Rare Black-Bellied Tree Ducks Visit a Country Graveyard in Texas: Were They a Sign from God?

So much human energy and talk of God, His will, and all the infidels that need to be eradicated from the planet, seems to dwell in the hearts and minds of men after millennia of man’s evolution into the “divine” animal he still seeks to become. Does God exist? Many churches all over the world have immense power and influence. Most probably their income from those who seek salvation from the fires of hell exceeds the income and wealth of Exxon. The formula is easy: you pay us (popes, TV evangelist preachers, mullahs, and rabbis, et al) and you get to go to the Promised Land. Call it heaven, El Dorado, or Nirvana; it is the terminal bliss of all mankind, the only destination worth pursuing, we are told. The reward? Eternal life. You just don’t get swallowed up by the deep, dark, void when you die. You get to live forever as a spirit. Quite a concept, eh? Almost like an insurance policy, isn’t it?

But then it’s not all about the money. There’s the faith premise, too. By faith, you are saved from the temptations of the Devil, and you feel good about yourself that you could, with the help of God, defeat Evil. Oh, well, most Americans don’t let it go to that extreme a point of excitation and involvement, but many who are born and raised in theocratic governments seem to go high fervor in defining and even blowing up infidels. The massacre of 911 was an extreme act of terrorists who perhaps had let the concept of religion jump the tracks. Instead of doing good for your brothers and sisters, you kill them. I happen to believe that the attackers were demented and insane and not acting in the Muslim religious faith. But many believe that it is the Muslims who are to be feared as a race of Christian-haters who get their direction from the Quran itself. I do not agree. Again, this is an example of religion gone cuckoo and is not exemplary of the basis of most of the world’s religions. It’s about man. And greed. And power.

Nut cases that call themselves Christians are not without blame, too. The pastor who burned a copy of the Quran to piss off as many Muslims worldwide as he could, was not practicing the teachings of brotherly love as Jesus gave the world 2,000 years ago. It was just as hateful and anti-Christian in principle as it was when the Inquisition saw Torquemada torturing and killing Christians on the rack and by burning them at the stake when it came to cleansing them of their sins. But the Popes of Rome who sent thousands to their deaths in the Crusades to drive the infidels from the Holy Land take the cake. Here, 100s of thousands of knights and soldiers from Europe trotted off to Jerusalem and points thereabout to kill and plunder the Holy Land from those (mainly Muslims) who had lived there for thousands of years. But were they about the work and business of God? Or were they soldiers of fortune, seeking gold, jewels, and other booty for their time and trouble? And were they truly doing God’s work or were they simply wearing battle gear with giant red crosses as a tunic to justify their stealing from their fellow man? And were the Conquistadores such as Cortez and Pissarro genuinely seeking to convert the Aztecs and the Incas to Christianity or were they seeking to steal the gold of the Americas and send it back to the Spanish Treasury? Each high and low-ranking soldier got his own personal credited account with the Spanish Treasury, according to the amount of gold they sent back. Next time you are in Madrid, take a gander at the gold in the Museum of the Americas there.

Some say that religion is benign and well-intentioned until man gets hold of it and exploits his fellow Christians to pay up or to obey the Church in other ways such as fighting wars or voting for Ronald Reagan. Jerry Falwell proved that church and state could be cross-bred into political machines like the Moral Majority that could elect presidents, congressmen, or even mayors and dog-catchers. Today, there is Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, who, aside from lifting over $2 million a year from the offering plate of his Boone, NC ministries for his own personal consumption, is fanning the flames of hate toward Muslims. He calls them dangerous to world Christians. He says they are not worthy of being Americans because our founding fathers were of the Judeo-Christian variety, not Muslims. This negates the reason our ancestors came to America in the first place: to escape religious bigotry. So much for religion. It is easy to see how the right fruitcake who heads the Billy Graham Ministries can influence his religious followers to send his ministries $100,000,000 a year (tax-exempt, you know). On the premise of doing something good for man.  And while the Samaritan’s Purse does dispense millions of dollars annually to the needy, this same Graham organization pays out a pretty penny to the Graham family as well. Several cousins work for the Billy Graham Ministries, including Franklin Graham.  Last year his cut of the take was over $2 million dollars. As America gasps for economic relief and good people are walking away from their homes and losing their jobs, it just doesn’t seem all that Christian that Graham would be lining his own pockets with money given in the name of religion. It raises the question, Is religion good or bad?

