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.


(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.)

May 27 2012

Wayne’s World

Yesterday I drove to Louisville, Kentucky, to attend the funeral of a very special person.  Dr. Wayne Ward was my theology professor at Southern Seminary.   I took several of his classes and eventually became his teaching assistant.  I can think of few people who have had a greater influence on my life.  He taught me much about theology and the Scriptures but he also taught me so much more.  He taught me about love and life, about integrity and steadfastness, and about serving God and others.  Wayne had studied with many of the theological giants of the past century, counseled U.S. presidents, and personally knew several other important people but I’m not sure I’ve known a more humble man.  He became a true friend and was for me a constant source of inspiration and encouragement.  I am really going to miss him.

I’m not sure that I’ve quoted Dr. Ward in any of my previous blogs but I can assure you that his influence has been present in every one of them.  It was in Wayne’s  classes that I came to see the theological significance of Creation.  I remember him teaching about the meaning of Creation, the goodness of created things, and the ethical significance of the good Creation.  I pulled out my notes from his class earlier today and it is easy to see now that Wayne Ward is the one who first opened my eyes to the importance of Creation Care.  In these notes he states: “Everything God has made is good; we must use it in the right way, the way God intended—constructively, creatively.”  It was from Dr. Ward that I learned that “all created things can have sacramental significance” and that “the dedication and use of all creation for the glory of God is the fundamental principle of Christian ethics.  Not negation but obedient use of all created things is the highest spiritual achievement.”  It was also Wayne Ward who first taught me that God is continuing His creative activity to this very day and cares for the tiniest creatures in His world.

Wayne loved God’s Creation and was thrilled when I began photographing nature seriously.  Early on he convinced me that this could be an extension of my ministry.  The last time I saw Wayne was when he stopped by to watch a multi-media presentation I was making in Louisville.  He was so affirming and appreciative of what I was doing.  He believed I was actually teaching a theology of Creation through my photography.  Whether that is true or not, I don’t know, but what I do know is that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to this man for my understanding of both God and Creation.  Wayne’s world is no longer this one but his influence will remain with me until my dying day.  I truly did love that man!


(I took the top picture at Seneca Park in Louisville, just a short distance from Dr. Ward’s home.  The bottom image was taken at Bernheim Forest, also in Kentucky.)

Mar 7 2012

Caring “A Whole Awful Lot”

Last night my wife, mother and I went to see “The Lorax,” the new movie based on the book of the same title by Dr. Seuss.  It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I loved it. In a fun and good-natured way it drives home many lessons related to Creation Care.  Perhaps its strongest message is that one person can make a difference.  It also stresses the fact that until a person truly cares about something, he or she is not likely to make a difference.  In both the movie and the book you’ll find the words: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

From what I’ve read “The Lorax” has done exceptionally well at the box office.  I find that encouraging.   I’ve even seen on Facebook where people have said after watching the movie they wanted to go plant a tree.  (For the uninitated, the movie and book imagine a world where all the real trees have been destroyed.) Wouldn’t it be great if lots of people did just that?  I’d like to think that this presentation of Dr. Seuss’ book will cause people not typically receptive to environmental issues to be more open to them.  It certainly has that potential.

Unless one wants to read something into the fact that the Lorax descends and ascends from the heavens, there’s really no religious emphasis in the movie.  Since the movie is based on the book I didn’t expect there to be.  Still, one can read (or watch) between the lines and see an affirmation of Creation.  It stresses that it is the natural world, and not the artificial one, that is life-giving.

I especially liked the song “Let It Grow” in the movie.  It comes at the climax of the film when the people of Thneedville choose to let the last truffula seed grow.  As the song filled the theatre I found myself wishing this sentiment would spread to the masses.  God’s Creation is good and should be both nurtured and preserved.  And it should be nurtured and preserved, as I’ve stated numerous times at this site, not just because it sustains us and is beautiful but because it was created to bring glory to God.

I still think that in the end this is the greatest reason for us to care about nature and the environment.  The other reasons are no doubt important, too, and lead me to be concerned, but it is the God-connection that makes me care “a whole awful lot.” If more Christians would choose to care a whole awful lot things would get better.  Wouldn’t they not?


(I took the top image of giant sequoias in California’s Sequoia National Park.  I photographed the forest scene shown in the second picture in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest.)


Aug 3 2011

Taking Responsibility

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  Genesis 2:15

 In this past Sunday’s blog I shared some thoughts spurred by reading Jane Goodall’s book Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey.  Today I want to do the same.  I have now finished reading the book and have to say I am both impressed and inspired by Dr. Goodall’s story.  She is living proof that one person can make a big difference when it comes to caring for God’s Creation.  She insists throughout her book that all of us can, likewise, make a difference.

In the book she says there are many success stories about people who have been able to do something positive about environmental problems but adds, “The problem is, most of us don’t get involved.  Most of us don’t realize the difference we could make.”  She goes on to write: “We love to shrug off our own responsibilities, to point fingers at others. ‘Surely,’ we say, ‘the pollution, waste, and other ills are not our fault.  They are the fault of politicians.’  This leads to a destructive and potentially deadly apathy.  Let us remember, always, that we are the consumers.  By exercising free choice, by choosing what to buy, what not to buy, we have power, collectively, to change the ethics of business, of industry.  We have the potential to exert immense power for good—we carry it with us, in our purses, checkbooks, and credit cards.”

