I was a pastor for far too long to have a normal mind. Twenty-six years of coming up with a new sermon each week (two each week for the first seven years) shaped my brain to be constantly on the lookout for illustrations that might engage the congregation and help throw light on a particular aspect of the text.

I don’t preach as often now, but I can’t turn off the analogy circuit that’s tuned for potential connections.

After a packed 10-day trip to Israel/West Bank and a lengthy flight home (Tel Aviv – San Francisco – Raleigh), the wiring is a little frazzled, but connections still come from all directions.

A nest with birds in it seen up-close from above.

(Photo: Susan Cartledge)

A few weeks back, I mentioned the dilemma of what to do after a cowbird added its eggs to the nest of a Carolina Wren who had taken up in our garage. Eventually, there were five big cowbird eggs to only two for the little wren.

We returned from our trip to find that most of the fledglings had left the nest, though two were reluctant to part company with comfort. Both the wren and the cowbird would fly to the nest (without food), then scoot away, chirping and calling the young ones to fly.

Eventually, they did.

Happily back at my work station in the dining room, I could catch glimpses of a bluebird in the front yard doing the same thing, flying to and from the nest box in an attempt to draw the little ones out.

It reminded me how easy it is for any of us to get so comfortable with a particular mindset or lifestyle that we refuse to even consider a different point of view, or to give serious thought to habits that are more environmentally friendly, socially conscious, or personally healthful.

We’d rather stay in our cozy nest than deal with the serious issues that surround us.

That thought led to a connection between a sobering report on climate change and something we spotted in our little back yard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported June 3 that instruments atop the observatory at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa station recorded the highest average level of carbon dioxide in history. Before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels were around 280 parts per million. The average for May was right at 421 ppm.

NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said, “The relentless increase of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa is a stark reminder that we need to take urgent, serious steps to become a more Climate Ready Nation.”

We are literally changing the makeup of the atmosphere, with disastrous results on the horizon. Will we dare fly free of our abject dependence on fossil fuels?

A glass bottle seen up-close with a small fern inside it.

(Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

What we noticed in our back yard was a fern growing inside an upside-down wine bottle, with no access to outside air.

We used old wine bottles as a border between a grassy and planted area of the yard about seven years ago. This summer, we noticed that some of the clear bottles had little ferns growing in them.

It turns out that the ferns, like plants in sealed terrariums, recycle the air that’s in the bottle, converting CO2 to oxygen during the day, then using some of the oxygen to burn sugars at night, releasing a small amount of CO2, which is then converted back to oxygen.

Growth is limited, but the plant can live indefinitely by taking care of the air. If only people did so well.

One more analogy: Disney debuted a new series in the Stars Wars franchise this month. Based on fan-favorite Obi Wan Kenobi, it features a sinister corps of Imperial “Inquisitors” on the hunt for the last remaining jedi, knights of a sort who tap into “the Force” and use their powers for good.

Some of the bad guys are reportedly former jedi who went over to the dark side. A female Inquisitor played by Moses Ingram – whether she was once a jedi has yet to be revealed – has a particular desire to capture Obi Wan Kenobi.

Outside of the Star Wars universe, Ingram has experienced the dark side of America, becoming the target of hundreds of racist tweets and social media posts. That prompted Star Wars officials and actor Ewen McGregor (who plays Obi Wan Kenobi) to support Ingram through public statements. I’m no fan of the Inquisitors, but I’m pulling for Ingram.

And speaking of the dark side – following the horrid mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old bought AR-15 assault rifles with birthday money and took out his unbridled adolescent angst on innocent children, North Carolina’s lieutenant governor Mark Robinson chose a church setting to brag about his own assault weapons.

Robinson is Black but also a stalwart Trump-supporter who wants to become governor. Speaking at the predominantly white Midpoint Church in Middlesex, North Carolina – shortly after the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, that also involved an AR-15 – he said, “I’m not ashamed to say it, I’m probably not supposed to say it, but I’m gonna’ say it anyway — I got them AR-15s in case the government gets too big for its britches. … ‘Cause I’m gonna fill the backside of them britches with some lead.” (The church has deleted the video, but it is available on the WRAL website here).

Is there any doubt that American politics has a massive dark side of conspiracies, suspicion, and insurrection? If not, check out recent comments from Madison Cawthorn, the outspoken rookie Republican congressman from Western North Carolina. His insurrection-promoting and off-the-rails behavior have been so atrocious that most other Republicans (except for Trump) have turned against him.

After losing his primary bid for reelection, an angry Cawthorn took verbal aim at those who didn’t support him (and therefore, Trump), saying on Instagram that “it’s time for Dark MAGA to take command” and purge the party of people he considers to be “cowardly and weak.”

If you don’t think America has a serious dark side, perhaps it’s time to come out of the nest.

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