Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(From Roy Acuff's Great Speckled Bird...)

"What a beautiful thought I am thinking
Concerning a great speckled bird
Remember her name is recorded
On the pages of God's Holy Word.

"All the other birds are flocking 'round her
And she is despised by the squad
But the great speckled bird in the Bible
Is one with the great church of God."

"Ladies and Gentlemen, now for my latest magic trick...I'm going to turn a great speckled bird into a hyena!"

That's what happened in successive translations of the book of Jeremiah, you know.

Here's Jeremiah 12:8-11 from the KJV:

Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me: therefore have I hated it. 9 Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour. 10 Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. 11 They have made it desolate, and being desolate it mourneth unto me; the whole land is made desolate, because no man layeth it to heart.

Here's Jeremiah 12:8-11 in the NRSV:

My heritage has become to me like a lion in the forest; she has lifted up her voice against me— therefore I hate her. 9Is the hyena greedy for my heritage at my command? Are the birds of prey all around her? Go, assemble all the wild animals; bring them to devour her. 10Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, they have trampled down my portion, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. 11They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no one lays it to heart.

Well, that's a bit of a problem. Not only do the animals change, the relationship changes. In the KJV, the Great Speckled Bird is an icon--a symbol of God's perfect beauty, set upon by the other nasty common birds, who are basically trying to knock her off a holy pedestal.

But once we get this all straightened out over a few hundred years and improved Biblical scholarship, the Great Speckled Bird is probably actually a hyena, and she's just another of the nasty predators going after the majestic lion in verse 8. (Not to mention we've knocked Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music, off his throne! Poor Roy didn't know he was singing about a carrion-eating hyena. I sort of have one of those "St. Peter at the Pearly Gates" images about this--"Uh...Roy...we have to talk.")

The conflict comes with the Hebrew words "Tzeboa ayit" which originally was translated as "speckled bird" but more accurately means "striped howling creature," which later scholars identifed as a hyena. The modern Tanakh translation used by synagogues who use JPS translations sort of adds another word, weasel, as in "weasels out of it" by saying "like a bird of prey or a hyena." Another interesting change is in verse 10, where "pastor" becomes "shepherd". This is the Hebrew word "Raw-ah" which can mean either "shepherd" or "ruler" or "teacher".

"So where are you going with this?" you might be wondering at this point....

Well, I'm thinking about those times in our lives when we might have thought we were being "a Great Speckled Bird" when in reality, we were being a hyena. We thought we were acting in the name of God when in reality, we were just another scavenger closing in on a dying carcass.

This kind of thing happens in churches and religious organizations all the time, and the more I understand about it, the more dismaying it can get. I've seen clergy play the role of Great Speckled bird only to turn out to be hyenas, and I've seen the laity wear their Great Speckled Bird suit while they are circling for the kill as only a hyena can do. Then there is the really sad version of this, when a goal, an idea, a chance to really go out and do something good in the name of the church really IS a Great Speckled Bird, and it is killed and devoured by a bunch of people, clergy and parishioners alike, in a hyena-like fashion, all the while donning their Great Speckled Bird suits.

I'm convinced of one thing--the real Great Speckled Birds in this world do not even realize they ARE Great Speckled Birds. The real Great Speckled Birds in a parish are the people who simply do what they do, and credit others. They say, "Aw, it's nothing," and really believe it was nothing in their own minds, yet it was something. When they look in the mirror, they just see light gray, with nary a speckle on them. They are the angels with muddy feet and crooked, rusty halos. They are the lights that shine in the darkness.

May each of us grow speckles that are visible by everyone except us, when we look in the mirror. I have a feeling we could all live our Baptismal Covenant better if only that would happen.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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