Jul 19 2017

A Different Look at Seeing Creation

Sometimes just writing text with some photos doesn’t do the job. I wanted more of a story, a visual story of how our home is treated. So here it is (a short video):

– Rob


Jun 21 2017

Taming the Tongue

SM509Deadly wildfires are in the news again. In central Portugal a large forest fire has claimed over sixty lives and has yet to be contained.  At first the fire was thought to originate with a lightning strike but a BBC report today indicates that a “criminal hand” might have actually caused the massive fire.  We know from history that it doesn’t take much to start a giant forest fire.  A single match or a carelessly discarded cigarette can start a blaze that takes lives, destroys homes, kills wildlife and devastates a forest.  That is why we must be very careful when handling such objects.

I thought of the Portugal fire as I was studying the third chapter of the book of James this week. In this section James talks about the deadly potential of the tongue.  He notes that though the tongue is small it has a way of directing or controlling our lives.  James compares the tongue to a bit that controls a large horse and to a relatively small rudder that directs a giant ship.  Then James says “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (vs. 5-6)

e_DSC7161The graphic images that are being shown of the forest fire in Portugal are not only a reminder of the dangers of fire, they are also powerful reminders of the dangers of the tongue. The words we use can, like fire, be deadly.  They can hurt people and destroy lives.  As a child I remember learning the rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  Whoever came up with this saying was an idiot!  Careless and harmful words can cause wounds that hurt worse and last longer than those caused by sticks or stone.  Most of us can bear witness to that.

James declares that “all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (vs. 7-8)  This is a sad commentary on our state but who could deny it is accurate?  Perhaps we’ll never be able to fully tame the tongue but surely we can do better than we have. I certainly hope so.  In so many arenas our language has become caustic and vitriolic.  People get hurt every day.

_CES0880Obviously I cannot control what others say but I do have some control over what I say. So do you.  Let us, therefore, choose to speak words that encourage, help, comfort and heal, not words that hurt, discourage and tear down others.  Long ago the Psalmist offered this prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.” (141:3-4)  If we would be willing to offer this prayer at the beginning of each day, I can’t help but believe it would go a long way in eliminating a lot of needless and harmful words.  Smokey the Bear used to say “Only you can prevent forest fires.”  James would have us understand that same thing holds true for the verbal ones.

–Chuck


May 29 2017

Planet Earth II

_CES5265Recently I purchased the BBC series Planet Earth II narrated by David Attenborough.  I’ve spent the last few days watching the DVDs.  As one reviewer of the series stated, “’Five stars’ isn’t really enough for this program.”  I highly recommend the series to anyone who is interested in nature.  The videography is absolutely amazing and the narration riveting.  You will no doubt learn much as you watch the segments dedicated to Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands, and Cities.  You will also likely find yourself longing to know more.

I am thankful for nature series like Planet Earth. They enable a person to experience vicariously the wonders of God’s Creation.  Watching Planet Earth II I saw creatures and landscapes I will never be able to see firsthand.  I also learned much about this planet that I did not know.  I found myself marveling over how various animal species have been able to adapt to their environments and how everything in nature in interconnected.

_CES5221Watching Planet Earth II proved to be something of a religious experience for me.  Over and over I found myself echoing the words of the Psalmist, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (104:24)  Time and again I found myself offering thanks and praise to God for being the Creator of such a marvelous planet.

_DSC8099There were portions of the series, however, that were sobering. The producers did not hide the fact that many of the earth’s species and landscapes are now threatened by climate change, various forms of pollution and loss of habitat.  The very earth which supports human life is being devastated by those same humans.  I’m glad this tragic element was included in the series because we need to be informed.  Rachel Carson once said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I can’t imagine a person watching the Planet Earth series and not wanting to do more to save our threatened world.  If for no other reason than this I would recommend this program to you.

Needless to say, there are lots of other great nature programs to be seen on television. I encourage you to watch them from time to time so that you, too, may marvel at the wonders of God’s Creation and be inspired to do something to preserve and protect that Creation.

–Chuck


Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.

–Chuck


Apr 17 2017

There’s Always Something…

_CES4895Recently I had a chance to go to California and spend a week photographing with Rob Sheppard. It turned out to be a marvelous trip.  Everywhere we went there seemed to be something special waiting for us to explore and photograph.  Numerous times I found myself saying “Wow!”  Even more often I would catch myself saying “Thank you!” to God for the blessing of getting to see what I saw.  There were several adorable sea otters that we were able to spend time with around Morro Bay.  We also had many opportunities to enjoy this year’s super display of wildflowers.  At Carrizo Plains National Monument we saw wildflowers flowing across thousands of acres and even into the mountains.  It was a marvelous sight to behold.  We spent a good bit of time along the central coast of California and the beauty there likewise called for countless expressions of gratitude.  I felt incredibly blessed to see all I did.

