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Little Boxes

For you formed my inward parts;you knitted me together in my mother's womb.I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.~ Psalm 139:13-14

She said “there’s a Willow Flycatcher.” I hadn’t heard it, so I asked “where?” and a short while later, I also heard it call. Since we were scanning the skies for an elusive, far-out-of-range Crested Caracara, this flycatcher was simply an interesting diversion. After hearing it a few more times, she expressed doubt about the initial identification. We both started listening more intently and moved closer to where the bird was singing. Sure enough, it was something between “fitz bew” and “free beer.” We discussed the length of the first note and where on the spectrum of liquid vs. dry the voice was. Eventually, we were in agreement that this bird was singing the Alder Flycatcher song.

The experience was a reminder that these two species are so similar that they once were considered the same species, Traill’s Flycatcher. In fact, when researchers have the bird in hand, they still use Traill’s as the identification unless it sings, which obviously can still be tricky. The urge to identify, classify, and categorize is strong. Biologists work in minutiae differentiating species and determining class and order. When facts are established, the desire for familiarity gives way to the new conclusions. This means that species split, species lump, lists change order, and names change. Whether it is remembering the new name or where to find the species description in the latest field guide, birders adapt. All the while, the birds themselves remain unchanged. Surely they know themselves best...if only they would pass on that knowledge on to us!

Of course, our felt need to have everything fit into neat boxes is not limited to the natural world. We attempt this with people all too often as well. The current efforts to deny gender-affirming care is a dangerous and potentially lethal expression of this urge to impose a familiar structure limiting individual expression rather than allowing transgender folk to tell the rest of us who they are. Surely they know themselves best. Perhaps, we just need to let them sing their songs and we can adapt and expand our understanding just like we do with other new discoveries. When new knowledge doesn’t fit in our old boxes it is time for new ones.

Prayer: God who makes no mistakes, show us ours. Remind us that you don’t fit in any of our boxes, so we should not be surprised when your fearfully and wonderfully made children don’t either. Amen.


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