Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.

–Chuck


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.)


Mar 24 2014

Loving All God’s Creatures

_DSC2406Today I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a member of my church.  The person who died, Ben Cline, was a very good man with a lot of wonderful traits.  One of the traits I spoke about may have come as a surprise to some.  Ben had a soft spot in his heart for stray animals.  Over the years he had taken in numerous cats and dogs and nursed them back to health.  His family told me about how he bottle-fed some and they recalled how he slept in the floor with one cat for two nights trying to help it get better.  I already had a lot of admiration for Ben for the whole time I knew him he was battling a serious disease and did so with much courage and dignity.  After hearing of the compassion he had for stray animals my admiration only grew greater.  That compassion says a lot about a person’s character.

St. Francis once said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellowmen.”  Apparently St. Francis believed that how one looked at animals said a lot about that person.  I would agree with that.  So would the philosopher Immanuel Kant who said “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.  We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”  Not surprisingly, Ben believed strongly in showing respect to all people, not matter where they came from or how rich or poor they might be.  There was, in fact, a correlation between his compassion for animals and his fellowman.

_DSC2421I sometimes struggle with the picture the Bible presents concerning animals.  There are parts where animals almost appear worthless.  There are other parts where their value is shown and emphasized.  In the Creation story we read that when God made the various creatures He declared them “good.”  (Genesis 1:24–25)  Later when the earth is destroyed by flood God makes sure that Noah saves creatures from all species so that after the flood they, too, might repopulate the earth.  Later still, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses He not only ordered a day of rest for humans but for their animals as well. (Exodus 20:10)

There is a closer bond or connection between humans and animals than most people realize.  According to Genesis 2 we were both brought forth from the earth by God and in Genesis 1 we were both created on the same day.  Needless to say we share the same earth and are dependent on it for our survival.  There are also some who believe that God made animals to be our companions.  In Genesis 2:19 we read that God brought all the animals to Adam and “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  The very fact that the animals were named may well imply that a relationship was established between “man and beast.”

_CES0047Unfortunately, many have completely misunderstood God’s call for humans to “rule over” or “have dominion over” all creatures to mean they were to dominate them and treat them however they wish.  (Genesis 1:26) In his book, For Love of Animals, Charles Camosy says Jesus interpreted “dominion” not as domination but servanthood.  He adds, “we are called to be like Jesus and use our dominion to serve and protect the most vulnerable.  This includes vulnerable nonhuman animals.  With Christ as our guide, human dominion over creation must be about self-sacrificial love–not consumerist exploitation.”

In the end I do believe that animals deserve our compassion.  Proverbs 12:10 says “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”  I am grateful for the example of Ben Cline in this area and I know that there are many others like him out there.  I just wish there were more.

–Chuck

(The top two images are Boomer and Taz, pets of my friends John and Christi Edwards.  The bottom image shows my dog, Sierra.)

 


Mar 20 2014

Seasons and Sustainability

WV-Hawksnest-SP-598-lrToday is a day a lot of folks have been waiting for.  It’s the first day of spring.  Of course that doesn’t mean the weather is automatically going to change from cold to warm but it does, at least, signal that there won’t be much more cold weather to come.  This truly has seemed like a long winter.  Here in western Kentucky the cold weather actually arrived prior to the official start of winter and it seems to have held on for dear life ever since.  I don’t mind the cold that much myself but I am one of those looking forward to spring.  It’s a great time of the year and probably my favorite season to photograph.

dutchmen's-britchesThose who have been worried that spring wasn’t coming had no need to be concerned.  God Himself has guaranteed that the four seasons will continue as long as the earth remains.  This, in fact, was what God told Noah after the ark finally landed.  God said He would never destroy all living creatures again and then added, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)  Until the earth is no more the seasons will remain, as will day and night, for the God who created the world is committed to its continuation and sustainability.  That is certainly good to know.

