Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lessons from the Back 40

Blue jays are such contradictory creatures.

I’m not thinking baseball’s Blue Jays, who hit everything out of the park one day, but can’t make contact with anything smaller than a 10-pin bowling ball the next.

I am in the Back 40  watching genuine blue jays gorge themselves on a pile of cracked corn. Their brilliant blue crest-to-rump feathers, white chests and underbellies, plus sharp black detailing, are a contradiction in the autumn forest.

The time of spectacular colour has long passed. This is the time of sombre dullness here. The canopy’s few remaining leaves, almost all stubborn oaks, are the colour of wet rust. The scarlets, persimmons, and golds that drew oohs and aahs last month have succumbed to the greyness of a Back 40 waiting for winter.

Yet the gaudy jays flitter and soar, vibrant blue-white-black flashes brightening an otherwise comatose landscape.

Their noise also is a contradiction. This is supposed to be a time of quiet here as living things stand silent, listening for winter’s approaching footsteps.

Not the jays. Their piercing ‘jay, jay, jay’ and other vocal hysterics are unnerving breaks in the Back 40 quiet.

I come here to escape the noisy conflicts of the outside world. We all need occasional breaks from the clashing and crashing of a society that seems to be losing its collective mind.

The noise of the jays at least is bearable, until a squabble breaks out in the corn pile. I’m guessing there are 3,000 kernels of corn in that pile. Maybe more. There is at least enough to feed every blue jay in the forest for the next week. Yet, we have a fight over who gets what kernel first.

Blue jays, like humans, are extremely territorial. But their territorial disputes, unlike ours, are brief because the birds realize that fighting only diminishes eating time.

Humans have yet to figure that out. We continue to go to war against each other, and when we are not fighting, we yell at each other and hold grudges, often for years, sometimes centuries.

We enter desperate periods when we turn to leaders with small minds and hard hearts; leaders who base their opinions and actions on emotions, not facts. Hello, Trump, Marine La Pen, Vlad Putin, et al.

These extreme leaders make loud noises and flash bright colours. Like the blue jays, they are contradictions in a time when patience and calm and quiet intelligence are needed.

There are voices of quiet intelligence and reason among us. Unfortunately, the masses are not hearing them, or perhaps don’t want to hear them. These voices are little heard in the global news media, which has decided it is better to tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

There was an example recently of what can happen when intelligent people understand that when they stop fighting there is more time to share good things.

The heads of the Lutheran and Catholic churches met in Sweden three weeks ago to set aside differences and work to understand each other. Pope Francis and Lutheran President Bishop Munib Younan met to begin healing the wounds of a 500-year-old religious war that dramatically altered global Christianity.

The war started in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed 95 arguments to the door of a Catholic church in Germany. His statements denounced Catholic Church corruption, notably the sale of indulgences. That incident created the Protestant Reformation, and centuries of hatred and bloody wars.

In Lutheran Sweden, Catholics were persecuted and barred from certain professions and until the 1970s Catholic convents were forbidden. Lutherans were called heretics by Catholics.

Luther of course was right. The church was corrupt, but he was excommunicated for saying it.

Francis has exercised his quiet leadership by calling Luther a reformer and admitting that the Catholic church had made mistakes. Younan said the Swedish meeting was an example of how religions can work together without always contributing more conflict to an already troubled world.

The lesson from the Swedish meeting, and from the blue jays in Back 40, is clear: when we stop pecking at each other, we can get a lot more problems solved.


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