This verse kept going through my head yesterday when we were at the state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, protesting against mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining that is devastating the mountains of America. There were about 800 of us there, united by a common goal: to save the mountains, and our waterways, which are being forever affected by the ravages of this irresponsible form of coal mining.
But the person I want to pause to point out particularly is Patty Wallace, a woman from Louisa, Kentucky who has been fighting the coal industry for years. She once told me that she "ran down" a coal truck driver to thank him for driving safely when the companies so often force them to speed to keep up with production. A couple years ago, Patty was interviewed and said: "We may talk funny but our brains work. The coal company says we need more flatland, we need more Wal-Marts ... We're not stupid, but they keep telling us what we need. When they haul the coal out of Black Mountain, it's just like tearing out my heart."
Patty Wallace is a protector of bird's nests. And one of my heroes.
But it was a frustrating day, too. It was frustrating to see little children holding jars of polluted well water, polluted by coal companies who claim to be making our land a better place. It was frustrating to see people having to march to save their water, our most precious commodity. It's mind-boggling, like something out of a science fiction novel, that people would actually have to fight for that. It was even more frustrating to know that our governor refused to come out and hear our pleas, even though he did come out to greet coal mining officials on the front steps of the capitol less than a year ago.
What's even more frustrating is that Governor Beshear is a good man who has stood up to the industry in the past. His refusal to come greet us worries me that the industry has gotten through to him, too.
I think what Deut. 22:6 is saying is that we have to be kind to even the smallest creatures. I believe it means that we should be compassionate, and thoughtful, and responsible. And I believe that it means we should not be short-sighted or mean-hearted or greedy. To be good people, the verse says, we must all be protectors of bird's nests.
However, I believe that the Bible is a living thing and that its wisdom is only as good and thick as its readers allow it to be. People have been misconstruing the Bible for ages for their own benefit, and have done a great job of it, using it to hold up slavery, anti-suffrage, and intolerance.
I choose to seek the positive in the Bible. The light. The God I believe in is one of love and compassion, not wrath and jealousy. I believe in a God of Bird's Nests.
The God I believe in is not the one I grew up knowing, though. That was one group of people's God, a group that had molded and shaped the words of the Bible to mean what they wanted them to mean. That's not what I'm trying to do here. But I am turning to the Bible to seek knowledge and wisdom, to help me understand the ways of people and the world. And this is what I have taken from it. To me, finding something of light, something positive, is just as amazing as coming upon a perfect little bird's nest in a low branch. Like my friend and great poet Lisa Parker says of such nests: "It's all in how you carry 'em, brother."
Now that's the truth.
Years and years ago, the coal companies stumbled upon a rich, beautiful bird's nest called Appalachia. But instead of acting with responsibility and taking only what they needed, they took everything: the babies and the mother. The mishandled the nest. They plundered and robbed. They were short-sighted, not looking ahead to the future. Because if you take the mother and the babies, what do you do with the future, when you need more songbirds? You have nothing but an empty nest, tumbling away in the wind.