Thursday, April 17, 2014

Toward a Proper Condemnation of Cruelty to Animals

Here's something that occurred to me about four years ago. I saved it to work on for a bit, and never had time, so here goes some preliminary thoughts that will hopeful have more substantial permutations in years to come. 

I posit that:

Cruelty to animals is wrong not primarily because of animal nature but because of human nature.

Humans were intended to care for animals. (As part of having dominion. Genesis 1:26-28) Husbandry is rooted in our nature.

Animals are inherently less valuable than humans. (Humans alone have the Imago Dei. Genesis 1:27. God demands a reckoning for man's life, but eating animals is allowed, post flood. Genesis 9:3-6)

When a human acts with cruelty toward an animal, he does violence to his own humanity. He does not degrade the animal so much as he degrades himself. To act cruelly toward an animal is to act contrary to man's nature (how man was created to be, "nature" as distinct from the fallen "condition"). It is to act as an animal, with no regard to rationality or to man's final end (the end sought is a feeling of power or retribution, which, though momentarily satisfying, do not lead to true happiness).

Thus, when we condemn the cruel man, we ought not to focus on "animal rights." An animal does not have natural rights, only legal ones. What is under consideration is not the rights of the animal, but the actions of the man. The morality of those actions has less to do with the animal than which the character of the man. The man has shown himself to be defective in his character; he has acted less than human. He has inflicted pain without cause or reason. His action is reprehensible because it harms a creature he was intended to care for; not only was a creature harmed, but he harmed it, and in so doing, he harmed his own character and violated his own humanity.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A New Year

It's been almost a year since my last post. Who knew the days could fly so fast? The Baby is now a Toddler, eager to get his hands on or into everything in reach. As we anticipate the next child, hubby and I continue to plug away at the seemingly endless routine of work, meals, child-care, clean-up, and the "adult" activities of health insurance, auto insurance, mortgage, electrical and propane bills, car needs, home repair and maintenance - responsibilities we were blissfully unaware of a mere three years ago. When we manage to surface for a few breaths of free time, the question inevitably comes up again: What are we going to do with ourselves when we grow up?

But that's really an ingenuous question. We are grown up (mostly), we know it, and that's just the issue. We no longer have the luxury of endless career searching and unencumbered voyages of self-discovery. We have discovered our place and purpose in the context of our marriage and growing family. But we are hardly closer to discovering (or landing a job in) our niches in the economic sector. The priceless ties of marriage and expanding family urge the primacy of bringing in sufficient income. Thus confronted, we realize that the lurking suspicions of our youth were right all along: "Do what you love" is bad educational advice financially unless you want to be single or childless. I ended up entering the nursing profession because I wasn't sure what I wanted, but knew this field would marry some of my interests with gainful employment. I'm glad I did. But how does the adult who doesn't have a clear career pathway (like nursing) laid out discover and enter a field which will (at least minimally) fulfill him (or at least not drive him crazy) and allow him to provide sufficient income for his family?

Any number of suggestions (helpful and otherwise) have been offered by well-meaning family and friends, and I am not fishing for more. I am stating a dilemma. The progress of discernment and progression toward goal achievement is slowed by the constant urgency of the above-mentioned family, home, and job responsibilities. So, it's not difficult to opt for the status quo, even when the work-situation status quo is less than satisfying. It's a job after all, there's some money coming in, and we have each other, our little family, and plenty of responsibilities to occupy time outside of work.

(On a similar note, we've also slowly realized the truth of another suspicion. Namely, that despite all the stress placed on applications, resumes, portfolios, cover-letters, certifications, and extracurriculars, hiring is largely based on who you know. Connections with the right people mean everything in a competitive job market, making entry into a particular area of work the most difficult hurdle to jump. )

But enough on searching for meaningful employment...We are happy, if often tired. Our marriage has been blessed abundantly. Child 1 remains fairly healthy other than some asthmatic tendencies (and did I mention a size that's off the charts?) Child 2 arrives (God-willing) in 7 weeks. I'm back in school part-time, trying to finish a Bachelor's in Nursing while continuing to work full-time. Hubby is juggling child-care, independent studies, home-chores, and a part-time night job. Our home is never completely clean, orderly, or repaired, but what of that? It's comfortable for us.

And our families continue to be nothing but supportive. Without their friendship, love,emergency transportation, and babysitting, we would not be able to function as smoothly or sanely as we have. For all that, we are thankful.

