Category Archives: Nature

New Beginnings: God’s Natural World

given on October 19, 2008

How many of you noticed the moon this week? Since I was thinking about the possibility of having a new grandbaby during a full moon, I was watching the moon this week.  Well, still no grandbaby, but I have really enjoyed looking at the moon.  In fact, the last couple of days I began the morning drive to work with the setting moon on one side of the car and the rising sun on the other side.  I was encased between the images of night and day, darkness and light.
Sometimes this world we live in is just so absolutely gorgeous that is literally can take one’s breath away.  One morning, I suddenly realized that a young deer was running and jumping right beside the car as I drove down High Drive.  A little later, I felt something to my right, and there was another deer standing by the side of the road waiting for me to pass—not me waiting for it to pass.
Another glorious site is the sun as it shines through the leaves of the hard maples right now.  The sugar in those leaves turns almost neon, glowing orange with tones of yellow and red.  The colors contrast vividly against the almost black of the branches still holding onto the leaves leaves.  Then add to that picture the rays of sunshine, especially when the sun just begins to set in the west, backlighting those leave and branches.  Breath taking!
Can you stop and think what God sees on days like this?  As I have challenged you over the past few weeks, look at this world through God’s eyes.  Is God pleased with his creation today just as much as he was pleased when he created this earth?  I know when I see the glories of nature around me, I am pleased and I can understand God’s extreme pride.  But then I see a scar in nature.  I see asphalt poured out on a patch of land that is not part of the roadway.  I see trash thrown out on the side of the road or an old dump in a ditch out in the country.  I see a new development built only after all the trees have been bulldozed down and burned.
These are all reasons for me to stop and review just what my Christian responsibility is.  What better time than the gorgeous autumn days to stop and review the social principles that our denomination has outlined for us.  Listen to the words of the preface concerning social principles:
The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice.  Its members have often taken forthright positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles.  Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling, and to the cruel treatment of prisoners.  . . .   The social principles are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.  They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirits; however, they are not church law.
Again, this is not church law, rather the social principles are guidelines, philosophies, or, as they refer to them, positions on controversial issues.   We may not always agree with them, but I remind you:  look at these principles through God’s eyes.
As we learned in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth.  The words are familiar, probably so familiar that we do not really think about what God saw when he finished his creation.  Out of nothing, he shaped the earth, the flora and the fauna that fills the earth.  What a task this creation was!  Just like we take the story of creation for granted, so do we take the creation, the natural world, itself for granted.
The first social principle tells us “[that] all creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it.”  A statement like that really lays out the church’s expectations for each one of us.  All creation includes “water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space.”  We are expected to use these resources carefully.  We are not to abuse any of these resources.  We are to be conservative in our use of the resources.
Looking at each of these elements of our natural world through God’s eyes really shows us how we continue to fail in this responsibility.  The General Conference, which reviews these social principles, literally outlines each category along with the guidelines United Methodists are encouraged to follow.  When I read through them, I find myself evaluating how I am managing.  I fear I am falling way short of God’s expectations.
For instance, consider the category of “water, air, soil, minerals, plants.”  I am trying to recycle now, but not 100%.  I do my best to recycle plastic bottles, but I still miss some when I accidentally throw an empty pill bottle into the kitchen trash or I hesitate to put in a chemical’s plastic bottle into the recycling bin.  I sometimes I feel like I really do not understand what plastic products really are safe to recycle. I guess I need to educate myself more adequately.
I am sure you are getting the idea of how difficult it is to be socially responsible.  I may see the problems, I may make an effort to tackle them, but I find that I cannot recycle all those plastics alone.  I need to make it a team effort at home, at school, and even here at church.  I believe working as a team is almost as important as recycling itself, because God knows no one individual can tackle such a huge task.  We must work in community.
But our social responsibility goes much farther in the natural world.  There is “energy resources utilization.”  The principles state United Methodists need to work for “rational and restrained transformation of parts of the nonhuman world into energy [and[ support the conservation of energy and responsible development of all energy resources” especially renewable energy sources.
Whew!  This certainly is more than I can do all by myself.  What can I do?  What can any of us do?  The energy issue certainly has been one of the hot topics in our lives this year.  The demand for hybrid cars, the trading down from SUVs, the changing of light bulbs, and even turning down the heat’s thermostat or raising the air conditioner’s temperature a couple of degrees are evidence that we are tackling this issue.  Thank goodness God did create sunshine.  The use of the natural elements of sunshine and wind, even water in hydro-power surely demonstrates how we are working to preserve the natural resources while meeting the energy demands.
But, I am getting away from the social principles.  The natural world is fragile.  The social principles include statements on animal life, space, science and technology, as well as food safety.  In these statements, there are some rather interesting lines which really stand out:

  • Under animal life:  humane treatment of pets and other domestic animals, animals used in research, and the painless slaughtering of meat animals, fish, and foul.
  • Concerning space there is only one line:  “The universe, known and unknown, is the creation of God and is due the respect we are called to give the earth.”  (I guess this means no trash dumps in space.)
  • On science and technology:  “Science and technology are complementary rather than mutually incompatible.”  This seems to put to rest the debate between those who believe in creationism and those who believe in evolution.
  • Finally, food safety is outlined, not only concerning the handling in the stores, but in the biological development of the foods we eat, the processing and the packaging.  The social principle even adds:  “We call for clear labeling of all processed or altered foods, with premarket safety testing required.  We oppose weakening the standards for organic food.”

