Sep 2 2016

Sharing

_DSC9709People love hummingbirds. I’m not so sure, however, that the two hummingbirds I have visiting my feeders love each other.  I’ve been watching them the past few weeks and one of the two absolutely will not let the other one feed.  If it sees the other hummingbird anywhere close to the feeders it will dive bomb it and harass it until it leaves.  What I find interesting about this is the fact that I have two feeders.  There is more than enough sugar water available for them.  Each bird could have its very own feeder but the dominant bird doesn’t want to share.  Aren’t you glad that we humans aren’t like that?

As I’m sure you already know, that last line was written “tongue in cheek.” I am afraid the hummingbird behavior I’ve been observing recently is not all that different from the human behavior we observe from time to time between nations, in the halls of Congress, in places of business, and even in churches.  Selfishness and greed have a way of raising their ugly heads just about anywhere you look.  Fussing and fighting, well-known side effects of selfishness and greed, have a way of breaking out wherever humans interact.  In fact, it seems like this has become the norm rather than the exception.

_DSC9702God certainly had a different plan for us. In Psalm 133:1 David said “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity.”  That is God’s goal for us and should be our goal as well.  If that is going to take place we must learn to share.  The Scriptures certainly have a lot to say about sharing.  Hebrews 13:16 says “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” One of the messages John the Baptizer delivered was: “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” (Luke 3:11)  The writer of First John raised this poignant question, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” (3:17)  Luke described the early church this way: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32)

_DSC9667My hummingbird’s refusal to share could prove quite detrimental to the other bird. Our failure to share, likewise, can come with dire consequences.  In some instances it is truly a life or death matter.  As children we often received instructions on the importance of sharing.  Here lately, I’m thinking we may all need a refresher course.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here in my yard the last couple of days.)


Aug 22 2016

Maintaining the Flow of Justice

_CES3656Last week a friend and I drove over to Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana to photograph the waterfalls at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail. Our area had received several days of rain and we thought it would be a good time to check the falls out.  It turned out to be the perfect time to be there.  Both of the waterfalls on the trail had an abundance of water.  I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph the falls because these are seasonal waterfalls.  The only other time I had been on the trail there was only a trickle of water coming over the falls.  I found myself wishing that the falls always looked like they did last week.  It would be wonderful to visit this area throughout the seasons and photograph the beautiful waterfalls but that’s not going to happen.  These falls are dependent on weather systems that will not support this and I have no control over that.

Thinking about the contrast in the water flow between my two visits my mind wandered to the ancient words of the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (5:24) Most of the streams in the land of Israel, like the falls at Hemlock Cliffs, are seasonal.  The streambeds or wadis remain dry until the rains come.  Soon thereafter they are dry again.  Through the prophet God declared that the justice he saw lacking in the land was meant to flow constantly like a steady river or a never-failing stream.

_CES3672Amos spent his time pointing out to Israel the many places where injustice raised its ugly head. It was obvious that God was not pleased with the way His people had ignored His calls that justice be practiced among all.  Only occasionally was justice practiced. That’s why there was the plea to let justice and righteousness flow on a regular basis.  God’s people, then and now, fall short when justice issues are ignored.

_CES3718I have a feeling that God is still trying to get this message across to people today. We live in a world where injustice continues to be prevalent.  We hear most often about matters pertaining to racial injustice but there are many other arenas where injustice occurs on a regular basis.  It happens in the arena of fair wages, gender discrimination, food distribution, penal incarceration and age discrimination.  As I have written about previously, many environmental issues are justice issues as well.

_CES3749Today Christians cannot afford to remain silent in the face of injustice. If we do we shouldn’t be surprised if God tells us the same thing He did Israel long ago: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)  No matter how big the crowds, how glorious the music or inspirational the preaching, our worship services are found unsatisfactory to God if we are not at the same time committed to maintaining justice.

I cannot change the weather to make the water flow more freely at Hemlock Cliffs but I can make a difference in whether the river of justice continues to flow, and so can you. May God help us all to do just that.

–Chuck

(I took these images last week at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail.)


Jul 29 2016

Experiencing God in Our National Parks

Yellowstone Lower FallsAmerican’s National Park Service will be turning one hundred years old in just a few weeks. Because I love our national parks so much I cannot let this occasion pass without offering the NPS my congratulations and best wishes.  Since taking up nature photography twenty-four years ago I’ve been blessed to visit most of our national parks.  I’ve also visited scores of other national park units such as national recreation areas, national monuments, national rivers and seashores, etc.  Each of them has had an impact on my life one way or another.  I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for our national parks.

I was introduced to our national parks as a small child when my family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today I visit them as often as I can.  Just two days ago I was able to pay a return visit to Mammoth Cave National Park.  I keep going back because I benefit so much from them.  Our national parks are incredible repositories of natural beauty that move my soul.  They are places where I often connect to God.  In fact, when I think of some of the parks I’ve visited I think not just of the scenery or wildlife but of the spiritual connections I made there.  Let me give you some examples.

