Circle of Compassion
Activist urges Lawrence faithful to embrace all of creation
By Jim Baker, Features Reporter, Saturday, October 12, 2002
World peace begins on your dinner plate.
That's the philosophy of Judy Carman, a co-founder of Lawrence-based Animal Outreach of Kansas, an animal-welfare group with about 15 active members and an e-mailing list of approximately 60 people.
"We can't expect to have peace on earth as long as we're killing 10 billion farm animals a year in the United States and 45 billion animals worldwide," Carman said.
She believes the fate of humans and animals are bound together. When you advocate for one, you're advocating for the other.
In other words, taking care of all of God's creations is in the best interest of humankind.
"One person who becomes vegan (consumes no animal products) can save the lives of 100 animals a year. At the same time, when you don't eat an animal, you're reducing the amount of grain that could go to feed hungry people," she said.
It's a mindset that could lead to world peace, she said.
"All life is sacred, and all life is interconnected. When you help animals, you help people, you help save the environment for future generations," Carman said.
On Sept. 28, Carman's group sponsored a vigil outside the IBP meat-processing plant in Emporia to memorialize the farm animals killed in the United States each year, including about 3,500 cattle each day at the IBP plant.
The event, called "Ten Billion Reasons to Care," attracted 27 participants from the Kansas City area, Lawrence, Manhattan and Emporia.
The vigil corresponded with the 20th Annual World Farm Animals Day held Oct. 2 — also the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the foremost champion of humane farming; and Oct. 6, the Feast of St. Francis, a day honoring the patron saint of animals and nature. In addition, October is Vegetarian Awareness Month.
"It was a very emotional and profound experience. We were silent, dressed in black and holding flowers. We were trying to convey that in this violent world, if we add more violence we're not helping people or animals. Love and compassion is the answer," Carman said.
Stewardship, not ownership
It's a message she's hoping to get across to Lawrence's spiritual leaders and their faith communities.
Carman sent an open letter to about 25 members of the clergy in Lawrence and Emporia, urging them to announce the vigil to their congregations and encourage them to attend, as well as to pray for animals of all kinds on Sept. 28 and throughout October.
But the letter does much more than that.
"We believe the time has come for the circle of compassion, which you have helped to expand, to begin to grow beyond humanity to embrace all the animals of the world, as well as the earth and all life forms," it reads.
Carman explained her motives.
"Besides asking them to come to the vigil, I'm asking the churches that haven't thought about the issue of animal suffering in the world to begin to consider this as a valid concern. I call it the 'last taboo' — most spiritual leaders will not discuss animal rights in their sermons," she said.
"I think has a lot to do with not fully understanding how connected these issues are: world peace, world hunger, environmental devastation and animal suffering. We cannot address one without addressing the others."
Though Carman's letter failed to attract much attention from spiritual leaders in Lawrence and Emporia, some local pastors believe she's onto something.
"I think she's absolutely right. The churches have taken on racial relationships and civil rights, but one area that has been terribly neglected is the environment — not just animals and plant life, but also rivers, lakes and the soil — and seeing all of that as God's creation," said the Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.
Like Luckey, the Rev. Jonathon Jensen reacted positively when he was read excerpts of Carman's letter.
"She has an excellent idea. Calling attention to the misuse of animals helps us to see beyond ourselves. I don't think that we've fully embraced this yet. That particular idea is still on the frontier," said Jensen, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt.
"Part of what we tried to do here on St. Francis Day was to help people understand the connection between human beings and the rest of creation, which is really what I see her trying to do."
Jensen sees attitudes changing on this issue.
"There has been a growing Christian awareness that having dominion over the earth means that we are stewards, or caretakers, of the creation, rather than seeing it as only a resource to fulfill our desires."
Sense of awe, wonder
Carman, who has a master's of clinical psychology from Texas Tech University, has written a book that encourages people to expand their "circle of compassion" — a phrase used by both Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Albert Einstein.
Carman's book, which she self-published in January 2001, is titled "Veggie Soup for the Chicken Soul: Shameless Visions and Prayers for World Peace, Inner Peace, and Animal Liberation."
The trade paperback is available on Amazon.com for $14.95. The book is also sold at the Community Mercantile Co-op, 901 Iowa.
In June, Lantern Books of New York City picked up Carman's book and will publish it in November as "Peace to All Beings: Veggie Soup for the Chicken Soul."
Carman has been a vegan for the past four or five years. She doesn't eat any animal products — even honey, which is made by bees — and she doesn't wear leather.
"It's an intrinsic part of my spiritual life. I can look at any animal and know that it's not hurting or dying because of me. There's a lot of joy in that, and I want to share it. It's the same joy we get when we help a homeless person, or we work for peace and justice," she said.
Understanding that the welfare of humans, animals and the environment is inseparable is the next step for faithful people to take.
"It's all connected. That's what the mystics tell us: God is in everything, and everything is sacred. That's where their sense of ecstasy comes from," Carman said.
"How could you willingly hurt anything when you're filled with that sense of awe and wonder?"