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Religion for Cows
by Shawn Westmoreland
7/24/2017 / Short Stories
The west Texas air was hot and thick. The kind of thick that makes it hard to take a deep breath. Especially if you are a cow. Terrance was a young, healthy and very thoughtful cow. He had never been inside a cattle trailer before today. “This is the most horrible thing that has ever happened to me,” moaned Terrance. But even though they were jammed in the trailer side to side and nose to tail, none of the other cows acknowledged him over the deafening roar of the large truck that was pulling them. He was thankful for the breeze that blew through the porous sides of the trailer as they rode along. But he noticed that when the giant rig slowed down or stopped, the breeze died away leaving the stench of many nervous cows, manure, and urine. And the flies. Where did the flies come from? They were nowhere to be seen until the truck stopped. Then, they seemed to come out of nowhere to bite and irritate. In the pasture, Terrance could lazily swat them away with his tail; but in this box he could hardly make even the smallest swat. “This must be how those big round bales of hay feel,” Terrance thought to himself.
The day had started out just like most days. In the early morning dew, they all plodded from the pasture up to the barn where they were greeted with fresh hay to munch on. But today was different. Today, men Terrance had never seen before were there to hastily herd part of them onto the trailer. Terrance did not really want to get on the trailer, but one of the men touched him with a stick that quickly motivated him to climb the steep ramp that led up into the back end of the trailer. After traveling down the road for a while, Terrance had gotten used to the back and forth, side to side motions of the big rig and began to notice the variety of new smells the breeze brought to his nostrils. Mingled with the odors of this new habitat were whiffs of a world that was completely foreign. The road they traveled on seemed to have a pungent smell all its own. The smaller boxes whizzing past emanated a different smell from the thick smoke of his large box. Other large boxes had that same smell. In places where the people were going in and out of brightly decorated barns were aromas that reminded Terrance of the time when his keepers had made a fire not far from the barn and cooked little patties that they proceeded to eat. The cows thought it was funny because the little patties looked a lot like what they left behind.
Terrance had not seen many of the small barns or boxes for some time when, as the trailer began to slow, he smelled that smell. It was the kind of smell that never leaves your memory. The only other time he had experienced it was when he was much younger, just barely weaned from his mother. One of the older cows had not been feeling well and had quit eating. Weakened and sick, the old cow had not kept up with the herd when they went to the pond for their last drink of the day before sleeping. The next morning, as the cows headed back toward the barn, the cows leading the way suddenly stopped. As the rest of the herd crowded about, Terrance saw and smelled what had drawn their attention. There on the ground, the older cow was lying still and appeared as stiff as one of the fence rails. His eyes were only half open and his tongue hung to one side of his mouth. It looked very dry. Most of his stomach was missing, exposing what was left of his insides. In the warmth of the early morning, flies had started to swarm about. “Blasted coyotes,” muttered one of the cows. That was the smell that had hit Terrance’s nostrils. Only this time, it was as if there were many cows who had succumbed to the same fate. A knot of fear started to tighten in all four of Terrance’s stomachs. The trailer slowed more and the stench became stronger, even above the stench of the trailer that Terrance had grown accustomed to. The other cows smelled it as well and Terrance could sense that they, too, were getting those same knots. There was something else though. It was the sound of other cows…and the sound of something else. Just barely, he could hear the fearful sounds of the cows and then a sharp noise rose above them just for an instant. It sounded like something that might come from one of the tractors that his keepers rode. A machine sound. The noises were not just in one place but in several. Over and over, they were not quite synchronized yet occurring almost simultaneously.
“What is this horrible place?” Terrance heard himself cry out.
“I do not think this will be a good day for us,” was the lone and solemn reply. The reply came from William. He was one of the older cows and Terrance had never met a kinder, gentler, or wiser cow in all the pasture. In a calm and soothing voice, William said, “Terrance, I hope you are ready to meet your Maker.”
“Maker?” Terrance asked. “Who is my Maker, and why is He here?”
“He isn’t just here,” William replied. “He’s all around us. He is the One who created everything and the One we go to live with when we die.”
“Maker!” snorted Richard. “Who wants to hear that rubbish at a time like this? The fact that we’re here at this place is just another reason why these old tales are nothing more than stories to get calves to behave!” Richard was a contentious sort of cow. He was one of the smartest cows in the pasture and very nice, as long as you agreed with him. One time, Richard had gone for an entire week without talking to anyone else in the herd just because they didn’t believe him when he said the winter that year was going to be much warmer than usual. The whole episode stemmed from his belief that the hay the cows were eating did not agree with their stomachs and the increased cow flatulence was making the pasture warmer! It turned out to be the coldest winter any cow could remember, but Richard said that only proved his point. “Anyone who believes in a Maker is just an idiot! Plain and simple,” continued Richard in a condescending tone.
