Sep 14 2014

Blessings and Responsibility

_CES0629With gift comes demand and with blessing comes responsibility.  These were truths that were repeatedly noted in a class I took under Dr. Frank Stagg many years ago in seminary.  His words have had a huge influence on my life.  They helped me learn early on that there is indeed a price that comes with blessings.  When we receive God’s blessings we must use them wisely and responsibly.

ASP0294I have thought about these words in recent days as my wife and I prepare to move into our new home.  Owning a home is an incredible blessing, something a lot of us unfortunately take for granted.  The blessing of home ownership however also comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility.  There are monthly payments to make, occasional repairs to be made, regular cleaning to be done, yards to keep up, and from time to time improvements to make.  In the end you cannot enjoy the blessing of home ownership unless you are willing to take on the responsibilities that come with it.

As I spent some time thinking about these things my mind began to drift in other directions.  I thought about how the earth is also our home and how incredibly blessed we are to have a home that meets our needs and at the same time contains so much beauty.  This home is God’s gift to us; that is something the Bible reminds us of over and over again.  What many fail to realize is that with this gift comes demand and with such a blessing comes great responsibility.

Over the years I’ve heard some Christians say that we needn’t worry about the earth too much as it is only our temporary home.  I see no wisdom whatsoever in such an attitude.  I certainly realize that the Bible speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth” to come but that does not in any way minimize the responsibility that comes to us now with the blessing that is our current home.  We must tend to the needs of the earth just as we must tend to the needs of the homes we live in.

Cumberland-Gap-fogIf I do not do the things I mentioned above at my new home I will either lose it or its value will be severely diminished.  A great price is paid when we fail to take care of and be responsible with our homes.  That is true when it comes to caring for the earth as well.  We have already paid a tremendous price for our failure to care for God’s Creation and that price will only grow exponentially if we do not begin to live with the understanding that with gift comes demand and with blessing comes responsibility.

Chuck_Summers-09036Christians who see no need to care for the earth because it is only our temporary home exhibit a selfishness they seem to be blind to.  They fail to realize, first, that this world does not belong to us, it belongs to God (Psalm 24:1).  Since we don’t own the earth we have no right to trash it or fail to care for it as our Landowner desires.  They fail to realize, second, that there will likely be a number of generations that will follow us and that how we treat the earth now will determine the kind of home they will inherit.  One of the first books I read about Creation Care was Robert Parham’s Loving Neighbors Across Time.  As the title implies, by caring for the earth we show love for neighbors who have not yet even been born.  We cannot think about only ourselves, not if we intend to be followers of Jesus.  Even when it comes to caring for the earth we must be thinking of those who will follow us.  That is our responsibility!

I hope you will give some thought to the invaluable lesson Dr. Stagg taught me almost thirty-five years ago–with gift comes demand and with blessing comes responsibility.  It is a truth that applies to all areas of our life, including the God’s gift of the good earth.

–Chuck

(I have owned three homes in my life.  The pictures used above were taken near each.  The top two are near Henderson, KY; the third one near Middlesboro, KY; and the bottom one near Pikeville, KY.)


Aug 31 2014

Be Still

_CES1861It is Labor Day weekend and it would appear most the people I know are quite busy.   Folks have gone to the lake for the weekend,  taken mini-vacations, planned picnics or had family reunions.  All of these things are certainly fun and good in and of themselves.  I wonder, however, if we might not be wiser to spend Labor Day weekend resting from our labors.  Our work life causes most of us to run at a steady if not hectic pace.  We are on the go constantly and eventually this catches up with us.  A number of studies have indicated that one thing a lot of Americans lack is rest.  We are quite good at doing things and being on the go but what we are not so good at is being still and resting.

WA-Olympic-NP-deer-in-lupineSeveral years ago I came across a poster that had the following prayer by Wilfred A. Peterson written on it: “Slow me down, Lord.  Slow me down!  Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.  Give me amid the confusion of my day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.  Break the tension of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book.  Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise, that I may know that the race is not always to the swift—that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward into the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.  Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.”

