May 29 2018

Let Beauty Sink In Deep

_CES5077Earlier this month I took a photography trip to Arizona and Utah. For reading material while there I carried along Reflections From The North Country by Sigurd F. Olson.  It proved to be a wise choice.  In this book Olson has chapters on solitude, harmony, awareness, beauty, simplicity, wholeness, contemplation, and a number of other interesting topics.  Since I was getting to witness some extraordinary scenery on the trip, the chapter on beauty especially appealed to me.   Olson begins by saying “In nature all things are beautiful.” A bit later he adds, “There is beauty everywhere if one can see and understand its meaning.” When I read these words I could not help but think of Ecclesiastes 3:11 where it says God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” Truly, for those with eyes to see there is beauty to be found everywhere.

_CES5101While I was in Arizona I was blessed to stay with a dear friend who took me to some remote locations where I experienced beautiful sites I had not visited before. At places like White Pockets in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and a special place called “The Rock Factory” I stood in awe of God’s magnificent handiwork.  In addition to photographing the stupendous scenery and rock formations I also sought to let the beauty before me sink in.  There was a reason for this extra step.  At the end of his chapter on beauty Olson wrote these words: “In a lifetime of seeing beauty in the wilderness, I always feel a lift of spirit and an afterglow of serenity and content. I also know one must take time and wait for the glimpses of beauty that always come, and one must see each as though it were his last chance.”

_CES4875That final phrase struck a chord with me. We must see each expression of beauty as though it could be the last chance we had to do so.  Due to environmental degradation and governmental deregulation some examples of God’s beauty are disappearing.  There are places and things we must enjoy now while we can.  The other truth is none of us know how long we will live and when we witness the presence of beauty we must acknowledge that we may or may not get another chance to behold what we are seeing.  Doing so will cause us to experience beauty in a deeper way.

 

A recent example from my personal life has made me even more aware of this. My mother, a beautiful person, passed away a few days ago.  I got to visit with her just a few days before she died.  I didn’t realize that this would be the last time I would get to see her.  Had I known, perhaps I would have stayed a bit longer, asked a few more questions, or been more effusive with my affection.  But I didn’t know. Of course the truth is none of us know how long we have got to live, nor those that we love, but realizing this fact should cause us to live in the present more, to take advantage of the opportunities we have to show love and gratitude, and to make memories that will last.

_CES5184Trying to do this will make our lives richer. The same principles can and should be applied to our experiences with beauty in God’s Creation.  Let us learn to live in the present more.  Take nothing for granted. Let us learn to enjoy fully our time in special places.  Give thanks for expressions of beauty wherever they appear.  Let us make memories that will sustain us a lifetime.  There may come a time when memories are all we have.  Let beauty sink in deep…

–Chuck


Apr 18 2018

The Church’s Task

Psalm 5Gus Speth, an environmental lawyer and advocate, once said, “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with thirty years of good science we could address those problems.  But I was wrong.  The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”  Speth acknowledged that these were beyond the realm of science.  He is, of course, correct but selfishness, greed and apathy are not beyond the realm of the church.  This is a needed reminder as we prepare to observe another Earth Day.

The biblical mandate is clear. Christians are called to be good stewards of the environment.  We are expected to do all we can to preserve and protect God’s Creation.  One of Christianity’s basic affirmations is that God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth, therefore, is sacred space.  In Genesis 1 God declares the goodness of the earth.  We later learn that God’s presence and power are made manifest in Creation. (Romans 1:20)  The earth is God’s gift to us on many different levels.  It was designed to meet both our physical and spiritual needs.  The earth is indeed holy ground.

Psalm 3The world today faces a number of environmental crises. Many of these are quite daunting.  Scientists are at work seeking solutions but as Gus Speth noted, behind the environmental crisis is a moral one.  Selfishness, greed and apathy truly are underlying causes and unless these are addressed by the religious community there is not much hope for improvement.

