Finding God, self, and community in wild spaces. The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves.
A vision informed by Henry David Thoreau’s interpretation of sauntering, Jesus’ understanding of neighbor, Aldo Leopold’s concept of thinking like a mountain, Rachel Carson’s prophetic voice and John Muir’s way of capturing the beauty and uniqueness of wild neighbors with words.

Friday, May 31, 2019

What a symphony!

What lies ahead for each of us as the day unfolds? With all the best planning and preparation you never can tell, right?  While the joys and challenges of this day remain yet a mystery, I am acutely aware of something steadfast and strong that is trustworthy regardless of what life brings; that is the love God has for us in Jesus. It is God’s love for each of us and for all of us that is a source of strength in good times and bad.

It is God’s creative love that inspires praise all around, as God’s love is shown to be not exclusively for human life but radically and generously encompassing of all that has life.

I’m reminded by a reading of Psalm 148 that all things praise God by being their authentic selves; fish by swimming, birds by flying, trees by turning sunlight into energy, water by flowing, the sun by shining, and that is just to name a few participants in the great symphony of unending praise of God who is the great conductor of the praise being lifted by all, in this world that’s filled with many beautiful and diverse forms of life.

Friends, let us join this great symphony of unending praise, praising God our creator with our heads, our hearts, and our hands as we worship...lifting up the name of God, bowing down before God, and reaching out to love God in our service to others.

Let us join the symphony, praising God in the loving kindness we extend to each other.

Let us join the symphony with resolve to live into community with all that has life in Jesus’ name.

Let us join the symphony, celebrating the power of God’s creative love and enjoy life together with eyes, ears, and hearts open to taking in the great symphony of unending praise in all of its wonderful beauty and diversity!








Thursday, May 30, 2019

Who is my neighbor?

I’m currently in Hershey, PA for three days for the yearly gathering of the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church. My friend Suzanne delivered a powerful sermon to get things started.

Suzanne read the passage from the Gospel according to Luke where Jesus has a conversation with someone about what is most important. In this story they both agree that the most important thing is to love God with all of our capacities and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And then the individual asks Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responds with a story with an unlikely hero and it is a story that challenges Jesus’ listeners to consider those we all might consider outsiders or “other” as our neighbor.

Suzanne suggested that it is an important question for all of us. Who is my neighbor? Who is it that I might consider to be not a neighbor to me? Who is it that I might label “other”?

 We live in a world where we all might consider every other person we meet as “other” based on life experiences, since our life experiences are all unique in some way. Suzanne suggested that “other” is not a bad thing; that we can celebrate diversity in community so long as “other” means not less than but having different life experience and equally loved by God...she even suggested that we open our hearts to allow the Spirit of God to move us to expand the bounds of community to include as a neighbor our pets as well as all that has life. 

what would it look like to see all of our “others” as God sees all of us?

As if that sermon was not enough of an encouragement I also experienced the joy of participating in the first gathering of the Susquehanna Conference Creation Care Team, which is aimed at leading our Conference into a more environmentally sustainable future, under the leadership of my friend Mark who planned and coordinated the meeting. A great group of people, inspiring conversation, and good things to come I’m sure!





(Suzanne delivering her message)

(Me and Suzanne after the Clergy Session)


(The Conference Creation Care Team)


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Outdoors Day at Hills Creek State Park

"There it is!" said one of the kids as she pointed to the top of the tree where a baltimore oriole was perched and singing! All heads of the 15 or so present turned to look. Binoculars trained on that bright orange bird in the tree and I immediately heard shouts of, "wow!," "cool!," and "Awesome!"

This morning I had a great experience sharing my love of birds with 90 sixth graders from the Mansfield Area at Hills Creek State Park. I got to be part of a team which consisted of park staff and volunteers who worked to provide the kids with experiences in birding, fishing, geocaching, and hiking among other things. I was amazed at the response of the kids and thankful that the birds provided some very good experiences for them!

We got to watch two ospreys on their nest, see a couple of baltimore orioles, four chipping sparrows, a pine warbler, and even had a black-billed cuckoo fly by the birding station!

