Jul 24 2015

Environmental Racism

_DSC6770In recent days we have been reminded on a far too frequent basis that racism continues to be an ugly scar upon the soul of America. Most of the media attention has focused on acts of violence afflicted upon African American and Hispanic individuals. This violence is totally unacceptable and somehow, someway, we have got to find a way to bring it to an end. There is, however, another way racism continues to raise its ugly head and, unfortunately, it is not receiving a lot of public attention. What I am referring to here is environmental racism.

_DSC7438This past week I was in Columbus, Ohio, for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly.  At this assembly Rev. Carol Devine, on behalf of Green Chalice, brought a resolution to the floor that addresses this issue. The proposed resolution noted that “environmental racism is an affliction where communities comprised of predominantly persons of color and/or low-income people are adversely affected by governmental, institutional, or industrial practices or policies that either negatively affect or withhold the benefits of clean air, water, soil, or natural spaces.”  It also revealed “contemporary studies show that it is easy to predict the placement of hazardous waste facilities, the creation of food deserts, and the lack of natural space by looking at the concentration of minority and low-income areas across the country and that since the afflicted communities, primarily those of racial minorities, lack local representation or national protection, these communities are made victims of environmental racism’s various forms, including:  greater probability of exposure to environmental hazards, uneven negative impacts from environmental procedures and policies, targeting and zoning of toxic facilities, segregation of minority workers in hazardous jobs, little access to or insufficient maintenance of natural spaces, and disproportionate access to environmental services.”

_DSC6662Having acknowledged the problem of environmental racism, the resolution went on to remind us that the Bible “refers to the entire cosmos as God’s sacred creation and calls followers of Christ to care for creation and care for neighbors” and that “Jesus preached compassion to all people, and tasked us, his followers, with ministering to and caring for all persons in all communities.” Finally the resolution called on all Disciples’ congregations, organizations, ministries and institutions “to address environmental racism in their communities through research and education, thoughtful engagement and prayerful action;” and to “support national, state or provincial legislation which prevents the further marginalization of people from their community.”  It urged that we “diligently strive to faithfully care for all of God’s creation and work for justice for all of God’s people.”

_DSC7422I’m happy to say that the resolution passed at the General Assembly without dissent. This speaks well of the denomination I happen to call my own. But environmental racism is something all Christians (and everyone else for that matter) ought to be concerned about. This is an injustice that needs to be dealt with just as much as the violence mentioned above. But what can we do? An addendum attached to the resolution in Columbus offered these suggestions. We can take action by 1) researching the pervasiveness of environmental racism in our area; 2) joining creation, racial and economic justice movements; 3) funding and supporting creation, racial and economic justice work in organizations and academic institutions; 4) lobbying state/provincial and federal elected officials for stronger enforcement of environmental standards and petitioning for new legislation designed to address the affliction of affected communities; and 5) supporting and voting for candidates sensitive to and supportive of creation, racial, and economic justice.

May God help us all to combat racism in any and all forms it might appear.  In the words of the prophet Amos, “let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

–Chuck

(I photographed the two waterfall images while in Ohio last week and the two sunflower pictures this morning at Bluegrass Fish and Wildlife Area near Evansville, IN.)

 


Jul 18 2015

Thank God for Parks!

_DSC6560I have had the chance the past couple of days to spend time wandering around and photographing Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This amazing park is located just south of Cleveland, Ohio. I visited here a couple of years ago and jumped at the opportunity to come back when I had to come up this way for our denominational meeting. This national park started out as a National Recreation Area in 1974.  It was made a national park in 2000. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gorgeous natural area. It has a river that runs through it, marshlands, forests, waterfalls, lakes and lots of wildlife. The area also has a rich cultural history.

_DSC6674One of the things that I’ve been impressed with on this trip is the many ways people make use of the park. Lots of people make use of the Towpath Trail. This wide path follows the historic Ohio and Erie Canal route. On it you’ll find people of all ages running, riding a bike, or just taking a leisurely stroll. There is also a train you can ride through the park. In some of the park’s lakes I saw people fishing. I’ve also noticed a number of horse trails. And then, of course, there are folks like me who find the park a great place to capture images of God’s beautiful and awesome Creation.

