Jun 1 2014

Don’t Limit Yourself

e_CES0443A few days ago Seth Godin posted a blog where he wrote about how many people let others choose things for them.  He noted that when we listen to Top 40 radio stations we are letting someone else decide what we will hear.  Likewise, if we only read best-selling books we are allowing others to determine what we will read.  Godin noted that if we always do this we will miss out on much that is good.  Not all the good music makes it to Top 40 radio; there are great books that do not show up on anyone’s best-seller list.  He suggested that we be careful about always letting others make our choices.

e_CES0241I thought about that as Rob Sheppard and I photographed at Great Basin National Park in Nevada this past week.  I doubt that many lists of top national parks would include Great Basin.  Usually you find on such lists parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Arches, Grand Teton and Acadia.  These are the “popular” ones that you hear a lot about and that the masses flock to. I’ve been to each of these places more than once and they are indeed beautiful and spectacular locations, but there are many lesser known parks that are just as beautiful and spectacular in their own way.  Great Basin National Park is a good example.  It has mountains rising 13,000 feet above sea level. Within its borders you will find an abundance of wildlife and awe-inspiring vistas.  The park’s lower elevation is desert covered with sagebrush while its higher elevations contain beautiful aspen groves.  The park has a cave with stunning formations, while above ground there are a number of lovely streams.  Still, relatively few people know about this park.  It receives far fewer visitors than the more popular parks noted above.  If you only visited national parks that were popular you would likely never see Great Basin National Park.  You would miss getting to experience what is genuinely a national treasure.

e_DSC6872This is a good reminder that we must all be careful about letting others choose for us what we will see, listen to, read or visit. Popular opinion need not rule.  We have the freedom to choose ourselves and we should exercise that freedom carefully and frequently.  We need to be careful that we don’t limit ourselves.  This is true even when it comes to the spiritual life.  I fear that many people allow others to choose for them how to live the spiritual life.  There are many popular paths and it would seem that most people are content to follow one of these paths.  There are, however, countless paths that can be taken as we seek to heed Christ’s call to “follow me.”  In reality, there are as many paths available as there are followers.  We can choose to take the popular paths because…well, they’re popular or, with the Spirit’s guidance, we can elect to follow our own unique path.  The other paths are perhaps easier to follow but will likely not be nearly as meaningful or adventuresome.

At the conclusion of Joan Chittister’s book, Called to Question, she writes “Once we have come to the point that we can allow God to be for us always new, always beckoning—beyond any single way of worship, any one set of devotions, any need to be less than alive and full of the joy of it, any desire to close off people and life, any idea that the daily is dull and empty of real spiritual experience, we have begun to grow into the spiritual life.  Then we are finally ready to find God in the very lives we are leading right now.”

e_CES0060Chittister believes there are a number of paths one can take when it comes to following Christ and that we should strive to follow the one intended for us.  I would agree.  We will likely suffer if we choose to take some path simply because it is the popular one.  We will flourish and thrive best when we follow the path that God intended to be uniquely our own.  Thoreau talked about walking to the beat of a different drummer.  As Christians we have the same drummer, it just so happens that drummer has a different beat for each of our lives.  Let’s not limit ourselves to whatever beat happens to be popular today.  Instead, may we each listen for the beat intended for us and then move confidently and joyfully forward. This is where true spiritual growth takes place.  This is where we will find our greatest joy.


(I took the pictures above this past week at Great Basin National Park.)

Feb 20 2013

“Sheddin’ Time” Part 2

_CES0539In my last post I talked about “sheddin’ time.”  I made some comparisons between deer shedding their antlers this time of year and the season of Lent when we, too, are beckoned to shed some things.  In Sunday’s entry I suggested that Lent is a great time to look inward and discover what bad habits or sins there may be that need to be shed.  The day after I wrote that blog I talked to my co-writer, Rob Sheppard, on the phone and he mentioned that for many of us there is also a need to shed some of our possessions.  I realize that this is not likely to be a popular topic but it does deserve some attention.

_CES6082I suspect that the vast majority of us have far more possessions than we really need.   Some people, like me, cannot park in their garages because they are filled with so much junk.  Others have to build sheds or rent storage bins to store all their extra possessions.  The clutter can be overwhelming and at times even sinful.  Do I really need ten jackets?  Certainly not when there are people in the community who have none.  Do I really need 17,000 books?  I say “yes” but Rob says “no” and as much as I hate to admit it, Rob is probably right.  In fact, I actually do have so many books that I’ve been known to purchase books I have, forgetting I already own them.  Not good!

Henry David Thoreau once gave this wonderful advice: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”   If we could follow this advice each of our lives would be richer and less complicated.  Jesus, knowing all too well our tendency to collect more than we need, once said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:19-20)  I shudder to think just exactly what he would say today to those of us who have invested ourselves so heavily into the material world.

bison-and-calfOur unbridled consumerism has taken a toll not only on our souls but also upon the environment.  Natural resources have been used up unnecessarily.  It is becoming harder and harder to find space for landfills to deposit all the extra stuff we discard.  Excessive consumerism likewise contributes to the pollution of the air and our waterways.  In the end there is a far greater cost to our purchases than most of us imagine.

So, yes, once again, perhaps we ought to view the season of Lent as “sheddin’ time.”  In these weeks leading up to Easter maybe we could all take a closer look at what we have and see if there are some things we can shed and give away.  This form of recycling could actually benefit many who are in need, while at the same time giving us more freedom from “stuff.”

If you are interested in exploring a number of different ways you can simplify your life, I’d encourage you to check out Nancy Sleeth’s newest book, Almost Amish.  I think you would find it helpful.  Good luck in the adventure and please wish me the same!