“Please calm down, Richard,” soothed William. “Maybe this is the perfect time to consider our place in the world and our future beyond it. As to why we are here, perhaps this is just our lot. Some cows live in the pasture their whole lives and pass on in the night standing next to their friends. Yet you and I have lived long enough to see many other cows get on this same trailer, and I presume they took the same journey that we are taking now. In either case, it does not mean that there is not a Maker.”
The pasture. To Terrance, it seemed so far away now. The early morning sun, the soft grass, the cool water in the pond, the light from the full moon, and the bright beautiful stars that filled the moonless nights all seemed very far away. Terrance had often stared at the countless number of stars in the night sky and wondered who put them there. “Richard?” Terrance meekly asked. “If there is no Maker, then how did the stars get in the sky?”
“What do you mean, how did the stars get in the sky?” demanded Richard. “Don’t be foolish; they just appeared there one night!”
“You mean the same way I can see my breath when it is cold?” asked Terrance cautiously. Then he answered his own question, “But that is because of the cold.”
“Well, something like that,” Richard said resignedly. “I mean there is an explanation, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. I’m just exactly sure what it is not. And that “is not” is a Maker!”
“Think about Terrance’s question for a moment, Richard,” said William quietly. “You know from the pasture that everything in our world has a beginning. The grass comes from the seeds, the rain comes from the clouds, calves come from…well, you know where they come from. Why are the stars any different? They had to start somewhere and that somewhere is the Maker.”
“Then where did the Maker come from?” asked Richard triumphantly. “Did the Maker have a Maker who had a Maker who…well, you know where I am going with this.”
Slowly and patiently, William replied, “The Maker is outside of our world. He was before our world. He is the one thing that is different and does not need to have a beginning. Besides, why ask about the Maker’s Maker when only having one Maker is enough?”
“Still rubbish!” retorted Richard. “At least I can see the stars and the grass. Have you ever seen this Maker? Have you seen Him, Terrance?”
“Well, I guess not. I mean, no.” Terrance answered. “Have you ever seen Him, William?” asked Terrance.
“No, I have not,” admitted William. “However, I can see His hoof-print all around us and even inside us. If He did not exist, then how would we know right from wrong? Tell me, Richard, would I be right or wrong to say that because you did not believe in the Maker you would have to leave the herd? Is it right or wrong if you tell a lie or take hay that isn’t yours?”
“Of course those would be wrong,” replied Richard.
“Would it be right or wrong to help a calf get out of the pond, even if it meant that you might slip and fall?” continued William.
“Of course that would be right,” Richard sighed under his breath.
“But what is it that makes these things wrong or right?” pressed William.
“They just are!” Richard retorted. “You haven’t shown anything about the Maker, just how we ought to act to get along.”
“Not true,” declared William. “Since there are things we can agree on as right or wrong, that knowledge has to come from somewhere else; and it seems most reasonable that it came from the Maker. So you see, even if we cannot see Him, we have the evidence for the Maker right there inside us.”
“You are an idiot,” snapped Richard. “I don’t have time for any more of this nonsense.”
The trailer had stopped now. The dust from the dirt road filtered in through the sides of the trailer and made the cows snort and sneeze. Some of them tried to move around nervously, but they were packed in too tight. The driver was talking to someone standing next to the rig. The other person was pointing to the side of an enormous building. There were large doors along the front of the building with pens in front of them. At one of the doors, another group of cows was being herded inside. They did not want to go in, but the men were touching them with the same kind of sticks that Terrance had been introduced to that morning.
“William, will everyone get to see the Maker,” asked Terrance.
“I wish they would,” answered William. “But unfortunately, not everyone will.”
“Don’t try to scare that poor cow!” scolded Shirley. “Of course we will all get to see our Maker; no matter what we believe about her.” Shirley was a nice cow. She was always willing to share her advice with anyone who would listen. She was also very tolerant of the thoughts of the other cows, as long as they agreed with her. Shirley was prone to standing in the sun away from the other cows. “Communing” was the word Terrance heard her use to explain it to some other cows. Those cows thought it sounded very peaceful and relaxing, so they started joining her. She was a bit put off when the rest of the herd decided not to join in.
“That’s not true, Shirley,” replied William. “Our Maker has given His Word to many cows before us, and they all say that there is only one way we will get to live with Him. We have to trust in the Maker’s Son who gave His life to pay for our sins.”
“What are sins?” asked Terrance sheepishly. He was a bit sorry for starting this conversation in the first place, but at least it was something to take his mind off that awful building and the horrors that he was beginning to realize awaited them. He wasn’t sure what they were, but deep inside he knew there would be horrors.
“There is no such thing as sin,” Shirley snorted indignantly. “Sin is just something a bunch of stuffy old cows a long time ago came up with to make everyone act the way they wanted!”
