Mar 25 2015

Hope Springs Eternal

_DSC8730I am blessed to live just a mile from John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky.  After work today I decided to head that way and take a walk.  It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that spring has definitely arrived in western Kentucky.  Not only were there the proverbial robins hopping around, there were wildflowers everywhere.  I saw Dutchmen’s breeches, toothwort, squirrel corn and bloodroot in bloom.  I also observed Virginia bluebells, trillium and anemones beginning to emerge.  In only a matter of days there will be a wonderful floral display for anyone willing to take even a short walk in the woods.  If I had taken the same walk just a couple of weeks ago I would not have seen the many flowers I did this afternoon.  Winter still held its grip on the landscape.  I may not have been able to see them then but I would have known that they were coming.  Spring wildflowers are as predictable as spring itself.  Even on the most frigid snowy day of winter you know it’s just a matter of weeks before you will begin to see new life emerging from the earth.

_DSC8705Alexander Pope long ago penned the famous line “hope springs eternal.”  Nature has a way of reminding us that things do not remain as they are.  Spring always follows winter.  In fact, it is the hope of spring’s arrival that enables a lot of us to get through the dreary and cold days of winter.  In winter’s darkest hour we know a brighter day is coming.

There is a corresponding truth in the spiritual realm.  Many people experience times in their life that may well be compared to the cold and dark days of winter.  These times can come in any season of the year or in our lives.  We get discouraged or depressed.  We feel lonely and isolated.  Some may begin to lose hope when winter seems to characterize their lives.  But I believe that hope truly does spring eternal, that there is always hope of better days to come. This hope is based purely on my faith in God.

_DSC8718Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  When it’s winter in our lives, just like when it’s winter in nature, we have the assurance that spring will come.  My faith leads me to believe that with God in the picture there is always a better day to come.  I am certainly not naïve; I realize that here on earth that the “better day” we desire does not always arrive.  Still I am “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  I believe that this life is not all that there is and that there is a far better day waiting for us on the other side of death’s door.  One way or another a better day is coming!

I think I now understand why God arranged for Easter to take place in spring…

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above at John James Audubon State Park this afternoon.)


Mar 18 2015

The Show Must Go On!

_DSC8615I have spent the past few days photographing the wonders of God’s Creation found in southern Florida.   Most of my time was spent in Everglades National Park. It has been a truly marvelous experience.   Each day we were treated to some incredible sights and sounds. We saw a baby barred owl feeding on a snake its mother had brought it. Twice we watched a male osprey bring a fish into the nest for its three chicks. Each day we observed numerous species of birds gather together in a small pool of water to feed. Everyday there were also alligators gliding smoothly through the water and three times we got to observe the once threatened American crocodile. Throughout the Everglades we saw beautiful wildflowers. We passed along the road dwarf cypress trees that despite their diminutive size were over a hundred years old. And then there were all the sounds of nature to delight the ears—bird song, alligators bellowing, the wind blowing through the river of grass.

_DSC8586The Florida Everglades is a unique and wonderful place. It may not receive the visitation that many of the more popular national parks do but it truly is one of America’s great natural treasures. The sad thing is that it is also America’s most endangered national park. Only a small fraction of the original Everglades still exists. Southern Florida is a heavily developed and populated area. This has not just reduced the size of the Everglades but disrupted the flow of water that its life depends on. Thankfully, there have been and continue to be many conservationists who are committed to protecting and preserving what is left of the Everglades.

After spending almost a week in the Everglades I just cannot imagine our planet without such a place. The Everglades is a showcase for many of God’s wonderful creatures. It is a place where the story of Creation continues and the beauty of God is made manifest.

_CES2407I told the friend I’m traveling with yesterday that it seemed like nature was putting on a show for us each day. If you can call God’s Creation a show then I insist the show must go on. We truly do need to do everything we can to preserve places like the Everglades. I honestly believe we have a divine calling to do so. Christians have for centuries emphasized the importance of the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. I agree that reaching others with the good news of God’s love is critical but I also believe that we have not paid nearly enough attention to what I like to call “the other Great Commission.” In Genesis 2:15 we read, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” This, too, is our commission. This, too, is our task.

_CES2205In the story of Creation, just as in the stories found in the Scriptures, God’s love and beauty are revealed. They are made known in the many “shows” nature puts on for us daily. If we do not take more seriously the “other Great Commission” then many of these marvelous and exquisite shows will cease to be played. We can’t let that happen. The show MUST go on!

–Chuck


Mar 11 2015

“Red and Yellow, Black and White”

_DSC6432Two songs stand out in my memory from my childhood years growing up in church.  The earliest song I remember hearing is “Jesus Loves Me.”  The second song I remember is “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  Both songs spoke to me of Christ’s love for me but the second song indicated that Jesus loves all the children of the word, not just me.  It said “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”  These songs became foundational for my understanding of Jesus.  He was someone who loved me and someone who loved everyone else too.  It didn’t even matter what color skin they had; Jesus loved everybody.

