Feb 10 2016

Using Creation to Help Us on Our Lenten Journey

VA SNP dawn and crescent moonToday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. This is a special time of the year when Christians begin a 40 day journey, excluding Sundays, that leads them to Easter. One of my dear friends, Lon Oliver, put together a Lenten devotional guide for his congregation where he urged them to reflect on God’s two books of revelation–Creation and the Scriptures. Concerning Lent Lon writes: “This special time in the church year always comes when the days are lengthening with the arrival of spring. During Lent not only will the hours of daylight become longer, we will also witness the renewal of the earth as flowers blossom, trees bud, and the wildlife absent during the winter months make a reappearance.” He goes on to say, “During the season of Lent we believe God desires that each of us experience a renewal not unlike that we observe in nature. Lent calls for a spring or rebirth to awaken our souls.”

KY Bernheim Forest spring hYesterday I saw a posting on Facebook from Green Chalice, a group that gives attention to environmental issues in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), that offered a list of things a person might do each day during the season of Lent that will help them connect with the Creation and the Creator. I want to share a similar list of items with you and hope you will consider using it in the days to come. If you do, it may well help you to experience the “renewal” Lon wrote about in his devotional guide.

Feb. 10 — Listen for a bird’s song

Feb. 11 — Read Psalm 104

Feb. 12 — Recycle something

Feb. 13 — Notice where you see life resting or hibernating

Feb. 14 — Read Genesis 1:1-2:3

Feb. 15 — Take a shorter shower

Feb. 16 — Watch a sunset

Feb. 17 — Look at the sky

Feb. 18 — Sweeten something with honey

Feb. 19 — Make a donation to an environmental organization

Feb. 20 — Hug a tree

Feb. 21 — Read Job 38-41

Feb. 22 — Watch a sunrise

Feb. 23 — Ask someone what their favorite part of nature is

Feb. 24 — Notice five birds/animals/plants

Feb. 25 — Light a candle and give thanks for the elements

Feb. 26 — Take a picture of a tree with your camera or smart phone

Feb. 27 — Draw in the dirt

Feb. 28 — Read Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; 12:1-7

Feb. 29 — Take a walk

Mar. 1 — Feel the breeze

Mar. 2 — Read a poem about nature

Mar. 3 — Visit hubblesite.org and marvel at the universe

Mar. 4 — Purchase an organic food product

Mar. 5 — Go stargazing

Mar. 6 — Read Proverbs 8:22-31

Mar. 7 — Visit a local park

Mar. 8 — Sit still outside for five minutes

Mar. 9 — Visit BlessedEarth.org

Mar. 10 — Pay special attention to the “smells” of nature

Mar. 11 — Plant something

Mar. 12 — Meditate on the words to “Morning Has Broken”

Mar. 13 — Read Genesis 2:4-3:24 while sitting outside

Mar. 14 — Google “endangered species”

Mar. 15 — Notice how the days are “getting longer”

Mar. 16 — Take a picture of a flower with your camera or smart phone

Mar. 17 — Read Psalm 23 outdoors

Mar. 18 — Contemplate the many uses of water

Mar. 19 — Do something to learn more about renewable energy

Mar. 20 — Read Colossians 1:15-20

Mar. 21 — Eat lunch outside

Mar. 22 — Water a flower

Mar. 23 — Savor the taste of something fresh

Mar. 24 — Visit nps.gov and learn more about our national parks

Mar. 25 — Meditate on the words to “How Great Thou Art”

_CES1624I pray God will bless your journey through the season of Lent and that you will be drawn ever closer to the Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

 

 


Jan 30 2016

Just Be You

Today’s entry is a collaborative one. The first section is a reposting of a blog Rob wrote earlier this week about nature photography.  In the second section Chuck shows how Rob’s words also apply to the spiritual life. Rob at Mono Lake not shooting Mono LakeIt has taken me a long time, a lifetime in fact, to learn a very simple rule for getting the best from my photography. Be me.

Over the years, I have chased the looks of photographs made by well-known photographers I liked. It is one thing to be inspired by others, but truly, the only people who can do their work are those photographers themselves.

I have chased gear that others had, even have been envious. Instead of focusing on the gear that is most appropriate to me. Gear is obviously important because without it, we can’t photograph. But thinking too much about the gear others have is a distraction from my own photography. Be me. Be me2
I have chased the latest techniques hoping that would lead to a breakthrough in my photography. Learning new techniques is always valuable, but not when they overwhelm who I am as a photographer. I really don’t have to know everything about every new technique. Some really aren’t for me. Be me.

