Orni-Theology

Cabbages and Kings

This page is not for the birds. It is for us. And about the birds.

Let me begin by noting that if anyone has been an example for me in my pastoral pursuits these later years, it has been John Stott. His has truly been a global ministry.

I first met him in Cambridge, England. Later in my own town. He occupied my pulpit one Sunday—an Anglican cleric preaching the old, old story in all its beauty and simplicity. He also called on me one day when I was a patient in the hospital.

Many Banner readers will recognize his name. But few may know that his second passion in life is ornithology, the study of birds. He takes it very literally when Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air” (Matt. 6:26).

He has made many a trek through bush and jungle, and sat motionless for hours in Arctic climes, to capture some rare species with his camera. For years he searched for the snowy owl the Inuit call Ookpik, and was finally rewarded in Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island, Canada. He originally gave his book The Birds Our Teachers the subtitle Essays on Orni-theology.

In his message on “Faith,” he cites Job 38:41, about how God provides food for the ravens. In a sermon on “Joy,” he points to the song of the lark. And in a message on “Repentance,” he notes how migratory birds and homing pigeons always come back. So must we come back when we stray from God.

I am not an ornithologist. Indeed, as a child I had a fear of birds after a dive-bombing mamma robin pecked me on the head when I accidentally uncovered her nest of babies. Later in life, Alfred Hitchcock did nothing to relieve my apprehensions with his movie The Birds.

But today I’m more like John Stott. We have a bird feeder outside our picture window, which brings us endless delight. Mr. Downy Woodpecker is a regular visitor, daily stabbing our peanut-and-raisin suet cake with his pointy beak. Mrs. Yellow Warbler always looks so clean and trim. I don’t even mind the abundant sparrows ever since I watched three of them grow up inside our church tower and fly off into the wide blue yonder.

I remember a calendar picture of a bird perched on a twig beside the roaring Niagara Falls. Not even those pounding waters could prevent the bird from singing its lovely song. And underneath the picture, the word Peace. So must Christians continue to sing praises to God through all the storms of life.

I have in mind a certain canary that filled a house with delightful daily song, yet sings no more. It happened this way. One day the lady of the house was about to clean its cage with her vacuum sweeper attachment when the telephone rang. Leaving the attachment on, and in the cage, she went to answer the phone. When she returned, her canary had disappeared. It had been sucked up. So she opened the dust bag and found her dirty and disoriented bird. Upon rescuing that poor bird, she washed it in the sink. Now there is nothing that looks sicker than a wet bird, so she put it under the blow dryer.

The bird is still alive.

But it doesn’t sing anymore. It just sits and stares out the window. It’s just been through too much!

As Stott writes, we can learn from birds. But that canary could learn from such people as Paul and Silas. Stripped, beaten, flogged, imprisoned with feet in stocks, they nevertheless sang hymns (Acts 16:22-25).

Amazing.

About the Author

Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga was pastor emeritus of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He went to be with his Lord March 1, 2008. This column concludes his popular “Cabbages and Kings” series, which he wrote for 40 consecutive years. Watch for It’s All Grace, a collection of his best and more recent columns to be published in book form this fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources.
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