_DSC6695As I’ve traveled around the park the last couple of days I have found myself giving thanks that we have places like this in our country. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge fan of our national park system. I have spent the last twenty-three years visiting and photographing as many of them as I can. A lot of our national parks are located in isolated areas and people have to travel a good bit to get to them. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in that it is located in an urban area. This park is easily accessible to a large number of people. From what I can see, lots of people from this part of the country take advantage of this treasure. Good for them!

On the official park map/brochure there is a quote by James Snowden Jackson that says, “I have admired the rugged fiords of Norway and the bald peaks of Yosemite. But I gain strength each day at home from the beauty of our own Cuyahoga Valley.”  For some reason this reminds me of my favorite John Muir passage: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  I’m sure there are some that would have preferred to see the Cuyahoga Valley developed instead of preserved as a national park but this area and our country is richer because it has been set aside and protected.

_DSC6838Obviously not every community can have a national park nearby but thankfully most cities and towns do have local parks, or perhaps even a state park close by. I feel very blessed to have John James Audubon State Park just a mile from my home. The city of Henderson, Kentucky, where I live has a number of delightful parks and Henderson County does as well. These parks are not just places for recreational activities, they are as Muir indicated, places where we can spend time with God and experience nature’s healing powers.  More and more studies are revealing the health benefits of just being outdoors. I believe there are spiritual benefits as well.

If you have a park close to where you live I hope that you will take advantage of it and visit it frequently. If you don’t I hope you get one someday. Wherever we live, regardless of whether there is a park nearby, we can all find ways to enjoy the outdoors. We can even create our own mini-parks right at home. The important thing is to find a way to reconnect with nature and with the One who has so graciously provided it for us.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are ones I’ve taken the past few days at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


Jul 8 2015

The “Trembling Giant” and the Church

_DSC7241A couple of years ago Rob and I spent some time photographing at Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  As we got to the end of our time there he asked if I minded if we stopped at the Pando forest in Utah on the way back.  I had never heard of it.  He told me of reading about it in one of Jane Goodall’s recent books and how it is a clonal colony of quacking aspens.  Some researchers believe that it is the earth’s oldest living thing, some 80,000 years old.  Intrigued by this we drove to Fish Lake, Utah, and found the forest.  I say “forest” but in reality it is a single tree with a massive underground root system that has produced what appears to be some 47,000 trees springing from that system.  Standing in the midst of Pando it was hard to comprehend how all we saw was part of one thing.

_DSC7235Yesterday I was reading Rachel Held Evans new book, Searching For Sunday, and came across a chapter where she, too, talks about the Pando forest.  She shares the same basic information above but also indicates that a name has been given to this ancient tree, Trembling Giant.  Rachel then goes on to draw some interesting and pertinent analogies between the Pando and the church.  She notes, “At last count, there are nearly as many denominations in Christianity as there are trees growing from Pando.  Each one looks different—beautiful and broken in its own way—but we all share the same DNA.”  She concludes the chapter with these words: “Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.  We are both a forest and a single tree—one big Trembling Giant, stirred by an invisible force.”

I really like Evan’s comparison of the Pando and the church.  It makes sense.  The apostle Paul uses a different analogy than Evans in his Corinthian correspondence to make the same point: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  (1 Cor. 12:12-13)

_DSC7208The main reason I’m writing about this today is I am very concerned about how polarized things are in Christianity these days.  The way many Christians attack one another you would think we were in the midst of a civil war.  Some Christian groups believe that they have a monopoly on truth and that all others are either not Christians or sub-Christian.  The sources of contention are innumerable but include things like how one views the inspiration of Scripture, the age of the earth, the Second Coming, the sacraments, women in ministry, etc.  If you do not agree with some Christians about any of these, or other matters, you are deemed a heretic or worse.

What is so crazy about this is we are all one Body.  We’re like the trees Rob and I saw at the Pando forest.  What we saw with our eyes appeared to be a bunch of different trees but in reality was one living organism.  There’s no way the various churches or denominations in the world are going to agree on everything.  I’m not even sure they should.  I’m convinced our diversity should be honored and celebrated.  God is bigger than all of us combined so how could any one group get it all right?

