Extinction Is Forever
How long, YHWH? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1
Ah, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker! Is it extinct or does it still exist. The last clear photos of living Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were taken in the 1930s, and the last universally accepted sightings were in the 1940s. Now a team of researchers are offering new grainy and distant images as proof that there are still a few of this magnificent species surviving in inaccessible swamps in the southern U.S.
A familiar cycle will, no doubt, return. Hope will rise and people will rejoice and believe. Then close examination of the data will raise doubts and hope will fade. For a time, there will be bitter arguments between camps, but in the end, short of conclusive evidence, we will be left with a flickering hope, nurtured because, well, because hope is always the better option than cynicism.
A prominent leader in the bird-watching community, Kenn Kaufman, recently weighed in on the news. He wrote, “In the past I’ve taken an active part in these arguments about the evidence, or lack of it. This time my view is different. It’s this: I’m just glad there are people who CARE so much about this bird.” He then succinctly points out, “Apathy kills.”
He is right. The opposite of love is not hate. Hate takes energy. Hate engages. The true opposite of love is apathy. When we stop caring, we start dying. The fact that people care that an elusive, mysterious, flashy bird that may have survived for decades against the odds is a good sign that the appetite for hope remains strong.
Caring about the extinction of a single species is a small thing. There are far more important issues of injustice that demand our attention. When we are feeling the weight of injustice, it is natural to lament with the psalmist, “how long, O God?” When thinking of extinction, the answer is “forever.” Thank God, literally, that in the long night of suffering, we remember the light of God’s presence, trusting that it will always return.
The futility of hoping against hope feels like a nightmare, but as people of faith, we dream what seem to be impossible dreams. Kaufman said it well, “Even if the impossible dream is never achieved, there is something magnificent in the act of dreaming it.”
Prayer: Lover of underdogs, and bettor on long shots, hear our cry for justice, especially for the least of these our siblings (and remind us that dismantling injustice begins with us). Amen