January-February 2019

A Vegetarian Journal for Quakers and Other People of Faith

The Peaceable Table is intended for the mutual support, education, and inspiration of

 people of faith in the practice of compassionate love for our fellow animals and Peaceful dining


A Glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom

Human Befriends Gorilla

André Bauma, zookeeper/park ranger at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, raised two orphaned female gorillas.  They remain very close, as one can see.  Photo by James Gifford of the UK, who lives in Botswana.  See “Love you, Daddy!”

Editor’s Corner Essay:

Nativity Narratives and Class-Busting

Matthew’s Story

The two stories of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels, though differing in emphases and not compatible in some details, both strongly suggest that in the coming of the Child, conventional social structures of class and caste are so undermined that they break down.  In Matthew’s birth narrative, celebrated in the feast of Epiphany (January 6), all the active characters are male, but they participate in subversive, even revolutionary actions.  Magi from eastern lands arrive in Jerusalem, claiming that they have seen an extraordinary star rising that announces the coming of a divine king of the Jews.  Magi were Zoroastrian astrologers, probably attached to a royal court, who were also adepts in ceremonial magic.  They naturally expected to find the newborn divine king in the capital city, but the blood-splattered, Rome-appointed “king,” Herod the “Great” (close to his death at this point in time) after consulting scriptural authorities, sent them to Bethlehem and asked them to return afterwards with further information, as he wanted to go and worship the Child himself.  However, his intentions, which were to wipe out this infant competitor, were foiled as the Magi and the Child’s foster father Joseph were guided through dreams to take action by which the Child was saved.  The narrator comments at various points in the story that events happen to fulfil a number of scriptural prophecies.

It is not hard to see how social class is overthrown in this Birth of the Hero narrative.  A peasant family, near the bottom of the human social structure, is favored by being given guardianship of the divine-human hero, and divine guidance that defeats the powerful, paranoid tyrant at the top; wealthy members of an elite class of retainers to a foreign monarch bow down before the Child, offering rich gifts that amount to tribute.

Mainstream biblical scholars consider that the story is fictional.  But whether parable or history, its important image of the appearance of a divinely-appointed star in the darkness, whose significance is perceived by the wise, is profoundly meaningful, true in the history-of-religions sense of myth as a story that expresses the nature of ultimate reality.  If it is seen as parable, later developments of the story can be as valid as the original.  Probably partly by cross-reference to Psalm 72:10, “Let the kings of Tarshish and of the islands bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts,” the Magi came to be seen as kings, and even given names (Melchior, Casper, and Balthazar), their royalty a development which heightens the theme of the inverting of class structure.  

Luke’s Story

In the story as told by Luke, not only class but even caste is inverted.  In contrast to Matthew’s story, in which the family patriarch receives divine guidance and takes action that includes Mary, it is the young peasant woman (probably still an adolescent) herself whom the angel visits with news of her role in the forthcoming deliverance.  She immediately goes off, apparently alone, to visit a relative many miles away who is also expecting a liberating child.

In nearly all human societies prior to modern times in the West, women were a lower caste, surrounded by almost insurmountable walls which kept them/us more or less powerless.  Here and there one could find exceptions--a powerful woman, a small elite female subclass--but their power did not serve to empower other women in the society.  But in the “Song of Mary” in Luke 1, the pregnant peasant girl gives thanks to God who “has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the humble.”  

Sheep-herders in the fields--a subclass probably even lower than the smallholding peasants (just think: who wants to stay up all night in the cold, minding animals?)--are also favored with a visit by an announcing angel, accompanied by a great celestial army (stratias) of angels telling of the coming peace on earth.  An army proclaiming peace!  Peace in this setting is an issue of the imperial oppression--gouging--of a small, vulnerable country, leading to loss of farms, hunger, and increase of the day-laborer class.  Probably the “heavenly hosts” represent the divine power that is poised to overthrow the occupying, and massacring Romans; compare the vision Elisha and his servant saw of a protective divine army in 2 Kings 6:15-17.  (How Luke’s army morphed into a choir would be an interesting study.)

