Jun 26 2015

Horrible News!

_DSC7790There’s been a lot in the news today.  Actually, I guess that’s a bit of an understatement.  There have been a lot of important stories for people to read, watch or listen to.  One story I read this morning on USA Today’s website greatly concerns me.  With all the other events of the day it is now basically hidden and that makes me wonder how many saw it.  The article I am referring to is called “Sixth Mass Extinction?” and gives some horrifying statistics from a recent report concerning the extinction of species.

Psalm 69The study, which first appeared in Science Advances last week, claims “Our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.”  The study concluded that even with conservative statistics, recent extinction rates are unprecedented in the history of mankind.  Some of the statistics are almost unfathomable.  According to the report we are currently losing mammal species 20 to 100 times the rate of the past.  Since 1900 sixty-nine mammal species have gone extinct, along with 400 other invertebrates. The report also claims that since 1970 we’ve lost 52% of the Earth’s bird, mammal, fish, reptile and amphibian population.

The last mass extinction, the 5th one, included the disappearance of the dinosaurs.  Scientists have long pondered the cause of this mass extinction.  I’ve heard answers like a meteor hitting the earth and climate change given for that mass extinction.  But what is the cause of the current one?  According to the study, we are.  The USA Today article says “At current rates of consumption and emissions, 1 1/2 Earths would be required to meet humanity’s demands on nature each year. Those demands include renewable resources like food, fuel, land and ‘forests we need to absorb our carbon emissions.’”  The report cited goes on to say, “For more than 40 years, humanity’s demand has exceeded the planet’s biocapacity — the amount of biologically productive land and sea area that is available to regenerate these resources.”

_DSC6659If the statistics and information in this report are accurate this is truly disturbing news.  A natural catastrophe of epic proportions is in the works, one due largely to our poor stewardship of the earth.  I realize that there are many people who won’t care that so many species created by God are disappearing at a rapid rate.  Unfortunately, it seems many humans are only concerned about their own survival.  I’d like to think that the biblical story of Noah is a reminder to us that God cares about all creatures.  I also believe that God’s declaring all the animals He made to be good in Genesis 1 is another such reminder.  In my mind the needless elimination of any species is a great sin on our part.

A couple of days ago I spent a good bit of time wandering the halls of the Chicago Institute of Art.  I was overwhelmed by the vast collection of art work assembled there.  So many of the pieces on display are priceless.  I wonder what the response would be if 52% of this collection disappeared over the next forty years.  Would that be viewed as something insignificant?  Or would it be viewed as a national tragedy? I would like to think the answer would be the latter.

Psalm 104All of us should be very concerned about the ever increasing loss of species on earth.  We have a moral and spiritual obligation to do something about it.  Not only should we support efforts to save various endangered species, we must also look at our own lifestyles and see if there are not steps that need to be taken to lessen our demand on the earth’s resources.  We simply cannot continue to move in the direction we’ve been heading and not expect there to be dire consequences not only for a long list of endangered creatures but for ourselves as well.

I have a strong feeling that the USA Today report will get lost in the shuffle of all the other important news from today.   Hopefully, however, it will not be lost for long.  This is something that demands our attention and the sooner the better.

–Chuck

(For today’s entry I have chosen wildlife images I have taken of animals that either have been or continue to be on the endangered species list–bald eagle,  sea otter, American crocodile, and Stellar sea lions.)


Dec 25 2014

A Baby Changes Everything

2014 Christmas cardLet me begin by wishing you a very merry and blessed Christmas.  I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you happen to be reading this.  Last night the church I serve had a late night Christmas Eve Service.  For the message I shared with them I found inspiration in the beautiful Christmas song penned by K. K. Wiseman a few years ago that was recorded by Faith Hill.  It is called A Baby Changes Everything.  Obviously the coming of a baby into any home “changes everything” but never was that so true as the child that Mary brought into the world that first Christmas long ago.

In my Christmas homily I talked about how the baby who was born in Bethlehem long ago went on to change how we look at God, how we look at ourselves and also how we are to look at others.  I very easily could have gone on to talk about how the coming of Jesus also changes the way that we are to look at the earth.  There are a number of different ways this is true.

