When I was 10, I found a pigeon in my apartment, cooing, hiding and relieving itself behind an old behemoth speaker.
I was used to roaches in our fourth floor, two-bedroom, elevator-less apartment. In our absence, the roaches threw a party and hundreds mosh-pitted. When we flipped on the light, those black marbles would disperse like drunk teenagers hearing a police siren. You get used to that scurrying mass of insects – such is the power of human adaptability. My two younger brothers and I made a game of it (such is the power of children’s creativity): Who can squash the most?
But a pigeon! How did it get in? All the windows were shut. It could not have taken the route of the roaches (who probably had an immense network behind the walls giving them access to all the food in our pantry).
Then the spirit of St. Francis warmed me. I was born to free that poor imprisoned pigeon. Somehow it trapped itself in our apartment and it was leaving white droplets as evidence of stress. My empathy swelled. What if the pigeon was my age, just a teenage boy, lost, without his mother?
“Come here pigeon,” I called to him (though it could have been a her) with the tenderness of a mother, my liberating fingers reaching out to him. He jumped, flapped his wings, became airborne, tangled with audio wires dangling like spider webs and fell. Grey feathers flew up like puff of smoke. My hands retracted instinctively. I had second thoughts. What if the bird carried disease and pecked me and I were to die doing good – a too-tiny-of-a-good in the scale of other saintly accomplishments to be martyred for?
He hopped back and forth unable to take flight. The cramped apartment did not give him room to stretch his wings. Empathy once more overcame fear. I inched towards him. He hopped away. I retracted. After several minutes of this jerking call and response, I got accustomed to the pigeon’s jumps and steadied my hands.
Finally, he cornered himself behind a wardrobe. I grabbed his chest and felt his wings trying to unfurl, fighting my grip. In a minute he tired and relaxed into my hands. I felt his muscles go flaccid. His head still darted.
“Don’t worry, I am not going to hurt you. I grabbed you to free you. You still think I am going to hurt you? You are not trusting. You just gave up.”
I opened the window and gently put him down on the fire escape. He took off as soon as my fingers opened, without even a backward glance of appreciation. Still, I felt good. I was Francis of Assisi. He talked to birds. I freed a bird.
An hour later, my father came home and asked me with a large smile, “Did you see the pigeon?”
“The pigeon? How did you know?”
“So you saw it. Where is it?”
“I let it fly away! I freed him, Father!” I was expecting beaming pride and a high-five for his son who matured into a saint.
“What?! You let him go?! You know how much time it took me to catch that pigeon?!” Then I remembered: I had begged him all last week for a bird.
When you don’t have money, you find other ways to love – and often they are more lasting.
Stewardship teaches us principles and practices to multiply our resources so we can share more with more people. We learn giving, how to increase giving, how to prioritize a church budget to increase trust in our congregation. We learn to how to take a seed from a fruit, till soil and plant the seed so it can produce a hundred more fruits enfleshing seeds that carry within them a hundred more. Trust in God demands financial planning and wisdom as much as the planting farmer trusts the weather.
But stewardship can blind us to other resources we have at hand. When money is available, it becomes our go-to. A wealth of resources sometimes makes us less resourceful. When we can send a check, we don’t have to engage the real need. It is easier to send money to help the poor then to try to change policies that make poverty a hole too large to climb out of. We have an abundance of fruits to give away, but maybe the neighbor needs protection from violence because even if he gets the bushel of apples, it is going to be mugged from him on his way back home.
Or the lack of resources, exposed in a budget meeting, makes us forget that there are things we can do that don’t need the American dollar.
Every time Peter and John went to the temple to pray they saw the beggar at the Beautiful Gate, but they walked past him without a glance. After all, what did they have to give? His voice got lost in the prayer chants and bleating of goats. But that morning, his voice broke through the noise like the silence you hear when everyone stops chattering. Maybe the words of their resurrected rabbi opened their ears. Peter stretched out his hand to the beggar: “Sorry, I don’t have any benjamins, but I will give you what I have. In the name of Jesus, walk.” Peter grabbed the beggar’s forearm and pulled him up and the beggar no longer went begging. He went dancing all through the temple and the streets.
Last November I got a call from Adam Rodrigues, pastor of Evergreen Church. The first time I met him was when I tactlessly accused him of stealing our church yard signs (our churches were close enough for our signs to overlap). This time, Adam asked if his congregation could worship with us at New Life the Sunday after Thanksgiving saying, “many of our leaders are out of town and our worship leader just quit. Not enough manpower to try to make a decent service happen.”
Everyone loved the worship. So we ended up worshipping together for Advent. That seemed the next obvious step since both of us had been ranting about how the schisms of the churches are killing our message of reconciliation. We say God reconciled, and then churches file divorce papers.
Then in one of our monthly lunches Adam said, “Let’s seriously pray about merging.” We had irreconcilable theological difference, but believed that Christ reconciled our lives, not our theology.
But there was the immense issue of finance. New Life could not support two full-time pastors. Adam offered, “Can I serve as full-time volunteer?” When I brought it to the session, their faith got stretched.
Can you guess what happened next? Kate, Adam’s wife, got a sweet job at Red Hat, a technology company in Raleigh. New Life has been growing.
Small budgets remind us of the greatest resource of the church: people and their faith.
Catching a wild pigeon was probably a disease waiting to happen. So it was good I let the pigeon go. But that day I had no doubt my father loved me and would do anything I asked for even if he didn’t have a penny in his pocket – that has stayed with me.
SAMUEL SON is co-pastor at New Life Triangle, a new multi-ethnic church/1001 new worshipping community of New Hope Presbytery in Raleigh, North Carolina, and facilitator in Micah Groups, He is also a columnist for North State Journal. Visit his website.