Oct 13 2016

What’s So Bad About the Badlands?

_ces3871What’s so bad about the badlands? That’s the question I kept asking myself last week while visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  Why call such a beautiful land “bad”?  My guess is that early settlers found the terrain difficult to traverse or perhaps not conducive to grazing cattle.  But do these things warrant calling the land bad?  I don’t think the bison I saw there would call it bad.  Neither would the thousands of prairie dogs found in the region.  Nor would the pronghorn antelope or bighorn sheep say this was a bad place to live.  Even the countless meadowlarks I saw there sang as if they had no complaint about the land about them.

_dsc0673Humans seem to have a tendency to give value to things primarily as they relate to themselves. A fancy word for this is anthropocentrism.  If something benefits us it is considered good; if it does not we deem it bad.  We may have a tendency to look at things this way but I don’t think God does.  For some reason we often forget that God declared in Genesis 1 that all that He made is “good.”  Perhaps we have trouble finding the good at times from a human perspective but that does not mean such things do not have an inherent goodness about them.  All of the earth is valuable and good because it was created by and belongs to God. In one of her poems Mary Oliver says “You cannot cross one hummock or furrow but it is His holy ground.”  The badlands are no exception.

_dsc0467As I enjoyed the beauty and diversity of Badlands National Park and pondered why they got the designation “bad-lands” I thought of the story in the Book of Acts where Peter has a vision where “he saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.” (10:11) In that sheet were all kinds of animals and Peter heard a voice that instructed him to kill and eat what he saw.  Since many of the species were ceremonially unclean animals and forbidden by Jews for eating Peter protested and said he had never eaten anything impure or unclean.  At this point Peter heard a heavenly voice tell him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (10:15)   Perhaps we stand in need today of a new vision where we are reminded that there are no bad lands.  If we are going to be good stewards of the earth it would certainly help if we recognized the goodness of the land.  Wouldn’t you agree?


Sep 29 2016

Mind Your Own Business

sd-mind-2I can remember growing up hearing, “Mind your own business”, from my sister. I think it is a common part of baby boomers’ times of growing up. Siblings used to love to say this, and sometimes parents would use this as a way of trying to quiet squabbling brothers and sisters. It is directed outward, as in, “Mind your own business, person who is bothering me.”

Now what does that have to do with Seeing Creation. A lot, I think, and it may say a bit about how we respect ourselves and God’s creation as formed in us. But I am not thinking an outward direction, but an inward direction.

sd-mind-3As Chuck and I know, nature photography is a great way of sharing God’s Creation. Yet, photography is a bit crazy in today’s world. In social media, we can see photographs from everyone everywhere, and we see a lot of what other people are doing in their photography. And of course, on Facebook, it appears to be all good. Photos are the best, trips are amazing, business is wonderful, and on and on. And it’s not just Facebook. Other places where the “world of photography” is put on display include Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr (still around), Google + and more. And all of it looks like everything is just great.

Sometimes it is. But that is rarely the full picture of anything, especially nature and photography. If we are only looking for the “best”, then we miss a lot of what God may want to show us. Nature is not defined by what we think is “best.”

Consider this, in Luke 12:6, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” Or Matthew 6:28-29, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Note that Jesus does not talk about eagles or lions, but the common sparrow. Nor does He talk about some exotic flowers, but common lilies of the field. If God considers these things important, then as nature lovers (and photographers), we need to pay attention to more than simply the dramatic nature that gets attention on social media. And of course, we have to remember Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” Not some things, a few things, but all that He had made.

The problem is that we have a tendency to want to compare our photos and what we see of nature to those bright and shiny posts on the Internet. “I should be photographing big landscapes and beautiful sunrises and sunsets, but all I have nearby are flat fields and average skies. I should be doing more than just photographing some common flowers or some stupid bugs. Why can’t I photograph like these other photographers? Why can’t I get better subjects?”

Comparisons are killers of creativity and our souls, who we are, who God created us to be. God did not create us to be someone other than who we are. God did not create nature in order to create bold subjects for Facebook.

So I think maybe we need to tell ourselves, “Mind your own business.” Or maybe even God’s business! But if we are true to who we are in how we see nature and in any creative endeavor, minding our business is God’s business as He has offered it to you. Your work can be God’s work. We need to pay attention to what energizes and excites us about photography, nature, and the world, how God is presenting it to us, not how someone else is dealing with that.

