Aug 29 2015

Praise for Creation and Providence

CA Kings Canyon NP sunsetLast Sunday evening I spent the night with my brother at his home in Frankfort, Kentucky. Richard is Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Frankfort and during the course of our conversation he told me about the choral anthem his choir had sung that morning. I was not familiar with the song but he said that he thought I’d like it since the words focus on God’s Creation. Once I took a look at the words to this hymn penned by Isaac Watts I told him that I did, indeed, like it. The hymn is called I Sing the Mighty Power of God and, interestingly enough, was written for children to sing.

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)Here are the words to the song: “I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; the moon shines full at his command, and all the stars obey.  I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food, Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good. Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye, if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky. There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known, and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne; while all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care; and everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.”

_DSC8404When this hymn first appeared in 1715 it was entitled Praise for Creation and Providence. The song does, in fact, offer praise to God for His Creation and for the providence of God seen in it. Even though I can’t imagine this song being written for children it definitely conveys truths that can be grasped by young and old alike.  Watts reminds us that God’s power is abundantly evident in Creation. This power can be seen in towering mountains, the vast oceans and the skies above us. Watts declares that God’s wisdom is also apparent in Creation. For him evidence of this can be seen in God forming the sun to give us light during the day, the moon to reflect its light during the night, and in the stars that appear each evening giving us a sense of direction.

_DSC6720Through this hymn we are taught that God’s wonders are on display wherever we turn. These wonders are below and above us; they are everywhere we look. They can be found in the plants and flowers we see, observed in the clouds above or experienced in the winds that blow against our face. The wonders and majesty of God are to be found throughout Creation.  Another affirmation Watts makes, one that is important for us to grasp whether we be old or young, is all that God has made is ever in God’s care. The Maker of heaven and earth is not a distant God who has abandoned the work of His hands.  No, God sustains Creation to this very day, just as the apostle Paul declared in Colossians 1:17. Understanding this leads us to the final truth Watts’ hymn declares—everywhere that we can be God is present there.  Creation itself is a reminder of God’s constant presence with us.

I am very thankful for hymn writers like Isaac Watts. Through hymns like this one these writers are able to put into just a few words truths that it would take theologians volumes to discuss. Through hymns like this one we find great truths affirmed that can be both remembered and sung by young and old alike. Through hymns like this one we can offer God our praise for both Creation and God’s continued presence and care.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Kings Canyon National Park, the second at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the third at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the fourth at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


May 15 2015

Ponderings From Denver

CO Rocky Mountain high country 046This week I have been in Denver, Colorado, for the Festival of Homiletics. It’s been a great week and I’ve had the chance to hear many wonderful speakers. It has been interesting to hear how many of them made mention of Christianity’s need to reconnect with the earth and to be better stewards of the environment.   It was wonderful to hear John Philip Newell speak once again at the event.  His writings and prayers have helped deepen my spirituality and connected it more to the earth. Other speakers, like Brian McClaren, indicated that the future health of the church will be determined, in part, by our willingness to take the sacredness of the earth more seriously. Speaker after speaker called us to honor God’s Creation.

CO Rocky Mountain NP tundra 003Wednesday I attended John Philip Newell’s workshop on “The Rebirthing of God.” It was held in a Lutheran Church and I was impressed with the way the pulpit area was decorated with rocks and plants.  At the end of the session Philip asked us to meditate on the Psalmist’s words, “Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” (Ps. 96:6)  The stones gathered around the altar aided the meditation. Yesterday morning I attended a worship service held in a Methodist Church that gave careful attention to nature. We were invited to spend some time in silence at the beginning of the service. While we all remained quiet the recorded sounds of a bird singing were played. We then sang a song I had never heard before that deeply moved me.

The song we sang is called “Touch the Earth Lightly” and was written by Shirley Erena Murray. Here are the words to three of the verses: “Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care; gifts of great wonder, ours to surrender, trust for the children tomorrow will bear.  Let there be greening, birth from the burning, water that blesses, and air that is sweet.  Health in God’s garden, hope in God’s children, regeneration that peace will complete. God of all living, God of all loving, God of the seedling, the snow, and the sun, teach us, deflect us, Christ reconnect us, using us gently, and making us one.”

