While grocery shopping over the weekend, I spotted a thought-provoking bumper sticker on a truck as I waited to turn into the Wal-Mart parking lot. The bumper sticker, worn and faded from harsh Iowa winters no doubt, read “Do you want to soar like the eagles or scratch like the chickens?” It’s a pretty interesting question don’t you think? Eagles roam the skies and live in freedom. Chickens live in coops and end up…well, on someone’s plate.
We were created to “rise up on wings like the eagle” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB). Yet many people end up living their entire life as chickens that endlessly scratch out a limited existence in a chicken coop. The following story by Anthony de Mello captures what can happen if we don’t embrace our destiny and we lose our freedom to be eagles.
A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.
All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.
Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.
The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth—we’re chickens.”
So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.
What a tragedy. Born to soar into the heavens, but conditioned to stay earthbound he spent his entire life pecking at stray seeds and chasing insects.Though destined to be among the most awesome of all fowl, he believed his neighbor’s counsel and never understood that he could have joined those majestic birds in the sky.
What are chickens like? Chickens are crowd followers. If a chicken sees a bunch of chickens running across the chicken yard, he will take off after them. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know where they are going or why they are going there. He follows along because he doesn’t want to miss out on anything the majority is doing. Chickens just naturally “squabble and fight” over things in the chicken yard. If one finds a nice juicy bug to eat, suddenly they all want it. They will chase each other all over the chicken yard, trying to take it away from each other. They are funny that way. They can walk all around a bug or a grasshopper and not pay any attention to it, but the moment one decides he wants it, at that moment, they all decide they want it and the chase is on. They are content to live in the chicken yard, walking around with their eyes on the ground, scratching in the dirt looking for something to eat. Most of them will never try to fly. They are earthbound birds.
What are eagles like? They rise far above the ground and see life from a broad perspective. They also know how to wait for the right moment to soar. For thousands of years the eagle has been respected for its grandeur. When you observe its flight, its great wing span, and the power of its claws, it is inspiring, to say the least. In Proverbs 30:18-19, Solomon says, “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not. The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the mist of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.” The eagle does not travel in flocks nor do they conduct themselves irresponsibly. Strong of heart, they represent qualities we admire. The eagle mates for life and returns each year to the same nest, making necessary repairs and additions. He takes his role to provide for his family and protect them from danger, and teaches the little eaglets to fly. With all this: responsibility, liberty, beauty, stability, and a lot more admirable traits of the eagle’s makeup and such qualities, we agree with Solomon’s view that it is nothing short of wonderful. The eagle is committed to that which he is destined to do, without concern for what is below him.
Imagine how each bird handles a storm. They are both birds, but they respond very differently when faced with adverse weather conditions. The chicken will immediately become worried. She’ll run in circles and flap her wings. Of course, she won’t actually fly, but she’ll flap and cluck and run for the chicken coop and the company of all the other scared chickens. She’ll try to get to shelter so she can stay out of the approaching storm. Now what about the eagle? The eagle won’t run, and he won’t cluck and make a fuss. The eagle will actually turn his face into the storm, feeling the strong wind on his face. Then, when the time is right, he’ll spread his wings, leap off of his perch, and fly directly into the violence of the storm. With his wings outstretched, he’ll catch the violent updrafts caused by the storm and be immediately swept up above the clouds and into the bright sunshine. He uses the pressure of the storm to glide higher without using his own energy. The eagle is able to do this because God has created it uniquely with an ability to lock his wings in a fixed position, in the midst of the fierce storm winds. The eagle uses the adversity of the storm to create an opportunity for itself.
Eagles, unlike chickens are raised to be risk-takers. Eagles are raised in a manner that readies them for any storm they have to face. In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 32:11 reads, “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, That hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.” To convince the little eagles that the time has come to leave the nest, the parent eagles “stir up the nest.” That is, they rough it up with their talons, and make it uncomfortable, so that sticks and sharp ends and pointy spurs stick out of the nest, so that it is no longer soft and secure, ruining their “comfort zone.” The nest is made very inhospitable, as the eagles tear up the “bedding,” and break up the twigs until jagged ends of wood stick out all over like a pin cushion. Life for the young eaglets becomes miserable and unhappy. Then the mother eagle pushes them off the cliff of their nest into the air. As they shriek in fear, father eagle flies out and picks them up on his back before they fall, and brings them back to the cliff. This goes on for sometime until they start flapping their wings.
