Mar 24 2014

Loving All God’s Creatures

_DSC2406Today I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a member of my church.  The person who died, Ben Cline, was a very good man with a lot of wonderful traits.  One of the traits I spoke about may have come as a surprise to some.  Ben had a soft spot in his heart for stray animals.  Over the years he had taken in numerous cats and dogs and nursed them back to health.  His family told me about how he bottle-fed some and they recalled how he slept in the floor with one cat for two nights trying to help it get better.  I already had a lot of admiration for Ben for the whole time I knew him he was battling a serious disease and did so with much courage and dignity.  After hearing of the compassion he had for stray animals my admiration only grew greater.  That compassion says a lot about a person’s character.

St. Francis once said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellowmen.”  Apparently St. Francis believed that how one looked at animals said a lot about that person.  I would agree with that.  So would the philosopher Immanuel Kant who said “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.  We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”  Not surprisingly, Ben believed strongly in showing respect to all people, not matter where they came from or how rich or poor they might be.  There was, in fact, a correlation between his compassion for animals and his fellowman.

_DSC2421I sometimes struggle with the picture the Bible presents concerning animals.  There are parts where animals almost appear worthless.  There are other parts where their value is shown and emphasized.  In the Creation story we read that when God made the various creatures He declared them “good.”  (Genesis 1:24–25)  Later when the earth is destroyed by flood God makes sure that Noah saves creatures from all species so that after the flood they, too, might repopulate the earth.  Later still, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses He not only ordered a day of rest for humans but for their animals as well. (Exodus 20:10)

There is a closer bond or connection between humans and animals than most people realize.  According to Genesis 2 we were both brought forth from the earth by God and in Genesis 1 we were both created on the same day.  Needless to say we share the same earth and are dependent on it for our survival.  There are also some who believe that God made animals to be our companions.  In Genesis 2:19 we read that God brought all the animals to Adam and “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  The very fact that the animals were named may well imply that a relationship was established between “man and beast.”

_CES0047Unfortunately, many have completely misunderstood God’s call for humans to “rule over” or “have dominion over” all creatures to mean they were to dominate them and treat them however they wish.  (Genesis 1:26) In his book, For Love of Animals, Charles Camosy says Jesus interpreted “dominion” not as domination but servanthood.  He adds, “we are called to be like Jesus and use our dominion to serve and protect the most vulnerable.  This includes vulnerable nonhuman animals.  With Christ as our guide, human dominion over creation must be about self-sacrificial love–not consumerist exploitation.”

In the end I do believe that animals deserve our compassion.  Proverbs 12:10 says “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”  I am grateful for the example of Ben Cline in this area and I know that there are many others like him out there.  I just wish there were more.


(The top two images are Boomer and Taz, pets of my friends John and Christi Edwards.  The bottom image shows my dog, Sierra.)


Sep 1 2013

Letting Go & Getting Low

_CES1751It happened again.  On the last day of my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I experienced something I’ve written about before.  I once again went out photographing with high hopes of capturing a certain image that did not materialize but in the end got something better.  Mount Shuksan reflecting in Picture Lake is one of the most iconic images in Washington State.  I so hoped to capture my own stunning image of this well-known scene, even if it did involve a three hour drive to get it.  My friend, Mike, and I made the trip up to Picture Lake.  When we got there  I just knew that I was going to get the iconic image I had seen so often.  The lake was there.  The mountain was there.  Even the light was good.  Nothing stood in the way of getting my picture.  Or so I thought.  When we got down to the lakeshore it became apparent that the wind was blowing just enough to prohibit a good reflection.  I kept thinking that the breeze would calm down but after an hour and a half it had not.  Needless to say I was disappointed that we had come all that way and I was not going to get the image I coveted.

_CES1861We decided to drive on up to Artist Point.  From this area you have great views of both Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker.  I spent an hour or so taking pictures of both mountains but just could not release my disappointment of failing to get “the shot” I had wanted down below.  Later I started walking around the trails in the  area and found one that led slightly uphill and followed it.  It wasn’t long before I came upon a sheltered pool that had formed from the thawing of snow in the area.  From the trail it did not look like much but I had a hunch that if I walked down to the pool and got low there might be some nice reflections of Mount Shuksan.  I was right.  The scene was utterly spectacular.  I spent the next hour and a half photographing beautiful reflections.  I did not get the image I had originally come for but now believe that what I got was something better.  Thousands of other photographers had captured the image at Picture Lake.  I suspect very few had photographed the small pool I found on the top of the hill.

_CES1952So once again I was reminded of a very important life lesson.  Sometimes we do not get what we want but God often has a way of giving us something even better . Our disappointments in life may well become a prelude to something wonderful and good.  I offer two further reflections on my experience that evening.  First, wanting what everybody else has can be a dangerous game.  There is a good reason “Thou shalt not covet” is one of the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 20:17)  Wanting what someone else has–be it an iconic image, a certain vehicle, watch or television–can lead to a great deal of frustration, disappointment and unhappiness.  Furthermore, by focusing on getting what everybody else has we may not leave ourselves open to receving something better.  I tend to believe that God has more to offer us than just the status quo.

_CES1948Second,  I was reminded  that evening that to receive some of God’s blessings we have to be willing to get low.  Just as I could not have gotten the images I did without getting very low to the ground I truly believe that unless we are willing to humble ourselves and “get low” that it is very unlikely that we will experience the best God has to offer.  When we are full of ourselves we are not in a position to be receptive and therefore may well miss out on the blessings God wants to give us.  So I suggest that we learn to let go and stay low.  By letting go of the necessity to have what everyone else does and staying humble we are far more likely to find peace and contentment.  God will likely bless us with much more than this but even if He does not these are two valuable treasures we can give thanks for and two treasures most people are still searching for.


