Dec 19 2015

Can We Help Bring Joy to the World?

_DSC2996“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  These words are found at the beginning of one of the most beloved Advent/Christmas hymns.  They are soon followed by a refrain that includes the phrase “let heaven and nature sing.”   It would seem that the writer of this hymn, Isaac Watts, believed that Christ’s coming was meant to bring joy to all of Creation.  This is further indicated in the second verse where he talks about “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”  There’s no way I could ever prove it but I do believe that all of nature joins together in offering praise to the Creator.  I also believe that the same Jesus who came to bring joy to people like you and me likewise longs for there to be joy in all aspects of his Creation.  The God who created the world is a God of great joy and this same God longs for joy to be found throughout Creation.

_DSC5464Joy has been the theme of the Advent season this past week. I’ve paused a couple of times these past few days to wonder just how much joy the rest of Creation experiences these days.  When we stop and consider the impact humans have had on the earth it does, in fact, make you wonder.  Does air and water pollution hinder Creation’s joy?  Does ever increasing species decimation and destruction of the rain forests cause Creation to experience less joy?  Are the effects of climate change at this very moment diminishing the joy that Christ intended for his Creation?  Can we even still sing “joy to the world (Creation), the Lord is come” or expect heaven and nature to sing?

e_DSC3071Despite what we humans have done to harm the earth and rob it of its intended joy, I still believe that when we stop and consider the coming of Christ long ago there remains cause for “the world” to rejoice and sing. The hope, peace and joy of the world remain tied to the first advent of Jesus.  More specifically, they remain tied to the love he both taught and made manifest throughout his life on earth.  John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” Here is a needed reminder that God’s love for the world (and those who inhabit it) was the primary reason Jesus was born the first Christmas.  If we and the rest of Creation can remember this and reflect on the incomprehensible love that brought Christ into the world there will always be joy.

e_DSC3341But as we consider love, the theme for the fourth week of Advent, this coming week, I would suggest that there is to be found in Christ’s teachings a word that has the potential to bring further joy to the rest of Creation. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he responded with a twofold answer.  He said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” Then he added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus made sure we understood that what is most important of all is loving God and loving others.  If we will take seriously his words it would make an incredible difference in how we relate to the rest of Creation.  Think about it…

If we truly love God we are not going to abuse that which God has made. Recognizing that the earth is, in fact, the work of God’s hands and belongs first and foremost to God, we will realize its sacredness and also the need to be diligent stewards of it.  If we sincerely love God how could we ever trash the work of God’s hands?  How could we take that which belongs to God and treat it as though it was ours to do with as we please?  Furthermore, if we honor Jesus’ words to love our neighbor as we love ourselves will that not also affect how we view and use the world’s resources?  Our stewardship of the earth starts to look different when we begin to see it as a means of loving others.  The bottom line is no longer what I want or what I can get or how much money I can make off of the earth’s resources.

e_DSC3161I realize it may sound too simplistic but I would argue that if we took Jesus’ words seriously it would result in a much healthier planet.  And perhaps, if we did a really good job of it, we might actually get to hear “heaven and nature sing.”

–Chuck

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


Aug 7 2015

A Prayer for Creation

_DSC6890The two major concerns that are the focus of this blog, Seeing Creation, are nature and spirituality. My strong conviction, as most of you already know, is that the two go together. For most people a major component of spirituality is prayer. I wonder, however, how many people include nature or Creation as part of their prayers. Recently I came across a prayer in the book Earth Prayers that shows us how we might pray for God’s Creation. It is a beautiful prayer that many of us ought to consider praying.

_DSC7616“How much of Earth’s atmosphere must we contaminate? How many species must we abuse and extinguish?  How many people must we degrade and kill with toxic wastes before we learn to love and respect your Creation, before we learn to love and respect our home?  For our wrongs, Lord, we ask for forgiveness.  In sorrow for what we have done we offer our repentance. We pray that our actions toward You and Your Creation are worthy of our repentance, that we will so act here on earth that heaven will not be a shock to us. We promise to reverence Your Creation as a gracious gift entrusted to us by You, our God. We promise anew to be stewards and not pillagers of what You have entrusted to us. Creator God, You have given us every reason to learn and promote this wisdom of lives lived in harmony with Creation. May we, your servants, increasingly serve.  May we, your servants, increasingly come to love Your Creation as we increasingly come to love You, through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”

The questions that are offered at the beginning of this prayer deserve our attention–“How much of Earth’s atmosphere must we contaminate?”  Politicians debate even now whether clean air and water or business profits should be our primary concern. From God’s perspective is this even debatable?  The recent publicity over the killing of the lion known as Cecil has many raising the same question addressed in the prayer: “How many species must we abuse and extinguish?”  In a recent blog I wrote about environmental racism which resonates with the question, “How many people must we degrade and kill with toxic wastes…?”