_DSC6428I learned these songs and sang them in the late 1950s and early 60s.  What I saw and heard growing up during this time did not, however, always match the message of these songs.  I heard a lot of grownups refer to Black people in words that were not kind at all.  I also remember hearing Asian Americans referred to in a derogatory manner.  Even as a child it disturbed me to hear such talk.  It didn’t match the theology that had been instilled within me by the songs I had learned.  God loved everyone.  It seemed cruel to call those different than us ugly names.  A lot of years have passed since that time and in some ways there has been a lot of change but two things have not changed.  One is my strong conviction that Jesus does, in fact, love me and everyone else.  The other is the unease that arises within me when I hear people call individuals of other ethnic groups cruel names.  I believe it is wrong to do so and that there is no excuse for degrading others solely because they are different from us.

Because of these two strong convictions I have been greatly disturbed by many of the events being reported on in the news the past few days.  What the young men in the fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were recorded chanting is heartbreaking.    Things said by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, were likewise hard to stomach.  Unfortunately, I know all too well that these were not isolated incidents.  Such cruel language is directed daily by small minded people at any number of groups.  I just don’t understand why.

_DSC6433This morning when I was leaving my office I happened to notice a sycamore tree directly in front of my car.  Since I park in the same spot everyday I’m not sure why I hadn’t noticed this tree before but the truth is I had paid it no attention.  Today, however, I noticed the beautiful colors and patterns on the bark of this tree.  It was fascinating to see the great variety of colors that was produced on a single tree.  I made a mental note to come back later in the day and photograph the bark.

As I drove off it occurred to me that sycamore tree is a reminder that God delights in color.  That thought led me to consider how wonderful it was that one single tree could have so many different colors.  It was, in fact, the many colors that made the tree so beautiful.  This thought then made me ponder that God could have made the human race all look the same but chose not to and that we are actually much more beautiful because God decided instead to make us different colors and different in other ways too.  I truly am thankful that God did not make us all look or be the same.

_DSC6425The author of Genesis 2:27 says “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Here is another foundational truth for me.  I believe every single person has infinite value simply because he or she is created in the image of God.  I do not believe there are any exceptions.  No matter the color of one’s skin, one’s nationality, one’s religion or one’s sexual orientation, everyone carries within them the image of God and because they do they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.  Both the songs I learned as a child and the Scriptures I have spent my entire life studying lead me to believe that Jesus truly does love each and every one of us.  They also lead me to believe that there is no place for referring to those Jesus loves in a derogatory manner.

There is much I see and hear that convinces me that we have not come nearly as far in the past fifty years as we’d like to believe.  Still, I hold on to the hope that things can get better.  I certainly pray that they will.

–Chuck

 


Mar 4 2015

Reading Scripture Visually

Psalm 1A few months ago my pictures began to be used to illustrate prayers by John Philip Newell on his Facebook page.  The person who puts the images and prayers together does a fantastic job.  There is always something about the image that corresponds to the prayer.  I always look forward to seeing which image is chosen.

Psalm 21Getting to see my photographic work appear with Newell’s prayers inspired me to begin working on a new project.  In January I was invited to participate in a peer group of ministers from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky.  We began by spending three days together at St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana.  We will continue to meet together once a month for the next year to year and a half.  Prior to leaving St. Meinrad we committed ourselves to reading through the Book of Psalms together.  We then established a Facebook page for our group and everyone was invited to share reflections on the various psalms we read each day.

Psalm 31On the first day we read Psalm 1.  Verse 3  of this psalm says the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on that law “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.”  When I read this I immediately thought of an image I took several years ago of a tree situated right next to a stream of water.  I located the file of the image and posted it on our Facebook page, along with the verse.  When we moved to Psalm 2 the next day I had another image come to mind so I did the same thing.  A number of weeks later I’m still doing the same thing each day.  I decided it would be a good discipline to examine each day’s psalm and try to connect it to one of the images of Creation I have captured over the years.  Some of the psalms are easy to find images for, others not so much.

I have found that reading the Psalms while searching for pictures to illustrate a verse or two is both challenging and helpful.  It forces me to look at the scriptures in a new way—visually.  I am convinced that reading the scriptures this way can help one find new meaning in the Bible.  It is something anyone can do; you certainly don’t have to be a photographer to approach the Bible this way.  Just use your imagination when you read the scriptures and see where it takes you.  Try to visualize what you are reading.  Perhaps ask yourself what type of image you would use to illustrate what you are reading.