A few days ago I was looking at a book I own which happens to be a collection of “famous prayers.” I came across one prayer that helped remind me that for those with eyes to see there are always blessings in nature waiting to be seen.  The prayer spoke to me and perhaps it will to you as well.  It was penned by John Oxenham and is taken from “A Little Te Deum of the Commonplace.”

_DSC3216“For all the first sweet flushings of the spring; The greening earth, the tender heavenly blue; The rich brown furrows gaping for the seed; For all thy grace in bursting bud and leaf… For hedgerows sweet with hawthorn and wild rose; For meadows spread with gold and gemmed with stars, For every tint of every tiniest flower, For every daisy smiling to the sun; For every bird that builds in joyous hope, For every lamb that frisks beside its dam, For every leaf that rustles in the wind, For spring poplar, and for spreading oak, For queenly birch, and lofty swaying elm; For the great cedar’s benedictory grace, For earth’s ten thousand fragrant incenses, Sweet altar-gifts from leaf and fruit and flower… For ripening summer and the harvesting; For all the rich autumnal glories spread—The flaming pageant of the ripening woods, The fiery gorse, the heather-purpled hills, The rustling leaves that fly before the wind and lie below the hedgerows whispering; For meadows silver-white with hoary dew; For sheer delight of tasting once again that first crisp breath, of winter in the air; The pictured pane; the new white world without; The sparkling hedgerows witchery of lace, The soft white flakes that fold the sleeping earth; The cold without, the cheerier warm within… For all the glowing heart of Christmas-tide, We thank thee, Lord!”

_CES5080Oxenham is right, there is always something in God’s Creation to catch our attention and elicit our praise and thanksgiving. Needless to say, some things catch our eyes or attention quicker than others but if we will really pay attention we will find plenty to give thanks for no matter where we are or what time of the year it happens to be.  What are you seeing right now that leads you to offer a prayer of thanksgiving?

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures shown above on my recent trip to California.)


Mar 17 2017

Learning from St. Patrick

_CES1622Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Earlier today I came across a quote attributed to Saint Patrick.  It reads: “At Tara today in this fateful hour I place all Heaven with its power, and the sun with its brightness, and the snow with its whiteness, and fire with all the strength it hath, and lightning with its rapid wrath, and the winds with their swiftness along their path, and the sea with its deepness, and the rocks with their steepness, and the earth with its starkness– all these I place, by God’s almighty help and grace, between myself and the powers of darkness.”

I find these words to be fascinating. In a difficult time, when threatened by the pagan king of Ireland, Patrick invoked God’s help and does so in a way that may seem strange to most of us today.  He calls on not just heaven but various elements of the earth—the sun, the snow, fire, lightning, the winds, the sea, and the rocks—to be his protector.  Apparently he saw these as agents of God’s providence and protection.

_DSC5781I would love to know how St. Patrick would have explained this. I certainly cannot speak for him.  I do, however, feel that he was on to something here.  Nature can, in fact, still be seen as an agent of God’s protection today, and this in a number of different ways.  Although some see some of the elements of nature Patrick mentioned as frightening, we have to admit that when God created the world God put things together in a way that would benefit and protect us.  All the things he mentioned in his prayer have useful functions and serve God.

I believe that nature also offers provision and protection in ways that transcend the physical. Nature also offers us emotional and spiritual protection.  When we are experiencing tough times nature has a way of calming us and giving us perspective.  It has a way of connecting us with the Almighty God who is our true source of strength.

Clingmans Dome sunsetCeltic spirituality draws a close connection between God and nature. Nature could serve as “thin places” between us and God and nature could serve as instruments of God’s will.  Do you find room in your own spirituality for this connection?  It is a question worth pondering.

If we can accept the Celtic (and biblical) understanding of the closeness between God and nature it only makes sense that we will want to honor the earth and God by being good stewards of Creation. We are living in a time when environmental protection is being threatened.  Should we not realize that failing to care for the earth is failing to care for ourselves?  Should we not realize that it also has the potential to hinder our relationship with God and the ways God uses to minister to us?  This St. Patrick’s Day would be a good time for us all to give thanks for God’s provision through Creation and to recommit ourselves to being good stewards of the earth.

–Chuck

(It took the three images shown above in California, Utah, and Tennessee. A special thanks goes to Lon Oliver for sharing the St. Patrick prayer noted above with me.)