The best way to inspire every next generation to care about birds as well as other wildlife is to help others experience wildlife for themselves. The best conservation strategies mean nothing without that connection that inspires a child (or an adult!) to care about wildlife and wild spaces.

My primary task as I understood it today was to create a space for a heart change to happen through an experience with wildlife in wild spaces.

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this special day.

As we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name and invite others to join us, I suggest that the most meaningful thing we can do is to invite others to experience wildlife and wild spaces for themselves. When it all comes down to it, it is special experiences like the ones had today which create lasting memories that inspire care and concern for the osprey, the Baltimore oriole, and other wildlife and wild spaces.

(Me with Park Naturalist Marissa and DCNR Summer Intern Emily)

(a Baltimore oriole; one of the species that provided a very good experience for the kids today!)





Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Learning Love with Ivy and Dovie

Over the course of the past eight days Ivy and Dovie have helped me in taking us on a journey through the fruit of the Spirit as Paul writes about it in Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the Spirit called love is first on the list and it is the last one we will cover here. I've saved love for last because each of the other eight fruits of the Spirit can be understood as expressions of that one first listed, love.

In chapter 13 of his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes that “love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable and keeps no record of being wronged. Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.”

Like the other fruits of the Spirit, we are dependent upon God for us to be equipped to live this love every day.

Through prayer we open our hearts to being changed by the Spirit of God at work in us, and the more our hearts beat in tune with God’s heart, the more we are empowered to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives; that peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that is, in truth, an expression of God’s love for all that has life.

That's right, when God nurtures peace in your heart and in mine it is a special gift, and a special gift that's intended to be shared. When we work for peace, God's love is shared. When we share joy, God's love is shared. When we are patient with others, God's love is shared. When we are kind to others, God's love is shared. When we embody and recognize inherent goodness in others, God's love is shared. When we are faithful to the call that God has placed upon our lives, God's love is shared. When we hold others gently, God's love is shared. When we exhibit self-control so as not to bring harm to ourselves or others, God's love is shared.

Yes, as we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus’ name, Ivy, Dovie, all the people in our lives, and all living things both wild and domestic are dependent upon the change God can make in us.

After all, a changed heart = changes in living = a world impacted by God's love.

Expressing our desire that God would nurture these fruits of the Spirit in our lives for the sake of the love that God has for all that has life, let us pray:

Change the desires of my heart, loving God, so that it beats in tune with yours; and may the changes you're bringing about within me find expression in my living.



Monday, May 27, 2019

Learning Self-control with Ivy

Today's fruit of the Spirit is Self-control. Like the other fruits of the Spirit we've covered, this one is no different in the sense that we are totally dependent upon God to nurture self-control in us. God is the source of every good thing, and this is one of them.

I hope you enjoy this short video that once again stars Ivy desiring a piece of her favorite fruit, a banana. Watch as she struggles to exhibit self-control as she waits for a piece of the banana that I'm eating.

The Greek word for self-control is "egkrateia," and as the term is used by Paul in his letter to the Galatians it means "restraint of one's emotions, impulses, or desires." (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Frederick William Danker. University of Chicago Press; 1957. Pg. 274)

 I don't know about you so I'll speak from my own experience here; when I've experienced a desire to do something that is unhealthy or unloving for myself or others or if I've experienced the desire for something and it simply was not the right time for it, partnering with God has made all the difference. When I seek to exhibit self-control by my own strength and initiative, I fail; but when I work through those desires with the help of God, the fruit of the Spirit called self-control finds expression in my life.

If it's true that this world could use more self-control exhibited by the people everywhere, it is equally true that I could use more self-control in my life. With the help of God, may it be so.

By the presence and power of God at work within us, may our lives become ripe with the fruit of the Spirit called self-control to guard against our every unhealthy or unloving desire for ourselves and others and to respond to every situation at the proper time and with life-giving words.

As we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name, let us pray that we all might experience self-control to guard against the selfishness and greed that too often results in the over-consumption, abandonment, and abuse of wildlife and wild spaces.

Let us pray:

Change the desires of my heart, loving God, so that it beats in tune with yours; and may the changes you're bringing about within me find expression in my living.



