Sep 6 2017

Bearing Witness

DNP Nugget PondI have been an avid nature photographer for twenty-five years. I got into nature photography to help me deal with stress in ministry. I was desperately needing a hobby and after flirting briefly with the idea of getting into pottery I decided I would pursue nature photography. I am so thankful I chose that path. It has opened a lot of doors for me, enabled me to see some of the most beautiful parts of this country, introduced me to some awesome people, and brought me a great deal of joy and fulfillment. Along the way I have been able to publish three books and see my photographs appear in numerous magazines, calendars, advertisements, post cards, and other books. I’ve also been able to teach a number of workshops and mentor other photographers. Best of all, my nature photography has enabled me to bear witness to the glory of God.

19990417_878534568968429_1700340611320172729_n[1]Recently my wife purchased me a t-shirt that I love. On the front it says “God creates the Beauty. My camera and I are a witness.” That pretty much sums up my approach to photography. I seek to capture the beauty of God’s Creation and share it with others. When other people comment on how beautiful my pictures are I often remind them that God is the one responsible for the beauty. My job is simply recording it with my camera. So it is true that when I take a photograph my camera and I are simply witnesses to the beauty God creates. That is not to deny that some skill is required to take good photographs but in the end I cannot take credit for the beauty that is captured in my images–that is God’s handiwork.

My goal in doing nature photography is not just to be a witness of God’s beauty when I photograph but also to be a witness for God’s beauty afterwards. That’s why I enjoy doing digital “slide shows” for groups and posting pictures on Facebook.   It is my desire to share with others the same beauty I witnessed in the field so that they too can see the work of God’s hands and give God glory for it. For twenty-five years I have seen this as part of my “calling.” I truly do view photography as an extension of my ministry. The apostle Paul once said “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) I believe this should and does include my photography.

BSF East Rim Overlook fallIn addition to bearing witness to the beauty of God’s Creation I seek to bear witness to the goodness of that Creation with the hope that people will want to preserve and protect it. That type witness is sorely needed right now. Since its inception, photography has been used to bring awareness to others. I want my work to be used to promote Creation Care and environmental stewardship. I hope other photographers will join me in this endeavor.

I encourage each of you, whether you are a photographer or not, to find ways to bear witness to the beauty of God’s Creation and to urge others to do all they can to honor and protect that beauty. Through art, song, poems, or just a personal testimony be a witness for the God of Creation and a witness for Creation.

–Chuck


Jan 30 2016

Just Be You

Today’s entry is a collaborative one. The first section is a reposting of a blog Rob wrote earlier this week about nature photography.  In the second section Chuck shows how Rob’s words also apply to the spiritual life. Rob at Mono Lake not shooting Mono LakeIt has taken me a long time, a lifetime in fact, to learn a very simple rule for getting the best from my photography. Be me.

Over the years, I have chased the looks of photographs made by well-known photographers I liked. It is one thing to be inspired by others, but truly, the only people who can do their work are those photographers themselves.

I have chased gear that others had, even have been envious. Instead of focusing on the gear that is most appropriate to me. Gear is obviously important because without it, we can’t photograph. But thinking too much about the gear others have is a distraction from my own photography. Be me. Be me2
I have chased the latest techniques hoping that would lead to a breakthrough in my photography. Learning new techniques is always valuable, but not when they overwhelm who I am as a photographer. I really don’t have to know everything about every new technique. Some really aren’t for me. Be me.

I have chased the approval of people important to me, from other photographers to family. Sure, people close to me are important, but not as arbitrary evaluators/critics of what I do. I can desire to learn what people think, but only as one input of many and an input I can chose to use or not. Be me. BeyondObvious5I have worked hard to produce work that no one can criticize. That is unrealistic and ultimately restrictive. It also guarantees mediocrity. If I try to please everyone, I end up pleasing no one, especially myself. Be me.

Really, the number one rule for better photography, for more satisfying photography, for more authentic images is to be me. And for you to be you.

–Rob

_DSC3806When I read Rob’s excellent blog on nature photography earlier this week I couldn’t help but see parallels in the spiritual life to what he was saying about photography.  A lot of Christians find people they admire and then do all they can to be like them.  Some may seek to be Mother Teresa but there was only one Mother Teresa.  Some may want to be just like Billy Graham but there is only one Billy Graham.  We can certainly all learn from the lives of other people of faith who have lived exemplary lives but in the end our calling is not to be them but to be us.  Some of the techniques or disciplines they used to enhance their journey may work for us but we should not assume that they automatically will.  Each of us have to find our own way.

