Oct 15 2014

Getting Our House in Order

Cumberland Falls fall river view hI have mentioned a time or two lately that my wife and I recently purchased a home in Henderson, Kentucky.  We’ve been in it a few weeks now but are still very much in the process of getting the house in order.  There are lots of boxes waiting to be unpacked and each day we struggle to remember where certain things are.  We are constantly being reminded that getting settled in a new home is both exciting and stressful.

Raven Rock fallGetting our house in order has involved more than just unpacking. There are also a number of repairs that have to be made and various “home improvement” projects to pursue.  I’m not sure what year our house was built but I have no doubt it was something very special when the first owners moved in.  It is still a wonderful home but with the passing of time and various owners things have been damaged or do not work like they once did.  Furthermore, some earlier home improvement projects did not work out quite as planned.  We have already had a plumber come fix some things and now need the services of an electrician and painter.  It will take a lot of time (not to mention money) before we will have our house in order and looking like we want it.  This is something we both recognize and accept because it is our home now and we want to make it the best house we can.

JWSP 098As I’ve thought in recent days about the many things we need to do to get our house in order it occurred to me that there are a number of parallels with the house we all share called earth.  Few would deny that there is lots that needs to be done to get this house in order too.  The earth God created was and is something very special.  But like my own house here in Henderson, it has suffered a good bit of damage over the years and not everything works quite like it once did.  Some of the things we came up with for “home improvements” of the earth have also not gone as planned and generated new problems that now have to be addressed.

red maple treeI would like to think that we still recognize the value of our home—the earth—and are willing to do everything we can to get our house in order.  Doing so, like with my house, will take time and not be cheap.   Obviously, we don’t have to do anything if we don’t want to but we are only kidding ourselves if we think there will not be serious consequences for choosing that path.  I would be quite foolish if I didn’t go ahead and get the plumbing and electrical issues resolved in our new home.   By doing nothing I would only incur greater expense down the road but even more importantly, I would put my wife and myself in danger.  The same is true when it comes to dealing with many of the environmental problems our planet currently faces.  The longer we wait to address these problems the more costly it will be to deal with them later and by failing to deal with them we literally put our lives and that of others in jeopardy.

I hope more people will come to look at the earth as their home and recognize that it is just as important to get this house in order as it is the one we might happen to own.  Surely it would go a long way in helping to make this a better world and help us all to be better stewards of God’s Creation.

–Chuck

(I’ve chosen to illustrate today’s post with a series of autumn images I’ve taken in my “home” state of Kentucky.)


Oct 6 2014

Though the Earth Should Change

_DSC0854I have just spent a wonderful week photographing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It was a great time away from the stress of moving into a new home and the usual pressures that come with being a minister.  Even more so, it was a great time to be out in the beauty of God’s Creation and to enjoy the splendor of autumn in the North Woods.  I have witnessed autumn in a number of locations all across North America and would concur with those who say autumn in the UP is hard to beat.

_DSC8504This was only my second trip to this region.  A friend I traveled with has been over thirty times.  One of the things that came up in many of our discussions was how various things had changed.  We hiked to one of the most popular waterfalls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and when we got to the platform designed for viewing the falls my friend was disappointed to discover that the trees in front of the falls had grown so tall that they basically blocked the view of the falls he remembers so fondly.  We stopped at another waterfall that both of us had visited on previous trips and were surprised to see that the falls had completely dried up.  Many times throughout the trip we were reminded that in nature things change.

Due to technological advancements the past couple of generations have experienced change at a far more rapid rate than those that went before them.  I remember as a kid marveling at Dick Tracy’s wrist radio transmitter.  Today the iPhone I carry in my pocket does far more than could have been imagined back in that day.  I have been photographing seriously about twenty-two years.  I marvel at how much has changed with cameras in that time.

_DSC8928The changes we have experienced in just the past few years is enough to make one’s head spin.  It is also enough to cause one to be unsettled.  How can one have any sense of peace or security in an ever changing world?  Some might answer that one cannot find either but I would suggest they are wrong.  More than ever I’m convinced that there is one place, or more accurately one person, where we can find a still point and a source of security and that is in God.

