Why are we fighting?

Why are we fighting?

Female Ruby Throat Hummingbird readies for take-off to defend "her" feeder from rivals.

Female Ruby Throated Hummingbird readies for take-off to defend “her” feeder from rivals.

In my area of South Louisiana, we have been fortunate to receive a little rain on August 11 and 12.  The rain has cooled the temperatures to the point where it no longer feels like we are living on the surface of the sun!  With the rain cooled temperatures, I have been able to sit on my porch for a few minutes and enjoy God’s beautiful creation, including watching the birds.  I have been a bird watcher for almost as long as I can remember.  In one house, we had a large picture window in the dining room.  We would sit, eat our meals, and watch the birds at the feeder outside.  One Christmas, I received a Peterson’s Guide to Wild Birds and we would identify the species, then check off the cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmice, and other birds as we saw them at our feeder.

Female Ruby Throat Hummingbird takes a break from feeding to look for rivals.

Female Ruby Throated Hummingbird takes a break from feeding to look for rivals.

This passion of watching birds has continued as an adult.  Now, one of my favorite things is to watch the hummingbirds when they are here in South Louisiana from March to October.  I love that they are such talented fliers, able to hover in place or zoom by at high speeds.  But I don’t understand why they have trouble sharing.  My hummingbirds would rather fight over a feeder (and the sugar water mix that is in it) than share a drop.  Rubythroat.org says that this is natural and that the hummingbird is simply trying to protect its territory and food source http://www.rubythroat.org/RTHUTerritorialityMain.html.  I guess these fights are not very serious as I have never seen, nor heard of, a hummingbird killed or injured by a rival’s attack.  But I wish they would share instead of fight!  It costs very little for me to feed them- the water is almost free, the sugar is inexpensive, and one 5 pound bag of sugar will last all season and beyond.  Not to mention that I can make enough sugar water for weeks in only a few minutes.  The hummingbirds fight over a resource that is almost limitless and comes at no cost to them.

While I thought about the hummingbirds fighting over inexpensive sugar water, it occurred to me that humans are capable of doing the same thing.  Oh, maybe we don’t fight over territory or food sources (though sometimes we might), but we are still good at fighting.  As football is starting again, there have been several physical fights between teams, and even within teams, as players “fight” for playing time and a spot on the team.  Political candidates are “fighting” for their party’s nomination and your vote.  While political candidates may not be struggling with one another physically, they use “fighting words” that can sometimes be as harmful as physical confrontations.  Several candidates are already in hot water over controversial, even derogatory, things that they have carelessly spoken.

Some fights, though, are much more serious.  As I write, peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri have again turned violent and a Shreveport police officer was tragically killed on a routine call.  Then there are the fights that go on in our homes, hopefully mostly over homework or bedtime, but we know all too well that many times harmful words are used and sometimes, regretfully, physical force is sometimes used against those that we are supposed to love the most.  Like my hummingbirds, humans are pretty good at fighting.

Surely, you say, this would not be the case in the church.  But, regretfully, our penchant for fighting can also spill over into the church.  We are tempted to say that one ministry is better than or more important than another.  We think that one church is greater than another or to talk uncharitably about our neighbor.  We do all of this fighting with one another in the name of Jesus, who only hours before he was to be arrested, tried and crucified, prayed that his disciples would be one.  “‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,* so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21-22 NRSV.  Maybe one reason we have been unsuccessful in winning the world for Christ is that we have spent so much time, money, and energy fighting among ourselves.

Like the hummingbirds, we have been given an inexhaustible resource, the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God.  While it cost Jesus everything, God’s grace comes at no cost to us, except that we are called to give up our own self for God.  The next time you and I are tempted to start or participate in a fight, maybe we should remember the hummingbirds and the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God.