CO Aspen aspens v 065At still yet another session in the festival there was an inter-faith dialogue between John Philip Newell, a rabbi and a Muslim.  All three mentioned how their faith tradition honored and valued Creation. It was clear that recognizing the sacredness of the earth and caring for it is something that could draw groups which are quite different together. Considering the conflict we see in the world it would seem that this would be a good area for us to focus on. I truly believe that we must find ways to move beyond our differences and find common ground that will unite us. The earth can literally be that common ground.

More than ever I am convinced of the value of “seeing Creation” as an important link to God.  It can help enhance our worship of the “Maker of heaven and earth,” draw us closer to other Christians as well as those of other faith traditions, and it can also serve as a needed incentive to take better care of this good earth. By focusing on God’s “other Book,” as well as the Scriptures, perhaps we can all experience a “rebirthing of God,” as well as a closer connection with both nature and those around us.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here on previous trips to Colorado.)


Apr 29 2015

Bats and God’s Universe

Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, TexasWe’ve all heard the saying, “God moves in a mysterious way.” This is from an old hymn written in 1773 by William Cowper. A well-known author, pastor and theologian from the last century, J. Vernon McGee, put it in a different way, “This is God’s universe and he does things his way. Now, you may have a better way of doing things, but you don’t have a universe.”

Keep that in mind for a moment and let’s look at bats. I have become fascinated by these little creatures. I have photographed them just a few times, but I hope to do more.

Bats are not flying mice or rodents. They are their own group called chiropterans. Bats are hugely varied in different types and species. In fact, almost a quarter of all mammals are bats.

As a group, bats eat a huge range of food. Most people know they eat insects, and a large portion of bats do. But different species eat fruit, nectar, and all kinds of animals from frogs to fish to even scorpions and much more. But even the insect eaters specialize in different ways of eating. Some catch insects on the fly, which we all know. But some work from perches to catch larger insects. Others flutter through trees and along the ground and pick off their prey from branches and rocks. As you can probably guess, this means bats come in all sizes, from the tiny bumblebee bat of SE Asia that is a little over an inch long and weighs less than an ounce to the big flying fox fruit bats of Australia that have a wingspan of nearly six feet and weigh over three pounds.

Even the bats that catch insects are different. Some fly high over vegetation to catch insects there, others work dense woods to find insects there, and still others change the times at night that they fly in order to catch certain insects.

Bats fly differently, too, which makes sense when you think about their variety of size and food. Some fly slowly and do a lot of fluttering. Some are speedy fliers who zoom through the air. Others have the ability to hover and fly through the tight spaces of a tree while chasing insects. Each bat flying style means that bats have different sizes of wings in relation to their bodies, from long and tapered to short and rounded.

Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, TexasWe all know about bats in caves, but that is not all bats, and some bats only use caves to hibernate. Bats like the Mexican freetailed bat will use bridges, which is what is seen in the photos here from Austin, Texas. Many bats roost in trees – fruit bats of Africa will fill a large tree as they roost there. Different species of bats in North America will use old woodpecker holes, openings in trees from dead branches, spaces under loose bark, and even hang from branches looking like a bunch of dead leaves. There are bats in the tropics that will find insect holes in bamboo and roost inside the bamboo. There are even bats there that will chew the central stem of a palm large leave so that it folds over like a tent and roost there.

Some thoughts about their amazing echolocation skills: Bats put out high pitched sounds that we cannot hear. This bounces off prey like a fish finder bounces off fish hidden in waters below. With these echolocation skills, some bats can discern things as small as a human hair. This does not mean bats cannot see, however. Bats can see just fine, and some have extremely good eyesight to enable them to find specialized prey. And they do not get into people’s hair!

To me, all of this and more is absolutely amazing. I really had no idea, and I think that is true of most people. After all, bats are mostly out at night and spend much of the day hidden away.

