Jun 26 2015

Horrible News!

_DSC7790There’s been a lot in the news today.  Actually, I guess that’s a bit of an understatement.  There have been a lot of important stories for people to read, watch or listen to.  One story I read this morning on USA Today’s website greatly concerns me.  With all the other events of the day it is now basically hidden and that makes me wonder how many saw it.  The article I am referring to is called “Sixth Mass Extinction?” and gives some horrifying statistics from a recent report concerning the extinction of species.

Psalm 69The study, which first appeared in Science Advances last week, claims “Our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.”  The study concluded that even with conservative statistics, recent extinction rates are unprecedented in the history of mankind.  Some of the statistics are almost unfathomable.  According to the report we are currently losing mammal species 20 to 100 times the rate of the past.  Since 1900 sixty-nine mammal species have gone extinct, along with 400 other invertebrates. The report also claims that since 1970 we’ve lost 52% of the Earth’s bird, mammal, fish, reptile and amphibian population.

The last mass extinction, the 5th one, included the disappearance of the dinosaurs.  Scientists have long pondered the cause of this mass extinction.  I’ve heard answers like a meteor hitting the earth and climate change given for that mass extinction.  But what is the cause of the current one?  According to the study, we are.  The USA Today article says “At current rates of consumption and emissions, 1 1/2 Earths would be required to meet humanity’s demands on nature each year. Those demands include renewable resources like food, fuel, land and ‘forests we need to absorb our carbon emissions.’”  The report cited goes on to say, “For more than 40 years, humanity’s demand has exceeded the planet’s biocapacity — the amount of biologically productive land and sea area that is available to regenerate these resources.”

_DSC6659If the statistics and information in this report are accurate this is truly disturbing news.  A natural catastrophe of epic proportions is in the works, one due largely to our poor stewardship of the earth.  I realize that there are many people who won’t care that so many species created by God are disappearing at a rapid rate.  Unfortunately, it seems many humans are only concerned about their own survival.  I’d like to think that the biblical story of Noah is a reminder to us that God cares about all creatures.  I also believe that God’s declaring all the animals He made to be good in Genesis 1 is another such reminder.  In my mind the needless elimination of any species is a great sin on our part.

A couple of days ago I spent a good bit of time wandering the halls of the Chicago Institute of Art.  I was overwhelmed by the vast collection of art work assembled there.  So many of the pieces on display are priceless.  I wonder what the response would be if 52% of this collection disappeared over the next forty years.  Would that be viewed as something insignificant?  Or would it be viewed as a national tragedy? I would like to think the answer would be the latter.

Psalm 104All of us should be very concerned about the ever increasing loss of species on earth.  We have a moral and spiritual obligation to do something about it.  Not only should we support efforts to save various endangered species, we must also look at our own lifestyles and see if there are not steps that need to be taken to lessen our demand on the earth’s resources.  We simply cannot continue to move in the direction we’ve been heading and not expect there to be dire consequences not only for a long list of endangered creatures but for ourselves as well.

I have a strong feeling that the USA Today report will get lost in the shuffle of all the other important news from today.   Hopefully, however, it will not be lost for long.  This is something that demands our attention and the sooner the better.

–Chuck

(For today’s entry I have chosen wildlife images I have taken of animals that either have been or continue to be on the endangered species list–bald eagle,  sea otter, American crocodile, and Stellar sea lions.)


Jun 19 2015

A Positive Outcome?

_DSC3043Pope Francis has certainly been getting a lot of attention the past few days.  His encyclical on climate change and the environment has been praised by some and scorned by others.  I have not read the entire encyclical but from the excerpts I’ve seen I am very impressed with what he has done here.  He has taken on both climate deniers and believers who are indifferent toward environmental issues indicating that we cannot afford to ignore what is happening to planet Earth.

Pope Francis notes that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”  Who can deny that we have dirtied the planet in more ways than one?  Water and air pollution remain prevalent problems in many places on the earth.  The garbage we produce each day is staggering and the disposal of it is a current problem but will become an even greater one in the future.

