One day last week, I looked out the back door of our house and saw a bright green hummingbird hovering and darting around the pair of pots filled with columnar cacti pictured above. Since the cacti aren’t flowering, I couldn’t figure out what the hummingbird was doing there. As I watched, I remembered that sometimes spiders have spun webs between those cacti columns. That led me to realize that the hummingbird was stealing bugs from the spiderweb.

Hummingbirds are bright, flashy, and pretty creatures. We tend to love them, and love photographing them, but that’s probably because they are so much smaller than we are. To anything their size or smaller, though, they can be a menace. Over the decades, I’ve seen dozens of hummingbird bullies, chasing others away from a feeder when there’s clearly enough nectar to share. The chittering sound they make when fighting is probably something I’ll recognize for the rest of my life because I’ve heard it so often.

The hummingbird is not afraid to take something because it can. It will drain every flower on the bush if it can, so why not take every bug in a spider’s web? They probably don’t even understand the concept of stealing.

I’ve witnessed a lot of humans who take what they want too. Some of them don’t seem to understand the concept of stealing either. This leads me to imagine that it’s human nature—but we Christians seem to think we can overcome this tendency and live in harmony with each other.

I know such harmonious behavior is possible in nature because I’ve seen images of hummingbirds sharing feeders without driving others away. But that’s not the reality for many of us. No matter how equitably we think we arrange matters in our society, some will take advantage of others’ labor, just as the hummingbird did with the spider’s web. To them, the fact that they can take that power or product is enough to make it right.

But what do the spiders think? They have less power. They can’t fight a hummingbird who zooms in and out faster than they can see, stealing an entire night’s catch and destroying the web in the process. Fight and flight (at least literally) are both impossible, so they are left to freeze…and perhaps starve.

This reflection has given me a fresh window into the power-differential aspect of the African American experience in this country, both before and after slavery was officially abolished. It has also helped me understand the plight of so many generations of women whose unacknowledged labor in the home was taken for granted over decades and centuries.

What do my hummingbird and spider ponderings bring up for you?

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