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.)


Jul 27 2014

Seeing the Light in Darkness

e_DSC4090I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It was an incredible experience on numerous levels.  I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God.  He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening.  The services were spiritually uplifting.  The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible.  I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there.  Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area.  This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting.  I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.

e_DSC4584One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies.  Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before.  The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch.  I was in total awe.  The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place; what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (8:3-4)  I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by.  The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time.  I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.

e_DSC4596Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence.  On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky.  The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds.  After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light.  Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless.  This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.

While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way.  She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual.  At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”

e_DSC4598I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light.  We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed.  There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life.  This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise.  The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true.  When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise.  It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.

–Chuck

(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)