May 12 2013

Honoring Our Other Mother

_CES2183Today is Mother’s Day. I kind of have mixed emotions about the whole idea of Mother’s Day. For some it is a wonderful day, for others it is a sad time. Still, I am glad for the opportunity it gives me to express my love and gratitude to my mother. I truly was blessed with a great mother and she deserves all the love and appreciation I can give her today and every other day.

_CES3083The Bible repeatedly tells us to “honor your father and mother.”  This admonition even appears in the Ten Commandments.  (See Exodus 20:12)  Apparently God believes it is very important that respect be shown to one’s parents.  In the New Testament it is pointed out that this is the only Commandmant that has a promise attached to it.  The promise is “Then everything will be well with you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” (See Ephesians 6:2-3)  My suspicion is that this promise is not fulfilled automatically. Rather, if we have godly parents and show respect for them by listening to them and doing what they say, we will reap many benefits throughout our life.  This will likely cause us to live longer.  In other words, it pays to show one’s parents honor and respect.  That makes sense to me.

On this particular Mother’s Day I find myself wondering if there is not another mother that deserves honoring–Mother Earth.  Rob and I write regularly about the importance of caring for the earth and note that there are divine imperatives for doing so.  To many of us the Scriptures are clear on this.  Unfortunately, not all agree.  In recent days both a politician and a prominent minister have argued that we need not worry about the environment because Jesus is coming back soon.  The minister said that’s why he drove a SUV and joked that a man who drives a minivan is a mini-man.  Apparently some actually believe that since Jesus is coming back soon (something every generation since the apostle Paul has believed) there’s no need to worry about things like polluted water and air.

_CES4533It would seem that Mother Earth deserves more respect than that. Even more so, the God who created the earth deserves to have His handiwork honored and respected more.  It is, after all, His gift to us.  The earth is remarkable in so many different ways.  It is designed to sustain life but if mistreated it can lead to death instead.  Perhaps one reason God calls on us to care for the earth is so that we might all live healthy lives.  And like God’s commandment to honor our parents, it would seem obeying the command to “tend the garden” produces many benefits for both us and others.  Long life and environmental care go hand in hand.  To me this is secondary to the revelation of God through Creation but obviously still very important.  If we really want to affirm the importance, or even sanctity, of life then the earth must be honored and respected.  By failing to honor the earth we fail to love both God and humankind. 

On this Mother’s Day I hope we will strive not only to honor our mothers but also Mother Earth. Showing them our love and respect is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing.  In both instances they and we reap benefits from our actions.  That sounds like a win-win situation to me.


(I took the images shown above on a trip with Rob to northern California a couple of years ago.)

Feb 24 2013

Religion & Animal Cruelty

Sierra 4x6Some people seem to live way before their time.  For me a good example of this is John Woolman.  Woolman, a Quaker businessman and itinerate preacher, was born in New Jersey 1720 and died in 1772.  He was a deeply spiritual man whose faith caused him to speak out against slavery long before it was the popular thing to do.  He spoke strong words against injustice and oppression and was also an opponent of conscription.  While reading The Journal of John Woolman this past week I also discovered that he was an early advocate for the prevention of cruelty to animals.

In the opening chapter to his Journal Woolman writes: “…true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures; that, as the mind was moved by an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible Being, so, by the same principle, it was moved to love him in all his manifestations in the visible world; that, as by his breath the flame of life was kindled in all animal sensible creatures, to say we love God as unseen, and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature moving by his life, or by life derived from him, was a contradiction in itself.”

S 501Woolman felt that you could not separate how you treated animals from your faith or religion.  Others, throughout history, have concurred with him.  St. Francis of Assisi once said, If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.”  Another sensitive soul wrote: “I would give nothing for that man’s religion whose very dog and cat are not the better for it.” 

It should be obvious from reading the Scriptures that God cares greatly for all the creatures He made.  A number of biblical passages actually deal with the proper treatment of animals.   Most Christians are well aware that one of the Ten Commandments calls for a day of rest.  What they may not realize is that God said in the same Commandment that animals are to be given a break on the Sabbath as well.  (Exodus 20:8-10) Jesus indicated that God fed the birds and that not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him taking notice.  If God cares so much for the members of the animal kingdom shouldn’t we?  And does that not also mean that we, like John Woolman, should be advocates for the prevention of cruelty to animals?

Sierra 2jpgThere are a number of people in the church I serve who work very hard to prevent animal cruelty in our area.  They have been fighting to make our local animal shelter a “no-kill shelter.”  They also donate countless hours trying to find homes for abandoned dogs and cats so they will not be killed.  I am very thankful for the work of these individuals and feel that their work truly honors God.  Their work is a reflection of their faith.

S 515Our pet dog, Sierra, came from an animal shelter.  She had been both abused and abandoned.  I do not understand how anyone can intentionally be cruel to an animal.  Such behavior is godless and evil.  Once again I have to ask, if God created these animals and loves them, aren’t we supposed to as well?  The great medical missionary and humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer, had much to say about the ethical treatment of animals.  He believed not only that they should be properly cared for, they should be prayed for as well.  Schweitzer composed this evening prayer for all living creatures: “O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath; guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace.”

How we treat animals truly does say a lot about our relationship with God.  I encourage you to treat your animals well and to do what you can to prevent animal cruelty.  I would also suggest you consider following Schweitzer’s example and pray for your pets and all living creatures.  It certainly seems like the right thing to do.


(I’ve chosen to illustrate today’s entry with images of our dog, Sierra.)