Jul 8 2015

The “Trembling Giant” and the Church

_DSC7241A couple of years ago Rob and I spent some time photographing at Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  As we got to the end of our time there he asked if I minded if we stopped at the Pando forest in Utah on the way back.  I had never heard of it.  He told me of reading about it in one of Jane Goodall’s recent books and how it is a clonal colony of quacking aspens.  Some researchers believe that it is the earth’s oldest living thing, some 80,000 years old.  Intrigued by this we drove to Fish Lake, Utah, and found the forest.  I say “forest” but in reality it is a single tree with a massive underground root system that has produced what appears to be some 47,000 trees springing from that system.  Standing in the midst of Pando it was hard to comprehend how all we saw was part of one thing.

_DSC7235Yesterday I was reading Rachel Held Evans new book, Searching For Sunday, and came across a chapter where she, too, talks about the Pando forest.  She shares the same basic information above but also indicates that a name has been given to this ancient tree, Trembling Giant.  Rachel then goes on to draw some interesting and pertinent analogies between the Pando and the church.  She notes, “At last count, there are nearly as many denominations in Christianity as there are trees growing from Pando.  Each one looks different—beautiful and broken in its own way—but we all share the same DNA.”  She concludes the chapter with these words: “Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.  We are both a forest and a single tree—one big Trembling Giant, stirred by an invisible force.”

I really like Evan’s comparison of the Pando and the church.  It makes sense.  The apostle Paul uses a different analogy than Evans in his Corinthian correspondence to make the same point: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  (1 Cor. 12:12-13)

_DSC7208The main reason I’m writing about this today is I am very concerned about how polarized things are in Christianity these days.  The way many Christians attack one another you would think we were in the midst of a civil war.  Some Christian groups believe that they have a monopoly on truth and that all others are either not Christians or sub-Christian.  The sources of contention are innumerable but include things like how one views the inspiration of Scripture, the age of the earth, the Second Coming, the sacraments, women in ministry, etc.  If you do not agree with some Christians about any of these, or other matters, you are deemed a heretic or worse.

What is so crazy about this is we are all one Body.  We’re like the trees Rob and I saw at the Pando forest.  What we saw with our eyes appeared to be a bunch of different trees but in reality was one living organism.  There’s no way the various churches or denominations in the world are going to agree on everything.  I’m not even sure they should.  I’m convinced our diversity should be honored and celebrated.  God is bigger than all of us combined so how could any one group get it all right?

_DSC7309I wish somehow, someway, we would quit focusing on what separates us as Christians and concentrate on what we have in common.  As the New Testament boldly affirms “there is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)  Just hours before he was crucified Jesus prayed earnestly that his followers “might be one.” (John 17:21)  I don’t believe he expected us to all be or think exactly alike but we are to live our lives cognizant of the fact that in him we are all one.  Another thing Jesus sought to make clear before his death was that his followers should be known first and foremost by their love for one another.  He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 35)  My hope and prayer is that followers of Christ will learn to set aside their differences, focus on what they have in common, and actually present a unified witness to the world that is characterized by love.  Is that too much to ask?  Jesus didn’t think so.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown here at the Pando forest in Utah.)


May 21 2015

John Muir and the Sanctity of All Life

_DSC1296Last week when I was flying to Denver I spent some time reading a wonderful book called The Contemplative John Muir.  It is a collection of quotations from the great conservationist that reveal the spiritual side of Muir.  One of the things I quickly noticed was that long before there was an animal rights movement John Muir was affirming the importance and value of all creatures as part of God’s Creation.  At one point he wrote: “Godlike sympathy grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless doctrine is taught that animals have neither mind nor soul, have no rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for man, to be petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.”  Muir believed that all creatures had worth, and thereby rights, simply because they were made by the Creator and I fully agree with him.

_DSC0799Muir, however, did not believe that it was just animals that had worth.  In his view all of Creation had great value because, once again, it was created by God.  It bothered him that things like lichen were considered “a low form of life.”  He said all forms, “high and low, are simply portions of God radiated from Him as a sun, and made terrestrial by the clothes they wear, and by the modifications of a corresponding kind in the God essence itself.”  Muir went on to say, “Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are people.  We all flow from one fountain Soul.  All are expressions of one Love.  God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating and fountainising all.  The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.”

_DSC7992Muir says concerning the typical human way of seeing things, “How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies!  How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!  With what dismal irreverence we speak of our fellow mortals!  Though alligators, snakes, etc., naturally repel us, they are not mysterious evils.  They dwell happily in these flowery wilds, 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.”