_DSC7000The book, Earth Prayers was published in 1991 and in it this prayer is attributed to the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology. If it was being penned today, I suspect other questions might be added to the ones already included. Perhaps one would ask “How many scientific studies must be conducted before we recognize the impending danger of Climate Change and start to make changes to counter it?”

Appropriately, the prayer not only raises questions but includes confession and repentance. Confession is important.  We need to admit to God that we have not been good stewards of Creation. Repentance is perhaps even more important.  We must mend our ways.  Just saying we are sorry won’t cut it; we have got to be willing to change our ways and do what we can to care for the Earth.

_DSC6976My hope is that all those who read this prayer will make the same promise to reverence God’s Creation “as a gracious gift entrusted to us” and to “be stewards and not pillagers” of what God has entrusted to us. I also hope, as stated in the prayer, that we will all come to love God’s Creation as we increasingly come to love God.

If you are not currently including Creation in your prayers now would be a good time to start and the prayer I’ve just shared with you wouldn’t be a bad one to begin with.

–Chuck

(The first, third and fourth images were taken at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  The deer was photographed in my yard in Henderson, KY.)


Jun 19 2015

A Positive Outcome?

_DSC3043Pope Francis has certainly been getting a lot of attention the past few days.  His encyclical on climate change and the environment has been praised by some and scorned by others.  I have not read the entire encyclical but from the excerpts I’ve seen I am very impressed with what he has done here.  He has taken on both climate deniers and believers who are indifferent toward environmental issues indicating that we cannot afford to ignore what is happening to planet Earth.

Pope Francis notes that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”  Who can deny that we have dirtied the planet in more ways than one?  Water and air pollution remain prevalent problems in many places on the earth.  The garbage we produce each day is staggering and the disposal of it is a current problem but will become an even greater one in the future.

_DSC3047The papal encyclical addresses global warming, species extinction and, not surprisingly for this pope, the effect environmental issues have on the poor.  Pope Francis believes we have a moral and spiritual duty to do what we can to care for the earth.  He stresses that we owe it not just to God and to ourselves but to future generations as well.  One of the quotes from the encyclical that is getting a lot of attention says “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.”

Pope Francis’ concern for the destruction of the earth is influenced by his belief that God is present in the Creation and makes Himself known through it.  He seems to have learned much from his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who praised God for “brother sun” and “sister moon.”  Pope Francis writes, “There is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.”  He adds to this, “Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”

_DSC3317Sadly, a number of politicians and religious leaders feel Pope Francis should “stick to theology” and leave matters pertaining to the environment to scientists.  Ironically, the pope has a master’s degree in chemistry, but even if he didn’t the care of the earth is very much a part of theology.  I suspect the concern expressed by the pope’s critics has more to do with economic repercussions to his stance on the environment than anything else.  I fear many of these people bow to the gods of money and power rather than to the God of Creation whom the pope serves.

_DSC2487In his encyclical Pope Francis challenges us to “recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”  I hope and pray that we will all take this challenge seriously.  Elsewhere he writes “We believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome.”  In these two passages I see the pope calling believers to both prayer and action.  Yes, we should all pray for “a positive outcome” to the crisis we find ourselves in but we must also follow God’s guidance and take the steps necessary to ensure that there will be a positive outcome both for us and for those who will follow in our steps.  This Protestant pastor hopes that Christians from all faith traditions will take seriously the message of Pope Francis.  I cannot help but believe that the future of the earth depends upon it.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown above are some I’ve taken recently at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area and Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge.)


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.)


Dec 16 2014

Too Much Darkness

e_CES8771It sure does get dark early this time of year in western Kentucky.  That has been one of my major adjustments since moving here and finding myself in the Central Standard Time zone once again.  A lot of people in this area go to work in the dark and when they get off of work it’s already dark again.  Darkness arrives early and it makes the nights seem so very long.  I don’t like it.  It’s depressing.  It messes with my mind.  And for a few more days it’s only going to get worse.  But there’s the good news, it’s only for a few more days.  The winter solstice arrives next week and slowly, but surely, the hours of daylight will lengthen.

