Mar 11 2015

“Red and Yellow, Black and White”

_DSC6432Two songs stand out in my memory from my childhood years growing up in church.  The earliest song I remember hearing is “Jesus Loves Me.”  The second song I remember is “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  Both songs spoke to me of Christ’s love for me but the second song indicated that Jesus loves all the children of the word, not just me.  It said “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”  These songs became foundational for my understanding of Jesus.  He was someone who loved me and someone who loved everyone else too.  It didn’t even matter what color skin they had; Jesus loved everybody.

_DSC6428I learned these songs and sang them in the late 1950s and early 60s.  What I saw and heard growing up during this time did not, however, always match the message of these songs.  I heard a lot of grownups refer to Black people in words that were not kind at all.  I also remember hearing Asian Americans referred to in a derogatory manner.  Even as a child it disturbed me to hear such talk.  It didn’t match the theology that had been instilled within me by the songs I had learned.  God loved everyone.  It seemed cruel to call those different than us ugly names.  A lot of years have passed since that time and in some ways there has been a lot of change but two things have not changed.  One is my strong conviction that Jesus does, in fact, love me and everyone else.  The other is the unease that arises within me when I hear people call individuals of other ethnic groups cruel names.  I believe it is wrong to do so and that there is no excuse for degrading others solely because they are different from us.

Because of these two strong convictions I have been greatly disturbed by many of the events being reported on in the news the past few days.  What the young men in the fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were recorded chanting is heartbreaking.    Things said by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, were likewise hard to stomach.  Unfortunately, I know all too well that these were not isolated incidents.  Such cruel language is directed daily by small minded people at any number of groups.  I just don’t understand why.

_DSC6433This morning when I was leaving my office I happened to notice a sycamore tree directly in front of my car.  Since I park in the same spot everyday I’m not sure why I hadn’t noticed this tree before but the truth is I had paid it no attention.  Today, however, I noticed the beautiful colors and patterns on the bark of this tree.  It was fascinating to see the great variety of colors that was produced on a single tree.  I made a mental note to come back later in the day and photograph the bark.

As I drove off it occurred to me that sycamore tree is a reminder that God delights in color.  That thought led me to consider how wonderful it was that one single tree could have so many different colors.  It was, in fact, the many colors that made the tree so beautiful.  This thought then made me ponder that God could have made the human race all look the same but chose not to and that we are actually much more beautiful because God decided instead to make us different colors and different in other ways too.  I truly am thankful that God did not make us all look or be the same.

_DSC6425The author of Genesis 2:27 says “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Here is another foundational truth for me.  I believe every single person has infinite value simply because he or she is created in the image of God.  I do not believe there are any exceptions.  No matter the color of one’s skin, one’s nationality, one’s religion or one’s sexual orientation, everyone carries within them the image of God and because they do they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.  Both the songs I learned as a child and the Scriptures I have spent my entire life studying lead me to believe that Jesus truly does love each and every one of us.  They also lead me to believe that there is no place for referring to those Jesus loves in a derogatory manner.

There is much I see and hear that convinces me that we have not come nearly as far in the past fifty years as we’d like to believe.  Still, I hold on to the hope that things can get better.  I certainly pray that they will.



Aug 24 2014

On Prairies and People

_DSC6661A couple of weeks ago I met up with Rob Sheppard to do some photography of the prairies in southwest Missouri.  I had never photographed prairies and, although I had a few preconceptions of what a prairie would look like, I really didn’t know what to expect.  When we stopped at the first spot and got out of the car I must have had a bewildered look on my face because Rob asked me what was wrong.  In a sense I was bewildered.  Even though I didn’t know what to expect in the prairies I have to say I did expect more.  That first prairie looked like little more than a common field.  I couldn’t see what was so special about it,

Today I know that prairies are very special.  At one time prairies practically covered the middle section of North America; the area was a virtual sea of grass.  That is hardly the case today.  As noted in the Peterson Field Guide on the North American Prairie, “less than 5 percent of the original tallgrass prairie still stands unplowed, and about half of the original mixed-grass and shortgrass prairies have vanished.”  A landscape that at one time covered one-third of the continent barely survives today.  In most instances it has been converted to farm land.  Thankfully, several states have recognized the need to preserve sections of pristine prairie and these are open to visitation.

_DSC6153At that first prairie I struggled with how to photograph what I was seeing.  I think I struggled for a couple of reasons.  First, I had not previously attempted to photograph prairies.  Second, I really didn’t understand them.  I had no knowledge of a prairie’s unique characteristics or their ecological value.  One might think that would not hinder a photographer’s efforts to capture a landscape but it does.  It makes a world of difference!

_DSC6507The more time I spent in the prairies the more I came to appreciate what they had to offer.  The more I came to appreciate the prairies the better my photographs became.  Since returning home I’ve read a bit about the prairies and feel like I now have a better handle on what prairies are and their value.  I’d like to think that if I photographed a prairie area tomorrow this newfound knowledge would be reflected in the images I took.   Studying one’s subject and spending time with it are necessary to give one the eyes he or she needs to understand and fully appreciate that subject.  That’s just the way it is.

That happens to be true in areas beyond photography.  I believe it can also be true of understanding and appreciating others, especially those we don’t know so well.  There are people groups that at the present time seem foreign or strange to each of us.  We have preconceptions of what they are like but we will never really know them or appreciate them if we do not take the time to learn about them and actually spend time with them.  We will never know their beauty and uniqueness looking from the outside.  We must make the effort to get to know them for this to happen and invest the time that is necessary for doing so.

_DSC6100By coincidence, at the same time I was photographing the prairies in southwest Missouri with Rob in another part of the state racial tensions were erupting in great force.  The events in Ferguson have made it apparent that we still have a long way to go in tearing down walls that separate people.  The walls that separate people these days are quite numerous.  Some are racial, others economic.  There are also social, religious and sexual walls that divide people and create a distance that keeps us from actually getting to know and appreciate those on the other side.  These walls keep us from seeing the beauty that God has placed in all people.  If we are going to take seriously the divine call to love others as God has loved us (John 15:12) then we must make the effort to tear down these walls and get to know one another.  Sure, this can be risky business but in the end it is even riskier not to try.  Whether it be prairies or people, we must spend time in their presence and strive to learn more about them if we are to fully appreciate them.  Whether it be prairies or people, the survival of each may well depend on our willingness to do so.


(I took the prairie pictures included here on the trip to southwest Missouri described above.)