Saturday, May 25, 2019

Learning Gentleness with Ivy

Bananas are Ivy's favorite fruit. Ivy also has sharp canine teeth and strong jaw muscles. Ivy could chomp down on my fingers in a rush to get that piece of banana but she is considerate of me, being careful not to bite my fingers. Notice in the video when my fingers are in her mouth she drops her piece of banana because she doesn't want to out pressure on my hand and hurt me! A very welcomed expression of gentleness from my perspective!

Yes, today's fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.

Translated straight from the original Greek language into English of today, gentleness is "the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance." (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament-Third Edition. Frederick William Danker. pg 860)

Gentleness is relating to others with humility, consideration, and care. Gentleness is doing what we do with special consideration for another's well-being.

Gentleness is holding the door open for someone and taking special care to ensure the way is clear and there is nothing to snag their clothes on or trip over as they cross the threshold.

Here is a fun example; gentleness is a game of Jenga; removing one game piece with special consideration for the structure as a whole.

Gentleness is a logging operation that leaves a patch of valuable timber uncut out of consideration for a rare species of bird that calls that forest home.

Gentleness is a Veterinary Technician doing a procedure on a dog or cat in a way that reduces pain and discomfort during their visit to the Vet Clinic.

Gentleness is Ivy taking a piece of banana from me in a way that shows special consideration for the well-being of my fingers.

Gentleness is all of us relating to all things in a way that shows special consideration for the well-being of others.

Gentleness is a gift from God; another fruit of the Spirit that God nurtures in our hearts.

As we seek to relate to all that has life with gentleness it is important to do everything we do with special consideration for others; treating not just individuals with gentleness but also treating the places that wildlife call home with gentleness. What does it look like to interact with wild spaces (different habitats, ecosystems, swamps, marshes, forests, fields, rivers, lakes, etc.) with gentleness? What does it look like to treat all of our neighbors, people as well as all other living things with a spirit of gentleness?

As we long for God to nurture more gentleness in us that it might be spread abroad through our living let us pray...

Change the desires of my heart, loving God, so it beats in tune with yours; and may the changes you're bringing about within me find expression in my living.





Friday, May 24, 2019

Learning Faithfulness with Ivy

Ivy is vigilant, keeping watch out the front window when she knows that Erin will be home from work soon. She anticipates Erin's arrival with such faithfulness that few things can distract her from from this activity.

As I watch her steadfast spirit in this endeavor, she is the embodiment of faithfulness.

Yes, faithfulness is a loyal canine keeping watch for a family member's arrival.

This good gift of God called faithfulness finds expression in this world in other ways as well.

Faithfulness is a lifetime steadfastly committed to the vows of marriage.

Faithfulness is never giving up on a friend who struggles with addiction.

Faithfulness is a bountiful harvest in July due to regular daily watering of the garden since May.

Let us take a lesson from Ivy,  remaining faithful to love God, faithful to love others, faithful to live into community with all that has life, and let us vow to live our lives in a way that is faithful to our divine calling.

Recognizing that faithfulness is a gift from God, let us pray that the Spirit of God might nurture faithfulness in us, that we may life our lives as faithfully in relation with God's love as Jesus did in the stories we read about his life, death, and resurrection.

May we partner with God in living lives that embody faithfulness in our own unique and authentic ways.

Change the desires of my heart, loving God, so it beats in tune with yours; and may the changes you're bringing about within me find expression in my living.


(Ivy waits for Erin looking out the living room window)

 (Ivy waits for Erin looking out the family room window)

 (Ivy waits for Erin at her gandparent's house in Altoona)

  (Ivy waits for Erin at our old house in Pittsburgh in 2012)







 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Learning Goodness with special guest The Golden Swamp Warbler

Today's fruit of the Spirit is goodness. Ivy and Dovie are the stars of this 9 day series of blog posts focused on the fruit of the Spirit, but, at Dovie’s request today’s post features a special guest, The Golden Swamp Warbler (aka the Prothonotary Warbler). The golden swamp warbler resides in wooded swamps containing an understory of smaller trees (like alder). Due to its shaded habitat coupled with it’s bright yellow coloration this warbler GLOWS in the forest understory as it sings perched on low hanging branches and forages for insects close to the water’s surface.

