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


Sep 28 2017

All Life Matters

_DSC7516I, like everyone else, have been saddened by the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes. Of the three major ones to hit, Irma got special attention from my wife and I. All of my wife’s family lives in Florida and we also have a number of friends who live there. We anxiously awaited news from our loved ones as the storm approached and rolled through the state. You can’t help but worry about your loved ones when they are in harm’s way.

I have to admit that the people of Florida were not my only concern. As someone who has photographed the wildlife of the Sunshine State numerous times I wondered how the fauna would be affected by the hurricane. At first I concentrated on the birds of southern Florida, especially in the Everglades. Would they be able to survive the incredibly strong winds of the storm? Later, I thought about all the alligators there and wondered how they would be affected. I hoped they too would be able to survive.

_DSC7009I have to admit my concern for the alligators was influenced by something I had recently read from John Muir’s writings. Here’s what Muir wrote: “Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread… How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! how blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!…alligators, snakes…are part of God’s family unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC8366I watched a good bit of the news coverage of Hurricane Irma and don’t recall the storm’s effect on wildlife being mentioned once. It made me wonder if anyone cared.   I certainly understand why the primary focus was on the storm’s impact on humans but I’d like to think that there were others beside myself that were concerned about the wildlife of the area. I’m sure there were. And, if not, I can rest knowing God was concerned.

_DSC7622The Bible reveals that God is the author of all life and that all life matters to God. We are no doubt more picky about what we consider important but if God loves and cares for all of Creation shouldn’t we? Even the alligators and snakes mentioned by Muir should concern us for they are our fellow-creatures. So the next time another storm threatens I hope you will lift up a prayer not only for the humans at risks but also for our other brothers and sisters–the wildlife we share this planet with. The Psalmist declares to God, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Ps. 104:24) Let’s not forget to show our concern for the rest of God’s Creation. God certainly cares for them and so should we.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown here are some I’ve taken in southern Florida.)


Sep 6 2017

Bearing Witness

DNP Nugget PondI have been an avid nature photographer for twenty-five years. I got into nature photography to help me deal with stress in ministry. I was desperately needing a hobby and after flirting briefly with the idea of getting into pottery I decided I would pursue nature photography. I am so thankful I chose that path. It has opened a lot of doors for me, enabled me to see some of the most beautiful parts of this country, introduced me to some awesome people, and brought me a great deal of joy and fulfillment. Along the way I have been able to publish three books and see my photographs appear in numerous magazines, calendars, advertisements, post cards, and other books. I’ve also been able to teach a number of workshops and mentor other photographers. Best of all, my nature photography has enabled me to bear witness to the glory of God.

19990417_878534568968429_1700340611320172729_n[1]Recently my wife purchased me a t-shirt that I love. On the front it says “God creates the Beauty. My camera and I are a witness.” That pretty much sums up my approach to photography. I seek to capture the beauty of God’s Creation and share it with others. When other people comment on how beautiful my pictures are I often remind them that God is the one responsible for the beauty. My job is simply recording it with my camera. So it is true that when I take a photograph my camera and I are simply witnesses to the beauty God creates. That is not to deny that some skill is required to take good photographs but in the end I cannot take credit for the beauty that is captured in my images–that is God’s handiwork.

My goal in doing nature photography is not just to be a witness of God’s beauty when I photograph but also to be a witness for God’s beauty afterwards. That’s why I enjoy doing digital “slide shows” for groups and posting pictures on Facebook.   It is my desire to share with others the same beauty I witnessed in the field so that they too can see the work of God’s hands and give God glory for it. For twenty-five years I have seen this as part of my “calling.” I truly do view photography as an extension of my ministry. The apostle Paul once said “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) I believe this should and does include my photography.

BSF East Rim Overlook fallIn addition to bearing witness to the beauty of God’s Creation I seek to bear witness to the goodness of that Creation with the hope that people will want to preserve and protect it. That type witness is sorely needed right now. Since its inception, photography has been used to bring awareness to others. I want my work to be used to promote Creation Care and environmental stewardship. I hope other photographers will join me in this endeavor.

I encourage each of you, whether you are a photographer or not, to find ways to bear witness to the beauty of God’s Creation and to urge others to do all they can to honor and protect that beauty. Through art, song, poems, or just a personal testimony be a witness for the God of Creation and a witness for Creation.

–Chuck


Aug 24 2017

My Partial Eclipse

Clingmans Dome sunsetThe much heralded total eclipse of the sun has now come and gone. Did you see it? I’ve heard some people share what an amazing experience it was. I’ve heard others speak about how disappointing it was. Some confessed to me they never looked out that day, they just watched it all on television. I watched the eclipse from our church’s playground. Thankfully I had a pair of safe glasses to use to watch the moon cover the sun to varying degrees. When the moon almost covered the sun the streetlights around the church came on and the crickets began to chirp. The quality of the light definitely changed making it a surreal moment. Here in Henderson the moon covered 99.4% of the sun. I thought that would surely be close enough to a total eclipse that I could take some photographs. But I was wrong. Even at the peak moment there was too much light for me to risk taking a picture. If I had purchased a solar filter I could have done so but, once again, I was convinced we would be close enough to a total eclipse that I wouldn’t need one. Oh well, live and learn.

