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Save the Pigs

Some churches have the best locations. When I lived on the west coast I would gaze longingly at the sight of little churches with ocean views or in the heart of leafy green neighbourhoods with fruit stands and local markets and beaches nearby. When I’m in the Alberta Rockies, I often sigh plaintively at the sight of houses of God that dwell in the shadow of snow-capped mountain peaks. During my travels in Europe or South America or the Middle East, I frequently marveled at majestic cathedrals in historic cities or sturdy stone sanctuaries in quaint seaside towns or humble chapels in the midst of touristy cities devoted to more hedonistic pursuits. It would be so much easier to serve the Lord and his children in such impressive and inspiring surroundings, I often wistfully imagined.

My church, as it happens, is a stone’s throw from a meatpacking plant. No ocean vistas or mountain views or weighty history for me. I look out my window and see a boxy warehouse where pigs are slaughtered. Which isn’t especially majestic or inspiring. But it is, occasionally, mildly amusing. At least the road that passes in front of it is. There’s a woman who periodically sets up camp there to protest what’s going on inside those four uninspiring walls. She sits there at the side of the road, with jacked up Alberta-sized pickups roaring humourlessly by, with two signs. One indignantly proclaims, “1500 pigs killed here every day!” The other has a picture of a cute, innocent looking pig on it with a caption below pleading, “Save the Pigs!”

(Whenever I drive by, I wonder how much time this dear committed soul has spent with actual pigs. If she had grown up on a pig farm, as I did, and regularly experienced the delights of 100 kg pigs slamming obstinately into her knees, as I did, she might find them slightly less cute or innocent. But I digress…)

She was out there again yesterday, freezing at the side of the road, imploring passersby to reconsider their pork consumption. I was tempted to stop and talk to her. What kind of a person, I wondered, goes to the effort of finding a picture of a pig and making a sign and hauling it out to the side of a busy frigid highway to protest? Of all the things that one’s efforts could be spent in saving, why pigs?! I imagine her getting up in the morning, filling up her thermos full of coffee, assembling her piggy signs and her lawn chair, putting on her snow pants, mittens and balaclava, and marching off to do what she is conscience-bound to do. I’m sure she is convinced her cause is virtuous and just and urgent. For my part, I would rather just get up and have some bacon.

Of course the list of things that require saving could quite easily stretch into a rather long one. Save the pigs, certainly, but also the whales and seals and polar bears and turtles and ibexes and the Yangtze Finless Porpoise (so the World Wildlife Federation implores me). Save the wetlands and rivers and oceans from the endless human-engineered contaminants that we produce. Save the national parks from ignorant tourists and the mountains from redneck snowmobilers and off-highway-vehicle drivers. Save the media from fake news and save inconvenient truth from the biased mainstream media. Save our libraries and our schools. Save used bookstores and local restaurants and pubs and shops from the mercenary big chains. Save… ah, why don’t we just, for brevity’s sake, save the planet?

I’m still pondering last week’s gospel text, Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert. There’s a lot going on in the story. As with so much of scripture, we could keep peeling back the layers and keep encountering something new or provocative or instructive. But I’ve been thinking mostly about the three temptations Jesus refused.

Bread, spectacle, power.

It seems to me that human beings have always been uniquely terrible at resisting the pull of these three things. Our appetites routinely exceed our need. Oh boy, do they ever. We love the show and will do almost anything to be kept entertained and impressed. And power? Well, what really needs to be said? We have always loved to get our way, and to force others to bend to our will.

Jesus knew all of this, of course. He knew it in the wilderness, and he knew it as he went out to teach and heal and love and forgive and live and die and live again for the salvation of the world.

And he knows it still. He knows all about our voracious appetites. He knows that of all the things that require saving, we human beings are surely at the top of the list. Saved from our sins, from the evil one, from the spectre of death, from the time of trial. But also saved from ourselves. Saved from the hells we are so eminently capable of creating for our fellow humans and for the created world (I just watched Mel Gibson’s latest bloodbath, Hacksaw Ridge, last night, and was reminded anew of the grim horrors we humans are capable of unleashing). Saved from our rapacious lusts, from our small and selfish horizons, from our casual disdain for our neighbour, from our culpable love of bacon.

