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.)


Dec 28 2016

The Connection

_dsc5238I have to admit I’m quite concerned. As someone who strongly believes that faith in God mandates the preservation and care of the earth, I am fearful where our country seems to be heading.  The next president’s choices for people to lead influential positions like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department does not bode well for the care of the earth.  I am trying hard not to be despondent about this but at the same time I am finding very little cause for optimism.  My primary hope is that people like you will care enough to fight those changes that will prove detrimental to God’s Creation.  Many see this as an economic battle, and it certainly is in part, but I believe it is also a spiritual battle.  We cannot claim to love God and at the same time not care what happens to that which God has created.  Nor can we afford to forget how closely God is tied to Creation.

_dsc2140In her book, Grounded, Diana Butler Bass says “God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us. We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place, and our lives are linked with our neighbors’ and with those around the globe.  This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.”  Bass goes on to say, “We are powerfully connected to the ground, and the soil is intimately related to how we understand and celebrate God. The late Irish Catholic priest and philosopher John O’Donohue called the land ‘the firstborn of creation’ and the ‘condition of the possibility of everything.’  The earth itself, he insisted, holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God.  When Sallie McFague offers the metaphor of ‘body’ to describe the relationship between the God and the world, she is reminding us of both scientific truth and a sacred mystery. ‘What if,’ she asks, ‘we saw the earth as part of the body of God, not as  separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible God?'”

If the earth is to be preserved, and our health with it, then there must be a transformation in our understanding of the earth. The planet cannot be viewed primarily as a resource for private and corporate development.  Its sacredness must be maintained and our role as stewards of it preserved.

f_dsc0385I fear that most Americans do not have a theological understanding of the earth or fully understand how Creation interacts with and points to the Creator. It will be imperative in the next few years that people of faith who do understand the connection between God and Creation share that understanding with others. The connection between God and Creation is clear in the Scriptures. Now it must become clear among the populace.  Will that be enough to make a difference?  One can only hope and pray it will.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above in Kentucky, Indiana, and California.)


Dec 2 2016

Some Needful Reminders

_dsc1954In Celtic Prayers from Iona J. Philip Newell offers a series of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week.  In true Celtic fashion, many of the prayers focus on Creation.  I recently came across two of Newell’s prayers in this book that were especially meaningful to me and I want to share them with you.  The first prayer reads: “There is no plant in the ground but tells of your beauty, O Christ. There is no life in the sea but proclaims your goodness.  There is no bird on the wing, there is no star in the sky, there is nothing beneath the sun but is full of your blessing.  Lighten my understanding of your presence all around, O Christ.  Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

The second prayer reads: “You are above me O God; You are beneath; You are in air; You are in earth; You are beside me; You are within.  O God of heaven, you have made your home on earth in the broken body of Creation.  Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”

_dsc1477Both of these prayers remind us that God may be found in the world around us. This is an important reminder.  Often I pray the Lord’s Prayer when I am walking or hiking.  I always make an effort to remember that God is with me when I pray.  One way I do this is by pausing after the words “who art in heaven” and adding “and also in [wherever I happen to be].”  I believe God is both transcendent and immanent.  God is both far beyond me and also all around and within me.  Recognizing God’s nearness is important.  The exciting Advent/Christmas message that Christ came as Immanuel—God with us—is important to hold on to at all times.

The other truth Newell’s prayers convey is that God’s Creation is to be loved and cared for. If Creation truly is “God’s Other Book” and reveals to us the glory of God, how can we not love the Creation?  If Creation tells of God’s beauty, proclaims God’s goodness, and is a source of God’s blessing, how can we not long to care for it?  I would encourage you to pray with Newell, “Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”  Likewise, pray “Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

_dsc1516I truly believe that working to preserve and protect the Creation is both a religious obligation and an act of worship. I am also convinced that people of faith must now, more than ever, be willing to take a stand for Creation Care.  If we fail to care for the earth we not only fail God, we fail ourselves.  God forbid that should happen.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on a recent trip to southern Georgia.)


