My battle with the squirrels and the importance of thinking
There’s one thing to be said in their favour, squirrels think. I know, I’ve just been watching one. Some background here. We have invested heavily in bird-feeding equipment – tables, boxes and especially feeders. And especially in 12.6kg bags of sunflower hearts. It goes without saying that we like to watch all the different types of birds who visit our garden which backs onto woodland and fields. However, squirrels. I suspect most of our 12.6kg of hi-energy seed goes to feed these tree-loving rodents. And so I have tried various methods of deterring or obstructing them. As it happens, I am also fighting this battle on a second front: Jacqui. She likes squirrels and so she ruthlessly oversees my efforts in order to give them a fighting chance. This rules out the use of physical force on this invasive species, which may be just as well. I had thought I had found a solution – hanging the feeders from a washing line, well away from the bushes. It seemed to work but Jacqui ruled this impermissible. Clearly she has devised some kind of rule book which is inaccessible to me. However, I do have a trump card: a squirrel proof feeder. As the squirrel approaches from above and attempts to climb down the feeding section, its own bodyweight brings down an aluminium protective sleeve, saving the feed for the birds. So far it has worked: ingenious. Mr Gardman deserves a knighthood; at the very least, an honorary membership of the RSPB. However, as I was watching this morning our squirrels refuse to be deterred. You often see them sitting on the fence, just a few inches away from the feeder trying to work out how to get to my expensive sunflower hearts. They just sit there, their tails wagging. You can see them trying to devise a strategy – a different angle of approach maybe or holding on to the bottom of the feeder by the very tip of the fingers on their fore limbs. I’ve seen them try both – and fail. What I have noticed is how often they will turn their backs on the feeder and think. Sad to say, given time, I think they may even crack this one – as long as the don’t crack the plastic case. Often we act too quickly. Sometimes, of course, it is important to move quickly and respond to a problem intuitively before it’s too late. But there are times, when faced with an intractable problem, we simply need to stop and think. Like the squirrel this morning, just to sit there and think things through. It takes some mental effort and a refusal to be hurried into precipitate action. To its credit the squirrel did not even attempt to try to jump on the feeder yet again, just in case it worked this time. It simply sat there and pondered the problem. For one definition of insanity, wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Because we are primed for action, we usually need some external discipline to keep us thinking creatively. For myself, running is a brilliant means for encouraging sustained thinking. For others, like Archimedes for example, it means taking a long bath. Jesus certainly took time out before making big decisions. For example: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (Luke 6:12f) Thinking is important and deserves our highest priority. Here I can now quote Albert for what he actually did say: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” And here we come to the crux, literally. For to become a Christian means to adapt a totally new way of thinking; in the New Testament, metanoia. So Mark begins his Gospel with the proclamation of Jesus: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) Here metanoia is translated as repent which in some ways misses the point, for we tend to understand repentance as meaning contrition or remorse. A better translation would be a complete change of mind (meta = after/beyond, nous = mind). This is the task for the Holy Spirit to help us to think in a totally new way, to adopt a new operating system for our minds. This is both a one-off event as we resolve to follow Jesus as well as a daily struggle to think with the mind of Christ. That’s why it is essential to take time out in order to think, especially over scripture even as a daily discipline. John Stott taught: “If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace.” We live in a postmodern culture which has downgraded thinking. However, like our squirrels, sometimes we just need to sit there, give the Holy Spirit space - and think.