Saved from all the ways that we tend to bend away from the good, the true, and the beautiful. Saved from all that we want so wrongly and and saved for better things.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kevin K #

    Ryan, thanks for this. I appreciated the reflection. Reminded me of another similar protestor I came across a year and half ago…

    In the city I live there was a guy who walked around town during the last federal election with a sandwich board hung over his shoulders that read on the front and back “Stop Harper!” I’d see him walking all over town, and one day worked up the courage to go and hear his story. I was quite curios what possessed him to this particularly public and committed display of political opinion.

    Turns out he was a retired aircraft mechanic who was particularly upset about the government’s expenditures related to the F-35 fighter jet. He knew airplanes, and didn’t think we needed ones that fancy. His wife as also apparently tired of hearing him rant about it, and had said that if we wished to make his opinions on the topic known, he’d better find a place outsider their house to do it. So he walked around town with a Sandwich board.

    F-35s was not at all the reason I was expecting for his protest, but I was grateful for the chance to hear the whole story.

    Jesus, of course, does the saving, and I’m grateful for that. But perhaps the example of these protestors reminds us that we to may have to play a more active role to help “thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.” The sort of kingdom with with less opulent fighter jets and more cute pigs 🙂

    God help us.

    March 9, 2017
    • Great story, Kevin. And another good reminder that listening to people’s stories is one of the best (and interesting) gifts we can give.

      (And almost certainly a better use of time than writing vaguely condescending blog posts…)

      March 9, 2017
      • Kevin K #

        You’re welcome Ryan. Vague condescension is much better that apathy (or at least more entertaining).

        March 9, 2017
  2. Paul Johnston #

    I had originally thought that I would not comment on these last two posts. They seemed of the type that often led to you and I having unhealthy disagreements. Still after some prayer and pondering I felt a spiritual nudge, directing me to respond.

    Making an attempt to understand a circumstance, as a first response, can often be the wrong choice. It is better for us to instinctively offer hospitality and recognize need then to consider first, the whys and wherefores.

    This is not a plea for ignorance rather it is a plea for priority. Understanding and the stories that are necessary to communicate that understanding are important but must always come after our best efforts to first address our neighbours in need. The subsequent story then is rightly ordered and serves the holy purpose of instructing us, in the best way, as to how to respond to future needs.

    There is a sin of omission that I suspect we are all guilty of when we fail to act and address need but are moved emotionally by stories of need. Feelings of charity and acts of charity are very different things resulting in very different outcomes. Just ask somebody in need.

    My mother has spent a lifetime reminding me that love is not something you feel so much as it is something you do.

    Let us be doers of love. 🙂

    As for the confessional aspect of these posts, all of us need be careful. While it is right and good to remain humble and recognize our own inherent sinfulness, public contrition can do harm. In the same way that he in scripture who was fond of public alms giving was denied grace, so to may the public confessor be denied forgiving grace. There is a danger for us all when we look to make our sinful choices public.

    Ryan, my brother in Christ, these observations of mine are only intended to encourage and are always first directed towards myself before they would be directed towards anyone else.

    As always you continue to be a “light on a hill” for me and my journey of faith. Among the tares of public discourse here is a place where people can surely come, safe in the knowledge, that the Spirit dwell among us.

    March 13, 2017
    • I’ve read and reread your comment several times, Paul, and I still find myself at a bit of a loss to understand exactly what you’re getting at here. I think the last two posts are actually quite different sorts of reflections so it’s not clear to me what “type” you’re seeing or what kinds of disagreements they may or may not lead to.

      If you’re criticizing the nature of my response (or lack thereof) to the young man in the first post, your critique is of course completely warranted. If you’re criticizing my writing about it, I’m of course less inclined to agree. Writing about the ways in which I can be a lousy Christian is not in any way to excuse my behaviour, but I think it is an important way to help people makes sense of their own failures and experience and perhaps to recognize that they are part of a shared community of Jesus-followers who make mis-steps along the way. I have received many messages of thanks and relief along these lines. People need to know that they are not alone—that even those in positions of leadership and influence do not always follow Jesus as they ought to. Confession is good for the soul and it is good, I think, for the community as well.

      Can public confession degenerate into selfish spectacle? Sure. Have I been guilty of that on this blog? Possibly. Maybe even probably. But at the end of the day I write about what I experience and about how I sense God’s chastening, inspiring, teaching, and guiding along the way. My own selfish motives are surely bound up in all that, just as they are in any human endeavour. But I am convinced that there is something useful about the process along the way as well.

