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I’m learning a lot from PBS natural specials. Last night, I watched a troop of chimpanzees launch a concerted attack on a group of gibbons — surround them, roust them, attack them, tear them apart and eat them. It was very disturbing. I mean, isn’t that a little like cannibalizing a cousin?

And did you know that a full 20% of squirrels — that’s one in five — doesn’t collect food for the winter? No. He (or she) steals them from other squirrels. In fact, lives a life of crime. How does that happen? Are some squirrels born bad? Is it nature or nurture?

I guess what upsets me so much about these acts is that they are so very human. And aren’t animals supposed to be better than that? I realize how backwards that sounds. So often, humans are lauded as the highest of God’s creatures — the only ones who think, who have the ability to plan, who are moral, who are civilized. Except maybe we aren’t. Maybe we’re just less-furry mammals. Because we steal. We kill. Even human flesh isn’t off the menu (so to speak) for a depraved few. So what distinguishes us from so-called lower forms of life? Maybe less than we think.

Yet animals are also capable of extraordinary acts of goodness. A dog will nurse kittens; a cat will nurse a puppy or a rabbit. Strange animal friendships abound: a dog and a cheetah, a gorilla and a kitten, a bear and a tiger. In many ways, animals seem more capable than humans of reaching across lines of perceived differences and striking an accord. Yet we’re the ones with free will. And, at least according to some faith practices, the only ones with souls.

Maybe it’s time to take a good long look in the mirror. In what ways are we no better than animals? In what ways are we perhaps worse? In what ways might we learn from animals how to treat one another and the planet we live on?

I think God gave us a wide range of examples to follow — or to eschew. That’s why our world is so vibrantly alive with so many species of living things. Our job is to observe. Not to judge — we have no real moral authority for that — but to look, examine, and see how we want our lives to differ or mirror theirs. And to protect them, because we aren’t any better than they are. We’re just different. And we all have something to give.

Except for mosquitoes. Those little monsters are pure menace. Am I right?

Being the last rat off the sinking ship
because it will give the other rats a chance to swim,
or because the ship, to its last gasp, is dear to you.
Not following the crowd, especially when the crowd
is wandering aimlessly and without a working compass,
moral or otherwise. Being a good Samaritan
when Samaritans are in short supply.
Choosing the careful answer when the witty one
is easier and could earn you a seat with the cool kids.
Praying not for things but for things to be as God wills them,
especially when you want something very bad or badly.
To listen without speaking, to accept without
exception, to create when others destroy.
Blessing the last word when it is not yours
and blessing the mouth you wish had not spoken
in language you wish you could unhear.
Appreciating puce, the ugliest of colors,
simply for being different.
Singing, loudly and often.
Hugging for no reason.
Saying yes, of course,
and no as needed.
Flying in dreams.
God-finding.

What’s a girl or woman worth? Not much, even in these “enlightened” times. In Pakistan, a 16-year-old girl was burned alive for the crime of choosing her own husband, the third “honor killing” of this sort in the past few months. And here in these United States, a white, privileged rapist was handed a three-month sentence for destroying a woman’s life, and there are folks (including his parents) who think that’s too great a punishment. Reading what the survivor of this attack had to go through to effect this small punishment is like reading something out of Kafka. The presumption of innocence is a wonderful thing, but in what other crime is it the defense’s entire strategy to imply that the victim wanted the crime to happen? Imagine, if you will:

Defense attorney: So you claim you were mugged.

Victim: Yes. He took my wallet at gunpoint.

Defense: Yet not three minutes earlier, you were seen removing your wallet from your pocket.

Victim: Yes, I was paying for a purchase. I bought dog food.

Defense: So you took out your nice, fat wallet and just waved it around?

Victim: I took it out of my pocket so I could pay for the dog food.

Defense: You showed your wallet, knowing that any normal, red-blooded man would see it and want your money, isn’t that right?

Victim: No, I —

Defense: You indicated loud and clear that you wanted someone to take your wallet. You were wearing an expensive suit! You wanted someone to mug you. You enjoyed it! You smiled when my client asked politely for your money.

Victim: I didn’t want him to kill me! I was placating him!

Defense: You smiled. You gave him the wallet. And you cried “mug” once before, in 2006 —

Victim: Because I was mugged!

Defense: Yet your so-called attacker was never found. You have a history of wantonly waving your wallet around, so what did you expect? Especially since you knew my client was high at the time. Your honor, I move that we drop all charges. This scumbag clearly asked for it.

Judge: I agree.

Am I alone in seeing the absurdity of this? In what world is this okay?

I’m sure some of you are wondering what this rant is doing on a blog devoted to God and spirituality. If how you treat other people isn’t a key component — possibly the key component — of your spiritual life, then I am unsure how to apprehend your vision of God. Jesus clearly tells us that “love your neighbor as yourself” is not enough: We must love our neighbor as God loves him. Or her. We have to do better than mere human love. We are called to higher things than that.

If your faith or conscience or morality tells you that women are somehow less than men, that they are not made “in the image and likeness of God” because God is clearly a dude, it is up to you to challenge this. “Male and female, God made them.” Until all people under God’s blue sky are treated as equals, we are standing in defiance of our maker. God help us.

 

 

 

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