A Feature Review of
Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible
Reviewed by Helen Lee
Four years ago, our family hung its first bird feeder, which wasn’t even a real feeder at all. It actually was an empty two-liter soda bottle filled with seeds, onto which I’d attached the simple $5 accessories needed to transform it into a feeder. And I tried to imagine what, if any, actual birds would be drawn to this clunky contraption. But as it’s been said, “if you feed them, they will come.” And did they ever.
Black-capped chickadees, to start, but then all manner of sparrows, songbirds, and finches followed, an overflowing of unexpected feathered friends who transformed our drab backyard into an constant source of delight and discovery. And it all began with a humble recycled soda bottle.
As a bird-lover myself, I was eager to read Debbie Blue’s Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, although my preconceived notions of the book were similar to how I felt hanging up that soda bottle feeder—a bit skeptical and uncertain what to expect. Birds in the Bible? Doves, ravens, and are there really any others to note? I wondered. I realize now that Consider the Birds is a humbly-named book that will do far more than open up your understanding to a handful of birds in the Scriptures. It will also increase your understanding of both the Bible and its Author, creator of words and birds alike, in ways that will delight you and spur you on to discover more.
I should not have been surprised by this, given what I learned about Blue from her back-cover bio. She is one of the founding pastors at House of Mercy church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and her “sermon podcasts are listened to by subscribers around the world.” Based on her dry wit alone, I can believe it. On Aristotle’s observations of animals, as one of the first to classify the animal kingdom in a systematic way: “Clearly he spent some time watching sponges, overtly and covertly trying to detach them. I like that in a Greek philosopher.”
But more than her flashes of humor, her pastoral sensibilities resound throughout the book. I expected meditations on birds of the Bible, but instead I was treated to thoughtful observations on parenting, on power, and on culture; she writes as a concerned pastor would for her flock, wanting to expose them to all manner of current-day threats and dangers to the spiritual health of her sheep, yet using the seemingly innocuous topic of birds to do this. But make no mistake: this book can pierce you right through, if you let it.
For example, as she shares on the topic of medieval perceptions of the pelican, she moves into a discussion on the topic of sacrifice that stops me full force, so that I just have to put down the book and sit for a while with what she has written. (I like that in a book. Even when it brings me to tears. Or, especially when it brings me to tears.) Blue writes:
Anyone who has ever had or been a child knows the last thing you want to hear from your parents is ‘I sacrificed for you.’ It’s not what you want. It doesn’t feel like love. You don’t want them to give up their lives for you; you need them to be alive—the more fully alive, the better.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this idea expressed to me by my own parents, Korean immigrants who worked unimaginably hard to carve out a life for themselves and for me. Sacrifice was my parents’ language of love, instead of saying the words out loud, which they never have done. But Blue is right: although I am grateful to them, I have also struggled with the guilt that my life has not made their sacrifices worthwhile. And it gets me thinking about my own parenting, how I have, in my less admirable moments, expressed my own frustration to my kids about my sacrifices in being a homeschooling mom. Sacrifice must be given freely, without any strings attached, in order to represent love in its truest sense.