Austin, TX batsYet God is fully aware of bats and who they are, even if we aren’t. What an incredible Creator to have made bats with such diversity that they can use the night in many different ways to adapt to food and life at that time.

Sometimes I have heard people say that they do not understand why a certain animal exists, or maybe worse, they consider life they don’t know to be unimportant. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God made life only FOR man. Genesis talks about creation as an act of God apart from man and that God saw it was all good.

This is indeed God’s world and we share it with all of his creations, including bats. Just knowing what amazing life God has created and allowed, apart from man, says a lot about how important it all is, and why it is all worth caring for.

– Rob


Mar 11 2015

“Red and Yellow, Black and White”

_DSC6432Two songs stand out in my memory from my childhood years growing up in church.  The earliest song I remember hearing is “Jesus Loves Me.”  The second song I remember is “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  Both songs spoke to me of Christ’s love for me but the second song indicated that Jesus loves all the children of the word, not just me.  It said “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”  These songs became foundational for my understanding of Jesus.  He was someone who loved me and someone who loved everyone else too.  It didn’t even matter what color skin they had; Jesus loved everybody.

_DSC6428I learned these songs and sang them in the late 1950s and early 60s.  What I saw and heard growing up during this time did not, however, always match the message of these songs.  I heard a lot of grownups refer to Black people in words that were not kind at all.  I also remember hearing Asian Americans referred to in a derogatory manner.  Even as a child it disturbed me to hear such talk.  It didn’t match the theology that had been instilled within me by the songs I had learned.  God loved everyone.  It seemed cruel to call those different than us ugly names.  A lot of years have passed since that time and in some ways there has been a lot of change but two things have not changed.  One is my strong conviction that Jesus does, in fact, love me and everyone else.  The other is the unease that arises within me when I hear people call individuals of other ethnic groups cruel names.  I believe it is wrong to do so and that there is no excuse for degrading others solely because they are different from us.

Because of these two strong convictions I have been greatly disturbed by many of the events being reported on in the news the past few days.  What the young men in the fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were recorded chanting is heartbreaking.    Things said by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, were likewise hard to stomach.  Unfortunately, I know all too well that these were not isolated incidents.  Such cruel language is directed daily by small minded people at any number of groups.  I just don’t understand why.

_DSC6433This morning when I was leaving my office I happened to notice a sycamore tree directly in front of my car.  Since I park in the same spot everyday I’m not sure why I hadn’t noticed this tree before but the truth is I had paid it no attention.  Today, however, I noticed the beautiful colors and patterns on the bark of this tree.  It was fascinating to see the great variety of colors that was produced on a single tree.  I made a mental note to come back later in the day and photograph the bark.

As I drove off it occurred to me that sycamore tree is a reminder that God delights in color.  That thought led me to consider how wonderful it was that one single tree could have so many different colors.  It was, in fact, the many colors that made the tree so beautiful.  This thought then made me ponder that God could have made the human race all look the same but chose not to and that we are actually much more beautiful because God decided instead to make us different colors and different in other ways too.  I truly am thankful that God did not make us all look or be the same.

_DSC6425The author of Genesis 2:27 says “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Here is another foundational truth for me.  I believe every single person has infinite value simply because he or she is created in the image of God.  I do not believe there are any exceptions.  No matter the color of one’s skin, one’s nationality, one’s religion or one’s sexual orientation, everyone carries within them the image of God and because they do they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.  Both the songs I learned as a child and the Scriptures I have spent my entire life studying lead me to believe that Jesus truly does love each and every one of us.  They also lead me to believe that there is no place for referring to those Jesus loves in a derogatory manner.

There is much I see and hear that convinces me that we have not come nearly as far in the past fifty years as we’d like to believe.  Still, I hold on to the hope that things can get better.  I certainly pray that they will.