“Is that true, William?” asked Terrance with a bit of wishfulness in his voice.
“No, Terrance, that is not true. Our Maker has given us specific rules to live by; and when we disobey those rules, we have committed a sin,” explained William. “Unfortunately, since no cow is perfect, we have all committed sin. And because we have committed sin, we are not worthy to live with the Maker when we die.”
“What?” exclaimed Terrance. “Rules! Sins! I’ve never heard about these rules! And if every cow has made these sins, then how are you going to live with the Maker, William?”
“Exactly!” chimed in Shirley. “There are probably whole herds who have never heard about William’s rules and silly sins. So, William, are you telling us that those cows will never live happily with the Maker when they die? It sounds like your Maker doesn’t really love cows at all! I don’t think I’d want to live with a Maker like that.” Shirley stomped a hoof as best as she could for added emphasis.
William looked down at the floor of the trailer for a few seconds. When he lifted his head, Terrance could see the sadness in the older cow’s eyes. “You are right, Terrance,” William said softly. “On my own, I would never be able to live with the Maker, no matter how hard I tried to follow His rules. That is why I have to trust that His Son’s sacrifice, the only one of us who never sinned, is enough to cover all of our sins. There is not enough good we could do to let us live with the Maker, only accept the gift he offers to us.”
“But what about those other herds?” asked Terrance. “Would they really not meet the Maker if they had never heard of Him?”
“That is a tough question, indeed,” replied William. “Many cows have wondered the same question. As I tried to explain to Richard, we can know there is a Maker from what He has made. And we can know that He has rules based on what we feel in our hearts. Because of those two things, no cow is without excuse when they stand before the Maker. It’s a testament to the Maker’s love that any cow is able to live with Him.”
Terrance could hear the door of the truck creak open and the sound of the driver’s feet as he landed on the gravel. A few seconds later, a new smell wafted through the trailer. It was a familiar smell, but not exactly. It was similar to the smell of the clouds that were made when the cowhands built a fire. Terrance could see a small cloud moving along the side of the trailer but it was not dark like the clouds from the cowhands. It was much lighter in color, like the clouds in the sky, and sort of reminded him of bitterweed.
“Prepare to meet your Maker you bovine-fidels!” came a shout from near the front of the trailer. It was Moo-Hamid. Moo-Hamid could be a kind and generous cow, if you agreed with him. He and some of the other younger male cows generally stayed together and away from the rest of the herd, unless hay was put out for everyone to munch on. They had some pretty strict rules that they thought the whole herd should obey. On occasion, they would try to make the rest of the herd go along with them, but the other cows would have no part in it. That generally made Moo-Hamid and his minions very angry, and they would refer to everyone else as “bovine-fidels.” Terrance was never sure exactly what that name meant, but it did not sound nice. Terrance was a little afraid of Moo-Hamid, so he tried to stay out of their way.
But on this particular day, Terrance had much greater fears than Moo-Hamid. “Do you believe in the same Maker as William does?” Terrance called out to Moo-Hamid.
“Of course not!” snapped Moo-Hamid. “We believe in the true Maker, not the rubbish that William spouts on about. Since you other cows have never showed your loyalty to Him by not grazing for a whole day, or by setting aside part of your hay for Him, or by following the rules we warned you about, you will suffer His wrath!”
“True Maker? Not grazing? William, what is he talking about?” exclaimed Terrance. “How do I know which one of you is right?”
“Moo-Hamid, what is the greatest good?” asked William.
“That is simple, William. It is the love we show to all cows,” replied Moo-Hamid. That answer surprised Terrance. He did not think of Moo-Hamid and his followers as showing love.
“And Moo-Hamid, what is the greatest expression of that love?” inquired William.
“Again, that is simple William. It is self-sacrifice.” Terrance noticed that Moo-Hamid’s tone had softened now.
William pressed further, “Which shows more love, self-sacrifice for your friends or self-sacrifice for your enemies?”
“For your enemies, I suppose,” came the slow reply from Moo-Hamid.
“Moo-Hamid, the Maker that I worship loved us so much that He was willing to die for us even before we knew He existed, while we were still His enemies,” said William quietly.
“Rubbish,” murmured Moo-Hamid. Then he became very quiet and just looked out the side of the trailer.
Terrance heard the door of the truck slam shut. Suddenly the engine of the large truck came alive and the trailer lurched forward. The cows did their best to keep their balance, shifting their hooves slightly, even though there was no real danger of them falling over since they were packed in so tightly. The driver maneuvered the trailer so that the rear of the trailer was now facing a large door at the side of that hideous building. Several other men appeared and spread around the outside of the trailer. One of them opened the rear door and let down the ramp. The other men began to shout at the cows and shoo them off the trailer. The cows did the best they could to turn toward the rear so they could see their way out. The cows at the front did not want to leave and shuffled slowly. The cows at the rear began to push ahead as several of them were touched with those painful sticks.
