Jun 3 2015

Clean or Unclean?

_DSC9313We all know what they say about opinions.  Yes, everyone has one but does everyone’s opinion count the same?  I don’t think so.  Some people’s opinion counts for more because of the position they hold or due to their knowledge of the subject.  If I attended a symphony and was accompanied by a classically trained musician I can assure you that my opinion on the performance would not matter or count as much as that of the person who could fully understand and appreciate all that goes into a symphonic production.  Now if you asked me to comment on Nikon cameras and also asked someone who had never taken a picture with one, I’d like to think that my opinion would count for more; I’ve been using Nikon equipment for nearly 30 years.

_DSC3016In the Book of Acts Luke records a fascinating vision that the apostle Peter once had.  In the vision Peter saw something like a sheet lowered from the sky.  Within that sheet were “all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.”  Once Peter caught a glimpse of this collection of animals he heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”  Because Peter had been taught his whole life that certain animals were unclean and eating them was forbidden, he refused to do what he had been instructed.  Because he refused Peter was reprimanded by his heavenly visitor and told “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)  We are told that the command to kill and eat was given three times and that all three times Peter refused to do what he was told.

To make a long story short, the meaning of Peter’s vision finally sank in.  God was telling Peter that he should no longer think of certain animals as clean or unclean.  The kosher laws were being done away with.  This was important at this time because the gospel was starting to spread to those who were not Jews.  If the kosher laws remained there could be no table fellowship between the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles.

_CES2500Furthermore, God was telling Peter that he should no longer think of certain people as being clean or unclean.  In Jewish life there were many people or groups that were not considered clean and thus were to be avoided.  At the time of Peter’s vision he was about to be summoned to the home of a Gentile, the Roman centurion, Cornelius.  Ordinarily Peter would not enter a Gentile’s home but his recent vision made him rethink the whole matter.  When he got to Cornelius’ house he told those gathered there, “God has shown me that I should not call any person impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)  This new revelation opened the door for the gospel to move beyond the confines of Judaism.  Peter went on to say “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from all nations who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)

As I reflect upon Peter’s experience I come to two important conclusions.  First, whether we like it or not, all the animals God made should be viewed as good or clean.  Just because we don’t like spiders or snakes (or whatever other creature you want to name) does not mean that they are not good or do not have value.  Here our opinion really doesn’t matter.  The only one whose opinion counts is the person who made those creatures and God has already declared them good.  We should join God in recognizing the goodness and value in all creatures.

_DSC7009Second, I find in Peter’s vision a much needed reminder that we have no right to declare that another person is unclean or not valuable (this seems to be the primary truth God was trying to get through to Peter).  Once again, our opinion about some other person’s race, sexual orientation, economic status or intelligence doesn’t matter.  The only one whose opinion matters is the one who created them and, here too, God has already made it clear that all humans are extremely valuable and even worth dying for.  Some of us need to hear the voice Peter heard long ago saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Some biblical scholars are amazed at how much attention and space is given to the story of Peter and Cornelius in the Book of Acts.  My guess is Luke recognized the importance of the lessons to be learned here and wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss it.  Thanks, Luke!

–Chuck

(I took the squirrel picture at New Harmony, IN; the indigo bunting at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A.; the deer in the Florida Keys, and the alligator at Everglades National Park.)


Oct 9 2011

See Any Moose?

“See any moose?” That was the question I heard time and time again this past Thursday and Friday morning. I was at Baxter State Park in Maine photographing the wonders of fall in New England. Both mornings I got up early to take pictures of sunrise at Sandy Stream Pond. Both mornings I stood in awe of the beauty before me. After staying at the site for more than an hour each day I would head back up the trail to my car so I could go explore other sections of the park. Along the way back both days I ran into numerous photographers heading to the spot I had just left. Everyone asked the same thing: “See any moose?”

Now I know Sandy Stream Pond is known as a good location for viewing moose but it struck me odd that several photographers only thought of it as a place to photograph moose and not a place of incredibly scenic beauty. I would have been thrilled to see a moose there but my experience at Sandy Stream Pond was hardly diminished because there were no moose sightings. In fact, the light was so beautiful my first morning there I’m not sure I would have even taken time to photograph a moose had there been one present.

I later heard that no moose had been spotted at Sandy Stream Pond for three or four days. That meant there were a lot of disappointed photographers. Ironically, after I left Sandy Stream Pond on Thursday I took a short walk to Tracey Pond just to see what it looked like. When I walked down to the shore I looked up and spotted a bull moose not far away. There were no photographers in sight.

My experience at Baxter State Park got me thinking. We photographers can miss out on a lot of wonderful things when we get so focused on one subject. (I still can’t get over how the wildlife photographers were not interested at all in the scenic beauty of Sandy Stream Pond!) Furthermore, we can miss out on a lot if we get to thinking there is only one spot to find what we’re looking for. In both cases the same thing can happen spiritually. Some of us may be so focused on just one aspect of God that we miss seeing or experiencing other aspects of His greatness which are there right before us. Likewise, some of us might just discover that an intense search for God–especially if we keep looking in the same spot all of the time–may prove counter productive. God is just as likely to surprise us with His presence in some unexpected place as He is to be found in some more familiar location.

I was reminded at Sandy Stream Pond how important it is that I stay alert to God’s presence everywhere I go and to remain open to His surprises. The Bible is filled with examples of where God surprised people with His presence. (Examples include Moses at the burning bush, Elijah in his cave, and Simon Peter in his prison cell.) The Scriptures indicate that God is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” If that is the case, why should we not expect to be surprised today?

I didn’t see any moose at Sandy Stream Pond this past week but I did experience something of God’s glory. I’ll take that over a big ole moose any day!

–Chuck

(I took the moose image at Tracey Pond in Baxter State Park.  The other two images are from Sandy Stream Pond the same morning.  Interestingly enough, I was surprised to see another bull moose last night on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.)