Excerpted from a sermon delivered at the Dormansville United Methodist Church by Frank L. Hoffman, guest pastor.

Our society has become so desensitized to the natural sensitivities that God created in our being, that we become callous in the ways in which we respond to our children. In so doing, we can cause severe trauma and destroy our children's developing faith and sensitivities.

Recently, at the University of Pittsburgh's Johnstown campus, the author, lawyer, and lecturer Jim Mason told us of how this occurred in his life. When Jim was five years old, he walked out into the backyard of his farm home in Missouri, and for the first time in his life, saw pigs being slaughtered. He saw their bodies hanging from a tree.

What he saw and smelled and heard so traumatized his God-given sensitivities that he became seriously ill and suffered nightmares for days, and had to be taken to his aunt's home for a while. Jim said, "I was reluctant to return to the farm. I still have a memory blackout of that time. My last memory is the image of those pigs' bodies hanging from the tree, the tub full of heads, and the blood."

For several years after this, this family would also send young Jim to his aunts when they were slaughtering animals. This many-generation Methodist family only recognized that Jim had a problem with "growing up." They never recognized the hardness of heart that they were exhibiting, and how they might not be living in the knowledge of the Lord.

This conclusion was amplified when Jim was 11 years old. The "men" of the family were going to castrate the calves, which Jim knew was very painful for the calves, for he had previously heard their cries of pain. When he held back from following them, he was told either to go back to the house with the women or to become like the men and go to the barn with them.

Here was this sensitive lad being faced with the dilemma of being called a sissy and a girl, or becoming a "man" by being hard of heart.

Today he says that he should have gone back to the house and learned to cook, but he didn't. He went with the men.

Such treatment left Jim feeling very much alone, for in his heart he knew the truth that animals are sensitive, loving, and feeling beings, just as we are. His only real friend became his dog, and the two were very close. When Jim was 13 his dog died, which left him heartbroken.

Jim's family has a long Methodist tradition, and Jim had what he considered to be a strong belief in God. He knew in his heart that animals had souls and spirits, just as we do. He knew it because he observed these beings on their terms, and because of his relationship with his dog.

Reaching into his faith, Jim reconciled his sorrow with the fact that he would once again see his friend in heaven. When he went to his pastor and asked for confirmation of his conclusion, his pastor looked sad but told him that animals don't go to heaven.

Immediately Jim's faith was shattered. Better that this pastor had tied a millstone around his own neck and drowned himself than do such injustice to this sensitive child. And this pastor is not alone in his actions. Jim's family members also have participated in this violence to Jim's faith and sensitivities. It's as we are told in Matthew 18:1-7:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" Nowhere in the Bible are we told that animals don't go to heaven. To the contrary, we are told that they are living souls just as we are. Even if this pastor didn't fully understand this, he could have said, "The Bible doesn't tell us, but we can hope and pray that it's true. Would you like me to pray with you?"

But this pastor didn't do this. Our societal influences had so corrupted this man's faith and sensitivities, too, that he was likewise blinded to the truth.

Jim has since turned his attention to helping people become more loving and compassionate toward all of God's nonhuman creatures, but he has never returned to the church from where he saw much of this hardness of heart coming. How long are we going to continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by sanitizing violence in our society?

How long are we going to blind ourselves to the truth that we are not living in the knowledge of the Lord, where there will no longer be any hurting or destroying of any kind? How long are we going to blind ourselves to the fact that violent video games, movies, and television do harden the hearts of our children?

When are we, as a society, even as a small part of society, going to begin to live in the knowledge of the Lord as He desires us to live, and not just some of the time but all the time? God really and truly loves us all, and desires only the best for us, if we would only allow Him to truly be Lord of our lives; if we would only allow Him to soften our hearts.

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