Ever heard of the “Sand Hill Crane?” Probably not, unless you are a member of the Audubon Society. It’s not a machine either, but a bird that migrates north, roughly following the path of I75. My wife is a Floridian, so I heard about them. But it wasn’t until a pastor’s sermon that I learned the importance of these aerial creatures, and lessons for education, our community, our security, and so much more.
As Dr. John Beyers, our pastor at First United Methodist Church explained last year (before COVID-19), that the Sand Hill Cranes migrate together, one might say “religiously.” In fact, he explained that these majestic birds can fly 70% further than they could by themselves. They “honk” encouragement to each other. When the lead crane tires, it drops back and another takes the point position for the flock. When one drops, two will follow it, stay with it until it rests enough, and the three head to the rendezvous point.
There’s a trend today in so many fields, where there’s a trend toward the individual, not solely for achievement, but to attempt accomplishments solo. There’s the glorification of the lone superhero, instead of the crew. There’s the TV hype over the supercop or genius sleuth to solve everything, instead of the uniformed division, the crime lab, the prosecutors, the plainclothes detectives all working together.
There’s another movement afoot along with this emphasis on the individual to deemphasize the group. You see it in education, where students from grade school through college are being pushed to take nothing but online classes, in isolation from the instructor or fellow students. And this year, we had to take some measures to protect from the pandemic. But our college worked hard to find a way to get students back to in-person classes, with those exposed to COVID-19 going online in quarantine until well or cleared to come back.
As a longtime educator, I’ve found that students can learn a lot by interaction, class discussion, debating each other, as well as the teacher. The chances to meet to work on a concept, a paper, or in a group as a project are not only helpful for the students, but not too far off from what you’ll find in the real world. You’d be amazed during this pandemic how our college figured out how to meet safely, with mask mandates, physical distancing, but with safe social interactions. We even had guest speakers, ranging from in-person visits from Police Chief Lou Dekmar and an Israeli security expert to online interactions with Ga. State Senator Randy Robertson, as well as two Brazilian Methodist’s college professors and their students, where we talked about each of our respective country’s 2020 elections.
This same lesson could be applied to Dr. Beyers’ profession as well: religion. Why try to interact with a community when you can watch a televangelist on television whenever you want, who may tell you what you want to hear? You could be in a religious bubble as well, without a need to interact with anyone else. But our church did its best, not only with online services where possible, but even worked to have outdoor meetings in the parking lot, safe in-person activities around Christmas, and in in-person worship, physically distanced but not socially isolated.
Maybe there’s something to a community getting together to worship, talk about faith, celebrate good news, and pray for those who are experiencing bad times, in online interactions or safely in person. It’s different for everyone, but I found my faith to be strengthened within the community, being able to discuss what I’m wrestling with in trying to understand the scriptures.
I hope you get the chance to join your own flock, learning the lesson from those birds for which the group can look out for each other when times are tough, encourage each other to be our best, and to really soar.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.