Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nudging Birds, Nudging Books and a Nudging God!

I had a rather interesting experience yesterday. As its summer here in New Zealand there are lots of birds round in the trees outside the Maclaurin chapel, and because it’s hot and humid here at the moment we open doors. Which means that over the last week we’ve had quite a few birds come and visit at the chapel, mainly in the study Hall (it is a University chapel)? Yesterday a fantail, a small native New Zealand bird, with a ... fantail came into the chapel and stayed all day. I opened more doors to let it out and then for the last forty minutes of the day chased it round the chapel with my umbrella trying to wrangle it... nudge it out of the building. It didn't seem to get the idea that to go out to freedom it had to go down and through the door. I think there is a sermon illustration in that. A couple of students had left gear at the chapel and gone off into the city so I waited for them to comeback and simply waited for the bird to use its brains (ha ha) and exit via the..exit. To fill in the time I sat down and continued reading 'Nudge' by Leonard Sweet and had a very 'Nudge' type experience.

I read novels for entertainment and will devour one in a few days but with Sweet's books and other more weighty tombs it takes me a while to read. I take my time, savour what is written and being a bear of little brain it takes me a while to let it sink in. The twisted plot of a crime novel no problem almost poetic EPIC thoughts of a university professor, not so easy. Plus it has to get past just comprehension to understanding.

Nudge is a book Sweet has written about that most slippery and some ways tarnished word Evangelism. Sweet uses the MSN 'giving someone a nudge' or facebook's more offensive give someone a poke, as a metaphor for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He maintains that Christ is alive and active in the world and evangelism is often nudging people to pay attention to the God who is already present and working in peoples’ lives. That we are called to 'pay attention' to God and help others pay attention to God as well. One of those nudges maybe the one that moves someone to a new relationship with Jesus, or it may simply be part of the process of God getting and maintaining someone’s attention. Those nudges Sweet calls 'small saves'.

Strangely enough as I opened the book 'nudge' to read Sweet was giving the example of birds flying into his West coast of US America home and having to be nudged out by the family.... it was strange reading this after I had just spent the last 40 minutes trying to do exactly that, to nudge a bird out of the chapel hall and out to the freedom of the world outside.

Sweet said some birds got it quickly and it only took a few nudges others it would take hours as the bird would fly to window after window, perch after perch and end up a bit bloodied and battered before finally someone would manage to nudge it or carry it into the freedom of the outside.

Amazing coincidence (a divine coincidence perhaps at least a divine nudge). To be reading a passage from a book at the same time as a real live example/illustration was flitting round my head.

Since I've been back from Christmas I have found myself in a series of conversations with people, both coincidental and people seeking me out that have felt like divine appointments. Where I have been able to 'Nudge' people and see them move ever so slightly towards Jesus.

Totally non-churched students who felt comfortable to talk with me about their respect for Jesus as a historical character and social revolutionary, and express their feeling that if more of his followers were like Jesus then the world would be a better place. The only Nudge from me was to add an amen! In fact I had to wonder who was being nudged, as I found myself sensing a burning bush moment, these are the people I'm calling you to Howard. Through to Christian students who are looking for someone to help process stuff that they are thinking and experiencing. Again sensing that renewed nudge in the midst of other stuff (don't get me started) that makes me doubt what I'm doing at the moment. All while the student population is on holiday.

Back to the bird, in the end I simply left the bird in the chapel over night, knowing that the only consequence may be cleaning droppings off the furniture and floor (although it seemed to be a very house trained fantail) and when I opened the door this morning apart from a row of birds on the outside waiting to come in, the fantail simply jumped down onto the mat, turned to look at me as if to say thank you (Sweet mentioned in his book that birds at his place never did this. New Zealand birds are probably more polite:) and walked out.

Sadly it was met by another fantail that attacked it and the bird turned round and wanted to come back in (Again something Sweet says he never experienced) but after herding it back out the bird took a while to recover and I stood by to protect it. Then after a while it flew off. Sadly I wonder if there isn't a sermon illustration and reflection on the way the church can  sometimes be in that.

As I posted before Sweet starts his book with the affirmation that every bush is burning and it was interesting to get such an interesting illustration of it like this and a nudge to keep on nudging because God cares so much for the sparrow and fantail and knows when one falls to the ground think of how much more he cares for those he nudges in our direction, to nudge in his.


  1. This is the first time I have read your blog, I have just gotten the book Nudge, I know I am in for a splendid read. Love the bird story! I am also in love with the word nudge,to me it suggest a loving touch, instead of push, prod, or even poke. Anyway, Thank you for writing! <3peace

  2. Thanks for your reflection. I like Sweet a lot too. He always has a way of "seeing" things I've passed by. Blessings to you and your ministry.

    Geoff Sinibaldo, pastor
    St. Michael's Lutheran, New Canaan, CT