TN-GSM-Greenbrier-stream-(h)-I have to return to this prayer periodically to remind myself to slow down.  The pace a lot of us keep is not good for either our physical or spiritual health.  We were never meant to go full-speed all of the time.  God instituted the Sabbath so that we would remember that life is not just about work and doing things.  Neither our bodies or our souls were designed for constant activity.  If we are to enjoy life more completely and experience God more deeply we must learn to slow down.  In Psalm 46:10 we hear God say “Be still, and know that I am God.”  One of the reasons some of us do not feel God’s presence more or see the divine presence in Creation is that we won’t slow down enough to be still.

I hope each of you have a wonderful Labor Day.  By all means do something fun if you can but I encourage you also to take some time to rest from your labors and be still.  That is good advice not just for Labor Day but every day.  Now if I can just remember to do so myself…

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Mt. Baker National Recreation Area, the middle image at Olympic National Park, and the bottom image at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)

 


Aug 24 2014

On Prairies and People

_DSC6661A couple of weeks ago I met up with Rob Sheppard to do some photography of the prairies in southwest Missouri.  I had never photographed prairies and, although I had a few preconceptions of what a prairie would look like, I really didn’t know what to expect.  When we stopped at the first spot and got out of the car I must have had a bewildered look on my face because Rob asked me what was wrong.  In a sense I was bewildered.  Even though I didn’t know what to expect in the prairies I have to say I did expect more.  That first prairie looked like little more than a common field.  I couldn’t see what was so special about it,

Today I know that prairies are very special.  At one time prairies practically covered the middle section of North America; the area was a virtual sea of grass.  That is hardly the case today.  As noted in the Peterson Field Guide on the North American Prairie, “less than 5 percent of the original tallgrass prairie still stands unplowed, and about half of the original mixed-grass and shortgrass prairies have vanished.”  A landscape that at one time covered one-third of the continent barely survives today.  In most instances it has been converted to farm land.  Thankfully, several states have recognized the need to preserve sections of pristine prairie and these are open to visitation.

_DSC6153At that first prairie I struggled with how to photograph what I was seeing.  I think I struggled for a couple of reasons.  First, I had not previously attempted to photograph prairies.  Second, I really didn’t understand them.  I had no knowledge of a prairie’s unique characteristics or their ecological value.  One might think that would not hinder a photographer’s efforts to capture a landscape but it does.  It makes a world of difference!

_DSC6507The more time I spent in the prairies the more I came to appreciate what they had to offer.  The more I came to appreciate the prairies the better my photographs became.  Since returning home I’ve read a bit about the prairies and feel like I now have a better handle on what prairies are and their value.  I’d like to think that if I photographed a prairie area tomorrow this newfound knowledge would be reflected in the images I took.   Studying one’s subject and spending time with it are necessary to give one the eyes he or she needs to understand and fully appreciate that subject.  That’s just the way it is.

That happens to be true in areas beyond photography.  I believe it can also be true of understanding and appreciating others, especially those we don’t know so well.  There are people groups that at the present time seem foreign or strange to each of us.  We have preconceptions of what they are like but we will never really know them or appreciate them if we do not take the time to learn about them and actually spend time with them.  We will never know their beauty and uniqueness looking from the outside.  We must make the effort to get to know them for this to happen and invest the time that is necessary for doing so.

_DSC6100By coincidence, at the same time I was photographing the prairies in southwest Missouri with Rob in another part of the state racial tensions were erupting in great force.  The events in Ferguson have made it apparent that we still have a long way to go in tearing down walls that separate people.  The walls that separate people these days are quite numerous.  Some are racial, others economic.  There are also social, religious and sexual walls that divide people and create a distance that keeps us from actually getting to know and appreciate those on the other side.  These walls keep us from seeing the beauty that God has placed in all people.  If we are going to take seriously the divine call to love others as God has loved us (John 15:12) then we must make the effort to tear down these walls and get to know one another.  Sure, this can be risky business but in the end it is even riskier not to try.  Whether it be prairies or people, we must spend time in their presence and strive to learn more about them if we are to fully appreciate them.  Whether it be prairies or people, the survival of each may well depend on our willingness to do so.

–Chuck

(I took the prairie pictures included here on the trip to southwest Missouri described above.)


Aug 17 2014

My New Hero

_DSC6224I have a new hero now.  It happened by accident a few days ago.  Rob Sheppard and I hooked up in Missouri for a few days of photography in the southwest portion of the state.  We wanted to explore the prairies in the area.  It just so happened that one of the prairies we visited ended up being located quite close to the George Washington Carver National Monument.  Since we were that close by we decided we’d stop in and visit the place.  That decision proved to be a significant one for both of us.

