Vulture Post {Book Club}

Like kids the world over, my sisters and I were not so good at waiting. Waiting in line, waiting outside a building for someone, waiting while one of our parents talked with a friend until Jesus returned. However, we were masters at picking on each other. Poking. Shoving. Being overall annoying while waiting? Gold medalists.

So our brilliant mother trained us “do the flamingo.” She’d say “flamingo” and on command we would each bow our head, place an arm (um, wing) over our head, raise one leg in a bent position, and stand quietly as a sleeping flamingo, seeing who could hold the position the longest.

To this day, I think if someone called out “do the flamingo” in the general direction of one of the three of us, we’d drop our heads, cover them with a wing, and raise a leg before we realized that most people have no idea what we are doing.

Several years ago, we were together as a family and went to the zoo to view Christmas lights, They even had a flamingo display! Of course, we had to start training (most of) the next generation:

nov-dec-2011-035-2

As I read today’s chapter in Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible by Debbie Blue, I jokingly wondered what it would have looked like for Mom to train us to “do the vulture.” 

Based on the stereotypes of vultures, I bet she thought we were doing the vulture with all of our picking at each other. Unfortunately our picking didn’t lead to purifying that Debbie Blue noted in vulture’s behavior.

This week’s theme—recovery—is an apt pairing with the vulture and the discussion on ugliness and beauty. As Blue wrote, “The line between what is ugly and what is beautiful moves around a lot over time.”

What struck me most profoundly was the idea that in several instances either the word “eagle” or “vulture” could have been a reasonable translation. I would imagine that I am not the only one who holds a special place for Isaiah 40:31 in my heart.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like [vultures], they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

I first became aware of this verse in junior high when my dad was hospitalized. He had aplastic anemia, a rare and serious blood disease that kills all of a person’s bone marrow. It is like HIV in that a person doesn’t die of aplastic anemia, they die because their immune system is so weakened they are susceptible to virtually everything.

My dad was hospitalized so much, I can’t remember what he was in for when I was looking for a verse to encourage him. What had lead him to go to the doctor in the first place was being so winded just walking up the stairs of our house he had to sit on the bed to catch his breath. So, the idea that he would “run and not be weary, walk and not faint” was the part I was drawn to.

I can see now how my notion of a soaring, majestic eagle, the bird typically used in this translation, inspired my young heart. I remember writing this verse on a piece of paper and having my mom deliver it to my dad. Later, when he was discharged, he thanked me and said it had encouraged him. At that time there were three very ill people in our church, the other two people died. Why my dad was spared and they died is part of the mysterious ways of God.

While my family was grateful, extremely grateful, it was a humble gratitude. We knew it could easily have been any other family who experienced the miracle of healing here on earth. I resonated with Debbie when she shared about an essay written years before on Isaiah 40:31.

“I mentioned that I had been waiting for the Lord quite a long time but had not really felt much like I have been mounting up with wings like an eagle. I had been noticing the turkey vultures all around Jim’s grandma’s farm—how wobbly they were. This seemed more like my experience, waiting for the Lord—not mounting up but circling and tottering. Faith for me is not like the strong, smooth, sure-of-itself eagle soaring; but rather the waiting, wobbling, awkward circling of those-blown-by-the-merest-whiffs-of-wing turkey vultures. I mentioned that my faith journey didn’t seem to involve some linear sort of advancing, but might better be described as swaying, rolling, and being blown.”

While faith hasn’t been something I wrestle with (I say this as a point of fact, not a point of pride), something in me recoils when people make faith too tidy. Too all soaring and no wobbling. So clean and simple and shiny. Too lacking in struggle or wandering or wondering. No waiting. No longing. All blessing. All gliding.

Anyone else surprised to learn that vultures can fly so high and are one of the most efficient flyers? When Isaiah said that those who wait on the Lord might mount up with wings like vultures, perhaps he was pointing to hope we have in not having to work super hard. Maybe he was reminding us it is not about our effort, but that we were made to, at times, glide.

Let’s talk in the comments about the purifying role of the vulture. The Bible study this week also asked what you are waiting for and how reading Isaiah 40:31 in light of the vulture informs and forms how you are waiting. We’d love to hear.

