Last week I got a chance to see “Finding Dory” with the family. I enjoyed the movie, but in my opinion it was outclassed by the Pixar short that preceded it. “Piper,” directed by Alan Barillaro, tells the story of a baby sandpiper bird on his first day hunting food for himself next to the ocean. The realistic animation was simply breathtaking. But even more than that, I found the story very compelling.
“Piper” tells about a flock of sandpiper birds moving together to avoid incoming waves while finding some breakfast where the tide and sand meet. The baby sandpiper bird can’t get the rhythm right, is deluged by water, and for a while decides to give up on the water thing altogether. But eventually hunger wins out and with the help of a young hermit crab the baby learns a unique way to deal with the incoming waves.
I am sure “Piper” struck me the way it did because I watched it in Portland, while participating as an observer in my denomination’s General Assembly. For much of my childhood as a military brat, Portland was home base. No matter where we were living, Portland was the home away from home where we went to visit family. Watching the sandpiper mom show her baby how to do “water,” hit close to home on a week I was busy showing my own kids special places from my childhood; like Multnomah Falls, the zoo, and the downtown fountains my Grandfather used to take me to play.
But the connections didn’t end there. As someone who tends to be a moderate evangelical in a fairly progressive denomination, I am often asked how I survive. In fact, when I told people that I was going to General Assembly, I was surprised by the number of raised eyebrows I got. I guess another reason I liked “Piper” so much was because I felt like it told some of my own story. In the short, the baby sandpiper bird learned that if it dug in like a hermit crab when the waves came and then opened its eyes, it not only could be protected from the waves but could see more clearly where breakfast was.
Often times, at the macro level, I feel like my denomination looks a little like a flock of sandpiper birds, running back and forth, following where ever the next “progressive” wave takes them. Right now, many evangelicals are giving up on the denomination because they feel like they have gotten hit by one too many wave while refusing to move with everyone else. Those evangelicals sputter and complain…. But I find myself wishing that more of them would be willing to just open their eyes to see the good that is still happening (Christ-centered mission and evangelism). It is still there, it is just often under the surface of the loud and more noticeable waves.
How does a moderate evangelical pastor get fed in a more progressive denomination? This one gets nourished by seeing those places where God is still at work through his faithful followers (and finding more and more that often God is even at work in spite of us all).