When I was much younger I was pretty much convinced that there was just one way to be a Christian. I expected other people to conform to this image and if they did not I tended to judge them.  I now realize just how immature and naïve I was.  There is no one single way to practice the Christian life.  There are as many spiritual pathways as there are spiritual pilgrims.

_DSC4105In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas writes about nine different spiritual pathways: 1) Naturalists—loving God out of doors; 2) Sensates—loving God with the senses; 3) Traditionalists—loving God through ritual and symbol; 4) Ascetics—loving God in solitude and simplicity; 5) Activists—loving God through confrontation; 6) Caregivers—loving God by loving others; 7) Enthusiasts—loving God with mystery and celebration; 8) Contemplatives—loving God through adoration; and 9) Intellectuals—loving God with the mind.  In the end the spiritual life truly is about loving God but there are many ways a person can do this.  Thomas’ book helped me to understand this.  No one path is the right one for everybody.  Nor are we limited to one path only or forbidden to change paths as time passes or our circumstances change. _DSC3914God wants you to be you. God doesn’t expect you to be anybody else.  If we try to be someone else we will miss out on the joy of being ourselves and lose the freedom we are meant to experience in being the persons God created each and everyone of us to be as individuals.  Be you.  You’ll find that far more pleasing in the end and so will God.

–Chuck


Oct 20 2013

Learning to See God in Creation

_CES9205This past weekend I had the privilege of leading the fall photo workshop at Pennyrile Forest State Park in western Kentucky.  It was a fun event and there were lots of great people on hand.  One of the things that I found exciting was how many children participated in the workshop.  These kids were quite enthusiastic about their photography and were eager to learn.  There were a number of adults who, likewise, seemed eager to learn.  Several of them had purchased nice digital cameras but weren’t sure how to use the features that came on them.  I did what I could to help them grasp a better understanding of how their cameras worked and what they could do with them.

_CES9264Doing the workshop caused me to reflect on my own learning experience with photography.  I purchased my first camera as a teenager and enjoyed taking pictures from the start.  I did not, however, bother back then learning how my camera worked.  Today it seems a miracle I ever got a decent image.  Twenty-one years ago I decided I wanted to become a serious photographer and quickly discovered I had a lot to learn.  There was much to learn about the mechanics of the camera.  There was also a great deal to learn about composition and taking pictures.  Some things could be learned in a book.   Other things required experience or perhaps even a teacher.  I stuck with it and eventually got to the point where I could consistently take good quality images.  I’ll be the first to admit, though, that I still have a lot to learn.  As long as I continue to take photographs I hope I will also continue to grow in my skills and craft.

_CES9218Everyone who wants to learn how to photograph has to start with the basics.  I think the same thing is true with seeing God in Creation.   For me those basics are the recognition that God is the Creator of this world and that God seeks to make Himself known through it.  And just as I believe anyone can learn to take good pictures I believe anyone can learn to see God in Creation.  Like with photography, some will learn how to do so quickly, for others it may take more time, but anyone who truly wants to see and experience God in nature can learn to do so.  Here, too, there are books that can serve as instructional guides.  Reading about seeing God in Creation second hand, however, will only take you so far.  You will also want to get out and gain experience yourself.  Take what you’ve learned in the books you’ve read, or perhaps even on this blog, and then go out and allow God’s Spirit to lead you into your own rich and rewarding experiences.

_CES9320Thomas Merton once said that when it comes to prayer we are always beginners.  I suspect the same thing is true when it comes to seeing God in Creation.  There probably are no “experts” in the field, but we can all grow, over time, to learn and see more and more.  Having good eyes and ears will certainly help but in the end it is the eyes and ears of the heart that matter the most.  I believe God will honor the desire of all those who earnestly seek Him.  The prophet Jeremiah heard God say, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (29:13)  If we persist in our efforts to see God in His Creation, and do so with all our heart, we can count on having many wonderful experiences and revelations down the road.  That’s not my promise, it’s His.  In the end we will discover that God Himself will be our teacher and that He will make sure to show us the paths that will lead us into His presence.  How cool is that?

