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Greed or grace?

Summer musings on hummingbirds, violet-green swallows, and history.

Each morning for weeks, we wake to a minor civil war just outside the bedroom. A fierce food fight at the hummingbird feeder. It lasts all day. Six or more are at it. No tolerance for the other’s existence. No matter that food is in abundance; no matter that each can have a private spigot; no matter that some are siblings, fight they must. Is it about food, or is it about dominance, control, bolstering ego, self worth?

While hummingbirds display self-centeredness, a different bird-parable unfolds at the opposite side of the cabin. Snug under the eaves, a brood of Violet-Green swallows is faithfully fed from dawn to dusk. It takes three adults to supply the breadline of insects. Presumably, they are two biological parents and one sibling teenager from a previous nest, recruited for family chores. They are weary beyond words. But no complaint is heard. When a curious western red squirrel wanders too close, it meets the terrifying wrath of a mother’s anger. Nature is self-centered and self-giving, greed and grace both on full display.

Pecking orders

Humans are no different. In my denomination [Christian Reformed] some say the same-sex attracted are disordered and cannot be at our table. Others disagree. Some on both sides stoop to a distasteful tactic: withhold financial support from the denomination. That will teach them! It amounts to an insurrection, a rebellion against authority, breaking community. On the West coast in Victoria, a statue of Captain Vancouver is pitched into the Inner Harbour. In retaliation, Indigenous art in the form of totem poles is desecrated. At the Manitoba parliament buildings, the Queen’s statue is toppled. More insurrection. What is it about? The Queen represents rule of law and the institutions that provide peace, order and good government. She represents a social order to which Canadians pledge their allegiance. If that order is thrown into the drink, what will replace it? 

Does every historical wrong, every present injustice, each perceived grievance warrant an insurrection, the refusal to admit any limits to one’s own conduct?

Just as birds need a pecking order, humans need a hierarchy of values. Not every value is of equal worth. Not every authority has a legitimate claim to our allegiance. What value is highest for me, for you? What authority claims my allegiance and yours? Nature can be self-serving but also self-giving, greed and grace. So it is with humans. Which is worthy of our allegiance, greed or grace?

Can history be a guide? The settlement following WWI dripped with revenge and greed. Peace was short-lived. In contrast, WWII’s settlement was steeped in grace – aggressors rehabilitated by their victims. The treaties with Germany and Japan are the most enduring of modern times. History is on the side of grace, not greed.            


  • Nick Loenen

    Nick is an occasional contributor, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly and long-time CC supporter. He lives in Richmond, B.C.

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