_DSC6217Neither of us knew much about Carver other than he was an Afro-American who became famous for studying peanuts.  I have long used a particular quotation by Carver when I do talks on God and Creation.  He once said, “Nature is an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour—if we will only tune in.”  Based on that quotation I assumed Carver was a person of faith.  I had no idea just how much so until touring the national monument that bears his name.

_DSC6201George Washington Carver grew up a slave that knew neither his mother or father.  He fell in love with nature as a young boy and in particular was fond of wildflowers.  With great determination he pursued an education, something that was not easy to do for a black person at that time in history.  He was extremely bright and talented.  He had great artistic talent and was also a musician, but he was destined to make an impact on the world through his botanical studies.  The list of his accomplishments is staggering.  In his book on Carver called The Man Who Talks With the Flowers Glenn Clark says “he discovered 300 new uses for the peanut and 150 new uses for the sweet potato and before he was through he had rebuilt the agriculture of the south.”  A movie about Carver’s accomplishment was shown at the national monument and after viewing it Rob and I both marveled that most people know so little about this great man.  His story truly is an amazing and  inspiring one.  It is a story of one who endured great hardship and adversity but overcame it.  It is a story of faith and perseverance.

Had blogs been in existence in his day it wouldn’t surprise me if Carver would not have written one similar to Seeing Creation.  He wrote and spoke often of the close connection between God and nature.  He once said, “nature in its varied forms are the little windows through which God permits me to commune with Him, and to see much of His glory, majesty, and power by simply lifting the curtain and looking in.”  At another time he said, “More and more as we come closer and closer in touch with nature and its teaching we are able to see the Divine and are therefore fitted to interpret correctly the various languages spoken by all forms of nature about us.”

_DSC6206George Washington Carver spent a great deal of time in communion with both God and nature.  He often gave God credit for his many discoveries and encouraged people to get to know both God and nature better.  He urged people to experience nature more, saying, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books,  for they speak with the voice of God.”  Once Carver came to look at the world this way he said “never since have I been without this consciousness of the Creator speaking to me through flowers, rocks, animals, plants, and all other aspects of His creation.”

I read a brief biography on Carver last night and it made me even more aware of what a person of faith he was.  His faith in God connected him even closer to nature and also to his fellowman.   He committed his life to studying one and to serving the other.  Carver lived a life characterized by humility and integrity.   He showed the world that faith and science are not opposites but companions.  He showed the world what one person who lives for the glory of God can do.  For all of these reasons and more, I now have a new hero.  How the world could use some more people like George Washington Carver today!

–Chuck

(All four of the pictures used above were taken at the George Washington Carver National Monument this past week.)

 


Aug 10 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth

GR4616Watching and reading the news here lately has been downright depressing.  I realize that the news media does not tell the whole story and that there are lots of good things happening in the world but there definitely has been no shortage of horrible things for them to concentrate on in recent days.  Most of it has been related to war—terrible stories of commercial planes being shot out of the air, rockets being launched into schools where innocent people had gathered to seek protection, and children and adults beheaded for their refusal to convert to someone else’s religion.  It makes me quite sad that we live in a world where these sorts of thing still happen.

_DSC5435This morning at church we, like millions of Christians around the globe, prayed in unison the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after asking that God’s name be hallowed we offered the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  I cannot think of a more important prayer to pray right now.  It is quite obvious as we look at the world that God’s will is not being done.  Not even close.  In God’s kingdom there is no place for the hatred, the violence, the killing that seems so prevalent everywhere we look.

GSD3088I find myself more than ever longing for, hoping for and praying for peace.  The Scriptures point to God’s desire for peace but in this area it is clear that God’s will is not being done.  Peace on earth seems about as realistic as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The odds of it ever occurring appear astronomical.  For that reason it is easy to be pessimistic.  A number of years ago the Irish band U2 recorded a song that began with these words: “Heaven on earth,  we need it now.  I’m sick of all of this, hanging around.   Sick of sorrow,  sick of pain, sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be peace on earth.”  I get where they’re coming from.  These days it’s hard not to despair.