Working Together for the Common Good

A group of Humpback Whales swims in the waters near Juneau, Alaska

A group of Humpback Whales swims in the waters near Juneau, Alaska

In Juneau, we went on a whale watching tour.  We saw eagles, sea lions, and the group of Humpback whales pictured above.  While we were watching we saw the whales dive, and a few minutes later they surfaced at the same time, mouth open wide.  We were amazed and even the marine biology students that were our guides were excited to see this behavior, which they saw only rarely even though they were on the water daily.  Scientists call this behavior “Bubble Net Feeding”.  The Juneau Humpback Whale Catalog describes Bubble Net Feeding this way;  “To summarize the bubble net technique; a group of humpbacks will dive down to herring schools where one whale (the bubble-blower) will release a ring of bubbles from its blowhole as it spirals beneath the prey. As this air rises to the surface, it creates a curtain of bubbles that acts as a physical barrier to frighten and retain the school of herring. Simultaneously, another whale in the

A group of Humpback Whales surface while Bubble Net Feeding.  (Photo credit- Fay Schaller)

A group of Humpback Whales surface while Bubble Net Feeding. (Photo credit- Fay Schaller)

group will produce resonating vocalizations, which also act to frighten the prey and trigger them to school up in tight balls within the bubble net. The whales then orient below the schooled fish and lunge, mouths open, to the surface through the center of the bubble ring, or bubble net. This motion drives the fish to the surface, where they are trapped from all sides (the surface of the water above, the bubble curtain on the sides and the open mouths of whales below). The whales will break the surface of the water in unison with mouths wide open, and then close their mouths while roll at the surface as they force the water from their throat cavity out through their baleen plates; the sieving process which allows them to swallow their catch without having to swallow excess saltwater.” Juneau Humpback Whale Catalog

It was amazing to witness this behavior.  Unfortunately, since we never knew where the whales would surface, I didn’t get a picture of it, even though we witnessed it several times.  The photo of Bubble Net Feeding is from a thumb drive of pictures purchased at Glacier Bay National Park and was taken by Fay Schaller.  But the most interesting thing I learned about Bubble Net Feeding is that the group of whales is unrelated and that it is passed from one generation to another.  “Most incredible of all, this behavior seems to be passed on from generation to generation, and between unrelated groups of humpback whales. The only other mammal known to pass on collaborative feeding behavior among unrelated groups? Humans.” (source: http://www.imagesandinspiration.com/archives/1088)  The group of whales we witnessed included a Humpback Whale calf following behind the adults by about 100 yards witnessing and, presumably, learning this behavior.

I thought that if unrelated whales could come together for the common good, why can’t humans?  But in congress, the democrats blame the republicans and the republicans blame the democrats and little is accomplished to move our country forward.  In the church, one group threatens to leave and split the church over one issue.  Where is the common good in these things?  Why can a group of unrelated whales work together for the common good and yet humans cannot?

But when we do work together great things can be accomplished.  One of the churches I serve hosts a monthly breakfast on the fourth Sunday of the month and collects donations to help with local, state and global mission needs.  Yearly over $10,000 is collected to help others!  Just from breakfast!  When we work together, great things can be accomplished.  If Humpback Whales can work together for the common good, there should be no limits to what humans can accomplish when we work together to make a difference in the lives of others.

Questions to consider:  When have you seen people come together to make a difference in your church, community, and nation?  What is God calling you to do to work with others to make a difference in your church, community, and nation?


A Church Dog or a Church Cat?

Major, the faithful church dog, join us for Easter Sunrise service April 20, 2014

Major, the faithful church dog, joins us for Easter Sunrise service April 20, 2014

I had not been at Pine Ridge very long before I learned we had a church dog.  He was and is one of our most faithful attendees, showing up at church almost every Sunday whether it was hot, cold, rainy, or sunny, and especially showing up when there was food involved.  He always came with his tail wagging, glad to see anyone and everyone regardless of who they were.  We didn’t know where he came from or whose he was so we just called him “church dog.” We even received a Christmas card from the “church dog’s” owner with a contribution to the church!  It turns out that “church dog” lives across the highway from the church and his “real name” is Major.  “Church dog” could be the ideal church member because he is always there, loves everyone, and even contributes.

A few weeks ago, at the other church I serve, Tangipahoa UMC, a beautiful black and white cat showed up as we were getting ready for worship.  He was very sweet and friendly, and cried at the door during worship because we wouldn’t let him in.  After worship, we picked him up, passed him around, petted him, scratched him, and loved all over him.  We haven’t seen him since.

This got me thinking (always dangerous) about the differences between church dogs and church cats.  Church dogs show up regularly with a good attitude, wagging their tail to welcome others, ready to serve and contribute.  Church cats, on the other hand, show up when they have a need, when they need to be scratched and petted and make a lot of noise about being in church. Like all analogies, this one has its limits, but I couldn’t help wondering which one we are more like- the church dog or the church cat.