_DSC4328The first chapter of Genesis makes it clear that the earth is “good.”  After each day of Creation God declared that what He had made was (is) good.  Later the Psalmist would declare that “the earth is the Lord’s.” (24:1)  The fact that God made and owns the earth would indicate that it is quite special.  But realizing that God actually came to earth and for a time made His dwelling here (John 1:14) makes it clear that the earth should also be viewed as holy or sacred.  This planet of our was blessed to be visited by its Maker.  That fact alone sets the earth apart.  We should learn to view this place we live as holy ground and treat it as such.

Jesus would also change the way we look at the earth when he repeatedly used the world of nature as teaching tools for spiritual principles.  The earth, for him, contained a repository of divine lessons.  He told us to pay attention to the birds above us and to the flowers at our feet.  In his parables he often pointed to plants and other natural objects as divine indicators.  The way Jesus looked at the world should change the way we look at it too.  Like him, we are to see the earth as a school of higher learning—much higher learning!

_DSC8035The one born at Bethlehem not only used the natural world as object lessons in his teaching ministry, he also sought the presence of his Father there.  We know that Jesus did attend the synagogues of Palestine and visited the Temple in Jerusalem on a number of occasion but we also learn in the Gospels that it was his custom to find solitude with God on lonely hillsides and in the stillness of garden enclosures.  Later some of Jesus’ followers would come to view the world as evil.  He, however, found it to be a place where God can be found and encountered in a multitude of different ways.  We should look at the earth in the same way.

Today I am very thankful for the many changes the baby born in Bethlehem has made in my life.  I, and hopefully others too, now see God, myself, others and the earth itself differently because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

–Chuck

(I took the three pictures used above not far from my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


Jan 22 2014

Discovering a New Song

Winter Grand Canyon 2 (h) crThis past Sunday the opening hymn we sang was one I did not know.  As the introduction was played I noticed that it was written by Isaac Watts.  That is a name I have long been familiar with.  He has been referred to as the “Father of English Hymnody” and is thought to have penned approximately 750 hymns.  Watts died in 1748 but many of his hymns continue to be used on a regular basis in churches around the world.  A few of his best known ones include “Joy to the World!,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

_DSC0400The hymn we sang on Sunday is called “We Sing Your Mighty Power, O God.”  I was not familiar with the tune so I found it hard to sing but I immediately fell in love with the words.  “We sing your mighty power, O God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  We sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule by day.  The moon shines full at your command, and all the stars obey.  We sing your goodness, sovereign God, who filled the earth with food; you formed the creatures with your word, and then pronounced them good.  Oh! How your wonders are displayed, whereever we turn our eyes; if we survey the ground we tread, or gaze upon the skies.  There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes your glories known; and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from your throne.  While all that borrows life from you is ever in your care, and everywhere that we can be, you, God, are present there.”

mountain laurelDoing some research on this particular hymn I discovered that it first appeared in Watts’ hymnal, Divine and Moral Songs for Children, around 1715.  I’m not sure how appealing this song is to children almost three hundred years later but the message of this hymn certainly needs to be conveyed to them (and the rest of us too).  Surely using Genesis 1 as his inspiration Watts stresses the power, wisdom and goodness of God found in Creation.  He makes sure to emphasize that God’s glory is revealed through the Creation, making specific reference to plants and flowers, clouds and tempests.   Watts also shows that God is the Source of all life and that all remains under His care.  Furthermore, he closes with the wonderful truth that “everywhere that we can be, you, God, are present there.”

Entire books have been written by theologians on each of these truths, not to mention a number of shorter blogs.  How delightful that a hymn writer three centuries ago could combine them all in a simple song that even children can sing!

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Grand Canyon National Park in AZ, the middle one in Henderson County, KY, and the bottom one at Pine Mountain State Park in KY.)


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.)


Aug 28 2013

“The Word” of Creation

Lake  Tipsoo 1284I have just started teaching a class on the Gospel of John at the church where I serve.  I love the Fourth Gospel; it is such an amazing book!  As we looked at the first eighteen verses of this Gospel, its Prologue, I found myself thinking that there is likely no more beautiful, poetic or inspired passage to be found than this.

Interestingly, John’s Gospel begins with the same three words found at the beginning of Genesis 1–“In the beginning.”  If you look closely at John’s Prologue and Genesis 1 you will find many similarities beyond the opening words.  Both speak of the creation of the world.  Both develop the theme of light overcoming darkness.  Both emphasize the giving of life.  Both stress the power of God’s Word.