But the most radical symbol of the overthrow not only of class but of caste is surely the fact that the Divine Child’s birth takes place in an inn’s stable, probably a kind of caravansary, among (implied) beasts of burden, his cradle a manger.  In later centuries, artists bring some of the the shepherds’ animals, and the Magi’s camels, into the picture as well. Members of a low class may, rarely, move into a higher one, but animals are somewhat like “Untouchables,” in that we do not see them breaking caste; they don’t become humans.  Yet in this story God appears among animals: Immanuel, God is with us, including us (nonhuman) animals.  What an astonishing, enormous message for the followers of Jesus!

The Light of Common Day

However!  As  we all know, despite two thousand years of Christian celebrations of both versions of the Nativity story, their deeply subversive message seems to have gone almost completely unnoticed.  Empires controlled by claimed Christians, have gone on gouging the countries they control.  Women continued to be oppressed in most cultures, not excluding our own Western culture (although matters have improved in many ways here).  Thousands of humans are still trafficked and enslaved, although slavery is illegal in all countries.  Animals have always been enslaved, killed, eaten, now by the millions.  Despite the announced liberation of the oppressed by the heavenly army, Peace on Earth is scarce.

An example of the near-universality of class can be found in the way it can appear, virtually spontaneously, among children.  In my childhood I attended a small Protestant Christian school.  My class had seven (later eight) girls and five or six boys, who, after we moved into third grade at age eight, sorted ourselves into two categories--the Desirables and the Undesirables.  There were no noticeable signs of difference in family income in our spread-out farming community; rather, self-confidence or lack thereof seemed to be the chief criterion for class membership.  I was not very conscious of the situation among the boys, but with the girls there were five of the former and three of the latter.  The undesirables socialized with one another, but did not respect each other much; they would rather have been accepted by the in-group.  There was little outright bullying, but the pain of the undesirables at being avoided and held in contempt was so intense that, after one was killed in a traffic accident, another envied her her escape, becoming suicidal--at age ten--and continuing so for years.  Fortunately, she never did take her own life, but occasionally one hears in the news of a bullied girl doing just that.  Class-born pain among boys may erupt in violence in the form of school shootings, often culminating in suicide.  (There are of course other motivations for shootings as well.)  If this sort of thing goes on among children, it is no surprise that it appears, writ large, among adults, where there are likely to be many more factors involved, especially money, education, and personal power, and correspondingly more harm done.

To Those Who Sit in Darkness

And yet, “the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not extinguished it.”  Even when I still firmly believed that the desirable kids were superior to the others, something in me felt dimly at the same time that the whole social setup was terribly wrong.  When I saw my mother functioning as the family’s servant, I was troubled:  this isn’t fair, I thought.  I sat around the table with my family eating animals (sometimes I liked the meat, sometimes I could barely get it down), but at the same time was relieved that I didn’t have to be the one catching and killing a chicken from our coop--poor chicken!--because, when I let myself think about it, I sensed that something was very wrong at this level too.  No doubt many readers have had similar intuitions in childhood.

In college I had a dorm-mate who liked to talk about her family’s being from Philadelphia; she seemed proud of it.  Being from the Pacific Northwest myself, I remember asking her “Do you really think being from Philadelphia makes a person superior?”  Her answer, “Yes, I do,” surprised me; how could someone who shared my own religious and spiritual commitments believe such an absurd thing?  I thought of an apt rejoinder (later!): ”I hope God is impressed.”  Perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t say it to her, as she may have been too insecure to deal with it; but there are doubtless times when an edgy comment like this might actually make persons with an attitude of entitlement think twice.

