Of Robins, Wrens, and Monuments in AD2015

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.  (Matthew 6:20)

As the year of our Lord 2014 closed, all too quickly it seemed, I thought about what was done in those dozen months of busy-ness.  What do we have to show for our journey through those pages of the AD2014 calendar?   Was that year worth our time on Earth?  Was that year one of fruitful service to our Lord?  What good achievements, what valuable accomplishments, what worthwhile “monuments” are left in our wake, as we sail ahead into the year of our Lord 2015?

Thinking about these questions reminded me of robins and wrens, for reasons that follow.

But before exploring why earthly achievements (and “monuments”) remind me of wrens and robins, some attention to those birds is appropriate.

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) by Robert Scanlon

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) by Robert Scanlon


The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) is the unofficial bird of the United Kingdom.  English settlers, seeing what we call the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), were reminded (perhaps nostalgically) of the European Robin, which is also a thrush-like brown-and-grey-backed bird with orange breast coloring. The American Robin is larger, and its coloring is less intense, but it is not hard to understand why the English settlers were reminded of the European Robin they knew from their native land.

The American Robin, as its scientific name denotes, is known for seasonal migration  — its range covers most of America, plus parts of Canada and Mexico, with moderate climate regions hosting robins year-round.  [See Donald Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume 1 (Little Brown & Co., 1979), page 221; see also Roger Tory Peterson, Eastern Birds (Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin, 1980), pages 220-221 & range map M267.]

Robin Eating by Jim Fenton

Robin Eating by Jim Fenton

American Robins walk about with erect heads, sporting large dark eyes (with white eye-rings, if you look closely).  Like other thrushes, American Robin juveniles have spotted breast coloring.   The American Robin adult females have dull orange breast coloring, and dull brown backs, in contrast to the brighter almost brick-red breast coloring and darker brown backs of the adult males.  Robins love to eat berries in winter.

European Robin juveniles, like their American counterparts, have spotted buff-colored bellies.  Males and females look alike, unlike their Yankee cousins. These birds are known for hopping along the ground, with drooped wings, often pausing upright and alerted.  Common year-round residents in the British Isles, these robins have a year-round range that includes most of Western Europe, except most of Norway and Sweden host them only during the mild months of summer.  [See Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, Birds of Britian and North-West Europe (Yale University Press, 1998), page 207.]  Imagine how honored some European Robins must be, to visit and entertain Laird Bill Cooper (a noble birdwatcher in England, renowned for his godly scholarship as a Biblical creationist) and his family!  Even birds can be granted great privileges during their little avian lifespans!

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) by Quy Tran

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) by Quy Tran


Wrens are famous as small, short, energetic birds with slightly decurved bills and tilted-up tails.  The tail is routinely cocked almost upright, as if flying a flag.  Wren tails often are brown with black parallel stripes, with brown backs and wings, and white or ivory bellies.  When not flying, here or there, wrens hop, creep, climb, and scurry.  Examples of familiar wrens,  often sighted by birders, include Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris), Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis), Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes – common also in the British Isles and Western Europe), etc.  [See Roger Tory Peterson, Eastern Birds (Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin, 1980), pages 214-215 & range maps M254 through M259.]

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) by Ray

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) by Ray

One popular wren, known for its warbling song, is the House Wren (Troglodytes aedon).  Males try to attract females, vibrating their wings and singing with a squeaky high-pitched voice when a prospective mate approaches the male’s nest site. If she adds a lining of soft grass to a male’s nest, that means “yes”.  Soon the female will be incubating eggs as her mate brings food to her.  Often two broods will be hatched and fledged during the spring-to-autumn months.  [See Donald Stokes, A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume 1 (Little Brown & Co. 1979), pages 175-176.]

Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) by Daves BirdingPix

Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) by Daves BirdingPix

Years ago a Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) built a nest inside a decorative wreath, a wreath that my wife hung on our Texas home’s front door.  When we walked out our front door the nervous mother wren would flutter and fly away, as we tried to gently shut the door so that the nest was not unnecessarily jostled.  The mother wren would quickly return, satisfied that we were not bothering her nest’s nestlings.  Baby wrens were hatched and fledged from the wreath on our front door!  This arrangement worked nicely, for us and for the wren family, for weeks if not months.  But one day Mama Wren got confused, as someone opened the door – she flew into the house – and then panicked as she tried to discern how to undo what she had done!  Eventually we coached her out – she never tried that again!