I was overjoyed to get to experience the goodness, beauty, and unique qualities of this rare species of warbler for the first time in my life this morning. I’m also thankful that this experience was shared with my friend Ken, and that I had the privilege of meeting a very friendly fellow birder by the name of Sue.

What does the golden swamp warbler have to do with goodness you might ask? As I gazed upon this beautiful creature in the wild space just north of the Finger Lakes in North-Central New York, I reflected on the story of how, in Genesis chapter 1, it says that God looked upon all that God had made and saw that it was very good!

There is an intrinsic goodness to all things because that is just how the Spirit of God works. Furthermore, in his life and ministry Jesus responds to human sin (failure to love) and brokenness with grace (the undeserved loving-kindness of God), and in so doing Jesus honors the intrinsic goodness of things created by the Spirit of God (that’s everything, including people!)

As we seek to welcome into our lives more of the fruit of the Spirit called goodness, what might it look like for each of us to follow the example of Jesus by relating to each other and all that has life in ways that honor the basic truth of the goodness of all things.

Let us pray that God who is the source of all good things would nurture this awareness of the goodness of all things in us; you, me, the golden swamp warbler, and everything else that has life.

The story goes that God looked upon all that God had made and saw that it was very good. Let us honor this truth as we open our hearts, welcoming the change that God desires to bring about within us.

Change the desires of my heart, loving God, so that it beats in tune with yours; and may the change you’re bringing about within me find expression in my living.







(The forested swampy habitat of the golden swamp warbler)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Learning Peace with Dovie

Today’s fruit of the Spirit is peace, so of course Dovie gets to have a special photo shoot for this post because as a dove she is recognized as a symbol of peace.

As I consider the fruit of the Spirit called peace, I’m recalling these words of Jesus:

“I’m leaving you with a gift; peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift that the world cannot give, so don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27) This is a gift of peace within.

Then we are given a vision of peace among people and peace between people and everything else that has life in Isaiah chapter 11 in which it is written, “...the wolf and the lamb will lie together...nothing will destroy on all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know God.”

Building upon this vision of peace from the prophet Isaiah, the author of the book of Revelation states that when this good earth is transformed by the power of God, true lasting peace will be established and “there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

Peace is God’s vision for this good earth; peace among people and peace between people and everything else that has life.

A heart at peace is not troubled or afraid.

A heart at peace seeks to welcome and embrace one’s neighbor with love.

Peace is what happens when perfect love casts out all fear.

For the sake of peace, love does not demand its own way.

Peace of mind and heart and peace between ourselves and others are both rooted in our faith in God.

Peace is incompatible with hate, violence, oppression, fear, and marginalization.

Peace is a gift from God.

As we open our hearts and our minds to God’s vision of peace...

...peace among people and peace between people and everything else that has life...

...expressing our desire to partner with God in working for peace, let us pray:

Change the desires of my heart, loving God, so it beats in tune with yours; and may the changes you’re bringing about within me find expression in my living.






Sunday, May 19, 2019

Wilderness First Aid Certified; Praise God!

After having just completed a two-day Wilderness First Aid Training experience I have a lot to be thankful for.

Having led 154 people on Wildlife Tours over the past month and with plans to lead many more Creek and Canyon Wildlife Tours in months to come, I feel good about my ability to respond to medical emergencies on the trail with First Aid. I’m thankful for the knowledge and teaching of Brad, a very skilled Wilderness First Aid Instructor through SOLO. I’m thankful for those who have taken the course with me whom I’ve met and gotten to know better. I hope that some of those connections just made will continue beyond this training.  I’m also thankful for Wild Asaph Outfitters and the Tyoga Running Club for coordinating this important training.

Dave, Matt, Denny, Ed, Olivia, Matt, Shelby, Jason, Cliff, Pat, Mike, and Phil, if I were injured in the wilderness I’d feel good about being in the care of any one of you.