Terrance was terrified. He did his best to stay next to William while the older cow, sensing Terrance’s fear, moved as close to Terrance as he could. As they moved inside the building, the cows moved slowly, two at a time, into a long and narrow hallway. The lights were surprisingly bright to Terrance. Not bright like the sun, but a white sort of light that just illuminated everything around him.
“William, I’m scared!” exclaimed Terrance.
“Terrance, what do think happens to cows when we die?” asked William.
“I guess we would go live with the Maker,” answered Terrance with a trembling, timid voice.
William calmly and quietly continued, “And why would the Maker let you live with Him?”
“I’m a good cow! Why wouldn’t He let me live with Him?” Terrance protested.
“You see Terrance, that is the central problem. You say you are good by comparing yourself to the other cows. But the Maker judges our goodness by His standards, not by ours.” William paused for a moment to let that statement sink in. “Let me ask you this, have you ever said something that was not true?”
Terrance thought for a brief moment. “Well,” he said sheepishly, “there was this time when I told some calves there was a bunch of coyotes just over the hill. It just seemed like fun at the time.”
“Then you told a lie,” said William. “And if you tell a lie, what does that make you?”
“Well, a liar I guess,” said Terrance. Terrance felt a little something like a sting down deep inside. Not really in his body, but just..inside.
“And have you ever taken something that did not belong to you?”
“I have eaten hay that was not intended for me.” Terrance looked down as that sting hurt just a little bit more.
“That is stealing,” said William. “And if you steal, what does that make you?”
“A thief,” murmured Terrance. He wasn’t sure which was making him tremble the most: his fear of what was at the end of this long hallway or the sting inside him that kept hurting a little more. All around him the other cows were frightened. Up ahead, he could see the hallway was beginning to curve to the right. The stench was all around him. The air was so thick that it felt like he could taste that horrible smell.
“But my idea of a Maker would not keep me out!” blurted Terrance.
“That’s because he is a Maker that you have made up in your mind to suit yourself,” explained William. “And making up a Maker to take the place of the true Maker is called idolatry, which you just admitted to be guilty of.”
William did not relent his questioning. “Have you ever disliked another cow so much that you wanted something bad to happen to him?”
“Yes,” stammered Terrance. His insides felt like they were in a knot. He now knew that as scared as he was, the trembling was not from that fear.
“According to the Maker, to hate another cow is the same as murder.” William became very serious; his voice was quiet but firm. “So Terrance, by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, murderous, and idolatrous cow. When you stand before the Maker, do you think He will find you worthy to live with Him?”
“No, He won’t,” sobbed Terrance. “William, He won’t let me in! What do I do? How can I get in?” The curving hallway narrowed so that only one cow could fit. William was now in front of Terrance.
“Terrance, as I already said, none of us are good enough to live with the Maker. But He loved us enough to provide a way for us to live with Him by sending His Son to take our punishment for the wrongs we’ve done. All we have to do is believe that sacrifice was sufficient, tell the Maker how sorry we are for breaking His rules, and do our best to live a life that honors Him. That’s all, Terrance. There is nothing simpler than to trust in His Son. Living a life that honors Him is much more difficult, but we don’t really have to worry about that anymore since our lives have drawn to a close.”
“I do believe!” exclaimed Terrance. “My heart tells me it’s true; my mind tells me it’s true; I feel His conviction.” Terrance looked up at those white lights above him. “Maker, I am so sorry for breaking your rules. I am so sorry that I have not lived for you. I trust in the sacrifice of Your Son and with the few short moments I have, I give my life to you.” A wave of peace and happiness flooded over Terrance like he had never felt before. It was not euphoria; it was not feeling unified with the universe; it was as if a giant weight was lifted off his shoulders that he didn’t even know was there. Fear and anxiety were suddenly replaced by calm and courage.
“Congratulations, Terrance!” shouted William. Just as William rounded the corner, a man appeared on his left side to guide him onto a small platform while another man on his right put something next to his head. Terrance watched as William’s body suddenly went limp. The platform with William’s body moved forward and another slid into its place.
“William!” shouted Terrance as the man now on his left smacked him on the hindquarter. Without thinking, Terrance stepped onto his platform. He felt something hard press into the side of his head. In an instant, the horrific sights, sounds, and smells of the slaughterhouse disappeared. Terrance felt more alive than he ever had before. He looked around quickly. It was beautiful.
“Hello, Terrance, I’ve been waiting for you.” It was the familiar voice of William.
Shawn is a Christ-follower, husband, father and novice writer with an interest in Christian apologetics.
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