With blessing, from one who knows both how to “do the flamingo and the vulture,”

Amy

P.S. Next bird? How appropriate, the eagle.

P.P.S. Just for fun, let’s upload pictures of our selves, families, or teams “doing the flamingo” — helping to solidify these lessons a little deeper into our souls. 🙂

 

26 Comments

  1. Amy Young October 10, 2016

    Anyone else laughing that I forgot to return and give this a better title?!!!

    1. Emily Smith October 10, 2016

      Ha! My thought was it seemed very clear. I actually noticed…but first thought how nice it was that I knew exactly what bird this was about. You totally could have played this off as intentional. I, for one, would have believed it. ?

    2. M'Lynn October 11, 2016

      I was so excited about it finally being time for the “Vulture Post” I didn’t even think twice about the title. LOL. I think it works!

    3. Michele Womble October 12, 2016

      Sadly, I didn’t think twice about the title, either. But NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT, now I’m laughing.

    4. Malia October 13, 2016

      Funny! I actually really love that you admitted it, so we can all smile about it. Thanks for being transparent, even in the little things. 🙂

    5. Amy Young October 13, 2016

      Malia, when I saw it, I admit that I thought, “Oh fudge, seriously. Amy, another small ball dropped?” But I knew it was out there and so decided to laugh at myself and move on :). We all drop balls and it is so much more life giving to lead the parade on the laugh!

      AND now I’m thinking that maybe “simple titles” might be more helpful. Let me know what you think of next week’s . . .

  2. M'Lynn October 11, 2016

    I wasn’t initially interested in this book. A friend started talking about it and I just couldn’t get behind the idea that “Dove” could mean “Pigeon.” However, after reading the first two book club posts, I ordered a sample on my Kindle and I was hooked! I still can’t quite get over the pigeon thing, but I will say that so far this Vulture chapter has been my favorite and I’m so surprised by this! Before reading this chapter, I’m pretty sure I hated vultures more than pigeons. But I’m suddenly thinking about them in an entirely new light. I love the author’s ideas about the vulture and how it flies to mind-boggling heights–not on it’s own strength but by excelling amazingly at the extreme bird-sport of riding thermals. And how she compares faith to the way a vulture flies “Faith is more like circling than seizing. It is being lifted by thermals more than flying by the power of our individual wings.” I just love that.

    Also, I’m challenged by the author’s willingness to look for beauty in places the world has already categorized as completely unglamorous. She describes the king vulture “It’s face looks like a Picasso–some primitivist art; bright yellow, orange, purple and red swatches of color outlined in vivid black–all angular lines and primary colors.” So interesting!!!! On a personal note, my favorite artist slowly released an alphabet series a few years ago. She’d paint a letter of the alphabet and then paint an animal to go with it. As I followed on social media, I looked forward to finding out which animal she’d choose for “M” and also the first letters of my children’s names. When she finally got to “V” (the first letter of my daughter’s name) I was so disappointed that she chose the vulture! What a disgusting animal, I thought. But, I love that this chapter in the book I wasn’t going to read has brought me full circle back to her painting and having a new appreciation for the vulture. (see the painting “V is for Vulture” here by scrolling down the alphabet to V: http://www.starlamichelle.com/alphabet-and-animals/ ) I think my artist friend is definitely one step ahead of me in finding beauty in the least expected places. And…”V” is for Velvet Ashes 🙂

    And…Amy! I’m definitely going to teach my kids to do the flamingo. That’s hilariously brilliant.

    1. Amy Young October 13, 2016

      M’Lynn, there are times I think we share a brain. Which is weird because I know you, but I don’t super, super know you, so when we repeatedly have the same opinion or are lead to the same scripture in a week . . . weird. Maybe we are brain or spiritual doppelgangers? That pigeon and dove being the same bird/bird family, I still can’t fully wrap my mind around it!

      A vultures? Gross. I went back and looked up the Jungle Book movie with the vulture scene (maybe that’s why I think so little of them) and it was in a dark, gross forest and they walked on the ground, surrounded by bones. No soaring. No flying at all. Honestly, prior to this chapter, I didn’t really picture them in my mind flying!

