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 2 2016

Sharing

_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.

–Chuck

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


May 18 2016

Careless in the Care of God

_DSC5775In Eugene Peterson’s amazing translation/paraphrase of the Bible, called The Message, Matthew 6:26 reads “Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God.  And you count for more to him than birds.”  Ken Gire once wrote a wonderful response to this.  He said: “’Careless in the care of God.’  And why shouldn’t they be?  For their food, He provides insects in the air, seeds on the ground.  For their search for food, He provides eyes that are keen, wings that are swift.  For their drinking, He provides poolings of rainwater.  For their bathing, He provides puddles.  For their survival, He provides migratory instincts to take them to warmer climates.  For their flight, He provides bones that are porous and lightweight.  For their warmth, He provides feathers.  For their dryness, He provides a water-resistant coating.  For their rest, He provides warm updrafts so they can glide through the air.  For their journey, He provides the company of other travelers.  For their return, He provides the companionship of a mate.  For their safety, He provides a perch in branches far from the reach of predators.  For their nest, He provides twigs.  And for every newborn beak, He provides enough worms so that they can grow up to leave the nest and continue the cycle of life.  It’s no wonder they’re so free from the cares of this world.  The wonder is, if we count more to Him than birds, why aren’t we?”

_DSC5759When I read these words earlier this morning I have to admit I was convicted. Lately I’ve been worried about a lot of things and the word “careless” would definitely not describe me at this point in my life.  Jesus’ instructions to “look at the birds” was one of his ways of trying to get his followers not to worry so much.  He encouraged them to look around and pay close attention to the birds and the wildflowers that grew nearby.  Both, he said,  serve as reminders that God takes care of them and provides what they need.  Jesus then informed these followers that God cares even more for them and they shouldn’t worry, for if God meets the needs of the birds and flowers God will assuredly meet their needs as well.

_DSC3499I love the way Ken Gire lays out for us the many ways God provides for the birds. He lists so many ways and I’m sure others could be added to his list.  Surely the recognition that God goes out of His way to care for the birds ought to be enough to make us pause when anxious thoughts come our way.  Hopefully it will help me worry a whole lot less and move me to the point where I am “careless in the care of God.”

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.)


Apr 26 2016

Seeking Nature’s Forgiveness

_DSC9845“Forgive us our sins…” Luke 11:4

One of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read is The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.  In one portion of this classic the character Father Zossima tells his fellow monks the story of his brother’s, Markel, last days.  Markel, who previously cared little for God or religion had a change of heart.  He began asking for both God’s forgiveness and that of others.  Next he did something no one could have expected, he asked the birds to forgive him.  Here are his words: “Birds of God, joyful birds, you, too, must forgive me, because I have also sinned before you.”  Zossima says “None of us could understand it then, but he was weeping with joy.   ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky and I alone lived in shame.  I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it all.’ “ When Markel’s mother told him he was “taking too many sins upon yourself” he responded, “Dear mother, my joy, I am weeping from gladness, not from grief; I want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not even know how to love them.”

_DSC3016I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions lately concerning forgiveness but most of them related to people who had hurt one another. In forty years of ministry I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone speak of asking the birds or nature to forgive them but as I read Dostoevsky’s words again this morning it seemed like what Markel did was something we all need to do.  In so many different ways we sin against Creation on a regular basis.  The birds Markel spoke of have certainly suffered.  At nearby John James Audubon State Park there is a museum that features a lot of items related to Audubon’s life.  One item tour guides invariably point to is a well preserved stuffed passenger pigeon.  At one time there were millions of these birds but today they are now extinct.  I almost feel like the next time I’m there I need to ask its forgiveness.

To some asking a bird or some tree for forgiveness would sound ridiculous but I do not believe that it is at all. When you look at the stress that we have placed on animals as we’ve wiped out their habitat how can you not apologize?  When you see where huge majestic trees have been clear-cut how can you not weep and feel sorry?  When you see fish that have died from pollution dead on the shore how can you not ask for their forgiveness?

B2175In Dostoevsky’s novel Merkel admits that he does not “even know how to love” all of God’s creatures.  Elsewhere in The Brothers Karamazov one of his characters says, “Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”  It is certainly clear that Dostoevsky believed that we should, in fact, love all of Creation and for good reason—so that we might in turn know and love the Creator.

In any relationship where love is involved there will come a time when we must ask the one we love for forgiveness. If we truly love God’s Creation there will likewise be times when we must say “I’m sorry.”  As I look around me it would seem that time is now.

–Chuck

(I photographed the northern cardinal and indigo bunting in western Kentucky and the raven at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.)

 


Apr 18 2016

It’s God’s World!

_DSC5249Yesterday was Earth Stewardship Sunday at my church. We had a chance to sing hymns and offer prayers that honored God as Creator. We were even reminded during Communion that the bread and wine are gifts of the earth provided by the One who made it.  For my sermon I chose to focus on the words of the hymn “This Is My Father’s World.”  I did this so I could emphasize a very important biblical truth, this world doesn’t belong to you or me.  As the Psalmist boldly declared, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” (24:1-2)  I like the way George McKinney, Jr. put it, “The creation of our Lord does not belong to the rich who possess it nor to the poor who need and want its resources. Neither the greedy nor the needy can claim ownership!”

So many of the environmental problems we face today have resulted from our failure to understand or remember that the earth is not ours to do with as we please. The earth belongs to God.  We do learn in Genesis 2:15 that we have a role to play in God’s Creation and that involves taking care of it.  Unfortunately we have been far more prone to abuse Creation than take care of it.  Many people see the earth and its resources as simply a means for getting rich.  Far too many people abuse the earth’s resources without any concern for others or for those who will come after them.  No wonder we find our planet in the shape it now is.

_DSC5227When I was a teenager I remember a television commercial that featured a lone Native American standing on a high precipice observing the decimation of this country’s natural beauty and as the camera zoomed in you saw a tear falling from his eye. It was a very powerful presentation and got a lot of people’s attention.  I have a feeling that if we could somehow get a close-up look at God’s face these days we might find a similar tear and for the same reason.  In essence, we have trashed the beautiful world God so graciously gave us.  We have failed to be the stewards of Creation God commissioned us to be.

In the final verse of “This Is My Father’s World” the writer says “God trusts us with this world, to keep it clean and fair.  All earth and trees, the skies and seas, God’s creatures everywhere.”  These may just be the words of a hymnist but they echo the teachings of the Bible.  God did, in fact, entrust us with this world, “to keep it clean and fair.”  Our heavenly Father expects us to honor the earth as His creation and to take the steps needed to reverse damage that has already been done and to work to preserve what we can for future generations.

_DSC7790Last week I spoke at the funeral of a friend whose favorite song was “Rocky Mountain High.” He wanted it played at his service so we did.  As I listened to the words one line in particular caught my attention.  It’s the one where John Denver sings “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.” I could relate to that.  I can honestly say my life is richer because I have seen, and here where I live now continue to see on a regular basis, eagles soaring above me.  But not that many years ago there were concerns about whether bald eagles would even exist in this country now.  The effects of the pesticide DDT seriously threatened their existence and had there not been tremendous pressure put on public officials to remove DDT I would likely not have the privilege I do here of seeing eagles on a regular basis.

Those who fought the battle to eliminate DDT made a difference. If we are going to take earth stewardship seriously, we need to be looking for places where we can make a difference too.  Got any ideas?

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures on a recent trip to southeast KY.  The eagle was photographed near where I live in western KY.)


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.)