Mar 14 2016

Spring, Heart Surgery and Creation Care

Westerm-CottontailSince my recent heart attack and bypass surgery my time outdoors has been quite limited. I walk in our neighborhood when the weather permits and get out otherwise only to go to rehab or make a quick trip to the office. Even with the limited exposure to the outdoors it is apparent that spring is currently making its presence known. Jonquils are in bloom, redbuds are starting to bud, and a number of wildflowers are emerging. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get out and photograph the wonders of early spring this year but I still find much comfort and joy in the return of spring.

flowerSpring is a time of renewal and restoration. After winter’s cold and darkness spring gives us hope of better days to come. It brings the promise of longer days, rising temperatures and an explosion of color.   This year I find myself looking at spring differently.   Due to my health issues I see myself not just as an observer of spring but also as a participant in the cycle of spring. Like the world of nature, my body is going through a period of renewal and restoration. Following surgery my body is going through a season of healing. Although I still have a bit of pain and discomfort I live with the hope of better days to come.

Viewing myself as a participant of spring has caused me to also do some thinking about being a part of Creation itself. Even though we don’t admit it often we humans are just as much a part of Creation as flowers, birds, trees, and the rivers around us are. We owe our existence to God. One biblical writer declared that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  (Ps. 139:14)  It would be difficult for someone to debate that truth.   Like everything else, we were made by God and for God. Like the rest of Creation God made us in such a way that we can fulfill our divine purpose.  God made our bodies so that we can be and do what God planned for us.

robin 1I write often at this site about the need for us to be good stewards of God’s Creation.  What a lot of us may have forgotten is that our own bodies are a part of that Creation and that we must be good stewards of them too. I will confess I have not been a very good steward of my own body. Over the years I have not taken very good care of it. I have failed to eat right, exercise properly, and get the rest my body needed. When I had the episode with my heart a few weeks ago I did not ask “Why me?” I knew it was my own fault. I had no one to blame but myself.   I had not been a very good steward of the one part of Creation I have the most control over and I paid the price.

There is always a price to be paid when we fail to be good stewards of God’s Creation. The earth or we ourselves invariably suffer. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a good example of how failure to be good stewards can lead to sickness or death. Elsewhere rivers and lakes, even the oceans, are also being polluted and that pollution is causing ill effects for plants and animals and humans alike. There are countless examples of ways we have failed the earth and are now having to pay the price. We simply cannot treat the earth any way we please and not expect there to be some very serious repercussions.

My current health issues have helped me to see anew the importance of being a good steward of all aspects of God’s Creation. There is a very good chance I would not be alive today if a team of doctors had not intervened and performed the surgery I needed.  In the same way, plants and animals, whole ecosystems, and, yes, even fellow human beings may well die if we do not intervene. May God help us all to intervene where and when we can.

–Chuck

(I took the top picture in Wyoming, the second picture in South Carolina, and the bottom image here in Henderson, KY.)


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.)


Apr 27 2014

Hope for Creation

_CES3069In the liturgical calendar this is the Second Sunday of Easter.  In the denomination I serve it is also Earth Stewardship Sunday.  This morning I had the privilege of preaching and presenting multi-media programs at South Elkhorn Christian Church in Lexington.  Mickey Anders, one of my personal heroes, is pastor there and he asked me some time ago to be their guest speaker.  It was great getting to share about our calling to be good stewards of God’s Creation with his congregation.  I hope a lot of other Disciples churches took advantage of Earth Stewardship Sunday to emphasize this calling as well.

_CES3063I wrote about my love for Easter and its message last week on this blog.  I mentioned there that one of the most meaningful messages is God’s ability to bring good from bad situations.  As we reflect on how the earth has been treated the past hundred years or so it is clear that this has not been a good situation.  We have polluted once pristine waters, fouled the air, destroyed incredible amounts of rains forests, literally removed mountains, hastened the extinction of numerous flora and fauna, and apparently altered the climate at the same time.  I’m not sure how any of this could be considered good.  I do believe, however, that the God of resurrection is at work and that it is, indeed, God’s desire to bring good from this bad situation.

When I first became interested in Creation Care twenty-five years ago there were not a lot of books to be found on Christianity and the environment.  That has certainly changed.  Hundreds of such books are now available.  Back then you rarely heard about churches being intentional about Creation Care and ecological responsibility.  That, too, has changed.  In my denomination there is a growing number of churches that have made commitments to be Green Chalice congregations.  We are encouraged regularly to remember our divine responsibility to be good stewards of God’s earth.   I don’t know what’s happening in other denominations but I hope that there, too, a growing commitment to Creation Care can be found.

