Bird in Hand

“We’re all wrong and no one knows what they are doing.”

I read this recently. I can’t remember where, for better or worse, it was probably Facebook. I also don’t remember who said it. But there is a lot of truth to it.

Theology is a funny business. Often people think of theology as a settled discipline. Christians have scripture, doctrines, creeds and confessions. We have more theologians than you can shake a stick at. By now we ought to be sure about what we need to know. And once we know something, it is settled and it doesn’t change.

In a certain sense, of course,we do know what we need to know. We do know some things about God. But we don’t know everything about God. That’s the piece we tend to forget. We know God is love. But we don’t know everything about the ways in which God loves us. We know God is at work in the world. We don’t fully understand and recognize how.

We need to be able to live with a certain amount of knowing and a certain amount of not knowing.We need to recognize what we can cling securely to, what we are less sure about, and what we have very little understanding of and therefore should speak extremely carefully about. We live along a continuum between knowing nothing and knowing everything.

Sometimes people ask me, who is right or which belief is correct. Usually I say they are both wrong because none of us is completely, fully, robustly correct in our ideas about God. Every thought we have, no matter how lofty, comprehensive or learned is less than the reality of God.

So we all have some ideas and beliefs that are wrong and some that are correct. The problem is, of course, none of us knows which parts we have wrong and which parts are closer to the truth. We need to hold on to the true parts and let go of the wrong parts and that can be difficult. But we can learn to do it.  It is a bit like holding a bird.

Service employee holding a tern at Monomoy Nat...
Service employee holding a tern at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (Photo credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region)

Because of the way birds breath, you need to be careful about how you hold them. A bird’s chest expands passively to take in air. They don’t use muscles to expand their chest like mammals do. They use their muscles to contract their chest. If you hold a bird too tightly its chest can’t expand, so it can’t breath and it dies.  On the other hand, if you don’t hold a bird securely enough they will scratch and bite you. With bigger birds like parrots, your fingers are in real danger. And if you hold a bird too loosely it will fly away and you are left holding nothing at all. When you hold a bird correctly, the bird is safe and so are you. Not there won’t be some squawking and some struggle and some feathers will fly but that is just part of holding a bird. You can’t let the feathers and the squawking through you off-balance or frighten you- you keep holding on.

Faith is a bit like that. Held too tightly, too dogmatically, you can kill faith. Held too loosely, you are left with only a few bits of feathers floating about. Held correctly, there may be struggles and squawking and sometimes a bit of bird poop, but you have a secure hold on the bird.

How do we know when to hold  on tightly and when to let something go?  That is the tricky part. For me, it helps to assume we are all wrong -each in our own special way. And to remember that none of us, if we are honest, really knows what we are doing. But we are in this together, all of us and God. And thankfully God knows how to manage all the struggling and  squawking. The ones who accidentally fly away will land safely in God’s hands. The ones who are squeezed too tightly, well  they also are safely held by the resurrecting God who we can be sure loves us all.

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