On a recent bush walk, my wife and I were surprised to see four Australian lyrebirds. One of these lyrebirds was dancing around with their tail feathers in full fan, much to our amazement and to the delight of other species of birds who were also enjoying the spectacle. Eventually, the lyrebird spotted us, its feathers came down and it hopped away as it mimicked the calls of other birds. The lyrebird is a master mimicker. I heard the sounds of pigeons, crows, parrots, scrub hoppers, bell birds. Why does the lyrebird do this?
Some call mimicking deceptive. I prefer to see it as part of nature’s camouflage —like a chameleon—fitting in with its environment. The eastern dwarf tree frogs around my house can vary in colour from light green, to dark green to a grey-brown depending on the foliage they are living in. It’s part of their survival.
The Jewish exiles living in Babylon were challenged with survival. How were they to live? Were they to try and do every Jewish thing they could without a temple? Were they to completely mix in and be a part of Babylonian society? The false prophets were telling them not to compromise because they would be returning to Jerusalem very soon. Jeremiah, however, had a different message. He told the exiles that they would be present in Babylon for 70 years and that they should live life normally, marry, work and be a part of the society. However, there was to be one difference—they were to pray for the peace and welfare or shalom of the city.
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7 NRSV).
Christians living in the world have the same challenge. In many ways, we are just like everybody else—we eat, work, sleep, exercise, have friends and connections. However, the difference is that when we make good connections with others, they will see the difference that our God makes in our lives—the peace we pray for and live out. Just like the lyrebird, we can mimic others in our society and make real connections, but we also have a distinct dance, or way of life, that will become evident if we are faithful.