Somehow, someway, the church must encourage and model love for God’s Creation. We cannot fulfill the Greatest Commandment to love God with everything that we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourselves unless we do practice Creation Care.  These go hand in hand.  The Bible says “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)  How can we love God if we do not care for what God owns?  And how can we love our neighbor completely if we do not care for that which sustains us all?  Love is the only thing that will overcome selfishness, greed and apathy.  And love is the church’s specialty, is it not?

More than ever, the church needs to help people make the connection between loving God and loving the earth. More than ever the church needs to model that love for others.  There are numerous ways this can be done.  For the past five years my church has sponsored a free electronic recycling event for the community.  We have also sought to curtail the use of Styrofoam products.  These are just two examples of things that can be done.  Others include establishing community gardens, participating in litter pickups, and installing programmable thermostats to reduce the use of electricity.  Some churches have gone so far as to install solar panels to produce electricity for themselves and those in their neighborhoods.

Psalm 65Every church, regardless of its size, can do something to promote ecological stewardship and practice Creation Care. Individual Christians should strive to do the same.  We may not be able to make a big difference as individuals but we can make a difference.   That is important.  By just practicing the “three Rs”—Recycle, Reuse and Reduce—we can have an impact on the earth.  We do the same when we plant trees, keep our vehicle’s tires properly inflated, feed the birds, and limit the use of pesticides.

One way we can make a big difference is by supporting environmental causes and organizations. Perhaps an even more effective way is by notifying our elected officials about our concern for issues that affect the environment.   Our government is definitely an area where selfishness, greed and apathy must be confronted.  I encourage you to pay careful attention to what is happening at the Environmental Protection Agency and to monitor legislation that effects climate change, clean air, clean water, and the protection of natural resources.  Let your voice be heard.  Make your vote count.

Psalm 73If we truly love God, others and ourselves we will make Earth Day not a one day event but a year round priority. What does love have to do with it?  Everything! In the conclusion of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson says “Maybe the environmental problem is ultimately spiritual.  If we put ourselves in order, perhaps we will do the same for the world.”  That is certainly my hope and prayer.

–Chuck

(This blog originally appeared on EthicsDaily.com.)


Feb 9 2018

Wonder and Humility

f_DSC9563I came across a passage from Rachel Carson a few days ago I do not recall reading before. With her usual insight she said “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.”  Although written several years ago, these words seem especially poignant today.  Unfortunately, in many ways what lots of people are contemplating in nature is not its beauties but what financial profit can be made from it.  For our government this appears to be its overriding concern at the present moment.  How sad!

_CES0652I have no doubt that God created the world in such a way that we could benefit from its resources, but I sincerely doubt this was all God had in mind. Carson points to nature’s other benefits when she writes “Those who dwell…among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living.  Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life exists.  There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for spring.  There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”

_CES0203Just as there are financial rewards to be found in nature, there are spiritual, mental and physical rewards to be found as well. We desperately need to be good stewards of God’s Creation so that we do not lose these other benefits.  In the long run, they are more important than the short-term financial profits.  I would also concur with Carson that it is through contemplation of God’s Creation that we “know the sense of wonder and humility.” How do you put a price tag on things like this?  If humans lose their sense of wonder they lose an invaluable asset.  If we lose our humility, we are doomed.

–Chuck


Dec 31 2017

A Disappointing Year

_DSC71822017 will not be remembered as a great year for environmental causes, at least not here in America. Many laws that protect our land, water and air were weakened. Laws protecting wildlife were also made less binding.  Responding to Global Warming ceased to be a concern of our government.  Lands that had been set aside as wilderness or parklands were taken back.  All of these actions, and others that could be noted, have caused me to become quite discouraged.  As someone who believes we have a divine mandate to care for the earth and its resources, I find it hard to accept what all has happened in the past year.  I can’t help but believe that God is disappointed as well.

