“Ooh, that happy little bluebird has left a happy little do-do on your hand!”
–Broomhilde (Robin Hood, Men in Tights)
During the Friday morning siderent of the 141st General Assembly, I noticed that one brief presentation caught the imagination of more than a few commissioners.
Robert Geddes, convenor of the McLean Estate Committee and also an avid birder, drew a parallel between the population of bluebirds in Canada and population of Presbyterians in Canada. Both populations have been in serious decline in recent decades. But, Mr. Geddes added, there was some good news because populations of bluebirds have been recovering.
I think that people connected with that because it sounded a note of hope to some. If the bluebirds could recover, why couldn’t we? Others, I am sure, saw it as a statement of pessimism – seeing the contrast between the bluebirds hopes and ours.
Now, I know that Mr. Geddes was not trying to make any sweeping statements about the future of the church – that he was just glad to find a way to include his passion for birds in his presentation about his passion for the work of Crieff Hills Community and it was well done.
But his image has fired my imagination over lunch and I’d just like to share. I wonder if we are like or unlike the bluebirds in what we are facing.
The causes of the decline of the bluebirds are probably plain enough. Chances are that the bluebirds declined for a few reasons: loss of habitat, toxins in the environment and, perhaps, climate change. All of these reasons for decline are pretty clearly the result of human choices or actions. Bluebirds and their choices had nothing to do with their decline. Nor could they do anything about their decline. Their only possible option for response, evolution, they simply could not pull off with enough speed to deal with the rapid change.
If there has been a recovery, it is because the cause of the problems (we humans) have at least started to mitigate some of the harmful causes of the decline. Only we could have done what was needed.
How does that compare with what we are dealing with?
There are parallels to our situation. If the Presbyterian Church has declined, some of the reasons might have to do with what you call loss of habitat. The communities from which the Presbyterians traditionally have drawn their membership have changed or disappeared. I can’t necessarily identify any toxins that have affected us (maybe some others can) but if there is a parallel to climate change, I would have to point to the rather massive cultural change within Canadian society – a change that has left little place for what we would recognize as organized religion.
We are like that bluebirds, I would suggest, in that we really can do nothing about these causes of decline. As much as we would like to, we cannot change the culture back to what it was. Nor can we reestablish the habitat in which we once thrived. Does that mean that we, unlike the bluebirds are out of luck?
Well, I would suggest, we have an option that the bluebirds don’t: evolution.
I would invite us to consider that evolution is a God-led process. It is, I believe, the mechanism that God primarily used in the creation of life. But it is a brutal process that includes species being placed into dire circumstances, extinctions and extreme competition. And yet I would still affirm that God is in it.
If our habitat and climate have changed, we need to ask if this is not the work of God? Instead of fighting against it, isn’t it time for us to embrace it and decide that God has a plan in it. Isn’t it time to get on with the difficult process of evolution.
Note that I’m not just talking about change. We’ve been talking about change for a long time and it has changed little. We have mostly just been fiddling with structure as a way to avoid dealing with the evolution that is before us. Evolution is about changing the things at our core – not our essential beliefs, we can’t let go of those, but our culture which often goes to the core of our identity.