Preview of the JULY/AUGUST 2015 Issue
When pigs go to heaven
Toward a theology of animals
by Phillip Sherman
Does Jesus care about pigs? Should Christians? The Gospel accounts of Christ casting out demons into suddenly suicidal swine (Matt. 8:28–34; Mark 5:1–20; Luke 8:26–39) make you wonder.
Caught up in the miraculous deliverance of the demoniac himself, modern readers fail to consider the story from a porcine perspective. The pigs serve merely to herd the demonic off stage right. Few ever ask how the pigs might have felt about this unfortunate turn of events.
Saint Augustine, however, derived a great theological truth from the story: human beings have no moral responsibilities to animals. There can be no covenant between humans and animals. Jesus’ (seemingly) thoughtless destruction of these pigs provided nothing less than scriptural proof for Augustine.
Augustine is not alone. Animals do not fit easily within the Christian theological tradition. They have seldom been the subject of sustained theological reflection, and when they have been considered, it has not often been to their benefit.Continue reading
Honoring a bond
Congregations’ programs and services reflect our connection with animals.
by David Lewellen
When Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh holds a memorial service for pets that have died, the organizers try to honor participants’ needs. Some need to share their loss with others; some need space to be with their own thoughts.
But the stranger who arrived with pictures of her deceased dog needed to share. At her husband’s request, she had held back her tears in front of their children, but in the supportive setting of the church’s gym “the floodgates just opened,” says Beth Ketterman, who helped start Westminster’s pet ministry several years ago. “And we were all crying with her, because we understood.”
The woman learned of the service because her mother-in-law had driven by the church and had seen the church’s sign announcing the service. Afterward, Ketterman stayed in touch with her “to let her know we felt her pain.”
Westminster, which also offers training sessions for therapy dogs and pet adoption fairs, is unusual in its level of animal-related activity. But many Presbyterian congregations honor the bond that worshipers feel with animals. Often those ministries take the form of annual blessing services, but the possibilities are limited only by the imaginations of congregations.Continue reading
Love and loss: coping with the death of a pet
Support group reflects the powerful bond between people and the animals they love.
by Joey Kennedy
When it comes to grieving a beloved pet’s death, Larry Michael, pastor for adult ministries at South Highlands Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, knows about as much as anybody.
Michael leads a monthly pet grief group—Dixie’s Group—sponsored by the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. And not long ago, Michael had to have his own dog, Pallie Sue, a shepherd-Labrador retriever mix, humanely euthanized.
That decision was as difficult as any decision he had faced.
“She was there for me in a very difficult time in my life,” says Michael, who has been a pastor for 30 years. “I felt this bond, that she brought comfort to my life in addition to being a wonderful pet.”
Pallie Sue had been with Michael for 16 years, a full life to be sure. But we’re never ready to let go of our pets.
Though Michael leads grief groups focusing on the deaths of both humans and pets, “it’s just as hard for me as it is for anybody else,” he says.Continue reading
One in Mission
On the trail
Deepening the link between horses and humans at Ghost Ranch
by Linda Valentine
Ghost Ranch is one of those places where heaven and earth seem to meet. Eons old, it never fails to remind us of the brief blink of time that we’re here on earth.
For many Presbyterians visiting this PC(USA) education and retreat center, that reminder comes while riding horseback through canyons framed by the colorful cliffs of the Colorado Plateau.
Similarly eons old, “horses have been racing across the landscape for more than 50 million years—much longer than our own species has existed,” notes the website of the American Museum of Natural History. “But once horses and humans encountered each other, our two species became powerfully linked.”Continue reading
Animals and people: an evolving connection
by Susan Barnett
One hundred years ago, animals often served utilitarian roles in people’s lives. Fast-forward to 2015, and the roles of animals, plus attitudes toward animals, have drastically changed.
In a sense, animals have moved from being coworkers to being a part of the family. According to a 2011 Harris Poll, more than three in five Americans have a pet. And more than nine in 10 pet owners consider their pet a member of the family.
The connection between people and animals has attracted the interest of the research community. HABRI Central, an online resource for study of the human-animal bond, lists more than a dozen university programs dedicated to exploring human-animal interaction.Continue reading
Answering the call of the wild
Detroit-area nature center provides care for injured and orphaned wildlife.
by Mary Lendzion
For Dana DeBenham, it’s baby season.
DeBenham is the wildlife program director at the Howell Conference and Nature Center, which the Presbytery of Detroit started as a Christian summer youth camp in the 1960s. Now expanded to include year-round environmental education programs and wildlife rehabilitation, the Howell Center annually aids more than 2,000 wild animals that have been injured or orphaned.
And as DeBenham can attest, the period from May through July is prime time for baby animals.Continue reading
Focusing on God
A new worshiping community finds spiritual growth through photography.
by Paul Seebeck
Cathy Newcomb was looking for a way to connect more intentionally with God.
She’d just completed a Bible study at First Presbyterian Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when her pastor gave her a book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice.
Newcomb began a personal spiritual journey, using themes from the book to help her slow down.
“Eyes of the Heart talks about receiving the photograph,” says Newcomb, who began going on “quiet photo walks.”
Newcomb says she paid attention to what God was prompting her to notice. As she shared with friends and family images she was “receiving,” they suggested she might continue her explorations alongside others.Continue reading
Presbyterians share stories of the animals that have changed their lives.
When Presbyterians Today put out a call for animal stories, we received so many beautiful stories that we decided to publish a number of them online. Click here to view the 10 selected for the print magazine. Below are some of the other most special stories we received.Continue reading
Faith and Culture
Why poetry isn't dead (and is profoundly spiritual).
by Brandon Jordan Brown
I’ve loved you
as a man loves an old wound
picked up in a razor fight
on a street nobody remembers.
Look at him:
even in the dark he touches it gently.
—“Wound,” Larry Levis
God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow —Heb. 4:12 (CEB)
When I was 20 years old, I read the poem “Wound” by Larry Levis, and it changed my life. I had no idea that language could make you feel something so strongly. So I started writing poetry. Admittedly, the poems were horrible (hopefully less than they are now), but if I’ve learned anything over the past 10 years, it’s that the best poems, whatever their flaws, cause us to view the world with fresh eyes. Poet Linda Gregg says it this way: “Best of all, of course, is when the language and other means of poetry combine with the meaning to make us experience what we understand.”Continue reading
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