So whenever you are feeling conflicted because of what you see and learn about what other people are “doing” that you are not, remember to tell yourself, “Mind your own business!” That is probably God’s business as well.

sd-mind-1– Rob

Sep 9 2016

“Watchin’ and Listenin'”

wy-yellowstone-np-grand-prismatic-springLast night I decided it was time for me to reread C. S. Lewis’ classic series The Chronicles of Narnia.  I began with the first book, The Magician’s Nephew.  It is in this volume that Lewis tells the story of the founding of Narnia.  It will be obvious to most people that Lewis’ tale parallels to a certain degree the Creation story found in Genesis 1.

wy-yellowstone-np-lower-falls-vThe beginnings of Narnia are witnessed by a handful of humans from earth and a wicked witch that have travelled through time and space by using some magic rings. They all witness the arrival of the lion Aslan and his singing the new world into creation.  They do not, however, all witness this in the same way.  The two children are in awe of what they see.  The witch ends up running off in fear.  Another character immediately begins to see the potential for making a fortune from what was being created before his very eyes.  After this same character offers a complaint while so many wonderful things were happening all around him a different character says to him, “Oh stow it, Guv’nor, do stow it. Watchin’ and listenin’s the thing at present, not talking.”

I think these words are some a lot of us need to pay heed to when we stand before God and God’s Creation. Even now God’s Creation continues to unfold all around us.  Like the characters in the book, we too are witnesses of God’s ongoing Creation.  The Bible makes it clear that God is not finished with the work He started long ago.  God is creating still.  As we witness this ongoing work we would be wise to do more watching and listening than talking.  We’ll see, hear, and learn a lot more that way.

wy-yellowstone-np-giant-geyserA couple of weeks ago Rob Sheppard came to visit me and I was reminded how lax I had become in listening to Creation. Living near Los Angeles, California, Rob does not get to hear the sounds he was hearing where I live.  He opened the window in our guest room so he could hear the crickets and cicadas.  When we walked through John James Audubon State Park he commented on the sounds of the forest.  All of the sounds he pointed out were common ones that I no longer really pay attention to.  I guess I’ve come to take them for granted.  That is not good.  In order to get the most out of God’s “Other Book” I need to do more “watchin’ and listenin’.”  I suspect a lot of people do.  Perhaps recognizing that is a first step in moving toward a greater experience of God through Creation.  I hope so anyway.


(I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park.  This is one spot where God’s ongoing work of Creation seems pretty obvious.)

Sep 2 2016


_DSC9709People love hummingbirds. I’m not so sure, however, that the two hummingbirds I have visiting my feeders love each other.  I’ve been watching them the past few weeks and one of the two absolutely will not let the other one feed.  If it sees the other hummingbird anywhere close to the feeders it will dive bomb it and harass it until it leaves.  What I find interesting about this is the fact that I have two feeders.  There is more than enough sugar water available for them.  Each bird could have its very own feeder but the dominant bird doesn’t want to share.  Aren’t you glad that we humans aren’t like that?

As I’m sure you already know, that last line was written “tongue in cheek.” I am afraid the hummingbird behavior I’ve been observing recently is not all that different from the human behavior we observe from time to time between nations, in the halls of Congress, in places of business, and even in churches.  Selfishness and greed have a way of raising their ugly heads just about anywhere you look.  Fussing and fighting, well-known side effects of selfishness and greed, have a way of breaking out wherever humans interact.  In fact, it seems like this has become the norm rather than the exception.

_DSC9702God certainly had a different plan for us. In Psalm 133:1 David said “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity.”  That is God’s goal for us and should be our goal as well.  If that is going to take place we must learn to share.  The Scriptures certainly have a lot to say about sharing.  Hebrews 13:16 says “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” One of the messages John the Baptizer delivered was: “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” (Luke 3:11)  The writer of First John raised this poignant question, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” (3:17)  Luke described the early church this way: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32)

_DSC9667My hummingbird’s refusal to share could prove quite detrimental to the other bird. Our failure to share, likewise, can come with dire consequences.  In some instances it is truly a life or death matter.  As children we often received instructions on the importance of sharing.  Here lately, I’m thinking we may all need a refresher course.


(I took the pictures shown here in my yard the last couple of days.)

Aug 22 2016

Maintaining the Flow of Justice

_CES3656Last week a friend and I drove over to Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana to photograph the waterfalls at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail. Our area had received several days of rain and we thought it would be a good time to check the falls out.  It turned out to be the perfect time to be there.  Both of the waterfalls on the trail had an abundance of water.  I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph the falls because these are seasonal waterfalls.  The only other time I had been on the trail there was only a trickle of water coming over the falls.  I found myself wishing that the falls always looked like they did last week.  It would be wonderful to visit this area throughout the seasons and photograph the beautiful waterfalls but that’s not going to happen.  These falls are dependent on weather systems that will not support this and I have no control over that.

