Today I found out that my brother’s family has an owl living around their house. This is the sort of news that gets a birder’s attention.
I saw a picture posted online. It was obviously a small owl, but the picture did not provide for accurate scale. It had bright yellow eyes and small ear tufts. They live slightly northwest of Phoenix, Arizona.
Given only this amount of information can the bird be positively identified?
There are eight large owls, and eleven small owls. This was obviously one of the small ones.
Of the small owls there are four which have ear tufts.
Of the small owls with ear tufts there are two that would regularly occur in that range.
Of the small owls, with ear tufts, in that range, only the western screech-owl has the yellow eyes. So it seems likely the bird is a western screech-owl—likely but not absolutely certain.
The detail that is most likely to confuse the results is range. It is common for birds to be seen outside of their normal range. Birders frequently remind each other that the birds don’t read the field guides or honor their defined ranges.
As it happens there is another owl, the whiskered screech-owl, that looks extremely similar to the western screech-owl. The whiskered is usually further south, but it is entirely possible for a bird to have wandered outside of the normal range.
Christians could benefit from a discussion of range as well. One of the identifying marks of a believer is their moral stand. This pattern of living means there are certain places a believer is unlikely to go.
Many years ago I was in a church that had a church covenant pasted in the front of their hymnals. It said, among other things, that the members of the church would not consume alcohol, and would not go into businesses that offer alcohol. I liked it. But I didn’t find it easy to follow back then.
Furthermore in today’s world it would be impractical to follow such a guideline. Very few restaurants do not serve alcohol. Of course it would be possible to simply stop eating out at the places that do. However, every grocery store sells alcohol and therefore it would be impossible to buy food to prepare at home. So a strict adherence to the guideline would mean eating out at every meal, and predominantly from fast food places.
This point serves to illustrate how hard it is to stay within your range. But I also know that many, if not most, Christians today do not agree with the guideline and therefore will not attempt to follow it. While we could have a lengthy discussion of whether it is right or wrong, what is and is not lawful or allowable for believers, that is not my point at the moment.
What I want you to see for now is a simpler point. Christians are less identifiable in today’s world because they have taken away one of the field marks. Many people bemoan the loss of witness in today’s world, but they don’t seem to make the connection to our behavior. In years gone by believers were better at being different than the world around them, and this inherently attracted people who wanted to improve their life. Today Christians seem more interested in standing up for their rights than growing the kingdom, and the resulting patterns of behavior are not as attractive to the lost as past patterns were.
Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. 2 Corinthians 6:17 (HCSB)