It is knowing that the long nights will not last forever that makes them endurable.  When you have hope of longer and brighter days to come you can bear the shorter and darker days.  That hope sustains you.  That hope sees you through.

DV-moonSuch thoughts seem appropriate during the Advent season.   This time of year we remember how long ago God’s people longed for the coming of a Savior and how the prophet Isaiah declared that one day things would be different.  He wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (9:2)  Ironically, it was a great light that led a group of Magi to the one born to be King of the Jews.  Later, when Jesus began his teaching ministry he announced “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)  In so many ways Jesus did, in fact, bring light to the world.  During Advent we pause to remember how that light made its entrance.

TB-880Advent, however, is more than just a time for looking back and remembering.  It is also a time for looking ahead.  Before Jesus left this world he promised that he would one day return.  That has not happened yet but we live with the confidence and assurance that someday it will.  That is good news, especially in dark days like these.  And here, by dark days, I am not referring to the shortage of daylight.  All you have to do is watch or read the news and it becomes obvious that a deep darkness pervades much of the world.  Scores of innocent children are murdered while they are at school in Pakistan.  Various groups of people suffer regularly from racial injustice.  Thousands die each day from hunger and poverty related illnesses.  Violence raises its ugly head unrelentingly.  Climate change and pollution threaten the lives of millions.  Yes, there’s a lot of darkness out there.

The darkness around us will not last forever however.  A better day is coming.  In fact, there is a time approaching when there will be no more darkness.  That is something that we are promised in Revelation 21:25.  The one who is the Light of the world will prevail and his kingdom will one day be fully established.   In the meantime, followers of Jesus must never forget that he said we, too, are “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)  As long as darkness remains in this world we have work to do, we must let our light shine.  Until the Second Advent takes place we are charged to do all we can to dispel the darkness around us.  I need to be a light for you.  You need to be a light for me.  We need to be a light to all those around us.  It’s what the one born in Bethlehem is counting on us to do.  I pray we will not let him down.

–Chuck

(I took the images used above in New Mexico and California.)


Dec 26 2012

“Flight Behavior”

AGPix_summers402_1165_Lg[1]Christmas is a time most of us associate with gifts. We enjoy giving gifts and, of course, we enjoy receiving them too. Hopefully when we do receive gifts we give thanks for them and honor the bestower by what we do with the gift. To show disrespect for any gift given to us in love would be sinful or inappropriate.

I fear that a lot of people forget that the earth we live on is a gift bestowed by God. We should give thanks for this marvelous gift and also treat it in a way that is appropriate. Unfortunately, from the looks of things, we’ve not done a very good job of the latter obligation.

HNP crater 367Early this morning I finished reading Barbara Kingslover’s newest novel, Flight Behavior. The book is fiction but deals with a very serious problem our planet is facing, global warming. Kingslover, who in addition to being an award winning writer, earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She definitely did her homework for this book and introduces a great deal of scientific evidence into her narrative.

The story she tells involves the potential demise of monarch butterflies due to climate change. It is a story that stretches from Mexico to the southern Appalachian mountains. It is also a story that is unfortunately all too believable. Out of both ignorance and arrogance we have done things to our planet that has had, and will continue to have, dire consequences.

Kingslover deals with the reluctance of many to acknowledge the human impact on the earth’s rising temperature. In one of the book’s best sections a respected biologist gives a blistering interview to a television reporter and does his best to set the record straight–humans are influencing climate change and people can deny it all they want but it will not change what is happening.

FL9677If you’ve read any of Kingslover’s previous books it will come as no surprise that she brings religion into the discussion. More than one character in the book is convinced that the earth truly is a gift from God and that people are responsible for being good stewards of it.

I hope Flight Behavior becomes a best-seller. It will help anyone who reads it to understand better what we are up against in the growing threat of global warming. Hopefully her novel will also lead others to give more thought to the connection between Christianity and environmental stewardship. I do commend the book to you and hope you’ll encourage others to read it as well.

–Chuck

(I took the top image in Virginia, the middle image in Hawaii, and the bottom image in Florida.)