Cowboy Bob the Third. I remember the day he came to our farm.
He was beautiful. No. He was magnificent.. To me he was a bit intimidating. To my sister Minette - he was a dream come true.
Our parents had decided that when we were 12, we could choose an animal to raise and care for. Cowboy Bob the Third was a two year old Chestnut Quarter Horse, Green broke. And Minette loved him. She spent a week at the ranch where Cowboy Bob was raised learning to ride and care for him. Girl and her horse. What could be better? She probably would have said “nothing!” that is until Cowboy Bob got pinkeye and Minette was told – no riding until he heals.
It took longer than we thought. And then the bitter cold of winter set in. It was a long cold winter without any real chance to go riding. But then… Spring! Minette couldn’t wait to get out to ride again. Our dad let the horse out into the coral. It was at that point that we realized what the “Green” meant in “Green Broke."
Cowboy Bob the Third kicked up his heals! It soon became clear that he had no intention of putting a saddle – and certainly not a rider - on his back. A bit protective – as fathers sometimes are – my dad hired a “professional horse trainer” to come and take the “green” out of the “Green Broke” designation. Cowboy Bob bucked her off. She got on again. He bucked her off again – but this time, she broke some bones … and Cowboy Bob was sent back to the ranch.
This may explain – at least in part -- why, when I turned twelve, I got chickens.
As those of you with pets know, caring for another one of God’s creatures takes work and commitment on the part of the caretaker. And yet, as people – even people of God – we have often gotten that message wrong.
Our error in the way that we treat animals – and really all of creation – can be traced back to the way that we interpret and understand the relationship between people and the rest of God’s creation in the first chapter of Genesis .
In the first story of creation, God creates and blesses each part of creation. Finally, on the sixth day, God creates the creatures that live on the land, those that creep, crawl, run and walk including people. We read:
So God created humankind[e] in his image,
in the image of God, God created them;[f]
male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
It’s that word “dominion” that gets us in trouble. It can also be translated as “rule.” But what image comes to mind when you hear “dominion” or “rule?” To me it automatically sounds authoritarian and accompanied by power and might – not grace and care. The Message Bible translates the word as “responsible.”
This is a better understanding of our role and our relationship to the rest of creation – especially for those creatures that we live with. I remember one year the kids found some tadpoles in the stream at Whitewater State Park. They were adorable. Can we bring them home? Sure, we said. But then, it was our responsibility to figure out what they would eat! It wasn’t so hard for the tadpoles. They were happy to eat shredded boiled lettuce. I don’t remember why we had to boil it. But we did. It wasn’t too painful – at least not for me. OK – truth be told – someone else in my family took care of it.
The tadpoles grew… and turned into the cutest of little frogs. This was great. But then they did not want to eat boiled lettuce anymore. Their palate had grown up and changed. Now we were supposed to feed them mosquitoes. Except… they did not want dead mosquitoes.
Oh I am sure we could have gone to a pet store and gotten something that would have worked. But little frogs were starting to need more space than the goldfish bowl could allow. We had read that it was important to return animals to their own habitat. So we packed them up and went on a road trip with our little frogs and returned them to their stream. Did we have dominion over the frogs? I suppose so. Not one of them jumped out of the tank and demanded French fries instead of boiled lettuce. So I suppose we were the rulers. But really, we were the caretakers – and bringing them back to their stream when we could no longer care for them was the responsible thing to do.
God has blessed the earth with a great variety of creatures. We as humans are just one species. But we have been left in charge – to take care of the earth. God trusted us to be responsible.
Unfortunately, we sometimes choose “dominion” and force instead of care. With 20-20 hindsight, I can see that what Cowboy Bob had needed was a horse whisperer – someone who was patient and gentle and willing to take some time to give care and training rather than a person who was going to put Cowboy Bob in his place.
Today we have invited all creatures into God’s sanctuary, into this holy place, to bless them and to remind ourselves that God has created all of us – whether we have skin or fur or feathers or scales; whether we swim, fly, walk, creep or crawl. And God has given US the responsibility to care for creation – including all the creatures in it – pets and working animals and those in the wild … For God has blessed us – so that we may bless one another – and God’s whole creation. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran
April 23, 2017