Friday, June 26, 2009

Inherent Worth and Dignity of Pigeons

This week I am attending the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Salt Lake City.  Thousands of us gather in a beautifully landscaped bowl ringed by snow-topped mountains and infinite sky.  Even from down town we are reminded that we are one with all that is.  Centering moments abound in vista and in worship, but also in the day-to-day acts of hearts willing to see the suffering of others.





Rev. Beth Johnson holding found pigeon and beauty next to her heart


Early in the week Rev. Beth Johnson called me on my cell phone from the streets around Temple Square.  She had found a recently fledged pigeon in a parking lot and she wanted to know what to do.  I spoke with her on the phone as I coached her on the possible decisions to make.  My stance is it is better to leave a bird in the wild, especially as parents take care of the fledged chicks even when they can’t fly.  Beth guarded the chick while I called around to see if there was any one who could take the young bird, such as a wildlife rehabilitator.  I found that someone would take the bird, if indeed it was best to take the bird into captivity. 

I met her on the sidewalk; the bird hunkered down between her legs. I quickly discerned that the bird was very thin, weak, and dehydrated.  The night was coming on and no parents were in sight. So I took the bird for the evening to try to feed her so she wouldn’t die in the night. She ate voraciously, regained her energy, and kept me company for the next 18 hours with her peeping song.  The next day Beth and congregational member Barbara took the bird to a sanctuary where the owner said, “Of course I’ll take care of the bird, I love pigeons!”

This seems to me a faith statement, a universal vision that I long for that applies across species and cultural categories, “Of course I will take care of my neighbors, I love life!”

When we can see the beauty of life in one another I believe our species has a chance to bring justice to our world.  In a lecture that was part of Unitarian Universalist University this week, Galen Guengerich quotes Elaine Scarry, “the experience of beauty has a built-in consequence: fairness-refers both to loveliness and to the ethical requirement to be fair, play fair, or distribute fairly.  Beauty issues a call to symmetry and equality, a call to be just.

I bow deep in gratitude for witnessing the beauty of others who see beauty in pigeons. Thank you Rev. Johnson, fledged pigeon, Kay the bird rehabilitator, and the citizens of Salt Lake City who adorn their streets with pigeon art.



Transportation stop with pigeon sculpture (with rainbow arc of our covenant with all life)


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Guatemala Scarlet Macaw Chick Exam

Examining Avian and Human Virtue

At long last I have up a video in three parts that shows the Wildlife Conservation Society team of veterinarians and biologists examining wild Scarlet Macaw nest in Guatemala. It depicts a fairly thorough physical examination of wild parrots that is possible under field conditions. We learned so much about the birds, and about ourselves while doing this work in April of 2009. As you watch these videos perhaps you too can learn about what it means to be human in a community of mixed species, for me a primary religious, ethical, and hence scientific question. Like us, birds have the virtues of caring, compassion, protection, prudence, and nurturance. The parents care for their young, feed them, protect them, treat them with kindness, while also keeping a safe distance from we humans climbing the trees. You can hear the parents calling out in warning while we handle the chicks.


Like us, birds are anxious for the well being of other birds.  The calling of the parents echoes our own anxiety about what will happen to the younger chick, and what can we possibly do to save this one bird, let alone an entire species that is under threat from poaching, forest fires, and habitat loss that results from an economic system that is based on addiction – to consumerism, to drugs, to satisfying one’s own needs, now, at the costs of meeting others basic needs.


Like us, birds demonstrate perseverance, strength, and adaptability.  The youngest chick in this nest (the second one to be examined) is frightfully thin and over the next several weeks falls further and further behind in weight as her/his sibling thrives. Yet the bird lives for several more weeks as one or both parents still feed the ailing chick.



Like us, birds are beautiful, defiantly so as it seems against all odds that such a rainbow of colors and social complexity survives from egg to the powerful, gliding adults circling over us during the examination. How did such beauty come into existence and how shall it survive we ask? To answer this question we continue to examine our own lives, our own complicity in a system fraught with harm for ourselves and others, and we continue to examine these birds and their chicks, for the hope of understanding what is ours to do in this world. How shall we liberate ourselves as we liberate the birds, and love ourselves as all our neighbors?