Dec 16 2016

A Seasonal Reminder

_dsc3637With the cold weather that has come our way the birds are flocking to my feeder. For that reason I’m checking the feeder regularly so that I can keep it filled with sunflower seeds for them.  Yesterday I pulled out a heated bird bath I purchased last year since the water was freezing in the one I had set out.  I know it’s important that birds have a good source of water this time of year.   I’ve seen a variety of woodpeckers around the feeder which has served as a reminder it’s time to put some suet out for them.  I really do try to take care of the birds that visit my yard.

_dsc3660As I watched my birds feed and drink earlier today I found some satisfaction in knowing that I am able to provide for them. This led my thoughts to reflect on how I, too, have someone who takes care of and provides for me.  This particular time of the year we cannot help but remember that in Christ God has graciously provided for our many needs. Although Genesis 1:1 teaches us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” the New Testament attributes the work of Creation to Christ or “the Word.” John 1:1-3 tells us that Christ has always existed with God as the Word and that “through him all things were made that has been made.”  In Colossians 1 Paul echoes this thought and says concerning Christ, “for by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” (v. 16)  Yes, the one whose birth we celebrate each Christmas is the one who created the world and in so doing provided for our many physical needs.

At Christmas, however, we tend to remember that Jesus came to provide for still other needs. The angels who spoke to the shepherds outside Bethlehem that first Christmas brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” and that good news was that “a Savior has been born to you.” (Luke 2:10-11)  Having already provided for our physical needs through Creation Christ came to earth to meet our spiritual needs, especially our need for salvation.

_dsc4993Yesterday I read an article on Facebook that a friend had shared which stated that Jesus is not “the reason for the season.”  The writer explained that Christ had always existed with God so we cannot look at his earthly birth as his beginning.  He went on to say that the real reason for the season was you and me.  It was our need for salvation and eternal life that caused God in His infinite love to send Jesus into the world.  God saw our need and responded.  That’s why there is a Christmas to celebrate.

_dsc4950As I watched my birds earlier today and thought about all I was doing for them I wondered if they were aware that someone was taking care of them. I also wondered if they appreciated my efforts.  The same questions can be asked on a different level.  Do most people realize that there is a God who is taking care of them?  Do they appreciate what God is doing for them?  Hopefully during this busy and exciting season each of us will pause long enough to remember Someone is, in fact, providing for our needs.  Hopefully we will also pause and offer thanks for the way those needs have been met.  That would certainly be the appropriate thing to do.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(I’ve included some pictures I’ve taken of the birds that come to my feeder.)


Apr 26 2016

Seeking Nature’s Forgiveness

_DSC9845“Forgive us our sins…” Luke 11:4

One of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read is The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.  In one portion of this classic the character Father Zossima tells his fellow monks the story of his brother’s, Markel, last days.  Markel, who previously cared little for God or religion had a change of heart.  He began asking for both God’s forgiveness and that of others.  Next he did something no one could have expected, he asked the birds to forgive him.  Here are his words: “Birds of God, joyful birds, you, too, must forgive me, because I have also sinned before you.”  Zossima says “None of us could understand it then, but he was weeping with joy.   ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky and I alone lived in shame.  I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it all.’ “ When Markel’s mother told him he was “taking too many sins upon yourself” he responded, “Dear mother, my joy, I am weeping from gladness, not from grief; I want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not even know how to love them.”

_DSC3016I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions lately concerning forgiveness but most of them related to people who had hurt one another. In forty years of ministry I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone speak of asking the birds or nature to forgive them but as I read Dostoevsky’s words again this morning it seemed like what Markel did was something we all need to do.  In so many different ways we sin against Creation on a regular basis.  The birds Markel spoke of have certainly suffered.  At nearby John James Audubon State Park there is a museum that features a lot of items related to Audubon’s life.  One item tour guides invariably point to is a well preserved stuffed passenger pigeon.  At one time there were millions of these birds but today they are now extinct.  I almost feel like the next time I’m there I need to ask its forgiveness.

