Below my window stands a Canadian Goose. You know the bird well if you have ever lived anywhere in the Central United States. Actually, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m not an ornithologist, so I’m not sure exactly where they’re found in the U.S. But I never recall seeing them in California or Georgia, so my assumption is that they’re mostly found in an ever-narrowing band of states between the vast northern reaches of Canada and the dry, but warm deserts of Northern Mexico. This would make even more sense since they’re migratory … and since they’re Canucks. In my mind then they would swoop down from the cold of Saskatchewan or Manitoba and spend the winter in Texas or Oklahoma. Which is something which I’ve seen demonstrated many years as the plague of ill-natured animals descends on every body of water larger than a dog’s water dish beginning sometime in the late Autumn.
The birds are quite beautiful. Almost every single Canadian Goose which I’ve ever seen has looked to be in remarkably good condition. Each one of their gray feathers lies perfectly in place and the black feathers on their heads and necks is flawlessly dark; a void of color so pristine that the white patches behind its eyes seem eerily bright. Each one also seems extraordinarily well-fed. A single bird could feed a family of four for a couple of days at least. Assuming they taste good, that is. But my guess is that they don’t. Why? Well, they’re kind of jerks and I doubt jerky animals taste very good.
Yep. I’m calling a bird a jerk.
If I dug deep into my memory – something always rather frightening – I could likely come up with a dozen good stories of Canadian Geese being jerks. But I don’t have to dig that deeply. A couple of examples come readily to mind without breaking out the dynamite and pick-axes for a sortie into the depth of my recollections (which is where you, as a reader, should sigh gratefully). The reason I don’t have to dig deep is because one of them happened today and the other was so amusing (to me) and maddening (to me) that I can still see it in my mind’s eye as clearly as the run-in today.
The story from a while back has to do with my dog, Schultz (in fact, you can find his eulogy on this blog). He was a Miniature Schnauzer and had a lot of the typical terrier tendencies. He wasn’t great on a leash, he wasn’t particularly trainable, and he had a tendency to think he was much bigger than he actually was. In his typically brash way, he picked a couple of fights with bigger dogs at the dog park and paid for it painfully. However those run-ins were mild in comparison to the time he got loose from me in a park with a couple of Canadian Geese hanging lazily about. He dashed down on them, barking furiously. All the jerk-geese had to do was to waddle lethargically into the water two feet away and they would’ve been fine from the dense-muscled water-pansy that was Schultz. But in typical Canadian Goose fashion, they turned and, with their wings held out alarmingly, while deafeningly honking something like, “You want a piece of this, ya’ hoser?!” they ran at him and bit him several times. Considering that they don’t have teeth they must have a pretty powerful set of jaws, based upon Schultz’ squealing as he retreated.
Now, you might ask, “Why are the birds ‘jerks’ there? They felt threatened!” Which is totally true, I admit. But, being Schultz’ buddy, I have to side with him. He was a good-natured, innocent little guy, who – aside from the occasional mouse – wouldn’t purposefully hurt anything … unless his pack was being threatened. And that is what he probably assumed with the geese that day. He was walking with his master when he saw the demonic birds glowering at us from 40 yards away and he defended us in the only way he knew how: break free from the leash and charge the threat, barking madly with each step. So … jerk-birds take a step back and get out of the way, for goodness sake! But, no. They had to bite and honk and gang up on Schultz.
The run-in with the Canadian Goose today was much more simple. I parked my car and began walking into the building where my conference was taking place. Along my route, I had to descend a flight of stairs with steep slopes on either side. Standing alongside the sidewalk leading to the stairs sat one of those fell beasts with all the malice of one of the Ring Wraith’s flying steeds. I approached circuitously to let it know that I was only interested in taking the stair, but as with all lesser animals, it only saw me as a threat. I suppose no bird brain, even one with this goose’s prodigious cranial capacity, could reason out that some large bipedal lump simply wanted to get by peacefully.
I got within six feet of the bird, naively expecting it to make way any moment, and the foul (or, “fowl,” if you prefer) fiend let loose a colossal hiss, bearing its strange beak serrations with malice. In that moment the image of the harmless Schultz being attacked by those malevolent tyrants came back to me and I channeled my inner Schnauzer and let loose a rather savage growl of my own. I took a step forward and dared the creature to try something. For some reason, my love for Schultz and my annoyance at being accosted while walking into a conference I didn’t want to attend in the first place, made me lose my mind. I gladly would’ve swept my size 10.5 Rockport across the sniveling fowl’s face. Stinkin’ jerk-bird.
However now that it is many hours later, I realize how silly that all was. I shouldn’t have waited for it to make the first move, I should’ve ended it! No, not really. Instead, I realize it was so silly that I’m glad nobody was around to hear my growl. There’s more than that though. I’m now looking down on the goose outside the window and the rain is absolutely falling in torrents upon the creature. The water has collected into a huge puddle underneath it and it stands nearly breast-deep in a murky collection of mud and grass clippings (they mowed earlier). Furthermore, the temperature has dropped considerably; enough to make me come inside in spite of the joyful patter of each drop and the clean smell of the rain-washed everything.