I may be a cradle Methodist, but after delving into the social principles as last published in 2004 (the 2008 edition has yet to be published), I realize how little I really know what my denomination represents.  My focus has been centered on God and his love.  Now it time for new beginnings, new understanding; maybe even new practices as we consider how well we demonstrate God’s love following  the social principles.
As we begin anew to look at who we are as United Methodists, we can take this opportunity to broaden our vision.  We need to ask if new beginnings can begin right now.  We need to know that new beginnings can be launched any time, not just during Advent or not just on New Year’s Day, and not just because the fiscal year ends or begins.  We are so fortunate that we can turn to God and say we are sorry and we want to do better.
Let’s end with the United Methodist social creed first published in 1908.  This document concludes the social principles in the Book of Discipline and on the UMC website.  These words remind us what we believe and how that meets God’s expectations when he said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen. 1:28, NIV)
Join me in the current social creed;
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.

We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.

We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.

We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for creating this earth filled with glorious sites, spectacular views, breathtaking beauty, sweet aromas, and musical sounds.  We ask your guidance as we take responsibility in caring for this earth.  We want to do more, but we know our best efforts join the best of others as we learn to look at this earth through your eyes.                –Amen

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In Kansas

I am currently in Salina, Kansas, and have lived through one of the stereotypical weather events:  a super cell that spawned baseball sized hail and tornadoes.  Being from Missouri, these storms are not really that unfamiliar, but the circumstances made this event entirely unique.

First, no TV.  Living in an outdated dorm with no TV connections and limited web access, I feel so isolated from the world.  Now this could be a very good thing since I am in training as a local licensed pastor and this type of retreat-style environment is good for reflection and listening for God; but when a major storm develops and you have no idea where you really are or cannot follow what is going on—let’s just say I was uncomfortable.

Now let’s explore uncomfortable.  Mentally I was fine.  In fact the fellowship of sitting in a 1960’s bomb shelter and singing the old spiritual hymns with wonderful voices was grand.  We had so much fun singing, talking, and laughing.  The spartan conditions did not matter a bit, but the discomfort comes from the isolation.  We did have small windows, and when the hail would hit, it was alarming.  And I wanted to know more what was going on out those windows.

The hail storms I have experienced before are typically pea sized stones that bounce and roll around in the rain, but this hail was entirely different.  The marble-sized hailstones had been clumped together.  The baseball sized hail stones where made up of the marble-like pieces and fell sporadically and erratically.  My car, at least last night, showed no damage, but the one directly next to it had about 10 baseball-sized dents and a cracked windshield.  It made no sense.  Two other cars had their back windows shattered and a third had its front windshield cracked as though some large body had landed on it.

There is so much more to share, but for now I will close.  I have to hustle around to finish the morning routine and begin our day’s agenda.  The two-week experience is only beginning its fourth day.

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Return to Summer

Weeks have raced by since I have had a chance to write down a few thoughts.  This morning my summer routines are reestablished and I have a wonderful set of stories about morning walks to share.  In the summer, my daughter and I like to walk early in the morning before we begin the busy days.  This weekend my friend joined us for two of our walks.

Walking becomes more than just an exercise routine for us; it is pure joy.  On Saturday morning, the three of us leashed up the three dogs and headed off.  Our walk includes looking for deer, watching the geese and ducks at the lake, and preparing for any other darting nature surprise.

Saturday morning, we thought we had it made.  The doggies, no longer puppies, were slowing down and we were about 2/3’s back from our walk.  Suddenly the labradoodle spotted two of the ducks on the side of the road–which means they have to cross it to the safety of the lake.  Lila spotted them and took off.  The lead just spun off the rolling mechanism and was gone in a flash.  My daughter walks Lila and she started screaming at her and telling her to sit.  No luck.  She was ready for duck!

After about two leaps, Lila pounced on the duck, who was waddling as fast as he could, but she looked back at us as the yelling continued.  In that split second, the duck made it to the edge of the lake.  Lila took another pounce or two and landed on top of it as it slid into the lake.  We were all sure it was over for the duck, but luckily Lila is unsure of swimming and the duck took a dive.  Lila froze, standing in the water wondering what to do.  She would look back at us, then at the lake.  The duck was out of sight and safely in the lake.  Whew!  That was a scarry, hilarious moment in our walking journals, but it won’t be the last.

Today’s walk brought new surprises.  My friend was still with us, so we had all three again.  This time it seemed as though we were going to have a pretty uneventful walk, but when we reached the second lake we walked right into another surprise.

At this lake, Missy, the chocolate lab, wants nothing more than to swim and wade through the edge of the lake.  I try to keep her from doing that until we get to a more open area, so the leads were about half the length they can be.  As we were walking along, watching the lake, we noticed an animal’s head swimming right at the edge of the lake.  At first sighting, I figured it must be a muskrat as we have seen some of them in the past, but it took only a flash to realize that was way too big a head for a muskrat.