      March 14, 2017
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Thanks for a thoughtful response, Ryan. To clear up confusion I compare the two post as similar in type as you seem to reflect that your response was likely inadequate in both instances. I am very familiar with inadequate responses. I have had many to ponder and confess in my lifetime.

    My intention then was to offer a practical insight as to what a right solution to failed responses might look like. A practical plan of priorities to help all who read here, going forward.

    I now believe and have for some time, that my writings here are no longer the musings of Paul Johnston but rather the Spirit led understands of that same man. They are intended ultimately to console and advise, though as is often the case with the Spirit, make us restless and uncomfortable with the person we are choosing to be.

    To the latter part of your response I would say this, I make a distinction between the nuance of apology and confession. The former if the misdeed has had public effect requires public acknowledgement, apology and wherever possible, restitution.

    The latter (confession) is an absolutely vital spiritually exercise that demands privacy if truth and grace are to be accomplished.

    Why do I believe the Spirit calls me to share this with you? Let me relate my experience as honestly as I can.

    Apart from silent communion with God I have not understood in 60 years any of the truth about my sins. I do not and cannot know the truth of them. God reveals them slowly to me, gently to me, privately to me in the depth of silent worship. Only then, when I come to understand the truth of my sin can I properly confess to it. Only then can God grace me with a sufficient Spirit of repentance to actually change my behavior and my choice not to sin going forward.

    Rather then comment further as to the danger of public confession I will speak no more. I truly wish to insult no one. Least of all a brother who has surely helped deepen my faith.

    I tell you what I believe the Spirit has revealed to me. I tell you because i would like to give back to you at least some of what you have given me.

    Pray. Test my Spirit.

    His peace be with you, always.

    March 14, 2017
    • Thanks for this clarification, Paul. There is surely wisdom in what you say here, and I want to seriously wrestle with your admonition to conduct fewer personal struggles in the public sphere. I truly do not wish for this blog to become an elaborate (and wordy… and mostly useless) exercise in personal therapy.

      At the same time, I want to be mindful of the fact that as Christians we take our place in a long tradition of lamenting our sinfulness out loud, for the benefit of others and, I remain convinced, ourselves. From the apostle Paul (“That which I do not want to do, I do…) to St. Augustine’s Confessions to Luther’s anguished reflections to countless Christian writers (Nouwen, Merton, etc) down to the present. I find value and connection in each of these, and I know that in a much more limited way, others have found value in some of what I write along these lines, too.

      This doesn’t mean that we always do this “lamenting out loud” well, mind you, or that the stench of pride and an inverted form of confession/apology as self-congratulation cannot make their way into these kinds of endeavours. They can and they do. But I don’t think that this means that we abandon the task or the hope and contrition and encouragement that it might call forth.

      March 15, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        You’re welcome, Ryan. And thank you for this. Your arguments here are really beginning to resonate with me. Your personal experiences coupled with your wise referrals of many of our greatest Saints and minds is compelling. Your last paragraph literally stops me in my tracks….how can what you say here not be true.

        The Spirit and the ego are continuing to wrestle within me. What is for me the path to grace may not be the exclusive path for others.

        I would still encourage everyone to consider private confession as well as any other form that has led them to His everlasting grace. This I still reaffirm as true to my experience. My ability to actually recover from certain habitual sins was only and is still only possible with direct, relational interaction with our Lord mediated through the Holy Spirit.

        Obviously as a Roman Catholic I affirm the Sacrament of Confession and the mediation of a priest ( in persona Christi). I do not wish to imply however, in any way, that non Roman Catholics, who sincerely worship our Lord, cannot approach, confess and be graced similarly. The Lord’s prerogative is His alone.

        In conclusion, I say let us each discern based on the fruit our choices produce. If our forms of confession have not led to repentance and we continue to make the same repeated mistakes, then surely it is not the grace of our Lord that is lacking. It must be our acts of contrition that are at fault.

        March 16, 2017
      • Yes. The fruit is surely what matters most and the measuring stick that we must use.

        Thanks, Paul.

        March 16, 2017
  4. Howard #

    Thanx. Save the planet inspiringly written

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    March 15, 2017

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