Category Archives: Word of Wisdom

Little Birds

house_sparrow_1

Photo courtesy of https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Sparrow/id

It was very calm in our yard this morning. Not like yesterday. Yesterday when I took the dogs out, there were dozens of birds out there chirping loudly and making an unholy racket in the Palo Verde and pecan trees. I assumed that our local Cooper’s hawk had caught another pigeon and was eating it on the roof again, and went back inside. A few minutes later, the dogs wanted to go out again, and amidst the avian din they went to the wooden fence and began whining and scratching. As I approached, I could hear a fluttering but could not see where it was coming from. I peeked over the gate, and saw a house sparrow frantically trying to free itself: it’s leg had slipped between the upright slats in the fence and it was trapped upside down. I ran to the door and called Steve to come out, and then gently held the bird while my husband figured out how to free it. I cupped it in my hand for a moment for it to catch its breath, then released it on the nearby brick wall. It quickly flew away, harbouring a slightly bloody leg but apparently none the worse for its harrowing experience.

In some of the Irish parts of Newfoundland it was customary to follow the ancient traditions of Wren Day on St. Stephen’s Day, known by most people today as Boxing Day. In Avondale, Conception Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, the boys would “visit each house in their community on St. Stephen’s Day, chanting [the lyrics to the song The Wren] while carrying an evergreen branch which was decorated with ribbons and feathers.”

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,

St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the firs,

Although he was little his honour was great,

Rise up, young ladies and give us a treat.

Up with the kettle and down with the pan

A penny or two to bury the wren.

With a pocket full o’money and a cellar full o’beer,

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

Another version can be found here.

In the oldest forms of the Irish, Welsh, French, Spanish, Norse, and English tradition and well into the 20th century, an actual bird was hunted by wrenboys on St. Stephen’s Day. The captured wren was tied to the wrenboy leader’s staff or a net would be put on a pitchfork. It would be sometimes kept alive. There are many theories about where it started and why, but none that I will detail here.

Another avian tradition associated with St. Stephen’s Day was the Christmas Side Hunt, a yearly event where hunters would compete to see who could bring in the highest number of birds and small game. There was no expectation that any of these creatures would be eaten; it was purely for sport.

In 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, who, along with many others, was concerned about declining bird populations, proposed a new holiday tradition, which has come to be known as the Christmas Bird Count. Instead of killing birds and counting them, volunteers survey designated areas for species and numbers. Today, tens of thousands of people participate across North America, and this citizen science is used to determine the health of bird populations and to inform conservation efforts for species at risk.

These are some of the things I was pondering as I helped free the house sparrow from my fence yesterday. And then I remembered an admonition from our church leaders to our primary children long ago, written in song:

1. Don’t kill the little birds,
That sing on bush and tree,
All thro’ the summer days,
Their sweetest melody.
Don’t shoot the little birds!
The earth is God’s estate,
And He provideth food
For small as well as great.
2. Don’t kill the little birds,
Their plumage wings the air,
Their trill at early morn
Makes music ev’rywhere. …
Think of the good they do
In all the orchards ’round;
No hurtful insects thrive
Where robins most abound.
little-birds

Indeed, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke at length about this topic and others in the October 1978 General Conference his talk Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live:

I read at the priesthood meeting at the last conference the words to the verse of the song years ago, “Don’t Kill the Little Birds,” with which I was familiar when I was a child growing up in Arizona. I found many young boys around my age who, with their flippers and their slings, destroyed many birds.

In Primary and Sunday School we sang the song:

Don’t kill the little birds

That sing on bush and tree,

All thro’ the summer days,

Their sweetest melody.

As I was talking to the young men at that time all over the world, I felt that I should say something more along this line.

I suppose in every country in the world there are beautiful little birds with their beautiful plumage and their attractive songs.

I remember that my predecessor, President Joseph Fielding Smith, was a protector of these feathered and other wild life creatures.

While President Smith at one time was in the Wasatch Mountain Area, he befriended the creatures from the hill and forest. He composed four little verses as follows, and opposite each he drew a little picture. Of the mountain squirrel first, he wrote:

This is little Chopper Squirrel

Up in the mountains high.

He begs us for some grains of corn,

With thanks he says goodbye.

And then the bat was next:

This is little Tommy Bat

Who flies around at night.

He eats the bugs and ‘skeeters’ too,

Which is a thing quite right.