Psalm 11The Book of Psalms is probably the easiest book in the Bible to take this approach but it will work with any book or passage from scripture.  I encourage you to give reading the Bible visually a try.  See if it doesn’t help you and open new doors of understanding for you.  “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

–Chuck

(I used the first image to illustrate Psalm 1:3, the second image for Psalm 21:13, the third image for Psalm 31:3, and the fourth image for Psalm 11:1.)


Feb 26 2015

“Show Me Your Glory”

e_CES0556In the Book of Exodus there is an interesting exchange between Moses and God recorded in chapter 33.  Moses seems to be pretty frustrated and asks God a series of questions.  It’s obvious that Moses needed some reassurance from God and eventually asked God to show him His glory (v. 18).  God agrees to do so but tells Moses that he will only be allowed to see His back side, not His face.  God placed Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand until He had passed by.  God then removed His hand and showed him His back.

_DSC6935There is a very fascinating passage in John Muir’s journals where he takes Moses to task for requesting to see God’s glory.  Muir writes: “Perhaps I do not understand the request of Moses, ‘Show me your glory,’ but if he were here I would like to take him to one of my Twenty-Hill Hollow observatories, and after allowing him time to drink the glories of flower, mountain, and sky I would ask him how they compared with those of the Valley of the Nile and of Mount Pisgah, and then I would inquire how he had the conscience to ask for more glory when such oceans and atmospheres were about him.  King David was a better observer: ‘The whole earth is full of thy glory.’”

I’m not about to fault Moses for asking to see God’s glory but I see Muir’s point and feel it is valid one.  There are times when we feel the need for God to reveal Himself and our hope is that this revelation will take the form of something spectacular.  Like Moses we may even ask for more than we can handle.  I understand the desire to see God’s glory but what Muir has admirably pointed out to us is the fact that God’s glory is always on display all around us.

_DSC1246God’s glory is revealed numerous ways and one of the most accessible places we may experience this glory is in nature.  In nature the Creator’s glory is on full display.  In another passage from John Muir’s journals he says “No wilderness in the world is so desolate as to be without divine ministers.  God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore.  And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.”  For those with eyes to see God’s glory can be seen each and every day.  In nature itself one can experience God’s love wherever he or she happens to be.  King David was right; “the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

Many of us miss seeing God’s glory because we’re waiting for that spectacular display such as Moses experienced in the cleft of the rock.  God rarely makes Himself known this way.  If this type revelation is the only kind that will satisfy us we will likely be disappointed.  I encourage you to open your eyes wide enough to see God’s glory in His Creation.  If you will, I think you will discover that it is quite satisfactory.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Cedar Breaks National Monument, the middle image at Great Basin National Park, and the bottom image at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.)


Feb 18 2015

Do What You Can

_DSC5707We got our first significant snow of winter a couple of days ago. I know a lot of people don’t like snow and the cold weather that comes with it but I do. I love the look nature takes on after being blanketed with snow. I love the quiet it brings and the way it causes everything to slow down a bit. I also love the way it draws birds to my bird feeder. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the variety of birds that have made their way to my yard. I’ve seen lots of cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, titmice, juncos, finches, sparrows and other species vie for a spot at the feeders. The birds seem to go into survival mode when a deep snow falls and this makes it much easier to photograph them. They are far more concerned with getting something to eat than they are with me taking their picture. As a result I’ve gotten what I think are some wonderful images of the birds.

_DSC5431I will confess that one of the reasons I feed the birds is so I can photograph them. I’ve actually sold a number of images taken at home to magazines.  Still, I would feed them, especially in winter, even if I was not a photographer. I would do so because they are both beautiful and fun to watch, and also because I feel that by doing so I can be a good steward of Creation. Many birds would have trouble surviving in winter if people did not feed and provide water for them. Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” From the beginning it has been the responsibility of those created in the image of God to care for the earth and the creatures that inhabit it. I realize that feeding the birds is only a small part of Creation Care but it is a part nonetheless.

_DSC5598Many of the environmental problems we are facing today seem huge and almost insurmountable. Climate change, destruction of the earth’s remaining rainforests, the extinction of both plant and animal species, pollution of the air and our streams, rivers and lakes–all these are problems so big it seems like there is very little that we, as individuals, can do about them. Our role here is more secondary, encouraging those in power to make wiser choices, but there are some things we can all do on a local level that makes a difference. Some of them are as simple as feeding the birds, planting native species, and creating brush piles in your yard. Other simple ways we can help make a difference include recycling, reusing items, lowering the thermostat in winter and raising it in summer, keeping our vehicles’ tires properly inflated, and driving less.

There is no shortage of ways we can be good stewards of God’s Creation. The important thing is not to worry about what we cannot do but to focus on what we can. Working alone and with others in our community we can make a difference.   For God’s sake, our own, that of our neighbors (both human and wildlife) and the planet itself, let’s do all we can to fulfill our divine calling to take care of the earth.

–Chuck

(I took the bird images used today over the last couple of days at my home in Henderson, KY.)