Editor’s note: This column is another of several EthicsDaily.com will carry from an initiative from Great Britain called “Beyond400.net – Baptists Imagining Life After 400 Years.”
“The dodo is dead. Everybody knows that.” Thus began an episode of David Attenborough’s “Life Stories” broadcast on Radio 4 on Sept. 4, 2009, in Great Britain.
Attenborough then unfolded the less well-known aspect of the story, the reason for the dodo’s extinction.
It is likely that its ancestors were blown to the Island of Mauritius in a storm. The island was a haven for its new inhabitants.
It was large, 50 miles across, with good vegetation, plenty of food and nothing that would attack or threaten the new arrivals. It was easy and safe to stay on the ground.
They conserved energy and reduced the risk of being blown away again. So they didn’t fly – for generation after generation. There was plenty of easy food – the dodos grew big and fat.
The wings they no longer used dwindled in size and would no longer lift the large bird into the air. Life was easy.
And then things began to change. In the last years of the 16th century, sailors arrived on the island. They were hungry and wanted fresh meat.
The dodo was big, fat, flightless and defenseless. They were also innocent and inquisitive so made no attempt to run away. It was easy for the sailors simply to club them to death.
As more humans settled on the island, the threat to the dodos increased until the bird was no more.
Fundamentally, the dodos became extinct because they lost their powers of flight.
The story made a huge impression on me. Was the church becoming flightless? Was it in danger of extinction?
I received Attenborough’s words in the tradition of Old Testament prophecy, not a foregone conclusion but a spur to act. We need to relearn how to fly.
The image of relearning how to fly and its implications has underpinned my reflections of what God has called our group to do in our new church project.
Losing Some Fat
Learning to fly would involve slimming down – shedding some fat and embracing simplicity. Not perceiving any urgency or threat, have we focused upon church as a place to get fed – where possible with a wide variety of gourmet food?
Hours are spent preparing the Sunday feast – a well-crafted sermon, creative and well produced worship, beautiful prayers.
And then the food critics kick in and argue about sermon styles, song choices or the professionalism of the event.
Is this a healthy diet? Or would something simpler to prepare give us more time to do other things – things that feed others not at the Sunday feast, and something that could be replicated during the week by individuals and small groups?
Growing Some Wings
As well as becoming leaner, we would also need to grow some wings, embrace some new things.
What about unreservedly serving and blessing the communities – geographical or networked – that God has called us to?
What about getting involved in structures where we can speak prophetically into the life of the community or speak truth to power?
What about making time to get to know individuals and simply loving them for who they are rather than what we hope they will become? What about making time and space in our lives to join in with God’s work to see His kingdom come?
The Principle of Lift
Weight and wings are prerequisites but alone they do not determine flight. Lift is essential.
Lift is dependent upon air speed and wing type. The analogy of air and God’s Spirit is obvious. We can’t create our own air speed; we need to join in with the missio Dei.
Birds lift off the ground at a variety of speeds and angles depending on wing type; there is no one method of flight or expression of church.
Sometimes birds are soaring and sometimes they are flapping. The latter is harder work, but both are flying and both are preferable to staying on the ground.
Flight is risky but I believe that God wants us all to become a lean flying machine. I speak from my own situation as this has been the lens through which God has been speaking to me. I hope there are some transferable truths.
Alison Boulton is a Baptist minister in the West of England Baptist Association and leads The Stowe, a new church for the unchurched, which has emerged through blessing, serving and residing on a new housing estate. This column first appeared on “Beyond400.net – Baptists Imagining Life After 400 Years.”