Then he came to the deer:

This is little Bambi Deer

Who comes to the cabin homes.

She licks the salt we feed to her,

And on the mountain roams.

And then the birds:

This, our little feathered friend

Who sings for us all day.

When comes the winter and the cold,

He wisely flies away.

Now, I also would like to add some of my feelings concerning the unnecessary shedding of blood and destruction of life. I think that every soul should be impressed by the sentiments that have been expressed here by the prophets.

And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the wildlife of our country that live upon the vermin that are indeed enemies to the farmer and to mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals. For that purpose I read the scripture where the Lord gave us all the animals. Seemingly, he thought it was important that all these animals be on the earth for our use and encouragement.

President Joseph F. Smith said, “When I visited, a few years ago, the Yellowstone National Park, and saw in the streams and the beautiful lakes, birds swimming quite fearless of man, allowing passers-by to approach them as closely almost as tame birds, and apprehending no fear of them, and when I saw droves of beautiful deer [feeding] along the side of the road, as fearless of the presence of men as any domestic animal, it filled my heart with a degree of peace and joy that seemed to be almost a foretaste of that period hoped for when there shall be none to hurt and none to molest in all the land, especially among all the inhabitants of Zion. These same birds, if they were to visit other regions, inhabited by man, would, on account of their tameness, doubtless become more easily a prey to the gunner. The same may be said of those beautiful creatures—the deer and the antelope. If they should wander out of the park, beyond the protection that is established there for these animals, they would become, of course, an easy prey to those who were seeking their lives. I never could see why a man should be imbued with a blood-thirsty desire to kill and destroy animal life. I have known men—and they still exist among us—who enjoy what is, to them, the ‘sport’ of hunting birds and slaying them by the hundreds, and who will come in after a day’s sport, boasting of how many harmless birds they have had the skill to slaughter, and day after day, during the season when it is lawful for men to hunt and kill (the birds having had a season of protection and not apprehending danger) go out by scores or hundreds, and you may hear their guns early in the morning on the day of the opening, as if great armies had met in battle; and the terrible work of slaughtering the innocent birds goes on.

“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939, pp. 265–66.)

One of the poets stated in this connection:

Take not away the life you cannot give,

For all things have an equal right to live.

—and I might add there also, because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men.

Let us be mindful, every day, of the small and simple ways we can show thanks and gratitude to our Heavenly Father for the countless ways He has beautified our world. One little bird may not seem like much, but as another children’s song tells us, His love for us is indicated by His love for even the smallest bird.

1. God sees the little sparrow fall,
it meets his tender view;
if God so loves the little birds,
I know he loves me too.

Refrain:
He loves me too, he loves me too,
I know loves me too;
because he loves the little things,
I know loves me too.

2. He paints the lily of the field,
perfumes each lily bell;
if he so loves the little flow’rs,
I know he loves me well. [Refrain]

3. God made the little birds and flow’rs,
and all things large and small;
he’ll not forget his little ones,
I know he loves them all. [Refrain]

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My Body is Not a Graveyard

We Latter-Day Saints call The Word of Wisdom ‘A Principle with Promise’. From a theological view, it is simply ‘just’ another covenant much like those found throughout the Old Testament – agreements between God and Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ are a few of the ones that come to mind. Who, for example, can forget the image of rainbow signifying God’s promise to never again flood the earth? A covenant is an if-then scenario whereby if man fulfills his promises, God must fulfill His as well. And so, those of us who choose to follow this Principle expect that God will keep His covenant with us.

In a nutshell, the Word of Wisdom is pretty simple to understand – eat good food and avoid addictive substances. If we do that, we are promised that we will be healthy. That’s really it in a nutshell.

So, what’s so hard about following that, you might ask? Well, The Word of Wisdom is a funny thing. Truly. I know of no any other commandment that we have been given that leaves so much up to each individual to determine for him or herself. We are taught that our understanding of the Gospel is built line upon line, precept by precept, and therefore, a careful examination of the scriptures regarding the Word of Wisdom can lead to further understanding of this wonderful promise.

The Word of Wisdom is divided into three parts. The first proscribes the use of use of alcohol, tobacco, and hot drinks. The second prescribes certain foods as being for the use of man and animals. The third relates the blessings that will come to those who follow these dietary laws.