I have chased the approval of people important to me, from other photographers to family. Sure, people close to me are important, but not as arbitrary evaluators/critics of what I do. I can desire to learn what people think, but only as one input of many and an input I can chose to use or not. Be me. BeyondObvious5I have worked hard to produce work that no one can criticize. That is unrealistic and ultimately restrictive. It also guarantees mediocrity. If I try to please everyone, I end up pleasing no one, especially myself. Be me.

Really, the number one rule for better photography, for more satisfying photography, for more authentic images is to be me. And for you to be you.

–Rob

_DSC3806When I read Rob’s excellent blog on nature photography earlier this week I couldn’t help but see parallels in the spiritual life to what he was saying about photography.  A lot of Christians find people they admire and then do all they can to be like them.  Some may seek to be Mother Teresa but there was only one Mother Teresa.  Some may want to be just like Billy Graham but there is only one Billy Graham.  We can certainly all learn from the lives of other people of faith who have lived exemplary lives but in the end our calling is not to be them but to be us.  Some of the techniques or disciplines they used to enhance their journey may work for us but we should not assume that they automatically will.  Each of us have to find our own way.

When I was much younger I was pretty much convinced that there was just one way to be a Christian. I expected other people to conform to this image and if they did not I tended to judge them.  I now realize just how immature and naïve I was.  There is no one single way to practice the Christian life.  There are as many spiritual pathways as there are spiritual pilgrims.

_DSC4105In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas writes about nine different spiritual pathways: 1) Naturalists—loving God out of doors; 2) Sensates—loving God with the senses; 3) Traditionalists—loving God through ritual and symbol; 4) Ascetics—loving God in solitude and simplicity; 5) Activists—loving God through confrontation; 6) Caregivers—loving God by loving others; 7) Enthusiasts—loving God with mystery and celebration; 8) Contemplatives—loving God through adoration; and 9) Intellectuals—loving God with the mind.  In the end the spiritual life truly is about loving God but there are many ways a person can do this.  Thomas’ book helped me to understand this.  No one path is the right one for everybody.  Nor are we limited to one path only or forbidden to change paths as time passes or our circumstances change. _DSC3914God wants you to be you. God doesn’t expect you to be anybody else.  If we try to be someone else we will miss out on the joy of being ourselves and lose the freedom we are meant to experience in being the persons God created each and everyone of us to be as individuals.  Be you.  You’ll find that far more pleasing in the end and so will God.

–Chuck


Jan 20 2016

Clean Water

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendThe subject of water has certainly been in the news lately. What has happened in Flint, Michigan, is quite tragic.  In order to save money the lives of thousands of children were put at risk by the state government.  While all this gets played out in the news Congress has been attempting to weaken clean water standards that currently are in place.  I find all of this very disturbing.  The availability of clean water is a necessity and must be insisted upon.

_CES2860A few nights ago I was reading Psalm 104 and came across a series of verses where the Psalmist talks about God providing water not for humans but for the rest of Creation. Take notice of what is said here: “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.  The birds of the air nest by the waters;  they sing among the branches.  He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work…  The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon he planted.” (vs. 10-13, 16)

Apparently the provision of water is something that God takes very seriously. The Creator has made sure that all creatures, human and nonhuman alike, have the water they need.  In the Old Testament one of the names of God is Jehovah Jireh which means “the Lord will provide.”  From the beginning God has sought to provide for and meet the needs of His Creation.  God has gone to great lengths to provide water for “the beasts of the field, the wild donkeys, the birds of the air, the mountains and the trees.”  This is a wonderful reminder that God’s love and compassion extends to all of Creation, not just us.

_DSC1477If God was concerned enough to provide water for all the things the Psalmist mentions, and for us too, we can surely conclude that making clean water available to others ought to be a concern of those who are children of God. We should be concerned that so many of our oceans, rivers and lakes are dangerously polluted.  We should be horrified that something like what happened in Flint ever occurred.  If we are going to take seriously our call to be good stewards of the earth then we must do what we can to protect our water resources and support legislation that ensures clean water be provided to all.