      And that artist? Beautiful! Here is where your part of our brain was working way better than mine 🙂 . . . I kept looking at the letter “V” trying to see a vulture in it :)! Hahahahah. Oh Amy 🙂

      1. M'Lynn October 17, 2016

        “What we gonna do? Whatcha wanna do? I dunno…whatcha wanna do?….” Hahahaha! The vultures in Jungle Book are classic! Brain Doppelgangers…that’s making me smile. I’m still laughing about imaging you staring at the letter V looking for the vulture. Thanks for sharing that bit of information. This book has been so much fun so far.

  3. Jenilee October 11, 2016

    I LOVED this chapter. I LOVE when things make me look outside what I think I know about the Bible… her next-to-last sentence, “I believe that the word of God, far from confirming everything we already think we know, can surprise us.” – and this info about the vulture was surprisingly amazing. That this bird takes death and disease on itself and purifies it. The vulture has no fear of death. It does not kill or harm but cleans and makes new. That it soars not in its own strength. The wobbly faith… all of it. What a fun book to make us really take new glances at things we think we know and dig deeper.

    The title is perfect 🙂 I think “Vulture” stands on its own two feet!

    1. Emily Smith October 11, 2016

      The quote I had underlined was “If the Bible is not shaking us up, even blowing our minds, we may need to listen at a different frequency, dig deeper, read between the lines, open our eyes wider, hit it with a hammer, throw it out the window, dust it off and try again.”
      I’ve loved the new perspective. It isn’t just shaking things up and trying to come up with the most outrageous explanation possible. Instead, it is looking again and realizing how much more this lines up with what we already know about God. It isn’t new for the sake of new…but new in a way that confirms the integrity of the Gospel. I love getting to enjoy the new perspective with other people.

      1. Jenilee October 11, 2016

        I underlined that same quote!

      2. M'Lynn October 12, 2016

        Also one of my favorites!

      3. Amy Young October 17, 2016

        Emily, I agree, it’s not about looking for shock value. As you said, it’s more about seeing what we have known to be true all along :)(which can still be pretty shocking on it’s own :))

    2. Amy Young October 17, 2016

      Jenilee, I can’t stop thinking about the vulture either!

  4. Elizabeth October 11, 2016

    “Let’s talk in the comments about the purifying role of the vulture.” It’s like you read my mind, that’s what I was planning on talking about in the comments 🙂

    So there’s this idea that captivates me — Life comes from death. I was listening to a lady whose favorite theme in literature is “life comes from death.” It’s everywhere — including the Bible. About that time I went walking along the riverfront here and noticed something I had never noticed before — a tree, the largest tree around, planted right next to the sewer discharge. The only other trees around are regular old palm trees (generally my favorite), no other large deciduous trees. I’m attaching a photo below.

    As you know, for a tree to be that big above ground, it has to be at least that big below ground. The root system needs to be expansive to support such an expansive tree. Anyway, it was with “life comes from death” in my mind that I noticed this tree, and took a picture. Not sure why it struck me so, but this chapter reminded me of it. I was kind of skimming through the physical descriptions of the various ugly and non-ugly vultures, uninterested, until she got to the purification section. Then I was hooked. I loved it, because that’s what God does for us — purifies all the ugly and dirty and makes it clean and useful and safe again.

    I know I’m “supposed” to be taken with the soaring on thermals part — and soaring on thermals IS cool — even humans do it in gliders — but it was the taking of death and turning it into life that really got me. The death-eating or sin-eating, if you will. And I know I’m odd in this, but I don’t like that eagle verse — in junior high I learned a song straight out of that scripture, taught to us by none other than the camp director who molested all the teen girls, including me. So I just really can’t get into the eagle. Maybe her next chapter will change my mind.

    Ooops I guess I ended on a down note. Sorry! Here’s the photo of that tree.

    1. M'Lynn October 11, 2016

      Thanks for sharing your photo of the tree. Funny I knew I’m “supposed” to be taken by the life from death thing, but it wasn’t the theme I kept returning to think about. So fun how we can all read the same chapter and go in so many different directions with it.

