24 February 2009

the yellow warbler: an alternative to Scot McKnight

With apologies to Scot McKnight . . .

My wife and I are in no way birdwatchers, something we have no clue about.  In fact I spent way too much time trying to look up what I thought this particular bird might be, hoping that I would not find something extinct or indigenous to some remote island.  You know you are not a birder if you can only refer to them as 'that red one' or 'that pretty one' and don't really notice if squirrels are in your yard.  You know you are even more of a non-birder when the thought has never crossed your mind to shoo away squirrels with a water pistol.

Looking out our window in the autumn of 2008 and looking down to see what caught the gaze of my two-year old daughter, I happened to observe a flash of bright yellow in the trees across the drive.  I saw the whole bird at once, but since I'm not a birder it made no difference than if I only saw a portion of it.  What kind of yellow bird is this?  I would never know for certain.  Content to return to my day I noticed that my little girl was captivated.

Tempted to ignore the situation, I was reminded to soak in the beauty of creation.  So we began to take note of its manners.  Odd thing, my interest in this bird encounter.  And my daughter was clearly excited, though she had not learned how to formulate enough words to accurately describe the situation.  How does this bird behave when compared to other birds?  I would not be able to tell, for it was the only bird flying low to the ground and within our view.

There were sparrows which were content to keep their distance from this little yellow bird, staying high upon the rooftops and electric wires.  When the yellow bird moved a little, the other birds did not move.  Were they indifferent because here was a bird who was different, even somewhat strange?  My biblical training kicked in with full force - this could in fact be a metaphor for how we mishandle theology - and I was almost incredulous with the behavior of these snooty sparrows.

Just then the most peculiar thing happened.  As the yellow warbler jumped along the ground to check for some small snippets of food, an alley cat darted from behind the bush and nabbed him.  In my stunned state I almost forgot to remember that my little girl had been watching with excitement the entire time.  Not realizing what was happening in front of her, she retained her excitement - now directed to "the kitty!  the kitty!"  Too late to shield her from this event, I walked away from the window, went to my office, emerged with a black suit and conducted a funeral for the bird.  (I really didn't do this but I'm ordained Brethren, and we think it is fun to joke about death.)

Within a 90 second time period there was nothing left but a few yellow feathers on the ground, and a content tomcat.  And I realized that my observance of bird social behavior had been somewhat misguided.  For it appears that there are times when we find ourselves with what appears to be snooty birds who are unable to accept one who looks different and has alternate behavior.  But in reality it could be that it is just stupid to run around on the ground when a common cat could kill you.

Someday my daughter will once again grapple with the problem of evil.  For now, this will do.

cf. Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 22-24


hipperken said...

Here I was, all excited for you that you got to see a Yellow Warbler...I totally did not see the cat thing coming - then again, neither did the bird!

chris ridgeway said...

for simplicity, I'll use "lingo:" lol.