To some asking a bird or some tree for forgiveness would sound ridiculous but I do not believe that it is at all. When you look at the stress that we have placed on animals as we’ve wiped out their habitat how can you not apologize?  When you see where huge majestic trees have been clear-cut how can you not weep and feel sorry?  When you see fish that have died from pollution dead on the shore how can you not ask for their forgiveness?

B2175In Dostoevsky’s novel Merkel admits that he does not “even know how to love” all of God’s creatures.  Elsewhere in The Brothers Karamazov one of his characters says, “Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”  It is certainly clear that Dostoevsky believed that we should, in fact, love all of Creation and for good reason—so that we might in turn know and love the Creator.

In any relationship where love is involved there will come a time when we must ask the one we love for forgiveness. If we truly love God’s Creation there will likewise be times when we must say “I’m sorry.”  As I look around me it would seem that time is now.

–Chuck

(I photographed the northern cardinal and indigo bunting in western Kentucky and the raven at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.)

 


Dec 28 2015

Learning From the Lovely Chickadee

chickadee  532For Christmas I received a beautiful little book from a friend called Birds: A Spiritual Field Guide. I had not heard of this book and was excited to find another book that focuses on spiritual lessons that can be learned from birds. Last night I picked the book up and started reading it. I read the back cover first and was a bit surprised to discover that the author is “a third-degree Wiccan High Priestess in the Black Forest Clan.”  When I saw that my first response was “I bet my friend (one of my church members) didn’t realize that when she purchased this book for me.”  My second thought was “what in the world am I going to do with this book?”  I thought momentarily that this book might best be placed on a shelf and forgotten. Then I decided to at least give it a chance and started reading it. What I soon discovered is that although there are parts of the book that are strange and unappealing to me, other parts are filled with good information and insight.  I was once again reminded of one of the maxims I try to live my life by, “gold is gold wherever you find it.”

chickadee 039One nugget of gold I discovered was something the author wrote about chickadees. I learned that “the chickadee’s brain allows neurons and the associated old information to die each fall, in order to free up space to absorb new information and adapt anew to its environment.”  This made me think of my constant need to clear space on the hard drive of my computer so that I can store more images. The author of the book, however, spoke of a different analogy.  She raised the questions, “Are you holding on to old patterns, habits, opinions, and beliefs?  Is it time to shed them so that you can reexamine current information and situations, and form new opinions and plans? ” These are questions that definitely deserve our consideration, especially as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another.

chickadee 475Earlier today I came across an article on the internet that listed seven habits practiced by unhappy people. I was embarrassed to see how many of them I am guilty of. I found myself thinking that perhaps I needed to emulate the chickadee and let certain patterns of thinking die. In Romans 12:2 Paul says, “do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Paul recognized that from time to time our minds need to be transformed. I suspect this includes, among other things, freeing up space in our minds by getting rid of those thoughts and thought patterns that are detrimental to us. It also includes letting God’s Spirit direct our thinking in more positive directions.

chickadee 955As we close out 2015 do you, like me, find yourself in need of freeing up some space in your thinking?   Like the lovely chickadee, we too have the ability to do precisely that. It would do us all a world of good if we would pray these words found at the end of Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”  If we actually let God lead us (and our thinking) we have much to look forward to in the coming year.

–Chuck

(I took the images of chickadees shown above when I lived in Pikeville, KY.)


Nov 11 2015

Reflections on Autumn

_DSC2202“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)

Well, another fall has come and gone. Oh, I know it’s just November 11 but that’s the talk I hear from a lot of nature photographers.  It seems like for many the only thing good about autumn is the two to three weeks of beautiful fall foliage.  Considering how spectacular those two to three weeks can be I kind of understand where they’re coming from—anything after that pales in comparison.  Perhaps, but I’m not quite sure about that.  I love photographing fall foliage as much as anyone else but I believe autumn has so much more to offer than just colorful leaves and reflections.

