Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Consumers of Worry

This past Sunday's gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary, Matthew 6:24-34, is rich with messages for us to ponder. The last couple of days have brought many thoughts to mind, in Memorial Day gatherings and parades, and the continued burgeoning of nature here in my part of the world. In the backyard world, the starlings have arrived.

This is a sad development for the smaller bird community, cute little songbirds, finches, sparrows, wrens, and bluebirds, have found themselves brushed aside in the quest for the bird feeder by the starlings. They are new to our yard, so I have had to brush up on them. Even their name sounds harsh- Sturnus vulgaris. According to e-nature.com,"hordes of these birds create much noise, damage vegetable or fruit crops, and do considerable damage around feedlots, consuming and fouling feed, and have proved difficult to drive away.
Starlings compete with native hole-nesters for woodpecker holes and natural cavities. It often seems that every time a woodpecker drills a nesting cavity, a pair of bully European starlings comes along and drives the woodpeckers away. Time and time again, I have watched a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flickers or red-headed woodpeckers, spend days drilling a hole in a tree suitable for nesting and raising young. Just about the time the cavity is ready for eggs, a pair of starlings will take over the cavity and keep the woodpeckers out.

Even worse, after the starlings have won the battle, which usually takes a couple of days, they will often occupy the cavity for only a few more days, and then move on to the next conquest. By the time they vacate, the woodpeckers have drilled another nesting cavity, and the vicious cycle begins again. The same scenario may occur with bluebirds trying to settle into a birdhouse."

Here we have seen them purposely bully the smaller birds, not simply into waiting longer to feed, but gathering loudly and chasing away all competitors, spilling food in the process of the gobbling frenzy, even chasing away other birds when they, the starlings, have no intention of eating now, just to establish global domination of turf. As though their worry triggers some over-consumptive pattern.

In the human world, I can't help but see the comparison to the ethanol market and our own greedy stockpiling of corn, at the expense of the food supply of others, as one example. And what about on a more personal level, in our ordering of lives and relationships? Can we be the starlings? At the feeder, there is plenty to go around, but the starlings seem incapable of sharing, as though all of that striving is really necessary. In our lives, I wonder if all of our striving and worrying about winning the game of who has the most toys or the last word, is not a modern day version of what Jesus is teaching in this text. Are these things our panacea for worry, as though we somehow really can have total control? Is this behavior our solution for the peace we seek that only God can give? Can we even become voracious consumers of worry? There are indeed worries enough for any day, including the natural disasters around the world and here on the homefront. But in a 24/7 media frenzy, do we find ourselves spending more time listening to the escalating "what-ifs" of the talking heads, or spending more time in prayer and social action?

I wondered this as I went on my way to two Memorial Day parades. At each parade I felt certain that those Gold Star mothers, and families of men and women who have been killed or are missing or are fractured souls, would tell us, that one more day with the person they sent off would be worth more than all the stuff in the world. And then I ran into former divorce client. She and her husband engaged in a nasty, passive aggressive divorce, which threatened to tear apart their extended family, each person jockeying for stuff and control, all magnified by life in a small town where everyone is a spectator. That was two years ago. By last year, it was all done but the last shouting. We lost touch as I went off to seminary. I saw her at the Park- the speaker was her son-in-law, a well decorated veteran. Her ex-husband is now the mayor of our town. There she sat, with her daughter, her grandson, and her husband's new love. All together for the big speech. Afterwards she told me she had over the winter suffered a stroke. And somehow when that happened, in spite of all of the bitterness and adversity of the past, the whole family had come together, in their congregation, and in their now slightly reshuffled lives- because they realized what was really important. And it was not stuff-it was relationships with God and each other.

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.All that worry about coming out on top, where does it get us? For each of us- nowhere. 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Clearly my client, and many others have found out the warning sign of "no." 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Trouble enough indeed, but thanks be to God that we have the true peace in the knowledge of resurrection victory and the unending love and grace of a God who waits for us, who says, "Stop worrying so much- trust in me." A God who sent His Son not to do what we wanted, but what we needed, and who provides for us still.


steve martin said...

Thanks for a thoughtful and beautiful post,

I have so many of those mixed emotions that you describe as you witness the Springtime dramas of the birds in your yard struggling to survive. And the families of your clients trying to move forward amidst the pain of a difficult divorce.

This life can be so wonderful and so painful.

It seems to me that the painful parts often win out.

But as you said in your piece, the Lord will provide all that we need. His suffering and death for our sakes, let us in on the true nature of life and shows us that we also will not escape the troubles of this life. But that we ought not worry, for He has something far greater in store for us.


- Steve M.

Pastor Eric said...

Thanks for the thoughts. I think you are on to something. And thanks for the picture. The bird that invaded my basement sure looks like that one in the picture...a starling.

The Unlikely Conversationalist: said...

You've caught on to something big here, the reality both of beauty and God's grace and pure cruelty that can be seen in nature.
Most people who've spent time hunting and fishing can tell you about the fresh kill left by coyotes and the bird fights they've seen in the spring.
I love to take pictures of the flowers and the fawns I see fishing in the spring, but nature can be especially cruel breaking in to our imagined world where everything is good and showing us once again that we need a savior.