A Good and Proper Slaughtering

John, Winn, and I have been talking about the human experience, about writing, and about recording the things that are real, sans fluff. This is a passing attempt. (Warning: this gets gory.)

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The straight-run matured into a veritable flock--ten hens and eleven hackled and cocky roosters. Ratios being what they were (one rooster for every hen, with only one hen to spare), and cocks being what they are (territorial and full of the stuff of life) our lady birds were receiving quite a bit of attention (hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge, nudge). One might say the free range at the Haines Homestead had become bawdy, prurient, or lewd.

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If you are not well-versed on animal husbandry, and I count myself as no expert, you might know that over-sexed hens tend to skittishness, fits of anxiety, and perhaps self-doubt.  What's more, the over-sexing roosters tend to chest puffing, fight picking, and plucking plugs out of their brothers' feathers. On a smaller scale (one to one, or some such ratio) this sexing and fighting becomes a quasi-comical metaphor of sorts. At the ratio of ten to eleven, it creates nothing short of a farmyard ruckus.
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Last week, the roosters matured to a braise-worthy size. The season of harvest had come. A good-and-proper slaughtering being necessary and appropriate, I sharpened the reaper's blade and hung the noose from the Cypress tree overlooking the pond.

(This is where things get gruesome. You've been warned.)

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Experts explain that the most humane way to dispatch a chicken is to hang it by its feet allowing it to relax into a near sleep. This induction of sleep and the ensuing dispatching is often made easier by the use "killing cones," in which a chicken is placed upside down, head and neck extending through an opening in the bottom, wings compressed against the metal sides, and legs protruding from the top. A gentle kill--so these same experts tell you--involves a deep, quick slice against the jugular, opening the blood spigot. The heart quickens, pulling and pulsing blood from the meat, through the neck, and onto the ground. The pain is minimal--again, per the experts--and the cock-sure soul wakes in the land of eternal morning, of endless cock-a-doodle-doos and capitulating lady birds.

All this said, I had no killing cone for this good-and-proper slaughtering, and I didn't intend to spend my spare change on such a device for the sake of ten birds. And so, crafty gentleman farmer that I am, I strung the young roos by their feet, allowed them to relax to the point of sleep, turned their necks, and made the cuts. The blood spigot opened, sure enough, and the stream ran red down the side of the cypress, pooling at its base. Within minutes, green-backed flies congregated in the pool, one on top of another, hundreds of living sequins winking at each other in the sunlight. (Hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge nudge.)

Life and death pulse along an infinite loop.

In the last seconds of a chicken's life, there is a final shudder, the quickening of breath in the breast, the spasmodic and violent flapping of the wings. There is a last lifting of the neck toward the sky, a searching for the sun. It is intimate, primal, perhaps holy. Mindfulness turns the moment to both sorrow and gratitude, toward other juxtapositions I haven't quite sorted, might not ever sort.

Roos plucked, processed, and packed, the meat now lines my freezer. Meat aside, the killing floor by the old cypress welcomed me into the experience of life, into the fragility of it, into the undulations of nature's sexing, birthing, and dying. This world is fierce, violent, and sometimes lacking in mercy (such as we define it).

This, I suppose, is the point: if the world were all daisies, roses, and unicorn flatulence, I'm not sure faith would be a necessary thing. A fairytale life, a life celebrating only love, joy, peace and mercy is just that--a fairytale. Sex, birth, violence, killing, provision, death, and the fear of dying--these things beg imperative questions.

What is life and its end?

What is the last gasp, the craning of the neck?

What does it mean to kill and to die?

What does it mean to find provision through death?

How does the heart find gratitude in sacrifice?

[tweetherder]How does it feel to be alive?[/tweetherder]

***TINY LETTER***

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Your Offering to the World

This is part of my series exploring humanity. Click here for more.

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On Tuesday, I wrote "I Am More Than a Computer," and I meant every word. I wondered whether it would resonate, whether I was the only one feeling so overwhelmed by the muchness of the modern world. There is always something else to do--a piece of pop culture to learn, some news to know, a client demand, a civic obligation. I wrote about this, and so many of you responded.  This is the game, you said, and though we may not admit it, so many of us are keeping score. I know I am.

Seth, 1. The rest of you, 0.

Yesterday, I monitored my 401k account in real-time. There was no reason for it; it's just that technology has made such a thing possible, and what am I but a seizer of every possibility? I watched as the market dropped one-half of a percentage point (0.005), as I lost the value of a steak dinner with Amber when I'm 64. My screen was covered in monetary blood. Everything was red (except Windstream Communications, for what it's worth). And as the day closed, as I surveyed my losses (which will no doubt bounce back; I'm no Chicken Little), I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong.  I was anxious, perhaps mildly depressed. The black cloud moved into my office, settled over my head. I couldn't shake the notion that I was using the metrics of net worth to quantify my self worth.

And even as I write this, I consider those who may not have a retirement account at all. Does my writing about a retirement account make them anxious, perhaps mildly depressed? Do those of you who're well-heeled, who have fatty savings accounts, platinum retirements, and your child's Harvard college fund make me anxious, perhaps mildly depressed? Do you make me a touch jealous?

Don't look too closely; you'll see my skin is turning green.

The score keeping and quantification of modern living is endless--measure your retirement accounts; measure your savings; measure your client base; measure your fan base, your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends; measure your personality with BuzzFeed quizzes (I am LinkI am Moses;  I am Taylor Swift with a sprinkled donut); measure your biceps, your thighs, your waist, the size of your boobs; measure the size of your partner's boobs. If we're honest--as in wake-up-with-cold-sweats-in-the-middle-of-the-night honest--how often do we reduce ourselves (and others) to these sorts of measurements, the ones and zeroes of our lives, the As and Cs of our report cards or cup-sizes?