_DSC0942A passage that gives me both comfort and hope can be found in Psalm 46.  Here we are told “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (vs. 1-3)  Many times during this past week as I have contemplated changes in both nature and society I have given thanks for the refuge we find in God.  I have also reflected more than once on these words from my favorite hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.  As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”  In a world that is forever changing it is good to be able to point to and hold on to One who never changes.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(The images used above were taken this past week on my trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)


Sep 28 2014

Praying With Nature in View

20101015_Red River Gorge_081Over the years there have been a number of people who have significantly helped me learn to see and experience God in Creation.  One such individual is John Philip Newell.  Newell has written numerous books on Celtic Spirituality that have been quite influential in my journey.  A couple of months ago I had the privilege of going to the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to participate in a workshop Newell led based on his newest book, The Rebirthing of God.  It was a delightful experience!  I especially enjoyed the morning and evening prayer times that were led by John Philip Newell and his wife, Ali.  They did a wonderful job of combining God’s two books–the Scriptures and Creation–during these times of prayer. This is something that I think that needs to be done more often.

In 2000 Newell published a beautiful little book called Celtic Benediction.  It is a collection of morning and evening prayers that Newell composed.  I highly encourage you to consider purchasing a copy.  After reading a couple of sample prayers below, I suspect you will want to do just that.

Raven Rock fallA Morning Prayer: “I watch this morning for the light that the darkness has not overcome.  I watch for the fire that was in the beginning and that burns still in the brilliance of the rising sun.  I watch for the glow of life that gleams in the growing earth and glistens in sea and sky.  I watch for your light, O God, in the eyes of every living creature and in the ever-living flame of my own soul.  If the grace of seeing were mine this day I would glimpse you in all that lives.  Grant me the grace of seeing this day.  Grant me the grace of seeing.”

An Evening Prayer: “In the infinity of night skies, in the free flashing of lightning, in whirling elemental winds you are God.  In the impenetrable mists of dark clouds, in the wild gusts of lashing rain, in the ageless rocks of the sea you are God and I bless you.  You are in all things and contained by no thing.  You are the Life of all life and beyond every name.  You are God and in the eternal mystery I praise you.”

e_DSC6673Prayers such as these, as well as the ones we offer from our own heart, can often be enhanced by praying outside or looking outdoors.  There is so much in nature that can help us better connect with the Creator.  If you are not accustomed to doing so, I encourage you to pray from time to time with God’s Creation in view.  It has made a difference in my life.  I can’t help but believe that it will in yours as well.

–Chuck 

p.s. Recently John Philip Newell has begun using some of my images to complement his prayers on his Facebook page.  I consider this a great honor and have enjoyed seeing how well the images enhance the beautiful prayers Newell has penned.  If you are on Facebook I encourage you to “like” his page, as well as that of his non-profit organization, Heartbeat: A Journey Toward Earth’s Wellbeing.

(I took the top image at Red River Gorge Geological Area and the middle one at Kingdom Come State Park.  Both of these are in eastern Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken near Great Basin National Park.)


Sep 23 2014

What’s In A Name?

Maine 1000p-19Recently I spent a little time in Maine. My mother as well as my sister and her family live in Brunswick, just north of Portland. Before heading back home to Southern California, Vicky (my wife) and I went to Acadia National Park. While this was not a photo trip, I did, of course, spend some time photographing both in the Brunswick area and in Acadia.

I sent a group of photos to Chuck. This is one of his favorite places. It was my favorite place while I was there – my favorite place is always the place where I can be out in nature spending some time being close to and connecting with God’s Creation. Connecting with nature, and God, means for me, being aware of the totality of nature from bugs to landscapes, and photographing it all. Chuck liked my pictures and said he was glad I got to photograph some “creepy crawlies.” Kidding, I said that we lovers of God’s Creation don’t call minibeasts “creepy crawlies.”

Maine 1000p-13But this got me thinking. When Genesis says that God looked over his creation and said it was all good, I don’t think He said, “And those creepy crawlies are okay, too.” “Creepy crawlies” is a judgment of God’s Creation based on our prejudices, not God’s.

Maine 1000p-05The poet Maya Angelou used to emphasize how much words matter. I think they do. What words we use to describe our world affects how we see it, and this definitely affects how we see nature. How often have deserts and wetlands, for example, been called “wastelands” or “worthless” as a justification for destroying them? Or how often do you hear about a desert being “restored” or “reclaimed” or “made useful”?  I find it hard to believe God looks at His world with those descriptions. Once you spend some time in a desert, you discover what an amazing ecosystem it is with everything perfectly aligned to the environment. Just as it is. Without our help. Imagine that!Desert1

Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV)”  I like the translation of this version by The Message, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” And of course there is Psalm 19:14, a verse memorized in so many Sunday School classes, “Let the words of my heart and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Now I really can’t believe giving prejudicial names to any of God’s creation, from spiders to people, swamps to mountains, is something that would be pleasing in God’s view.

Maine 1000p-06

– Rob

The pictures you see here are, from the top, sunrise at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, a daddy-long-legs (also called a harvestman), a jumping spider, Death Valley, and a tussock moth caterpillar.

 


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.)