Sep 4 2015

September 1–A Special Day

_DSC8374This past Tuesday, September 1, was a special day. By declaration of Pope Francis it was the first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. For several weeks the current pope has been making news with his strong affirmation that we have a divine obligation to care for God’s good earth. In an effort to highlight this obligation Francis has called for everyone to observe the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation every September 1. It is hoped by doing so that light can be shed on the damage we humans have done to the earth and that it will open conversation among people about what we can do to help heal the world. I think this is a wonderful idea but I have to admit I didn’t see a lot of attention given to it this past Tuesday. Hopefully it is an idea that will catch on and grow in coming years.

_CES1075Two items that I did catch in the media pertaining to the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation were prayers. The first one was penned by Pope Francis himself. Here is his prayer: “All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.”

_DSC7676The second prayer was one written by the esteemed biologist, Dr. Jane Goodall. On her Facebook page she shared the following prayer in honor of World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation: “We pray that we may at all times keep our minds open to new ideas and shun dogma; that we may grow in our understanding of the nature of all living beings and our connectedness with the natural world; that we may become ever more filled with generosity of spirit and true compassion and love for all life; that we may strive to heal the hurts that we have inflicted on nature and control our greed for material things, knowing that our actions are harming our natural world and the future of our children; that we may value each and every human being for who he is, for who she is, reaching to the spirit that is within, knowing the power of each individual to change the world”

_DSC7460I was touched by both prayers and add to them my own plea that God would help us to learn to appreciate and value the earth, never failing to remember that it holds many avenues through which we can come to know and worship our Maker. I pray that we humans will take seriously our divine calling to be stewards of Creation so that those who come after us will be able to enjoy not only its beauty and wonders but in order that they, too, might come to see and love God through Creation.

I learned long ago that there are times when we cannot simply pray and sit back waiting on God to act. In many instances we must put feet to our prayers and this is undoubtedly the case when we offer our prayers for the earth. I encourage you to pray for Creation and to put feet to your prayers. Pope Francis and Jane Goodall believe it will make a difference. So do I.


(The images shown above are ones I’ve taken not far from my home in Henderson, KY.)


Jul 8 2015

The “Trembling Giant” and the Church

_DSC7241A couple of years ago Rob and I spent some time photographing at Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  As we got to the end of our time there he asked if I minded if we stopped at the Pando forest in Utah on the way back.  I had never heard of it.  He told me of reading about it in one of Jane Goodall’s recent books and how it is a clonal colony of quacking aspens.  Some researchers believe that it is the earth’s oldest living thing, some 80,000 years old.  Intrigued by this we drove to Fish Lake, Utah, and found the forest.  I say “forest” but in reality it is a single tree with a massive underground root system that has produced what appears to be some 47,000 trees springing from that system.  Standing in the midst of Pando it was hard to comprehend how all we saw was part of one thing.

_DSC7235Yesterday I was reading Rachel Held Evans new book, Searching For Sunday, and came across a chapter where she, too, talks about the Pando forest.  She shares the same basic information above but also indicates that a name has been given to this ancient tree, Trembling Giant.  Rachel then goes on to draw some interesting and pertinent analogies between the Pando and the church.  She notes, “At last count, there are nearly as many denominations in Christianity as there are trees growing from Pando.  Each one looks different—beautiful and broken in its own way—but we all share the same DNA.”  She concludes the chapter with these words: “Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.  We are both a forest and a single tree—one big Trembling Giant, stirred by an invisible force.”

I really like Evan’s comparison of the Pando and the church.  It makes sense.  The apostle Paul uses a different analogy than Evans in his Corinthian correspondence to make the same point: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  (1 Cor. 12:12-13)

_DSC7208The main reason I’m writing about this today is I am very concerned about how polarized things are in Christianity these days.  The way many Christians attack one another you would think we were in the midst of a civil war.  Some Christian groups believe that they have a monopoly on truth and that all others are either not Christians or sub-Christian.  The sources of contention are innumerable but include things like how one views the inspiration of Scripture, the age of the earth, the Second Coming, the sacraments, women in ministry, etc.  If you do not agree with some Christians about any of these, or other matters, you are deemed a heretic or worse.

What is so crazy about this is we are all one Body.  We’re like the trees Rob and I saw at the Pando forest.  What we saw with our eyes appeared to be a bunch of different trees but in reality was one living organism.  There’s no way the various churches or denominations in the world are going to agree on everything.  I’m not even sure they should.  I’m convinced our diversity should be honored and celebrated.  God is bigger than all of us combined so how could any one group get it all right?

_DSC7309I wish somehow, someway, we would quit focusing on what separates us as Christians and concentrate on what we have in common.  As the New Testament boldly affirms “there is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)  Just hours before he was crucified Jesus prayed earnestly that his followers “might be one.” (John 17:21)  I don’t believe he expected us to all be or think exactly alike but we are to live our lives cognizant of the fact that in him we are all one.  Another thing Jesus sought to make clear before his death was that his followers should be known first and foremost by their love for one another.  He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 35)  My hope and prayer is that followers of Christ will learn to set aside their differences, focus on what they have in common, and actually present a unified witness to the world that is characterized by love.  Is that too much to ask?  Jesus didn’t think so.


(I took the pictures shown here at the Pando forest in Utah.)

Nov 12 2014

The Peace of the Forest

_DSC0586In recent days I’ve been reading Jane Goodall’s latest book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.  I have long been an admirer of the work of Jane Goodall.  Her work amongst chimpanzees is legendary.  I was surprised when I learned the subject of her new book was plants.  Still, I knew it would be something I would want to read.