_DSC1958I realize that not everyone will concur with Muir’s sentiments but I do believe that his way of thinking is theologically sound and that if followed would lead to a much more respectful approach to all that God has made.  Such an approach is desperately needed at this particular time.   The world needs a more life-affirming view of the Creation.  In many ways the preservation of the world is dependent on our developing a greater respect for all forms of life.  The preservation of humankind may also be dependent on this.  Albert Schweitzer once said, “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” 

I hope that we can begin to move toward a view of the sanctity of all life on earth and that this view will lead us to be better stewards of God’s Creation and a kinder species as well.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Colorado National Monument, the second one at Rifle Falls in Colorado, the third one at Everglades NP, and the final one at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP in Colorado.)


Apr 1 2015

Seeing With Wonder

_DSC9010Earlier today I took a longtime family friend out to see some of the bald eagles that we have nesting nearby.  It was the first time she had ever seen eagles close up in the wild and it was fun watching her excitement.  She told me that as the eagles would fly in and out of the nest her heart would start pounding.  When it came time to go I had trouble getting her to leave.  The bald eagles filled her with such wonder and awe she found it difficult to walk away from them.  I was touched by her enthusiasm but it also served as a reminder that because of my frequent sightings of bald eagles in the area I don’t get as excited about seeing them as I once did.  I certainly still enjoy seeing bald eagles but I will confess that because it has become routine I have lost a good bit of the awe and wonder my friend displayed this afternoon.

In her book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith writes “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”  I think that is wonderful advice.  It may be hard for some of us to regain the excitement of our first sighting of some bird, animal or flower but we should be able to discipline ourselves to look at things with the recognition that it might be our last time to do so.  I suspect we would pay far more attention than we normally do if we looked at things this way.

_DSC8958I am convinced that we need more wonder in our lives.  G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”   There are certainly no lack of things found in God’s Creation that should cause us to experience wonder and awe.  Unfortunately, the problem is we fail to pay attention to these things and thus miss out on the wonder of it all.

_DSC8984One reason why I believe wonder is needed is that I see it as a prelude to worship.  When we experience wonder and awe we are on the verge of worship; we find ourselves very close to the God of wonders.  I have indicated numerous times on this site that I believe God has made the world not just to meet our physical needs but to point us to Him.  If we have eyes to see and ears to hear we will find much that will lead us to worship the Maker of heaven and earth and as Betty Smith indicates, it will also cause our time on earth to be “filled with glory.”

The next time you find yourself outdoors I encourage you to pray that God will help you look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time.  I have a feeling that it will truly make a difference.

–Chuck


Mar 25 2015

Hope Springs Eternal

_DSC8730I am blessed to live just a mile from John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky.  After work today I decided to head that way and take a walk.  It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that spring has definitely arrived in western Kentucky.  Not only were there the proverbial robins hopping around, there were wildflowers everywhere.  I saw Dutchmen’s breeches, toothwort, squirrel corn and bloodroot in bloom.  I also observed Virginia bluebells, trillium and anemones beginning to emerge.  In only a matter of days there will be a wonderful floral display for anyone willing to take even a short walk in the woods.  If I had taken the same walk just a couple of weeks ago I would not have seen the many flowers I did this afternoon.  Winter still held its grip on the landscape.  I may not have been able to see them then but I would have known that they were coming.  Spring wildflowers are as predictable as spring itself.  Even on the most frigid snowy day of winter you know it’s just a matter of weeks before you will begin to see new life emerging from the earth.

_DSC8705Alexander Pope long ago penned the famous line “hope springs eternal.”  Nature has a way of reminding us that things do not remain as they are.  Spring always follows winter.  In fact, it is the hope of spring’s arrival that enables a lot of us to get through the dreary and cold days of winter.  In winter’s darkest hour we know a brighter day is coming.

There is a corresponding truth in the spiritual realm.  Many people experience times in their life that may well be compared to the cold and dark days of winter.  These times can come in any season of the year or in our lives.  We get discouraged or depressed.  We feel lonely and isolated.  Some may begin to lose hope when winter seems to characterize their lives.  But I believe that hope truly does spring eternal, that there is always hope of better days to come. This hope is based purely on my faith in God.

_DSC8718Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  When it’s winter in our lives, just like when it’s winter in nature, we have the assurance that spring will come.  My faith leads me to believe that with God in the picture there is always a better day to come.  I am certainly not naïve; I realize that here on earth that the “better day” we desire does not always arrive.  Still I am “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  I believe that this life is not all that there is and that there is a far better day waiting for us on the other side of death’s door.  One way or another a better day is coming!

I think I now understand why God arranged for Easter to take place in spring…

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above at John James Audubon State Park this afternoon.)