According to the Psalmist God cares about things like this.  Hopefully we will too.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Grand Tetons National Park, the middle one in the Ozarks of Missouri, and the bottom on in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Jan 11 2016

“You Reap What You Sow”

_DSC3309Last week I had a chance to get out and photograph for a while. I visited two of my favorite local natural areas.  Both areas have been great locations for bird photography the past two winters.  One area is a wildlife management area and there I found thousands of snow and speckled geese.  It was good to see the large number of birds because in previous trips there lately I had seen very few birds—far less than normal for this time of year. The other place I visited is a county park. The past two winters I’ve been able to photograph short-eared owls there.  On this trip I saw none.  A couple of my friends have been out to this park as well lately and they both have reported that they have seen no owls.

_DSC3278Both the late arrival of the birds to the wildlife management area and the disappearance of the owls at the county park are easily explained. The geese do not migrate to our area until it gets cold up north. Typical winter weather was late arriving in the northern portions of the country this year.  Rob Sheppard visited Minnesota a few weeks back.  Most years he would have experienced snow, ice and frigid temperatures at that time.  He reported that it was too warm for any of those.  The unseasonably warm weather in the northern part of the central United States was the main reason for the late arrival of the geese here in western Kentucky.

The reason for the disappearance of the owls is a change in their habitat. Two years ago the county park was new and basically undeveloped.  There were lots of owls that year.  The following year the park built several new roads and altered the fields where the owls feed.  As a result last winter there were far less owls to be found.  This past year the park has undergone significant development and the original habitat has been greatly altered.  This has eliminated much of the birds’ feeding grounds so it is not surprising that we are not seeing the owls back there this year.

_DSC1814eBoth scenarios described reflect how humans make a difference in the natural world. Climate change at the present time is undeniable.  The earth is unmistakably warming.  The vast majority of scientists who have studied climate change believe that humans are affecting the rising temperatures.  You will hear a lot of folks refute this claim but they rarely come from the scientific community.  Those who know what they’re talking about believe we are causing unnatural changes to the earth or at least speeding up natural processes.  If this continues, human and nonhuman life will be greatly affected and in most cases not for their betterment.

Humans obviously have radically altered the landscape of the earth. The changes I’ve witnessed in a small county park nearby are nothing compared to what has happened in other parts of our country and the world.  Many animals now have only a fraction of their original habitat.  Wildlife that people commonly saw in years gone by are rarely seen today due to loss of habitat.  What we do with the land around us has repercussions on numerous species.

_DSC1851eI share all of this today simply as a reminder that what we do does have an impact on the planet and the creatures that inhabit it. We simply must strive to be the best stewards of God’s Creation we possibly can. The Scriptures say “you reap what you sow.” (Gal. 6:7)  That can be good or bad.  Thankfully, there are wonderful stories of successful reintroduction of species into areas where natural habitat has been restored.  We can be an ally to the other creatures we share the earth with or we can be their worst enemy.  It’s our choice.  We also know today that there are things we can do to help slow down global warming.  Once again, it’s our choice.  We have to decide.

If we take seriously our divine call to tend the planet we will have to make wise choices. The bottom line for too many people and for too long has been how can we use nature to make a financial profit?  I don’t believe that is God’s primary concern, nor should it be ours.  If we reap what we sow, I hope we will strive to reap a future where the planet we all live on is made a better place for everyone, including the creatures God made to share the earth with us.

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.  The bottom two images were taken at Sandy Watkins County Park.)


Dec 28 2015

Learning From the Lovely Chickadee

chickadee  532For Christmas I received a beautiful little book from a friend called Birds: A Spiritual Field Guide. I had not heard of this book and was excited to find another book that focuses on spiritual lessons that can be learned from birds. Last night I picked the book up and started reading it. I read the back cover first and was a bit surprised to discover that the author is “a third-degree Wiccan High Priestess in the Black Forest Clan.”  When I saw that my first response was “I bet my friend (one of my church members) didn’t realize that when she purchased this book for me.”  My second thought was “what in the world am I going to do with this book?”  I thought momentarily that this book might best be placed on a shelf and forgotten. Then I decided to at least give it a chance and started reading it. What I soon discovered is that although there are parts of the book that are strange and unappealing to me, other parts are filled with good information and insight.  I was once again reminded of one of the maxims I try to live my life by, “gold is gold wherever you find it.”

