When I worked in the education department at the local zoo, I wrote curriculum for the summer kindergarten track of Camp Zoo. “Animal Artists” was one week’s theme, and I researched animal behavior to reflect painters, sculptors, weavers and architects. Bowerbirds came up in my search of nest builders, and the courting behavior of male bowerbirds made me shake my head in wonder at the similarities between animals and human beings. Males build a nest, or bower, on the ground, and place shiny, sparkly, colorful articles around it to attract females. According to an encyclopedia article:
The most notable characteristic of bowerbirds is their extraordinarily complex courtship and mating behaviour, where males build a bower to attract mates. There are two main types of bowers. One clade of bowerbirds build so-called maypole bowers, which are constructed by placing sticks around a sapling; in some species, these bowers have a hut-like roof. The other major bower building clade builds an avenue type-bower made of two walls of vertically placed sticks. In and around the bower, the male places a variety of brightly colored objects he has collected. These objects — usually different among each species — may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items, coins, nails, rifle shells, or pieces of glass. The males spend hours arranging this collection. Bowers within a species share a general form but do show significant variation, and the collection of objects reflects the biases of males of each species and its ability to procure items from the habitat, often stealing them from neighboring bowers. Several studies of different species have shown that colors of decorations males use on their bowers match the preferences of females. Mate-searching females commonly visit multiple bowers, often returning to the male several times, watching his elaborate courtship displays and inspecting the quality of the bower.
Sparkly, shiny, colorful objects, the more, the better. And how, I ask myself, is that any different from the world of online dating or the world of human behavior in general? Yes, I had to venture into the fields and forests of online dating sites, and the simple and silly truth is that people – both men and women – build profiles much like bowerbirds build nests, with ”sparklies” like their income, education, possessions, interests, and travels, and the more stuff and flirty quips, the better. Photos posed in exotic locales, at a bar or table with a glass in hand, on the golf course, standing beside a fast car …Sadly, that’s what we look for in others all too often. Equally sadly, that’s what we want others to see in us to attract them.
I wasn’t hugely successful in the world of online dating, probably because I was looking for more than shine and sparkle and a resume of accomplishments: I was looking for real substance: integrity, faith, honesty, kindness, generosity, humility, purpose, warmth. I wrote an openly honest assessment of myself, including my wrinkles from 21 years of hiking with two Boy Scout sons, and when I read other profiles, I Iooked for key words like those in a man’s self-description. Hmm …rare as hens’ teeth, as my mother used to say.
What does God want us to value in each other? He certainly tells us something important through the words of Samuel as he searched for God’s choice for Israel’s king:
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate. Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:1-7 NIV
He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:15 NIV
All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Proverbs 16:2 NIV
“‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Leviticus 19: 15
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31: 30-31 NIV
Your adornment must not be merely external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV
I have to check myself daily, fighting the impulse to value others by how much money they make, how much education they have, what job they hold, what car they drive, how they speak, what church they do or don’t attend -that I don’t judge the people I meet by their appearance – including tattoos, piercings, and unnaturally colored hair – and by their income or house or job status. Compatibility comes from shared values and character much more than externals. What good would it do me to be married to a man who scorned Jesus, loved money, looked down his nose at the homeless, but made a six-figure income and loved to travel in his Ferrari? That would be a match made in hell. How counter-cultural is that?
Oh, Father God, deliver us from our bowerbird nature! Give us Your eyes to see the value in one another, appreciate character, kindness, and honesty above wallet and neighborhood and facelift. Give us hearts of wisdom, O Lord.to view ourselves in the light of the way You see us, in truth and humility, and teach us to value others for what You placed in them and see in them. Give me the grace to receive a hug from a homeless person with the same gratitude I’d receive it from a billionaire.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
Who understands the power of Your anger
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90: 10-12 NIV
A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh ,Lord, search me and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. God Almighty, I know I shouldn’t judge, BUT I do, based on __________________________________________. Yes, bowerbird as charged, BUT you can give me new eyes. Help me to see ________________________________________________ not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because You want the best for me and in me, out of Your purity, righteousness, and love. So, Holy Spirit, dig deeply, root out the insecurities, sparklies and shinies that I push out in front of me so others think I’m valuable and desirable, and help me to dig deeply to find the true value you invested in me _______________________________________________. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________________________________________