Friends, today’s post is a momentary departure from my Mark series, which will resume with the next post. And P.S. at the end of this post is an invitation to enter to win a copy of the book I’m reviewing here! All you have to do is comment below to be entered.
I started this blog in July of 2012 in order to be more intentional about engaging with scripture in a deeper and more consistent way and to invite others to join me in the journey. In the year and a half since I started writing it, I have written almost exclusively on the book of Mark, inching my way through the sixteen chapters with a magnifying glass, eager to mine each word and phrase and insight for meaning and implication for my life. One parameter I gave myself for these meditations was to focus just on what is in the text and its context—not to rely on reading other people’s interpretations of the texts. I wanted to see things in a fresh and new way, and I wanted to see what is there, not what people have told me is there. It is an exercise in Bible exploration that has been helpful and surprising and enriching, and I am eager to continue approaching the texts that way.
That said, reading outside books and interpretations and reflections on scripture is also very important in helping us develop a more comprehensive view of this amazing Book. I love commentaries and theology books, and read them regularly, appreciating what I can mine from another person’s research and reflection. (In fact, you are reading my reflections here, and hopefully in doing so, I am offering you some new insights to help you go back to the scriptures and get even more from their texts!)
Jesus admonishes us in Luke 12 to “consider the ravens,” but how many of us actually do? I have read that passage so many times, but I have never actually spent time considering the birds of the Bible—until now. Debbie Blue’s Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible (Abingdon Press, 2013) is a delightful and profoundly insightful resource for anyone who is interested in Jesus, the Bible, birds, or any combination of the above.
It is, ostensibly, a book about the birds of the Bible—ten of them, to be exact. However, it is really a book about so much more. The birds are just the (brilliant) jumping off point for a richer and wider journey that ultimately leads us to stand before God with deeper humility and gratitude. By exploring the traditional characteristics associated with each of the birds in a wide variety of cultures throughout history, Blue frames the passages in which they are reference and helps us to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of each of these passages that mention birds, specifically what they tell us about God’s love and mercy and care for us.
For example, the fact that the sparrow has a home in God’s house (Psalm 84) is even more significant when you consider that she is despised in many cultures, having been the target of extermination campaigns for many generations and on several continents. What can the Israelites’ demand for quail in the desert teach us about our own desires? How can the pelican point us to God’s lovingkindness toward us? Might the vulture teach us more about God’s sacrificial love in Christ than any eagle soaring in the sky? These are questions that are asked and (at least partially) answered in Consider the Birds, and after reading this book, I can tell you that I will never look at pigeons without thinking of the Holy Spirit again.
Her academic research into the history of these birds is thorough, yet it is presented in such easy, readable prose that you don’t feel like you’re reading something academic until later, when it occurs to you that you have a completely different idea about the significance of the birds—and everything else mentioned— in the Bible. While her theological tent pegs are wider than mine at times, I appreciate how she challenges me to expand my views and revisit preconceived notions and conclusions I have about God and the Bible. There were a few times while reading that I reacted a bit defensively, when presuppositions I have had about scripture were called into question. But I am coming to learn that I must be willing to have my conclusions challenged. If they are true, they will stand. If not, don’t I want to be challenged to pursue a greater understanding?
Politically conservative readers will chafe at some of her associations between the kingdom of God and things that are typically associated with liberal politics. (For the record, I think she’s mostly right on.) And while some might find her at times to be irreverent, challenging views and conclusions that have been held by many generations, I feel the opposite: Debbie Blue has a deep and profound reverence for God. She also has a sometimes salty sense of humor, which might strike some as a bit too casual approach to scripture (her chapter on the cock begins with a nod to the slang associated with the words “Peter,” “bird,” and “cock.” I’ll let you fill in the blanks.) But I appreciate her tone and her boldness to set aside formality and just go there. I don’t think enough theologians do that, and I think the Bible warrants it. (There is plenty of salty humor in scripture, and the apostle Paul was not afraid to go there himself. See Galatians 5:11-12.)
One more thing I absolutely loved about this book: Jim Larson’s illustrations. They are exquisite and added so much to my aesthetic experience in reading this book. I would love to find out about how to get prints of them, in fact.
If you are curious about the Bible and interested in birds, this book is definitely for you. But even if you’re not a birder, I expect your approach to scripture will be deeply enriched by reading Consider the Birds, and I highly recommend it.
And now for the fun part! One lucky winner will receive my copy of Consider the Birds!
All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment below. I’d love to know how you found out about this blog, how often you would like me to post (daily? weekly? every few days?) and whether you have a topic or book of the Bible you’d like me to take on once we’re finished with Mark. I’ll give it a few days for people to comment, then I’ll select a winner at random from those who do and mail you the book! It’s that simple!
And if you do read Consider the Birds, I’d love to know your thoughts on the book. Leave them in the comments section below as well!