Jun 28 2019

Extinction Is Forever

It seems like every other day I come across another discouraging report concerning the environment.  Recently I read about an assessment made by an United Nations study.  It indicated that “humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as 1 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival.”  According to Brad Plumer, “in most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20% or more, mainly over the past century.  With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate ‘unprecedented in human history.’  At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.”

The United Nations report should be a wake-up call for all of us.  Humans are accelerating the rate of extinction by rates unseen before.  This will ultimately affect all of us.  I happen to believe that people of faith should be particularly concerned about this trend.  The Creation story in the Bible affirms the goodness of all that God made. Genesis 1:31 says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  There is a divine reason for the existence of every plant or animal.  All play an important role in the web of life.  In First Corinthian 12 the apostle Paul makes a case that the church is like a human body.  He says all the parts have a role to play; all the parts are important.  I would argue that the same thing is true in Creation.  All that has been made is good, is essential for the well-being of the larger body, and has a role to play.  Paul says in the church no one has the right to say to another part “I don’t need you.”  In the same way, we have no right to say that we don’t need certain plants or animals.  That is not our call.  Surely we are humble enough to admit that God is wiser than us.  If we believe the hand of God is behind all living creatures we should be willing to fight for their protection.

A few days ago I found a prayer in a book called Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation that would be good for all of us to pray:  “Lord, you love life; we owe our existence to you.  Give us reverence for life and love for every creature.  Sharpen our senses so that we shall recognize the beauty and also the longing of your creation, and, as befits your children, treat our fellow creatures of the animal and plant kingdoms with love as our brothers and sisters, in readiness for your great day, when you will make all things new.”  It seems well past time that we began to take species extinction seriously.  If we claim to love and serve the Creator, we will love what has been created too and be willing to do what we can to protect all species.

–Chuck


May 29 2019

Reflections on the Smokies Via John Muir

John Muir once said everyone needs “places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  For most of my life the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina has been one of those “places” for me.  I recently had a chance to spend a week in the Smokies.  It truly was a healing experience and brought “strength to body and soul alike.”  John Muir never sauntered through the Great Smoky Mountains but he did come relatively close on his 1000 mile walk to the Gulf.  I’ve often wondered how he would have described the mountains that have come to mean so much to me.  I don’t mean to put words in his mouth but I feel what he wrote about other places precisely describes my experience in the Smokies.  For example, writing of his beloved Yosemite Muir wrote: “One seems to be in a majestic domed pavilion in which a grand play is being acted with scenery and music and incense, …all the action so interesting we are in no danger of being called on to endure one dull moment.  God himself seems to be always doing his best here, working like a man in a glow of enthusiasm.”   Muir may well have written these same words about the Smokies had he visited them.

Speaking about one of his favorite places, Muir said “The glory of the Lord is upon all his works; it is written plainly upon all the fields of ever clime, and upon every sky, but here in this place of surpassing glory the Lord has written in capitals.”  These too are words I could have written about the Smokies.  Like Muir, I believe that the glory of the Lord is visible in all of Creation, but there is something special about those ancient mountains that make up the Great Smoky Mountains.  I marvel at the vast species of flora and fauna that make their home there.  I relish time spent alongside its countless streams.  I receive inspiration from its many breathtaking vistas.  I love watching the sun rise and set from its mountain peaks.  Yes, the Smokies is a place where “the Lord has written in capitals!”  The fact that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is this country’s most visited national park, leads me to believe there are a lot of people who feel the same way about it as I do.

Actually I love all of our national parks and am so grateful they exist.  Muir once said “Wild parks are places of recreation, Nature’s cathedrals, where all may gain inspiration and strength and get nearer to God.”  I agree.  Our parks have so much to offer us.   There are a number of parks that are extra special to me but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just feels like home.  What park feels like home to you?  Which one, in particular, brings you nearer to God?

–Chuck


Apr 24 2019

Seeing the Earth Through Christ’s Eyes

Having just celebrated both Easter and Earth Day, I want to share with you another portion of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate & Inequality. Francis writes: “The New Testament does not only tell us of the earthly Jesus and his tangible and loving relationship with the world.  It also shows him risen and glorious, present throughout creation by his universal Lordship: ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1:20).  This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, so that ‘God may be everything to everyone’ (1 Cor. 15:28).  Thus, the creatures of this world no longer appear to us merely under natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them toward fullness as their end.  The very flowers of the fields and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.”

Francis’ words help us to realize that there’s more to Easter than Jesus rising from the grave.  That event changed everything, even how we look at the world around us.  In ways we may not fully understand Christ is holding all things to himself and “directing them towards fullness as their end.”  Yes, the world itself was included in God’s plan of salvation and even now waits for the completeness of that salvation.  This is Paul’s teaching in Romans 8.  He speaks of the hope that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (v. 21)  Paul goes on to say, “We know the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (v. 22)

Seeing the rest of creation as recipients of God’s salvation should, as Francis indicates, cause us to see nature in a new light, as “imbued with his radiant presence.”  This should help us realize the sacredness of God’s Creation and remind us that God can be seen in the work of His hands.  I would like to think it would also cause us to give greater respect to the earth and inspire us to be better stewards of it.

Growing up I was taught to pray that I might see others through Christ’s eyes.  I think we should likewise pray that we might view the world through Christ’s eyes.  I have a feeling if we were able to do so things would look quite different.  What do you think?

