Ellie, the Veal Calf

I was thinking back the other day to the first time I remember actually being concerned and grossed out and truly saddened by the idea of an animal being killed.

I grew up in a rural town in Pennsylvania, where we got a day off school each year for opening day of hunting season. I, along with all my classmates, had a hunting safety class in 6th grade. (I never got my license, though.) I grew up hearing stories of how my mom always went hunting & fishing with her dad when she was growing up, and how these times were great bonding experiences.

I had a great bonding experience of my own when I was about ten. I had a friend whose aunt owned a farm (pretty common where I grew up, actually). One day, while I was visiting her, we went to her aunt's farm to see the cows.

There was a terrible stench in the barn. I remember the pungent smell assaulting my nose as I walked in. I didn't understand then why it smelled so bad. Now I know that veal calves are kept on liquidy diets so they always have diarrhea - this helps them to be more lean for when they are slaughtered and turned into veal parmesan.

My friend and I walked through the rows of calves tied up in small stalls. I petted their noses as I passed by, thoroughly enjoying their warmth, soft fur, and the affectionate way they would nuzzle me as I stood in front of them.

One particular calf seemed to like me a lot. And I liked her. So much so that I named her Ellie.

I loved Ellie. I had all these dreams about owning Ellie and petting her and grooming her and just taking care of her. I think I mentioned this to my friend a few weeks later, and she looked at me like I was crazy.

"Ellie's dead," she said bluntly.

I was in shock. She explained to me that Ellie was on her way to being chopped up for someone's dinner. I went home and cried. I didn't understand how, after meeting her, someone would want to kill her.

Sadly, it wasn't until 2 1/2 years ago I stopped eating meat. I wonder how many other deaths like Ellie's I contributed to over the years.

I still think of Ellie sometimes, her big, sad brown eyes looking into mine as she nuzzled into my side.

And sometimes I still miss Ellie.

Witnessing to all (?) creation...

I've been thinking lately about animals. Especially since I'm a vegetarian, you know, I think about the whole issue of why we shouldn't kill animals. At first, I was soft on the issue. "Well, we shouldn't kill animals in mass numbers. That's just wrong. But I guess if you hunt it/fish it/raise it on a family farm and then kill it, it's not so bad." And then I read some stuff on PETA's website about how animals feel pain. How mama animals love their young and actually want to be mothers.

Now, I can relate to this, because I'm a mother.

And then I started thinking about - wait for it, Christians! - animal souls. Yes, you read that correctly. My whole life growing up, I learned that animals didn't have souls and humans did, and this is why we are different. Humans aren't "just another animal." Family members (and other members of our faith community) were horrified and outraged if anyone classified humans as animals. Like it was shameful to be placed on the same level as them.

So, I turned to my bible as my source of information. I mean, God's word has to be good for something, right? So, why not find out why we believe what we believe from it?

I found that Ecclesiastes 3 (the famous "there is a time for everything" chapter) held some interesting information for me.

This, of course, raised some questions. The main one, though, deals with us having the same breath.

I'm about to get a little nooma on you.

In the 14th nooma video "Breathe," Rob Bell talks about how, historically, the name for God found in Exodus (where God tells Moses to tell the people "I AM THAT I AM"), the word "Yahweh" or "Jehovah," (rendered YHWH in the Anglicized version) actually is a sound word - literally onomatopoeia - for breathing. Bell says that the words for each letter are Yod Heh Vah Heh, signifying the intake and outlet of breath, and that the Hebrew words for "breath" and "spirit" are the same.

If you think about this, wouldn't that then mean that, when the writer of Ecclesiastes says "all have the same breath," this refers to the breath of life God breathed into us? Traditionally, this breath breathed into Adam has signified God's spirit (which makes sense, if "breath" and "spirit" are the same thing). 

But then, does this mean that animals have spirits too?

Honestly, I'm tending to lean more toward the "yes" side of this argument. And you can say what you will. But from my experience with some amazing animals, I wonder: how can they not have spirits?

