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Free as a Bird

The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” ~ Acts 16:29-30

The basic premise of a zoo is that there will be some safe form of separation between you and the wild animals. It might be a cage of some sort, a wall of glass, or simply distance. The glaring exception is an aviary, where you are up close and personal with birds. While this may imitate the experience of being in the wild with the birds, the truth is that you have willingly entered into their captivity. In a real sense, at that moment neither you nor the birds are free.

When birds are kept as pets, sometimes we attempt to liberate them from their cages, but there is always something keeping them captive, whether clipped wings or assesses attached to their legs used to tether them to a falconer. Even placing bird feeders in convenient locations so we can see the visitors is close to attempting to tame wild birds for our enjoyment. The truth is that whether by confinement or enticement, we are in a struggle with the natural instinct of birds to fly free.

When a captive bird escapes that one faces a significant challenge to acclimate. Some do that for a while (like Flacco, the Eurasian Eagle-owl in New York City) and some do it spectacularly (like European Starlings). The species that go feral and get established clearly cannot do it alone. At minimum, a mating pair is required, but the real critical mass is more than that. One of the showier examples of escaped birds finding new homes are the scattered and localized colonies of Monk Parakeets. A common pet trade species, when they have been released accidentally they have taken to creating their unmistakable nests, veritable high-rise condominiums of large green, noisy neighbors. The demonstrate a simple truth: freedom is not the same thing as independence.

In the story of Paul and Silas being freed from prison by an earthquake, they live this truth. Rather than caring just for themselves they understanding that they cannot be truly free while their former jailer is captive. Seeing himself as a failure he considers taking his own life. Paul and Silas show him a path to new life embodying the life-giving power of love that sets everyone free.

Prayer: Great Liberator, empower us to live out your gift by loving powerfully, knowing that none are truly free until all are free. Amen.


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