_DSC3549About forty-five years ago there was much discussion about whether Christianity had contributed to the ecological crisis by espousing an anthropocentric understanding of the human role in Creation.  It was said by some that along with Christianity came the idea that nature is not sacred but disposable, that humans are not really a part of nature, they are above it.  There may have been some truth to these arguments but it truly does seem that more and more Christians are beginning to recognize that we are, indeed, a part of nature and that God has given us the role not of dominating nature but tending to and caring for it.

_CES2984Hopefully with this better understanding of our role we can start doing what we were supposed to all along.  Obviously we cannot undo all the damage that has been done but there are areas where restoration is possible.  Working together we can help others, including our government officials, to see the moral and divine imperative to treat the earth and its resources in a wiser and more sustainable manner.  We can provide those who follow us with a healthier planet.  That will result in healthier lives for us too, as well as more opportunities for God to reveal Himself through Creation.  This may seem overly optimistic to some or perhaps even impossible but, once again, I truly believe that God’s specialty is bringing good out of bad situations.  Having Earth Stewardship Sunday fall closely to Easter is a good thing.  It reminds us all that there is, in fact, hope for all of us and for Creation itself.

–Chuck

(I took these images the past couple of days in the Lexington area.  I want to say a special thank you to Mickey Anders and Holly Fuqua for allowing me to help lead in worship today at South Elkhorn Christian Church.)

 


Jan 19 2014

Science, Religion, Creation Care & Martin Luther King

mag594Over the last couple of days I’ve seen postings on the internet with the following statement: “Stop fighting over who created the world and fight against the people who are destroying it.”  My first reaction to the saying was wholehearted agreement.  It made sense; what is important at this point is not arguments about the origin of things but doing what we can to preserve and protect the world.  Upon further reflection I’ve concluded that it’s not that simple.  The question of origins is very important and even affects how we do approach the environmental crises we currently face.  For me environmental ethics cannot be divorced from theology.

Hazard 862I’m not exactly sure who is “fighting over who created the world.”  I’ve been reading about an upcoming debate between a well-known creationist and television’s “Science Guy” but I’m not sure if that is what is being referred to.  Perhaps it’s not a specific reference at all but instead to the more general, and age old, “battle between science and religion.”  Personally I do not feel that there is a true battle between the two and agree with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (whose birthday we honor tomorrow) summary statement: “Science investigates; religion interprets.  Science gives man knowledge which is power, religion gives man wisdom which is control.  Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”   Science can address how the world came to be; that is within its realm. Religion is not in a position to deal with the “how” of creation but it is able to delve into the questions of “why” and “by whom.” These are for me the far more important questions.

CES_0560Martin Luther King noted that science deals mainly with facts and religion mainly with values.  It is my religion (Christianity) which leads me to believe that the world is good and that this goodness is derived from its divine origins.  Repeatedly throughout Genesis 1 God declares that the world is in and of itself “good.”  It is also my religion which causes me to believe that the world exists primarily for God’s glory, not ours.  These two core beliefs provide powerful reasons to work hard to protect the earth.  If the world was made by God then it is supremely valuable and deserves protection.  If God has declared it to be good then we must resist those forces which would diminish its goodness.   And if the world exists foremost for God’s glory, protecting and preserving it is perhaps our noblest calling.

Dr. King indicated that “science gives man knowledge which is power.”  This power has obviously been used for both good and evil.  At times science has given us what we need to make this a better world but at other times it has given us that which may very well destroy it.  That is why religion plays such an important role when it comes to the environment, it “gives man wisdom which is control.”  We desperately need this “wisdom” today; we desperately need this “control.”

Dual Eagles 4In the end I’d love to see more dialogue (not “fighting”) between science and religion.  Both offer something the other side needs.  I’d also like to see religion (all faiths) working with science to find ways to help us protect and not destroy God’s Creation.  After all, as Martin Luther King reminded us, “The two are not rivals.  They are complementary.”  Working together there is hope, while failure to do so could be devastating.  My suggestion is let’s keep talking about the origin of the world and together do everything we can to prevent its destruction.

–Chuck

(I took the magnolia image at Pikeville, KY, the mountain removal picture near Hazard, KY, the mountain scene at North Cascades NP in Washington, and the bald eagles in Alaska.)


Jul 21 2013

This Hallowed Earth

HC barn 4270Wendell Berry has written eloquently about “the gift of good land” for decades.  Whether you are reading his essays, novels or poems the concept of land as a good gift is always present.  Berry has a strong sense of ethics when it comes to the environment and is keenly aware of our divine call to be good stewards of the earth.  But how did he come to have the views espoused in his writings?  A while back I saw a list of books Wendell Berry acknowledged as being formative of his views.  I perused that list and discovered a book I had not heard of before called The Holy Earth by L. H. Bailey.  Since you can order the book for free on a Kindle I did so.  Having now read through parts of it I can see why Berry found it influential.