If one reads the Word of Wisdom literally, it clearly states that we should avoid wine, strong drink, tobacco, and hot drinks. We should consume herbs, flesh sparingly in winter or famine, grain, and fruit of the vine in ground or above ground. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But when we look at each part of it, there is so much that we have to interpret for ourselves.

Avoiding alcohol and tobacco are probably the least contentious, and I would guess that most Latter-Day Saints have no issue with agreeing that we have been told to avoid these two things. Yet, there are LDS who interpret “strong drink” as being *any* alcoholic beverage, while others say it only applies to distilled spirits.

We have been told by prophets that “hot drinks” means specifically tea and coffee. This is actually a hotly debated topic in LDS circles, as some believe it means any tea and any coffee, some believe it is because of the caffeine found in those drinks and therefore do not drink any caffeinated beverages, and some believe it means one should not drink any *hot* drinks. Personally, I don’t drink any caffeinated beverages, as President Hinckley said in a television interview once that he did not drink any caffeinated soda. That was good enough for me. But, in 2004 there were temples where cola products were sold in the vending machines in the cafeteria – I don’t know if they still do or not. Note that it doesn’t say anything in the Word of Wisdom about avoiding illegal drugs… But again, most LDS would tell you that we are supposed to avoid them as well.

These items are what most Latter-Day Saints tend to focus on – the “nots” in the Word of Wisdom, if you will. But there is a whole set of “do’s” that we are supposed to follow as well, sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten Verses”. Sure, most LDS recognize that we should eat healthy food, but if we were to follow the Word of Wisdom strictly we might change our eating habits even more.

Herbs are not only good for you, but they are easy to grow and can help combat disease when used judiciously. They also flavour our food, and can lessen our reliance on salt and pepper as seasonings. When the Word of Wisdom was introduced, salt was not a common staple, and pepper was rare. Herbs, on the other hand, could be gathered from the wild, and many could be easily grown in home gardens.

It’s the final three that I personally find most interesting. I developed a severe health issue a few years ago and it seemed like no matter what I did or how many doctors I saw, it just kept getting worse. My patriarchal blessing cautioned me to follow the Word of Wisdom strictly, and I *thought* I had been doing so… Until I reread these “forgotten verses” which state “flesh sparingly except in winter or famine, grain and fruit of the vine in ground or above ground”. In part because eating flesh literally made me ill, and in part because of what I had read, I became a vegetarian. And anyone who is LDS who reads this will know what I mean when I say that being a vegetarian in this Church is very difficult. Every meal, every potluck, every event seems to be focused around food… And most of it revolves around the meat! If it is not a main dish, like chicken wings or meatballs, it’s in the casseroles, and we LDS love our casseroles! Some LDS eat meat because they like meat and the scriptures say that animals are here for our use; others interpret the bit about winter as a statement against food spoilage and since we now have refrigeration it doesn’t matter; and surprisingly there are others like me who do not eat meat because it’s not winter and we’re not in famine, besides for health reasons. There is even an LDS vegetarian group at BYU!

As I studied, pondered, and prayed about the matter, some things came to my mind:

  • I have pets. I love my pets. I’ve even had pet rabbits. Why would I treat some animals almost as toddlers and think nothing of killing and eating others?
  • The Scriptures tell us that animals are here for our use. Animals can be used as companions, work animals, to provide fertilizer, for dairy and eggs and wool without having to die to do so.
  • Factory farming promotes inhumane practices.
  • People in general are disconnected from their food supply.

As a result, I decided that I would no longer eat any flesh, that I would work towards being able to provide my own dairy products and eggs for my own use, and until then, that I would limit my consumption of mass-produced dairy and eggs. I have since discovered that several LDS prophets and apostles were also vegetarian, as were many of the early Saints.

Bottom line? Like I said first, the Word of Wisdom is left wide open to personal interpretation in many regards. And the funny thing is that anyone who followed any of the above interpretations can honestly and truthfully reply during a temple recommend interview that they do indeed follow the Word of Wisdom.

As such, they have access to the promises found within this scripture:  health in their navel and marrow to their bones;wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint; and that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.

But for me, following the counsel I have been given to follow the Word of Wisdom ‘strictly’, I will not eat flesh. As the young daughter of a friend of mine declared to her friends when they were giving her grief over her choice to be vegetarian like her parents, “My body is not a graveyard.”