Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Vultures Gather

In between the second service and the Christmas Potluck this last Sunday, I found myself in need of pickin' some stuff up for the evening event.   One of the disadvantages of riding a motorcycle wherever you go is that it makes bringing along a casserole somewhat challenging.  Bungee cords and casseroles aren't the best mix.  Particularly when it's 24 degrees out, or negative 18 when you factor in the windchill at highway speeds.

I'm not sure "frozen casserole hunks" makes the best potluck offering.  

So as the afternoon wore on, I wandered through the little town to the grocery store to buy some bread for the meal.  This is the only place to buy affordable groceries and produce in all of Poolesville.   It's been a long-standing institution, run by a local family, but the arrival of Walmart and Costco and a Harris Teeter in the larger towns nearby has bitten deep into their business.  The life-pattern of soccer moms and commuters lends itself to driving distance to buy in bulk, which bodes ill for the small town grocer.

They aren't going to make it through the next year, as humming rumor and their increasingly empty shelves tell it.  It'll be a loss for the community.

So I made a point of getting my bread there.  I walked, of course, because it's good for human beings to use their legs for something other than pressing pedals.   As I walked, and the cold gentle breeze of the December day nibbled at my face, I noticed a gathering off just to the north-east of the store, on the other side of the One Oh Seven.

At the top of several trees was a large mixed committee of turkey vultures and black vultures.  These are the same critters that can be seen regularly prowling the skies around Poolesville in search of roadkill and children who haven't been good this year.  It was impressive, as the setting sun of the winter day cast their great dark figures into stark relief against the dimming blue sky.

It reminded me, as things so often do, of a passage from the Bible.   It's a little popular saying from the first century, offered up by Jesus as a way of explaining how we'll know the Kingdom is near at hand:  

Anyone who sees a batch of vultures circling knows what that means.  Something is dead.  The saying tells the listener:  you'll know.  You'll see the signs.  You'll be able to tell.

But gathered buzzards can mean other things.  

On a cold winter day, that mass of ominous figures peering down from the treetops at sunfall does not mean they're waiting to swoop down and snap up that nearby retail property.   It means they're catching the last little trickle of star-heat coming over the edge of the world, to warm their bodies at the end of the day.   

And other times, when they circle upward in great spiraling columns, it means that they've found one of the thermals that rise at the end of a day as the earth cools, hitching a free ride skyward.

If you know vultures, you'll know these things.   But if we're unprepared, or serially inattentive, or unwilling to learn, any sign...even the most seemingly obvious...can be misinterpreted.  We Jesus folk have proven remarkably good at that over the last two millennia.