When you were a little boy, you loved the show “Wild Kratts.” You loved learning about animals. I tried to support you in your animal studies with frequent trips to the zoo and a small fortune in animal books. There were bugs in jars, toads in the bathtub, a three-generation cat family, Mojo the gerbil, Jasper the snake, and the salamander that got away.
You and I are alike in our love for animals, and I would like to say a few things to you about loving animals and our relationship to nature. I want to talk to you about the birds, the bees, and big dogs. You will be relieved to know, however, that this is not the typical birds and bees parent talk. You’re welcome.
One of my favorite writers, Vance Havner, grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. I was delighted to discover that, like me, he loved to watch birds. Somehow, knowing that fact about such a wise man gave me confirmation that watching birds can be a wise thing to do. The book of Proverbs offers multiple examples of animals that have lessons to teach humans, if we only take the time to study their behavior.
That “taking the time” part is congruent with Mr. Havner’s thinking on walking through the woods and watching birds. He encouraged removing oneself from work and people, taking the time to rest and reflect while surrounded by God’s creation. “If we don’t come apart to be with the Lord, we will surely come-apart” (referencing Mark 6:31).
I will not try to give you a comprehensive essay about the lessons we can learn from animals. I am still learning myself. But know this: A wise man knows how to quietly observe animal behavior and consider the applications for his own life. Jesus told his disciples to consider the birds of the air to learn about trusting in God’s provision (Matthew 6:26). I try to consider the birds often, and I hope you will do the same in your own life, both figuratively and literally.
I cannot find the original source of this story, but I have never forgotten hearing it while watching one of the greatest television shows ever, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. It was the epidose in which a new teacher hurt children through her harsh punishment methods. As his response, Reverend Johnson told this story, and here is how I have stored it in my memory for years:
In a kingdom, there was a village where many children had been born. One day, the king visited the village and announced that he would be leaving his own young child there for protection, until he could return. No one could know, however, which child was the king’s child. The king made it very clear that upon his return, he expected to find his child happy, loved, and thriving.
The people of the village needed to guarantee the well-being of the royal heir. Indeed, their lives depended upon it. There was only one choice to make, then. Every single child in the village was to be treated as if he or she was the king’s child. When the king did return, he found an entire village full of children who were happy, loved, and thriving. He also found a village full of adults who had their priorities straight, and who lived their lives with the best interests of the next generation in mind.
The lesson for me in this story is that I should treat every single human as if he or she is the King’s child, for indeed they all are. Each person I encounter was created by God. According to that thinking, then, my care and consideration should also extend to the other things that belong to the King.
The earth is the Lord‘s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1). The animals, the forests, the oceans and the mountains all belong to the King. Therefore, I should be respectful and careful in my actions that affect our environment. This is why we do not litter. This is why we plant trees. This is why we support conservation programs at the North Carolina Zoo. This is why we obey our state’s fishing regulations even when no other human would know if we did not. This is why we rescued that injured bird and took it to our local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
All of the animals, landscapes, and bodies of water that we enjoy are gifts from God. We are called to be good stewards of these gifts. We are to regard these gifts in their proper place, and never worship the creation instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25). Still, we have a responsibility to take care of what God has given to us.
Similar to how the villagers’ lives depended upon taking care of the king’s child, our quality of life depends upon how we take care of each other and our environmental resources. The next generation will absolutely be affected by our level of care for what God has provided. This planet will be preserved until God’s plan is fulfilled, but in the meantime, the principle of reaping whatever we sow will continue.
One example of this can be seen in the alarming disappearance of honeybees. The scientific answers for why these critically significant insects are disappearing–pollution, pesticides, lack of access to food, stress–can be linked to human vices–greed, overconsumption, carelessness, lack of balance and cooperation, loss of a social structure where the young receive training from the invaluable expertise of the older, and the refusal to choose long-term rewards over short-term pleasures.
The honeybees were provided to us for a very important purpose. We are foolish if we do not seek balance in order to take care of the King’s gift.
Before I leave this topic, the political scientist in me must mention this: Any government system‘s form of economics can devastate an ecosystem if the principle of stewardship is betrayed for profit and power. Be a good student of history. Find out why the acid rain is so bad in Mexico City. Research the Flint Water Crisis. Look up the shrinking of the Aral Sea. Find out why millions of Chinese people died from famine between 1959-1961. Study the cost to our own community for decades of pollution of the Deep River.
Be a man who upholds the principle of stewardship. Be a man of long-range vision rather than short-sighted schemes. Be a father who is willing to make sacrifices so that your children will have rewards. Be concerned about the disappearance of both the honeybees and the pursuit of balance.
You know I love big dogs. You know that I want to rescue a German Shepherd, an Irish Wolfhound, and a Great Dane, and call them Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You know that losing our Hans was devastating to me. Did you know, however, that we are instructed to return even our enemy’s animal if we discover it has gone astray? Or that if you discover the fallen donkey of someone that hates you, you are supposed to help the donkey get up? (Exodus 23:4-5)
I see several guiding points here. We are to respect other people’s private property, even if they hate us. We are to give of our time and energy to help animals we encounter that are lost or in distress. We are to consider how valuable an animal may be to another person, and seek to return the animal to the person when it is our turn to do so, just as we would want done for us. Caring for a person’s animal is a way to care for that person. We are called upon to care for others in this way, and not just those who are nice to us. As Brandon says, “God doesn’t let us get by on this one since we don’t ride donkeys anymore.” The same principles still apply.
Big dogs can appear to be ferocious, but you know that sometimes they are the biggest scaredy cats of all the canines. They are vulnerable, they depend on us, and they want to please us. With big dogs and with people, never take advantage of those factors.
Protect the vulnerable. Provide for those who depend on you. Give careful attention and patience to those who want to please you because they love you.
Don’t ever be so busy that you can’t take a few moments to watch in awe as an eagle soars above you, or to sit and study bluebird parents taking turns bringing worms to their babies. Be a good steward who knows how to make a water source for bees, and who also knows how to create balanced plans for the future. Be kind to people, and be kind to their beloved pets.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them. Psalm 89:11
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast. Proverbs 12:10a
I love you forever,
Your bird-watching mama