–Chuck

(The pictures shown above are some samples of what I took while at Pennyrile Forest State Park this weekend.)

 


Sep 25 2013

Learning From a Friend

 Salzburg as viewed from the Mozartstieg in May, 1978.

Yesterday I read a blog posted by Dr. Drexel Rayford.  Drexel and I have been friends for over twenty-five years.  He has an amazing intellect, is an incredible musician, a more than capable photographer, and has faithfully served a number of churches as pastor.  Recently he began writing a blog called “Epiphany Blog” for the Epiphany Institute for Spirituality–EIS.  I highly recommend this blog to you (although it says it is written for Baptists don’t let that deter you;  it truly is ecumenical in nature).  Drexel’s blog doesn’t necessarily focus on nature but so many of the things he writes about can be applied to experiencing God in Creation.  His blog entries usually discuss prayer and the various ways we can listen to or hear God.  As I noted in my last entry at this site, that, too, is an important part of our spiritual journey.

The post I read yesterday is called “A Spiritual Tourist?”  When I read it I immediately contacted Drexel and told him that I had written a number of times about the same subject on this site, the only difference being my focus was on a particular natural location instead of the beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria.  After our correspondence he asked that I send him a couple of pictures so that he could follow up on his piece by telling of my similar experience.  You can find these at http://drexelrayford.org/2013/09/25/walking-around-the-castle-walking-around-the-gap/.  I want to return the favor by sharing with you today Drexel’s original post.  Here’s what Drexel had to say:

When I first arrived in Salzburg, Austria in 1976, I wasn’t a tourist.  I had arrived in a city that was going to be my home for the next two years.  Like any tourist, though, my first view of the castle overlooking the old city overwhelmed me.  As I looked at that iconic cityscape, I drew out my camera and started taking pictures, like hundreds of thousands of others before and after me.  Those initial pictures, taken during the first two weeks of my stay in Salzburg, looked very similar to everybody else’s pictures.  As time went on, I never lost my love of that cityscape.  I returned to the bridges spanning the Salzach River countlessly, and – in the age before digital cameras – produced a couple of pounds of slides I subsequently threw away.  Because I was there over a period of time, though, because I lived in the city and moved around in it, because I wasn’t just passing through, I was able to see it’s streets, cathedrals and the fortress in a wide variety of guises.

Inside the Hohensalzburg, September, 1976.

I saw the city in snow, in fog, and in May of 1978, with a full moon rising over the mountains.  And on one particular occasion, as I went inside the castle wall, I saw beams of sunlight fanning through dust motes in a deserted passageway.  If I had only been passing through, those scenes would never have graced my eyes – or my camera lens.

Mature prayer is like living in a beautiful city and exploring the passageways day after day.  It’s that persistent, daily exploration that leads you to discoveries you would’ve missed had you just been passing through.  As you live with silent, listening prayer over a period of time, in all kinds of “weather” and circumstances, you become present in a much deeper sense.  As you live in prayer even when it isn’t all that attractive, “productive,” or especially enlightening or encouraging, you discover realities unavailable to the spiritual tourist.

So, dwell there.  Patiently live there.  Explore the silence daily, and inevitably, you’ll discover the true depths of its beauty.

Having read Drexel’s reflections I hope you will go to the Epiphany Institute for Spirituality Facebook page and “like” it so that you can receive future installations.  You won’t regret doing so.  If you’re not on Facebook you can also follow Drexel’s blog by going to www.the-eis.org.

–Chuck

(The pictures shown above were taken by Drexel Rayford.)


Jul 3 2013

Seeing Things My Way

_CES5117“I wish you could see things my way.”  How many times have you heard that?  Or for that matter, how many times have you said it?  Typically when we hear or speak these words the intent is for someone to change another person’s perspective on something.  It might have something to do with politics, religion or any number of other things.  Regardless of the subject the point is that  there is a desire to change one’s view.

mag4586As I write right now I am wishing a lot of people could see things my way but here it is not some viewpoint I’m thinking about.  I mean it literally.  I wish more folks could see things through my eyes because they are missing out on so much.  It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that a whole bunch of people fail to see the beauty of Creation and also the presence of God in the midst of it.  They seem oblivious to what is obvious to me.  Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t see nearly as well as I could but I do feel that when it comes to “seeing Creation” my vision is pretty good.

