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Birds of a feather

Birds of a feather

A unifying purpose is powerful.

Let me get this out up front: I am not a serious birder. In the last decade, I’ve paid more attention to them and can identify the local birdsongs. But I don’t seek them out. I take what’s given. When they are kind enough to cross my path, I find birds a delightful gift from the Creator.

So, it comes as a surprise to me that I’m as eager as the half-dozen strangers riding with me in a van to see the ptarmigan that’s standing in the snow just off the road ahead in Alaska.  We all lean forward to get a better look. It is a remarkable bird, and one I’m not likely to ever see again.

Why have I become so besotted with such sightings?

Call it the power of purpose. Some months ago, I wrote about the basic human needs to: 1) be a part of a group of people working toward something bigger than our individual agendas; and 2) have our contribution, our giftedness, appreciated. And here I am, witnessing this in action.

A dozen people have come this week to this remote camp in Denali National Park. Some have come for the birds, some for the wildness. Some are hikers, some are strollers. There are all sorts of personalities and perspectives.

But this unifying purpose of bird watching – finding them, identifying them (in my case, pointing and letting someone else identify), then later celebrating the day’s discoveries – has blurred all the dividing lines between us.

It’s an amazing thing to witness -- to be a part of. And it points me to the ultimate application: the church.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Cor. 12:4-6)

There it is: individual gifts, but a common purpose. Those abilities are distributed by God in order that he may work through them to accomplish his goals. Sometimes, I think American Christianity spends too much time trying to figure out the plans God has for individuals and too little attention on his big-picture plans.

For the joy isn’t in the identifying of the gift. It’s in using it in service of that big picture. And belonging to a tribe of people who do the same.

Here, I know my role. Perhaps it’s all the observing I’ve been doing for this column, but I seem to be adept at finding wildlife. And armed with a serious zoom, I’m literally shouldering the task of capturing images of it.

Like this harlequin duck – a bird I hadn’t even heard of, let alone seen. What a dramatically colored waterfowl, aptly named. When I share images of it to the group at dinner, there are gasps of surprise and delight. I guess this is a rare sighting!

But the find belongs to the whole group, added into the tally for the day. I’m glad to contribute, but the joy is communal.

That’s the way it was designed to work.

Father in heaven, you know the plans you have for us – plans to bless each contributor even as move us forward toward the goal of your coming Kingdom. Help us each to find our giftedness in that collective purpose and joy.

Reader: when have you experienced this dynamic of being a contributing part of a greater task?

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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