And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Gen 1:20-23)
Soon after God made the birds, they formed a council on the earth. The birds would gather and remember how truly blessed they were to be birds. They were happy that God had given them such an amazing diversity of color, size, and abilities. For a long time, the Council of the Birds was a festive occasion, but the happiness faded when the birds began to argue about their differences. For instance, the fliers, runners, and swimmers fussed over who had the gift that pleased the Creator the most. They began to argue over which of their gifts was the best of what it meant to be a bird. They formed sub-committees and each one went before the Council of Birds and demanded a ruling on which gift was the definition of being a bird. Yet their arguments accomplished nothing.
The Council of Birds became so divisive and unhappy, that they had no alternative but to take their arguments to God, the Creator, and have him judge. He made them, they surmised, so he would know which gift is best and which gift is the true definition of being a bird. They would ask him, “What were you thinking when you made birds?”
So all of the birds now gathered in the presence of the Creator who was enjoying his garden. At first he was happy to see all of his delightful birds approaching, but as they drew closer and he noticed their anxiety and their anger, he grew weary. Since they had come to him with such formality and ceremony (often a disguise for tension), the Creator decided to sit silently and wait for them to speak.
Abruptly, the Eagle spoke up and said, “On behalf of the High-Flying Delegation, we believe that the Council of Birds is correct to affirm that flying is what makes a bird a true bird. Other creatures may buzz around or flap around, but no creatures can soar like birds! This is most important to being a bird. O Creator, surely this is what you intended when you created birds to rule the air! Yes?” And all the flying birds, from the hawk to the hummingbird, screeched in approval. The Creator was silent.
Then the Penguin spoke on behalf of the swimming birds and said, “We disagree! We of the Water Fowl Federation believe that flying is not most important and that swimming is what makes a bird exceptional. Many birds can fly but only a few can swim. Only a very few can dive deep. Birds may naturally rule the air, but because of us, birds have tamed the waters! We argue that swimming should be regarded as the greatest gift of the birds. Surely Creator, this was your subtle heart’s desire when you gave us this special ability?” And all the aquatic birds, from the duck to the swan, honked in support. The Creator was silent.
The giant Ostrich strode forward majestically and interrupted the noise saying, “Fewer birds still can run and kick with powerful legs. We cannot fly, but we can run faster than almost any animal on earth. The United Avians for Acceleration assert that running should be affirmed as the most powerful gift of the birds and we want all birds to learn to run like we do!” The emus, the kiwi, and the road runners darted back and forth in response. The birds began to fuss at the running birds. The Creator was silent.
Just then a melodious and amazingly beautiful song broke through the chaos. It was the songbirds high in the trees and they descended on the Council of Birds. They harmonized and sang a long, beautiful song that captured the attention of all creatures in the garden—not just the birds.
As their song closed, the Nightingale spoke in an exquisite voice, “Here is the example for all birds, to be harmonious and to sing our songs. The Creator gave us the ability to sing and that is how a bird is often known. So when we sing our best we make the Creator happy!” And with that the Nightingale began to sing her song loudly and she called the other birds to join in that song. Yet, the Sparrow stepped in with his song and tried to persuade the Nightingale to sing it. Then the Mockingbird, and the Blue Jay, and the Chickadee did the same. Each bird tried to sing its own song louder than the others. As the music of the songbirds became less and less harmonious, the Raven and the Crow cackled. This made the Peacock think he could join in, and his song overpowered them all until the Rooster bellowed with his crowing.
But the Creator was silent. And he gently nodded his head in disappointment.
After the Council of Birds grew weary trying to outdo one another, the little Hoopoe, who had been quiet, approached the Creator and asked, “Lord, what were you thinking when you made birds? When you made us, what special gift did you intend the bird to have? What is it that makes a bird—a bird?
The Creator allowed himself a slight smile, yet he sighed as he regarded the creatures he loved and said just one word: “FEATHERS.”
All the birds—the fliers, the swimmers, the runners, and singers were startled. They noticed the variety of feathers among them. This answer confused them, for each of them had feathers. Not a single bird was without feathers. What was unique about feathers?
The Creator said, “I gave your kind so many gifts: running fast, swimming and sliding, flying and soaring—even hovering, and singing too—and I never limited you to one song. I didn’t give all the gifts to each of you because I wanted your kind to have so many gifts. But to make you one, I gave you something common to all of you, but something no other creatures have—feathers. So whether you swim deep, soar high, run fast, or sing beautifully, or not at all—each of you has what it is that makes birds unique and makes birds one.”
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Cor 12:4-6)
Chris Benjamin is the preaching minister for the WestArk Church of Christ in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He previously served as preaching minister for the Lake Jackson Church of Christ in Lake Jackson, Texas, and campus minister for the CCSC on the campus of Arkansas Tech University. Benjamin earned his D.Min. and M.Div. from ACU and his B.A. from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, where he and his wife Karen were involved in the Razorbacks for Christ campus ministry. They have two sons, Wyatt and Ethan. When he is not restoring some portion of his 50- year-old house, Chris enjoys a good story told well—no matter if it is a novel, comic strip, movie, or comedian.