It’s important that people of good will who have some social advantages not underestimate the harmfulness of class attitudes.  We must avoid every sign of contempt of our society’s “undesirables;’ the pain and psychological damage it causes may trigger very harmful actions, whether on an individual, social, or political level.  We all know of heroic figures from an oppressed class, such as Cesar Chavez who responded to the suffering they and their fellows experienced with compassionate, nonviolent action for change.  But in too many cases, perceived contempt and abuse lead to evil actions, small or great, as we have seen vividly in recent years both in the US and other Western countries.  

But even more important than checking the temptation to show disdain--for anyone--is to find the life-giving: to seek out and probe, ever more deeply, the symbols and source of love and hope in our own (and/or other) traditions, and to put them into action.  Actively loving those who operate like enemies is terribly hard, as anyone who has tried it knows.  But there is no other way to break through evil social structures.  Above all, we must seek the Fountainhead of love and hope, the One from and by whom we all live.  The symbols differ in different religions:  God calls and empowers a human being to liberate the slaves of the oppressive emperor in Egypt; Allah calls and empowers the slave Rabia to be the beloved of the divine Heart, and a counselor and healer, a light still shining on in the darkness of centuries; the Buddha in an early incarnation gives his life to feed starving tiger cubs; Hindus of different castes or classes adore the beautiful, mischievous child Krishna raised by a humble cow-herding family.  In regard to class status, God is not impressed.

. . . .A child in a foul stable

Where the beasts feed and foam,

Only where he was homeless

Are you and I at home . . .  .

--Editor

The quotation is from G.K. Chesterton’s “The House of Christmas,” 1912

NewsNote

Cockfighting to End in Puerto Rico

In December Congress passed a law banning cockfighting in the territory of Puerto Rico, going into effect in one year.  This good news for the animals has dismayed many Puerto Ricans, because the cruel sport is centuries old and makes up a major part of the economy.  Considering our failure to help the territory recover from Hurricane Maria, it is crucial that we step up now and do so.  See Ban

Unset Gems

Animals . . . . liv[e] by voices we shall never hear . . . .

--Henry Beston

Letter:  Gerald Niles

Dear Editor,

Stanley Milgram’s study [featured in the editorial essay in the December issue], like Pavlov’s with dogs, ties into twisted behavior modifications I’ve seen in prisons, as covers for abuse.  Perhaps the false ego of authoritarians is the beam in their eyes.  Increasingly these days they get caught, convicted, and even imprisoned.  Everyone should be responsible, and held accountable for their deeds.

I think the cruelty of abusive authorities is along the same line as flesh eating.  Said differently, the flesh eaters’ acts in and of themselves must always be cruel.  Thank you for the thought-provoking depth of your essay. --G.N.

Pioneer: Cesar Estrada Chavez, 1927 - 1993

Cesar Chavez was born March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Arizona, the second of the six children of Juana and Librado Chavez.  He was named after his grandfather Cesario, who had escaped from slavery on a Mexican ranch and homesteaded in Arizona in the 1880s.  Juana was one of the most important influences in Cesar's  life, showing and teaching her children that violence and hatred were wrong.

When Cesar was born the family owned a ranch and a store, living in an apartment above the latter.  Later, in the depths of the Depression, their small adobe house and land were swindled from them by dishonest Anglos, including the lawyer whom Librado hired to help him get his property back, an injustice that had a deep impact on Cesar.  The now-homeless family went to California to seek migrant farm work.

Cesar also had a bitter experience in school, or rather schools; because the family moved so frequently, he attended no fewer than 37 schools before finally finishing grade school at age 15.  He recalled being hit with a ruler for speaking Spanish (his only language); in racially integrated schools he endured racist remarks which made him feel like "a monkey in a cage."  At that time Cesar felt that school had nothing to do with the experience of migrant farm workers.  (In later years, however, he came to value learning very highly, and the walls of his office were lined with hundreds of volumes on philosophy, economics, biography, unions, and the like.)

