It happens every year around this time.
I fill my hummingbird feeders, hoping the little dynamos of the bird world will stay around long enough to empty them again. I always dread the day when I suddenly realize that most of our birds have either migrated or gone undercover. (But that's a topic for another day!)
I noticed something for the first time today. Two feeders hang on a shepherd's crook in our yard -- one filled with sugar water for the hummers, the other with sunflower seeds for everything else.
If you've ever seen hummingbirds guard a feeder, you know that it's almost comical. They are so tiny, but so aggressive! Spreading their tails, puffing up their feathers to look bigger, chirping a loud warning to any would-be encroachers, and actually dive-bombing them if they dare to get too close. So tiny; and so fierce.
But here's what I noticed. Each time a larger bird -- a nuthatch, a finch, a downy woodpecker -- would try to eat from the sunflower feeder, the hummingbird on guard nearby needed only to flap its wings (if movement that fast can be called "flapping!") and the bigger bird would leave. I don't know if the danger of being speared by a needle-sharp beak is real; I think generally the noise and commotion chase other birds away before any real damage occurs. They aren't even competing for the same food!
It has me thinking about other instances of smaller creatures dominating larger ones.
You may have met Samson, the Seidler-Gibbs' huge Bullmastiff. Gretchen sometimes brought him to her office at the church, where he would make the rounds saying hi and being loved on. Samson weighed around 200 pounds -- the gentlest giant you could ever meet. He seemed to have a secret desire to be a lap dog, expressed by leaning against you with affection and pretty much pinning you in place!
Several years ago, we had a Yorkie named Oliver. He weighed about five pounds, but he had all the energy of a coiled spring, which he often unleashed when someone visited. Dave Gibbs was doing some work for us for a few months, and he often brought Samson because we loved him so much.
You can probably imagine what's coming. Each time Sam visited, Oliver became a very noisy, whirling dervish. Samson tried to eat out of Oliver's bowl... but only once. The little bully completely dominated the giant -- who could have fit that entire, furious body into his mouth.
I could compare these two stories to that of David and Goliath -- the small shepherd boy, equipped with only stones, a sling, and immense courage, taking down the giant.
Or I could write about how one lone woman, Esther, dared to confront a king who was the embodiment of power and authority in a patriarchal world.
The Bible is full of stories like this, of the small and relatively powerless answering the call to take on larger threats and injustices.
But I'd like us to consider the times in which we are living. Never has there been such a lack of civility and courtesy between people who disagree. Whether you follow the daily news or not, whether you use social media or not, it's impossible to avoid being exposed to the anger and disrespect people hurl at one another. And it crosses all lines, this us against them mentality: political, social, cultural, racial, etc.
Some would argue that this is happening because people who never felt they had a voice -- folks who are largely rural, blue collar, struggling to make ends meet -- now believe that if they are loud enough, someone will listen. Others might say that the state of the world is so chaotic, so discordant, that voices must be strident in order to be heard.
If you're like me, you may feel powerless to stop this ugliness. It may seem that there is little you can do to foster change. Our country is so vast, our problems so complex. What can one small person do?
The answer is simple: Something. Each one of us can do something.
Shane Claiborne is founder of a group called The Simple Way. He has long been a Christian voice for social justice. In 2018, he partnered with RAW Tools, a group promoting nonviolence by turning donated guns into garden tools. (If you're interested in learning more about this project, watch a video called This is an AR-15 Turned Into A Garden Tool on YouTube.)
You may be thinking, "No. That kind of activism's not for me." And that's okay. It's really not for everyone. But Mother Teresa once said: "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
What small things can you do today to bring about change in our troubled world? Can you...
Look a stranger in the eyes and smile?
Donate a box of cereal to a food pantry?
Disagree with someone with kindness and respect, rather than anger?
Plant a tree? Create a butterfly garden?
Help someone who is struggling to open a door?
In the large scheme of events, these are small things. And yes, in a world population of 7.7 billion, individually we are small people. But we are not powerless. And as Christians, the key to our power is faith in Jesus Christ.
Shane Claiborne also heads up Red Letter Christians, a movement of folks who are committed to living "as if Jesus meant the things he said."
What kind of world would be created if we all lived that way?
What if we all became Davids, or Esthers, or Shanes? Intentionally doing what we can -- actions large and small -- to bring about change? Creating a world where love of God and our neighbors truly guides our actions?
I can almost imagine it. Can you?
Lou Ann Karabel