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Symbolic Neighbors

This will prove that you are children of God. For God makes the sun rise on bad and good alike; God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? ~ Matthew 5:45-46

When our nation’s founders were choosing a national bird, they settled on the Bald Eagle, thinking it noble, and no doubt fierce. While it is truly an elegant bird and an impressive hunter for the most part, it will be sure to be first in line if there is a free pile of scraps to feed off of. In Alaska, the largest gatherings of eagles tend to be at the garbage dump.

Ben Franklin advocated for the Wild Turkey to be the choice. Turkeys are more noble and more clever than most people think. They are can fly over fifty miles an hour, find food even in the dead of winter, and when the toms strut, there is hardly a better show. But even though the males are showy, the females are capable of near invisibility when they are on a nest. Turkeys are notable in the way they are cooperative. After the young hatch, hens and poults will gather in large groups for protection.

Neither of these species have fared well in the subsequent years. Eagles became endangered while we figured out the dangers of the pesticide DDT. Their near extinction rallied support to protect them and today they are thriving again. Turkeys were found to be tasty, so a combination of unchecked hunting and extensive loss of habitat caused them to be wiped out in the face of expanding settlement. By the early 1800s, there were no turkeys left in Maine.

The effort to reintroduce this native species began in the 1940s, ironically with farm birds that were descendants of birds taken to Europe from Mexico by explorers in the 1500s. If you have any experience with domesticated turkeys you won’t be surprised to learn that these efforts failed. Success came in 1977 when 111 Wild Turkeys were captured in Vermont and New Hampshire and released in Maine. Today, the estimated population of turkeys in Maine is well over 50,000!

With so many original inhabitants of the land returning, it is not surprising that not all humans are pleased. We too easily complain when we are inconvenienced. We forget the lessons that if we don’t respect the needs of our neighbors we can do them great harm. And we choose to justify or suppress the history of our direct harm to neighbors, wild or otherwise, who got in the way of what we desired.

In this season of gratitude, we are challenged to be grateful for all good things. The trick is determining what is good. If God makes the rain fall and the sun rise for not only the good but the evil, it seems that perhaps God makes fewer distinctions that we do. God makes the rain to fall and the sun to rise on the eagles and the turkeys alike.

Prayer: Rainmaker and sunriser, give us compassion for all our neighbors. Amen.


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