Mary and I were up and out of the house early that cold fall Saturday morning. It was the determined date to gather with some of our closest friends in this area to take part in what had become an annual event.

Despite the shining sun, refracted in spectacular color off the frost all around, my heart was increasingly overcast. We drove out of town to a less peopled part of our county where one of the four couples in our informal culinary collaborative had built their lovely home with plenty of space for a variety of creatures, human and otherwise, to roam.

The other two couples arrived soon after us, one in borrowed truck with a tarp over the back temporarily sheltering those underneath. The usual lighthearted, wide ranging chatter among us when we usually gathered seasonally share good food and drink was replaced that morning by down-to-business directives with an occasional remark about the good weather in which to do the weighty work before us.

There was some debate among the knowledgeable on the best placement of the various stations needed for the job. Then the most experienced among us talked through the necessary steps we’d follow to do this task most efficiently. There were all sorts of ways this could go very wrong, he underscored, from an incomplete initial cut at the start to an inadequately sealed double bag at the end.

If we worked well and the machines functioned properly, it was hoped we could finish the process by early afternoon. That would mean 125 chickens caught, killed, dipped in boiling water, put through defeathering machine, plucked clean, gutted and declawed, double bagged and finally heat sealed. We’d each bring home as many carcasses of these once beautiful creatures as we had pre-arranged and paid for, to provide nourishment in the year to come.

The homesteader husband, who, with his wife, had humanely raised most of the chickens (or broilers, as chickens raised for the purpose of eating rather than laying are called) offered a prayer before we began in earnest. I don’t clearly recall his words but appreciated something of his somber acknowledgement (or was it a confession?) that we were about to kill some of God’s beloved creatures so that we might live.

We took our places. I had determined months ago that I needed to be the one who caught and held to my heart each bird before before they died. That meant I was also the one who, after ardently apologizing to each beautiful bird, placed them upside down in one of the home-built metal funnels so their heads stuck out the bottom. After waiting briefly for them to calm, I slit their throats, decapitating their beautifully adorned, eyes wide open, formerly quietly clucking heads from their soft and plump feathered bodies. After they briefly bled out I removed them, one by one, placing them as reverently as I could on an adjacent table for the next step of the process.

More than once Mary and others checked in on me, asking if I didn’t want to let someone else take a turn in ending the lives of these curious, amusing, gentle co-inhabitants of creation. I didn’t. I was convinced I needed to be this close to what we were doing. I needed to be as near as possible to the culmination of our perspectives, intentions, plans, preparations, and the final act of deadly violence against another life to nourish our own.

By late that afternoon I arrived at the conviction, undoubtedly a long time in the making, that if I could live without taking the life of another sentient creature I would do so.

I’m grateful for the growing number of animal welfare advocates as well as those keenly aware of the burgeoning ecological, social, health costs of watering, feeding, and eating animals, who exercise greater compassion and self-control by choosing an increasingly plant-rich diet.

Nearly a decade on I’m grateful to note I can live–very well–without taking the lives of other creatures. I’m also saddened and flummoxed that more of my kindred in Christ have not come to a similar conviction and practice. What might it take for us to stop slaughtering the innocent?

Daniel Carlson

Daniel Carlson has been a pastor and teacher of the First Reformed Church of Schenectady for more than a decade, and, with his wife Mary, a resident of New York for over two decades, where they especially enjoy the forests, mountains, and lakes of this part of God's world.

12 Comments

  • Fred Mueller says:

    Today’s lection is from Isaiah – the lion shall lie with the lamb and the wolf with the kid. They shall hurt or destroy in my holy mountain says the Lord. Is your article intentional with that in mind or simply a blessed coincidence?

  • Jerry says:

    A few years ago I began our family Thanksgiving dinner with a prayer which included these words: “We give thanks for this turkey who gave his life for us.” The family was uncomfortable with the choice of words. They do however contain a significant truth about the origins of a gift we rarely acknowledge.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    I’m quite comfortable taking the lives of various creatures for food. I just sat in a tree stand yesterday waiting to take the life of a deer, as I have done numerous times. God lays no moral burden on me for killing to eat. These creatures do not have souls. I have a deep admiration for all of God’s creation, but God alone binds my conscience.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    I love this!

    It’s an allegory about abortion, right?

  • Matt Huisman says:

    Did Jesus eat meat?

  • Matt Huisman says:

    Was OT animal sacrifice ‘really’ necessary?

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