chickadee 039One nugget of gold I discovered was something the author wrote about chickadees. I learned that “the chickadee’s brain allows neurons and the associated old information to die each fall, in order to free up space to absorb new information and adapt anew to its environment.”  This made me think of my constant need to clear space on the hard drive of my computer so that I can store more images. The author of the book, however, spoke of a different analogy.  She raised the questions, “Are you holding on to old patterns, habits, opinions, and beliefs?  Is it time to shed them so that you can reexamine current information and situations, and form new opinions and plans? ” These are questions that definitely deserve our consideration, especially as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another.

chickadee 475Earlier today I came across an article on the internet that listed seven habits practiced by unhappy people. I was embarrassed to see how many of them I am guilty of. I found myself thinking that perhaps I needed to emulate the chickadee and let certain patterns of thinking die. In Romans 12:2 Paul says, “do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Paul recognized that from time to time our minds need to be transformed. I suspect this includes, among other things, freeing up space in our minds by getting rid of those thoughts and thought patterns that are detrimental to us. It also includes letting God’s Spirit direct our thinking in more positive directions.

chickadee 955As we close out 2015 do you, like me, find yourself in need of freeing up some space in your thinking?   Like the lovely chickadee, we too have the ability to do precisely that. It would do us all a world of good if we would pray these words found at the end of Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”  If we actually let God lead us (and our thinking) we have much to look forward to in the coming year.

–Chuck

(I took the images of chickadees shown above when I lived in Pikeville, KY.)


Dec 19 2015

Can We Help Bring Joy to the World?

_DSC2996“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  These words are found at the beginning of one of the most beloved Advent/Christmas hymns.  They are soon followed by a refrain that includes the phrase “let heaven and nature sing.”   It would seem that the writer of this hymn, Isaac Watts, believed that Christ’s coming was meant to bring joy to all of Creation.  This is further indicated in the second verse where he talks about “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”  There’s no way I could ever prove it but I do believe that all of nature joins together in offering praise to the Creator.  I also believe that the same Jesus who came to bring joy to people like you and me likewise longs for there to be joy in all aspects of his Creation.  The God who created the world is a God of great joy and this same God longs for joy to be found throughout Creation.

_DSC5464Joy has been the theme of the Advent season this past week. I’ve paused a couple of times these past few days to wonder just how much joy the rest of Creation experiences these days.  When we stop and consider the impact humans have had on the earth it does, in fact, make you wonder.  Does air and water pollution hinder Creation’s joy?  Does ever increasing species decimation and destruction of the rain forests cause Creation to experience less joy?  Are the effects of climate change at this very moment diminishing the joy that Christ intended for his Creation?  Can we even still sing “joy to the world (Creation), the Lord is come” or expect heaven and nature to sing?

e_DSC3071Despite what we humans have done to harm the earth and rob it of its intended joy, I still believe that when we stop and consider the coming of Christ long ago there remains cause for “the world” to rejoice and sing. The hope, peace and joy of the world remain tied to the first advent of Jesus.  More specifically, they remain tied to the love he both taught and made manifest throughout his life on earth.  John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” Here is a needed reminder that God’s love for the world (and those who inhabit it) was the primary reason Jesus was born the first Christmas.  If we and the rest of Creation can remember this and reflect on the incomprehensible love that brought Christ into the world there will always be joy.

e_DSC3341But as we consider love, the theme for the fourth week of Advent, this coming week, I would suggest that there is to be found in Christ’s teachings a word that has the potential to bring further joy to the rest of Creation. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he responded with a twofold answer.  He said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” Then he added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus made sure we understood that what is most important of all is loving God and loving others.  If we will take seriously his words it would make an incredible difference in how we relate to the rest of Creation.  Think about it…

If we truly love God we are not going to abuse that which God has made. Recognizing that the earth is, in fact, the work of God’s hands and belongs first and foremost to God, we will realize its sacredness and also the need to be diligent stewards of it.  If we sincerely love God how could we ever trash the work of God’s hands?  How could we take that which belongs to God and treat it as though it was ours to do with as we please?  Furthermore, if we honor Jesus’ words to love our neighbor as we love ourselves will that not also affect how we view and use the world’s resources?  Our stewardship of the earth starts to look different when we begin to see it as a means of loving others.  The bottom line is no longer what I want or what I can get or how much money I can make off of the earth’s resources.

e_DSC3161I realize it may sound too simplistic but I would argue that if we took Jesus’ words seriously it would result in a much healthier planet.  And perhaps, if we did a really good job of it, we might actually get to hear “heaven and nature sing.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)