‘The dodo is dead everybody knows that’, thus began an episode of David Attenborough’s Life Stories broadcast on Radio 4 on Sunday 4th September 2009. Attenborough then unfolded the less well–known aspect of the story, the reason for the dodo’s extinction.
It is likely that its ancestors were blown to the Island of Mauritius in a storm. The Island was a haven for its new inhabitants. It was large, 50 miles across, with good vegetation, plenty of food and nothing that would attack or threaten the new arrivals. It was easy and safe to stay on the ground. They conserved energy and reduced the risk of being blown away again. So they didn’t fly; for generation after generation. There was plenty of easy food – the dodos grew big and fat. The wings they no longer used dwindled in size and would no longer lift the large bird into the air. Life was easy.
And then things began to change. In the last years of the sixteenth century sailors arrived on the island. They were hungry and wanted fresh meat. The dodo was big, fat, flightless and defenceless. They were also innocent and inquisitive so made no attempt to run away. It was easy for the sailors simply to club them to death. As more humans settled on the island the threat to the dodos increased, until the bird was no more.
Fundamentally the dodos became extinct because they lost their powers of flight.
The story made a huge impression on me. Was the Church becoming flightless? Was it in danger of extinction? I received Attenborough’s words in the tradition of Old Testament prophecy, not a foregone conclusion but a spur to act. We need to re-learn how to fly.
The image of relearning how to fly and its implications has underpinned my reflections of what God has called our group to do in our new church project.