_DSC3047The papal encyclical addresses global warming, species extinction and, not surprisingly for this pope, the effect environmental issues have on the poor.  Pope Francis believes we have a moral and spiritual duty to do what we can to care for the earth.  He stresses that we owe it not just to God and to ourselves but to future generations as well.  One of the quotes from the encyclical that is getting a lot of attention says “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.”

Pope Francis’ concern for the destruction of the earth is influenced by his belief that God is present in the Creation and makes Himself known through it.  He seems to have learned much from his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who praised God for “brother sun” and “sister moon.”  Pope Francis writes, “There is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.”  He adds to this, “Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”

_DSC3317Sadly, a number of politicians and religious leaders feel Pope Francis should “stick to theology” and leave matters pertaining to the environment to scientists.  Ironically, the pope has a master’s degree in chemistry, but even if he didn’t the care of the earth is very much a part of theology.  I suspect the concern expressed by the pope’s critics has more to do with economic repercussions to his stance on the environment than anything else.  I fear many of these people bow to the gods of money and power rather than to the God of Creation whom the pope serves.

_DSC2487In his encyclical Pope Francis challenges us to “recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”  I hope and pray that we will all take this challenge seriously.  Elsewhere he writes “We believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome.”  In these two passages I see the pope calling believers to both prayer and action.  Yes, we should all pray for “a positive outcome” to the crisis we find ourselves in but we must also follow God’s guidance and take the steps necessary to ensure that there will be a positive outcome both for us and for those who will follow in our steps.  This Protestant pastor hopes that Christians from all faith traditions will take seriously the message of Pope Francis.  I cannot help but believe that the future of the earth depends upon it.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown above are some I’ve taken recently at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area and Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge.)


Jun 10 2015

Contiguous and Complementary

_DSC1562I try not to go too long between posts without including one that reminds everyone that God has blessed us with two wonderful books through which we can get to know our Creator and Lord.  One is the Bible; the other is Creation.  Most believers take seriously the call to read and study the Scriptures.  I’m not so sure that many believers seriously study nature as God’s “other Book.”

_DSC0838In 1994 Philip Keller wrote a delightful book called Outdoor Moments With God.  I highly recommend it to you.  In the introduction to this work Keller addresses the question “Why this book?”  I’d like to share his answer with you.  He writes: “The simple answer to that blunt question is that often, often outdoors, flashes of inspiration come with brilliant illumination in a matter of moments.  Suddenly, swiftly, clear spiritual perception of profound truth sweeps into my own spirit like an artist’s painting in vivid colors.  The impression comes in an instant but endures forever.  These moving outdoor moments stir my spirit.  They parallel the parables Christ used to convey truth.  They are lessons learned from the realm of nature.  In actual fact our Father, through the creative work of Christ and by the agency of His Spirit, has produced two remarkable books.  One is His Word, articulated in human language we can comprehend.  The other is His creation, the remarkable and lovely natural realm around us which can be read clearly.  Because He is the genius behind both books, the Creator and the originator of both the natural and the supernatural revelations, the principles which apply in the one also function in the other. The two realms are contiguous, and they are complementary.”

_DSC2099Keller helps us understand the relationship between the two divine books–Scripture and Creation–when he refers to them as being “contiguous” and “complementary.”  My dictionary defines contiguous as “sharing an edge or boundary.”  It defines complementary as “serving to fill out or complete.”  I think what makes the two books contiguous is that they share a common author.   In both we find God’s self-revelation.  The two books are also complementary; Scripture helps us better understand Creation and Creation has a way of illuminating the Scriptures as well.

_DSC2170bI am extremely grateful for both of the books God has given us.  Both have richly blessed my life.  I know that there are some Christians who feel uncomfortable looking at nature or Creation as a divine book but the apostle Paul seemed to understand this.  In Romans 1:20 he wrote “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”   Long before Paul the Psalmist insisted that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (19:1)  I am convinced that we will miss much that God is trying to tell us if we ignore either of the two divine books.  Are you taking time to read both?  I hope so.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on my trip to Colorado last month.)


