Mar 24 2022

Holy Love

During my retirement I have been rereading some of my textbooks from seminary.  Many of these are over forty years old!  Currently I’m reading The Christian Doctrine of God by Emil Brunner.  In this classic work Brunner highlights the self-revelation of God and emphasizes God’s revelation of Godself as holy and love.  Both aspects of God’s nature must be maintained in order to have a significant grasp of who God is.  Brunner says “love is the very nature of God.” “Love is the self-giving God: love is the free and generous grace of the One who is Holy Lord.” Elsewhere he adds, “Only now do we understand why love and revelation belong to one another. Love is the movement which goes-out-of-oneself, which stoops down to that which is below: it is the self-giving, the self-communication of God—and it is this which is His revelation. The idea of self-communication gathers up into one the two elements love and revelation.”

Reading Brunner’s words has caused me to give further thought to God’s self-communication through nature.  I firmly believe that God has used that which God created to reveal numerous truths to us.  These truths are given in love and continuously point us back to the Source of this love—a God who is Holy Love.  So many times nature has forced me to recognize the holiness of God.  How can we not be struck by God’s holiness or otherness when we contemplate the sun, moon, and stars?  The Psalmist wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)  How can we not sense God’s holiness when we visit the ocean, mountains, or desert?  I find myself standing in awe of God in natural settings more than any other place.  I suspect many of you do too.

Yes, Creation points me to the holiness of God over and over again, but it also serves as a perpetual reminder of God’s infinite love.  Creation may be viewed as an incredible gift God has lavished upon us out of love.  It is a precious gift for many reasons.  In Creation we find many of our physical, spiritual, mental and emotional needs met.  In Creation we discover a beauty that both humbles and inspires us.  For those with eyes to see, all around us is the evidence of God’s love.  The fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) here on earth reveals the full measure of God’s love for both the world and us.  Recognizing the value of this gift of love should move us to pay more attention to God’s overtures of love and affection.  It should also move us to cherish, protect, and preserve this amazing gift.

Now that spring has arrived I hope we will all get outside more and with the eyes of faith contemplate the wonders and glory of God’s handiwork.  As we do so, let us offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who has been revealed to us as Holy Love.

–Chuck


Feb 24 2022

“Rewild Yourself”

This week I’ve been reading a book called Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding Ways to Make Nature More Visible.  It’s by a British writer I enjoy reading named Simon Barnes.  The book begins with these disturbing words: “We’re not just losing the wild world.  We’re forgetting it.  We’re no longer noticing it.  We’ve lost the habit of looking and seeing and listening and hearing.  We’re beginning to think it’s not really our business.  We’re beginning to act as if it’s not there anymore.” 

I find these words to be alarming, sad, and discouraging.  Furthermore, I fear these words have the ring of truth to them.  So many people these days are largely disconnected from nature.  It plays only a small role, if any, in their lives. For me this is disheartening.  I firmly believe that nature is meant to play a much larger role.  Likewise, I’m convinced that there are serious repercussions for failing to give nature our careful attention.

Spiritually, our snubbing of nature causes us to miss out on one of God’s primary sources of revelation.  Both the heavens and the earth offer witness to their Maker’s love, mercy and goodness.  They supplement the Scripture’s witness to God’s majesty and glory.  As spiritual beings our understanding of God will be truncated if we fail to give nature our careful attention. 

Emotionally, our failure to notice nature will rob us of much joy and peace.  Numerous studies have confirmed that exposure to nature has many emotional benefits.  Our very health, emotional and physical, is connected to our exposure to the natural world.  We literally hurt ourselves when we fail to connect with nature on a regular basis while we reap benefits when we do. 

I would also argue that when we neglect nature we are less likely to be good stewards of God’s Creation. When we connect with nature we tend to love it.  When we love something we are strongly inclined to care for it.  Could our disconnection from nature be one of the underlying causes of the current environmental crisis?  I suspect so.

We, and the world itself, would be better off if we gave nature the consideration it deserves day by day, season after season.  But how do we do that?  In Rewild Yourself Simon Barnes offers many suggestions.  He urges us to be more intentional about being a part of nature and observing all it has to offer.  He suggests that we get a good pair of binoculars and take a closer look at nature.  Barnes believes we are missing much because we are not deliberately attempting to see what is around us. He encourages us to look for signs of wildlife around us, for tracks, scat, trails. We are likewise encouraged to listen more carefully for the sounds of nature.  If we only “look” at nature we will miss out on so much.  We need to put our ears to good use too.  Barnes thinks we would all benefit from learning to identify birds by their songs alone. 

Learning the names of various species, fauna and flora, is also strongly encouraged.  As Barnes points out, when we know the names of others we automatically enter a more personal relationship.  This is true for people; it is true for plants and animals too.   A similar suggestion is purchasing field guides or books on nature so that we can learn more about the subjects we see and hear.  Ideally, all of us should have a nature library.

There are many ways we can “rewild” ourselves and many good reasons for doing so.  Spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally we will benefit from paying more attention to nature.  Simon Barnes would suggests now would be a good time to start. I couldn’t agree more.