TN Great Smoky Mountains Spruce Flat FallsWhen I think of Denali National Park I remember “the peace of God that passes all understanding.” I have felt a peace there I’ve not quite experienced elsewhere.  When I think of Grand Teton National Park I recall how important humility is in the spiritual life.  Standing before that giant mountain wall I always feel small and humbled.  When I think of Yosemite National Park I think of worship.  John Muir referred to those majestic Sierra mountains as his “temples” and “cathedrals” and they became that for me as well.  I can hardly imagine walking through Yosemite Valley and not singing the “Doxology” or “How Great Thou Art.”  When I think of Yellowstone National Park I find myself reflecting on the mystery of God.  Yellowstone is such a mysterious and magical place.  As with God, there is no comprehending all its wonders.  And when I think of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I associate it with love. There is a wonderful and abundant diversity of life in this park that is so dear to my heart.  That diversity symbolizes for me the generosity and goodness of God and it serves as yet one more reminder of the divine love that is the source of all that is good.

Yosemite ValleyI could go on making spiritual connections with the many different parks I have visited and photographed. They are all special and they are all important.  We are incredibly blessed to have these national parks and we should, by no means, take them for granted.  I would encourage you in this centennial year of the National Park Service to give them all the support you can.  Visit them as often.  Work to preserve and protect them.  Our national parks are far more than just beautiful and ecologically diverse places, they are special places where God resides and where God can be experienced in some marvelous ways.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Yellowstone NP, the middle one at Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the bottom one at Yosemite National Park.)


Jul 9 2016

Intimations of the Divine

e_CES3228This past week I had the privilege of spending some time with my friend Rob Sheppard exploring parts of central California. I very much enjoyed Rob’s company.  I also enjoyed the company of Abraham Joshua Heschel.  I happened to take with me a copy of Heschel’s book I Asked for Wonder.  This is an anthology of several of the famous rabbi’s spiritual quotes.  The very first quotation cited is worth the price of the book: “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.” But Heschel has much more to say and he often points to our spiritual connection with nature.  For example, he writes “We can never sneer at the stars, mock the dawn or scoff at the totality of being.  Sublime grandeur evokes unhesitating, unflinching awe.  Away from the immense, cloistered in our own concepts, we may scorn and revile everything.  But standing between earth and sky, we are silenced by the sight…”  I have to admit that when I took this image of the Milky Way near Lake Isabella I could not help but stand in awe at the work of God’s hands.

e_CES3330Heschel has more to say about awe. “Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things.  It enables us to receive in the world intimations of the divine,…to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.  What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.”  As I looked up at the giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Forest I sensed what Heschel was talking about.  For those with eyes to see there truly are “intimations of the divine” all around us in nature.   And as Heschel points out, these intimations can be found not just in the giant and dramatic aspects of nature but also in “the common and the simple.”

e_CES3486In still yet another quote Heschel says “Out of the world comes a behest to instill into the air a rapturous song for God, to incarnate in stones a message of humble beauty, and to instill a prayer for goodness in the hearts of all men.” Spending extended periods of time out in nature I did in fact sense the call to offer a song of praise to God.  I felt like shouting with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.” (Psalm 103:1)  I could understand why being in God’s Creation can instill one to pray “for the goodness in the hearts” of all people.  At this particular moment there definitely is a need to offer such prayers.

I always learn a lot when I travel with Rob but I’m thankful that on this trip we had the companionship of Abraham Joshua Heschel and for the many wonderful truths conveyed to us through his words.  I look forward to further travels with both in the future.

–Chuck

(I took the three images used here on my trip this past week.)


Jun 8 2016

God’s Tides

tide pool 2

“The hand of God has turned the tide!” Psalm 118:16a MSG

Twelve years ago Bonita and I spent a week on a chartered fishing boat in southeast Alaska. We, along with two other couples, had a great time photographing some of God’s finest work. One of the things being on the boat that long did for me was remind me of the tremendous power of the tides. At one point on the trip I was on shore photographing some beautiful tide pool scenes when my friends began to express concern for me. Due to my position, I could not tell that the tide had come back in and that I was now separated from the rest of the group and the boat. I should have known better. Season after season, day after day, the tides come in and go out. They do exactly what God intended them to do when He created the world.

