One of the books that we read over and over again with our small children was P.D. Eastman’s Flap Your Wings.
A boy finds an egg on a path. He looks around and sees no way for the egg to have gotten there. Then he spots an empty nest on a tree branch above the water. He places the egg in the nest and goes on.
The bird couple who inhabit the nest come home, startled to find an enormous egg within it. Mrs. Bird is hesitant: “That’s not our egg…Look how big it is!” But Mr. Bird is adamant: “‘But it is an egg. It’s in our nest,’ said Mr. Bird. ‘If an egg is in your nest, you sit on it and keep it warm. It doesn’t matter whose egg it is.'” They take turns sitting on it to keep it warm, sometimes both of them sitting together because the egg is so large.
The egg finally hatches, and what comes out is the strangest looking bird Mrs. Bird has ever seen. She again expresses doubt that this is their baby, but Mr. Bird remains committed: “He’s in our nest, so he must be ours… His mouth is open. That means he’s hungry. When your baby is hungry, you feed him.”
And so they do, a perpetual stream of worms and bugs of all kinds. It seems they can never feed this baby enough; “Junior” is always hungry and grows to an astonishing size.
Finally, when he’s far too big to remain in the nest, Mr. Bird decides that it’s time for Junior to learn to fly, and we get the titular “Flap your wings!” exhortation. Junior has grown enough in the safe care of the birds to be able to leave the nest for a more suitable home. And Mr. and Mrs. Bird are content to see him happy.
This story has been at the forefront of my mind as I’ve been listening to the news reports of the humanitarian crisis of undocumented children, be they refugees or illegal economic migrants, gathering at the United States’ southern border.
I’ve thought about the mother bird, hesitant to take on the responsibility of a child that she knows is obviously not hers, one who may indeed represent a threat to her home and life. So many people would like to be sympathetic to the plight of these children, but they choose to refuse to accept the obligation to care and instead allow expediency to overcome their better inclinations. Some go so far as to ignore the humanity of these children and, in their own minds, to divorce them from the innocence of childhood, so that they may be rejected as an unmitigated evil. (Protesters screaming “Go back to Mexico! Yeah! Get out of here!” and “Jesus wouldn’t break the law!” even made an appearance on about 3 minutes in on a clip on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.)
The loud willful hatred so proudly displayed turns my stomach. I am sickened for my country.
And then I remember the father bird, and I have some hope. It doesn’t matter how they got here; they are here now, and we have an obligation to care for them.
Whenever there is a crisis elsewhere in the world, like a devastating earthquake or hurricane or a tsunami in some distant place, we see pictures of those children, torn from their families, and many of us feel a visceral desire to scoop of those children, to bring them into our homes and love and care for them. We can’t for many reasons, and so we instead send token donations of money or gathered goods to assuage the intentions of our better natures.
But these children, fleeing death and devastation, have come to us. Yes, caring for them will cost us time and money and effort, but not caring for them will cost us our compassion. We cannot harden our hearts to the least of these Christ’s brethren, these children, our little brothers and sisters, and still have a broken heart to offer up to our God, their Father.
They are in our nest, and so they must be ours. Let’s take care of them while they are here. At some point they will be able to flap their wings and find their own place in the world, but for now, we have to opportunity to gather them in, “even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). It won’t be cheap or easy or convenient, but we must give up our vicious obsession with those dubious virtues if we are to develop the Christ-like attributes that will allow us to establish Zion, to have one heart and one mind, and no poor among us.