Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pigeons, parakeets and peregrines

Ever been pigeon-holed? 

It's not a comfortable feeling. Someone (or a group of people) only thinks of you in one capacity, and when you stray outside of that, they don't know what to do with you. You might be considered as having become too big for your britches, or any number of other, less flattering adjectives or comparisons. 

A pigeon-hole is what they called those little cubby-holes in secretary desks long ago. Each hole had a specific thing that went in there, and it was a great way to organize items so you could find them easily. 

The problem with doing that to people is that they are a lot more complex than that. 

Some years ago at work, I qualified for serious consideration for an executive position, scoring among the top three in the country. When my co-workers found out that I was being considered for this, they couldn't believe it. To them, I was a clerk. They couldn't get their minds around the fact that I could be anything else. Someone even had the gall to tell me that I couldn't be in leadership until I lost some weight. (Seriously?

This tendency that folks have to categorize (and I'm no different, hence the title of this post!) can have disastrous effects. Recently, one woman killed herself because she knew that she would always and forever be known as the nurse that got duped into allowing impostors access to information about a well-known celebrity. Being in that kind of pigeon-hole was too much for her. So, she ended it. 

Just because we're in the church doesn't mean we're immune. In fact, sometimes the church community is a fish-bowl for all kinds of disturbing attitudes and behaviors which some folks think, say and do without considering the consequences. The reason I call it a fish-bowl is that it isn't done in a corner; non church-goers see what happens and stay away in droves, and those children who've grown up in the church are leaving as soon as they can and never coming back. 

Someone gets pigeon-holed into a specific category, and if they decide to branch out and stray away from that one spot, they get dumped on by all the other pigeons. Stay where you're put. Don't dream of anything more. This is where your "gifting" lies. Remember your place.

Another way that pigeon-holing happens is in the church versus outside-church dynamic. Just because I have to talk to you or interact with you at church doesn't mean you're a part of my life. Don't approach me on the street and say hi; I won't acknowledge your presence even if I'm standing in line waiting at the grocery store in the same line-up as you. If I see you waiting there, I might even choose a different lineup just so I'm not in that uncomfortable position. Yes. It happens. It's hurtful, but it happens all the time. 

The truth is that people are people. Inside the church, outside the church, people are people. As the deaf community says, "same-same." That folks think there is a difference is a sad testament to how compartmentalized and out of touch some churches have become. 

In a way, we can be like parakeets, parroting back what we're told over and over and over again, without understanding why we're saying it, singing it, thinking it. The jargon, the way we learn to talk in the church atmosphere, is unlike anything one hears in the outside world. Nobody talks like that! Imagine if a parakeet went back to the jungle and said "Pretty bird" to its wild cousins all the time. It wouldn't make any sense! 

Terms like "taking authority" and "speaking in faith" are bandied about in the church until we think that this is the way normal people speak and think. Then when we start talking like that outside the church, normal people think we're nuts! And then we pat ourselves on the back and convince ourselves that we are being persecuted for Jesus' sake and for the gospel's. ("Pretty bird.") We're not being persecuted because of the gospel. We're being left alone or laughed at because we're just plain weird. I know because I have acted and spoken this way and have been treated like a pariah, only to congratulate myself that I was being a light for Christ. In actual fact, I was driving people away from the gospel, because the very folks I was trying to reach said to themselves, "If this is what being a Christian is all about, count me out." 

The pigeon in the pigeon-hole and the parakeet that can say "Pretty bird" have one thing in common, aside from the fact that they are both seed-eaters and both quite numerous and found congregating in large groups.

They're in captivity. 

Peregrine Falcon
Photo Courtesy of Tom Curtis at
Harder to find, much fewer in number, and breathtakingly beautiful is the peregrine falcon. 

Misunderstood and feared, too. 

It would be foolish to pigeon-hole one of these gorgeous and intelligent birds, nor would you even dream of trying to teach it to say, "Pretty bird."  Its natural state is soaring high above, dancing on currents and updrafts of air it can't see but can feel, extremely focused and aware of its surroundings, the perfect illustration of liberty. 

Yes, some have been domesticated - but even then, the falconer is keenly aware that this creature is not a "pet." It isn't "tame" in the traditional sense of the word. 

Like eagles and hawks, when in the wild, it leads a relatively solitary life, living in small nuclear family groups, nesting in high, craggy, inaccessible spots. These are the "safe places" to which it returns to rest, to nourish itself, to protect its mate and feed its young. As simple as that is, there is one inescapable attraction: the creature is free. I often long for that kind of life inside, a life of freedom, of not being bound by tradition, rules, categories, and cages. I can't really say I've attained that level yet - but it's something to which I aspire. 

I don't want to be in a pigeon-hole anymore. I don't want to put anyone else there, either. I'm tired of saying "pretty bird" without knowing why. I want to live, really live in communion with the heavens, putting all my weight on the unseen, resting when I'm tired, feeding my soul when it's hungry, being secure and unfettered. If that means that I risk being lonely and isolated at times, perhaps that's a price I might be willing to pay if it means being that much closer to the open sky.

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