Funny how quickly the brain can process images and try to connect them with the knowledge bank you have acquired over your lifetime.  In that moment of recognition, the animal noticed us and began to swim away from the bank.  All of the sudden, behind the head almost two feet, we saw this huge flat thing pop up from the water and flap down loud and hard–it was a BEAVER!

We have never seen a beaver in this lake so we were totally surprised.  Of course Missy was surprised, too, and immediately wanted to chase.  I held on and kept the lead as short as possible, but as soon as we reached the open gravel area, I let her go.  The beaver was swimming just ahead of us.  We were so surprised that we literally froze and watched.  We lost visual contact, but suspect it swam to the other side where we could see, somewhat, a brush pile that looked newly gnawed–but we all were visually hampered without our glasses or binoculars for the walk.

Now that Missy had been swimming our planned two mile walk turned into three in hopes it would help her dry out.  Se we continued onward,  Nothing major appeared except for a couple of rabbits and a turtle, until we got to one of our pause points.  We made it all the way to the first lake without any other excitement.  Then we reached the dock area of the lake–there were seven baby Canadian geese.  The geese live here year round, but we have never seen the Canadians with goslings.  There is another goose who has had one gosling last year and again this year, so it is not a rarity, but it was still a great one to see,

Our morning walks are never just about exercise.  We enjoy the dogs so much, we see nature and know that God is there each and every morning.  Sometimes it may just be a set of clouds in the sky, but we never fail to breathe in the morning air, see something of beautfy or God’s world.  I look forward to each and every chance I have to be out there walking the dogs and seeing all that we have.

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April Dawn

I was able to have an early morning walk today.  There is absolutely nothing like it in the world–spring at day break.  We hooked up the dogs and off we went.  The cool of the morning did not seem to effect us as we watched the sun shine through the light fog.  As we reached the lake, we saw the baby gosling and watched as the four adults circled around it and swam away in the steam rising from the lake.

We have so much fun watching as our labradoodle does the deer dance.  She smells them and then begins this weaving and bobbing and hopping around at the very last inch of her leash.  She never barks.  She never becomes unruly, she just dances.  The chocolate lab just keeps her nose to the ground and keeps her pace.  She could care less about the deer–unless she sees them.

Our walk continues as we see the ducks and the other geese swimming around leaving a small wake in their path.  We listen to the birds and spot the cardinals flitting through the wooded areas in front of the green cedars.  How could anyone not love this earth at these times!  How could people leave trash lying around!  How can they cut down the trees, run over the flowers, make ruts in the grass!  It is so wonderful to see spring like this.

But we still had the second lake to reach.  As we crossed the road and made it to the bank of the lake, the chocolate lab was ready to go.  We kept her out of the water until the opening, but in a flash she was in.  She loves to swim and run the shore.  She goes in and out, in and out of the water.  Suddenly we heard the geese.  Two were honking loud and clear as they came in for a landing.  The girls saw them; quickly I unhooked her leash and off she went.  She knew they were there, but she just could not see them or tell where they were.  She came out, they would honk, and she would jump back in.  Finally she was ready to take off running, so we leashed her up and headed back.

There can be no better medicine for tired souls in this busy world than an April Dawn.  I love it!  I just wish I could have these moments every day, but the work world sets in and all must return to the business of the day.  Never fear, though, I will be back.  I will be back out there in the early dawn, smelling the grass, the ponds, the flowers, and all.  I will be back to thank God for letting me have these wonderful experiences in this nature-filled world.  April Dawn is pure gold.

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Opening thoughts

Stepping into a new world through a blog is not easy. The world is so large and I am just one individual with a lot on my mind. I find there are times when I just want to talk to someone concerning any range of topics. This will be an opportunity for me to begin sharing thoughts.

For instance, today the sunshine was so welcome, but the clouds started creeping in again. Here in Missouri the old saying is that if you don’t like the weather, just wait around about 15 minutes and you will have another style of weather. I am ready for spring, for sunshine, for dry yards that the girls (our two puppies) can romp and play in all day, and for the early signs of rebirth: jonquils, tulips, budding trees, and even the peepers singing in the bog areas.

Winter can be such a challenge, but we also know that we live in a world filled with cycles. Growing up on a farm, the seasons provided a rhythm of life. I love the spring, the summer, and the fall, but as November dawns and the leaves are gone, I struggle with the winter. Winter has no color. I live for the first signs of color in the spring. I listen for the peepers. I smell the breeze for signs of rain or the first lawn mowing.

The seasons of the year constantly remind me that we, too, have our own seasons. I am mentally in the late spring, but the chronological truth is that I am in late summer. That is not a concern, it a statement of honesty. My life changes periodically, and each change brings new challenges. Usually the challenges are exciting and cause me to grow. Maybe each human season is really a new spring.

So today, I join the web and begin a new season–a spring. I hope that my thoughts will find warm, soft, black dirt to grow many more ideas during this spring.

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