–Chuck


Jan 27 2022

“Wholehearted Faith”

For a number of years I have been a fan of Rachel Held Evan’s books. I just completed reading Wholehearted Faith.  This is the book Evans was working on prior to her untimely death in 2019.  I am so glad this book still got published as it beautifully highlights God’s unconditional love for us and shows how this unconditional love challenges a number of questionable doctrines.  In a chapter called “Beginning Again With Love” Evans talks about God’s love for creation and says “Embracing God’s love for creation isn’t some trite form of positive self-talk; it’s not a wave of the hand that says, ‘Everything’s good,’ or ‘We’re all fine.’  It’s the complicated, challenging, and unwavering conviction that every single person is created in the image of God and loved by God, even your enemies, and even you.”  She goes on to say, “Operating from that conviction is no walk in the Edenic park, let me tell you.  In my experience, centering my worldview and ethics around the inherent worth and belovedness of all creation makes me even more attuned to the seriousness of doing harm to God’s beloved.  It makes me even more aware of my own capacity for destruction and desecration.  Centering our conversations about sin around God’s love rather than our depravity raises the stakes, for it means that salvation isn’t just about managing your own personal sins; it’s also about restoring health and wholeness to all of creation.”

I believe Rachel Held Evans is on to something here.  When we focus on God’s love for us and Creation rather than God’s condemnation, it changes how we look at ourselves, at others, and even at the world around us.  God truly does love us. That has been made clear in more ways than we could count.  In faith we must accept God’s love for us. This is, however, easier said than done.  Many people find it hard to believe that God loves them but it is true.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We may not feel worthy of God’s love but our feelings do not get the final word.  God does.  You are worthy.  God says so.

God loves you and every other person on earth.  This truth challenges the way most of us live our lives, especially how we see others.  We often judge certain people to be unworthy of God’s love and treat them accordingly.  This has created great strife throughout the course of history. It is the source of so many of our problems. God’s love of others challenges us to love and respect all people.  We are to view people through God’s eyes, not our own tainted vision. What a difference it would make if we seriously attempted to do this.  A “wholehearted faith” will lead us to do so.

Evans also points to the biblical affirmation of the goodness of Creation and God’s love for it.  Here, too, we must learn to view the world through God’s eyes.  Unfortunately, we are far more likely to view Creation through anthropocentric eyes.  The many environmental crises we face today offers proof of this.  Air and water pollution, climate change, deforestation, elimination of species, and many other issues have arisen from failure to see and love the Creation as the Creator does.  In our arrogance and pride we have failed to remember that this is God’s Creation (not ours) and if God loves and cares for it, so must we.  The true value and worth of Creation comes from its Maker, not what we think.

Jesus taught us that one aspect of “the greatest commandment” is that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  May God enable us all to love ourselves, love everyone else, and love this wonderful world we live in.  Doing this while loving God first and foremost surely is what it means to have a “wholehearted faith.”  I long for just such a faith.  Do you?

–Chuck


Jan 25 2021

Models of Dominion

“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” –Barbara Brown Taylor

Throughout January I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new collection of sermons called Always a Guest.  Early on in this compilation there is a sermon called “The Dominion of Love.”  In this inspiring homily Barbara explores what God might mean in the Genesis 1:26 command for humans to “have dominion” over Creation.  She notes that for many years the predominant view was “despotism.”  Humans had the right to do with Creation whatever they chose.  In this view, everything was put here for human benefit and disposal.  Eventually many people of faith came to see this dominion to imply they are “stewards” of Creation or “divine servants” who have been entrusted with the care of the earth and all its inhabitants.  The idea of being stewards means the earth does not belong to you or I but is rather on loan to us.

Many people of faith have grown quite comfortable with the idea of humans maintaining the role of stewards of the earth.  Barbara, however, suggests there may be other models to consider, ones that bring us closer to the real meaning of dominion.  She says the idea of “stewards” is “awfully utilitarian” and claims that when we are stewards we “act from duty, not love, which may not be enough for this warming world of ours.”   An alternative model she presents for our consideration is that of “priest.’  A priest is someone who sees in the world “an altar laid with God’s good gifts, just waiting for someone to bless them and hold them up to heaven again.”  You and I have the privilege and honor of being “priests” when it comes to Creation.  This gives the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer a whole new meaning.

Next Barbara offers the model of “neighbor,” noting that Jesus taught us we are to love and care for our neighbor.  At this point in the sermon she raises a series of questions: “Do only two-legged ones qualify, or do my neighbors include the four-legged ones, the winged ones, the ones with fins and fur?  Does God’s compassion stop with human suffering, or does it extend to every creature in need of mercy, especially those with no voice of their own to cry out for help?”  It should be clear that we are to be caring neighbors not only to humans but to all God has made.

The next model Barbara suggests is that of “kin.” She points here to the interconnectedness of all of Creation as revealed in the Genesis 1 narrative.  There is, in fact, a commonality in all created things.  The web of life is undeniable.  This commonality should motivate us to be more considerate of the rest of Creation when it comes to having dominion.

