On the day after our great snowstorm, Glenn and I finished cleaning up the driveway. We put a solid 3 hours into shoveling on Saturday during the storm, so when Sunday dawned, clear and bright, we only had a couple more hours of work to do, scraping the last 4 inches or so off of the drive and re-claiming the cars.
We had not touched the deck. There is a small deck off of our kitchen in the back and, in spite of the warning about the storm, we hadn’t managed to move any of the lawn furniture off of the deck- somewhere out there under 32” of snow there was a charcoal grill, two chairs, a table, a bird bath and poor old St. Francis (who has been through enough New England winters with us to understand.) Also buried in the snow on the deck was our 5-gallon tub of premium birdseed. That was worth digging out.
Within moments of putting birdseed out in two big shallow terracotta trays, our deck was the hot spot of the neighborhood. Powdery grey buntings, fragile sparrows, neat-as-a-pin-titmouses, boisterous crows, brilliant cardinals, two-toned chickadees and, the bully of the songbird family, the big, bratty blue jay. We watched with delight as the birds- big and small- literally flocked to the deck and carried away as much seed as their little beaks could hold. Now, I’m not the real bird-lover in the family- Glenn is- but I have to admit that nature was giving us a real show- all for the cost of a few cups of premium songbird seed.
The drama continued, all afternoon and even included a very dark Second Act in which a sickly mourning dove came and lay on the breast of snow just below the deck railing and weathered a shower of seed-spray as the other birds took their fill. We watched the dove, and tried to figure out what to do (I think that I might have suggested bringing it inside in a shoebox with a towel, re-living some heroic childhood attempt to rescue other wildlife) and, as we were debating our options, the Great Circle of Life took over and, in a moment, the dove was gone. There was a showing of feathers left in her place that revealed the struggle that the hawk must have had in lifting the dove out of the snow and into the sky. It was a little shocking.
Later in the day- Act Three- the squirrels got into the game and, dragging their fat bellies up over the lip of the saucers, they just sat right in the bowl and ate to their hearts’ content. Game spoilers, really. The setting sun drew the curtain on the nature’s dramaturgy and, in a curmudgeonly way, I wondered about the mess of seed and shells and feathers and guano that spoiled the pretty contour of new-fallen snow- wouldn’t that be fun to clean up in March?
As I lay in bed this morning wondering what to write about in my blog, it seemed to me that this bird-seed bash could make a wonderful metaphor for the old “attractional” model of church. You know, the “build it and they will come” model of church. The readership of this blog knows that we are way beyond that, now, in the Church, looking to more transformational, missional models of Church that get us out of the building, into the neighborhood and seeing how we can join what God is already up to in the world. And, yet, there is something a little missional about a saucer of seed: it filled a perceived need in the local context. Those birds- and yes, even the squirrels- were starving out there. And so, we fed them. We saw a need and filled the gap. That’s exactly what we mean when we talk about “discerning one’s local context.” But…(here’s where the metaphor breaks down)… in a real transformational God-moment, the situation is less about giving and receiving, and more about forming relationship. Less about a charitable give-away from those-who-have to those-who-have-not, and more of an effort to live in common humanity and share, seamlessly, God’s abundance. Ours. Not mine and yours. (Sounds a little socialist.)
So there’s the rub: how do we give, serve, care for, tend… and participate in God’s Mission… putting relationships first, and not goods or commodities? How do we “respect the dignity of every human person” by sharing selflessly and not expecting a friendship in return? It’s a weird tension in this new way of thinking about God’s Kingdom and our call to service that I haven’t quite settled.
(And if you can figure out how to work the dove & hawk episode into the metaphor, you get an A+.)