_CES4154I am frustrated by our government’s attack on the environment but I am not ready to throw in the towel. There are signs of hope.  Perhaps one of the greatest signs of hope is that other nations are refusing to follow our lead.  Even in our own country there are many local leaders who are resisting the anti-environment movement.  I also happen to believe that there are lots and lots of ordinary citizens who still care about the health of the earth.  And, yes, I want to believe that there are plenty of Christians who continue to affirm that Creation Care is a moral obligation.  Governments can change laws but they cannot necessarily change people. Ordinary folks have great power.  I love Margaret Mead’s quote, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

_CES4527I suspect many of you will be making New Year resolutions as the New Year is ushered in later this evening. I hope that you will resolve to continue to make Creation Care a priority in the year to come.  Resolve to let your legislators know this is important to you.  Resolve to do the simple things you can do in your own home and workplace to make a difference.  Resolve to support organizations that fight for the environment.  Resolve to enjoy God’s Creation to its fullest and to learn the lessons God has to teach through it.  Resolve to be a steward of God’s good earth.

Here’s to hoping that 2018 will be a better year.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above on a recent trip to New Mexico.)


Nov 22 2017

Thank You, God

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendRecently the choir at my church sang an anthem called “Thank You, God.” I’m sure the author of the piece, J. Paul Williams, could have gone in a number of different directions giving thanks to God but he chose to focus on God’s gift of Creation. Here are the lyrics: “God created everything we see, He made the misty night. He spoke and there was light. He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing. God is the giver of every good thing. He gave us seed to sow. He gave us minds to know; He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing. Forest and mountain, swift running river, love overflowing, God is the giver. Thank you, God, thank you,  for every good and perfect gift. God is the one who makes the crops to grow. He makes each bud to flower with sunshine and with shower. He is the giver, our praise to Him we sing.”

_CES1773Another hymn writer, Henry van Dyke, also included Creation in his popular hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Dyke, however, took a slightly different approach and spoke of Creation’s call for us to offer God praise. He wrote: “All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays, stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.”

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)These two writers remind us that God’s gift of Creation calls us to give thanks and to offer praise to the Maker of heaven and earth. This call, of course, is nothing new. You will find numerous similar calls throughout the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Psalms. There you will even find Creation itself being called upon to offer God praise. In Psalm 98 we read “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music… Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” (vs. 4, 7-8)

 

All of Creation is called upon to offer thanksgiving and praise to God. So are we. With this in mind, let me urge you this Thanksgiving to give thanks for God’s gift of Creation. The truth be known, just about everything we normally give thanks for on Thanksgiving Day would have been impossible were it not for the provisions God gives us through Creation. And may I suggest that you continue to give thanks for this good earth on a regular basis. Our life would not be possible apart from God’s gifts through Creation. So take time each day to offer your thanks for God’s provision and your praise to the Giver of all good gifts. It truly is the right thing to do.

–Chuck


Nov 8 2017

Discovering the Presence of God in Nature

_DSC6845I’ve recently come across two quotations from a couple of my favorite spiritual writers—C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton. The subject matter is amazingly similar.  Lewis writes, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.  He walks everywhere incognito.  And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate.  The real labor is to remember, to attend.  In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.”  I’m not sure where all Lewis had in mind as places where we can find God incognito but I have no doubt he would have included nature.  The Scriptures are clear that God’s presence can be found in Creation.  This, in fact, seems to be one of God’s best hiding places.  But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear it is not hard to discover God there.  But Lewis is right, the difficult part is remembering to “attend” or pay attention.  It takes great discipline to become and “remain awake.”

_DSC6725How, then, can we pay better attention and learn to remain awake? One answer is prayer.  Thomas Merton, who I am convinced did a good job of paying attention and remaining awake to God in nature, prayed a prayer that no doubt helped.  It reads, “Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.”  If we turn to the world in silence and solitude, with a poverty of spirit, it will be impossible not to experience the presence of God.  Like C. S. Lewis, Merton believed God could be found everywhere and when one comes to see God in all places and spaces then all the world becomes a prayer.

Merton mentioned the sky, the birds, and the wind in the trees as personal forms of prayers. What parts of nature have become prayers for you?

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above on a trip last month to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)