_DSC7876In Seeds of Hope Dr. Goodall writes about her lifelong love for plants.  Botany might not be her primary area of expertise but it is obvious she knows a lot about plants and is enthralled by their diversity and usefulness.  At one point, however, she offers a testimony of how the trees of a particular forest brought emotional and spiritual healing to her following a personal crisis.  She writes, “It was to the forest I went after my second husband, Derek, lost his painful fight with cancer in 1981.  I knew that I would be calmed and find a way to cope with grief, for it is in the forest that I sense most strongly a spiritual power greater than myself.  A power in which I and the forest and the creatures who make their home there ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).  The sorrows and problems of life take their proper place in the grand scheme of things.  Indeed, with reality suspended by the timelessness of the forest world, I gradually came to terms with my loss and discovered that ‘peace that passes all understanding” (Isaiah 26:3).”

_DSC1272Later Goodall shares how the peace of the forest continues to sustain her.  She says, “As I travel around the world, people are always telling me that I have an aura of peace—even when I am surrounded by chaos, by people jostling for signatures, or wanting to ask questions, or worrying about logistics. ‘How can you seem so peaceful?’ they ask.  The answer, I think, is that the peace of the forest has become part of my being.  Indeed, if I close my eyes, I can sometimes transform the noise of loud talking or traffic in the street into the shouting of baboons or chimpanzees, the roaring of the wind through the branches or the waves crashing onto the shore.” 

I can relate to what Jane Goodall writes here.  For many years I, too, have found my greatest peace in the forest.  There’s just something about being amongst trees.  A few days ago a friend and I took a short walk through a forest to photograph a natural arch.  As we walked the trail we talked about the therapeutic benefits of being in the woods.  It seems to have a calming affect for a lot of people.  I have no doubt that this is something God intended.  And like Goodall, I find peace not only in being amongst the trees but also when I pause to reflect on memories of times spent in forests.

_DSC0854It’s interesting how often the Bible talks about trees and how they often fulfill a vital role in the biblical stories.  Trees play an important part in the Creation accounts and the story of the Fall.  In a number of instances God reveals Himself near trees.  Both Abraham and Moses had close encounters with God near trees.  Jesus apparently often sought solace in a grove of olive trees.  And in the end, when John offers a graphic description of heaven, he says “And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)

I realize that the peace Goodall and I experience in the forests others feel in desert settings, mountains or near rivers, lakes or oceans.  I feel peace in these places too.  Once again, I am convinced that God has designed Creation to give us peace so this is to be expected.  If we want the peace that passes all understanding we will be wise to spend time in the Creation with the Author of Creation and the giver of peace.  We will also be wise to make sure that such places are protected and preserved.  In at least one sense, the peace of the world is dependent on it.


(I took the pictures used above on my recent trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)

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

Jul 31 2011

Is There Hope?

Last night I read a disheartening article about how the diversity of species around the world is plummeting despite the fact that over the past forty years there has been rapid and substantial growth in the amount of land and sea designated as protected habitat for species preservation.  Some of the reasons cited include pollution, the arrival of invasive species and climate change.  The article states: “The steady loss of biodiversity—defined roughly as the rich variety of living things—can, in turn, have profound implications for human civilization, which relies on healthy, variegated ecosystems to provide a host of ecological services from water filtration and oxygen generation to food, medicine, clothing and fuel.”  The article did not offer a lot of hope for improvement.

Ironically, in recent days I have been reading a wonderful book Rob gave me called Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey.  This book is by the renowned chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall.  Dr. Goodall has devoted over fifty years to wildlife research and preservation.  She is one who recognizes the importance of all species and how critical it is that we do what we can to preserve biodiversity.  Towards the end of the book Goodall says the question she is asked most often as she travels around the world is, “Jane, do you think there is hope?”

Jane Goodall is as familiar with the ecological problems facing the world as anyone.  She writes and lectures constantly about increased population growth, diminishing resources, and the destruction of nature, resulting in poverty and human suffering.  Still, she believes there is hope for both this planet and its inhabitants.  She says “I do have hope for the future—for our future.  But only if changes are made in the way we live—and made quickly.  We do not, I think, have much time.  And these changes must be made by us, you and me. If we go on leaving it to others, shipwreck is inevitable.”  She goes on to write, “If we put our problem-solving abilities in high gear and join hands and brains and hearts around the world, surely we can find ways to live that are more in harmony with nature, and start to heal some of the wounds we have inflicted.”

One of the reasons Goodall gives for her hope is her confidence in human intelligence.  She believes that humans have been given a remarkable intelligence with which problems can be addressed and solved.  Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether notes this too but adds, “The privilege of intelligence, then, is not a privilege to alienate and dominate the world without concern for the welfare of all other forms of life.  On the contrary, it is the responsibility to become the caretaker and cultivator of the welfare of the whole ecological community upon which our own existence depends.”  Jane Goodall would no doubt agree with Ruether.

I am encouraged by Goodall’s hope.  I am also challenged by her call for individual action.  As a Christian I am called to affirm life in its various forms and to care for the earth God created.  This concern has to be translated into action.  At one point in her book Goodall quotes these words of Albert Schweitzer: “A man who possesses a veneration of life will not simply say his prayers.  He will throw himself into the battle to preserve life, if for no other reason than that he is himself an extension of life around him.”  As children of the Creator we have many reasons to preserve biodiversity on this planet.  The question is, will we actually do it?


(All four of the species shown above [grizzly bear, bald eagle, sea otters, and giant sea turtle] have been listed as “threatened” or “endangered” at one time or another.  I was blessed to photograph these magnificent creatures.  Will those who follow me be able to do the same?)