Jun 21 2014

Loving the Ordinary

sassafras“God has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Recently I saw a saying posted on Facebook that went along with my last blog, “Removing the Blinders.”  The saying was “Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a lot to love a leaf.  It’s ordinary to love the beautiful, but it’s beautiful to love the ordinary.”  The source of these words is unknown but they certainly convey a truth that is worthy of our consideration.  We do, in fact, often overlook the ordinary for the beautiful.  That does not mean, however, that there is not much to love and appreciate in the ordinary.

baby-turtleThe saying quoted above spoke to me because I am one who tends to focus on the beautiful, especially when it comes to my nature photography.  I have a propensity to take pictures of those things that are beautiful and extraordinary.  These are the things that thrill and move my soul.  They also tend to be the things that editors buy.  For both reasons I rarely photograph that which is not widely considered beautiful.

mono lake hdr 4My close friend and co-writer, Rob Sheppard, takes a different approach.  When we are out photographing together it seems we seldom take pictures of the same things.  He is quite content to photograph what most people would consider ordinary things.  I remember once being with him at Mono Lake in California.  Neither of us had been there before.  I spent the biggest part of my time photographing the lovely tufa that emerge from the lake.  The scenery at this location is spectacular!  I’m not sure Rob, on the other hand, ever photographed the lake or tufa.  He spent the biggest part of his time photographing a tiny wildflower that he found nearby.  I couldn’t imagine how anyone could choose a small wildflower to photograph over the vast beauty of the lake, tufa and surrounding mountains.

You’d have to check with Rob to get the final answer on why he did this but I do believe that it is related to the saying quoted above.  Anyone can love a rose or Mono Lake but it takes a lot, someone special, to love a leaf or tiny flower.  There are countless photographers like me who love the beautiful; to do so is quite ordinary.  There is a scarcity of those like Rob who have learned to love the ordinary and that makes such people extraordinary.  There is something truly beautiful about people like that.  Perhaps one day I can become one of their tribe.

Rob at Mono Lake not shooting Mono LakeMy personal theology leads me to believe that God loves ordinary people as much as God loves those the world deems “beautiful” people.  It also leads me to affirm the goodness of all of Creation, not just the beautiful parts.  I am convinced that the ordinary—both people and the various aspects of Creation—deserve more of our attention.  In fact, I suspect if we were more spiritually mature we would realize, to quote a well-known Ray Stevens song, that “everything is beautiful in its own way.”  To see the beautiful in the ordinary is to see with the eyes of God and that is a beautiful thing indeed.  It is my hope that more of us can come to view the world and others with the eyes of God.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?

–Chuck

The top two images I took in my yard while living in Middlesboro, KY–a sassafras tree and a common box turtle.  I took the bottom two images at Mono Lake.  I call the last image “Rob at Mono Lake not photographing Mono Lake.”


Feb 12 2014

God in the Common Things

_CES4959Last night in the class I am teaching on the Gospel of John we examined a passage in chapter 7 where Jesus is rejected by a crowd in Jerusalem because they knew where he was from.  The people knew Jesus was from the Galilee region and they also knew who his family was.  In their mind there was no way he could be the long-awaited Messiah.  Apparently there was a common belief that when the Messiah came he would burst upon the scene suddenly and mysteriously.  Jesus’ arrival coincided with none of their preconceived ideas.  This was so problematic to the crowd that they refused to believe he was indeed the Christ.

Breaks-Winter-vIn his commentary on the Gospel of John, William Barclay says the position taken by the crowd that day was “characteristic of a certain attitude of mind which prevailed among the Jews and is by no means dead—that which seeks God in the abnormal.  They could never be persuaded to see God in ordinary things.  They had to be extraordinary before God could be in them.”  Barclay goes on to say that the teaching of Christianity is right the opposite: “If God is to enter the world only in the unusual, he will seldom be in it; whereas if we find God in the common things, it means that he is always present.   Christianity does not look on this world as one which God very occasionally invades; it looks on it as a world from which he is never absent.”

I like very much what Barclay writes here.  I fear, however, that he is far too generous in his assessment of Christianity.  Unfortunately, a lot of Christians today also seek God primarily in the abnormal.  It’s almost as though they think the ground must shake, or there must be peals of thunder and  strokes of lightning, before God speaks or reveals Himself.  It’s practically understood that God would not bother to reveal Himself through anything commonplace or ordinary.  If God is going to make Himself known then it must be in some special way, something quite extraordinary.

_CES0190My experience is more in tune with Barclay’s portrayal.  Without a doubt, I have witnessed God’s manifestation in ways that would qualify as abnormal or extraordinary to most people but these have been few and far between.  In my experience God is much more prone to make Himself known in far more subtle ways.  In the eyes and smiles of children I have witnessed God’s love.  In the budding of a magnolia leaf I have sensed His purity and grace.  In the presence of mountains I have felt humbled by God’s mighty power.  In the flight of an eagle I have glimpsed something of His majesty.  In the touch of the wind upon my face I have felt the Spirit’s movement.  In the midst of a stark desert I have felt His gentle embrace.  Beneath tall trees and beside flowing streams I have sensed a nearness to God that was as real to me as the pounding of my heart.   Haitian girl 2I wish more people realized that God has chosen not to reveal Himself only in the abnormal or supernatural.  In the very normal or ordinary things of life, in regular nature, God beckons us and longs to be acknowledged and embraced.  The crowd in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles long ago had what they were looking for right in front of them and missed it because they were looking for God to appear in other ways.  Is the same thing happening to us today?  I suspect so.

–Chuck

(I took the top three images in Pike County, Kentucky, and the last one in Haiti.)