Because his father had been injured and was unable to work, as an adolescent Cesar never went to high school but worked in the fields full time  Two years after completing grade school, in 1944, he enlisted in the Navy (where he suffered further prejudice) and participated in WWII. In 1948 he married Helen Favela, whom her granddaughter describes as a truly wonderful person. They were to become the parents of eight children.

Cesar had ample experience of the suffering of farm laborers: grinding labor, often in a stooping position; suffocating heat; impossibly low wages; being out of control of one's life and that of one's family. (As a farm girl working in the fields in the heat of summer, I had a taste of this bitter fruit, and can barely imagine what it is like to see no escape from it.)  Cesar and his family further encountered soul-killing contempt and the grave dangers of the poisons slathered on the fields.

His strong sense of justice and dignity, and his mother's teachings of the ultimacy of nonviolent love, would not allow him to accept the idea that he and his people must be permanently trapped in such endless misery.  He found kindred spirits with whom to discuss solutions: Fr. Donald McDonnell, Fred Ross, Dolores Huerta.  He studied the lives and teachings of Francis of Assisi and Mohandas (the Mahatma) Gandhi; he informed himself about the power of unions.  After a period of work in the 1950s in Fred Ross and Saul Alinsky's Community Service Organization, in 1962 he joined with Dolores Huerta to form the National Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers (UFW).  Progress was slow at first, with much resistance from growers, including threats of violence, apathy from the public, and noncooperation from fellow workers caught in anxiety.  Under Cesar's inspired leadership, and the use of nonviolent tactics such as the table-grape boycott and the 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, the movement gained in power.  Like Gandhi, from time to time Cesar employed fasts. "The fast is . . . a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening [for myself and my colleagues]. . . . an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority, and for all men and women . . . who know that they could and should do more.  The fast is finally a declaration of non- cooperation with supermarkets who . . . profit from California table grapes. . . . [T]he plague of pesticides on our land and our food . . . . threatens to choke out the life of our people and also the life system that supports us all.  The solution to this deadly crisis will not be found in the arrogance of the powerful, but in solidarity with the weak and helpless. . . . Together, all things are possible."

In April of 1993 Cesar participated in defending the UFW from a lawsuit by giant California vegetable producer Bruce Church, Inc. for their loss of millions of dollars during the lettuce boycott of the 1980s.  Cesar testified for many hours on April 23, but did not feel ill except for a sense of weakness.  But the next morning he was found dead, a book in his hand, a peaceful smile on his face.

Cesar's lifelong work on behalf of oppressed human beings is well known, with several states celebrating his birthday as a holiday, but his love for and defense of animals receives little notice; most biographies of him do not even mention this issue.  I was able to interview his granddaughter, Christine Chavez, who carries on his legacy on behalf both of farm workers and of animals.  Christine told me that it was her grandfather’s study of Gandhi in the 1960s that convinced Cesar to adopt a vegetarian diet based on compassion.  Another source (cited in Wikipedia) quotes him as saying "It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings."  No doubt there is truth to both statements.  Cesar was in fact a strict vegan, rejecting also the wearing of leather and wool. He was willing to speak up at dinners in which others were eating flesh (not easy to do, as readers of PT well know), to point out to them the suffering of animals which underlay their meal. Christine also mentioned her grandfather's awareness of the links between the exploitation of animals and of farm workers; for example, in one instance undocumented workers were threatened with deportation if they reported animal abuse at a farm where they were working.

In 1992 Cesar received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization In Defense of Animals.  In his remarks he said "We need, in a special way, to work twice as hard to help people understand that the animals are fellow creatures, that we must protect them and love them as we love ourselves . . . We know we cannot be kind to animals until we stop exploiting them. . . in the name of science, ... in the name of sport . . . and in the name of food." He also declared that "Kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society.  Racism, economic deprival, . . . bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric: violence.  Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."

