I think all of you have heard about the chickens. For the past two and a half years Carolyn and I have kept laying hens—5 Black Australorps to be exact. Recently we had an addition to our flock: 17 Orpington and Wyandotte chicks are currently growing fast in our garage. At nearly four weeks they’re about done with their heat lamp and anxious to get outside. A new mobile coop for these birds is currently under construction!
As I’ve told some of you about the new chicks I get a very interesting reaction. At first everyone is excited, ooing and awwing over the pictures of the adorable little chicks Carolyn holds in her hands. But then the excited looks turn to worry. “What are you going to do with all of these chickens, pastor? You certainly don’t need that many eggs…”
Of course, if you’ve heard our names for the current hens, you know what the plan is. General Tso, Parmesian, Tika Masala, Mole and Cutlet have been wonderful egg producers for us. But after three years their egg production is about to hit its peak and begin to decline. Just as their names suggest, and for many of the new “nuggets” as well, many of these chickens will soon be dinner.
Now unless you grew up on a farm, this whole situation may seem a bit morbid. Eating meat is one thing, but why eat an animal you’ve grown fond of and even named (albeit ironically)? For my part, I wholeheartedly agree with the view of my college environmental philosophy professor, Dr. John Jenson. Dr. Jenson, unlike most environmental philosophers, felt it was ethical to eat meat. However, he felt that those who eat meat should regularly have the experience of slaughtering what they consume. His rationale was simple: meat we buy in the grocery store looks nothing like the animal that gave its life so that we might be fed. We must honor and appreciate that sacrifice as well as have a better connection and relationship with our food and how it is produced.
Sacrifice is not something we like to acknowledge in our society. Fr. Richard Rohr writes with great insight, “Death and resurrection is lived out at every level of the cosmos, but only one species thinks it can avoid it — the human species.” With our adorable little chickens, it’s all a bit unfortunate that I would talk about their coming place in our freezer, isn’t it? And yet, I think our (and I include my own) hesitation about slaughtering animals for meat hits at a central reality of our sinfulness: we run away from and deny the need for sacrifice. We want delicious chicken salad, but we don’t want a cute little critter to die, either. It’s similar to our hope of inventing our way out of the quagmire that is global climate change; we want temperatures to stop climbing, but we still want to drive and heat and consume as much as ever. But we can’t have it both ways. Either we must sacrifice by not eating meat, or an animal must be sacrificed so that we can be fed.
In our own lives, when we struggle with sin and our shortcomings, we’d like an easy solution that involves little pain on our part but instant reward. And yet we need only look to the cross of Christ to realize that God’s grace does not come easy. As Bonhoeffer put it, it is “costly,” not “cheap.” But thanks be to God that Christ has endured the cross for our sake. Jesus died but was then raised —offering us that costly and life-changing grace. Because of this grace we havethe strength to live differently and with blessed difficulty. To make hard choices for good; to confront evil with love; to dare to sacrifice even when it means our own pain.
All this being said, if it turns out I can’t go through with the chicken “project” this fall, I may have 17 hens looking for a good home. We’ll have to see if Wilbraham passes that ordinance…
To sum it all up — when it comes to food and the sacrifice of human hands and of critters alike, I think Martin Luther’s table blessing says it best: The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season; You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Lord God, heavenly father, bless us and these your gifts which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Grace and peace,