In my mind then, I started to feel bad for that goose outside of my window. I imagined him cold and wet and lonely, and for some incomprehensible reason, I wanted to invite him inside. I’d probably say something like (I speak with a Scottish accent in my daydreams – so try that when you say it), “Come in and warm your hollow bones, jimmy. I might even have a wee bit of stale bread for ye.” And that’s when I realized how silly I was being. No, not with the Scottish accent; there’s nothing silly about that. It was the thought that a goose is kinda made for water. AmIright? The rain and puddle weren’t inconveniences for him, they were probably excellent! Also, being from Alberta or Ontario, or maybe even Nunavut, he probably wasn’t all that cold. And, after I watched him for a few minutes, it looked like he was finding a fair amount to eat too.
Isn’t it funny how we have the capacity on one hand to really dislike someone or something, while on the other have the capacity to want to share with it what we have? Perhaps this is something that points to the divine? Perhaps there are vestiges of goodness within us? Something semi-uncorrupted by the rebellion of the first Adam? Deep down, I really doubt that though. We don’t seem to be capable of doing anything very good or decent apart from Christ. If “we love, because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19), it seems pretty unlikely that we can show love without God animating us to that love.
In fact, I’m a saved man and yet I can think of a few people from my past who wronged me, and, even now after years of praying for them in an attempt to forgive them, I doubt that I could conjure up the loveliness of heart to want to bring them in my home and feed them. Yet I considered (for a moment) doing it for the spawn of evil that is that Canadian Goose outside my window. That’s a pretty character-denouncing thought when I stop to think about it. How can I, a man who claims the forgiveness and grace of God, not also be willing to extend the smallest portion of that same forgiveness and grace to someone who has only wronged me mildly? I say “mildly” because generally anything done to us on earth is pretty mild in comparison with anything in eternity. In other words, I’d be more willing to bring a muddy, ill-tempered, Schultz-biting, passer-by-hissing, dung-dropping, progeny of hell like a Canadian Goose indoors to prevent it from being slightly inconvenienced by some falling water than I would be to bring someone, made in the image of God, but who has wronged me, into my home and give them a square meal.
No, I’m not suggesting bringing just anybody into your home. There are limits to what is smart safety-wise; especially with a wife and kids. But I am definitely suggesting that there is something painfully inconsistent with the way we treat other people and the way we look to God for grace, mercy and compassion.
As a matter of fact, we’ve got a lot of scripture that gives instruction on this topic. For example, think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:34-46 in His parable of The Sheep and the Goats,
Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?”
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.”
Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.”
They will also answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and not help You?”
He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
If this passage frightens you, you’re not alone. Jesus is very clear that those who claim to follow God must be loving, merciful, hospitable and generous.
Jesus isn’t alone in calling us to hospitality. Read what the writer of Hebrews says in 13:2f, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Or, see the simplicity of Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 4:8ff, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” He really hits me where it hurts with that “without grumbling” clause!
We could also read what Paul says in Romans 12, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves … share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (vv.10, 13).
There are dozens of other great passages which talk about sharing with others. Everything from instructions to the Israelites to “not oppress the sojourner” (Ex 23:9) and for landowners leaving some of their crop for the destitute (Lev 19:10), to instructions by the Prophets (Is 58:7, Jer 22:3), to examples of hospitality like Martha (Lk 10), Zacchaeus (Lk 19), King David (toward Mephibosheth in 2 Sam 9), and the Shunammite woman (toward Elisha in 2 Kings 4). The early church is also a great example of giving and love, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:46f).
The simple fact is that, if we are to “In [our] relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Php 2:5), we’ve got a REALLY big job on our hands. And therein lies the rub: we aren’t naturally equipped for it. We see that person who wronged us (or the goose that hissed at us) and the natural man wants to strike out at him. But God has called us to be loving and hospitable, even to our enemies! “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27f). Have you ever heard of anything more impossible?! Have you ever heard of anything more improbable?!
Now, I could probably lay out a pretty good theological description of how God takes us beyond our own capabilities to do that which we are not naturally able to do, but this post has already gone on much longer than I planned. Nevertheless, the bottom line is a principle which applies to everything in Christian Living, and it’s something which seems great to bring up at this time. Here’s how it goes: We are incapable of doing anything good apart from God. But God has poured out His Spirit upon us so that we may show His love to those around us. It seems to me then, that we must pray to God that He uses us to His glory by animating us to do good works. The prayer must be that He reveal to us the specific way we can do His work, that He give us an intentional heart to do that good work, and that He give us the strength and resources to carry out that good work, and – most of all – that it will be all to His glory.
It seems to me that if we can follow this chain of reasoning from a vision of a wet Canadian Goose outside of a window to this end … we can follow the chain of reasoning to a similar conclusion from seeing a child of God in a state of need. But … then again … I’m a weirdo who barks at birds, and worse: a sinner in need of continual regeneration by the Living God.