If you know me well…and many of you do, then you are likely aware that at the top of my bucket list is to ride horse back on a beach like Alex Ramsey does in The Black Stallion (click on that picture link). This childhood fantasy could only be followed by riding horse back through sand dunes like Alex Ramsey in The Black Stallion Returns (click on this link too). Alex and the Black fly through the sand and surf with joy and freedom in such a way every child who loves horses fantasies about being able to ride with such abandon one day J Even while I have grown up this dream has lingered!
I was excited about traveling with my family to Cumbuco because it was widely reported that Cumbuco, Brazil was a great place for kite surfing and horse back riding not only on the beach but also in the sand dunes. I had hit the jackpot!!! When we arrived at our Pousada the owner quickly informed me that yes she could arrange for me to ride with someone she knew to take care of his horses unlike some of the other places around the village. I was thrilled! The day before I was to go riding I saw some of the “other” horses and they were underfed, overworked and neglected looking for sure. I was so glad I would be riding with someone who was to have well cared for horses. But sometimes when things seem to good to be true…they seem that way for a reason.
Immediately upon seeing my horse the next morning I knew this would not be my bucket list fantasy ride. While fed well my horse too had signs of much over work on her face and hocks. She was decked out in brightly colored padding and bridle. It was too much for the heat of the day for her to have to wear. She also wore a chain link strap across her face, which attached to her girth…keeping her head down. It had worn a calloused raw spot across her nose. Her owner rode with a long leather strap. He proceeded to use this strap on MY house as we rode, once he realized I could ride well. This strap was used to make my horse gallop as fast as she could across the sandy coast while he laughed with glee. I immediately made motion to stop my horse and tell him I did not want to run.
I have longed to gallop fast and free across the beach on horse back, but not if the horse could not be enjoying the lope as well. This nervous animal under me was nowhere near enjoying our jaunt this day. She was working and working hard. I know animals in many other countries are not beloved pets as I treat them, but are meant to earn their keep and provide for their families. I understand this and realize it can be just and fair for all. But this didn’t feel good for me, even if it was a means of substance for this family.
I could not enjoy galloping when I knew this horse would be used to gallop in the heat all day long to entertain tourists. I couldn’t enjoy the ride when I knew this horse was tacked in such a manner as to attract the eye of tourist and to maintain her utmost control despite someone's ability to ride her well. I couldn’t pretend to be Alex Ramsey winning the race across the sand dunes because I knew my weight bore down on her small frame along with any number of additional riders she would carry that day.
And before you think this experience is just one about horses and that I should join PETA let me say it caused me to think about much more than just the animals I encountered. I began to think about places where I participate, contribute to, perpetuate or cause the abuse or neglect of other people as well, but just animals. Where do my desires, my greed, my consumerism, my opinion, my lack of knowledge, my entitlement, my fantasies, my longings, my blindness continue to oppression or with hold good life for fellow humans?
I thought about my experiences last year while exploring Alabama with my ICE group. I thought about how I was immersed for a day in the life of being a single parent on parole in West End. I had to use public transportation and also earn $50 to pay my parole officer by a certain time that day. But when my child ended up in the hospital with a broken arm I had to choose…to be with my child in need or to see my parole officer??? There was no way for me to get to both places on time. Our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than.
I thought about how in Birmingham we all know over the mountain you can get a great education…and most of those kids are lighter skinned and well-off economically. In the shadow of the mountain many children struggle with getting the education and support they need and they just happen to largely be darker skinned and have less economic opportunities. Our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than.
I thought about how UM pastors just received documents that informed us about how UM pastors are to be held accountable in 2015 for showing the servant ministry of Jesus in their work and parishes. In it we are told “Effective ministry is less about work accomplished and more about the transformation of the community in which Christ has first priority, where courageous love finds expression, where the stewardship of gifts is understood as a grateful response to God’s gracious, creative call.” And yet the same document takes time to also make clear “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual union shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
It states we are, “To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministry and servant leadership” and “ To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world ” yet at the same time in my view, tries to set limits on what Christ's courageous love looks like, where to extend the ministry of Christ in the world, and what Christ’s servant leadership looks like today. Yes, to me, our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than.
I realize now that apart from me owning my own horse and trailer one day or having a friend who owns horses by the beach, I will not be fulfilling this bucket list fantasy, because it is not possible to fulfill it in such a way that feels life giving for all involved. I can’t pretend that I feel good about contributing to the workload of an over-worked at times suffering animal. Our world is not yet all it is meant to be. Sometimes I have eyes to see this and others times I am as blind as a bat. Sometimes I am willing to consider the loss or struggle in another’s life and other times I am not. And only occasionally am I willing to acknowledge the sin that comes from my own hand…the sin that I contribute to that causes distress or difficulty of another’s life. And while these sins may not be intentional or wanted on my behalf…that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that I am not meant to struggle to live in such a way as to offer more abundant life to all instead of just fulfilling my fantasies and desires. My prayer is that this experience (this horse metaphor) will not just cause me greater compassion for all of God’s 4 legged creatures who toil in life, but to also help me grow in my love and compassion for all God’s 2 legged (or less) creatures as well.