Mar 16 2011

Remembering Maurice

B.C.'s-tulips-crYesterday was the Ides of March, March 15.  It was also the birthday of Maurice Coleman.  Maurice was the pastor I worked with back in the 70s when I was a youth minister.  I had the privilege of serving with him in Waverly, Tennessee, for only 2 ½ years but we maintained a close friendship until his death in 1997.  Few people have had more influence on my life.

Since yesterday was Maurice’s birthday I spent a good bit of time thinking about him.  He was definitely one of the smartest people I have ever met and had a memory I envy to this day.  He was also very funny, incredibly compassionate, and a faithful servant of the Lord.  He, his wife Lanelle, and daughter Denise, became like a second family to me.  Lanelle and Denise still are.  In fact, my wife and I are the proud godparents of Denise’s children—Emily and Caleb Stookey.

Maurice helped instill in me a love for reading and good books.  I have scores of books on my shelves today that were gifts he graciously bestowed upon me.  He also taught me a lot about how to be a minister.  I was brand new to ministry in those years and had a lot to learn.  I could not have asked for a better teacher.  As a pastor today I owe a huge debt to him.

spring-cardinal-588While thinking about Maurice yesterday it also occurred to me that he has influenced my life in other ways that I really hadn’t thought about.  Maurice loved flowers and meticulously planted and cared for them in his yard.  I had never known a man who loved flowers.  I grew up associating them with women.  Today I, too, love flowers and they are one of my favorite photographic subjects.  That comes, in part, from Maurice’s influence.

Maurice also had a deep love for nature that went beyond flowers.  He loved birds as well and was the first person I encountered who fed them on a regular basis.  He took great delight in watching the birds come to his feeders, just as I do today.   Maurice was not a photographer—I don’t even remember him owning a camera—but his house was filled with beautiful prints by artists like Ray Harm, Ralph McDonald and Jim Gray.  The subject for all of these prints was nature—birds, flowers, animals, trees, etc.  Here again, I cannot help but believe that Maurice Coleman was influential in shaping my own love of and appreciation for nature.

Fourteen years ago I spoke at Maurice’s funeral and remember saying that I would always bear his mark upon my life.  I’m not sure I realized even then just how true that would be.  I bear his mark every time I preach, every time I photograph, every time I sit down here to write a post for Seeing Creation.  I realize most of you never knew Maurice Coleman but I wish you could have.  I really do.


(The tulips shown above were grown by Maurice at his house in Waverly, TN.  I took the cardinal image here at my home.  It was in a tree next to my feeder.)

Aug 15 2010

John of the Mountains

MR 878Last week I shared with you the names of some very special photographers who have been mentors to me when it comes to seeing and photographing Creation.  There is yet another person I also have to point to as a mentor.  He died decades before I was born and as far as I know never took a photograph with a camera.  Yet through his writings I have probably learned more about seeing the spiritual side of nature than from anyone else.  That person is John Muir.

I discovered John Muir’s writings about the same time I decided to take up photography.  I immediately fell in love with his writings.  I admired the enthusiasm he exhibited as he described nature and how he frequently used scripture and theological language to express what he experienced in nature.

ONP 739One of my favorite books is John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe.  The following passage, written by Muir on one of his voyages to Alaska, is a prime example of what drew me to Muir.

“All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love.  So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best, and it requires a distinct effort of the will to get oneself in motion for a change of place.”

Later, in the same entry Muir adds, “And thus we find in the fields of Nature no place that is blank or barren; every spot on land or sea is covered with harvests, and these harvests are always ripe and ready to be gathered, and no toiler is ever underpaid.  Not in these fields, God’s wilds, will you ever hear the sad moan of disappointment, ‘All is vanity.’”

I suspect many of you are already familiar with the life and writings of John Muir.  If not, I encourage you to become familiar with them.  I know no better guide to seeing Creation.


(The top image was taken at sunset in Mount Rainier National Park.  The tide pool  image was taken at Tongue Point on the Olympic Peninsula.)

Aug 8 2010


ONP 116It has been my pleasure to spend the past five days in Olympic National Park. An equal joy has been the opportunity to spend this time with Pat O’Hara and his wife Tina. Pat is a well-known nature photographer who has served as a mentor and source of inspiration for my photography for the past eighteen years. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him!

ONP 018Being with Pat this week has given me a chance to reflect on some of the people who have most helped me in the art or discipline of “seeing Creation” photographically. There have been numerous persons that have influenced me but three in particular come to mind.

I have heard more than one professional photographer say that Pat O’Hara has “the best eyes in the business.” He truly does have a gift for seeing the natural world from a unique perspective. My “eyes” will never be as good as Pat’s but his work inspires me to try to look beyond what others see.

Rob Sheppard, my blogging partner, has been yet another important mentor for me. Rob, too, has a unique approach to photography and seeing Creation. I’ve learned to see things differently reading his books and watching him practice his “down and dirty” approach to photography. He has also taught me to try to consider my surroundings more.

ONP 923Bill Fortney is the third person I would identify as an important mentor. Bill’s photography is wonderful in many ways but I particularly admire the way he is able to isolate portions of a scene and create interesting compositions. He does this whether he is photographing nature, an old train depot or items at an antique store. He has taught me to look closer at the scenes before me.

When it comes to seeing Creation it truly does help to have mentors. They certainly don’t have to be photographers, just folks who are more aware than most of the beauty found in God’s Creation. On this particular day I give thanks for Pat, Rob, Bill and all the others who have helped me see the wonders of God’s handiwork better. I hope I can somehow do the same for others.


(The Olympic marmot, Hoh Rain forest scene, and wildflower display were all taken this past week in Olympic National Park.)