The Old School, part 1

Garden of the GodsI never thought the sight of cows grazing in a field would nearly make me weep. I never thought a lot of things.

The first four days of this week I spent in Colorado Springs, attending an orientation of sorts for new ministers in the Christian & Missionary Alliance. The impact these days had on my spirit is a topic for another post. But I’ll say this… that I never thought I would see such humility, gentleness and passion in the hearts of those in positions of nationwide denominational leadership. They just want to see God work in us. That’s all.

The evening before I left Springfield for this conference, my wife and I watched a life-changing documentary called Food, Inc. Rather than describe it in detail, I will just beg you to watch it. It won’t be easy… the imagery, the information, and the challenge presented by this film are all very, very difficult to digest. What hit me hardest was to see the way we have reduced sentient beings… cattle, chickens, etc… to commodities of the lowest possible worth. We have rejected all notion of pain and suffering, and everything we’ve ever known about the animal kingdom, both from zoology and common sense, to turn a host of God’s creatures into raw material which exists only to be ruthlessly manipulated by the capitalistic system.

I saw scenes of baby chicks handled with no more care than a rubber ball, pulled out of a drawer, grabbed up en masse and tossed down a chute. I saw adult chickens genetically engineered to mature in half the time, and to twice the size, and unable to move more than a step or two under their own power, constantly falling into their own waste in a room kept perpetually dark. I saw cattle, likewise, standing knee deep in their own manure, and shoulder-to-shoulder for acres on end, and pigs shrieking in horror as they are thrown around by massive machinery, capable of killing them hundreds at a time.

I wish these scenes were the exception, but they are the rule.  A small handful of corporations now control the vast majority of our meat production, and this is how they operate. I wish that someone would speak up who could prove me wrong.

I grew up seeing fields and fields of grazing cattle, both in my native Oklahoma, and when visiting my grandparents in Nebraska. My grandparents were ranchers, and they have always farmed and raised cattle the same way… namely, the way it’s always been done. Certainly, a few technological conveniences have been added along the way, but the concept is the same, and the food is as healthy for the body, and the conscience, as it’s ever been.

I loved visiting my grandparents ranch. But I’d never been moved to tears by the sight until recently, when I was shown so clearly and so grotesquely how our race has lost its way. The similarity does not escape me between our two pets, with their loving dependence on their masters, and the livestock who want to go about their placid lives, and trust us to treat them well. It doesn’t escape me that God’s first assignment to humanity was for Adam to name the animals, as a sign of respect for their existence.

One of the activities of this week’s conference was an outdoor concert at a ranch near Garden of the Gods. Before the concert began, a new friend (who’d also seen Food, Inc.) and I strolled around to see the place, and stumbled across a chicken coop. And the same emotion came back to me as these chickens (with two peacocks thrown in) pecked at their food, sat around, ran back and forth, and made a happy little ruckus. This is what we’ve known from the beginning. And this is what we’ve abandoned, on a global scale, for the sake of a $1 McChicken sandwich. That had better be one damn good sandwich, because it’s cost us a hell of a lot more than a dollar.

All these emotions… all these convictions in my mind have distilled to an obsession with one fact: that we have lost our way. There was a path carved out since ancient times, by hands far greater than our own, and we have abandoned it. We have scriptures, to give one example, on our shelves that have been relegated to a position of patronizing obsolescence in our minds, no more relevant than an 18th century map of navigable German waterways. We have become so addicted to the new, that the old is rejected simply for its age.

These convictions have compelled me to share a four-week message series at the Front Porch called The Old School, from September 5th through the 26th. After going through many of the thoughts recounted above for an introductory message, I want to celebrate the three main holidays of the Jewish Fall Festivals with you: Rosh Hoshanah (Sep 12), Yom Kippur (Sep 19) and Sukkot (Sep 26.)

It would appear that humanity is actually coming around to an understanding of the truths killed by modernism and the mechanization of our society. Organic and socially responsible foods are increasing in popularity, as are free-trade and “green” products. In increasing measure, we have begun to discover the old paths, and clear them of the brush that’s obscured them for so long. But if we have benefited at all from this enlightenment, we should ask ourselves, what else is there? What other ancient paths are there still to be discovered? And what kind of future is possible for the society that finds them again?

I hope that, during this coming month, you’ll help me to answer that question.

Read The Old School, part 2

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