The following quote by Theodore Roosevelt captures the difference between a person who would soar like an eagle and the thinking of a person in the chicken coop, “Far better it is to dare mighty things and win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor souls who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”People who soar like eagles are risk takers. They are willing to “dare those mighty things” even when it means they may fail. They will not allow the fear of failure to rule their lives. They cling to the grace of God and this frees them to try new things. What if we put our whole heart and soul into a direction and it doesn’t work?Whenever we move forward with our dream, that is the risk we have to be willing to take in order to live as one who rises up on wings like an eagle.
Noah was a risk taker. He invested one hundred and twenty years building a huge houseboat in a place where there was no body of water and it had never rained. I can’t imagine how devastating it would have been for him if nothing had happened after over a century of trusting God for what didn’t make sense. Yet, Noah was willing to take that risk and his inspiring story is now etched for all time in the history of mankind.
Peter was another risk taker. He said yes to Jesus when the Lord invited him to get out of the boat and come toward Him. Peter’s leap of faith didn’t fully succeed. He did look down and sink and he needed to be rescued. Yet it is far better that he tried, even though he sank, than be unwilling to try because he didn’t want to face the possibility of failure or take the chance of looking like a fool in front of the other apostles. The worst thing that can happen to us is not that what we attempt doesn’t work, but if we don’t try at all. We also can’t lose if we try and we don’t succeed. Whatever we learn from taking that courageous step always enriches our life and prepares us for what lies ahead.
The motion picture Elizabeth: The Golden Age reminded me of the eagle-like ability to turn adversity into opportunity in any age or season; that is the exemplification of courage to ride out the storm. This sort of manifest courage is borne of resilient hope, which is based in faith: the ability to see and therefore believe what may not be visible. When the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588, Queen Elizabeth I recovered from odds too astounding to contemplate. Outnumbered she and England faced extermination at the hands of the Spanish. Incredibly, history records a stupendous victory for England.
What struck me about this movie however, was its climax… the interaction between Elizabeth I and her trusted and wise astrologer. With the supremely powerful Spanish Armada bearing down on England, the Queen is at her depths and desperate for fresh hope, when she implores the astrologer for a positive prophetic message. This he cannot give, but he does say:
“But this much I know…
When the storm breaks,
Each man acts in accordance with his own nature,
Some are dumb with terror,
And some spread their wings like eagles and soar on the wind.”
The rest is history. The turning point in the movie is reached and England goes onto an inspired victory that would pave the way for extended peace and prosperity for that land. And there is a personal message in this for us. Those with the resilience of hope driving a stern sense of courage, conquer their fears as did Queen Elizabeth I. As the winds of ignorable change come, it’s those with courage of conviction that can indeed soar on that wind, rising with the updraft under their wings. They go onto a better revelation.
We, too find ourselves in the midst of a storm; a political storm of an election that will change America forever. We have an important choice to make. We can either face the storm head on like the eagle does and use this moment to our advantage or we can run for the shelter of the chicken coop. We were all born eagles, but it seems that since Governor Palin made her decision not to seek the GOP nomination for the 2012 election cycle, a lot of us have been running around like chickens in a storm. Like the Israelites exiled to Babylon in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, we have seemingly forgotten who we are. Uncertain of what the storm is going to bring, we run about chasing after this idea or that. We squabble over little things like whether Grizzly Fest should have anticipated trouble with calling from Alaska that we lose our focus on the bigger picture of restoring our country. We seem content to peck at every little reconsider theory that comes along while losing sight of the need to seriously vet every candidate that has declared. Some of us have gone as far to say that we won’t exercise our right to vote in this election if Governor Palin is not running.
Hiding in the chicken coop during a storm is not going to do any of us eagles any good. We were made to fly. Our Mamma Eagle, Gov. Palin has stirred up our nests by not running at this time and we are uncomfortable, but we have to trust that she has taught us how to fly successfully into the face of the storm. Think of how many of us were never involved in politics, in trying to make a difference when it comes to the direction our nation is headed before Governor Palin became a driving force for restoring our country back to its Judeo-Christian, Constitutional roots. Think of how many of us willingly put our boots on the ground and fingers on the keyboard to get behind all those ideals she pushed into the spotlight. Mamma Eagle has pushed us out of the nest, taught us on her wings how to fly and its time for us to make a choice. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for Governor Palin to reconsider, but I know I also must fly on my own. I enjoy entertaining possible ways she might still get in the race, but I also know I can’t dwell on ‘what-ifs’. I need to find a way to move forward, make a difference, and make my voice heard. I need to fly into that storm and make the most of it. We can face the storm head-on or scratch at the ground, pecking at each other, and following the first group of chickens that runs past to the coop. Are you willing to end up as someone’s chicken dinner or are you going to soar like an eagle?