Obviously robins and wrens are delightful birds.  But now, robins remind me of “Christopher Robin”.

Christopher Robin ©WikiC

Christopher Robin ©WikiC


Many children know about Winnie the Pooh (originally written Winnie-the-Pooh), a fictional bear cub who acts a lot like a human child.  (The original “Winnie” was a real bear that A. A. Milne saw at the London Zoo.)  Pooh’s imaginary adventures have amused children of many generations  —  what fun it is to romp about on a “blustery day”!  Winnie the Pooh’s adventures (“Winnie-the-Pooh”, “The House at Pooh Corner”, etc.) began in newspaper serials, and later books, authored by Alan Alexander Milne (and illustrated by Ernest  Howard Shepard).  Later, the adventures of Pooh and his friends (Eeyore, Christopher Robin, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl, etc.), and later were dramatized by animated cartoon movies.  Pooh’s literary creator, A. A. Milne, had a son named Christopher Robin Milne, obviously the source of Mr. Milne’s concept for the Christopher Robin” who appears as Pooh’s friend and co-adventurer in the Pooh book series.  The Milne family life was an ongoing tragedy, apparently, and the available evidence points to a pessimistic eternal destiny for Christopher Robin (Milne), “and probably also for his father, author A. A. Milne (who despised the Old Testament  –  see John 5:45-47).

Harry Colebourne and Winnie 1914 ©WikiC

Harry Colebourne and Winnie 1914 ©WikiC

Winnie the Pooh has made millions of dollars for several individuals and businesses, but what lasting value is that, by itself?  It is inferior to treasures laid up in Heaven, which neither corrupt nor disappear to human thievery.  Childhood memories – and gentle stories for toddlers — are valuable, of course, but how much more precious are experiences and deeds that honor the Lord, which become “gold, silver, and precious stones” in eternity.


The name “Christopher Robin” reminds me of a similar name, featuring a different bird:  Christopher Wren.  Sir Christopher Wren was an expert in engineering science, a science professor and (better known as) the leading architect of his generation.  Wren was the architect responsible for building dozens of English churches after London’s Great Fire (of AD1666), including St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as England’s Royal Observatory, the Wren Library at Cambridge’s Trinity College, Chelsea Hospital, Windsor Castle’s reconstructed state room, works at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, Cambridge’s Pembroke College’s chapel, etc.

But the crowning architectural achievement of Christopher Wren, from 300+ years ago, is the Anglican church titled St. Paul’s Cathedral, which rests atop Ludgate Hill, the highest part of London – at a site said to have hosted an earlier church building (named for the apostle Paul) founded around AD604, — ironically, by an invader/activist named Augustine of Canterbury (who is infamous for persecuting the British Celtic Church to the point of orchestrating slaughter of their presbyters at Bangor).

St. Paul's Cathedral At Night ©WikiC

St. Paul’s Cathedral At Night ©WikiC

Christopher Wren’s greatest earthly memorial, of course, is St. Paul’s Cathedral itself, which includes a Latin inscription upon the black marble beneath its central dome, that translates to English as:

Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.  Died 25 Feb. 1723, age 90.

St Paul's Cathedral Dome Interior ©WikiC

St Paul’s Cathedral Dome Interior ©WikiC

The Latin inscription was composed by Christopher Wren, Jr., his son.  Thus his greatest professional accomplishment, the grandiose design and successful construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral, became Christopher Wren’s gargantuan “monument”, more dignified than any cemetery gravestone.

But what kind of achievements will constitute the “monuments” of our earthly lives?  Will our deeds, done last year, stand the test of time and eternity, as deeds of faith like those reported in Hebrews chapter 11, the “Hall of Faith”?

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.  (Matthew 6:20)

Last year, good or bad, is behind us  –  so it is this new year that we must try (under God’s good grace) to be worthy stewards of, so that each day becomes another “monument” of gratitude and testimony to our great God and Savior.  How we use this new year will be a “monument” to what we really value.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  (Matthew 6:21)

By James J. S. Johnson



James J. S. Johnson


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