The home base of my multispecies ministry has now changed to White Plains, NY. Here we have a local TV show hosted by Rev. Jack Lohr called, "Views from the Pews." I had the wonderful opportunity to explain what a ministry for all beings looks like.
Click on the photo below to see the show, and enjoy!
There must be something in the air. Yes, as always, there are birds, but
sometimes they fall to the ground, and that's when people step up to the plate.
Such was the case of Anaheim Angel relief pitcher Dane de la Rosa last week during a game with
the Oakland Athletics. He spotted a pigeon in trouble in the bull pen area and
did something about it - he picked it up until he could turn it over to someone
who could protect the bird. After he did he went on to retire the next 3
batters with only 10 pitches, and the bird was released back into the wild. Nicely done!
In my own world, we had a nest of wrens on our front porch,
which I thought was empty. The wind blew
down the nest and I taped it back up. In the process I saw that the nest held 4
chicks, which successfully fledged a week later, thank goodness in time before
we were to leave the house for good as my spouse had gotten a church position
in White Plains, NY.
Taped up nest back where the wrens made the nest on our porch
A nest for of wren chicks about ready to fledge from our home in Florida, as were we
So we left Florida
and on our first full day in New York were told of loose birds in the sanctuary
of the Community Unitarian Church at White Plains. I was called upon for advice and discovered
that wrens had made a nest in the sanctuary and could come and go from
the outside through a hole in the rafters. I asked the church staff to be on
the look out for fledglings as they would not be able to fly out of the hole and
would be trapped inside. Sure enough, a week later we got a call for the church
administrator and my spouse, the Rev. Meredith Garmon, the newly settled minister at the
church, and I went up to help the administrator, Liliana Keith, catch the chicks, chase the
adults out of the sanctuary, and release the chicks where the parents could see
them and care for them. It was quite
comical to see a little bitty weeks old bird scamper away again and again from
our hands while a parent was chasing us both with a bug in her mouth. While on wren duty, we also noticed a robin's nest with 3 chicks. I was so pleased that our new church home was
indeed a sanctuary for all beings. Nicely done CUC!
Successful Robin's nest in outside rafters at Community Unitarian Church (CUC)
We can't save them every time however. That same week my spouse gave me a call from
New York City, only a short train ride from our new home. He was attending a conference and during the
lunch break was outside at Union Square. Noticing a sparrow unable to right
himself and thrashing around, he wanted advice on what to do. After discussing
possible disease or injury, I told him to catch the bird and place her in the
shade out of the hot sun and under protection from predators. There was a
chance that the bird had run into a building and would recover shortly as long
as she could be safe. So my spouse spent his lunch time standing guard by the
struggling bird, who was joined by another sparrow.
Before returning to the
conference he went to see how the bird was doing, and there, along with the
other sparrow and a couple of other humans, they discovered that the bird had
died. The three humans bowed, hands
together to honor and mourn the life that had passed.
Another three humans honored a long dead wren chick we found in the sanctuary when we were chasing live chicks. Apparently this bird was from a previous clutch of wrens that had not been as fortunate as the ones that the CUC staff saved. After a moment of silence we placed the still form up in the church's memorial garden.
Sometimes all we can do is witness, and that's
important. To be present to life, to
death, to beauty, to suffering, and to compassion is a gift we all can give the
world. It's a gift that can be catching, even for pitchers, and can free us all, birds included.
Stone sculpture at CUC with plaque that reads, "Roots hold me close, wings set me free."
Here I reflect on how we might think of what to do about the plight of chickens in factory farming. I ask whether factory farming is "wrong" and conclude that based on my experience and understanding, it is, and that it is on the verge of being condemned as immoral by the society at large. This video was inspired when I was recently passed on the road by a truck full of chickens on the way to a slaughter house. This led me to a sense of prayerful reflection. How might we reduce their suffering? I suggest we can do this not through feelings of guilt and despair, but through a sense of interconnection between the beauty within and the beauty without, in chickens, and in all of life.
The common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) evokes definite reactions in people. Described as a "Marmite" bird, "you either hate them, or love them." In the United States they are frequently disliked. Often considered a nuisance, where introduced they compete with native birds for nest cavities and food, consume agricultural crops, and with their immense winter flocks can soil urban areas and endanger air planes during takeoff and landing. They also have benefits: they consume agricultural insect pests, imitate human speech, are dazzlingly beautiful, and their large flocks display incredible patterns in the sky (known as murmurations).
Although they may be plentiful in some areas outside of their historical range, their numbers have dropped dramatically in Britain. In the last year the population there in the last decade as dropped by over a third, and by 80% since 1979. "In total, 40 million have vanished from the European Union since 1980 - at a rate of 150 a hour - with the crash triggering concern about its future as a widespread and familiar bird." In some countries, they are listed as vulnerable or threatened. The reason for their decline is unknown, and research is currently underway to understand this species' ecology and the threats to its existence.
The world would lose something splendid if these birds were to diminish before our eyes. I admit to being bored by them in the past, their apparent sootiness doing nothing to cheer one's mood in the dim city winter days. But upon closer inspection and introspection, I have yp agree with Mary Oliver who in her poem, Starlings in Winter, describes how starlings can show us the way to improbable beauty.
Starlings in Winter
Chunky and noisy, but with stars in their black feathers, they spring from the telephone wire and instantly
they are acrobats in the freezing wind. And now, in the theater of air, they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising; they float like one stippled star that opens, becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again; and you watch and you try but you simply can't imagine
how they do it with no articulated instruction, no pause, only the silent confirmation that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin over and over again, full of gorgeous life. Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter, even in the ashy city. I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots trying to leave the ground, I feel my heart pumping hard, I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.