Thinking about the contrast in the water flow between my two visits my mind wandered to the ancient words of the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (5:24) Most of the streams in the land of Israel, like the falls at Hemlock Cliffs, are seasonal.  The streambeds or wadis remain dry until the rains come.  Soon thereafter they are dry again.  Through the prophet God declared that the justice he saw lacking in the land was meant to flow constantly like a steady river or a never-failing stream.

_CES3672Amos spent his time pointing out to Israel the many places where injustice raised its ugly head. It was obvious that God was not pleased with the way His people had ignored His calls that justice be practiced among all.  Only occasionally was justice practiced. That’s why there was the plea to let justice and righteousness flow on a regular basis.  God’s people, then and now, fall short when justice issues are ignored.

_CES3718I have a feeling that God is still trying to get this message across to people today. We live in a world where injustice continues to be prevalent.  We hear most often about matters pertaining to racial injustice but there are many other arenas where injustice occurs on a regular basis.  It happens in the arena of fair wages, gender discrimination, food distribution, penal incarceration and age discrimination.  As I have written about previously, many environmental issues are justice issues as well.

_CES3749Today Christians cannot afford to remain silent in the face of injustice. If we do we shouldn’t be surprised if God tells us the same thing He did Israel long ago: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)  No matter how big the crowds, how glorious the music or inspirational the preaching, our worship services are found unsatisfactory to God if we are not at the same time committed to maintaining justice.

I cannot change the weather to make the water flow more freely at Hemlock Cliffs but I can make a difference in whether the river of justice continues to flow, and so can you. May God help us all to do just that.


(I took these images last week at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail.)

Aug 10 2016

Glints of the Divine

AZ Antelope Canyon 1 near PageIn recent days I’ve been reading Joan Chittister’s book, In Search of Belief.  The book is a careful and thoughtful look at the Apostles’ Creed.  When it comes time for Chittister to discuss God as “Father” it is apparent she has a problem with this appellation.   It’s not that she is opposed to referring to God as Father; instead, she finds it too limiting.  She feels the Church has made a mistake in focusing on just one of the Bible’s many images of God.  She notes that a number of the biblical images come from Creation and feels that these, as well as others, should also be used to give us a fuller and more complete understanding of God.

_CES2470Chittister argues for expanding our metaphors and images of God. She says, “By naming God everything that makes God God, we come daily to see God differently, to see God wholly. More than that, by naming God the sum total of created goodness, we come to see the rest of life differently as well.  In the first place, we see God present to every distinct moment, every separate segment of life.  In the second place, we come to see every distinct moment of life, every gracious mortal being around us charged with that presence.  We come to see every facet of life—all of them, each of them—as glints of the Divine. We get a fuller picture of God.  At the same time, we get a deeper understanding of the sacredness of a creation that shares in this diversity.”

Joan goes on to say, “When we name God fully, all of life becomes an exercise in contemplation. We touch the divine dimensions of ourselves.  We see God everywhere.  We feel divinity everywhere.  We recognize God everywhere.  And, eventually, we become what we think about.  We become what we see, make holy what we touch, make sacred what we are.”

AZ Monument Valley mittens (v) crI appreciate what Chittister says here. Perhaps we have focused too much on just a few images of God when including several more would broaden both our understanding and experience of God and Jesus.  I am especially drawn to the biblical images found in Creation.  Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world”  and spoke of the “living waters” that came from him.  I remember other nature images appearing in a hymn I sang often as a child: “He’s the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star…” Another song referred to God as “the sweetest rose of Sharon.” The Psalmist used nature images to refer to God.  He spoke of God as “a sun and shield” (84:11)  and “the Rock of our salvation.” (95:1)

There are lots of images of God related to nature and if we will regularly reflect on these, especially as we view them in nature itself, we should be able to connect with God in a fuller and richer way.  There truly are “glints of the Divine” all around us!  I encourage you to take Chittister’s lead and begin looking for other metaphors and images that will augment the few the Church has historically chosen to highlight so that you might come to know God in fresh and new ways.  As Joan reminds us, “Clearly, if God is really God, no one name can possibly hold all the allusions, say all the concepts, breathe in one breath all the qualities that are God.”


(I took the top image at Antelope Canyon near Page, Az.; the middle image in Missouri’s Ozark mountains; and the bottom image at Monument Valley in Az.)