Mar 18 2015

The Show Must Go On!

_DSC8615I have spent the past few days photographing the wonders of God’s Creation found in southern Florida.   Most of my time was spent in Everglades National Park. It has been a truly marvelous experience.   Each day we were treated to some incredible sights and sounds. We saw a baby barred owl feeding on a snake its mother had brought it. Twice we watched a male osprey bring a fish into the nest for its three chicks. Each day we observed numerous species of birds gather together in a small pool of water to feed. Everyday there were also alligators gliding smoothly through the water and three times we got to observe the once threatened American crocodile. Throughout the Everglades we saw beautiful wildflowers. We passed along the road dwarf cypress trees that despite their diminutive size were over a hundred years old. And then there were all the sounds of nature to delight the ears—bird song, alligators bellowing, the wind blowing through the river of grass.

_DSC8586The Florida Everglades is a unique and wonderful place. It may not receive the visitation that many of the more popular national parks do but it truly is one of America’s great natural treasures. The sad thing is that it is also America’s most endangered national park. Only a small fraction of the original Everglades still exists. Southern Florida is a heavily developed and populated area. This has not just reduced the size of the Everglades but disrupted the flow of water that its life depends on. Thankfully, there have been and continue to be many conservationists who are committed to protecting and preserving what is left of the Everglades.

After spending almost a week in the Everglades I just cannot imagine our planet without such a place. The Everglades is a showcase for many of God’s wonderful creatures. It is a place where the story of Creation continues and the beauty of God is made manifest.

_CES2407I told the friend I’m traveling with yesterday that it seemed like nature was putting on a show for us each day. If you can call God’s Creation a show then I insist the show must go on. We truly do need to do everything we can to preserve places like the Everglades. I honestly believe we have a divine calling to do so. Christians have for centuries emphasized the importance of the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. I agree that reaching others with the good news of God’s love is critical but I also believe that we have not paid nearly enough attention to what I like to call “the other Great Commission.” In Genesis 2:15 we read, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” This, too, is our commission. This, too, is our task.

_CES2205In the story of Creation, just as in the stories found in the Scriptures, God’s love and beauty are revealed. They are made known in the many “shows” nature puts on for us daily. If we do not take more seriously the “other Great Commission” then many of these marvelous and exquisite shows will cease to be played. We can’t let that happen. The show MUST go on!

–Chuck


Feb 18 2015

Do What You Can

_DSC5707We got our first significant snow of winter a couple of days ago. I know a lot of people don’t like snow and the cold weather that comes with it but I do. I love the look nature takes on after being blanketed with snow. I love the quiet it brings and the way it causes everything to slow down a bit. I also love the way it draws birds to my bird feeder. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the variety of birds that have made their way to my yard. I’ve seen lots of cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, titmice, juncos, finches, sparrows and other species vie for a spot at the feeders. The birds seem to go into survival mode when a deep snow falls and this makes it much easier to photograph them. They are far more concerned with getting something to eat than they are with me taking their picture. As a result I’ve gotten what I think are some wonderful images of the birds.

_DSC5431I will confess that one of the reasons I feed the birds is so I can photograph them. I’ve actually sold a number of images taken at home to magazines.  Still, I would feed them, especially in winter, even if I was not a photographer. I would do so because they are both beautiful and fun to watch, and also because I feel that by doing so I can be a good steward of Creation. Many birds would have trouble surviving in winter if people did not feed and provide water for them. Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” From the beginning it has been the responsibility of those created in the image of God to care for the earth and the creatures that inhabit it. I realize that feeding the birds is only a small part of Creation Care but it is a part nonetheless.

_DSC5598Many of the environmental problems we are facing today seem huge and almost insurmountable. Climate change, destruction of the earth’s remaining rainforests, the extinction of both plant and animal species, pollution of the air and our streams, rivers and lakes–all these are problems so big it seems like there is very little that we, as individuals, can do about them. Our role here is more secondary, encouraging those in power to make wiser choices, but there are some things we can all do on a local level that makes a difference. Some of them are as simple as feeding the birds, planting native species, and creating brush piles in your yard. Other simple ways we can help make a difference include recycling, reusing items, lowering the thermostat in winter and raising it in summer, keeping our vehicles’ tires properly inflated, and driving less.

There is no shortage of ways we can be good stewards of God’s Creation. The important thing is not to worry about what we cannot do but to focus on what we can. Working alone and with others in our community we can make a difference.   For God’s sake, our own, that of our neighbors (both human and wildlife) and the planet itself, let’s do all we can to fulfill our divine calling to take care of the earth.

–Chuck

(I took the bird images used today over the last couple of days at my home in Henderson, KY.)