And these measurements, aren't they sneaky? Last week, Ike handed me a slip of paper. It was his math placement for junior high. "Advanced," it read, and I beamed. He'd been measured above-average, better than good. This is the kind of thing that makes a father's heart swell from a AA to CC. I looked at him, smiling. He was not.

"What's wrong," I asked.

"It's just that I'm not sure my grades are good enough to be in the advanced class," he said.

"What? You've cashed out As all year. Are you kidding me?"

"Yea. But I work so hard and scrape by with 90s while the smart kids hardly work and make perfect scores. So many of them have 96s or 98s. I'm not sure I'm really 'advanced.'"

There it was. Twelve years old, and he's already learning to quantify his worth against the worth of others. He's learning to keep score. This is the game. Score or be the score.

Ike, 0. Everyone else, 1.

There is a trick to this life that I haven't yet learned. It's the trick of seeing the world as something more than a giant scoreboard. It's the trick of seeing each individual as a soul composed of eternal stuff instead of competitor on the gridiron of life. The trick is something more than just saying "you are the beloved of God," or "God loves you just the way you are, bankruptcy, zits, and frumpy body aside." The trick is allowing those phrases to work me over, to whip me into shape. The trick is allowing those things to permeate me like yeast, to grow, to puff up the way I live. The trick is really meaning what I preach, quantifications be damned.

[tweetherder text="Seth, 0. Everyone else, 0. We're all 0. And yet, we're all everything."]Seth, 0. Everyone else, 0. We're all 0. And yet, we're all everything. [/tweetherder]

This is the trick.

My last two pieces (Tuesday's and today's) may not be for everyone. You may not place yourself on the baker's scale, measure yourself against the rest of the world. You may not try to keep up, pump your noggin with too much knowledge, your bank account with too much money, your muscles with too many steroids, your bust with a little more silicone. And if that's you, blessings to you. If that's you, hop a plane and visit Northwest Arkansas. We'll hold a conference, charge $50 a head, allow you to be the keynote guru. I'll split the house with you. (If your heart just leapt, perhaps you're not quite as actualized as you thought.) But for those of you raising your hands, those of you who identify very well with the endless cycle of measuring up, take a break for the day. What does that mean? Heck. I don't know. Consider deleting Facebook or Twitter from your phone, deleting the stock-tracker app. Consider asking a co-worker how they're feeling, whether things are good in their life. Take a walk. Smell spring. Let the atoms of spring fill you; let them become a part of you; let them teach you that everything--even all of nature--starts small, unmeasured, and fragrant. Whisper a prayer--not a wordy, metered, rhymy one, but maybe just one that says, "hey there; I see you. Do you see me?" Eat a piece of chocolate. Enjoy a cup of Earl Grey. Do something less corporate. Wear a funny pair of socks. Speak to your neighbor in a British accent. Don't worry about your bank account. Pay a bill and laugh. Be a mess. Be unashamedly who you are--human. This is your offering,  a middle finger to the world of measurements.

 

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Psalm #17 (For the Strivers in Their Striving)

Today's psalm is for the strivers who love their striving. (Click here for more of the psalm series.)

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Psalm #17 (For the Strivers in Their Striving)

In this tabernacle of great green floor unfurling, the bright blue above, sometimes black and star-flecked, we kneel, fingernails busy like tiny shovels searching for the ancient, eternal word of Life that was breathed first below the roots, and then into saplings, into the nests in sycamore boughs, into all.

Cease scratching and know; be known!

It is in the jutting limestone, in sandstone, dolomite, in the bill of Hawksbill Crag, in the point Whitakers Point.

Cease scratching and know; be known!

It was spoken into seeds, into ovum and ovum's lover, implanted so that it might be a perpetual echo of the All of all being.

Cease scratching and know; be known!

In the full faith of virgins, in the cavernous, hollow caves-- yes, Word is there. In the triumph, in the joy of death, it springs from the river whose streams make glad!

Cease scratching and know; be known!

There is Word under your nails, in the creases of all knuckles. In our hair down hill on borrowed bike, in foundry callouses and sulfur burns.

Cease with tiny shovels, with claws of scratching! 

In the cousins, most-- we, in the midwinter of our todays-- before the coming of the spring flocks, it finds Home most intimate, most present, most actual.

Thanks be to God!

The Death of Death

"The Christian Story of the death and Resurrection of Jesus.... Here is theGod who saves us from the arrogance of worshipping ourselves, and, by having shared in our humanity, makes us glorious at the same time." ~Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year

My grandfather used to call me every Easter morning, used to boom through the telephone receiver, "He has risen!"  It was his favorite holiday, the one adorned with khaki suits, bucks, ladies' hats, and the purple sash of eternal royalty.  More than that, it was a celebration of life.

I eulogized my grandfather two years ago.  As I finished the last of the official words that would be spoken of his life, I put fist to the podium, and with tears in my eye I pounded, "oh death, where is your sting?"

Tomorrow grandpa will rejoice with the Life Eternal and the heirs in the other world, our future home.  We'll rejoice in the empty tomb, the hope of forever.  Us and them, we'll be united, and we'll dissolve into the fullness of the resurrected Christ, the great mystery of the death of death.

Easter--this is the story that has chosen me.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/13127598 w=400&h=225]

Death In His Grave Performance from Christopher & Nathaniel Calnin on Vimeo.