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Geese and Cranes

by Tim O'Hearn

On our drive to church, we pass a soccer field. Quite often, the field is covered with Canada Geese feeding. Going a different way to get home, we pass another field. In the winter this one is usually covered in straw and stubble. Instead of geese, here we often see flocks of cranes. We never see cranes on the soccer field, and never see geese on the fallow field. It always seems strange, but there is a simple explanation. Geese tend to prefer to eat grasses. Some people own geese to mow their lawns, rather than a mechanical lawnmower. It is cheaper and more eco-friendly. And geese make excellent burglar alarms. On the other hand, cranes prefer eating seeds and insects. Both are probably plentiful in the other field. They stay in their own ecosystem because that is the way God created them.

People, and even churches, tend to be geese and cranes. They stay where they can feed best. They stay with their kind. Sometimes, unfortunately, their “kind” is divided by race or ethnicity. Thus you hear of “historically black” colleges or churches. “Historically” means that it is changing, but not at a very fast pace. There may be other factors that cause us to stay with the familiar.

People tend to prefer their own economic status. Often we think of this working downward. In Pride and Prejudice, for instance, Mr. Darcy is about ten times richer than the other rich society people of the novel. It was not the custom of the time to speak to him unless you had been introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Nevertheless, even the other characters in the book held to their own society and their own snobbish ways. Even the way you addressed a person (Miss Elizabeth Bennet as opposed to Lizzy, except to immediate family) was dictated by class consciousness. But it sometimes works the other way. Those of a lower economic class sometimes take pride in remaining in their neighborhood rather than trying to move somewhere else. Even if they achieve a certain degree of economic mobility, home is home.

Even in work settings, people tend to compartmentalize themselves. In company meetings, people tend to sit with others of their department. They may look down on (or up to) a person based on what floor they work in. If the company is large enough, they may not even know anyone in another department unless they regularly interact with them.

Such behavior is not limited to just people; churches may exhibit a certain degree of sameness. In Albuquerque, we have had city-wide assemblies twice a year. I have often thought that someone should make a rule that no more than one family from a congregation should sit in a particular row. This would force people to meet members of other congregations, which is the point of the assembly. But it doesn’t even have to involve multiple congregations. In a congregation of about 250 people, my mother used to say, “Let’s sit on the other side of the auditorium so we can see people we haven’t talked to in years.” The purpose of the assembly is to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” (Heb 10:24) That’s hard to do if we don’t associate with everyone.

Congregations also tend to have their own character, based on their membership and style of worship. Some churches of Christ have started using mechanical accompaniment to the singing, or allowing women to lead in the worship. Some prefer to sing the newer songs to the “old favorites.” These congregations tend to attract the younger or more “progressive” memberships. The a capella congregations and those that tend more to the classic hymns are usually made up of a totally different membership.

Is all of this wrong? Not at all! God created geese and he created cranes. “Birds of a feather flock together.” This may not be a matter of prejudice or even of laziness. Sometimes it is because we each have different diets. A home congregation may not be constitutionally able to digest a preacher sermon. A “traditional” congregation may not survive on a diet of group-speak. It is not because one is better than the other. It is because God created us according to our own kind.