Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent and Creation - asking questions about Dairy Farming

Choral Evensong Advent 3 2015

Evensong Reflection

Reading: Isaiah 35

For this Third Sunday in Advent John the Baptist’s call for repentance is the distinctive theme but one also notices how repentance is intertwined with the thread of hope.  We may lament for the way we have wasted our lives or abused the creation but the promise of hope and of God’s purpose being wonderfully fulfilled despite our failings constantly pulses through the scriptures, as in the fragment from Isaiah this evening.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
   and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
   and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
   the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 

The prophet images for us the transforming purpose of God: we have a ‘snapshot’ of people whole and a landscape of abundance.  The prophet’s hope of abundance contrasts with the brokenness of our reality that calls for repentance.

Last Sunday I spoke about the programme that highlighted the ill treatment of bobby calves and the way in which intensive dairying was systemically cruel.  In the ODT this week I saw a letter from a farmer who took a different view.  He condemned the appalling treatment of the bobby calves but went on to say this:

(But to) suggest this is normal practice and that dairy farming is inherently cruel is a deliberate and blatant misrepresentation of the story. It’s offensive and insulting to the thousands and thousands of decent New Zealanders who spend their lifetimes working on farms, caring for their land and caring for their animals.
Yes, we do encourage our cows to produce milk. For them to do so they need to be healthy, content, well fed, well looked­ after. We spend our lives getting this right. …
To talk of dairy farming as being inherently cruel is simply wrong, and is a sign of how far removed some of us have become from nature’s reality. There is life and there is death. We can’t change it. Accept it.

I was so pleased to read that letter and hear a farmer’s point of view.  Because at the very basis of our image of farming is, I believe, the strong and deeply grounded concept of one who is engaged with the land and with the cattle.  I believe that is worthy of respect and support.
But I hope that farmers might also exercise a moral imagination and take care to respect the land and the cattle and be willing to critique practises that do not show respect.  For instance, to make a point, when does a farm stop being a farm and become a factory?  When do cattle stop being the cattle you care for but just units of production?

On the subject of the bobby calves, how do you minimise stress and fear?  How do you ensure humane slaughtering?

Where are farmers leading the way in the ethics of animal welfare?

In the repentant mode of Advent, this is a time when we can reflect upon our nation and our pastoral economy and ask questions about how we are living; how we are treating the creation and the animals we share it with.  Do we have reverence for the trust given to us in the creation?  Again I encourage everyone to read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si.

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