Sep 9 2016

“Watchin’ and Listenin'”

wy-yellowstone-np-grand-prismatic-springLast night I decided it was time for me to reread C. S. Lewis’ classic series The Chronicles of Narnia.  I began with the first book, The Magician’s Nephew.  It is in this volume that Lewis tells the story of the founding of Narnia.  It will be obvious to most people that Lewis’ tale parallels to a certain degree the Creation story found in Genesis 1.

wy-yellowstone-np-lower-falls-vThe beginnings of Narnia are witnessed by a handful of humans from earth and a wicked witch that have travelled through time and space by using some magic rings. They all witness the arrival of the lion Aslan and his singing the new world into creation.  They do not, however, all witness this in the same way.  The two children are in awe of what they see.  The witch ends up running off in fear.  Another character immediately begins to see the potential for making a fortune from what was being created before his very eyes.  After this same character offers a complaint while so many wonderful things were happening all around him a different character says to him, “Oh stow it, Guv’nor, do stow it. Watchin’ and listenin’s the thing at present, not talking.”

I think these words are some a lot of us need to pay heed to when we stand before God and God’s Creation. Even now God’s Creation continues to unfold all around us.  Like the characters in the book, we too are witnesses of God’s ongoing Creation.  The Bible makes it clear that God is not finished with the work He started long ago.  God is creating still.  As we witness this ongoing work we would be wise to do more watching and listening than talking.  We’ll see, hear, and learn a lot more that way.

wy-yellowstone-np-giant-geyserA couple of weeks ago Rob Sheppard came to visit me and I was reminded how lax I had become in listening to Creation. Living near Los Angeles, California, Rob does not get to hear the sounds he was hearing where I live.  He opened the window in our guest room so he could hear the crickets and cicadas.  When we walked through John James Audubon State Park he commented on the sounds of the forest.  All of the sounds he pointed out were common ones that I no longer really pay attention to.  I guess I’ve come to take them for granted.  That is not good.  In order to get the most out of God’s “Other Book” I need to do more “watchin’ and listenin’.”  I suspect a lot of people do.  Perhaps recognizing that is a first step in moving toward a greater experience of God through Creation.  I hope so anyway.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park.  This is one spot where God’s ongoing work of Creation seems pretty obvious.)


Aug 10 2016

Glints of the Divine

AZ Antelope Canyon 1 near PageIn recent days I’ve been reading Joan Chittister’s book, In Search of Belief.  The book is a careful and thoughtful look at the Apostles’ Creed.  When it comes time for Chittister to discuss God as “Father” it is apparent she has a problem with this appellation.   It’s not that she is opposed to referring to God as Father; instead, she finds it too limiting.  She feels the Church has made a mistake in focusing on just one of the Bible’s many images of God.  She notes that a number of the biblical images come from Creation and feels that these, as well as others, should also be used to give us a fuller and more complete understanding of God.

_CES2470Chittister argues for expanding our metaphors and images of God. She says, “By naming God everything that makes God God, we come daily to see God differently, to see God wholly. More than that, by naming God the sum total of created goodness, we come to see the rest of life differently as well.  In the first place, we see God present to every distinct moment, every separate segment of life.  In the second place, we come to see every distinct moment of life, every gracious mortal being around us charged with that presence.  We come to see every facet of life—all of them, each of them—as glints of the Divine. We get a fuller picture of God.  At the same time, we get a deeper understanding of the sacredness of a creation that shares in this diversity.”

Joan goes on to say, “When we name God fully, all of life becomes an exercise in contemplation. We touch the divine dimensions of ourselves.  We see God everywhere.  We feel divinity everywhere.  We recognize God everywhere.  And, eventually, we become what we think about.  We become what we see, make holy what we touch, make sacred what we are.”

AZ Monument Valley mittens (v) crI appreciate what Chittister says here. Perhaps we have focused too much on just a few images of God when including several more would broaden both our understanding and experience of God and Jesus.  I am especially drawn to the biblical images found in Creation.  Jesus referred to himself as “the light of the world”  and spoke of the “living waters” that came from him.  I remember other nature images appearing in a hymn I sang often as a child: “He’s the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star…” Another song referred to God as “the sweetest rose of Sharon.” The Psalmist used nature images to refer to God.  He spoke of God as “a sun and shield” (84:11)  and “the Rock of our salvation.” (95:1)

There are lots of images of God related to nature and if we will regularly reflect on these, especially as we view them in nature itself, we should be able to connect with God in a fuller and richer way.  There truly are “glints of the Divine” all around us!  I encourage you to take Chittister’s lead and begin looking for other metaphors and images that will augment the few the Church has historically chosen to highlight so that you might come to know God in fresh and new ways.  As Joan reminds us, “Clearly, if God is really God, no one name can possibly hold all the allusions, say all the concepts, breathe in one breath all the qualities that are God.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Antelope Canyon near Page, Az.; the middle image in Missouri’s Ozark mountains; and the bottom image at Monument Valley in Az.)