As for the part of Ecclesiastes 3:21 ("Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"), I don't know. We as humans don't even know enough about our own souls and/or spirits to decipher stuff like that for ourselves.

But, following this train of thought, I sort of maybe witnessed to a dog recently.

Back in February, I was visiting my mom & sisters in South Carolina. My mom has two dogs: Andi and Razz. They're both some kind of mix of shepherd and chow, we think. Razz is Andi's puppy.

Andi is now over 10 years old, and she recently had some digestive issues that had mom concerned that she might not have much longer. While I was visiting, there was one night in particular that we all thought Andi wouldn't make it through the night. She was incredibly weak, but she was also in pain, and so she stood so as not to lie on her stomach, which was apparently causing her much grief. Her ears and tail were drooping, and if she did attempt to walk at all, it was in tiny, shaking steps, not getting her much further than a few inches at a time.

I was very convicted about this animal/spirit concept that night, and at one point I sat on the floor in front of Andi, wrapped my arms around her neck and held her, gently stroking her fur, and whispered into her ear how much God loved her, and that Jesus died for all of us so that we wouldn't be captives to sin anymore. I told her how much God cared for her and wept at her pain. And I told her how I felt maybe a little crazy for telling her those things, but I wanted her to know. Just in case.

It turned out that Andi was just having some old-dog digestive issues, and she's still going. Not as strong as she used to, but she's still alive. 

But I don't regret "witnessing" to her at all. And I think I may try to practice this more often in the future.

Animals where you least expect them

Dryer sheets. Yep. They (most of them) use tallow, or animal fat, as the softening agent. So, I'm not using them any more. I just recently made my own detergent at home (from Borax, Washing Soda, and Oxyclean, plus a few drops of essential oil each load) and that completely freshens my clothes. And I tried it without a dryer sheet today, and my clothes had no static and they were just as soft as ever. So, yeah.

Also, a lot of refined sugars have been purified through carbon filters made from cows' bones. Supposedly the bones come from cows who died of natural causes and not from factory farmed cattle, but still. Ew.

And gelatin. Which is made from collagen from animals' skin and bones. Again, ew.

And finally, cosmetics, such as mascara, lipstick and lip gloss. Of which, fortunately, I use none. I'm kinda glad I'm a natural girl. I don't remember the last time I used make-up.

So, in my quest to discover more about how animals are used in society, I signed up for a vegetarian starter kit from Peta. A while ago. And it just came in my mail yesterday. I've been reading over the materials, and they're very interesting and have caused me to think. A lot. I'm definitely leaning more toward becoming vegan, but I'd have some serious meal planning to do and I just need to use up some of the food I have first before I can "start fresh," so to speak. But I'm looking into it.

And I am getting a little more vocal about the possibility of my husband going veg. I think he's a long way off still, since he told me today that he's seen many Peta commercials and knows about what goes on with animals and it doesn't bother him.

That bothers me. It really does.

The Word Wrapped in Flesh

So, something I've thought about quite often since becoming a vegetarian is leather bibles. As a Christian vegetarian, this kind of distresses me. If we're supposed to love all creatures, why do we put God's word, the most precious physical thing left with us of Him, in the skin of an animal? I've not read up on it much, but I've heard from various places (PETA  included) that the leather industry is pretty horrible. Of course, as a person who doesn't want to see any animal harmed, just the fact that animals are killed for coats, skirts and pants doesn't sit well with me. But to kill an animal and wrap its skin around the Word of God....well, yeah. And it seems the bible "industry" doesn't seem to care. They just know that people like "genuine leather" products, and that they can sell a genuine leather bible for at least $65.

I have to look into it more, but I haven't seen this topic discussed over at CVA. I may bring it up with them. It sounds like something they'd like to start a discussion about.

Any thoughts from anyone?

ETA: I did a Google search and found that in 2007 PETA sent a letter to Pope Benedict about this very subject.