Yesterday my friend Jill posted an OpEd in the NY Times about sparrows. The article was published last week and then coincidentally on Sunday, a soloist sang the song His Eye Is On The Sparrow at church on Sunday. I’ve never really given a lot of thought to the sparrow. I just assumed that the lyrics were communicating that God watches seemingly insignificant birds, therefore God watches over me as well. Inspiring enough message, for sure, but when I read more about the reality of the sparrow and its affect on its ecosystem, it went to a whole other level. And also, because I seem to see everything as sermon material.
The author, Peyton Marshall, writes about her mother, who is a member of the North American Bluebird Society (apparently that’s a thing) and is on a personal crusade against the sparrow. Marshall writes that the sparrow is, “a bird that, when it isn’t devouring butterflies and yellow flowers, is pecking out the brains of bluebird mothers, dumping their lifeless bodies in the grass and then throwing their children out to die.” Apparently, the English house sparrow was brought over here in the 19th century to deal with an infestation of the white linden moth in New York.
“City planners hoped that the sparrows would see the linden moth larvae as an all-you-can-eat buffet. And they did. But they also had a taste for other things: Sparrows devoured vital crops, stole the nests of native birds and flourished in urban habitats, slaughtering weaker species. By the 1980s America’s indigenous bluebird population was in steep decline.”
Basically, sparrows are thugs. They represent all of our worst instincts, behavior and desperate need for self-preservation. They are the animal kingdom equivalent of the human id. We all know people like this and we don’t want to be around them. If they’re not in prison they are wrecking havoc on the outside in between stretches. They are ruthless, manipulative, angry, and power-hungry. They are bird Hitlers. Have I made my point?
When I read all this, I had a couple of thoughts, the first of which was that it’s amazing that I get to be in a relationship with a God who values and cares for all kinds of creatures regardless of their baggage. It speaks of God’s great compassion and boundless grace. Then I thought – hey. Why am I in the same category as bird Hitlers? I would hope that God is watching sparrows in a different way that God watches me. More like Robert DeNiro in Meet the Parents. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think God watches us all equally and it’s a test of whether or not we are moving through life in tune with God’s grace if we can co-exist with the awful people of the world. I’m not advocating that we lie down and willingly accept abuse. That’s a whole other thing. One can extend grace without becoming entangled. Sparrows are removed from where they are most destructive so that the native species can thrive.
I have to come to terms with the fact that, as much as it would appeal to my human sense of justice, there are not levels to God’s grace and compassion. God’s eye is on the sparrow. And God watches me. And those are the same because I am in need of as much compassion and grace as someone who has lived their entire life at the expense of others. It’s not something I want to admit, but I know it’s true.
I can sing, I can be happy, and I know I’m free. Because I know God watches me.