(I took the top image at Acadia National Park in Maine; the middle image at my home in Pikeville, KY; and the bottom image in South Dakota.)

Feb 2 2011

A Call to Simplicity

whitetail buckOne of my best friends called me a few minutes ago to seek advice on eliminating some clutter in his life.  With his wife’s help he had come to the conclusion that he had accumulated too much stuff and needed to get rid of some things.  His call seemed ironic for this subject is one I’ve been thinking about this past week.  It’s been on my mind because my wife, as well, said a couple of days ago that we need to give away some clothes and also because of some reading I’ve been doing.  Earlier this week I read a chapter in James Bryan Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful Life called “Learning to Live Without Avarice.”  In this chapter Smith warns of the dangers of avarice and greed to the spiritual life.  He issues a call for simplicity and as a suggestion for “soul training” encourages his readers to practice “deaccumulation.”

Last night before going to bed I read a chapter in Matthew Sleeth’s book, The Gospel According to the Earth, called “Simplicity and Consumerism.”  Using the Book of Philippians as a guide Sleeth also warns of the dangers of consumerism and calls for a better and more biblical approach to life and things—simplicity.  He, like Smith, sees the accumulation of stuff as a threat to the spiritual life but Sleeth also sees it as a threat to Creation.  This offers even more impetus to practice simplicity.  He writes: “Simplicity helps us disconnect from the worldly concerns that destroy God’s creation and, instead, engage in redemptive actions that heal.”

Cumberland-Falls-raccoon-635Towards the end of the chapter Dr. Sleeth goes on to say, “The earth is being dug up, cut down, and dismantled to meet the needs and cravings of a population that can only be satisfied with newer, better, and more.  The way to cut back on the misuse of resources is to live more simply and be content with what we have.”  In his conclusion he adds, “Simplicity allows us to be transformed by God’s grace into people who take care of God’s creation, rather than destroy it.  It helps us do what we cannot do alone to save the planet.”

Long ago Henry David Thoreau urged people to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”  It would seem that this is also the message I’m hearing from God these days.  For the sake of my soul and for the good of Creation I must make some changes.  What about you?


(I took the whitetail buck image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the raccoon at Cumberland Falls State Park.)

Oct 17 2010

Always On the Alert

RRG creek leaves 540This past week I started reading Malcolm Clemens Young’s new book, The Spiritual Journal of Henry David Thoreau.  Like many nature enthusiasts, I have been a fan of Thoreau’s writings for several years.  This book focuses on Thoreau’s spirituality.

According to Young, “For Thoreau, religious faith should be a joyful gratitude rooted in an appreciation for the gifts we receive.  We perfect our lives by deepening our attentiveness to the beauty of nature.”  As anyone who has ever read Walden knows, Thoreau was certainly a careful observer of nature.   It was here he expected to find God.  Thoreau more than once described himself as a watchman whose “profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature—to know his lurking places.”  In another entry in his Journal he writes, “How to live—How to get the most life!….That is my every day business….The art of spending a day.  If it is possible that we may be addressed—it behooves us to be attentive.  If by watching all day and all night—I may detect some trace of the Ineffable—then will it not be worth the while to watch?  Watch and pray without ceasing….If by watching a whole year on the city walls I may obtain a communication from heaven, shall I not do well to shut up my shop and turn a watchman?”

RRG Gladie 483Thoreau’s call to attentiveness still needs to be heard.  He felt that many Christians focused their attention so much on heaven that they failed to experience God here and now.   That hasn’t changed.  So many believers fail to see in nature a source of inspiration and revelation.  They either don’t recognize or have forgotten that the Creator longs to make Himself known through that which He has made.

In one Journal entry Thoreau wrote, “God is in the breeze and whispering leaves and we shall hear him.”   I thought about that yesterday when I was hiking in the Red River Gorge Geological Area.  I’m convinced that God can be seen and heard by those who will remain attentive.  It is my hope and prayer that I, like Thoreau, might be a good watchman who is “always on the alert to find God in nature—to know his lurking places.”


(Both images were taken yesterday at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky.)

Nov 15 2009

Simplifying Our Vision

maple seedOne of Henry David Thoreau’s most memorable words of advice was “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”  It is advice that most of us have failed to heed.  Our lives would no doubt be more enjoyable and less complicated if we could manage somehow to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”

In nature photography it is a good practice to strive for simplicity too.  In his helpful book, Photography and the Art of Seeing, Freeman Patterson writes, “It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of simplicity when making photographs.  Simplicity brings order and stability to compositions, no matter how many other objects are present in the picture.”  He goes on to talk about how abstracting and selecting make simplicity possible.  When I confront a scene in nature the challenge for me is to compose an image which is so simple the viewer can clearly identify the subject.  In order to do this I have to choose carefully what I will include and exclude in the image.  Beginning photographers often include too much in a scene. 

I took the picture above this afternoon.  Our next door neighbors have a beautiful Chinese maple which is bright red right now.  I wanted to photograph it but found it hard to find a composition that wasn’t too “busy” or complex.  I finally spotted the backlit seed and by isolating it with a macro lens got an image I liked.    

This practice of simplifying a scene can also be used in a more general sense when “seeing Creation.”  The world God has made is vast and complex.  Sometimes when I am out in nature I am overwhelmed by what is before me.  What I see is too much for me to take in, too much for me to comprehend.  When this happens I find that by focusing on smaller pieces of the scene, a bit at a time, it helps me better understand and appreciate the bigger picture.  Simplifying our vision can actually enhance our enjoyment of  Creation and help us to find God in the midst of it all.