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My siblings, your faith in our glorious Savior Jesus Christ must not allow favoritism. ~ James 2:1

The World Series of Birding was birthed when Pete Dunne convinced the legendary Roger Tory Peterson (of Peterson Field Guides fame) to join him for a twenty-four hour quest to identify as many birds as possible in the state of New Jersey. Being a team competition, of course rules had to be developed. For instance, you have to be physically within the geographic boundaries but the bird does not. But perhaps more important is the interpretation of the rules. The reason for that is that the basis for the entire competition is the honor system. There are no referees in the field, only you, your teammates, and your conscience.

One of the rules is that 90% of the species on your list have to be independently identified by all members of your team. Defining the meanings of independent and identify have consumed countless hours over the years for our team. There was that one time when we pulled up at the microwave tower where the one reliable Common Raven’s nest was. We saw that Pete’s team had pulled in just moments before. Pete had jumped out of the car while the rest of the team was exiting the vehicle. There was an indistinct croak that stopped Pete in his tracks. He pointed and shouted “there” as he rushed back to the car. Gravel flying as they exited, we looked at each other in wonder. Was that truly a raven and not a passing crow? Had every member of the team, even those only partially out of the car, identified the sound? Had the teammates identified it independently or was it based solely on Pete’s pronouncement? We waited, craned our necks for a look at the nest, losing time working on an identification that would satisfy our apparently higher standard. This became the first of many times that our team would ask ourselves “what would Pete Dunne do?” Admittedly, we used WWPDD sarcastically to suggest playing a bit loose with the rules, which does seem to be permissible when you are the creator of said rules, doesn’t it?

Of course, it’s all fun and games until there are winners and losers. The year that the winning team shattered the record due to a significant number of species that only their team reported led to a rule change that limited the number of species that any team can report that no other team reports. Remarkably, that rule has never been invoked, making the charge of cheating that year a matter of “if the shoe fits…”

Then there is the distinction between the letter of the law and what is actually fair. By the precise rules, established prior to the competition, our team won the Urner Stone Cup in 2013. We reported more species than any team in our category, but there was a youth team that reported more. So we went to bed thinking that we won but awoke to a ruling by the directors that we didn’t. That stung. I can’t say that I didn’t complain, but it was fair. The committee chose not to show favoritism, and in the end that is not only fair, but the way to create equality.

Prayer: O God, help us to do and support what is fair, even when that means someone else wins. Amen.


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