_CES1077Where I live in western Kentucky we are well past peak fall foliage. Many trees are already bare and the rest of them will be soon.   Even so, I’m excited because I know before long the great flocks of snow and speckled geese will be arriving at the Wildlife Management Area nearby.  They will be joined by tundra swans and a number of other species that we do not see the rest of the year.  The return of the birds is as much a part of autumn as the turning of the leaves.

Another thing I like about late fall is the new vistas that are available.   When the trees are bare you can see into places and spaces not possible when the trees are covered with leaves.  A walk in the woods takes on a whole new look and feeling in late autumn.  The incredible patterns of tree branches hidden when covered with leaves in and of themselves become a wonder to behold.  In some ways there is more to see in late fall than at other times of the year.

_CES1499

Upon reflection it seems kind of strange that so many people associate autumn primarily with colorful leaves. There is certainly far more to fall than beautiful foliage.  Perhaps if we could remember this we would enjoy the season more.  And that goes for each of the seasons.  Winter is about more than snow, spring is about more than flowers blooming, and summer is about more than sunny days.  The Creator has blessed us with so much to see, experience and enjoy throughout the entire year but if we are not careful we’ll miss a lot of it.  I suggest we be careful…

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson County, Kentucky.)

 


May 6 2015

Gone to the Birds

_DSC9845I guess I’m finally going to have to admit it.  I’ve become a birder.  I never thought that would happen but the evidence is overwhelming.  In recent months I’ve spent over $100 on bird books,  attended three programs on birds, and spent a small fortune on bird seed and other birding supplies.  I’m currently reading a fascinating book on bird language called What the Robin Knows by Jon Young.  I’ve started keeping my long lens in the car so that if I come across a good opportunity to photograph a bird I’ll be ready.  I’ve even been listening to recordings of bird sounds so I can better identify the birds I’m hearing around me.  I haven’t reached the obsessed stage yet but I’m afraid it’s coming.

_DSC9904I’ve always liked birds.  Don’t most people? I’ve enjoyed taking pictures of them for a number of years.    Yes, I’ve liked birds for a long time but it wasn’t until I moved back to western Kentucky a couple of years ago that I really started getting interested in them.  Where I now reside is by anyone’s definition a birder’s paradise.  It is located on a major flyway and has an abundance of remarkable habitat that draws many birds to the area.  John James Audubon lived here long ago and the area no doubt contributed to his own passion for birds.  A state park that bears his name is located just a mile from my home and it has a plethora of bird species year round.

_DSC9807Having so many species of birds at my back door (literally) has sparked my interest in birds.  I’m still not very good at identifying a good many species and I find distinguishing bird calls to be incredibly difficult and frustrating.  Still, I intend to work on both disciplines and hopefully will make improvements in the coming months.  I have a feeling I’ll never be that good at it but I guess I’m finally ready to officially join the ranks of birders.

_DSC0071Jesus once encouraged his disciples to “look at the birds of the air.” (Mt. 6:26)   Since it is estimated that there are around 10,000 species of birds that may take a while.  He also told a group “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Mt. 10:29)  Both biblical passages remind me that we can, in fact, learn much from “the birds of the air.”  The late theologian and preacher John Stott has a wonderful book called The Birds: Our Teachers.  If you are interested in learning spiritual principles derived from observing birds I highly recommend this book.  Perhaps if I pay careful attention I might learn a few lessons as well.

O.k., I feel better getting that off my chest.  Birders of the world (all 22 million of you) take note; you have added one more member to your tribe.  I hope you will accept me and be patient with me.  I have a lot to learn!

–Chuck

(I took the images shown above–northern cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, goldfinch and prothonotary warbler over the past week at my home and at Henderson Sloughs WMA.


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.)