists of all kinds (small "c" - not confined to the UCC) do search for capable religious leadership for their time; hierarchical denominations have mechanisms for moving those designated 'leaders' into "open positions" (and the congregation then struggles with what their presence with them means to them - to those who were their first).
Sopcial life is always something we can discuss, but is there EVER - REALLY - good news for ALL Creation (that isn't just the personal possibility of going vegan and declaring TRUCE with the Creation)?
An octogenarian named Harold Kamping of Family Radio in Oakland, California, gained visibility yet again when he recently got the secular news media to discuss his prediction of the imminent return of Christ - like REALLY SOON - and he set a date - another date later than the early missed date that the returning Christ didn't keep (around 1992?). Whatever one thinks about Harold Kamping's timekeeping or predictions, he made several comments we may want to consider: "There's no such thing as political, economic, psychological, or sociological salvation." Indeed, collapsing transcendence into these respective forms of immanence is something much modern religion has tried or claimed to do.
Without any REALLY good news (at least SOMETHING that could MEANINGFULLY be called 'salvation' from the evil grips that horrify and degrade and murder and structurally oppress both animal life AND the entire Creation, what viable form of congregation can we who LOVE life and the lives of others find helpful, meaningful, and morally acceptable to support and continue?
Maybe Frank's newsletter helps us begin to set out a template or even to ask some questions (such as "What is 'good news' for animals?" or "What IS 'good news for ALL Creation'?). But I have NO idea what congregational association would be with even 'a vegan pastor' in the preaching station (pulpit). What MESSAGE would move me to drive eco-destructively over a hundred miles to hear someone 'as a sampler'? Don't know.
We have books, and even our friends the Christian fundamentalists have told us that congregational involvement is NOT the core of Christian teaching; Bible reading is the source.
So, if there's any MEANINGFUL way that one can USE the word "Christian" [or "Islamic" or "Jewish" or Hindu] today - the word "Christian" I find MORE problematic today than using other words because of its philosophies of history related directly to God - I'd like to see the leadership who can deliver to spiritual hungry congregations week after week after week after week after week - year after year after year after year - and to have a reliable SOURCE for researching that information and inspiration.
So far, I've not FOUND much real "GOOD NEWS" that is more than our OWN personal transformation. Curiously, that's what lots of more conservative religious leaders have been saying for a very long time; the historical problem is far too big for us to solve, even with our six sigma and strategic planning ("organizational engineering"), technological innovations, astonishing developments of knowledge and understanding and the broad and increasingly-correlated expert commitments to translate the production of knowledge into social and ecological improvements that better human living - and hopefully animal lives, also; etc.
Who on this listserv has NOT been (at least) situatioally depressed? And for what? Likely, it's the classical problem of pain and suffering, problems that to us look easily resolved IF everyone else did ONLY the right things, by our understanding, and none of the wrong things, however much they may want to indulge in what the Old Book termed 'sin'.
But to whatever extent we're covertly PART of the problem, we (in one type of denial or another) refuse to acnkowlege that we're intertwined profoundly (and by our own powers inextricably) with that matrix of contextual destruction - the web of human action is profoundly and destructively engaged with the prior web of ecological existence.
Is there a regular gathering place (other than the annual NAVS Vegetarian Summerfest)? Do we really WANT a spiritual home for ethical vegans? There are different kinds, and other than sharing a service (vegan food), do we have much truck with one another when push comes to shove?
You know, many corporations have tried merging or combining service operations. Sometimes it works (saves processing costs), and sometimes it doesn't (order processers may not understand the complex array of many different TYPES of processing they need to do; same with production - GM reduces the number of body types for its different models, so production can shift within minutes from Cadillac to Chevrolet - be reprogramming things from a computer - then the assembly-line workers start making Chevrolets after taking their breaks, before which they had been building Cadillacs). There's a reason for that shift in production. But when vegetarians get together, we depend on the same kind of "information flow" and "food flow" and much more. Anyone who BELIEVES in particularism isn't going to get her or his needs met by that.
So again, how does the congregational experience look?
Is it premature to discuss such 'news snippets' in these grand terms? Is it really suitable to play on words (or with words) in a faith context? Religious radicals have done that; I think of magazines like Radical Religion and what Cecil Williams did at Glide Methodist Church in San Francisco - semantic games at times, but religious? Give me a break! In this case, symbol systrems were BENT to the causes - causes which could have survived quite well outside the incubating phoenix of a decaying urban church or the symbol system the writers in Radical Religion thought belonged to Appalachia, who deserved Arlo Guthrie-type community organizing.
Social revolution at hand? I wonder. Silently we might applaud if it did emerge - as seemingly from nowhere, but are we going about building it for the 7 billion humans alive today? In the words of a now-long-deceased stepfather, "I think not!"
Indeed, as Frank points out, one COULD say that "The Lord's Heart Aches Too!"
As far as prophetic leadership, I'd suggest that getting a GUEST writer to address the state of the vegan community (for each issue of the newsletter) could help to provide the kind of visionary leadership that we want and hunger to find. These voices NEED to KNOW the movement and point us in broad generalized directions that have hope and promise for living, not just action items and campaigns. These insights should understand HISTORY and our time, not just our problems. They should give strategic guidance, not just familiarity and recognition.
As far as the faithful having an unbelieving custodian (in this case, the Foundation employee; in many cases, the building custodian), that topic is open for conversation (but not for fighting by an employee who may not appreciate the struggles of a faith community with its faith).