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


Jun 29 2020

In Praise of Insects

One of the books I read this month is Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson.  It is a very interesting book and gave me a much greater appreciation for insects and the role they play in God’s Creation.  There certainly are a lot of insects on earth.  Scientists estimate that there are close to a million different kinds!  These six-legged creatures make up a huge percentage of the world’s living organisms.  It’s a good thing they are there as they provide many valuable services for both humans and other creatures.  The author of the book states “…we humans rely on insects getting their job done.  We need them for pollination, decomposition, and soil formation; to serve as food for other animals, keep harmful organisms in check, disperse seeds, help us in our research, and inspire us with their smart solutions.  Insects are nature’s little cogs that make the world go round.” 

There are around thirty different orders of insects in the world.  These include butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies, dragonflies, termites, and orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets).  Other than butterflies and a few beetles like the lightning bug, most people do not look favorably on insects.  They appear to be little more than pests to a lot of folks.  But as already noted, insects play a vital role in our lives.  Sverdrup-Thygeson notes that it is not easy to put a price tag on the services insects provide.  She says “the annual contribution of the many pollinating insects is estimated to be worth around $577 billion.  Decomposition and soil formation are estimated to be worth four times as much as pollination in total.”

Unfortunately the insect population is declining worldwide.  This is due to a number of factors.  Those most frequently cited are “increasing land use, intensive farming and forestry practices, pesticides, and the decline in natural remnant habitats, as well as climate change.”  It has been estimated that one-quarter of all insects may be under the threat of extinction.

I learned a lot about insects by reading Buzz, Sting, Bite and if you are interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures and all they do to enhance life on earth, I highly recommend you read it.  The book left me marveling at the amazing web of life God created.  Marvelous, indeed, are the works of the Lord!  We should all give thanks for insects and learn to appreciate them more.  They are worthy of our admiration, as King Solomon recognized, and protection.

A Canadian insect researcher once said, “The world is rich in small wonders—but so poor in eyes that see them.”  I pray God will give us all the eyes to see the wonders of the insect world and all the other small creatures around us.

–Chuck


May 26 2020

Earth as the Original Spiritual Directors

One of the benefits of being retired is having more time to read the books I want to read.  One I recently completed is called Earth, Our Original Monastery by Christine Valters Paintner.  The subtitle of the book is “Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude Through Intimacy With Nature.”  In this delightful book Paintner speaks of Earth as the original cathedral, the original Scriptures, the original saints, the original spiritual directors, the original icon, the original sacrament, and the original liturgy.  I learned something from her chapters on each of these, but was particularly intrigued by her discussion of Earth as the original spiritual directors.

I have never had what most would technically consider a “spiritual director.”  Needless to say I have had many influence my spiritual journey but I never pursued a personal spiritual director to help me out.  I suspect I would have benefited had I done so.  But Paintner argues that not all spiritual directors are human.  The Earth—plants, animals, rocks, the seasons, etc.—has always been there to offer us spiritual guidance.  She quotes the Irish monk St. Columbanus, “If you want to know the Creator, understand created things.”  The more contemporary monk, Thomas Merton said “How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters.”  Paintner says “Merton knew that the true mentor of the soul was nature itself.  The fields, sun, mud, clay, wind, forests, sky, earth, and water are all companions for our own inner journeys.  The elements of water, wind, earth, and fire offer us wisdom and guidance.  They are the original soul friends.  Air is the gift of breath we receive each moment, the rhythm of life that sustains us.  Fire is the gift of life force and energy, and we might call to mind St. John of the Cross’s image of God as the living flame of love that burns in each of our hearts.  Water is the gift of renewal and replenishment, and we might call to mind the ritual of baptism as a call to claim our full gifts, or the blood that flows through our veins.  Earth is the gift of groundedness and nourishment.”

Reflecting on the teaching of Teilhard de Chardin Paintner says, “Through every rock, every bird, every flower, and every creature, God enters into intimacy and communion with us.  This is how God’s wisdom is revealed, and we would do well to listen for their spiritual direction.”  I am convinced that Paintner is on to something here.  All of us have been graciously given a variety of spiritual directors in nature.  The question is, are we paying attention to these directors?  If this whole concept sounds strange to you, perhaps it will help to remember that Solomon encouraged us to pay attention to the ants (Proverbs 6:6-8) and Jesus said we should consider the birds and lilies (Matthew 6:26, 28).  The Bible itself points us to nature as a spiritual director.

If we can accept the truth that God is speaking to us through nature, hopefully it will cause us to begin paying more attention to the world around us.  I have no doubt that I have missed many lessons over the years because I was not paying attention.  At this point in my life I am trying to be more attentive.  What does this entail?  Paintner says “Cultivating contemplative presence to the natural world means growing in intimacy with creation so that the intimacy becomes a way of mutuality, in which we recognize that nature is not just there for our benefit but has intrinsic value apart from us and our needs.  Mutuality means that we listen to what nature has to say to us.  We allow our hearts to be opened by encounters there.”

I encourage you, and myself, to listen more carefully to what the Creator has to say to us through the Creation.  In doing so, may our hearts be more fully opened to the wonder and mystery of God.  Let us all take advantage of the spiritual directors God has given us.  What fools we will be if we don’t.

–Chuck


Apr 30 2020

A New Season

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1

It has been a beautiful spring here in western Kentucky.  The redbuds were beautiful this year and the dogwoods magnificent. The daffodils came early and added a splash of color to the bleak landscape.  Now the trees are showing off their many shades of green.  I love spring!  Spring, however, does not last.  All too soon summer will arrive, then fall and then winter.  After that the cycle will repeat itself.  Seasons come, seasons go.

Just as God created the world with more or less definable seasons, there seems to be seasons in our human journey.  We have seasons characterized by new beginnings.  We have seasons characterized by growth.  We have seasons of decline.  We have seasons of ending.  And as with the natural seasons, the seasons of our lives often repeat themselves.  A time of ending will often usher in a time for new beginnings.  It’s all a part of this wonderful journey we call life.

I currently find myself at a seasonal transition.  In just four days I will be retiring.  After forty-four years as a minister I am stepping down from full-time church work.   This is an ending that comes with a lot of mixed emotions.  I am sadder than I thought I would be.  There is much I am going to miss about being a pastor. At the same time I find myself elated by this ending.  There is much I am not going to miss about being a pastor.  I am ready for a new beginning.  Or at least I think I am.  Who knows what the future holds?  I can only trust that the One who has guided me thus far will guide me until the end.

What I hope to do in this next season is spend more time studying and photographing God’s Creation.  I will certainly have more time to do so.  I hope to draw closer to God in this new season of my life.  Sad to say, pastors often spend so much time serving God that they do not have adequate time to commune with God.  I want to spend more time simply being in the presence of God.  That does not mean I do not want to continue to serve.  I do.  I cannot imagine a life that does not include serving others.  I hope to read more, write more, travel more, live more.  I hope to be a better husband.  I hope to be a better friend.  I hope to be a better me.

I am thankful for the four seasons of the year and I find myself now being grateful for the changing seasons of life.  I look forward to seeing what God has in store for me.  To quote Dag Hammarskjold words found in his journal Markings, “For all that has been–Thanks.  For all that shall be–Yes.”

–Chuck