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 was on the train home after a long day’s work in the city. I settled into the seat and pulled out my phone instinctively, as if to check the headlines or dip my toes in the constant stream of social media, but when I saw the screen wake up, something in my mind woke with it and said, “Don’t you see the window?”
Continue reading The Girl On The Roof
Sir Winston Churchill once said that “If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way towards one another”.
But he still bombed Germany. After they started it, of course. Turns out that “one another” bit was crucial: it’s hard to behave peacefully and helpfully towards someone who is trying to take your homeland by force. Peace is a great idea, though, and a wonderful experience for those of us privileged enough to live in it. Since my home is in Europe, I’m thankful that our wars of the past century have stayed in the history books instead of boiling over in more bloodshed. Yes, the nations of Europe still fight with one another, but the fighting is now done over champagne in Brussels instead of the trenches in Somme. Still, we all have armies.
Just in case.
Continue reading Peace, And A Padlock
We turned a corner, and the view opened up. From the porch of the ruined manor house we could see the cultivated gardens around the lake, fading into forests sheltered by distant mountains. We had to stop and stare. My ten year old son summed it up:
“I feel like I need to whisper. I don’t know why.”
Continue reading “I Feel Like I Need To Whisper”
Seems to me it must be hard to live in this beautiful world and remain entirely confident that it is only accidental, that our lives are only accidental, and that our meaning and love and passions and sense of right and wrong are only the accidental output of material machinery marching to the orders of accidental DNA. Pure materialism doesn’t fit well with our actual experience of life on Earth. Even many who are not religious recognise this, and acknowledge the probable existence of a “higher power”.
Allowing for a higher power solves a lot of problems. It gives an explanation for love beyond chemical imbalances, hope beyond physical death, and value beyond usefulness. Religious or not, most people still want these things to be true, and still see (rightly) that they cannot be derived from pure materialism. Yet for all the problems it solves, the idea of a higher power raises more questions than it answers. What exactly is a “higher power”? One thing is for sure: it’s high.
A higher power is, by definition, higher than we are. Continue reading What If The Higher Power Really Is Higher?
Our family loves camping. As soon as we get home from one excursion, we start looking forward to the next. But why?
It’s tons of work.
The packing takes ages. There’s lots of specific (and bulky) equipment needed, and there are complicated logistics like cooking without a kitchen. Even with all the equipment, it’s still uncomfortable. Air mattresses are nice, but the nights are still cold, the walls are still thin, the showers and toilets are far away, and somehow the bugs seem to prefer being inside the tent to anywhere else in the world. I guess they don’t mind the fact that we all smell like the fire.
We have a good, warm house and comfortable beds. Why would we do this to ourselves?
Continue reading Why Is Camping Fun?
The days are getting longer and brighter, so I know the traditional time is approaching for me to go to war. Once again, I fight in a campaign against dandelions. After winning the first few battles easily, before the weeds have a chance to go to seed, I think I’m the one in control. I’m much bigger and stronger than they are, I have a brain, and I have Roundup. But the enemy ranks aren’t intimidated by all the things I have. And they have something I don’t: the ability to never sleep. All they do is grow, non-stop. Then comes a morning when I wake up to a garden full of dandelions I’ve never met before, all gone to seed before I’ve finished my coffee. It doesn’t really matter how many times I kill them. As soon as I look away, they’re back, and in greater numbers.
Continue reading Christians Are Like Weeds