–Chuck


Mar 29 2019

“A Caress of God”

This year for Lent I gave up desserts once again.  I don’t know why I keep doing that.  I also decided to add some extra reading into my Lenten journey.  One book I chose to read is Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr.  The other book is Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home.  I am enjoying Pope Francis’ optimistic outlook on things.  I must confess I’ve been pretty discouraged in recent months.  Perhaps that has something to do with living in America where environmental issues have largely been dismissed or ignored in recent years.  So it was good to hear Francis say “The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us.  Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”

In his book, Pope Francis offers a solid theological basis for Creation Care.  I want to share with you a few gems I have found thus far.  Francis writes, “Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose.  None is superfluous.  The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.  Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”  I love that phrase—“a caress of God.”  If we could view the world around us as a caress of God perhaps we would value and honor it more.

In another section Francis writes: “The universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches of God. Saint Thomas Aquinas wisely noted that multiplicity and variety ‘come from the intention of the first agent’ who willed that ‘what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another,’ inasmuch as God’s goodness ‘could not be represented fittingly by any one creature.’  Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships.  We understand better the importance and meaning of each creature if we contemplate it within the entirety of God’s plan.  As the Catechism teaches: ‘God wills the interdependence of creatures.  The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow; the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient.  Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.’”

Surely we would take better care of the earth if we realized that each part of it is a manifestation of God’s goodness and love.  Likewise, if we better understood the interdependence of life on earth it would lead us to be better stewards of Creation.  I’m not sure things will get much better unless we come to grasp the sacredness of the earth and our divine calling to tend to it.

–Chuck


Feb 23 2019

The First Incarnation

Over the years I have benefited from the writings of Richard Rohr.  That happened again this week when I read a series of posts on his “Daily Meditation” site.  There I was introduced to the concept of the two Incarnations.  When Christians hear the word “Incarnation” they typically think of Jesus coming into the world the first Christmas.  Rohr refers to this as the second Incarnation.  What, then, is the first?  That would be the Creation itself.  He says “I want to suggest that the first Incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.” “Two thousand years ago marks the Incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the Incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and ‘every kind of wild beast’ according to the Genesis creation story.  This is the ‘Cosmic Christ’ through which God has ‘let us know the mystery of God’s purpose, the hidden plan made from the beginning in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:9-10).”

Although I have long understood Creation to be one of the supreme sources of divine revelation, I had not previously thought of Creation as the “first Incarnation.”  It makes sense to me and if we adopt Rohr’s teaching it helps us look at God differently.  It also causes us to look at the earth differently.  We see it is truly holy.  We see in it the immanence of God.  Such a viewpoint opens the door for us to have a more intimate experience with God and the “Cosmic Christ.”  It helps explain why many of us feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else.  I realize not everyone will buy into this concept of a “first Incarnation.”  Not everyone bought into the idea of the second Incarnation.  But for those with eyes to see and faith to believe God’s presence in Jesus could be seen and felt.  Likewise, for those with eyes to see and faith to believe, God’s presence can be seen and felt in the Creation.

In addition of bringing people into a closer communion with God, I would like to think that looking at Creation as the first Incarnation would move us to revere or honor the earth.  Needless to say, we have not done a very good job of this in the past.  The Cosmic Christ would seem to have fared no better than the earthly Christ.  Understanding the Creation as a visible manifestation of God would hopefully lead us to seek to preserve and protect the earth.  Not doing so might be compared to a second crucifixion.  I do not believe it is going too far to say that failure to love and care for the earth is a failure to love and care for God.

There is much to be said for Richard Rohr’s concept of the first Incarnation.  I hope you will give it further thought and that it will lead you closer to the one who is the Light of the world.

–Chuck


Jan 25 2019

Whichever Way We Turn

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Psalm 27:8

There are a number of places in the Scriptures where we are encouraged to seek God’s face.  To seek God’s face is to seek God.  But just where are we supposed to look.  In his beautiful book, Praying with the Earth, John Philip Newell encourages us to look for God’s face in the world around us.  He writes: “Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the light of the moon and patterns of stars, in scarred mountain rifts and ancient groves, in mighty seas and creatures of the deep.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face, O God, there is your face in the light of eyes we love, in the salt of tears we have tasted, in weathered countenances east and west, in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere.  Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face, there is your face among us.”

Whereas some would say God’s face cannot be seen, others would posit that God’s face is everywhere for those with eyes to see.  One of those persons who was able to see God everywhere was the recently deceased poet, Mary Oliver.  I would love to have eyes like Mary Oliver had.  I believe she saw God’s face in trees, flowers, birds, her beloved dogs, snakes, otters, deer, and children.  I believe she saw God’s face whichever way she turned.

I want to share with you a poem from my favorite Mary Oliver book, Thirst.  It’s called “Making the House Ready for the Lord.”  “Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but still nothing is as shining as it should be for you.  Under the sink, for example, is an uproar of mice—it is the season of their many children.  What shall I do?  And under the eaves and through the walls the squirrels have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season when they need shelter, so what shall I do?  And the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow; what shall I do?  Beautiful is the snow falling in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly up the path, to the door.  And still I believe you will come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox, the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know that really I am speaking to you whenever I say, as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.”

Mary Oliver’s poems, along with John Philip Newell’s prayers, John Muir’s writings, and the Scriptures themselves, have taught me that God’s face can be seen in the world of nature and in the faces of those closest to me.  I am very grateful to have had such good teachers.  They have affected how I look at things and how I photograph.  They have enabled me to see far more than I would have otherwise. Admittedly, I still do not see all I could or all I hope to, but I have seen enough to conclude that the face of God is indeed everywhere and that it is beautiful—more beautiful than the tongue can tell.

–Chuck