The final model offered in this amazing sermon is that of “lovers.”  Barbara Brown Taylor says “We are made in the image of the First Lover, the divine one, who brought this whole shebang into being.  If it is true that we have been put here to live in that image, then the only dominion we can possibly exercise is the dominion of love—without condition, without distinction, without self-interest or secret devotion to any other dominion, including the one in which the value of all things is reduced to their price.”  In the end she concludes, “We are here because God made us, and if God made us, we live by love.  We are here to preside over the dominion of love in God’s name.”

It will likely be hard for a lot of us to get away from the use of the word  “stewards” but the models of  “priests,” “neighbors,” “kin,” and “lovers” should certainly be incorporated into the concept.  Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I think “lovers” is probably the best way to understand our role as those who have been given dominion over the earth.  God created the world in love.  God created us in love.  Now God expects us to serve and care for the world in love.  Anything short of love will not do.

–Chuck


Oct 31 2020

Walk in Beauty

I have a friend who in all his correspondence with me concludes with the words “walk in beauty.”  I’ve read enough Tony Hillerman novels to know that this is an important phrase in Navajo life.  The words come from a Navajo ceremony called Beautyway.  To walk in beauty means to walk in harmony with all living things, to live in harmony with God, with nature, with others and with self.  There is a lovely Navajo prayer that includes these words: “With beauty before me, may I walk.  With beauty behind me, may I walk.  With beauty below me, may I walk.  With beauty above me, may I walk.  With beauty all around me, may I walk.”  I find these words to be both powerful and instructive.  I happen to believe that we are all challenged to walk in beauty.  It is, however, easier said than done.

Why is living in harmony with all living things so difficult?  Perhaps the Scriptures give us some clues.  If you go back to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 you see that the introduction of sin in Eden destroyed the harmony God intended for Creation.  That sin was basically humanity’s decision to put the will of self before the will of God.  In one word that sin was pride.  That same pride displayed in the Garden of Eden continues to be manifested in each of our lives.  We all have a tendency to put our will above that of God or that of others.  That pride results in discord.  Where pride raises its ugly head beauty and harmony are always found lacking.

Today many see nature as something to be used, not cherished and preserved.  Sad to say, the same thing can be said for our relationships with others.  Far worse, the same thing can be said for our relationship with our Creator.

I am convinced that until we find harmony with God we will not find harmony with self, others, or nature.  There must be peace in the center before there can be peace beyond.  Unfortunately, a lot of people leave God out of the equation.  To walk in beauty surely we should start with our Maker.

In Psalm 27:4 David says “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”   When we focus on the beauty of the Lord everything else falls into place.  We begin to see the true beauty in ourselves.  We begin to see the true beauty in others.  We begin to see the true beauty in nature.  This vision is what enables us to “walk in beauty” and to live our lives in peace and harmony.

I realize that I may not be doing justice to the Navajo concept of walking in beauty but this is how I understand the concept.   It is my prayer that I and everyone else may come to walk in beauty.  If we did, what a wonderful world it would be.

–Chuck

I took the images shown above on a trip earlier this week to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.


Sep 28 2020

Heaven on Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”  Revelation 21:1

Recently I read N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  It was a challenging read in more ways than one.  Wright, one of the world’s top biblical scholars, calls into question many longstanding beliefs about life after death.  He argues that not enough attention has been given to the New Testament teaching that there will be a new earth one day and that believers will reside there.  Heaven and earth are joined together when believers experience their bodily resurrection.

Wright’s beliefs cause him to give the earth a greater role in eschatology (the doctrine of last things) than you typically find.  They also help make a strong case for environmental responsibility.  Pointing to Paul’s words in Romans 8 where it says the whole creation is waiting with “eager longing” not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed, Wright says this includes “the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.  And since Paul makes it quite clear that those who believe in Jesus Christ…are already God’s children, are already themselves saved, this stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future.  It must begin here and now.”  This, he says elsewhere, is in part implied when Christians pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Wright adds, “God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.  It will last all the way into God’s new world.  In fact, it will be enhanced there.”

If we accept the fact that the earth plays a vital role in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, it reminds us that the world we live in is very important to God and should be important to us.  This affects how we live in and treat the world.  Wright says “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”  It would seem that we may well play a role in God ushering in the “new earth.”  Wright goes on to say, “If it is true, as I have argued, that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.  This is not an extra to the church’s mission.  It is central.”

I have long believed that environmental stewardship is a responsibility to be shared by all people of faith.  I found biblical basis for this primarily in the Book of Genesis.  It was not until reading N. T. Wright’s book that I saw God’s plan for the earth at the end of things as an additional source of motivation for caring for this planet.  One day we will reside on a “new earth.”  God will transform the earth so that we might abide here forever.  If Wright is correct, God’s plan for that transformation may well include us here and now.  Although it is hard for me to wrap my mind around this concept, I find it truly exciting.  What do you think?

–Chuck