Feb 22 2017

Lessons From Amos

CA Yosemite NP Yosemite ValleyHere in western Kentucky it’s 70 degrees, the birds are singing, and the flowers are blooming. I’ve been wearing short-sleeved shirts all week.  The fact that it’s February makes all of this quite puzzling.  I’d say something about climate change or global warming but I understand we’re not supposed to talk about that anymore so I won’t (at least not today).  Instead I’d like to call your attention to something I’ve found interesting in the ancient Book of Amos.  Amos was an 8th c. B.C. prophet from Judah who headed north to deliver a series of messages to the people of Israel. Amos makes it quite clear that Israel has let God down by failing to let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)  The people were doing everything they were supposed to do on the Sabbath but they were cheating, robbing and taking advantage of the poor the rest of the week.  For this reason Amos said God was about to destroy Israel and send its people into exile.

CA Redwood NP grove 2As a whole, the message of Amos is one of gloom and doom. There’s not much uplifting in what he has to say to the people.  But three times in the book of nine chapters there is a pause in the gloom and doom messages and Amos exalts God for being the Creator.  At the end of chapter four, right after Amos had told the people “prepare to meet your God,” he inserts this word: “He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth–the Lord God Almighty is his name.” (4:13)  This passage doesn’t seem to fit what goes before it but it may have been that Amos felt the Israelites needed a corrective in their understanding of God.  The God of Israel was not some weak deity that could be pushed around.  No, their God formed the mountains and created the winds.  Their God turns dawn to darkness and treads the high places of the earth.  This was the God they were about to meet.

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)In the fifth chapter Amos chides the people for equating God with their sanctuaries and for turning justice into bitterness and casting righteousness to the ground. Right after this stern word he adds: “He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land–the Lord is his name.”  (5:8)  Once again, the words don’t seem to follow naturally what precede them but still one more time Amos seems intent on making sure that Israel knew who they had offended.  Their God was not some powerless god.  No, Israel’s God put the stars in their place and was the One who controlled day and night.  Their God created the waters of the sea and spread water across the rest of the land.

CA Death Valley NP dunes vIn the ninth chapter we find yet another strange insertion. After one more strong word of judgment Amos says “The Lord, the Lord Almighty–he touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn; the whole land rises like the Nile, then sinks like the river of Egypt; he builds his lofty palaces in the heavens and sets its foundations on the earth; he calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land–the Lord is his name.” (9:5-6)  Still yet one more time Amos called the people of Israel to understand exactly who it was they were dealing with.  It was no less than the Lord God Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.  How foolish they were to have turned their backs on the Almighty God!  How just was their forthcoming punishment!

Today we may live far removed from eighth century B.C. Israel but I suspect we could still use the same corrective Amos issued his listeners. We need to remember that God expects us to practice justice and righteousness.  Furthermore, we need to remember just who this God is who places this demand on us.  God is the One who created the mountains and streams, the stars in the sky, and all that exists.  It is the Almighty God, the Creator of everything who gives us this mandate.  Israel soon learned that they could not ignore God’s demand and get away with it.  Will we learn the same lesson?

–Chuck

(The pictures used above are some I’ve taken on various trips to California.)

 


Jan 24 2017

My Awe-full Life

WY Yellowstone NP Grand Prismatic SpringI’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve had an awe-full life. Not awful, mind you, but awe-full or full or awe.  I was teaching a class a few days ago and I asked those in it if they could point to instances where they had experienced awe or wonder in nature.  Every single member could point to a time.  As we listed these out loud together I found myself coming up with example after example.  From my first glimpses of the Appalachian mountains and Atlantic ocean as a child until the present moment nature has continued to fill me with wonder and awe.  I can’t help but believe that is true for everyone.

God’s Creation is simply awesome! I’ve seen that awesomeness in giant trees and tiny flowers.  I’ve seen it in the Milky Way above and in marvelous creatures here below.  I’ve seen it in the heated desert and in the frozen tundra.  I’ve seen the awesomeness of nature in calving glaciers, steaming geysers and raging rivers.  I’ve seen it in mountains high and valleys low.  Near and far I’ve been blown away by the wonders and mysteries of Creation and led to moments of pure awe and worship.

WA Olympic NP Hoh RainforestThis awe-full life I’ve had comes as no surprise because the Bible teaches us that there is an awesome God behind all of this. Nature is awesome because it is a reflection of the awesomeness of God.  That awesomeness is found everywhere.  Isaiah 6:3 says “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Because this is true there are awe-full moments waiting for us all of the time.  If we will but use the eyes and ears that we have been given we cannot escape experiencing God’s glory.

VA Atlantic Ocean sunriseThe apostle Paul believed that God’s awesomeness in Creation was so great and evident he declared “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)  Having seen what I’ve seen, it would be difficult for me to argue with Paul concerning this matter.

I believe that the Creator made the world awesome on purpose so that it would lead individuals like you and me to God. The marvels of nature are signposts directing us to God.  Today I am thankful for those signposts and for this awe-full life I’ve been given.  It has brought me much joy and brought me closer to the Maker of heaven and earth.