    2. Emily Smith October 11, 2016

      Elizabeth, I’m with you on the eagle verse – for different reasons. It was used to tell me “Hope in the Lord…and if you start to get tired and weary…you are really bad at hoping.” This does mean this chapter could bring a certain amount of redemption of this verse…that maybe it isn’t so much about my hoping and needed to work harder. But by becoming like a vulture who is carried more by the currents and the wind – and less by its own effort. But still…I have a hard time with that verse.

      I was much more drawn to the “death eating” and purification. The idea that God could take death, decay, toxicity and destruction…consume it, purify it, and make it lose its power. YES! That He is compared to a bird who looks death in the face without fear. YES!

      And I love the picture of the tree!

      1. Elizabeth October 11, 2016

        Wow, Emily, I think the people who told you those things were actually DIScouraging you, not encouraging you. Not on purpose, probably, but still, in the end, that wasn’t helpful to you! I’m so sorry for that. 🙁 (And also, I don’t think they were completely accurate anyway.)

        M’Lynn, I’m glad you went with the words and ideas that were speaking to YOU, too 🙂

        And Emily and M’Lynn — thanks about the picture 🙂 It was really striking to see that big, hulking, GREEN, thriving tree next to that black stench of a sewage stream. I couldn’t help but think that some of that vast invisible root system was snatching up some of that nasty death and turning it into life. So, thanks for liking the picture of the tree with me 🙂

      2. M'Lynn October 12, 2016

        Emily…as you noted last week, we’ve definitely had some similar experiences. I think the reason I’m so encouraged by the “soar on wings like vultures” thing is because I, too feel as though my weariness can be interpreted as being without faith (like the unhelpful advice you received to just hope harder if you’re tired and weary…which is not what Isaiah 40:31 is about at all, as the author points out). I sometimes feel like being more like the man in Mark 9:24 who says to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” instead of trying to pull myself up by my own bootstraps. So I’m echoing your “it isn’t so much about my hoping and needing to work harder” and that’s why I’ve gleaned so much by the description of how vultures fly

    3. Malia October 13, 2016

      Thank you for sharing this, Elizabeth. That giant tree growing next to waste is a powerful picture. I will remember it!

    4. Amy Young October 17, 2016

      The purifying aspect is so beautifully redemptive. I don’t know if you “should” be captivated by anything :)! In part, I think I was taken by the soar part because my most informative lesson on vultures come from the Jungle book and the four vultures that talked to Mogli — they walked and flapped along the ground. Silly how something like that 3 or 4 minutes in a movie can inform my unconsciousness so much! I didn’t think of them as actually flying. And soaring? Ha, not likely.

      Your picture makes me think of Psalm 1!

  5. Michele Womble October 12, 2016

    This is just to say that I haven’t dropped out of the book club. 🙂 I’m just behind. i’ve actually been reading the book – but every time I finish a chapter I realize ya’ll are already discussing the next chapter…I really do feel like a vulture right now – circling and tottering 🙂 Maybe I’ll be able to come back tonight or in a few days with this chapter finished …

    1. Amy Young October 17, 2016

      Michele, we are in mind meld again! Happy to see you pop in :)!!

  6. Malia October 13, 2016

    I couldn’t believe this actually happened, but on the same day (right before) I read the chapter on vultures, my kids and I watched Human Planet’s episode on Mountains.They feature a sky burial! I explained to my kids why the vultures were good and necessary, why they were keeping the people healthy. The narrator says, “The Buddhists see this as a sacred act, an offering that will sustain the life of another being.” It was so dramatic, but trying to simplify things for my kids made me see the beauty in it too. Vultures were a gift because they purified the land of death. (FYI, I did skip the ending, though, for my kids’ sake–and my own! It was enough to know what was happening without witnessing it, even with the cameraman’s discretion.)

    Like it did for Elizabeth, the purifying quality of vultures stuck with me the most. For the Tibetans, vultures saved them from disease. For me, Christ does the same.

    1. Amy Young October 17, 2016

      So cool when things we are learning/seeing in one context are reenforced in another! I read a book years ago about Sky Burials in Tibet (I think by Xin Ran) and wow, it was both amazing and a bit graphic :). What a great conversation for you and your kids!

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