Earlier this season, a male cowbird repeatedly hurled itself against our bay window, attacking its reflection in an attempt to scare off a perceived threat to its territory. Nothing discouraged its obsession; we were told by our local bird store that it would stop when the mating and nesting season was over and there was over no longer anything to defend.

As annoying as the bird’s behavior was, it got me thinking about a line from the old comic strip character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

It also reminded me of a caution from Jesus, who warned that we should not insist on removing the speck from another’s eye without first removing the log from our own. Both Pogo and Jesus are asking us to engage in honest self-reflection in order that we may truly see what is before us.

As inane as the bird might seem to us, his actions are instructive, even challenging.

It is true we are experiencing horrific events in the world right now. I wonder if, in our fear, we fall into the trap of seeing enemies where there is none and then expending absurd amounts of energy, hurling ourselves against foes, chopping the world into “them” and “us,” staking out our territory, drawing lines and dreaming of walls that will protect us.

The cowbird acts on instinct; perhaps we do as well when we are fearful and feeling powerless, lashing out, sometimes violently, at a person or group we see as a threat, our vision obscured by the many logs in our eyes.

A little over a year ago, Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emmanuel Church, a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and after participating in a Bible study, proceeded to gun down nine people, including the pastor. His website showed him with Confederate flags and other symbols of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. After his arrest he proclaimed his desire to start a race war because of his vision of black people as “dangerous.”

Most people understood this as tragedy rooted in racism. Because it happened in a church, some claimed this was not a racially motivated hate crime, but rather an attack on Christianity, yet another attempt to undermine our “Christian” nation.

Dylann Roof was a member of a Lutheran church, a regular participant in church school and camp, raised as a Christian. Somewhere along the line, Roof’s vision was obscured by the log of racial bigotry and hatred.

Those claiming this was an attack on Christianity were unwilling to see the smear of racism and saw only an enemy of Christianity, their eyes blinded by a log of denial.

At times, I think we need enemies, somewhere to place the blame when things appear to be going wrong, when our way of life, our traditions, our faith seem under attack.

It is called scapegoating, a term that has its origins in the ancient practice of a priest confessing the sins of the people over a goat. The goat was then driven into the wilderness, symbolically carrying those sins away, and the people could feel good about themselves.

They were forgiven, but it required the people to be honest and to engage in self-reflection, admitting to their faults, their failures, removing the logs from their eyes, if only for a while.

The modern practice of scapegoating includes no such self-reflection, providing an easy way for others to manipulate our fears. Our eyes are filled with logs: logs of “traditional values,” logs composed of our need to be right or perfect, even logs based on scripture.

The cowbird has gone, and I wonder if the bird carries away any scars. Regardless, it will do the same next year, for it is in its nature to do so. It will see a false threat in the reflection and attack. It has no choice, but we do.

We are human beings, and not perfect. In light of that reality, the question for us is, “How shall we choose to live?” Will we continue to project our insecurities and imperfections onto others, making them bear our faults and shortcomings? Forever battling our own reflections?

Or will we choose to remove the log jams in our own vision and dare to live clear-eyed in the world. It takes courage to do that, for it will open us up to seeing not only the world, but ourselves, differently.

Clear eyed, we can look fearlessly, with eyes of love and compassion for others, but most importantly we can cast that same gaze on ourselves. When we find the trust and faith to do so, we will begin to see as the Holy sees and we can rest from our unnecessary battles.

The Rev. Janet Dorman is the pastor of the Foreside Community Church, UCC in Falmouth. She can be reached at:

[email protected]