MR 1545Genesis 1 tells how “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  In the verses that follow we have the first of two creation accounts found in the Bible.  John 1 speaks about the creation of the world in v. 3 but the Prologue is really about the re-creation of the world through God’s Son.  John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”

There can be no denying that the author of the Fourth Gospel understood “the Word” to be Jesus Christ.  Many people associate the creation of the world with God the Father but John claims it was “the Word,” or God the Son, that brought forth the world and everything in it.  This makes the story of Christmas  even more fascinating.  It means that the baby born in that Bethlehem stable was the one who made the world.  It means the Creator or “Maker of heaven and earth” actually became a part of Creation.

MR 1589Many at the time of of John’s writing believed the world was inherently evil.  There was a group that believed that anything material was bad; only the spiritual realm was good.  This is certainly not the teaching found in the Bible.  In Genesis 1 God declares that everything that He made is “good.”  The fact that Jesus was the instrument of creation and was willing to take on human flesh only intensifies this message.  Unfortunately there are still people around who seem to think the world in and of itself is evil.  Nature and the rest of Creation is considered to be something of lesser value than things “spiritual.”  Such thinking has contributed to the degradation and destruction of the natural world.  Such thinking has also contributed greatly to people’s failure to see God in Creation and the sacredness of the earth.    It seems very important to me that we begin to affirm once again the goodness of God’s Creation.  It will help us all to move in this direction if we can remember that the one who gave his life for us, the Word, is the agent of Creation.  The purpose of his gifts of Creation and sacrificial death are that we might have life and life more abundantly. (John 10:10)

–Chuck

(I took the images above at Mount Rainier National Park a couple of weeks ago.)


Jul 31 2013

Behold the Unexceptional!

Columbus-Belmont-State-ParkMost of the books I own are sitting five and a half hours away.  That has been one of the most frustrating things about the move to my new location.   Our house in eastern Kentucky has not sold yet and we have nowhere here to keep them so if I want or need something there I’m pretty much out of luck.  This situation did cause me to be very selective in what books I did bring to Henderson.  Of highest priority were the volumes I’d need for my work; after that came the books that bring me the greatest pleasure.  It was for this reason I made sure my volumes of Mary Oliver poetry arrived early.  Her poetry moves me as no other poet. I wanted them close at hand.

pine needlesEarlier today I saw where the author Parker Palmer posted a Mary Oliver poem on his Facebook page.  It is a poem from her book Why I Wake Early and is called Mindful.   I’m glad Palmer posted this poem today; I needed it.  Consider Oliver’s words: “Every day I see or I hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.  It is what I was born for–to look, to listen, to lose myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.  Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant–but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations.  Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these–the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?”

RNP-277The thought conveyed at the end of this poem reminds me of the words I cited in my last blog from Oprah Winfrey.  Speaking about nature Oprah said, “sometimes its smallest offerings are the ones that open my soul to its splendor.”   Mary Oliver goes a bit further and encourages us not to miss that which is to be found in the unexceptional, in “the ordinary, the common, the very drab.”  I confess I tend to look for the exceptional, especially when I am photographing.  If something is ordinary, common or drab it typically does not get a second glance from me.  My blogging partner, Rob Sheppard, however, has made a conscious decision to pay more attention to these things and to photograph them as well.  He has written about this a number of times in his other blog, Nature and Photography.  He likes to remind people that these common or ordinary things are part of nature too.

BB173Yes, they are a part of nature too and that also means they are part of God’s Creation.  That alone should be cause enough to broaden my horizons and motivation not to dismiss that which is considered unexceptional by most people.   In the end, is anything God has created unexceptional?  I doubt it.  Throughout Genesis 1 we are told God repeatedly declared Creation to be good–all of it.  Both Winfrey and Oliver mention the joy and delight they receive from these small or common thing.   I suspect I have missed not only that joy and delight but a number of spiritual lessons as well simply due to my propensity to ignore that which is common.  That being so, I think I’ll take Oprah, Mary and Rob’s advice and try to start paying better attention to the unexceptional.  Would you consider doing the same?

–Chuck