So on to 2014. The year of "I don't know what we're going to do, but here it comes so we'll figure it out." This year could look remarkably like the last one, or a whole lot different. How's that for profound. ;)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Martyrdom of the Aged.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)  (John 21:18-19a, ESV)

"The Martyrdom of St. Peter"

Jesus speaks to Peter. From church tradition we receive the outcome of His prediction: Peter was martyred, crucified upside down, and his death strengthened and inspired generations of Christians. 

But can we understand this word of Christ in a wider sense? 

In my profession I provide nursing care for an ever-aging population. The majority of my patients are over 65 years old, disability is the norm rather than the exception, and deathbed care is not new to me. When I hear these words of Jesus, in my mind's eye I see and hear my patients:

"I used to be able to dress myself! I'm so frustrated!"
"I made a mess, I couldn't control it. I'm so ashamed."
"I wish I wasn't such a bother to you." or "I don't want to bother you nurses."
"I don't want you to turn me/change me/wash me/put me in a chair/lay me down in bed."
"I want to go to _______, but nobody will take me."
"My husband (son/sister/etc) died and I can't attend the funeral because the doctors say I have to stay in the hospital."
"I want to go home."
"I don't want to live in a facility."
"I'm crying because I feel like a baby. I used to feed myself and now others feed me."

I hear statements similar to these from my patients on a daily basis. And while we could talk about the proper responses of personal care and medical staff to these crying hearts, I want to take a step back and discuss the cross laid upon the aging Christian. 

When we think of Christian martyrs, we think of men, women and children who were killed because of their confession of Christianity. Death is understood to have occurred.  But originally, a martyr was simply someone who bore witness. (Derivation from Greek 'martur')
Roman Martyrs

In the West today, relatively few Christians are killed for their testimony to Jesus. Those that are, are in turn blessed with the joys of heaven and an early release from suffering here (though those who survive them surely mourn). Most Western Christians live to old age and die a "natural" death. 

But for a Christian, there is always the call to bear witness and there is no escaping martyrdom. 

Our elderly brothers and sisters carry a heavy and often unappreciated cross. Many of them bear disabilities, pain, isolation, weakness and dependency virtually silently, and often far more patiently than we of the younger generation bear even minor wrinkles in our schedules. As their bodies deteriorate, these saints are often marginalized from the life of the Christian congregation. They fall ill, we miss them in church for a few Sundays, we offer their names in the weekly prayer, occasionally we hear an update about how they are doing. But how often does the average parishioner take the time to visit or send a note of encouragement to a home-bound or ailing fellow congregant? (I'm as guilty as the next person. I think, "I'm too busy... maybe next week; they probably have lots of visitors and cards.") As I nurse, I see patients who do have lots of visitors and flowers filling the room. But I see far more people who have next to nobody, who are bored out of their skulls, who are frightened and who crave human conversation, warmth, and understanding on a scale that hard-pressed staff simply do not have the time or energy to give. 

With no human presence to turn to for comfort, in weakness and debility, in an unfamiliar and harsh environment, stripped of personal possessions and pride, physically vulnerable and dependent on others for basic needs, these saints cling to Jesus. I have listened to hospitalized men and women tell of Jesus, sometimes eloquently, often simply and matter-of-factly, at times even in the grip of dementia. They bear witness in their suffering, despite their suffering. 

Do not think that the trials of aging do not sorely press a Christian. This is a time when the inevitability of death becomes ever more real, and, with the clock slowly ticking away the lonely days, feelings of abandonment become harder push aside. Those aches you thought you had at 40 become magnified as your body becomes more debilitated, you lose mobility, and fewer distractions present themselves. 

What is pain, abandonment, emotional distancing and confinement but forms of torture to the human body and soul that were made for wholeness, community, love and freedom?

And to confess Christ in the face of torture is to be a martyr. 

Our saints, our fellow redeemed by Jesus' blood --  people you know -- are being martyred now in a hospital or nursing home near you:

They used to dress themselves with whatever clothing they wished, in any style they liked, and walk wherever they wanted to go. But now they stretch out their arms (or have their arms lifted by others) and others dress them. And others take them to places they do not want to be...

... and meanwhile, they hold to Christ. And as their bodies wear out and fade away, even on their deathbeds, they confess Jesus...

...and by this kind of death, they glorify God. 

Fellow Christian, we are on Jesus' road. We youngsters have just begun the trek. You know what cross has been laid upon your shoulders now, but the shadow of future you barely begin to feel. But Jesus knows and still he tells you to come. If you go where Jesus leads, you will not escape martyrdom. You will become tired. You will wear out. You will suffer. You will die. But even in weakness, in suffering and in death you will have Him and His peace. And beyond it all, eternal life. 

And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me." (John 21:19b, ESV)