For me, matters are only made worse knowing that when it comes to the earth itself there is very little peace.  The news we hear concerning it is no less disconcerting.  The effects of climate change around the world is disheartening, if not downright frightening.  The never-ending reports of toxic chemicals being poured into our skies and waterways, the destruction of rain forests, mountain top removal, and the massive extinction of animal and plant species also point to violence, hatred and killing—to another war that robs the earth and us of peace.

PF7235At this point I’m not sure that it is enough to simply offer the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It would seem that it is time we took seriously Jesus’ call to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and that of King David to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)  As followers of the Prince of Peace we are all called to live in peace with both others and Creation.  None of us can solve all the problems that are out there but all of us can do something.  There is a familiar song penned by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson that begins “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  The final verse says: “Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.   With every step I take let this be my solemn vow:  To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” 

I will continue to pray that God’s kingdom will come and that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven but firmly believe that will not happen unless we, too, do our part.  I must seek peace and pursue it.  I cannot pray for that which I am not willing to work for.  Neither can you.

–Chuck

(I took the top image of the Chama River in New Mexico, the second image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois, the third images at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, and the bottom image at the Pando Forest in Utah.)

 

 

 

 

 


Aug 3 2014

No Ugly Landscapes

_DSC2766Last night I came across the following quotation by John Muir: “God never made an ugly landscape, so long as it is wild.”  Muir’s words made me smile.  In the past couple of weeks I have stood in the presence of a variety of landscapes.  I’ve looked up at 700 foot tall sand dunes and down into a 565 foot gorge.  I’ve driven through the high Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains and across barren desert flatlands.  I have photographed wildflowers in the sloughs near where I live and wandered amongst some unique geological formations in southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest.  The landscapes I have beheld in just this short time have been amazingly diverse and just as amazingly beautiful.

e_DSC3572e_DSC3572RGG3572I’m convinced Muir was right; “God never made an ugly landscape.”  Now there was a time when I would not have said this.  When I was much younger I was quite prejudiced concerning landscapes.  They had to be green or I didn’t like them.  Needless to say this gave me some trouble when I visited the desert.  I also loved  mountains and found it hard to appreciate any landscape that did not include these.  This is another prejudice I’ve been able to overcome.  Once you take the time to visit and truly get to know the various forms of landscape that exist you cannot help but come to the same conclusion as John Muir, there are no ugly landscapes.

All landscapes bear something of the beauty of their Creator.  Admittedly, that beauty is easier to find in some places than others but it is everywhere if you have the eyes to see or are willing to take the time to let that beauty make itself known to you.  Just as we often discover beauty in people we never thought we would once we let go of our prejudices and spend time with them, the beauty of natural landscapes can become clear when we approach them with an open mind and heart and without rushing past or through them.  Since the Bible declares that God makes Himself known through His Creation it is very important that we learn to find the beauty that is present in all wild landscapes.

_DSC5600Some of the prejudices we have concerning landscapes seem to have been imposed upon us.  Many have no desire to visit Death Valley National Park in California just because its name seems to imply a horrible landscape.  That is hardly the case.  Death Valley is beautiful!  Some would not consider visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota because, after all, it is “bad land.” Wrong again.  In early and late light the beauty of the Badlands will take your breath away.  Titles like these are about as useful as the labels we give people.  They prejudice our thinking and keep us from exploring the beauty that is to be found in such places.

DV-986Muir believed that God made no ugly landscapes but he did not say there are no ugly landscapes.  The fact that he added the words “so long as it is wild” indicate that what ugly landscapes he had beheld were not made that way by God but by the hand of man.  Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed a number of those ugly landscapes myself.  I’ve seen the scars left from mountain top removal and the clear cutting of forests.  I’ve visited many places where natural beauty once was prevalent but now can hardly be found.  Perhaps it was inevitable that this would happen but that makes it no less sad.  In such places the glory God intended to reveal will not be found.

BL7199I feel incredibly blessed to have traveled as much as I have during my life and to have seen so many different types of beautiful landscapes.  Each one has led me to a greater admiration of the Creator and has also taught me things I needed to know about God and myself.  If you’re looking for a good reason to visit some new landscapes, I’m not sure there is a better one than that.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, the second one at Rio Grande Gorge, the third at Illinois’ Garden of the Gods, the fourth at Death Valley National Park, and the fifth one at Badlands National Park.)