Jun 3 2015

Clean or Unclean?

_DSC9313We all know what they say about opinions.  Yes, everyone has one but does everyone’s opinion count the same?  I don’t think so.  Some people’s opinion counts for more because of the position they hold or due to their knowledge of the subject.  If I attended a symphony and was accompanied by a classically trained musician I can assure you that my opinion on the performance would not matter or count as much as that of the person who could fully understand and appreciate all that goes into a symphonic production.  Now if you asked me to comment on Nikon cameras and also asked someone who had never taken a picture with one, I’d like to think that my opinion would count for more; I’ve been using Nikon equipment for nearly 30 years.

_DSC3016In the Book of Acts Luke records a fascinating vision that the apostle Peter once had.  In the vision Peter saw something like a sheet lowered from the sky.  Within that sheet were “all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.”  Once Peter caught a glimpse of this collection of animals he heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”  Because Peter had been taught his whole life that certain animals were unclean and eating them was forbidden, he refused to do what he had been instructed.  Because he refused Peter was reprimanded by his heavenly visitor and told “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)  We are told that the command to kill and eat was given three times and that all three times Peter refused to do what he was told.

To make a long story short, the meaning of Peter’s vision finally sank in.  God was telling Peter that he should no longer think of certain animals as clean or unclean.  The kosher laws were being done away with.  This was important at this time because the gospel was starting to spread to those who were not Jews.  If the kosher laws remained there could be no table fellowship between the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles.

_CES2500Furthermore, God was telling Peter that he should no longer think of certain people as being clean or unclean.  In Jewish life there were many people or groups that were not considered clean and thus were to be avoided.  At the time of Peter’s vision he was about to be summoned to the home of a Gentile, the Roman centurion, Cornelius.  Ordinarily Peter would not enter a Gentile’s home but his recent vision made him rethink the whole matter.  When he got to Cornelius’ house he told those gathered there, “God has shown me that I should not call any person impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)  This new revelation opened the door for the gospel to move beyond the confines of Judaism.  Peter went on to say “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from all nations who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)

As I reflect upon Peter’s experience I come to two important conclusions.  First, whether we like it or not, all the animals God made should be viewed as good or clean.  Just because we don’t like spiders or snakes (or whatever other creature you want to name) does not mean that they are not good or do not have value.  Here our opinion really doesn’t matter.  The only one whose opinion counts is the person who made those creatures and God has already declared them good.  We should join God in recognizing the goodness and value in all creatures.

_DSC7009Second, I find in Peter’s vision a much needed reminder that we have no right to declare that another person is unclean or not valuable (this seems to be the primary truth God was trying to get through to Peter).  Once again, our opinion about some other person’s race, sexual orientation, economic status or intelligence doesn’t matter.  The only one whose opinion matters is the one who created them and, here too, God has already made it clear that all humans are extremely valuable and even worth dying for.  Some of us need to hear the voice Peter heard long ago saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Some biblical scholars are amazed at how much attention and space is given to the story of Peter and Cornelius in the Book of Acts.  My guess is Luke recognized the importance of the lessons to be learned here and wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss it.  Thanks, Luke!

–Chuck

(I took the squirrel picture at New Harmony, IN; the indigo bunting at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A.; the deer in the Florida Keys, and the alligator at Everglades National Park.)


May 28 2015

Carrie Newcomer and the Titmouse

_DSC9779In last week’s post I talked about the sanctity of all life and reflected on some wonderful quotations from the writings of John Muir.  Having done so I want to say that it is one thing to affirm the sanctity of all life; it is another thing to put this affirmation into practice.