The question that should haunt a lot of people today is whether they are also committed to its continuation and sustainability.  Far too many people are only concerned about the earth meeting their needs here and now.  They are not thinking about the fact that how we use the earth’s resources today will determine what the generations that follow us will inherit and how they will live their lives.  If what we leave for those who follow us is a depletion of the planet’s resources, dirty air and water, and an altered climate we are guilty of a horrible sin.

Westerm-CottontailGod clearly reveals that He stands committed to keeping the earth going but as with so many other things, He depends in part on us to make sure that His will is done.  Are you doing your part?  To insure a viable future for those who will follow us we must!

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Hawksnest State Park in WV, the Dutchmen’s breeches in Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the western cottontail at Devil’s Towers N.M. in Wyoming.)


Dec 5 2012

Hold On to Hope!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

It is the first week of Advent and the theme for the week is hope.  In coming weeks the theme will change to peace, joy and love.  Of the four, I think hope may be the most important.  No one wants to live a life without peace, joy or love but I’m convinced that no one can live life without hope.  It is that important.  In his classic work, Theology of Hope, Jurgen Moltmann wrote, “Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: ‘Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.'”   Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed this sentiment when he said, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.”

The Bible has much to say about hope.  From beginning to end the Scriptures call for us to hold on to hope.  Even when we find ourselves in what appear to be hopeless situations we are challenged to maintain hope.  Why?  Because with God in the picture there is always cause for hope.  Always!

The story of Noah and the great Flood concludes with God making a covenant with Noah and the rest of Creation.  Genesis 9:13 says “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Ever since God did this rainbows have been associated with hope.  I cannot see a rainbow without remembering the Genesis story and also its message of hope.  But even on the days that we don’t see rainbows we still have the assurance of God’s presence and love.  That’s what Advent and Christmas are all about.  And because we have this assurance, we are never without hope.

I will close today with some words that have come to mean a lot to me.  I’m not sure who wrote the following words but I keep them taped to my computer at work: “Whatever you do, hold on to hope!  The tiniest thread will twist into an unbreakable cord.  Let hope anchor you in the possibility that this is not the end of your story, that change will bring you to peaceful shores.”  Whether things are going well for you right now or they seem to be falling apart, I encourage you to hold on to hope, hold on to God.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky, the middle image at Yellowstone National park, and the bottom one near Devils Tower National Monument.

 

 


Oct 3 2010

The Communion of Saints and Creatures

Snow-Goose-landing“Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you–the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground–so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it.”  (God’s word to Noah in Genesis 8:17)

Today is World Communion Sunday.  On this day Christians worldwide share Communion and also reflect on how we are all one in the Body of Christ.  The Lord’s Supper should remind us that despite different beliefs and practices that sometimes separate us we are still united in Christ.

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Francis.  Francis of Assisi has come to be known as the patron saint of both ecology and animals.  Many churches have a blessing of animals on October 4.  St. Francis was known to preach to the animals and considered them his brothers and sisters.  He believed that God loved the animals and that so should we.

I find it interesting that World Communion Sunday and the Feast of St. Francis are joined next to each other on the calendar this year.  One reminds us of our communion with other believers while the other reminds us of our communion with other creatures.  In the world we live in, both reminders are needed.

Brown-Bear-163Over the past few days I’ve been watching the BBC series “Life.”  Rob recommended this series to me earlier this year so I bought the DVD set.  As I have watched the various segments of this series I have been reminded that we humans truly do share a bond with all of God’s creatures.  We tend to focus on what sets humans apart from other creatures but there is really far more that links us with other creatures.

It is certainly worth noting that we all share the same Creator.  The same God who made us also created the birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and fish.   We also, of course, share the same planet.  We are all dependent on the same basic things—the sun, the air, water, and food.  We all depend on our parents’ nurture and protection in infancy and we all have a strong will to live and reproduce. 

I think that our lives would be enhanced in many ways if we Christians could grasp not just the concept of the “communion of saints” but our communion with all of Creation as well.  It would change how we see Creation and how we live out our lives on this planet.  God has already established this communion; it is now our task to take part in it.

–Chuck

(The top image is a snow goose I photographed in New Mexico and the bottom a brown bear or grizzly photographed in Alaska.)