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Not All Birds Are Created Equal

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus…” — Romans 15:5

Like many beginning birders, when I first flipped through a field guide and saw how many warblers there were, I thought I’d never be able to identify them all, particularly those on that page ominously titled “confusing fall warblers.” Over time I came to realize that their diversity was a gift, there were multiple field marks to distinguish them. Even the quiet and more plain birds heading south in the fall can be separated by the presence or absence of patterns on the wings or under the tail, or sometimes just leg color. As it turns out, the sparrows, with their infuriatingly inconsistent patterns and never-ending subtleties of brown would prove a bigger challenge. Some of them don’t even have the decency of having a song that is clearly different than its neighbor.

But, by far, the biggest birding challenge (which attracts the craziest birders) is the gull family. Not only they are they all primarily white, with hints of gray, and, if you are lucky, some black. They tend to gather in huge numbers during the worst of weather. So that means that twitchers (birders obsessed with listing) are required to bundle up and try to find a needle in a wet and windy haystack. On top of everything else, the keepers of the “official” list have a nasty habit of changing their minds. For years, I was able to pick out an Iceland Gull and not have to determine if it might, instead, be a Thayer’s Gull, since they were considered a race of the same species. But once they were split, I immediately valued one more highly than the other. Since I had previously seen numerous Iceland Gulls, naturally all Iceland Gulls simply became an opportunity to turn it into a Thayer’s.

After a few “almosts,” I finally bagged a Thayer’s...just in time for the experts to lump it back in with Icelands. Aside from creating some havoc with my life list, it also provided a lesson about not valuing all creatures equally. My partiality for one species over another was purely subjective, and clearly somewhat misplaced. But don’t we all fall all too easily for that sort of thinking? We tend to show more respect for some people than others, more concern for some than others. Granted, some people demonstrate behaviors that justify certain responses, but I’m talking about objective assessments and first impressions. It is important to check ourselves for negative prejudices that shape our interactions. Jesus spent a lot of time turning the tables on our expectations. Surely he did that so that we might not only learn to live in harmony with all, but also that we might have more concern for those who need it by showing a preferential option for those on the margins.

Prayer: Creator not only of all but of each, keep prompting us to recognize that you love creation by entering it. Amen.


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