My husband, Bill, a freelance photographer, almost always has a camera nearby and loves taking pictures.
One crisp, beautiful day recently we drove past our church, festively decorated for Christmas. We stopped and Bill got out and took his picture.
The sky was bright blue, the clouds added to the picturesqueness of the scene, and Bill felt as if he had gotten a great photograph.
However, when we arrived home and he downloaded the image to our computer, Bill noticed that there were two black blobs on the cross that tops the steeple of the church.
Closer inspection revealed two vultures perched on the cross. Bill carefully used his photo editing tools and cloned the offending birds out of what then became a lovely picture.
Knowing that I often get inspirations out of such incidents, Bill told me that he was sure there was a meditation there.
Several thoughts came to mind, such as how our shortcomings can detract from the message of the cross, or how sinfulness can destroy ministries, but I had not gotten to the point of writing something down.
A couple of days later, Bill said he had been thinking about those vultures and had decided that perhaps the thought to be gleaned was that the vultures were God’s creatures, too.
Then he suggested that the lesson to be learned was that all of God’s creatures were welcome at the cross, even vultures.
I cocked an eyebrow and asked, “So why did you clone them out?”
Bill’s wry answer: “To make a perfect picture.”
“I believe that is the message,” was my very thoughtful response.
The annals of church history are replete with the disastrous consequences of Christians attempting to make their idea of what faith should look like be a perfect picture.
Beginning with the controversy about the need for new believers to become Jews first, the church has a sorry record of discord, disharmony and dissension.
The Spanish Inquisition is only one of many tragic examples, and continuing denominational crises have caused and are still causing angst.
Our small county in northeast Georgia has more than 30 Baptist churches alone – a number of them the result of churches that split over issues that became so large that they could not be overcome.
Some of those splits have fractured families, life-long friendships and have damaged or destroyed ministries.
In addition to institutional applications, there are individual ones.
How often do we want to “clone out” all that makes our worship, our churches, our way of serving God, less than perfect. We are much too prone to exclude or criticize ideas and individuals that are different, divergent or less than acceptable in our view.
Our judgment calls of what is acceptable or preferable may well exclude those whom God has created for a specific purpose, such as those vultures.
Our perfect picture may not be God’s picture at all.
SaraPowell is on the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics, a freelance writer and former moderator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia. She and her husband, Bill, live in Hartwell, Ga. Visit her website at LiftYourHeart.com.