A Culture of Sea Gulls

Years ago, when Pixar was moving into its Golden Age, they produced Finding Nemo, a picture where you just were used to creatures having intelligent conversations with one another. Fish? Check. Octopi? Talk away. Pelican? Loquacious.

This is part of what made it so amusing that when they showed sea gulls, they were the exception to the rule. They spoke, it’s true, but they weren’t just monosyllabic. Their entire vocabulary was limited to just one word: Mine. When you had enough of the birds chanting it out over the top of each other, it was really quite surprising how much it really did sound like a flock of sea gulls. Mine! Mine! MiMinMiMineMine! Mine! MiMine!

There are times, however, when I look around at our culture and think, frankly, we’re not much better. Oh sure, we talk about it in intelligent fashion. We argue this way or that. We devise full on, highly rational (or rationalized?) theses for why things need to go one way or another, but sometimes, it just boils down to, “Mine!”

This seems to show up most vehemently when there is the threat of something being taken away from us. Scientists think that this may be hard-wired into us in some way. We pretty much inevitably value something more when we have it than when we don’t. Or at least, we are more loathe to let go of something once it’s already in our hands as opposed to when it’s in the environment. It’s a fear-reflex. We don’t want to let go. We don’t want something to be taken away from us; it’s mine.

Of course, any hard-wired tendency can be taken to an extreme, and I feel like our culture has done this par excellence. We don’t like to let go of anything. The very attempt or implication that something of ours would be taken away raises our hackles. We don’t even always do it with just physical things; we do it with intangibles, too. We resist losing freedom. We fight losing privacy. We rail against losing money. We hold fervently against losing power. We stand firmly against losing choice.

The trouble is that the potential for loss and the fear that comes from it can blind us. It was so hard for Israel to give up its idols that they actually couldn’t follow through. The high places, the Asherah poles, the household gods – most of the time, some of them were destroyed, but many weren’t. It’s a continual theme in Kings and Chronicles, even in parts of Genesis, if I remember correctly from Jacob’s life (though I might be filling in details from Buechner’s Son of Laughter).

How many of the things that we don’t want to let go of are just different idols? How often do we cover up our fear of losing things with explanations for why it’s unfair or unconstitutional or harmful to the economy or a violation of a basic human right? Sometimes it may be those things. And sometimes, it’s fear. Sometimes it’s just that knee-jerk “Mine!”

We’re terrible at letting go in this culture. But sometimes, letting go is the way of the cross. It’s the way of laying something precious down so that there can be resurrection. Sometimes it’s the way of love for one another. Jesus freely laid things down, and something better was handed back to him. We don’t like to risk that much. Letting go is too hard. It’s a shame there’s never a chance for resurrection that way.

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