Those who bend the teachings of Christ or Mohammed to their own purposes of greed and gain, well they just suck. But they flourish and rake in the cash all because those donors want eternal life and to feel good in their own hearts, I suppose, while they are alive and helping their fellow man. Only trouble is, to get there you got to help the gatekeepers, too: the Pope, the Grahams, Falwell Enterprises, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, you know the rogues gallery of “religious” leaders. Joel Osteen manages to still fly First Class all over the world, thanks to all those who send him millions in the name of Jesus. Are all these dudes helping mankind or are they just a bunch of well-trained actors skilled in the practice of separating their congregations from their money?

So is religion worthwhile? Does it help man, or does it do more harm than good? Is it a grand ruse perpetrated upon the masses who are sold a bill of goods while sending their hard-earned cash to a lock box in Dallas, Virginia Beach, or Boone, NC. The question, Does God exist, is a hard one when you see the grimy fingers of man manipulating the images of God into suicide bombers and preachers who take offerings to build universities and to drive Mercedes. The paradox of man doing the work of God via religion and tanks and planes to defeat “The Axis of Evil” or “The Evil Empire” is insane. Those two 16-year presidencies saw America borrow and spend 7 Trillion dollars under two Republican presidents: Reagan and George W. Bush. That, sports fans, is HALF our present National Debt of over $14 Trillion dollars! And stupid people such as John Boehner, Scott Walker, and Paul Ryan blame the Democrats for being the big spenders that bankrupted America! Such crocodile tears the GOP and the Tea Party shed as they seek to destroy the salaries and benefits of the little people, the teachers, the union workers, and those innocent Americans who had nothing to do with starting wars. All so a policy of borrowing and spending could make the likes of Halliburton rich. Oh well, if and when they cut Social Security, Medicare and other programs that serve the common man, to the bone, well we can say, well, I guess Cheney and Halliburton needed it worse than Joe Six Pack. In non-partisan fairness, is it necessary that Obama and Congress continue the tradition of borrow and spend to keep the wars, the occupation, Wall Street and the banksters alive, well, and thriving? When the world is turned upside down in the full tradition of General Cornwallis’ fateful melody of defeat played after his surrender to Washington at Yorktown? What a nation we have become! Is there no one who will stand up in outrage at the theft of America? Is religion and faith the answer? You decide.

Many years ago, I strolled through a country graveyard in Milam County, Texas. The Little River close by, meandered its silky way through the countryside where fewer people live now than a hundred years ago, and the sun was setting over the trees near Clays Creek where the wild turkeys roosted and called tenderly to their feathered family to say goodnight, I thought. It was the cemetery of 7 generations of my family. My brother, only 39, had just died of cancer and was buried near his great, great, great grandfather Hiram Madison. A few cardinals sang full-throated melodies to each other from the greenery of new-leafing oaks, elms, and junipers. 

The sun was bright. I was alone. Melancholy tugged at my heart.  

I needed a sign. Was all the struggle of all my ancestors worth all the years chiseled into the tombstones of so many generations? Was my brother Pat’s early death planned or just another impromptu irony of the Universe? Did God care that there were little ones of 2 and 6 left behind? Were we supposed to be joined collectively to help each other survive, and if so, then why the untimely demise of a fine young man and provider? Did the existence of God make the world a better place? How could we understand?

What if (I thought) a burst of cardinals suddenly flew up in the tree right above my head and began to sing to me? Would that be a proof that God did exist and know of man’s plight and insignificant means of mental comprehension of the mysteries of the Universe and His will? So be it, I thought. Let it happen if there is a God. Now.

Right on that same tree branch, two hefty Black-Bellied Tree Ducks hovered down like helicopters and perched and peered down at me. Instantly. Silent at first and unafraid as they looked me in the eye, they worked their webbed feet softly about the branch to get the proper traction. I knew what they were only from endangered species photographs. I had never seen a real one before, but they were Black-Bellied Tree Ducks, alright. http://www.pbase.com/dadas115/image/112542824

Darkness began to envelope us in the solitude of the graveyard, and the ducks cooed little whistle sounds to each other. What a grand surprise. You ask for cardinals, and She gives you such rare beauty from Her splendid store of nature. “You want cardinals? Let me show you some of the good stuff!” What a Sprite. What humor. Or was it just my wanting to believe?

Was this a message from God? Did He, when I asked for a ham sandwich, give me King Solomon’s banquet table? I don’t know. Perhaps. But it is why I still have hope for me and for us. All of Us.