My friend and I talked on the phone. We were sharing life across states and time zones. This day, we spoke about church. It’s frustrating, we easily agreed, to know of so much divisive talk back and forth between denominational and doctrinal lines, so much sparring even within a congregation. And I stopped talking for a bit.
The scene in my backyard distracted me.
“Hello? Are you there?” my friend asked. “Did something happen?”
“Oh, no, nothing tragic. I am watching these stupid starlings,” I told her. I proceeded to tell her how we had purchased a cute bird feeder from Target–spring green, ceramic, with a rope and a hook–and bird seed that would attract a great variety of birds. I told her how we hung it and waited for the great variety to show up and grace our yard with beauty. I told her how every day since the last of the snow melted dumb black birds swoop into our sanctuary space and rule the bird feeder.
A dozen or so starlings squawked at each other as I told my angry tale. Two or three birds at a time took their turns devouring my great variety feast. The stylish little feeder toppled back and forth with their clunky movements. Big, boisterous lot. I concluded my rant of frustration.
Half to my friend and half to myself, I said, “I wonder if I can find some food for the feeder that would un-attract the starlings.”
I recanted and back-peddled. I felt guilty about trying to not include the starlings. I told my friend as much. Who was I to pick and choose which birds my feeder could feed, I asked. I felt sorry for the starlings.
“Maybe churches attract starlings, and we just want pretty birds,” my friend offered.
Furrowing my brow, I watched the birds. “Maybe so,” I said softly.
Those birds occupied my thoughts day after day. They showed up in the yard so frequently, it was hard not to think about them. I pondered how I didn’t like them. They are ugly birds, after all. Big-billed. Noisy. Bossy. Crowding. Some people call them dangerous. I didn’t want dangerous birds hanging around. No other bird really had a chance to partake of the great variety seed. The congregation of starlings was just too large, too much.
It was true, what my friend had said. I want church the way I want it. No starlings. No danger. No boisterous noise.
But something dug deeper in me. I found myself feeling sorry for the starlings, because I saw myself in their company, clunking around noisily, mimicking the songs of others. I felt the sting of someone looking out their kitchen window and wanting to dissuade my presence. No real grace. Not for me. I found myself searching for grace.
What do we do with the shitting things, the times that are just like that? In the church? In our families and homes? In our own souls?
I don’t have a lot of answers. Not really. But I wrestled with those stupid birds. In the end, I quit clanging my pots and pans to scare them away. I let them stay. They ate what was offered. Eventually, it was time for them to move on, and they did. When they left, I imagined that they carried away with them a measure of my gracelessness for them, my gracelessness for myself.