_DSC7309I wish somehow, someway, we would quit focusing on what separates us as Christians and concentrate on what we have in common.  As the New Testament boldly affirms “there is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)  Just hours before he was crucified Jesus prayed earnestly that his followers “might be one.” (John 17:21)  I don’t believe he expected us to all be or think exactly alike but we are to live our lives cognizant of the fact that in him we are all one.  Another thing Jesus sought to make clear before his death was that his followers should be known first and foremost by their love for one another.  He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 35)  My hope and prayer is that followers of Christ will learn to set aside their differences, focus on what they have in common, and actually present a unified witness to the world that is characterized by love.  Is that too much to ask?  Jesus didn’t think so.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here at the Pando forest in Utah.)


Jul 3 2015

On Still Seeing God as Maker of Heaven and Earth

_DSC5831The Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the Old or Older Testament, begin with an account of the creation of “the heavens and the earth.”  The strong affirmation here is that God spoke the world into existence.  Right at the start one learns that God is both mighty and extremely creative.  The world is viewed as God’s handiwork and remains evidence of God’s might and creativity.  Later in the Hebrew Scriptures God reveals Himself as a mighty deliverer, enabling the Hebrews to escape their bondage in Egypt.  Much later in time poets like David arose who sang God’s praises.  These poets frequently look back to these two revelations and refer to God as being the One who made the heavens and the earth or brought about Israel’s deliverance.

When one turns to the New Testament God reveals Himself in a most unexpected way.  The Gospel of John says “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  (1:14)  Through “the word,” or Jesus, the clearest picture of God we have was made manifest.  Christians now understand God first and foremost through Jesus.  Christ becomes the new deliverer and much is made of his role as such in the pages of the New Testament.  God’s role in Creation, however, also continues to be emphasized.

_DSC5964This year I have been teaching a study on the Book of Acts.  As we have gone through this book I’ve noticed how God’s role as Creator keeps popping up.  For example, in Acts 4:24 you find the disciples praying.  They begin their prayer with the words, “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.”  Even after the marvelous manifestation of God in Christ God continues to be addressed as the Creator.  In chapter 14 of Acts Luke tells the story of Paul and Barnabas being worshiped by the people of Lystra after they heal a crippled man.  The two urged the group to stop and directed their attention to “the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.” (v. 15)  In Acts 17 we find Paul’s speech to the “men of Athens.”  Here he introduces them to “the God who made the world and everything in it.” (v. 24)

_CES2166Clearly, even after Christ came the early Christian leaders felt it was necessary to hold on diligently to the idea of God as Creator.  I suspect there are a variety of reasons for this.  As already noted, in Creation they saw the evidence of God’s power or might.  This evidence was something they encountered each and every day in nature.  Creation bore testimony to God’s power and was a reminder that this same power was available to believers.   I also think they continued to focus on God’s role as Creator because this gave them a point of entry as they sought to spread the gospel.  Practically everyone believed that the world was brought into being by divine forces of one kind or another; the early Christians hoped to help people understand that the God they believed in, and who was made fully known in Jesus Christ, was, in fact, “the Maker of heaven and earth.”

_DSC6889I believe that it is important that we continue to hold on to and emphasize God’s role as Creator of the heavens and the earth.  Some Christian groups do so each week as they recite the Apostles Creed.  Others don’t.  Continuing to focus on God’s role as Creator will help us connect better with the world around us and we will daily be reminded of God’s power and creativity.  Focusing on God as Creator also is still a good starting point when it comes to sharing our faith with others.  Although not everyone today believes the world was actually created, most still feel that the world didn’t just come into existence on its own.  As Christians we can help people make the connection between nature and the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  This connection is vital for understanding the goodness of Creation, its sacredness, and our responsibility to take good care of it.

I hope we’ll never cease affirming God’s role as Maker of heaven and earth.  There is no reason not to and plenty of good reasons for doing so.

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures in western Kentucky and the bottom two in southern Florida.)


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.)