The World Series of Birding (yes, there is a World Series of Birding ) is a little over a month away so the assembling of a team is high on my current list of priorities. For nearly two decades I’ve competed with a varying assemblage of team mates under the name the Wicked Witchities (last year we finished second!). When putting the team together it is important not only to consider what each individual brings to the team in terms of talent and expertise. I have become our southern specialist (that is, I scout southern part of the playing field, which is the state of New Jersey) but I don’t have identification skills as strong as other members of the team. Some have sharp (and younger) ears, others can identify raptors at remarkable distances. But even more important than the individual contributions is the team chemistry. Trust me, after about 18 hours together in the same vehicle after a sleep-deprived week of scouting when decisions have to be made on the fly, things can get pretty ugly if the team doesn’t have a shared vision of how things should go. When motivation flags, the need is for unity not division, cheer-leading not pessimism. The rules require that the 95% of the species reported by a team to have been identified by every member of the team, so there is a built in necessity to cooperate.
This week’s guest, Professor Woloschak, spoke of the great value of inter-disciplinary teams in scientific research. The value of multiple perspectives and the welcoming of various insights increases the likelihood of new discoveries. Though she didn’t say so explicitly, there is surely a gestalt effect when work is done collaboratively, that is, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is a model that speaks to the way the church functions when it functions best.
Far too often, American Christianity has been marked by individualism, reflecting the rugged individualism that courses through the veins of every “red-blooded American.” I saw a sign in front of a rebranded franchise of chain of churches today advertising their web site: www.aChurchforMe.org It immediately reminded me of how I hear that much beloved hymn, In the Garden, “and he walks with ME and he talks with ME and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there NONE OTHER has ever known.” I realize that the song is about the incredibly loving encounter Mary had with the resurrected Jesus, but it remains hard for me to listen beyond the perceived egotistical individualism. And why does so much praise music written exclusively in the first person? Is it too much to ask for a “we praise you God” every now and then?
For the sake of full disclosure, I need to admit that my addiction to competitive birding (yes, I appreciate how much that sounds like an oxymoron) creates a desire to see my name on the trophy regardless of team. Two years ago, when the Four Loons were down a loon, I willingly became their fourth and because of that instead of missing a year of competition, I got my name on the third place trophy. This year, both the Loons and the Witchities are down a couple of members so it looks like we will be joining forces (Wicked Loony anyone?) in an effort to win it all. Is that a bad thing? Well, if it were only about cutthroat tactics to win a competition, then yes. But along with being a rather insignificant competition in the eyes of most sane people, the World Series of Birding is also the most friendly and cooperative competition one could hope to see. There is an expectation that all bird sighting information leading up to the big day will be shared equally among all competitors. Not a great way to gain an advantage over the competition is it? But that is just the point, the advantage is expected to go to the birds, for, you see, this is a fund raising event with the proceeds going toward bird conservation. At the end of the day, none of us begrudge the good fortune of another. In fact, we all end up celebrating the other’s success. Anytime we set our sights on the service of the greater good the success of one is the success of all.
Did you know that Dr. Jonas Salk did not patent his vaccine for polio? He considered his discovery a gift for all humanity, not something for personal gain. He cared more that it would be inexpensive and widely available than his own accumulation of wealth. How tragic that that sort of thinking is not the norm. We each have our particular piece of the puzzle to contribute. We know that God values diversity because we see it in creation. So may we all do that peculiar thing that is ours to do as we contribute to the success of the team, because each and every one of us in on the varsity team, there are no benchwarmers.
I didn’t realize that about Jonas Salk. What a gift indeed. Good luck with the World Series of Birding!
Ian, you reminded how our late beloved pastor, the Rev. Wil Bailey, absolutely forbade “In the Garden” to be sung in our worship. He thought it was the worst possible individualistic theology imaginable, and he hated the fact that it was included in the official United Methodist Hymnal. I don’t think I’ve sung it in years.