–Chuck

( I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone NP, Olympic NP, and the Atlantic ocean.)


Jan 5 2017

Christmas and Creation

_dsc3553“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Today is the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season. When you add the four weeks of Advent to the twelve days of Christmas, and then tack on all the pre-Advent weeks of Christmas decorations, music and commercials, Christmas seems to last forever these days.  I hope it has been a joyful and blessed season for you and before we officially leave it I’d like to pause one more time to consider the significance of the Incarnation.

a_dsc8008In today’s “Daily Meditation” by Richard Rohr he makes the claim that Christmas for many is an even bigger celebration than Easter. It would be hard to deny that claim.  In fact, I’ve often wondered why we go all out in our celebration of Christmas but seem rather subdued when it comes to Easter.  Rohr offers one reason.  He says “because for God to be born as one of us in this world among the animals and in a poor family shows that humanity is good, flesh is good, and this world is good!”  I’m not sure Rohr’s reason fully justifies the disproportionate celebration Christmas receives over Easter but he does point to an often forgotten truth that was made manifest when God took on human flesh that first Christmas. By entering this world and actually becoming a part of this world God revealed the goodness of Creation and humanity itself.  This goodness was already affirmed in the Genesis 1 account of Creation but by taking on human flesh and living in the midst of this Creation God affirmed their goodness on a whole new level.

Contrary to various philosophies that have dominated human thinking at times, this world is good and life in this world is as well. The birth of Jesus Christ offers proof of this.  If the world and life were not sacred prior to Jesus’ birth—and I believe that they were—they certainly were afterwards.  In a definitive way God added God’s stamp of approval on both when Jesus was born.

a_dsc1403At the end of today’s “daily meditation” Rohr says “Christ is both the Alpha and the Omega of history (Revelation 1:8), naming it correctly at the very start and forever alluring it forward. Love is both the cause and the goal of all creation. This is a meaningful universe, and meaning is what the soul needs to thrive.”   God’s love revealed at Christmas, and certainly Easter too, does in fact give meaning to the universe and life itself.  It also serves as a useful reminder that God is as much a part of this earth and this life as God is of heaven and the life to come.  I’m afraid far too many of us fail to recognize this.  If we fully understood this truth we’d be singing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” not just at Christmas but year round.

–Chuck

(I took the first and third image in Henderson County, KY., and the middle image at Yellowstone National Park.)


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.)


Nov 11 2016

Kindness and Awe

_dsc1299

“Be kind to one another…”  Ephesians 4:32

Last month Parade magazine published an article on awe. In this article the author, Paula Spencer Scott describes how the emotion of awe is getting more and more attention from researchers.  She said, “new studies show that it’s a dramatic feeling with the power to inspire, heal, change our thinking and bring people together.” Scott quotes Dacher Keltner’s, head of the University of California Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, definition of awe: “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.”

_ces3749It is likely that all of us have had experiences of awe. If you use Keltner’s definition of awe then most, if not all, of our religious experiences include an element of awe.  After all, when you encounter God you are encountering “something vast or beyond human scale,” something “that transcends our current understanding of things.” Many of our reactions of awe are triggered by nature.  It could be looking at the Milky Way on a clear night, watching a newborn fawn take its first steps, observing a sunrise, or standing before a booming waterfall.  God’s Creation offers us a multitude of opportunities to experience awe.

The current studies on awe are revealing some interesting results. One such result is that awe has a way of binding people together.  In a moment of awe we may very well come to realize that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves and begin to think more in terms of we than me.  Related to this, research indicates that awe makes us nicer.  In one study a group of participants were divided up.  One group was asked to spend a whole minute looking at an impressive stand of North America’s tallest eucalyptus trees while the other looked at a plain building.  It will come as no surprise that those who looked at the trees reported greater awe.  What is a bit surprising is something else that was included in this study.  When a tester “accidently” dropped pens in front of the subjects the awestruck ones helped pick up way more than the ones who had gazed at the building.  There is apparently some connection between awe and kindness.

f_dsc9914If this is indeed true, then we would all benefit by seeking to bring more awe and wonder into our lives. During the recent election season I saw several memes on Facebook with the caption “Make America Kind Again.”  I doubt that there is anyone who would deny that there is a shortage of kindness these days.  If awe can help make us kinder then we should take advantage of this connection and encourage others to do the same.  If we know, for example, that awe is invoked by being present in beautiful places then we should seek these out.  Awe may likewise be sought out by listening to inspiring music or reading good poetry.  It can often be found in personal and corporate expressions of worship.

I urge you to find ways to bring more awe into your life. Do this for your own soul’s sake and for the good of others.  Hopefully experiencing more awe will, in fact, lead us to think more in terms of “we” than “me” and make us kinder people too.  Hopefully it will draw us closer to God.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Henderson Sloughs WMA, the middle image at Hoosier National Forest, and the bottom image in the eastern Sierra mountains.)