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.

Are You a Good Egg?

I’ve been thinking about eggs recently. Back when we lived in the hinterlands, we produced our own eggs. More accurately, our chickens produced the eggs that we snatched from them.  Since we’ve move back to the suburban wasteland, we can no longer keep chickens and have to buy eggs from the store.

What eggs should we buy? The options are, if not limitless, certainly broad. Do you buy the cheapest eggs at the cheapest store? Or do you go for something more exalted.

We can opt for brown eggs over white eggs. Brown eggs look like the ones that our flock on the farm laid, so they at least seem better. But of course, brown eggs raised in the same condition as the white eggs are exactly the same aside from their shell color. They may well have been fed a diet of drugs while residing in tiny cages with several of their closest friends, who may or may not be alive today.

Pay a little more and you can control for what you egg layers were fed: non-GMO feed, organic feed, vegetarian feed. You can also pay a premium for how the birds are raised: cage-free, free-range, or pasture raised.

What should the Christian buy? Should we be shamed into spending $50 a dozen for certified Kobe eggs, laid by hens who are paid a living wage and guaranteed to live out their natural lives in a national park? Should I feel bad if my eggs come from chickens that are not GMO-free? In mulling that, I’m reminded of something from Paul’s writing:

Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ. (Colossians  2:16-17)

Don’t let anyone judge you, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t judge for ourselves. I’d suggest judging on two criteria:

First, are you buying the best eggs you can buy? Eggs laid by chickens that go outside, that eat bugs, that clip blades of grass, and that live lives fairly close to how God designed them to live, are, not surprisingly, better tasting and more nutritious than the anemic, cage-produced eggs you can pick up for $.69 at Wal-Mart. The yolks are darker, and the taste is richer. Why would I eat substandard food?

Second, can you feel good about yourself knowing how the chickens who lay your eggs live? If a hen has to live in a tiny cage, given about ninety square inches in which to “range” so that I can buy cheaper eggs, I’d say that price is too high. For comparison, imagine spending your productive life in an airplane bathroom. Maybe you think that’s okay for the source of your omelet. I’m not supposed to judge you, but I can judge me.

In the end, I’d argue that way too much judging of others goes on while far too little self-reflection occurs. People will cluck at those who eat non-organic eggs, while others crow about the folly of spending money for something as nebulous as free-range. PETA types line up on one side while pro-business conservatives populate the other. Enough!

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that food and drink and days are not important. He just says that we shouldn’t let others judge us over them. That doesn’t release us to live in blissful ignorance.

Which Came First? (Psalm 8:1)

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens. (Psalm 8:1)

We’re ready to move our baby chicks outside. Their growth in the past two and a half weeks has made them quite crowded in their little storage-tub brooders. The odor of their presence–that’s a polite way to say it, isn’t it?–has become quite profound. It’s time for them to vacate the garage and take up residence in the great outdoors.

If only I could take those tubs out into the yard, open up the lids, and dump the gals out onto the grass. But it’s just not that easy. I’ve had to ensure that predators couldn’t get to the birds. I’ve had to safeguard them from drafts and moisture. The top hatch on their chicken tractor had to be reattached. Heat lamps needed to be positioned inside the enclosure and electricity provided.

Life, it seems, is complicated. I mention this as I think of  God’s glory not only placed in the heavens but spread throughout all of creation. For all the complexity of dealing with chickens or maintaining a modern household, the jillions of details that go into the physics, the chemistry, and the biology of life make my efforts seem like a game of tic-tac-toe.

My chickens will not appreciate the fine engineering that I incorporate into their outside domicile. They’ll be oblivious to the economics of eggs versus feed that determines their continued viability. They won’t understand the many systems and resources necessary to bring them water, shelter, and food, nor the profound social skills I’m required to deploy in order to sell their eggs.

That’s how it is us, when we ignore the glory of God as displayed throughout the world, when we think that by understanding an essential process such as photosynthesis or gravity, we can take some sort of credit for it. In reality, just as I can take no credit for the miracle of a chicken laying eggs, we can take no credit for the glory of God in which we live. That is, perhaps, the first and most important spiritual insight that we can possess.