Goodall also speaks of very simple things we can all do to make a difference, things that will make the world around us a better place for man and beast alike.  She says, “we can make a sad or lonely person smile; we can make a miserable dog wag his tail or a cat purr; we can give water to a little wilting plant.  We cannot solve all the problems of the world, but we can often do something about the problems under our noses.  We can’t save all the starving children and beggars of Africa, of Asia, but what about the street children, the homeless, the aged in our own hometown?”

At the end of the book Dr. Goodall sums up the message she feels God has given her to share with others.  It is this: “Each one of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference. Each of us must take responsibility for our own lives, and above all, show respect and love for living things around us, especially each other.  Together we must reestablish our connections with the natural world and with the Spiritual Power that is around us.”

I thank God for Jane Goodall and pray that her message will be heard by many.  We truly do live in a time when there is far too much apathy and the tendency to blame others for the problems we face.  I see in Jane Goodall a modern day prophet calling us to care for this incredible planet God has given us.   I see a prophet telling us that we must all do our part whether others do or don’t.  The Bible is clear that we are called to be stewards of the earth; Creation Care is our responsibility.   It is high time that each and every one of us did our part and took responsibility.  May God help us to do just that!


(The pictures above are some that I took in my yard yesterday here in Pikeville, Kentucky.)

For more information on Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute, visit

Aug 22 2010

Music & Creation Care

LAV 842“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High.” Psalms 92:1

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you that many of my favorite hymns are songs that praise God as Creator.  Some of my personal favorites are “This is My Father’s World,”  “Great is Thy Faithfulness,”  “For the Beauty of the Earth,”  “Worthy of Worship,” and “Morning Has Broken.”  Some of my favorite contemporary Christian songs are likewise focused on God as Creator.  These include “Indescribable” and “All Things Well,” both by Chris Tomlin, and “Creation Song” by Fernando Ortega.

This past week I was reminded of the importance of singing songs connecting God and Creation.  Matthew Sleeth, in his newest book, The Gospel According to the Earth, has a chapter on the Book of Psalms he calls “The First Environmental Music.”  In this chapter he claims that singing songs connecting God and Creation can actually make a difference in how we look at and treat the earth.  He says, “Singing songs in praise of creation inspires us to appreciate God’s gifts.  Appreciation leads to a desire to be better stewards.  Better stewardship at home, church, work, and beyond leads to less waste.  Less waste demonstrates respect for God, resulting in a cleaner, more beautiful world in which to sing his praises.”  I like Sleeth’s thinking, as well as his conclusion to the chapter: “With God as the conductor, maybe music can also save a planet.”

LAV 904A couple of days ago I got my latest edition of Orion in the mail.  This is an environmental magazine that Rob Sheppard introduced me to last year.  In it there is an article by Erik Reese about how a group of country musicians are using their talents to combat mountaintop removal in Appalachia.  Toward the end of the article Reese writes: “Can music save mountains?  Certainly not by itself.  But there is a reason Walter Pater said that all art aspires toward the condition of music.  More than any other art form, music can connect the head to the heart, the self to the social whole.  After all, the fiddle tunes that began in the mountains of Appalachia were never meant for an ‘audience.’  That music was intended to draw people together, to involve them in something communal and collective.  Now a new collective conscience must be mobilized in order to preserve the mountains where this music was born.”

It would seem that there truly is a connection between music and Creation Care—a connection worth noting and celebrating.  God told Job that when He created the world “the morning stars sang together.” (38:7)  It seems to me that it’s now our job to continue the song.


(The images above were taken at a lavender field near Port Angeles, Washington.)

Jun 16 2010

“Galactic Blast”

Yosemite NP 367“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

This week the church I serve is having Vacation Bible School.  Our theme is “Galactic Blast: A Cosmic Adventure Praising God”.  The curriculum, produced by Cokesbury, was chosen by our children’s director, Dee Branham.  I’m glad Dee chose to go this route because each night the children are learning that there is a connection between Christianity and the environment.

On the very first night the kids learned about how God created the earth and were reminded that it belongs to Him.  In the sessions that  have followed, the children have learned spiritual truths from God’s Creation.  Each night they have also been given “green tips.”  They are learning practical things even they can do to be better stewards of the earth. 

I grew up going to multiple Vacation Bible Schools every year.  I don’t remember ever being taught that caring for the earth is a part of our Christian calling.  Thankfully, the children coming to our Vacation Bible School this year are being exposed to this important truth.  They are actually learning how to see God in His Creation too.

I don’t know how many churches are using Galactic Blast this year but I hope there are many.  It is imperative that our children learn how important it is that we practice Creation Care.  They, too, need to be taught to look for God in this beautiful and amazing world He has created. 

I do not happen to be a parent but I know the value of recognizing and taking advantage of “teachable moments” with kids.   I happen to believe that we have all been presented a teachable moment with the Gulf oil spill.  Our children see the news, they know what’s going on.  Now would be a great time to share with them God’s concern for the earth and the responsibility we all have to take care of it.  Now would be the ideal time to “train a child in the way he should go…”


(The image above was taken at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.)