An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Last weekend I was charged with the duty of sending a sick chicken off to meet its maker. Using my trusted pellet gun "killchick", I had Sue set the ailing bird outside near the woods and then I quickly popped a cap into the back of its head.
I will admit, killing an animal isn't easy. I can squish a spider or bug with absolute impunity, but killing something bigger...warmer...well it's not quite as easy. This is the second bird I've dispatched and I will admit it was more easily done than the first...however in each case I was able to raise up some moral justification: 1) It was a really mean rooster attacking kids. 2) It was very sick and in pain. It is perhaps revealing that we must work up some moral justification for killing...we all know death is in some way bad.
Anyway, I expect when number three (through 22) arrives it will be: I need to feed my family.
We've forgotten that eating meat entails a very messy business. I expect this is why PETA has so much "success" with their slaughterhouse videos. That nicely wrapped package of boneless chicken breast you just bought was, until recently, attached to living birds. Astonishing as it may seem, I expect some folks these days have never even seen a live chicken! And no doubt, to see one butchered can be tough to stomach...but THAT is the reality of our meat, and I think it is a mistake to go on living in the sterility we falsely create around us (think of how we deal with our sick, suffering, and our dead...we definitely have an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality.)
Now, obviously in those ugly factory farm settings (PETA loves them) the situation is horrific...but even in more natural settings where birds are treated well and have extensive access to the outdoors, their lives are still bloodily cut short. Real life is messy...no matter how we might try and shield ourselves from it. Dirt and blood abound in real life.
As I ponder this I am reminded that how the Orthodox approach death really accentuates the need to unsterilize life. The funeral itself (and the prep, such as washing the body) is so "in your face" toward our typical western sensitivities. It proclaims through it all: "This is death...look upon it....do not hide from it...prepare for your own" and we are reminded that someday we will be the ones in the casket. Every Orthodox funeral is a reminder of our own funeral, for it will be the same (essentially) as the ones we attend now. It might as well be your own. There is wisdom in not letting people be creative with such events.
Interestingly enough I have seen many protestants get freaked out by our traditions (and indeed the traditions of all ancient Christian churches) of laying out clearly before us the reality of death (be that funeral services or even relics which speak to far more than death of course)...and often without suggesting any theological reasoning, they will simply assume that the act ought to perceived as "freaky" and wrong in and of itself, not knowing what they are really do is getting weirded out by a VERY recent western need to avoid looking at death. This is a whole mindset in the spirit of the kneejerk reformation: consider their sterilized churches. Churches that look more like a concert center than a church. They seem to have forgotten that the early church intentionally built their altars over the tombs of their martyrs. As for my part...I could use a stark reminder of death.
And yet I've no wish to give the impression of this approach to death is an ultimate "downer" for certainly there is joy in singing the Paschal Troparion over our loved ones tombs...perhaps even more so for having so experienced the reality of death. I don't know...even the sickness and death of a chicken will in someway be redeemed at the restoration of all things.
Until then...come spring (after Lent) it will be "finger lickin' good" time! But getting there will be messy. Anyone wish to join us for butchering day?
I remember the first time I saw a chicken being chased down, for a date with wringing hands. A few hours later I was munching on a drumstick. Now this was in 20-years-ago China, so I probably attributed it at some level to "a different culture". But it's not different at all.
I may have my boys watch you take the chicken off to its doom, although perhaps not witness the actual event.
But I look forward to bringing over some tortillas, cheese, and salsa. Such a carnivore I am.
As to my own death, Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Nothin' more to say there.