Slot Canyon light shaftI did learn an important truth on Monday, one that concerns the spiritual life.  I learned that it doesn’t take a whole lot of light to make a big difference. Even when only .6% of the sun was visible it was still bright, so bright I had to have my solar glasses to look at it. Here we should all be reminded that Jesus, who was himself the “Light of the world,” has called each of us to be “the light of the world” also. The Bible says we are to let the light of God shine through us before others. Why is this important? The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Because there is so much darkness in the world. There is so much hatred, ugliness and division. Racism and injustice are prevalent. Greed, lust, and anger continue to dominate the scene. Wars and rumors of war are in the news daily. The amount of darkness in the world is staggering, so much so that we may wonder if there is any hope for the world. But there is hope. Darkness can be defeated. It doesn’t take a lot of light to dispel the darkness. That’s why it’s so important that we let our light shine. I may not be but a single light but I can make a difference. My church may not be a large church but if we shine together it can make a huge difference in our community and beyond. John 1:5 says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I hope we will all do our part to make sure that God’s light continues to shine in and through us. I hope we will do our part to dispel all the darkness we can. For God’s sake, and that of others, let your light shine!

Chuck

 


Aug 9 2017

Majestic!

_CES1146Majestic. That’s the word my wife, Bonita, kept using on our recent cruise to Alaska to describe what we were seeing.  This adjective means “having or exhibiting majesty.” The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines majesty as “greatness or splendor of quality or character.” Roget’s Thesaurus offers as synonyms for “majestic” the words “grand” or “exalted.” That being the case, I will concur with Bonita that majestic was indeed the appropriate word to describe what we were seeing.  And just what did we see?  We saw awesome glaciers cutting their way through mountains.  We saw humpback whales feeding in the icy waters around us.  We saw gorgeous sunsets.  We saw sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, grizzly bears and bald eagles.  We saw lovely fjords carved by glaciers.  And, yes, it was all majestic–exalted and grand. This was my eighth trip to Alaska so I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. In fact, I had seen all the things mentioned above before in various places throughout the state.  Still, the sights remained overwhelming. There is just something special, almost holy, about our 49th state. It truly is majestic!

_CES0783Even more worthy of the adjective “majestic” is the One who created all the sights we saw. The Creator of Alaska and the rest of the world deserves the title majestic more than anyone or anything else.  Twice in Psalm 8 David declares, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vs. 1, 9)  In Psalm 111 the Psalmist says “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.  Glorious and majestic are his deeds…” (vs. 2-3)  In the Song of Moses recorded in Exodus 15 the question is raised, “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (v. 11)  In 2 Peter 1:17 God’s divine glory is described as being “Majestic.” God’s name, deeds, holiness and glory are all described as majestic.

That God would be associated with the word “majestic” should not surprise anyone. God is, after all, God. If we can use the word majestic to describe what God has made then surely the One who fashioned the natural world deserves to receive the same exaltation.  When we consider all that God has done through Christ, this becomes even more true.

_CES1505I hope as a result of your experiences with God you can say with the Psalmist, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”  God’s Creation and mighty acts are all meant to lead us to exalt God’s holy name.  They call us to worship the Creator and Redeemer of the world.  May we all heed that call and lift up the majestic name of the Lord.

–Chuck

 


May 29 2017

Planet Earth II

_CES5265Recently I purchased the BBC series Planet Earth II narrated by David Attenborough.  I’ve spent the last few days watching the DVDs.  As one reviewer of the series stated, “’Five stars’ isn’t really enough for this program.”  I highly recommend the series to anyone who is interested in nature.  The videography is absolutely amazing and the narration riveting.  You will no doubt learn much as you watch the segments dedicated to Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands, and Cities.  You will also likely find yourself longing to know more.

I am thankful for nature series like Planet Earth. They enable a person to experience vicariously the wonders of God’s Creation.  Watching Planet Earth II I saw creatures and landscapes I will never be able to see firsthand.  I also learned much about this planet that I did not know.  I found myself marveling over how various animal species have been able to adapt to their environments and how everything in nature in interconnected.

_CES5221Watching Planet Earth II proved to be something of a religious experience for me.  Over and over I found myself echoing the words of the Psalmist, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (104:24)  Time and again I found myself offering thanks and praise to God for being the Creator of such a marvelous planet.

_DSC8099There were portions of the series, however, that were sobering. The producers did not hide the fact that many of the earth’s species and landscapes are now threatened by climate change, various forms of pollution and loss of habitat.  The very earth which supports human life is being devastated by those same humans.  I’m glad this tragic element was included in the series because we need to be informed.  Rachel Carson once said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I can’t imagine a person watching the Planet Earth series and not wanting to do more to save our threatened world.  If for no other reason than this I would recommend this program to you.

Needless to say, there are lots of other great nature programs to be seen on television. I encourage you to watch them from time to time so that you, too, may marvel at the wonders of God’s Creation and be inspired to do something to preserve and protect that Creation.

–Chuck