My surprising encounter with a five-striped sparrow taught this bird nerd about the power of perceptions.
What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.Matthew 10:29
In Search of a Five-Striped Sparrow
“Have you seen any five-striped sparrows skulking around?” a fellow birder asked me as I trudged up the gravel road in the hot spring sunshine.
“Not yet,” I admitted. “What about you?”
“Me, neither,” he said with a sigh. “Those little fellows sure are crafty.” He continued down the hill, and I continued up the hill.
At a sharp bend in the road, the angry buzzing of a hummingbird caught my ear. I raised my binoculars and discovered the reason for the hummer’s agitation. A medium-sized sparrow had invaded its territory. I watched the drama unfold as the hummer successfully kept the invader out. Wait!
The invader had five distinct stripes around its face and a black patch above its white belly. A five-striped sparrow! For the next thirty minutes, I did my bird nerd thing, snapping photos and tiptoeing beside the road as I observed its behavior.
Contrary to the other birder’s opinion, none of the five-striped sparrow’s behavior looked like skulking or had crafty overtones. Instead, he flew openly from ocotillo to ocotillo, singing sweetly. Occasionally he would drop to the ground and forage for seeds.
Finally, satisfied I had good shots of a rarely seen bird, I headed back down the road and passed an elderly gentleman.
“See anything interesting?” he asked.
“Yep! I saw my lifer five-striped sparrow,” I told him. I don’t normally chat with strangers, but fellow bird nerds usually pose no threat.
A Peek into a Bird Nerd’s Mind
“Was it skulking around over the embankment?” he asked.
“No,” I said, then explained where I’d found it.
“Most locals have seen the resident five-stripers,” he told me. “Where are you from?”
Our conversation drifted here and there—mostly about rare bird sightings. Somehow, it came out that I worked at a school for Native Americans.
“Oh, the plight of the Indians is so sad,” he said.
“Oh?” I tried to keep my voice neutral.
“Yes, every Indian I’ve seen is obese. I see entire families that can barely walk out of Mcdonald’s with their super-size meals.”
I died a little inside as he lumped the few people he recognized as Native Americans as hopelessly obese. “Many of my students enjoy wonderful health,” I told him. “We have a mountain biking club and take kids on hikes all the time.”
I don’t think he wanted to hear me.
“And what’s worse, Indians live free on government money and just waste it all on fast food!” he continued his tirade.
“I’ve helped my students fill out their FAFSA forms,” I said quietly. “I’ve helped them enter their parents’ tax information. Did you know that at least 50% of people living on the Navajo Nation don’t have running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing?”
He changed the subject. “Have you seen any of those black-capped gnatcatchers? I’m sure I saw two the last time I was around here. Those secretive little rascals!”
As new birders came in search of the five-striped sparrows, I slipped away from the group. I could hear them exchanging opinions on the skulking, secretive, rascally birds they searched for. But I knew differently. The five-striped sparrow I’d seen sang joyously and stayed in plain sight.
Time for a Reality Check
How often, as humans, do we assign characteristics to people we don’t know much about—and then proceed to believe our own opinions as facts? In the case of bird nerds, calling a sparrow skulking or secretive does no lasting harm. Except maybe make it more difficult to find certain birds who hang out in the open and don’t sneak around.
But in the case of fellow human beings, assigning adjectives allows us to believe a false narrative about a group of people God loves just as dearly as he loves us.
Father God, make me aware of the false narratives I believe and the unkind ways I talk about other people. Remind me of your infinite love, mercy, and grace for every single person on planet Earth.