Together With All Chickens
Six of them anyway. Came in a box, overnighted from somewhere in Ohio in early June. A couple weeks on the screen porch in an old fish tank, then a few more weeks in a big plastic storage bin. In the meantime we hired a student with carpentry skills to build the Taj Mahal of chicken coops (with a price to match). Soon they were in their spacious new quarters, scratching in the dirt, tearing up the grass and a few choice plants around the yard. By October they should be laying eggs.
I can’t believe I’m a chicken farmer. I’m from Chicago. Chicken came either as McNuggets or Kentucky Fried. But long ago my wife became concerned about antibiotics and growth hormones in milk, pesticides on thin-skinned fruit, shot-up industrial beef and chicken, plastics, and chemicals in general around the house. We added a couple kitchen compost bins to the back yard, and with recycling we’re down to one or two grocery bags of trash a week. So our food bills shot up, there were a lot more trips to the vegetable stands for fresh food, and we all ate a heck of a lot healthier. I think we feel healthier, too.
The chickens have been a topic of conversation in the house for a few years. The thought at first seemed ludicrous to me. Chickens? In my yard? On the campus of Concordia Seminary? But the Republic of Clayton does not prohibit them and is even considering safeguarding backyard chickens. President Meyer chuckled and said, “Why not?” — it even fits with the community gardens installed on campus in the spring. The cost was an issue — chicks, even sent next day air — are pretty cheep (sic). But I don’t think we’ll ever recoop (sic) the cost of their living space, now matter how many eggs they lay.
It seems, however, that my wife has been way ahead of me theologically. The most recent issue of the Concordia Journal is our first “green” issue (topic, not cover). The lead article by Chuck Arand suggests that because we recognize and embrace God as creator and restorer of all things (not only my “soul”), then we should live in ways that are congruent with that confession. He writes,
Here the church has much to recover and offer. The world of the Bible is largely an agricultural world. The land, the raising and preparation of food, the eating and enjoyment of feasts, and the building of the community (both with God and each other) are all interlinked. They belong together. They connect and bind us to the earth, to each other, and to God. These are prominent themes throughout the Bible. (p. 228)
I’m still chewing on that. Though both my parents and my wife’s grew up on farms, as did my wife, all with chickens running around, apart from a handful of green beans and tomatoes that survived the urban squirrels I never knew where my food came from. I still feel a little unsure that I want to know the name of then hen who provided me the omelet (yes, they have names). But only recently have I tried to think of this as a theological issue.
But then, it hasn’t worked out too well not knowing the names of the chickens whose eggs I have been eating, has it? Half a billion eggs, from two farms (sic) in Iowa, infested with salmonella. Not so good. And with the “farms” carrying such names as “Hillandale Farm” — come on, “Hillandale”? Who thought that up? Those chickens aren’t within miles of grass, let alone a hill or a dale — didn’t someone think that was a made-up, artificial, really bad idea? That the name gives away the fake, artificial way to raise chickens that happens in those shuttered sheds of sh–? To treat creatures, creation, and ultimately ourselves in that way does seem to be a theological issue.
So, we know where our eggs will come from. We say good morning to them every day. They climb on us (mostly my daughters). No salmonella here. Happy chickens, happy eggs, happy people, happy creation. Maybe there is some theological reason to raise chickens.