Bird-Brained People

This morning, my daughter hurried my day along by calling me as I got dressed. “Our chickens are here! I have a meeting in half an hour. Can you come over and set things up?”

If you haven’t experienced the joy of raising chickens, you might not know that they arrive in the post office a day or two after they’re hatched, peeping and cheeping enough that the postal service puts them at the top of the priority list. Emily expected her birds to arrive tomorrow, but they miraculously showed up today.

I headed to her new house and pulled up in front just as Emily got into her van. Inside, Isa, her middle son, stood prepared to help me get things rolling. He showed me the supplies and the small, cheeping box.

A few minutes later, we had bedding in the bottom of a large storage tub and a heat lamp clamped to the side. We lifted the chicks, one by one, from the box and deposited them in the tub, dipping each one’s beak into the water to teach it to drink.

After we had all 17 of the 15 chicks in the tub–that’s hatchery math by the way–I gave Isa the five-minute tutorial on keeping the chicks alive and well until Mom came home from work. “If they’re all bunched up right here where the light is hottest, then they’re cold. You need to move the light in more. If they’re all over here where the light isn’t reaching, then they’re hot. You need to move the light away.”

Chickens, you see, even at only two days of age, have more sense than humans do. When they’re cold, they try to get warm. When they’re hot, they move away from the heat. In short, the chickens seem to know what’s good for them. They’ll drink water when they’re thirsty. They’ll eat until they’re full and then stop.

People, on the other hand, don’t have that kind of sense. We (I) drink caffeine-loaded beverages to such an extent that the kidneys are working in overdrive and we’re constantly running to the restroom. We don’t stop eating when we’re full. Sometimes we don’t even have the sense to move toward the warm or cool areas. In short, we don’t seem to know what’s good for us. Or more accurately, we know what’s good for us, but we don’t do it. Paul seemed to recognize this in Romans 7:15:

For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.

So far Emily’s birds are doing nicely. I’m less confident that Isa is behaving wisely. Time will tell.

The Tip of the Spear

I have asparagus! Over a month ago, I mentioned that I had planted 18 asparagus crowns in a row out on the edge of our yard. Yesterday, I saw the first sign of life from those plants. When I say I have asparagus, I more accurately have only one plant definitely growing, but that is asparagus. I’m confident that the others will come along presently. And some of those that sprout later might wind up producing far more spears for me. Who knows?

Who knows indeed. Last night, I scanned that asparagus trench looking for more of the little fern-like fingers poking up amidst the clover and bluegrass that lap over into the dirt. I didn’t find any more, but I’m convinced that within a few days, more shoots will be above the ground. I’m convinced that by summer’s end, I’ll have all 18 plants growing. Maybe it’ll be fewer, but I have a hope for 18.

Gardening is an act of delayed gratification. You place a seed into soil and wait for it to sprout. You then carefully nurture it, believing that it will grow. When it’s nearly time to set that plant out into the wild, open world of the garden, you expose the plants to the sun for a few hours over several days to harden them off, believing that the sun and the wind won’t destroy them. Then you put them into the garden bed prepared for them, train them up, keep pests off, pull weeds, and, perhaps 80 days later, you begin to pluck fruit.

Some vegetables yield more quickly. I’m convinced that you can plant radishes in the morning and harvest in the evening. Others take nearly the entire season, but all of them require time and hope. You bury something in the ground, you place it outside where all manner of things can attack it, you invest your time in caring for it, and all the while you believe that there will be tomatoes or squash or beans or something good produced. Paul could have been speaking of gardening when he wrote this:

So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.–2 Corinthians 4:18

There’s a parable in my single asparagus plant. I felt joy when I saw that frail, ferny stalk emerging from the soil. That joy, however, is just a tiny glimmer of the joy (and good food) that will eventually follow from that row of plants. More profoundly, all the blessings of today are a down payment on the incalculable riches that await us in eternity.

We plant. We wait. We have hope, and the outcome will be amazing. And until that day comes, at least we can grill some asparagus.

Too Much Cross?

In the aftermath of Easter, as any number of white lilies start to turn brown in our homes and jelly beans are half off at Walgreen, I find myself getting contemplative about the matters commemorated over the weekend just past. Is it possible that the whole Christian–and especially Evangelical–focus on the cross of Jesus is misguided? Could it be that the moving demonstration we made at our church on Palm Sunday, nailing notes inscribed with our sins to crosses around the worship center, was a colossal waste of time that could have been better spent redeeming creation somehow?

Elizabeth A. Johnson seems to think so. This theologian’s latest book, Creation and the Cross argues that Christianity has made far too much of a deal about the atonement and satisfaction of God’s wrath at the cross. Don’t take my word for it:

Over time, however, a powerful current emerged in Western theology that favored a focus on sin and the cross. This was a juridical or legal way of thinking that interpreted sin as breaking a divine law. The work of redemption was a free and gracious act that nevertheless required something by way of penalty or recompense on the part of the law-breakers . . . Such was offered by the death of Jesus, his body broken and his blood poured out for us.

Johnson lays the blame for this thought at the feet of Anselm, the eleventh-century Archbishop of Canterbury who wrote an influential text on the topic. She argues that Anselm’s book, Cur Deus Homo, was really just an outgrowth of the Medieval and feudal justice system. She never seems to consider the possibility that the Medieval justice system might have been an outgrowth of the biblical view instead.

Johnson really wants us to focus on the groaning of creation. By the second paragraph of the text, she’s declaring “a time of advancing ecological devastation.” Apparently, we should spend less time talking about the cross and more time recycling.

Of course, if the cross-justice view of Anselm is really just a product of his day and age, then shouldn’t Johnson be fair enough to admit that her theories might just be a product of her day and age?

The reality, however, is that Anselm didn’t start anything. If anything, Paul started this view:

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.–Galatians 6:14

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.–1 Corinthians 2:2

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,–Romans 6:6

And the reality is also that the redemption of Creation will never be effected without the victory over sin. Good hearted people have tried to clean the air, protect the water, defend the species, and restore balance. All they’ve managed to achieve is to improve one disaster as another one emerges. Yes, Creation groans. It groans because of sin and the answer for that sin is not the warm thoughts of the NPR set but the meaningful application of the blood of Jesus to our hearts and an openness to all of the inconvenient life changes that application might provoke.

Do we talk too little about Creation? I think we do, but we cannot remedy that by talking less about the cross of Christ.