Early on in this book Bailey makes a case for the earth being holy.  He writes, “Verily, then, the earth is divine, because man did not make it.  We are here, part of the creation.  We cannot escape.  We are under obligation to take part and to do our best, living with each other and with all the creatures.  We may not know the full plan, but that does not alter the relation.”   Later he adds, “If God created the earth, so is the earth hallowed; and if it is hallowed, so must we deal with it devotedly and with care that we do not despoil it, and mindful of our relations to all beings that live on it.”

wheat 4946One can easily see that for Bailey recognizing that the earth is sacred or holy calls for a land ethic that reflects this view.  He writes: “The sacredness to us of the earth is intrinsic and inherent.  It lies in our necessary relationship and in the duty imposed upon us to have dominion, and to exercise ourselves even against our own interests.  We may not waste that which is not ours.  To live in sincere relations with the company of created things and with the conscious regard for the support of all men new and yet to come, must be of the essence of righteousness.”  For Bailey, the earth’s sacredness takes priority over humankind’s dominion.  He says, “If the earth is holy, then the things that grow out of the earth are also holy.  They do not belong to man to do with them as he will.  Dominion does not carry personal ownership.  There are many generations of folk yet to come after us, who will have equal right with us to the products of the globe.  It would seem that a divine obligation rests on every soul.”

wheat field 5161The Holy Earth was written in 1915.  That means the words you just read are almost a century old.  A lot of people seem to think that Creation Care is something new, a movement born within our own generation, but that is hardly the case.  For ages there have been people who have understood that the earth is holy and that its sacredness calls for us to live on and with the earth in a special relationship.  Interestingly, many came to this realization without the Scriptures but if anyone should recognize the sacredness of the earth it is Christians.  Both the Old and New Testament affirm the goodness of the earth and our need to care for it.  Thankfully, Wendell Berry was willing to listen to those who went before him.  I hope we will as well.

–Chuck

(I took the images above in Henderson County, Kentucky.)


Aug 1 2012

Nature “Con-Servancy”

Several years ago, when I first became interested in exploring the connection between environmental concerns and Christianity, I discovered the writings of Calvin DeWitt.  DeWitt is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Director emeritus of the Au Sable Institute. As both a scientist and a strong Christian Calvin used his credentials to become a leading advocate for what we now typically call “Creation Care.”  I learned much from his early books and would have to cite him as a major influence in leading me to where I am today.  A few days ago Rob Sheppard sent me DeWitt’s newest work, Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation.  I’ve read about half of the book thus far and would certainly recommend it to you.

Last night I read the fifth chapter in the book, “Singing From Two Books.”  In this section Calvin describes his “four principles” that reflect “the purpose of the Author of both books [the Bible and Creation].”  One of these he identifies as the “Con-Servancy Principle.”  At the heart of this principle is the thought of “never taking from Creation without returning service of our own.” DeWitt hyphenates the word ‘conservancy” to draw attention to its root meaning—con + serve means “to serve with.”  He goes on to describe how God’s original plan was for Creation to serve humans and for humans to serve Creation.

DeWitt writes: “We already know from experience with the ‘beautiful book’ of creation that this garden serves us.  It serves us with good food, beauty, herbs, fiber, medicine, pleasant microclimates, continual soil-making, nutrient processing, and seed production.  The garden and the larger biosphere provide what ecologists call ‘ecosystem services’ such as water purification by evaporation and percolation, moderation of flood peaks and drought flows by river-system wetlands, development of soils from the weathering of rocks, and moderation of local climates by nearby bodies of water.”  These are things that most people rarely think about.  We have a tendency to forget that God’s Creation serves us and serves us well.

DeWitt goes on to remind his readers that there is a strong call in the Scriptures for us to serve the Creation.  He notes that in the Genesis account of Creation, “The garden’s service to us is implicit; service from us to the garden is explicit.”  Focusing on Genesis 2:15, he adds, “Like Adam and Adam’s descendents, we are expected to return the service of the garden with service of our own.  This is a reciprocal service, a ‘service with’—in other words, a con-service, a con-servancy, a con-servation.  This reciprocal service defines an engaging relationship between garden and gardener, between biosphere and its safeguarding stewards.”

At the end of this particular section DeWitt sums things up by saying, “Our love of our Creator God, God’s love of the creation, and our imaging this love of God—all join together to commission us as con-servers of creation.  As con-servers, we follow the example of the final Adam—Jesus Christ.”  To all of this I say “Amen!”  This is, indeed, the way it is meant to be.  I appreciate DeWitt’s emphasis on “con-servancy.”  Somehow, someway, we have all got to learn that just as much as Creation exists to serve us, we exist to serve Creation.  At this point it would appear that Creation is doing a far better job of fulfilling its purpose than we are.  Surely we can do better.

–Chuck

(I took the image of the lavendar field in Washington State; the mountain scenic at Acadia National Park, and the desert scene at Mojave National Preserve.)