Recently I was introduced to the music of folk singer Carrie Newcomer.  I was given one of her CDs for my birthday in April and really liked what I heard.  A couple of weeks ago it just so happened that Carrie was present at a conference I was attending in Denver and did a concert for the group.  I thoroughly enjoyed her performance and was impressed not only with Carrie’s beautiful voice but with the way she crafted the words in the lyrics of her songs.  When I discovered she had also published a book of her poetry and essays I knew that I had to get it.

_DSC5430The title of Carrie’s book is A Permeable Life.  One of the poems included in this volume is called Titmouse and in my estimation puts flesh on what it means to affirm the sanctity of all life.  “On the bitter winter ground I found a small grey titmouse with a broken wing.  As I stopped to consider how I might help her, it became apparent that something else was also broken inside her, and that she was dying.  It is the way of the world, one animal will eat another animal, and all animals, (including the human kind), eventually go back into the earth.  And yet I could not leave her there, to die alone in the snow.  I cradled her in my mittened hands and warmed her with my breath, trying to make her as comfortable as possible.  I hummed to her and breathed a silent prayer to the god of snow and spring and small birds.  After a while, her eyes drifted closed.  She did not struggle or appear afraid.  She was beyond that now, she was just infinitely tired and wise, in the way that things approaching a great mystery are often wise.”

I am deeply touched by the way Carrie was moved with such compassion that she felt compelled to “not leave her there, to die alone in the snow” and how she went on to seek to warm the little creature, to hum to her and pray for her as well.  Carrie’s actions make me recall Jesus’ words found in Matthew 10:29—“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”

_DSC0353There is plenty of evidence in the Scriptures to reveal that God does, in fact, care for all of His creatures.  If God cares for them all then so should we.  How might we actually care for them?  I can think of a lot of ways but I do believe that when I hear that question raised in the future I will think of a certain poem by Carrie Newcomer.

–Chuck

(I photographed the titmouse, goldfinch and killdeer chick all in Henderson, Kentucky.)


May 21 2015

John Muir and the Sanctity of All Life

_DSC1296Last week when I was flying to Denver I spent some time reading a wonderful book called The Contemplative John Muir.  It is a collection of quotations from the great conservationist that reveal the spiritual side of Muir.  One of the things I quickly noticed was that long before there was an animal rights movement John Muir was affirming the importance and value of all creatures as part of God’s Creation.  At one point he wrote: “Godlike sympathy grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless doctrine is taught that animals have neither mind nor soul, have no rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for man, to be petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.”  Muir believed that all creatures had worth, and thereby rights, simply because they were made by the Creator and I fully agree with him.

_DSC0799Muir, however, did not believe that it was just animals that had worth.  In his view all of Creation had great value because, once again, it was created by God.  It bothered him that things like lichen were considered “a low form of life.”  He said all forms, “high and low, are simply portions of God radiated from Him as a sun, and made terrestrial by the clothes they wear, and by the modifications of a corresponding kind in the God essence itself.”  Muir went on to say, “Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are people.  We all flow from one fountain Soul.  All are expressions of one Love.  God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating and fountainising all.  The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.”

_DSC7992Muir says concerning the typical human way of seeing things, “How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies!  How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!  With what dismal irreverence we speak of our fellow mortals!  Though alligators, snakes, etc., naturally repel us, they are not mysterious evils.  They dwell happily in these flowery wilds, are part of God’s family, unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC1958I realize that not everyone will concur with Muir’s sentiments but I do believe that his way of thinking is theologically sound and that if followed would lead to a much more respectful approach to all that God has made.  Such an approach is desperately needed at this particular time.   The world needs a more life-affirming view of the Creation.  In many ways the preservation of the world is dependent on our developing a greater respect for all forms of life.  The preservation of humankind may also be dependent on this.  Albert Schweitzer once said, “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” 

I hope that we can begin to move toward a view of the sanctity of all life on earth and that this view will lead us to be better stewards of God’s Creation and a kinder species as well.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Colorado National Monument, the second one at Rifle Falls in Colorado, the third one at Everglades NP, and the final one at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP in Colorado.)