What has got me thinking about this is a number of comments I’ve received recently about pictures I’ve posted on Facebook.  I posted a close-up picture of a red flower last week and someone commented on how beautiful the center of the flower was.  I got the impression this person may not spend a lot of time looking at flowers close up.  Another person commented on an image of a dragonfly I posted.  This time the comment was that they did not realize that dragonflies were so colorful.  Once again it made me wonder if this person had ever made an effort to actually look closely at a dragonfly.

_CES5476This afternoon I stopped to photograph a coneflower in the yard of some friends.  At one point I stepped back and asked one of them if she would like to look through my camera.  She expressed a degree of surprise at what the macro lens revealed.  Due to prior experience I knew exactly what I’d see through the lens.  She didn’t.  I almost found myself wanting to say “I wish you could see things my way.” Fearing that what I’m saying may sound cocky I want to reiterate again that there are lots of people who see God’s Creation far better than I do and they also photograph it better but it just seems that there are too many people out there who aren’t taking the time to really see what is all around them.  I want them to see more.  I want them to see better.   I want them to see things my way.

HS5373This desire springs from my wish that people would come to appreciate better the wonders of God’s Creation.  If they did I can’t help but believe that it would have positive results.  First, they would likely learn to appreciate nature more and would become true advocates for its protection and preservation.  Second, they might very well find God’s fingerprints where they had not realized they can be found and in the process come to love God more and worship Him better.  It is for these reasons I wish more people could see things my way.  It is for the same two reasons I often find myself asking God to help me see more clearly.  I know I have not arrived yet.  I realize that I have barely touched the surface when it comes to seeing the wonders and beauty of Creation.  I also acknowledge that my love for and worship of God constantly stands in need of improvement.

I have a sneaky suspicion that there are lots of times God says to me “I wish you could see things my way.”  That’s why I sometimes find myself singing the words of the old hymn,Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.”  In the end that is my ultimate wish, to see things God’s way.  Is it yours?

–Chuck

(I took all four of these above images recently near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)


May 22 2013

Eyes of the Heart

_CES8139I received a book in the mail a few days ago that has brought me a good bit of excitement. It’s called Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice and was written by Christine Valters Paintner. I have long felt that there was a spiritual dimension to my photography. I have likened it in the past to a spiritual discipline. That is why I named my photography business Contemplative Images over twenty years ago. Photography has helped me see things in a way I had not prior to picking up a camera. In this new book Paintner gives a voice to my experience.

_CES2657In the introduction the author writes, “Photography as a spiritual practice combines the active art of image-receiving with the contemplative nature and open-heartedness of prayer. It cultivates what I call sacred seeing or seeing with the ‘eyes of the heart’ (Ephesians 1:18). This kind of seeing is our ability to receive the world around us at a deeper level than surface realities.” Later she adds, “Photography as a spiritual practice can help us to cultivate an awakened vision so we begin to really see.”

_CES5257I have often said that my nature photography is at times an act of worship. Paintner agrees with this. She says “Photography can be an act of silent worship. When we see the world with eyes of the heart, we can engage in an act of both reverence and self-expression. We can discover how the living Spirit is being revealed in the world.”

_CES8282As I’ve been reading this book I have rejoiced that someone has been able to put into words what I have felt for so long. The experience has been like finding just the right greeting card that says exactly what you wanted to say to someone but could never have come up with the words yourself. If you own a camera and would be willing to explore how it might be used as a spiritual tool I highly recommend that you purchase and read this book. It is not a book that will teach you how to use a camera (my blogging partner, Rob Sheppard has written plenty of those and I urge you to buy them too), but it will help you to see the world in a different way and this will make you a better photographer in the end. Practicing the principles taught in Paintner’s book will not necessarily help you create award winning images but will instead lead to something far better–a closer connection with God and His Creation.  In the end this book is as much about the contemplative life as it is photography.   It is a book that has the potential to change your life in more ways than one.   That’s saying a lot for a book that only cost me $11.86 on Amazon.com!

–Chuck

(The pictures I’ve used today are examples of my work I’ve come to call “macro therapy.”