--Gracia Fay Ellwood

Derived from the interview with Cesar’s granddaughter Christine Chavez as well as from Wikipedia and other online sources.  The black-and-white photo shows Cesar breaking a fast for justice as bread is shared with him by Robert Kennedy in connection with an open-air Eucharistic service fifty years ago.  The woman on the left is Helen Favela Chavez.  In the present decade Cesar’s eleven-year-old great-grand-niece, Genesis Butler, continues his courageous tradition of speaking up for animals.

Article reprinted from the May 2007 PT.        

Recipe

Vegetable Curry

3 yellow onions, chopped

¾ pound cooked potatoes, diced

¾ lb. tomatoes, sliced

½ lb. green beans, sliced

A touch of chili powder

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 teas. (or 1 T.) ginger

1 teas. (or 1 T.) curry powder

Salt and black pepper to taste

Peel and chop the onions, and sauté them in the olive oil (less is better); add the garlic and curry powder, and continue for a further 3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and if necessary some hot water.  There should be a thick gravy; if not, shake in some whole wheat flour and stir.  Add the beans and simmer for 8 minutes, then add the ginger and chili powder.  Lastly, add the potatoes and make sure they are well heated, 5 or 6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve with brown rice or chow mein noodles.

--Sonya Richmond, from her book International Vegetarian Cookery

Poetry:  Faith L. Bowman,  Shel Silverstein

God is There

While the world was wrapped in silence,

Winter night’s swift course half-run,

God’s almighty Word of Wisdom

From her heavenly place leaped down!

To a people battered, bleeding,

Ruled by rapine, fire, and fist

Came a pledge of peace and healing,

Of God’s kingdom in their midst.

Where we call no man our master

But are kin and equals all,

Rich and homeless feast together--

God is there to grace the hall.

May the towers of empire empty,

All that greed and guns devise;

May the Christ, new-born among us,

Plant the seeds of Paradise.

--F.L.B, 1938-

From the website Faith Poems

Point of View

Thanksgiving dinner's sad and thankless,

Christmas dinner's dark and blue,

When you stop and try to see it

From the turkey's point of view.

Sunday dinner isn't sunny

Easter feasts are [rotten] luck,

When you see it from the viewpoint

Of the chicken or the duck.

Oh, how I once loved tuna salad,

Pork and lobster, lamb chops, too,

Till I stopped and looked at dinner

From the dinner's point of view.   

--S.S., 1930-1999    

--Contributed by Will Tuttle

Cartoon by Piraro                                                                        

Issue copyright © 2019 by Vegetarian Friends              

                                                                                         

The Peaceable Table is a project of Quaker Animal Kinship / Animal Kinship Committee of Orange Grove Friends Meeting, Pasadena, California. It is intended to resume the witness of that excellent vehicle of the Friends Vegetarian Society of North America, The Friendly Vegetarian, which appeared quarterly between 1982 and 1995. Following its example, and sometimes borrowing from its treasures, we publish articles for toe-in-the-water vegetarians as well as long-term ones.

We welcome donations (we’re tax-exempt)  either by PayPal or check.  Make checks out to Quaker Animal Kinship, and send to treasurer Robert Ellwood, 14 Krotona Hill, Ojai, CA 93023.  

This journal is intended to be interactive; contributions, including illustrations, are invited for the next issue. Deadline for the March, 2019 issue will be Feb. 26.  Send to graciafay@gmail.com or 14 Krotona Hill, Ojai, CA 93023. We operate primarily online in order to conserve trees and labor, but hard copy is available for interested persons who are not online. The latter are asked, if their funds permit, to donate $15 (USD) per year.

Website: www.vegetarianfriends.net

Editor: Gracia Fay Ellwood

Book and Film Reviewers: Benjamin Urrutia and Robert Ellwood

NewsNotes Reporter:  Marian Hussenbux

Recipe Editor: Angie Cordeiro

Technical Architect:  Richard Scott Lancelot Ellwood