Some churches have the best locations. When I lived on the west coast I would gaze longingly at the sight of little churches with ocean views or in the heart of leafy green neighbourhoods with fruit stands and local markets and beaches nearby. When I’m in the Alberta Rockies, I often sigh plaintively at the sight of houses of worship in the shadow of snow-capped mountain peaks. During my travels in Europe or South America or the Middle East, I frequently marveled at majestic cathedrals in historic cities or sturdy stone sanctuaries in quaint seaside towns or humble chapels in the midst of touristy cities devoted to more hedonistic pursuits. It would be so much easier to serve the Lord and his children in such impressive and inspiring surroundings, I often wistfully imagined.
My church, as it happens, is a stone’s throw from a meatpacking plant. No ocean vistas or mountain views or weighty history for me. I look out my window and see a boxy warehouse where pigs are slaughtered. Which isn’t especially majestic or inspiring. But it is, occasionally, mildly amusing. At least the road that passes in front of it is. There’s a woman who periodically sets up camp there to protest what’s going on inside those four uninspiring walls. She sits there at the side of the road, with jacked up Alberta-sized pickups roaring humourlessly by, with two signs. One indignantly proclaims, “1500 pigs killed here every day!” The other has a picture of a cute, innocent looking pig on it with a caption below pleading, “Save the Pigs!”
(Whenever I drive by, I wonder how much time this dear committed soul has spent with actual pigs. If she had grown up on a pig farm, as I did, and regularly experienced the delights of 100 kg pigs slamming obstinately into her knees, as I did, she might find them slightly less cute or innocent. But I digress…)
She was out there again yesterday, a hot summer’s day, imploring passersby to reconsider their pork consumption. I was tempted to stop and talk to her. What kind of a person, I wondered, goes to the effort of finding a picture of a pig and making a sign and hauling it out to the side of a busy frigid highway to protest? Of all the things that one’s efforts could be spent in saving, why pigs?! I imagine her getting up in the morning, filling up her thermos full of coffee, assembling her piggy signs and her lawn chair, and marching off to do what she is conscience-bound to do. I’m sure she is convinced her cause is virtuous and just and urgent. For my part, I would rather just get up and eat some bacon.
Of course, the list of things that require saving could quite easily stretch into a rather long one. Save the pigs, certainly, but also the whales and seals and polar bears and turtles and ibexes and the Yangtze Finless Porpoise (so the World Wildlife Federation implores me). Save the wetlands and rivers and oceans from the endless human-engineered contaminants that we produce. Save the national parks from ignorant tourists and the mountains from redneck snowmobilers and off-highway-vehicle drivers. Save the media from fake news and save inconvenient truth from the biased mainstream media. Save our libraries and our schools. Save used bookstores and local restaurants and pubs and shops from the mercenary big chains. Save… ah, why don’t we just, for brevity’s sake, save the planet?
In the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus encounters the devil in the desert. Three times, he is tempted; three times, he refuses. It’s interesting to look at the three things Jesus said “no” to. Bread, spectacle, power. It seems to me that human beings have always been uniquely terrible at resisting the pull of these three things. Our appetites routinely exceed our need. Oh boy, do they ever. We love the show and will do almost anything to be kept entertained and impressed. And power? Well, what really needs to be said? We have always loved to get our way, and to force others to bend to our will.
Jesus knew all of this, of course. He knew it in the wilderness, and he knew it as he went out to teach and heal and love and forgive and live and die and live again for the salvation of the world. And he knows it still. He knows all about our voracious appetites. He knows that of all the things that require saving, we human beings are surely at the top of the list.
Saved from our sins, from the evil one, from the spectre of death, from the time of trial. But also saved from ourselves. Saved from the hells we are so eminently capable of creating for our fellow humans and for the created world. Saved from our rapacious lusts, from our small and selfish horizons, from our casual disdain for our neighbour, from our culpable love of bacon.
Saved from all the ways that we tend to bend away from the good, the true, and the beautiful. Saved from all that we want so wrongly and and saved for better things.