I’m also thankful to have had the opportunity to start the day with an amazing experience of worship next to a very froggy pond overlooking a big field filled with singing blackbirds and bobolinks. Dave, Matt, and Phil, what a joy it was to gather under the warmth of the morning sun joining our voices in praise as we oriented our lives in relationship with God.  God is good!

What a great couple of days! To all with whom this Wilderness First Aid Training experience was shared, May the love of God find expression through us so that those who end up injured in wild spaces may experience God’s strength and healing presence through our (better equipped than before) heads and hands.

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.” (1Corinthians 13:7)



Saturday, May 18, 2019

Take time to smell the flowers...

With so many good and beautiful things in this world, so many experiences to enjoy with others, and so much love to share I think we can all take a lesson from Ivy as we thank God for all that’s good and beautiful:

Take time to smell the flowers...



...and maybe even eat some too!



Friday, May 17, 2019

a marsh, a canyon

During this afternoon's Creek and Canyon Wildlife Tour my friend Kevin and I visited The Muck and then Barbour Rock Trail of the West Rim of the Pine Creek Gorge. I was also glad to have spent some time at The Muck earlier in the day with my friend Kristi. There was much beauty to appreciate at both locations. We found ourselves immersed in the beauty of singing birds and blooming flowers in the midst of landscapes that inspire praise in our human hearts.

Whether you find yourself in the heart of a city or in the most picturesque of wild spaces, I hope we all find time to take in the beauty that surrounds us each day.


Barbour Rock:

(Kevin and I at Barbour Rock)

(Indigo bunting)

(unidentified flower)

(hooded warbler)

(unidentified flower)

(black-throated-blue warbler)




The Muck:


(swamp sparrow)

(red-winged blackbird on a beaver lodge)

(wood ducks next to the RR tracks)

 (Marsh wren)

 (yellow warbler)













Thursday, May 16, 2019

Good dirt

Today was a good day for Erin and I to do the prep work for our front yard garden. We took a few hours to work the soil, removing rocks and adding leaf mulch from our back yard compost pile to make for some very good dirt.

As Erin spread the leaf mulch and I tilled the soil I got to reflecting on some words in chapter 13 of the Gospel according to Matthew that are attributed to Jesus:

"A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

When the Spirit of God plants seeds of faith, hope, and love on the garden of my heart, I want fertile soil to be found there; so I will take time to work the soil in garden of my heart through regular acts of worship; thanking God, opening my heart to being changed by God, and loving God through my service to others.

"Change the desires of my heart, loving God, so that it beats in tune with yours, and may the change you're bringing about within me find expression in my living. Let every seed of faith, hope, and love that's planted in my heart find fertile soil to produce more faith, more hope, and more love."



 (Some volunteers from last year popping up before we even prepared the soil...dill and lettuce)



 (pine and maple trees in the back yard drop eventually their leaves, which are added to our compost pile)


 (Here in our compost pile the leaves and needles decompose into new soil)


(The soil from our compost pile in the mostly shaded back yard is transported to our sunny front yard garden via wheel barrel)



(Then its time to till the soil, mixing the leaf mulch into last year's soil to make for some REALLY GOOD DIRT!)


(Lots of small insects in the freshly prepared dirt...including ants, worms, flies, sowbugs, etc. is a sign that there's lots of good plant nourishing nutrients in this garden plot...planting soon to come!)






Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Let’s be who we are, not who we aren’t

Erin and I enjoyed a long (10 miles) and beautiful run along West Rim Trail this morning. During the last several miles I recall that I was mostly just very hungry, but there was also plenty of time to enjoy the trail, to think, and to pray.  Here is my meditation from the trail:

Water, Rock, wind, sky, trees, birds, bugs, deer, bear...all things praise God by being their authentic selves, each by doing what they have been made to do; and so will I, by living life and loving others in my own unique way. I will not try to be someone else or anything other than who I truly am because that is a life in hiding. I want to be who I truly am and live and love in my own unique way and in so doing live a life of praising God in community with all that has life. 

How about you? Will you live and love in your own unique fashion and in so doing live a life of praising the Creator of us all?