One of the many delightful things about spring in the Pacific Northwest is the return of the birds. My yard and surrounding fields and trees have become host to a multitude of feathered friends in the past several weeks. The influx began with the first appearance of the robins, hopping along the ground in search of worms. They were closely followed by the juncos, their little black executioners’ hoods belying their sunny disposition. Soon the bird feeder outside my kitchen window was swarming with a proverbial melting pot of creation’s finest – finches with their heads and throats washed in red, white-crowned sparrows looking like rebellious teens who dyed their hair in stripes to annoy their parents, American goldfinches strutting their stuff in brilliant yellow. And I now understand why Capistrano makes such a fuss about the annual return of the swallows. These iridescent blue gems are the Top Gun acrobats of the avian world – swooping, soaring and doing loop-de-loops in death-defying precision.
The birds are not only a visual presence but an auditory one. The variety of their song is a strangely harmonious symphony of sound – the raspy scales of the blackbirds, the caw of the blue jays, the chirps and trills and whistles of the smaller birds. It strikes me that this bounty is a microcosm of the family of God. They, and we, are a diverse species, but there is beauty in the multiplicity. Oh, there might be squabbles at the feeder, attempts to establish dominance, but there is a delicate balance that exists, an interrelatedness that is necessary to ensure the survival of all. The birds accept the presence of their feathered cousins, peacefully co-existing in the community tree, where the same branch might hold the nests of both sparrow and finch.
Unfortunately, humankind seems to have a harder time with this. Too many of us are frightened by our differences, intimidated by the variations of color, creed, and lifestyle, and offended by anyone who sings an unfamiliar song or dances to a different drummer. Our competition over life’s necessities and our struggle for dominance are more fierce and too often, sadly, to the death. We do not see the need for diversity, because we only seem to feel affirmed in our sameness. It is only when we see ourselves mirrored in those around us that we feel acceptable. Our egos are reassured by people who act, think and believe the same way we do. There is safety in numbers. But there is also stagnation and a slow, life-sapping numbness that leads to a loss of meaning.
In the example of Christ, I believe there is a call to something more. As Jesus ate and walked and talked with tax collectors and Samaritans and the “unclean”, he showed us the way. As he healed the sick and forgave prostitutes, thieves, and the men who nailed him to a cross, he revealed to us a kingdom in which all are welcome and where diversity is not only celebrated, but contributes to the good of the whole. This is the challenge. Can we transcend our differences? Can we welcome our neighbors who are gay or Muslim or tattooed? Can we acknowledge that an uneducated laborer might have wisdom that we need to hear? Can we glory in the variety of colors and songs of the human animal? Can we acknowledge our interdependence in the delicate balance of life? Can we believe in the interconnection of all things, both seen and unseen? God’s eye is on the sparrow. Perhaps that sparrow has something to teach us all. May it be so.