Quarreling Crows

by Jim Van Yperen

My bird feeder was visited a week ago by a mob of angry crows, quarreling.  Big bully birds took turns swooping down from bare branches, scattering the Finches and sending the Chickadees, chick-a-dee-dee-deeing.  I watched from my office window.   One crow flew to my feeder and began shoveling sunflower seeds down to the snow-covered ground like pennies from heaven, or hell, as the case may be, while the other birds stuffed their hostile beaks.

Next to squirrels, I like crows least.  I banged on the window, but the crows did not budge.  So, I went outside waving my hands to scare them.  The crows flew away. 

Then, this morning (more than a week later), as I was walking by the feeder, crows started screaming at me from the treetops.

I am a marked man, or so I’ve read. 

Newly published research shows that crows remember the faces of humans who have threatened or harmed them, and these memories can last for five years or longer.  The research found that screaming crows are actually scolding people they feel are dangerous, warning naive crows who learn to associate danger with the individual's face.  My face is on the Most Wanted list at every Crow Post Office in New Hampshire.

This social learning process is not unique to crows.  Every church and ministry has its mob of angry crows—people who will not change, or forgive, or consider any perspective other than their own.  Instead they squawk about you to any who will listen, and there are always those who will listen. 

Peace on Earth

In the tops of the cedars

ten crows are quarreling.

They do not believe in

conflict resolution.  Now

they are flying off, glaring

at each other. Nothing

has been settled.

by Luci Shaw

Twelve years ago we were called to serve a church in the Midwest.  A man in the church did not want us to come.  When the elders invited us anyway, he squawked loudly.  No one listened.  But he did not give up.  When we arrived, he made false accusations about our ministry and attempted to stir up dissent.  When the elders confronted him, without my knowledge, he claimed that I “kicked him out of the church.”  The attacks became personal.   For the next several months, unknown to me, this man sent audiotapes of my sermons and teachings to a woman who writes a church heresy watchdog website in California.   The woman wrote a long article about me, taking ideas and quotes from my teaching, twisting the context in order to demonstrate her preconceived notion that I was secretly associated with a cult in Canada (that I had never heard of before reading the article.)  She took me to task for being associated with such people as George Barna and somehow linked me, believe it or not, with Harry Potter.  She claimed I was out to force my view of the church.  If she simply posted her views on her website, most people would never have seen or read about it.   But she chose a louder kind of squawking. She published the article linked to my name , not hers, so it comes up on every search of my name.  A few weeks after the article appeared, I called the woman to ask why she wrote this, and published the material with out contacting me.  I told tell her that her accusations were false, and asked her to take the page down.  She refused, saying I could provide a ”rebuttal” on her website.  When I declined, she wrote another negative article about me.  In the past year or two, another self-appointed watchdog website picked up the misquotes from the first articles to publish a new article charging me with “deception.”  Neither author has ever contacted me to ask what I believed, or to clarify what I meant.  They believe God has called them to root out heresy. Twelve years later, the articles are still up on the web, like crows squawking in the trees.  (Please do not go read them!)

How to think about injustice

The first year after the website article was published was very difficult for me.  Suddenly, I had to defend against accusations that were false.  Whenever a church was interested in our ministry, a leader or member of the ministry would inevitably google my name.  Up popped the article.  You can guess what happened next. The person thinks they’ve stumbled upon some inside information about a conspiracy that must be exposed.  Soon emails are sent to every person in their church to raise the alarm.  Suddenly, the article has 250 hits in 24-hours, pushing it higher up on the search engine page.  (This kind of electronic gossip is what has kept false articles about Christian leaders on the front page for years.  Be careful accepting what you read online .)

Any reasonably mature person who reads the articles will sense that something is wrong.  But churches in conflict tend not to think or act reasonably.  Moreover, it is the nature of people, like crows, to love conspiracy and to believe something bad about someone no matter what evidence there might be to the contrary.   Consequently, three churches cancelled contracts with our ministry due to the article.  Inquiries began to dwindle.  We had to lay off staff. 

It was a difficult time for me personally.  I was frustrated and grew depressed, angry about the angry crows.  The assumptions and interpretations about me were clearly false, but there was nothing I could do or say about it without sounding defensive, “When did you stop being a heretic, Jim?”

Several months passed. I spoke to people, asking for advice about what to do.  One friend, an expert in computers, offered to hack her website for me.   A lawyer in Chicago suggested that I sue her for slander.  “You won’t win, of course.  It is free speech.  But we can make her life miserable.”  I admit that it was perversely satisfying to imagine either of these scenarios.  But, this is the problem dealing with crows, you start thinking like a crow.

Then, one morning in my daily readings, I came across the story about Shemei cursing David. 

Here is the scene . . .

Absalom had successfully pulled off his coup d’etat .  David flees.  A man from Saul’s clan comes out and starts cursing David, pelting him with rocks.  Abishai offers to go cut the man’s head off for David.  But David answers, “Maybe the Lord is telling him to curse me.  Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.” 1

This passage brought the perspective I was missing.  Maybe God was telling people to write false things about me!  If so, the question was not, “How should I respond to those people?” The real question was, “Am I willing to place my distress in the hand of a sovereign God?”  That question changed everything for me.

Since then, my eyes have been opened to a clear and obvious pattern that I’m sure I knew about before but had never completely thought through.  In Scripture, the men and women whom God calls to lead always face resistance, unjust criticism or some form of persecution.  What’s more, the opposition often comes from the very people they have been called to help!    Once your eyes are opened to this, it becomes obvious.  After all, Jesus told us it would be so. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 2   And Paul confirms it, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 3  

Hello?  Any questions?

Perhaps you have a mob of crows squawking about your head. 

If so, I have two words of counsel: 

First, read through Hebrews chapter eleven.  You are in good company. 

But second, be careful.  Before justifying yourself as a persecuted one, remember this:maybe God is telling people to oppose you .  It is this second part—the part of God allowing, even willing, for this to happen to you—that will keep you from seeing yourself as a victim.  It is these two dangers, not one, we must guard against, as two sides of the same coin; because that is the way our self-absorbed, fallen nature works.  If you cannot get respect through power, you will plea pity for your powerlessness. 

One more point to remember: other powers are also at work.  If Satan cannot defeat you through depression and neglect, he’ll put you up so far through “blessing” that you’ll think you deserve every ounce of devotion. 

This is the lesson the crows taught me this winter.  When all is said and done, the squawking is not about the crows.  It is about submitting my life and ministry under the hand of a good and Sovereign God.

Endnotes

1.  2 Samuel:16:5-14 

2.  Matthew:5:11-12 

3.   2 Timothy:3:12