boat 1While on the trip I read a book called Sea Edge by Phillip Keller. In one of the chapters he draws some insightful parallels to the tides and God’s work in our own lives. Here’s what he had to say: “There just have to be times, when in His own gracious, irresistible concern, He comes flooding over my little life. There are occasions when the ‘high tide’ of His powerful presence needs to inundate my soiled and shabby soul. There are days when more than anything else I must have that sublime sense of His Spirit sweeping into every secret cove and inlet of my life. The world is so much with me. The careless hand of man, the cruel ways of our society, the thoughtless acts and omitted courtesies of my contemporaries leave a legacy of hurts and sorrow and wreckage in my life–the black rocks of rising anger, the hard jagged reefs of dark resentment, the flotsam and jetsam of ill will that clutter my character. Only Christ can change all this. Only He can alter the contours of my disposition. Only He can displace the debris of my soul with the surging newness of His own person. There must be an exchange of His life for mine–of His desires for my, otherwise, selfish impulses. It is He, who in the high tide of His relentless patience and perseverance, presses in upon my person. I cannot, dare not, keep Him out. It is His eternal, sure in-coming, as inexorable as the rising tide, that gives hope for covering all the corruption and defilement of my days. As the full weight of the sea currents change and shape the coast, so Christ, in control, recreates me as a man. He alters the contours of my character and conduct.”

tide pool 1Today I give thanks for the relentless tides that pound and shape the coastlines all around the world. Even more, I offer my praise and thanksgiving to a wonderful Savior who works just as relentlessly in your life and mine to make something beautiful out of our lives. Experiencing God’s “tides” may not always be a pleasant experience but they are always needful. As Keller points out, only God can “alter the contours of my disposition” and only God can “displace the debris of my soul with the surging newness of His own person.” God’s tides may not come in the predictable rhythms of nature’s tides but they do indeed come. When they do our job is to let go and let God bring us what we need and, at the same time, take away what we don’t. There’s no reason to be surprised by their coming. In fact, we should live our lives in anticipation of them and with gratitude for the role they play in our lives.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here on the boat trip through southeast Alaska.)

 


Jan 30 2016

Just Be You

Today’s entry is a collaborative one. The first section is a reposting of a blog Rob wrote earlier this week about nature photography.  In the second section Chuck shows how Rob’s words also apply to the spiritual life. Rob at Mono Lake not shooting Mono LakeIt has taken me a long time, a lifetime in fact, to learn a very simple rule for getting the best from my photography. Be me.

Over the years, I have chased the looks of photographs made by well-known photographers I liked. It is one thing to be inspired by others, but truly, the only people who can do their work are those photographers themselves.

I have chased gear that others had, even have been envious. Instead of focusing on the gear that is most appropriate to me. Gear is obviously important because without it, we can’t photograph. But thinking too much about the gear others have is a distraction from my own photography. Be me. Be me2
I have chased the latest techniques hoping that would lead to a breakthrough in my photography. Learning new techniques is always valuable, but not when they overwhelm who I am as a photographer. I really don’t have to know everything about every new technique. Some really aren’t for me. Be me.

I have chased the approval of people important to me, from other photographers to family. Sure, people close to me are important, but not as arbitrary evaluators/critics of what I do. I can desire to learn what people think, but only as one input of many and an input I can chose to use or not. Be me. BeyondObvious5I have worked hard to produce work that no one can criticize. That is unrealistic and ultimately restrictive. It also guarantees mediocrity. If I try to please everyone, I end up pleasing no one, especially myself. Be me.

Really, the number one rule for better photography, for more satisfying photography, for more authentic images is to be me. And for you to be you.

–Rob

_DSC3806When I read Rob’s excellent blog on nature photography earlier this week I couldn’t help but see parallels in the spiritual life to what he was saying about photography.  A lot of Christians find people they admire and then do all they can to be like them.  Some may seek to be Mother Teresa but there was only one Mother Teresa.  Some may want to be just like Billy Graham but there is only one Billy Graham.  We can certainly all learn from the lives of other people of faith who have lived exemplary lives but in the end our calling is not to be them but to be us.  Some of the techniques or disciplines they used to enhance their journey may work for us but we should not assume that they automatically will.  Each of us have to find our own way.

When I was much younger I was pretty much convinced that there was just one way to be a Christian. I expected other people to conform to this image and if they did not I tended to judge them.  I now realize just how immature and naïve I was.  There is no one single way to practice the Christian life.  There are as many spiritual pathways as there are spiritual pilgrims.

_DSC4105In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas writes about nine different spiritual pathways: 1) Naturalists—loving God out of doors; 2) Sensates—loving God with the senses; 3) Traditionalists—loving God through ritual and symbol; 4) Ascetics—loving God in solitude and simplicity; 5) Activists—loving God through confrontation; 6) Caregivers—loving God by loving others; 7) Enthusiasts—loving God with mystery and celebration; 8) Contemplatives—loving God through adoration; and 9) Intellectuals—loving God with the mind.  In the end the spiritual life truly is about loving God but there are many ways a person can do this.  Thomas’ book helped me to understand this.  No one path is the right one for everybody.  Nor are we limited to one path only or forbidden to change paths as time passes or our circumstances change. _DSC3914God wants you to be you. God doesn’t expect you to be anybody else.  If we try to be someone else we will miss out on the joy of being ourselves and lose the freedom we are meant to experience in being the persons God created each and everyone of us to be as individuals.  Be you.  You’ll find that far more pleasing in the end and so will God.

–Chuck