One of the greatest symbols of freedom in the world is a bird on the wing. He has no restraints, he owns the sky – not even gravity can keep him down. The bird can go where he wishes, when he wishes, and no one can stop him. He has a freedom of movement far beyond our own, and it’s little wonder that his wings have become a symbol of unrestricted liberty. All of which inspired Lynyrd Skynyrd to sing that he was “free like a bird” when he left the girl who loved him, because he “must be travelling on now”. Sorry girl, but “this bird you cannot change”.
Which makes me think that Lynyrd Skynyrd was no bird watcher. If he had been, he might have done things differently.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to watch two blue tits take up residence in a bird house outside our kitchen window. Every day we saw them coming and going, going and coming, coming and constantly going. They certainly made good use of their wings! And every time they came back, they had more bits of straw and grass and twigs for their nest. Then, after the nest was finished, one of the birds stopped coming out. Instead, she sat for weeks inside the birdhouse on her eggs. Meanwhile, Dad was doing double-time: he was running for food constantly, in and out, out and in, feeding both himself and herself, bringing a steady stream of worms and grubs and such. When the babies hatched, it was an even more hectic schedule, Mum and Dad both searching for food for their little family. Finally (and we had the joy of seeing it happen), the little ones took to their own wings, and flew out to build their own nests. Yes, it was a wonder to see them soaring through the sky, to imagine what it must be like to have so few restraints. The bird is free. And where does he go with all his freedom? He goes to get food for his family.
If Lynyrd Skynyrd had been a bird watcher, he would have known that birds don’t use their freedom to run away from the ones they love. If he really wanted to be “free like a bird”, he should have used his liberty to help others, to provide for their needs, and give the best of his strength so that they could flourish. Instead of running away from the girl who loved him, he would have run towards her. If he had looked more closely at the birds he claimed to imitate, he would have seen that real “free birds” are not isolated wanderers who refuse to tie themselves down to anything or anyone. Real “free birds” know that their freedom is not an end in itself. It is meant to be used. It is meant to be spent. It is meant to be freely given.
I know. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? “Follow your dreams” sounds a lot better. It’s the message of Disney princesses and rock stars and pretty much everyone else. And a lot of times the princesses are right. A lot of times we really do need encouragement to keep going towards a goal. It’s good advice.
Except when it isn’t.
Continue reading Some Dreams Need To Die
Growing up in Alabama, I knew the rules: I knew when to say “yes, ma’am” and how to order a Sprite by asking for a Coke and waiting for the server to say “What kind?” I knew what was expected of me, and I knew what to expect from others. I knew how to say things so that people would listen, and when I needed opportunities, I was confident that doors would open and people would give me trust. And I was right. Even when I made mistakes, the trust remained and I knew I would have the help I needed to get back up and try again. Alabama was good to me, and I learned to expect it. I didn’t even think about it.
Continue reading On Being An Immigrant
All you have to do is look at a shop window, and you’ll know that the season of giving is fast approaching. Along the way, we’re likely to be reminded of Jesus’ teaching that “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.
Continue reading Is It Really More Blessed To Give?
In 1851 an Englishman by the name of John Henry Newman founded the Catholic University in Dublin, the precursor of today’s University College Dublin. Last month, he was canonised by Pope Francis along with four others at a ceremony in Rome. A Catholic convert from Anglicanism, Newman was a strong promoter of education and wrote an influential work called “The Idea Of A University”. When he was alive, he was recognised as a Cardinal. Now he’s also a Saint.
In his own time it was suggested that he led a saintly life, but he was quick to downplay the connection: “I have nothing of the saint about me as everyone knows and it is a severe and salutary mortification to be thought next door to one.”
Now that Rome has disagreed with the man himself, it raises the question: what is it that makes someone a saint?
Continue reading Who Could Ever Be A Saint?
When my days here on Earth have come to an end
I want to go out like an Autumn leaf
Not like a flower, that gradually drops
Not like a tree, that inwardly rots
I want to go brighter than ever
As weakness takes hold, let glory shine through
And when strength finally fails, and falls to the ground
Let it fall on the promise of Spring
I’ve said it many times, as an automatic reflex. Just like “bless you” after a sneeze or “you’re welcome” after a “thank you”, the phrase “great minds think alike” rolls off the tongue naturally whenever two people have a similar idea. It’s a friendly way of complimenting others and ourselves simultaneously, a verbal pat on the back for being mutually great. It’s a bit of fun. But that doesn’t make it true.
Continue reading Do Great Minds Really Think Alike?