–Chuck

 


Feb 4 2015

Bowing Continuously

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.”  Psalm 95:6

_DSC1272_DSC1272b_CES0270ABPF-066As most of you know, I am a big fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry.  In Oliver’s newest book, Blue Horses, there is a poem called “Forgive Me.”  It reads: “Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.  It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some spirit, some small god, who abides there.  If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing continuously.  I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this holiness, which is why I’m often so late coming back from wherever I went.  Forgive me.”

In this poem I sense a call to pay more attention to God’s presence in our everyday surroundings.  I also see here a word of caution.  If we are not careful we will spend too much time seeking God in lofty matters we cannot really understand, like angels, and thereby miss revelations of the divine in the more common things we can comprehend.  Finding God through the Creation is a theme that runs through many of Oliver’s poems.  She seems to discover God in places most of us wouldn’t even think to look—mud, roots, rocks, lichen.  I have often wished I could see the world through Mary Oliver’s eyes.

ANP 0431ANP 0431_CES4270Oliver sees God in so many places that she says if she were a perfect person she would constantly be bowing.  Bowing, of course, is the proper thing to do when one encounters God.  The One who made this world and who can be found within it deserves our worship and praise and would receive it continuously if we were actually able to see the evidence of the divine in everything around us.

_CES0292Oliver indicates this would happen in her own life if she were perfect but is quick to note that she is not.  She, too, misses a lot of God’s manifestations but she is at least wise enough to pause and bow whenever she does sense God’s presence in her surroundings.   She is also wise enough to realize that if pausing to bow and worship the Creator makes one late for something it is still the right thing to do.  In the end there is nothing more important to do and no better way to spend one’s time.

_DSC5435There is an old hymn called “Open My Eyes That I May See.”  It lists a number of things the writer/singer would like to see.  Today it is my prayer that God will open your eyes and mine to see the divine in the common ordinary things of life, and especially in the world of nature.  It is also my prayer that as this request is granted we will actually take the time to bow and worship the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at the Bristlecone Pine Forest in California, the middle image in Henderson County, KY, and the bottom image at Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois.)


Jan 1 2015

Be Dazzled

_CES8682One of the books I received (and gave) for Christmas is Mary Oliver’s newest volume of poetry, Blue Horses.   I am a huge fan of Oliver’s poems and was excited to begin reading this new book.  A few nights ago I came across a section of a poem called “Good Morning” that really spoke to me.  Oliver writes, “The multiplicity of forms!  The hummingbird, the fox, the raven, the sparrow hawk, the otter, the dragonfly, the water lily!  And on and on.  It must be a great disappointment to God if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day.”

_DSC2326If you are familiar with Mary Oliver’s writings you know that she is very in tune with both nature and the presence of the divine throughout Creation.  In a way perhaps only a poet can she pays attention to her surroundings.  As noted in this poem, she takes careful notice of  “the multiplicity of forms” around her.  I think we would all be wise to do the same.  Take a few moments some time to ponder the countless forms found in Creation.  You will be overwhelmed by the task.

B2175The world God has created is simply marvelous.  I love Louie Armstrong’s classic song, “What a Wonderful World.”  In it he sings of all the things he sees around him in nature.  Some of the things he mentions are trees of green and skies of blue, red roses,  the colors of the rainbow,  clouds of white, the bright blessed day and the dark sacred night.  Armstrong, like Oliver, was apparently dazzled by what he saw and could only conclude “what a wonderful world” it is we live in.

sea-otter-145I hope in the year to come you will make a special effort to pay more attention to the wonders and beauty of God’s Creation.  I suspect Mary Oliver is correct; it must be a great disappointment to God if we are not dazzled at least ten times a day.  I suggest you make as one of your New Year resolutions to be dazzled more often in the coming year.  Try to see the world with a fresh set of eyes.  Take notice of the wonderful world we are blessed to live in and let it lead you to offer your gratitude and praise to the One who made it all and seeks to become known through it.  If you will strive to be dazzled more often I cannot help but believe 2015 will be a wonderful year indeed.  Happy New Year and God bless!

–Chuck

(I photographed the dragonfly and water lily at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., the raven in New Mexico, and the sea otter in Alaska.)